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Chapter 132 “The throbbing pains of youth”

It was almost the middle of the month, and the streets had at long last started to bustle with noise and excitement. Early in the morning, BLY & YM rushed off to the main street’s front entrance, which had been completely covered with traditional ocean-themed decorations and Chinese lanterns. As they strolled about the place, they countered various performances: traditional Chinese opera, magic shows, acrobatics… they also saw many old Beijing street vendors loudly advertising their wares. When it became dark, they joined the thronging crowd, watching and applauding on as the traditional Dragon and Lion show paraded down the street. The street was packed with all sorts of mouth-watering delights; BLY and YM couldn’t resist walking through and trying as much as possible, stuffing their stomachs to the limit.

“Hey, those “answer the riddle” lanterns over there have prizes”, YM exclaimed. BLY followed him to have a closer look: before him was a large plaque with red paper affixed to the top, boldly decorated with lantern riddles. It read: “All who guess correctly can claim either free glutinous rice balls or sweet glutinous dumplings; the more you guess correctly the more you claim, but one wrong guess and game over”. BLY agreed to try, and when it reached his turn, he answered the first two riddles rather easily, delegating YM the honour of holding the prizes. The stall owner turned a delicate shade of purple, embarrassed that BLY only took 5 minutes to crack through the puzzles. BLY continued on, “The 5th puzzle on the 3rd row, that proverb is about the many blessings of strong friendship”. The girl in charge of verifying the answers looked terrified and squeamishly replied “Incorrect.”  The stall owner erupted loudly, “Aha! Wrong! Next!”

“That’s not possible!” BLY responded indignantly, knowing his answer was correct beyond a doubt, bluntly cursing the girl’s reply. He snatched the “answer book”, validating his correct answer. YM fiercely added: “Are you serious? We clearly got it right, and you have the nerve to allege we’re wrong: are you simply unable to give us our reward?” In the end, the stall owner came out, smilingly confronting BLY and YM. “It’s the Lantern Festival, the day of fortune; we don’t want to let you win (everything) since we want to encourage other people to come and have a go. Two handsome men like yourselves, I know that you’re both very knowledgeable and capable of answering all these riddles, but would it be fair to deny all the others waiting patiently in line the chance to also win some prizes?” To that BLY laughed, and taking it like a gentleman, turned to leave the premises. “Wait, don’t forget to take these!” he heard someone call, nimbly catching the bundle tossed in his direction. Only once he caught hold of it did he realise what was inside; YM couldn’t resist exclaiming “Woah, these dumplings are massive! Are they even cooked?” For an instant, BLY’s eyes froze: a memory flashed past his mind, drowned out by the clamour of the street. (This is a reference to GH cooking dumplings for BLY, and how he would always test whether they were cooked or not. Aww)

Once dusk approached, all the street lights turned on; BLY and YM stood together on the street corner, taking a moment to again appreciate the beauty of all the glowing lights shining across the streetscape, before contentedly returning home. When BLY arrived at his courtyard, supper was already prepared and the whole family was waiting on his arrival, receiving him warmly and bringing a chair for him, gesturing for him to quickly sit down.

“Come come come, supper’s ready” BHQ yelled. The family members raised their cups, regardless of whether it had wine or water, toasting each other before urging everyone to dig in.

“Wait, we should eat the sweet dumplings first”

“Yes you’re right, how clever of our magnificent boy” (Magnificent = hero, best person; families love to flatter)

The whole family surrounded the small table, eating and chatting happily, their faces full of joy, the dramas of the previous few days all but forgotten; it was as if they had mutually agreed to bury this issue for the sake of the last day of the lunar month, resolving to only talk about cheerful things, determined to preserve the harmonious and happy mood till the last minutes of that year.

BLY calmed looked at each merry face, listening to their cheerful stories, eating the unfortunately soggy sweet dumplings, yet still feeling a strong pervasive warmth creep into the bottom of his heart. (Now that he thought about it), he didn’t have such a bad life, even with such an unfaithful mother as Jiang Yuan; he actually was very fortunate, having such a fond and loving family around him. He almost started to tear up, and quickly put down his chopsticks and left. Aunt Zhou looked up at BLY’s departure, prodding BHQ “Why is BLY having so little to eat?”

“I’ll have a look”

BHQ followed him. BLY went to his room, dragging out his suitcase, quickly sorting his stuff into it, and carrying the bag of glutinous rice balls he won earlier, pushed open the front gate and was about to leave.

BHQ stood by the doorway, looking at BLY in astonishment.

“Where are you going this late at night?”

BLY turned back, silently looking at his father: “Dad, I’m going back home (GH’s home) tonight.”

BHQ: “It’s the 15th of the first month of the lunar year, the time when the whole family comes together. Why don’t you go back once the holiday ends?”

BLY didn’t move. BHQ looked at his son’s expression, knowing that BLY would not change his mind, yet at the same time wishing that he would stay. “Why don’t you wait till their house finishes their meal instead? (Why go now?)”

BLY felt his heart squirm a bit from the guilt, but still replied back to his father “I’ve finished eating, let Grandma and Grandpa know that I’ll be back in about 2 days.”

BHQ sighed, somewhat unwilling to let go. However, he patted BLY’s shoulder, looking at him understandingly. “Go then, the family mood won’t be dampened by one less member. GH’s dad went to the army base, so you shouldn’t let GH spend the night all by himself.”

Nobody understands one’s son better than his father. BLY didn’t respond, but turned around and crossed the courtyard. BHQ stood against the wailing Northern wind, unable to hold back his hot tears. They say that when a girl is of age, she must be married off and leave behind her parents; the same applied to BLY, and BHQ struggled to accept it. (LOL)

GH awoke from the sofa, the room lights still on, window curtains still closed, unable to ascertain whether it was day or night, nor the time or date. He wasn’t sure how many days he had spent in this confused state of mind, his lifeless eyes wandering all over the place. The whole room was a mess, scattered with wine bottles everywhere, some empty, some half-consumed before being thrown away in a fit; some were strewn across the floor, while others were upright… apart from alcohol, his stomach was as empty as a cracked egg shell. The hunger constantly burned through his pain and sadness, requiring several bottles of iced bear to quench the flames until he could feel no more pain, and only then could he rest his head back and sleep properly.

He stood upright, his whole body aching, dragging his tired and sleepy feet over to the window, opening the curtains to reveal that night had indeed fallen. His dispirited eyes swept across the streetscape, noticing the outside lights were rather bright, the crowds rather large, and the Southwestern night sky blossoming with soaring fireworks, fading into shadows beneath the glittering stars…

Stupefied, GH pulled closed the curtains, opening the fridge only to find nothing inside. His eyes swept the floor, locating at last one unopened bottle of red wine after feeling around in between the couch gaps. With a now practiced flourish of the hand, he removed the cork and drank deeply from the bottle.  

Chugging it down, after only two gulps the doorbell rang suddenly. Stopping himself, pretending not to hear, he continued to force down another gulp. The doorbell rang again. GH calmly dropped the wine bottle down on a nearby coffee table and then walked over towards the door.

His forehead ached from all the alcohol, and his fingers were all clumsy from days of only gripping glass bottles. He struggled to open the doorknob, taking several times before he finally wrenched it open. Outside stood a lonely figure. GH stared, blankly.

BLY was still wearing the same clothes he had on when he left GH all those days ago, carrying the same suitcase GH had provided him with all those days ago, wearing the same gloves GH got him on Christmas Eve all those weeks ago, and was holding onto a bag of massive sticky rice balls, displaying two embarrassed red ears as he stared back at GH.

At this moment, time froze.

Neither said a word to each other.

They silently contemplated each other, while an undercurrent of intense emotion swept under and around them. At long last, GH strode across in large bounds, suddenly hugging and holding onto BLY in his well-built arms. It is impossible to describe that feeling when you recover everything that you have lost, the same feeling that engulfed GH in that moment, sending him tottering on the verge of collapse. Nor can anyone adequately put into words what BLY felt at that very point in time, how precious GH was to him and how painful his absence was. GH wrapped one arm tightly around BLY’s back, as if to morph them into one body, while the other gently hooked around the back of BLY’s head; with his face slightly turned, his cold lips tenderly massaged the perimeter of BLY’s ear, allowing him to be comforted by BLY’s body heat.

Originally, BLY came here without any special feelings or expectations; when he rang the doorbell, no particular thoughts ran through his mind. But once GH hugged and embraced him, all kinds of hidden emotions bubbled from the surface and enveloped him in a fuzzy warmth of happiness, of a kind even greater than that of the family whom he had just left behind.

After a while, BLY was the first to speak.

“GH... You owe me big time for what you did.” (Hehe, you’ll see soon what this is)

GH tensed at the words, momentarily letting BLY go, before a wave of steadfast resolution overcame him.

“I will do whatever it takes to win you back!”

BLY let out a faint chuckle, almost in relief, and urged GH to help him bring his stuff inside. GH looked down at the bag BLY was carrying, asking: “What’s this?”

“They’re sticky rice balls, I won them through answering those lantern riddles.”

GH took them, glancing over at the digital clock, only just realising that today was the day of the Lantern Festival, and for a moment, he felt incredibly touched.

“Right, I’ll heat these up. Sit down and make yourself comfortable while you wait.”

After he said this, he hurried into the kitchen, and as he was about to light the stove, he noticed BLY had joined him inside.

BLY: “I’m warning you, try and cook it through in one go this time. If you keep tasting it and throwing it away as you go, there’ll be none left!!”