Day 16 15:45
Song Ran didn’t want to linger for even one more second on this street.
He wanted to back away and round the street corner. The boisterous kindergarten was there, and that was where he and Mr He had agreed to meet beforehand. So long as he ran back, closed his eyes, and waited for the time to pass tick by tick until four o’clock sharp, Mr He would definitely appear before him as promised.
He wagered that Mr He would feel sympathetic towards him and be loath to ‘challenge’ him to the end.
Seeming to have guessed his plan, He Zhiyuan said right away, “Darling, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid for now. I’m not the same as your father, I’m not him. The promise I made to you will definitely be fulfilled—even if the sky falls down, I won’t fail to show up. Please believe me this once, and stand there and wait for me, okay?”
His tone of voice was gentle yet steadfast, and Song Ran’s footsteps froze. Like a nail that had been deeply driven into a brick, he had no way of retreating, yet he also didn’t dare to advance.
“Mr He, I… I really can’t…”
Song Ran hung his head and mumbled through choked sobs.
The things he was afraid of were too many. Not only was he afraid that Mr He wouldn’t want him, he was also afraid of having another relapse on the spot despite all the trouble he went through to wait for the other man—becoming trapped in the twisting and distorted kaleidoscope without being able to come out, strangely and endlessly reciting those numbers, making a mess of their first meeting, and even scaring little Bubu who had liked him all this time.
Song Ran had looked forward to this day for too long. It was about to become a beautiful memory that he would cherish for his entire life, so he didn’t want to ruin it.
What made him even more fearful was an uncontrollable absurd conjecture.
Would it be possible that, as he counted, he would accidentally touch upon some extremely unlucky number and a disaster from heaven would strike, making the nightmare repeat itself? Would Mr He, who originally intended to keep the appointment, suddenly disappear without a trace, never able to come to him again and out of reach even by phone?
Then what could he do?
As soon as he thought of this possibility, Song Ran’s heart tightened; he felt like the fragmented sunlight on the ground had truly become glass shards that someone had gathered up a handful of and mercilessly ground against his heart.
“Mr He, can we… can we meet at the kindergarten entrance?” Song Ran pleaded. “I want to see you, I want to see you right now. Don’t tease me anymore! Stop hiding and come here quickly!”
He looked around the deserted street, the rims of his eyes gradually reddening, and his last sentence was practically forced out as a growl in order to cover up his damp sobs.
He Zhiyuan said in a low voice, “Darling, I’m waiting for the bus.”
Song Ran: “Waiting… waiting for the bus?”
“Yes.” He Zhiyuan lifted his wrist and looked at his watch, his tone of voice as gentle as if he were speaking to a dozing kitten. “I’m very close to you, only three streets and two four-way intersections away. I also want to see you as quickly as possible. It would be the best if I were able to fly there directly, but unfortunately I don’t have wings. At present, it looks like the fastest transportation method is probably the bus, and there’s only one minute before the next one arrives… Ah, I think I see it, it’s almost here. Do you want me to get on?”
Song Ran’s expression was dazed. “Yes.”
“Then are you willing to wait for me right there?”
“I-I am!” Song Ran snapped back to attention and nodded mightily with brightly-shining eyes, and his breathing became hurried. “Mr He, I’ll count. I… I’ll start counting right now, so come quick. You better not miss that bus.”
“Good,” He Zhiyuan replied to him with a smile. “I definitely won’t miss it.”
The teeny-tiny bus stop, nestled in the clouds of wisteria blossoms, waited for the passing travellers who would arrive only once per hour.
Song Ran took a few steps towards it, then looked at the shaded long street with its obscured end, suddenly no longer fearing the unknown. His chest was filled bit by bit with warmth; mustering up his courage, he began to silently count.
“One, two, three, four…”
Behind him was a crisp ringing sound—an old man riding a Forever1A Chinese bicycle brand bicycle was leisurely approaching Song Ran. As the old man passed by, he cast an odd look at this young man who was standing still. Then the bike turned, and he disappeared around the corner.
“Ten, eleven, twelve…”
The proprietress of a tailor shop that faced the street came out and put away a bamboo bench that had been placed beneath the trees. She lifted her head and looked at Song Ran but couldn’t tell what he was doing even after watching for a while, so she went back in.
“Eighteen, nineteen, twenty…”
A plane tree leaf left its branch and drifted past Song Ran’s eyes. He held his cell phone as he fixedly looked into the distance, feeling increasingly anxious.
“Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven…”
How come he still wasn’t here yet?
The surroundings were sadly quiet; the tree leaves didn’t move at all, the flow of time seemed to have been frozen, and even the wind forgot to traverse this street.
“Thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six…”
The wind freely blew all of a sudden, infusing the quiet street with a whoosh and blowing apart the distant tree shade. With the help of the resplendent sunlight that was cast down, Song Ran was able to vaguely see the outline of a bus appearing at the end of the long street.
He was here!
His heart was practically screaming, but his expression didn’t really change; he simply stared at that bus with rapt attention. Due to his heightened anxiety, his mouth was slightly open and he was no longer counting.
As the bus slowly drove in Song Ran’s direction, its outline changed from fuzzy to sharp. The front of the bus, upright and angular, shone with a line of bright green digital lights.
It drove very slowly—at least, in Song Ran’s eyes, it dawdled like a crawling snail or like it had fallen in an uneven bog, all four wheels hindered by mud; only after a long time did it ponderously traverse half the distance. Unable to stand it any longer, Song Ran started running like mad and hurriedly stopped at the crosswalk across the street.
Accompanied by the announcer’s broadcast, the Route 41 bus smoothly came to a halt next to the small stop.
Song Ran stared firmly at the vehicle door, his eyes practically about to pop out—Mr He, are you inside? Will you cross the endless time and distance and come out from this door?
The bus door opened, and only one passenger got off at the stop. Without delay, the bus very quickly drove off.
It was a tall and upright man.
Black shirt, smoke-grey necktie, and a silver clip on the lapels reflecting the sunlight.
He leisurely strolled to the side of the road, faced Song Ran, spread his arms wide towards him with a smile, and called out in a low voice, “Darling, come here.”
Just as the words were spoken, a figure swept across the street entrance, leaving behind afterimages just like a flying arrow, and ran straight into He Zhiyuan’s embrace.
Song Ran was 1.78 metres tall, weighed seventy kilograms, and had muscle and momentum. Not even He Zhiyuan could withstand the younger man mustering up his strength and throwing himself into his chest like this, so he lost his balance and staggered two steps back before colliding with the teahouse’s window.
With an audible thump, the window frame shook, and the wisteria blossoms above the window turned into a rain of flowers that fell all over them.
Heedless of all else, Song Ran wasn’t willing to back up even an inch as he securely wrapped around He Zhiyuan’s neck and hugged him with an unrelenting grip.
Amused by Song Ran’s child-like impulsivity, He Zhiyuan effortlessly held him around the waist and dusted off the flower petals that landed on his clothes and hair, saying gently, “I’m here, I’m here… It’s all right, aren’t I here to pick you up now?”
Song Ran forcefully nodded, then suddenly lost control of his feelings. With his nose prickling, he began to violently sob against He Zhiyuan’s shoulder, and his tears fell in large droplets to create a wet patch on the shirt fabric.
He Zhiyuan gently patted his back again and again, accepting all of Song Ran’s grievances with his broad embrace.
Song Ran buried his head in He Zhiyuan’s neck and pressed all of his body weight against the other, as if wishing to embed himself in his bones and flesh.
He called out again, his voice sticky.
“Darling, I’m here.”
The response was always very prompt.
Song Ran’s heart softened into a snail devoid of its shell, and he hugged even more tightly.
It had already been many, many years since he was last hugged by someone. When he was feeling cold at night, he could only hug himself while longing for the warmth that remained in his memories—skin that gave off heat directly sticking to skin, pulses vigorously jumping underneath the surface, scents mingling, and both parties gradually relying on each other.
But in the end, they were only memories and couldn’t provide true warmth.
The more he longed for it, the colder he felt. Every inch of his skin was hollowed out and itching unbearably as if thousands of ants were crawling over him.
Today, he was finally held in the arms of a grown man. The other party was taller and stronger than him, the muscles of his arms and chest were a firm wall that couldn’t be pushed over, and the scent of his male hormones was so strong that they gave him a sufficient sense of security.
Akin to a father’s protection of a young and fragile child.