For one of my posts for another novel, I once wrote to the readers, “Read carefully. Don’t blink.” I think that applies quite aptly to this post as well.😉
Chapter 11.1 – The Past is No More (1)
After Saturday came to an end, it would be Sunday.
Or in other words, they had a full two days they could be together.
They arrived at Gu Pingsheng’s home. Silently, she calculated out each second, but no matter how it worked out, it still felt as if there was not enough time at all. If he needed to go back for surgery, he would most likely stay in Beijing for a lengthy period of time to recover. She, however, could only remain in Shanghai and would not even have an opportunity to take care of him.
Her thoughts ran chaotically through her mind, and without really thinking, she grabbed the Sichuan peppercorn, star anise, dried orange peel, and dried chile peppers she had already pre-mixed and tossed them into the frying pan. However, she had forgotten that the oil inside had already been heating for a long time. Furiously, it began splattering from the pan. She hastily retreated two steps and bumped into him.
Gu Pingsheng swiftly brought the lid overtop of the pan and turned on the range hood fan.
“Why has your mind been wandering all this time?” Against the crackling and sizzling noises of frying, he asked her in low tones, “Since coming back from the supermarket, you’ve been lost in thought. Is there something you want to tell me?”
His voice was rather soft, but hints of a seldom-heard sense of uncertainty could be found in it.
Tong Yan turned off the burner, turned around, and gazed at him. “I want to go back to Beijing to take care of you.”
“You still have classes to attend.” He was a little surprised, but quickly, he smiled, “Tong Yan, this surgery is not dangerous, and it is only the recovery period that is relatively long. I will call you the entire time. Twice a day? Or three times? How about four?”
Tong Yan bit down on her lip. Watching as his smile deepened, her sadness only increased. Femoral head osteonecrosis, advanced stage.
In such an ordinary tone, he had stated this. For the first time, she discovered that the manner of putting on a front of strength, in reality, was simply a way of pushing everyone else away from yourself — far away …
“I can temporarily suspend my schooling for this semester and just wait until next year to continue my third year of university.” She moved close to him. “If I do that, it won’t affect my grades in any way, and all that will happen is that I’ll graduate one year later. How about that?”
He did not answer.
Tong Yan wrapped her arms around his neck, and quickly, she took his lower lip between her teeth and began carefully kissing around the contour of his lips, softly and at the same time, persistently.
After a while, she finally let go of him and faced him so that he could see her lips, earnestly asking once again, “Alright?”
“No.” His voice had become serious. “If I had late-stage cancer, I would, without any hesitation, take you straight back to Beijing with me and have you by my side the whole time. But this illness is not that serious.”
Their two bodies were pressed tightly together. She did not know whether it was because they had had a disagreement, but their bodies had gradually risen a little in temperature. And also rising up somewhat uncontrollably were both their heartbeats and the emotions that had unexplainably begun rushing forth from their hearts.
Tong Yan frowned, quietly admonishing, “Don’t curse yourself.”
“Don’t be so superstitious.” Gu Pingsheng enfolded his arms around her. “I studied medicine. Never have those things been taboo to me.”
Her brows were still furrowed tightly, and she spoke no more.
She merely used the ten minutes that followed to do one thing: she wholly devoted all her heart and mind to kissing him. In that kitchen filled with the aroma of spices, she tilted her head back, encircled his neck with her arms, and kissed him while, at the same time, being kissed by him.
“Stop. Don’t continue.”
His voice was slightly uneven. As he kissed her, he seemed to be telling this to himself as well as telling it to her. But, it was only this once, and then he no longer attempted any persuasion.
Tong Yan’s eyes were closed as he lifted her up directly and enfolded her against his chest. Instinctively, her legs wrapped themselves around his waist. In this way, the two of them entangled themselves together, holding and kissing each other continuously, sometimes gently, sometimes heavily, but unwilling to part from one another anymore.
All this time, though she had stayed before in his place, she had never entered his bedroom.
When Gu Pingsheng used his knee to nudge open the door, she managed to evade him for a moment and curiously turn her head to scan this room with her eyes. “Your room is so simple.” After she said this, though, she realized that the room was dark and he could not see what she was saying.
“Do you want to turn on the light?” Gently, he caressed his cheek against hers.
Tong Yan hesitated, then gave a nod.
Lowering her down onto the bed, he turned on the wall light. Here, in this room that had illuminated in an instant, she saw that Gu Pingsheng’s shirt was already half open … And after the fact, now, she began to feel self-conscious and quickly shook her head, saying, “On second thought, let’s keep the lights off.”
He seemed to give a little laugh but did not speak. Pressing the switch again, he cut off the source of light.
On this winter night, even the moonlight outside the window was dusky, but because of his tireless, meticulous, and deep kisses, it seemed to transform, to become delicate and velvety. From the glow of light in the room to all that was stimulating her sense of touch, everything was warm and soft.
In this light, she could see his tattoo, a large, winding design that snaked from his elbow up his arm, but it was not frightful.
He held her body to him, the tip of his nose brushing against hers. Amid the pain that was gradually being left farther and farther behind her, she focused on looking at him. Because the lights were turned off, they could not have any verbal communication between the two of them, but in her gaze that was at times hazy and other times clear, she could sense that never once had his eyes left her.
Afterwards, Tong Yan, dazed from exhaustion, fell asleep in his embrace, and when she awoke again, it was already the middle of the night.
Gu Pingsheng, his arms encircling her, was half-sitting up as he leaned against the head of the bed, and he appeared as if he had not slept the entire time.
Tong Yan shifted slightly. Very quickly, he turned on the light. “You’re awake now?”
From this angle, he looked very much like that night in their past where he had sat on the floor of the corridor, his hair nearly completely concealing his eyes and his entire being emitting a dense atmosphere of pain that was difficult to disperse. Now, however, his hair was slightly shorter, and a smile which had risen up in his eyes could be seen.
“Are you repenting to God?” Tong Yan asked him in a half-joking tone as she gazed at him.
“I’m not religious.” Hugging her to himself, he kissed her forehead. “I think I told you that from the very beginning, when we went to Mass that time on Christmas Eve.”
Nodding, she pulled herself ever so slightly away from him so he could see her speak. “After next semester, you may not be teaching any more classes, right?”
With a nod, he answered, “Yes, it will depend on how the recovery is going.”
“So that means, from the moment last semester ended, you were already no longer my teacher.” She was very satisfied with his answer.
Gu Pingsheng finally understood that she was referring to his previous statement, that “at the very least, we still need to wait until you are no longer my student” … He could not help laughing. “I wasn’t thinking about that.”
When he finished saying this, he did not continue explaining, and Tong Yan did not ask further. Instead, her eyes flickered away and she said, “I’m hungry.”
It would seem that, in the very beginning, she was originally supposed to cook dinner. They had bought so many ingredients, but those were still just sitting in the kitchen, and the “pot of raw rice” in the bedroom had ended up being “cooked” [metaphor for sexual intimacy] instead.
Gu Pingsheng quickly hopped off the bed, and right there, with his body completely and overtly bare before her eyes, he slid on a pair of jeans and a shirt. “I’ll go buy some food for you and bring it back.”
Before Tong Yan could say anything, he was already striding out of the room.
Only after she heard the front door closing did she retreat back under the blanket. Her mind was continuously replaying the scenes from earlier on until, in the end, even the blood in her entire body seemed to be burning up. Pulling open the blanket, she blew out a long breath.
Gu Pingsheng soon returned. At three or four o’clock in the morning, only the nearby convenience store had food to buy.
Unfortunately, the only items remaining that were hot and would relieve hunger were various oden foods.
She nodded, staring down with a very satisfied look at her own cup.
Inside Gu Pingsheng’s cup, there were only two or three skewers, while hers was stuffed with five. There was another cup on the bedside table filled also with another five skewers, and they were all for her to eat.
“Why aren’t you eating?” She looked at him.
“I’m watching you eat.” With great interest, Gu Pingsheng eyed the one she was holding in her hand. “From the looks of it, yours seems to be tastier.”
“I actually think yours look like they taste better.”
“Which one do you have your eye on?”
Tong Yan pointed at his skewer of shirataki knots. “How come everything you’re eating is vegetarian and everything you bought for me is meat?”
“You’re too slender,” Gu Pingsheng answered offhandedly. “Eating more won’t hurt.”
Looking at his expression, she very quickly understood the meaning behind his words, and she nearly bit her own tongue.
He, on the other hand, had a very innocent look on his face as he took his shirataki knots and held it up to her lips. Tong Yan bit a bundle off before also bringing her skewer of “arctic wings” to his mouth, and tilting his head to the side, Gu Pingsheng took a bite from it.
So in this way, the two of them casually chatted about which ones tasted better until they completely demolished all of the foods.
“All done?” he asked, handing a box of napkins over to her.
Pulling out one, Tong Yan wiped her mouth clean.
“I didn’t get a good look at your tattoo earlier on.” Unable to contain her curiosity, she gave in and tentatively asked him.
“It’s an emblem of a Kenyan tribe.” He removed his button-up shirt to show his upper body to her. “The year I got sick, a few of my university friends went to Kenya as volunteers. At the time, my spirits were a little low, so I decided to go with them.”
As his fingers traced the lines of the emblem, he explained to her, “This part was done by a local tattoo artist there, and then later, I found it rather interesting so under his guidance, I completed the second half of it myself. And also, I did this English name.”
The complete tattoo was finally clearly displayed before her eyes.
She stroked her fingers over it, and after some time, she finally lifted her eyes to look at him. “If you didn’t have such a ‘sunny spring days and white snow’ look, you would actually seem quite like the bad boys in the Hong Kong Young and Dangerous films I watched when I was a kid.”
“ ‘Sunny spring days and white snow’?” He did not understand.
Tong Yan could not help giggling. “It means you’re a beauty in a clean sort of way.”
Gu Pingsheng gave an “oh” in reply. Seeing the increasingly teasing expression on her face, he unexpectedly reached out, pulled her in front of him, and kissed her, all the while beginning to remove her clothing that she had just put back on not long ago. The heat in their bodies seemed as if it could not be dissipated, and very quickly, it began to seep from their skin. Simply his kisses alone already caused her mind to cloud over, and the initial fear of pain had long since left without a trace.
An eternity later, he finally released her lips and looked at her — only looked at her.
Her eyes hazy, she gazed back at him. In an instant, too many images all crossed through her mind. That cold night of many years ago. A brilliant, sun-filled classroom. The wordless gaze between them inside a taxicab …
Their very first encounter with each other had been in late autumn in the north. Prior to that, there had been too many situations of helplessness that had been out of their control, and after it, there had been too many instances where fate had been unfair. But still, they had both safely walked the journey of life up to this point.
His eyes were resolute but also tender.
At last, she pulled herself out from her memories and reached up toward him. Holding his face between her hands, she kissed him deeply.
From this moment, the past is no more. All I see is the future you give me.
I believe we deserve happiness.
 There is a saying, 生米煮成熟饭, which literally translates to “the raw rice is now cooked.” In a very general sense, it means, “what’s done is done,” similar in meaning to the English saying that something is “water under the bridge.” However, it is most often used to describe a couple who has had sexual intercourse and now, after the fact, “what’s done is done.”
 See footnote  in chapter 6.2.
 古惑仔. Young and Dangerous is a series of films in the mid-1990s about young members in Hong Kong’s triad society.
Surprise! Did that come out of left field at you?
The initial surprise we (or at least, I) as readers feel parallels how this truly was not something either of them had anticipated would happen. Gu Pingsheng did not forego his belief that sex should be after marriage, but he was just not able to carry it through. Rather than describe it as “heat of passion,” I would say it was more being overwhelmed by emotion. Notice when Tong Yan was lost in her thoughts and he asked her if she had something to say to him, his tone had a “seldom-heard sense of uncertainty.” I suspect he thought she might have been having second thoughts about their relationship after he told her about his sickness. Instead, she told him she wanted to put her life’s plans on hold for him, to take care of him. The feelings he got from that statement must have flooded over him intensely. Tong Yan’s heart was dull with heartache for him and all she wanted was to be with him, to care for him, to be … close to him. And so, not out of passion but other emotions that came coursing over them, what they had not expected did end up happening.
1 of 1 Prologue
32 of 66 Main story segments
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