She’s said yes, but there’s still an adjustment period.
Chapter 3.4 — You and Me, Together (4)
After Chu Jian sent the message off, she felt unsettled, as if her heart was wafting around and not grounded in anything.
To give herself a distraction, she decided she might as well play some Lianliankan [simple puzzle game to match pictures].
In this night, here on the tatami, she was playing on her mobile phone, while out in the adjacent room, the older woman was preparing things for tomorrow and watching television.
And so, they passed the time this way.
When she had played until her thumbs were sore, she shut down the game window and glanced at the time. It was pretty late.
“Auntie, where is the tub that you collect all the shells in?”
Soon, a blue plastic tub was set down on the table.
The entire world fell into silence.
© 2013-2016 FANATICAL hui3r.wordpress.com ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Translated with the express permission of the author for hui3r.wordpress.com. If you are not reading this from hui3r.wordpress.com, then this translation has been posted without the permission of the translator.
The television outside was still playing the midnight news, describing a rear-end collision that had occurred on a certain street in Shanghai. Her ears were filled with these sounds as she tilted her head upwards to look at that person who was completely obstructing the yellow glow of the wall lamp. “Aren’t you supposed… to be at an event?”
There was still an empty conch shell in her hand. In a moment of inattention, she squeezed her hand tightly around it, and then, giving a start when it pricked her, she hastily dropped it onto the table. The man in front of her pulled off the cap that he had been using to conceal his face and tossed it aside. Dropping one knee down onto the tatami, he efficiently tidied up for her the garbage that had been scattered all over the table from the meal.
Chu Jian was caught in an awkward bind, where extending a hand to help seemed unfitting but not helping seemed inappropriate as well.
That one word of “okay” had taken her an entire afternoon plus an evening of deliberation before she had arrived at it. She had not even finished mentally preparing herself yet, and now he was here? Didn’t he have an event tonight? With those types of fashion and celebrity gala dinners, after the dinner part was over, should there not be another wild after-party teeming with sensual pleasures? Everyone would sit together on high-back sofas, sighing over the shortage of resources for actors and lamenting that film production teams were either dissolving or deferring projects. While they were at it, they would express their plans and line-ups for their work over the next couple of years, their eager anticipation for the upcoming blockbuster dramas, as well as their predictions for the box office…
Why was he here picking up garbage instead?
So, after the “okay,” now what? Were they going to have a date tonight? … Chu Jian yanked out napkin after napkin, pulling out seven or eight and then wiping herself clean, from her fingers to her mouth, then back to her hands—basically something she found for herself to do while he was tidying up.
In the end, after Jian Bianlin had finished clearing away everything, he also sat down, leaning half his body sideways against the tatami mat. His hand brushed against his pocket, where he discovered that pen that had been dismantled into little pieces. Wordlessly, he fished it out and once again, bit by bit, put it back together.
He did so quietly, without a sound being made. Reassembled, he placed the pen on the table.
In the warm amber light of the wall lamp, Chu Jian took a glance. She recognized this pen. The taste of the mustard and soy sauce used for dipping the strawberry conches was still on her lips. A little embarrassed, she unconsciously licked her bottom lip.
Jian Bianlin’s eyes took in this little mannerism of hers. “Doesn’t your stomach feel uncomfortable after eating this stuff?”
She murmured, “I’m used to it.”
“Is there anything to eat in your home?”
She shook her head.
Jian Bianlin stepped out. Very familiarly, he exchanged a couple of words with the auntie-like shopkeeper before tossing back a sentence to Chu Jian, telling her to continue watching television while she waited for him. When the ending sounds of the nightly news rang out, he also walked back in.
A piping hot bowl of steamed egg custard with clams was set down in front of Chu Jian, steam still rising up from it.
“Finish it.” A porcelain spoon was slid into the bowl.
“You even know how to make this?” Chu Jian was astounded.
“Anything that you like to eat, I know how to make.”
Hearing this, the shopkeeper auntie began cheerfully praising him, saying he was such a good big brother.
The news had switched to a rerun of a variety show, lively and hilariously fun, with various celebrities all dripping with sweat while they were forced to hike up a mountain… Picking up the spoon, Chu Jian pointed at the television screen and tried to ease some of that awkwardness that was growing geometrically. “Would you participate in a program like this?”
Before Jian Bianlin could reply, the shopkeeper auntie slapped her own thigh and immediately declared, “Oh, yes, definitely, he should. I love watching these the most.” She followed up quickly with more. “If your big brother takes part in one, I’ll be telling my customers every day that this celebrity made steamed egg custard with clams right here in this shop of mine…”
Amidst the auntie’s enthusiastic ramble, Jian Bianlin looked fixedly at the television screen for a full ten seconds. “You watch these types of shows often?”
“No, no… I don’t watch them often.” She had simply been trying to find a topic to talk about.
Glumly, Chu Jian bowed her head and ate her clams. Her lips would clamp down on the clam meat and pull it out a little at a time, and then she would spit the stripped-clean clamshell onto the table. Thunk. There was one. Thunk. Another one. In a very orderly fashion, the shells were spit back out onto the table.
Jian Bianlin merely watched her eat.
When the live programming portion of the event ended, he had left the venue, driving Xie Bin’s vehicle. He had sped a little, and the roads surprisingly had also not been congested. In short, everything seemed as if it had been fated. He had arrived downstairs of the apartment building in the fastest time possible but then realized that, after receiving that “okay,” he did not know at all whether she had gone home or not.
He often ordered takeout for her from this seafood shop that was out front of their community compound.
Originally, he had intended on sitting there and waiting for a while. But then, he saw her.
When Chu Jian was more or less finished eating, she at last suddenly remembered something. It would seem that he should not have eaten yet?
With an “um,” she was about to ask him.
“I’ve eaten.” Jian Bianlin was quiet for a moment, then added two more words. “Not hungry.”
“Oh.” Lowering her head, she scooped at the last remnants of egg custard. Over and over, she pondered on the question, just how… was he planning on “trying”? Was he actually thinking of staying here tonight?
“I’m flying to Hong Kong on a late-night flight tonight.”
“Really?” The corner of Chu Jian’s lips turned up.
Twirling his baseball cap in his hand, Jian Bianlin shook his head gently, his smile rather resigned.
As he took in her little, elated expression from hearing that he was leaving…
Forget it. Just take things slowly.
Before departing that shop, when it was time to pay, he and Chu Jian even ended up simultaneously pulling out their wallets. And then, under his gaze, she wordlessly put hers away again. When the shopkeeper auntie was giving him back his change, the auntie, in passing, also furtively assured Jian Bianlin that she would stay tight-lipped and would not let anyone know that a big celebrity lived in this community compound…
Leaving that immensely friendly elderly auntie’s shop, they walked into the community compound and went upstairs.
They stepped out of the elevator.
On the left was Chu Jian’s home; on the right was Jian Bianlin’s.
Chu Jian opened her mouth. “Whose home are we going to—”
At the same time, Jian Bianlin also spoke. “I’ve always felt that it’s not safe here—”
The two looked at one another.
Chu Jian: “What do you mean by ‘not safe’?”
Jian Bianlin: “Your home?”
Jian Bianlin was in quite a good mood, and he gave another unexpected smile. With a slight tilt of his chin, he told her, “You say yours first.”
“I’m done talking… You say yours.”
“There are only two units here, and I’m normally not around. If some bad person were to hide here, it’d be difficult for you to even get in a cry for help.”
It shouldn’t be as scary as that, right? Chu Jian glanced around.
“When I’m back from Hong Kong, we’ll look for a new place. We need to find one where it’s one unit per floor and you need to swipe a card to get in.”
“Oh, okay.” She nodded. And then, immediately, a “Huh?” followed.
Wait, something wasn’t right. Why “one unit per floor”?
Jian Bianlin was long accustomed to this expression of hers, where everything was a potentially scary thing and could spook her out. He explained, “We can rent two units, where one is right above the other.”
So, in this skittish and jumpy manner, they stepped into Chu Jian’s home. On this frigid day, her forehead still was covered with sweat from trying to contain herself. Her bangs were parted limply, exposing a small scar at the end of her eyebrow, very faint and not noticeable unless looking closely.
Jian Bianlin lowered his eyes, fixing them on that little scar.
This had come about during her university days, when a classmate had accidentally bumped into her and injured her in physical education class. First-year university. He had not known about it. In the many years of her life, only her first year and the first half of her second year of university were a blank period to Jian Bianlin. He had known nothing—whether she was happy or sad, whether she, attending a school so far away, missed home, whether she had enough spending money, whether she… had a crush on anyone.
These were all things he had not known.
In particular, there was this injury and the scar it had left. Just one glance and he could tell that she had not treated it properly. When she was a kid, she had liked climbing trees and jumping in pits, so trips and falls were commonplace for her. It was only because he had learned how to treat all her injuries for her that her skin had remained undamaged. If he had been by her side during that time, it would not have even been possible for that scar to be left behind.
If he had been able to not be so rash…
… they might have already been together a long time ago.
Feeling paranoid after he scared her earlier, Chu Jian was now sprawled against the peephole, peering out to see if there might be any shadowy figures in the corners of the stairwell. Sensing that he had not moved, she lifted her head.
Jian Bianlin shifted his gaze slightly. Bringing his hand up to the neckline of her sweater, he touched the pad of his thumb to the nape of her neck. His action was gentle, almost imperceptible, and it seemed he even gave her a light caress.
Chu Jian was almost holding her breath, her hand on the door, half her body resting on the door and the other half with nothing supporting it. She dared not move in the slightest.
“Why are you perspiring so much?” For some reason, his tone was rather low.
“I’m wearing too many clothes…” As a result of this atmosphere, she dared not speak loudly either. “Hot.”
His fingers left her skin slightly. “Go change.”
Suddenly starting out of her stupor, Chu Jian flusteredly pulled open the shoe cabinet and pointed at the slippers. “You’re really familiar with everything here. Grab a pair yourself and change into it.”
Saying this, she darted into her room.
By the time she shut the door behind her, her legs were weak, and as she leaned her back against the room door, she felt a little dazed.
There was practically an omnipresent feeling of awkwardness. In contrast, this room was actually like a refuge, temporarily separating the two of them. If there could be a phone call that suddenly summoned him away, that would be so good. She had just made her decision and had not even prepared herself for anything yet, and then, just like that, they were face-to-face—face-to-face like boyfriend and girlfriend…
Simply thinking about the words “boyfriend and girlfriend” was enough to leave her tossing and turning for a dozen or so days.
A knock rapped on the outside of the door, its sound transmitting through the door and charging directly into her ear.
“I’m still not done changing. Just wait…”
“Don’t open the door.” Jian Bianlin’s voice appeared first. “I want to talk to you just like this.”
Chu Jian gave an “mm,” not certain whether, with a door in between, this reply could be heard outside.
After a long silence on the other side of the door, Jian Bianlin also leaned his back against it. “The whole way while I was driving over here earlier, I couldn’t help myself. I just wanted to see you before I went to Hong Kong.”
Her fingers slid unconsciously over the door, and she gave another “mm.”
“If there’s anything I do that you don’t like, just tell me straight out.” His voice was somewhat tight. “My… temperament isn’t so good. I’ve never had a girlfriend, so I have no experience. These are all things you know better than anyone else.”
Chu Jian’s fingers curled slightly, digging lightly into the door.
A person she had known since the age of four…
From preschool to primary school, then to middle and high school, she had seen him wear all different sizes of school uniforms. She was familiar with the progression of the prescription strength for his eyeglasses and even knew when he had had laser surgery to correct his nearsightedness. This man—the one so familiar to her—was now telling her through the door, “I’ve never had a girlfriend before. If I do anything wrong, tell me…”
Her throat was a little dry, and she could only make an indistinct “mm.”
“I should go.”
连连看 Lianliankan is a very simplistic type of puzzle game played by trying to remove images using no more than four lines to connect identical images. Here are a couple of examples. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/qq-lian-lian- kan/id385703650?mt=8 or https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tmlok.tm006.mentaltrainer
I thought, since I’ve said it so many times in replying to comments, I might just put an “additional comment” about this.
It’s been 22 years since they’ve known each other. He has liked her for more than ten of those, and she has known about it. If perseverance and staying around were what touched her, why didn’t it happen a few years ago, or a few months ago, or even yesterday?
I feel Chu Jian’s change came because of a moment—a moment of vulnerability. Xie Bin said, “But with the type of person that Jian Bianlin is, making him plead with someone or ask for help is even harder than making him go die.” One of the fundamental traits of Jian Bianlin is pride. He won’t admit weakness; he can’t plead for anything. He would rather stay silently by her side, knowing that Chu Jian does not like him in that way and too scared to make any other move, than open his mouth and… be open. The text hasn’t even said that he ever confessed; he just kissed her to show it because stating feelings is vulnerable. But that moment in the room—where he admitted he was at fault, where he revealed his thinking and feelings, where he told her he would not even know what he would do without her—and that moment on the phone where he pleaded to her—pleaded!—to let him have one try… that was him setting aside his pride and being vulnerable. There is something about being vulnerable—it is genuine. It removes all the masks, walls, defences that you have put up and exposes parts of you. And Chu Jian saw that. As Tong Fei said about her friend, “She’s the textbook example of someone who gives in to the soft approach but resists coercion…” So that moment was what touched her.
He took the step first, to expose himself and his insecurities, to set aside his pride. This step moved Chu Jian’s heart. And so, she was willing to take a step as well.
1 of 1 Prologue
11 of 36 Chapter segments
0 of 1 Epilogue