Yan obediently raised his hand. The sight of YouRan’s slender fingers rubbing burn ointment on the back of his hand sent jolts of electricity straight into Yan’s heart. He could feel the tip of his ears growing red.
As YouRan rubbed ointment onto Yan’s hand, he couldn’t help admiring the other’s hands. They looked so nice. The palms weren’t too big and they weren’t covered in callouses. The other’s fingers were long and slender. The knuckles didn’t pop out overly so. The skin was smooth and fair. What a pity one of them was now covered by ugly patches of burn ointment. Those patches somehow made the hand look greasy.
Once YouRan was done, he rose to put the ointment away and to wash his hands. When he returned, Yan was on the phone.
“Mn,” said Yan. “I’m still moving.”
“No, I’m in a neighbour’s home. Yeah, I had too few clothing on. I didn’t think the temperature would drop today.”
“He’s a really good man. He let me in. Otherwise, I’d be standing outside in the hallway.”
“Mn. Just come during the evening. We can have dinner when you come to my place later.”
“Okay. I’ll ask him.”
Yan then looked up at YouRan with a hand over his phone. “Some of my friends are visiting me this evening. We’ll be having dinner. Could you join us?” Yan asked, hope glimmering in his eyes.
“I won’t be,” YouRan instinctively replied. “You guys have fun.”
Yan’s eyes drooped in disappointment. His hair flopped down as he glumly said into the phone, “He won’t be joining us. Yeah, he might be busy. Yes, okay. Don’t worry. Bye.”
When Yan hung up, his mood was visibly lower.
YouRan didn’t know why but he somehow felt apologetic when he saw Yan like that. Perhaps he was a little more patient because he was talking to a fan of his writing. YouRan paused for a few minutes to think of a new topic.
“Do you live alone?” YouRan asked.
“Yes,” said Yan. “I wanted to live by myself for a while. It’ll be more tranquil. I’ll have my own space.”
YouRan nodded in reply.
“Tonight,” Yan asked after some hesitation, “are you busy?”
Lying wasn’t something YouRan did. “No. I merely don’t like crowds.”
“Oh, I see,” Yan said with a nod. “I understand.”
“Erm,” said YouRan. “When did my neighbours sell their place off? I didn’t know of it at all.”
“Well, they mentioned to me they found a buyer as soon as they decided to sell,” Yan guiltily said. “Everything went smoothly.”
YouRan nodded. “Is your family okay with you moving out on your own?”
“My family’s into democratic parenting. However, my father’s a good son who just can’t relax when it comes to his father. He’d always lived with my grandfather. My brother and my… What do I call him? My brother’s spouse is a guy. I usually call him my brother as well. Anyway, my older brother is married. He has his own place and living the ideal couple’s life. I’m the middle child in my family. I’m not as smart as my brother and not as cute as my uncle’s daughter. I don’t excel in anything nor am I a naughty kid. Yes, my presence isn’t usually strong. But I also hadn’t shown any bad behaviour before. That’s why my family said nothing when I said I wanted to move out. Perhaps my personality made them worry less.”
YouRan didn’t think a simple question would make the other tell him everything about himself. He couldn’t help but let out a little chuckle. This young man he’d just met, someone who looked quite sombre and silent at the start but slowly showed himself to be a rather…adorable airhead (?), was much more honest than YouRan’s ex-lover. That realisation jolted YouRan out of his thoughts. This encounter with Yan had made YouRan temporarily forget about the issues frustrating him. As expected, humans are social creatures.
The two men spent the next few hours languidly chatting with each other. They exchanged phone numbers, WeChat contacts and so on. When it came to Nan Shan’s books, Yan knew them as well as his family’s heirlooms. His knowledge of every book and character was so thorough that he was more excited to go on endlessly discussing them more than YouRan himself. His dead eyes began to sparkle with life. YouRan had to hide his laughs quite a few times. It was confirmed. This man was absolutely a fan of his books. There was no doubt about it.
Eventually, the workers knocked on the door. “Mr Yan, we’re done. Could you come to check and sign off on the work?”
Yan reluctantly stood up and walked to the door. Even then, he persisted in asking once more, “Can you really not join us tonight? There’s only going to be two of my friends.” Yan paused and added, “They’re both men.”
YouRan felt his heart melting at the way Yan looked at him. Still, he insisted, “You guys have fun. I won’t be joining you. Oh, if you have the time, you can drop by my place later.”
With his head drooping low, Yan finally said his goodbyes and left the apartment.
In the apartment, YouRan gently slapped himself on the forehead. He rarely ever spoke as much as he just did in an entire month.
Outside the apartment door, Yan rubbed his hands across his face. The number of times he’d smiled in that apartment just now far exceeded the total number of times he’d smiled over the years. Ah, it was the living, breathing Nan Shan. His heart raced so quickly.
YiHan hung up and turned to JingYuan. “From what Yan said, everything went well. He was even able to get into Nan Shan’s home for a few hours. Tonight, we’ll be heading over for a housewarming dinner. Yan tried to ask Nan Shan to join us but, sadly, he was rejected.”
“That’s normal,” JingYuan said. “Based on Nan Shan’s personality, it’s normal for him to say no. It’s quite a surprise that Yan could even enter his apartment and stay for more than a few minutes.”
“Mn,” YiHan chuckled. “Nan Shan is extraordinarily patient when it comes to his fans. First, Yan pretended to be some pitiful little thing to make his heart soften. After gaining entry, he exposed himself as a fan of Nan Shan’s books. I think the man must’ve been quite good to Yan.”
“Pitiful little thing?” JingYuan asked.
“Yeah,” YiHan said, hiding a chuckle behind a hand. “He intentionally put on fewer clothes than usual as he knocked on Nan Shan’s door and told the other he had no place to stay. Nan Shan couldn’t bear to be cruel so he’d let Yan stay in his place for a while.”
“You really can’t judge a book by its cover.” JingYuan was quite shocked. “I never could’ve thought Yan would do something like this.”
“Don’t underestimate the fanatic heart of a fan. Pretending to be pitiful is nothing as long as he can get close to his idol,” said YiHan.
JingYuan’s face darkened. “I remember you once saying you’re also a fan of Nan Shan?”
YiHan chuckled. “My fanatic heart resides in your chest. It can’t be mesmerised by another man. I’m a fan of his books. What I’m mesmerised by are his books.”
Subconsciously, JingYuan’s hand pressed against his chest as if he was afraid something would fall out of it. At the sight of YiHan’s smile, he put down his hand and cleared his throat. He let out a short hum in response before looking down. He looked calm, if one ignored the pair of flushed ears.
YiHan hid a laugh behind pursed lips. Slouched against the couch, YiHan looked at the other man. This “sprite of jealousy” was so very cute when he was embarrassed. Most likely, the only person in the city who’d think Mu JingYuan as cute would be YiHan and only YiHan.
Of course, JingYuan could sense YiHan’s gaze on him. The older man tried resisting the urge but he eventually looked up at asked, “What are you looking at?”
“My man,” YiHan immediately replied with a smile. He’d discovered the joy in teasing others.
“I was thinking,” YiHan continued, heedless to his incoming doom, “how could a man so hot exist in this world? What’s unimaginable is the fact that he’s my man. I really am the luckiest person in the world… Hey, what are you doing? Why are you standing up? Don’t come closer. I’m warning you. Go back to your work. Hey! Mmgh… Ahn… Don’t bite, you jealous man. Stop biting, you… Fine. I have teeth too. Take this! Mmgh!”
“Still want to bite me?”
“Ahn… No… I won’t… Ahn… Stop licking…”
That evening, dressed in a fresh change of clothes, YiHan and JingYuan arrived at Yan’s new home. When the trio exited the lift, they spent a while murmuring to each other in the hallway.
Then, Yan loudly exclaimed, “YiHan, you’re here! Did you bring the soup base?”
“I did,” YiHan replied in an equally loud voice. “Did you get all of the food?”
“I did but I’ve ruined some of the lettuce while washing them,” Yan said.
The two men continued their conversation with ears perked for any sign of movement in Nan Shan’s home. Unfortunately, the door remained silent without a single sign it’d open at all.
The two sighed in disappointment.
“Let’s head in first,” JingYuan suggested after a glance at the door.
YiHan and Yan both sighed once more in unison. After entering Yan’s new apartment, YiHan sat down on the couch.
“It looks like there’s a ways to go before we befriend Nan Shan,” said YiHan.
JingYuan patted YiHan on the head. “You’re in too much of a hurry. This is just how he is. You need to take it slow. Yan living here means we have the advantage when it comes to the location. We have more chances in the future.”
“Mr Mu’s right. We have time,” Yan said with a blank face.
“He Yuan would definitely come looking for Nan Shan one day soon,” YiHan said to Yan. “Have you thought of how you’d react? If Nan Shan doesn’t soften up to you, you’d be at a disadvantage. He Yuan is your uncle-in-law after all. It’s likely not good for you to openly butt heads with him.”
“I’m here now,” Yan said. “Of course I’ve considered this aspect. Nan Shan was only cheated by He Yuan because he lacked affection as a kid. Otherwise, how could a slimeball like that man have the right to make Nan Shan his?”
Yan coldly chuckled and continued, “If He Yuan sees me, that man would likely hide as far away from me as possible. Do you think he’d dare to go against me publicly? As long as I don’t leave here, he wouldn’t dare come!”
“True,” YiHan said with a nod. “He must not yet know his identity’s been exposed. If he sees you, he’d do his best to hide from your gaze.”
“Of course,” Yan said. “I’m not the one who needs to sneak around.”
“You’re right,” YiHan said, smiling. “I can stop worrying now. If he doesn’t have the courage to come, Nan Shan wouldn’t have to listen to his sly words.”
“Alright,” JingYuan interrupted, glancing at YiHan. “Let’s eat. You must be hungry.”
YiHan placed a hand on his tummy and shyly said, “I am. A little.”
Yan stood up and walked to the kitchen. “Let’s eat then. I was just rinsing the vegetables.”
“We’ll heat up the soup then,” YiHan said. “What a pity Nan Shan wouldn’t join us.”
YiHan followed Yan into the kitchen. As he did so, his eyes drifted over to the colander in the sink. He froze, stunned. Moments later, he turned to Yan who was rinsing out some vegetables by the sink.
“Second Master Yan,” said YiHan, “have mercy on these poor vegetables. Look at how wilted they are. Are they still edible?”
Yan froze. He then cleared his throat and replied, “I didn’t know they were so fragile. They crumbled into pieces at a single touch.”
“Don’t wash them like you’re hammering metal,” YiHan said. “Can we even pick them up with tongs?”
Knew them as well as his family’s heirlooms: Chinese proverb. English equivalent is “as well as the back of his hand”.