Sissy (Niang Niang Qiang) - Chap 3
Shao Qun’s eyes and tone were so sincere that Li Chengxiu felt even more embarrassed when he heard it.
He really hated Shao Qun back then. If it wasn’t for him, he wouldn’t be working as a cook in a hotel today. He should have been able to get into a good high school, a good university, and have a completely different life. But after fourteen/fifteen years, he had a more thorough understanding of many things, and he began to believe in fate. To him, Shao Qun was already a distant vague impression. Just like he wouldn’t hate the kid who stole his candy when he was a child, same way he couldn’t hate Shao Qun anymore. He had long since forgotten anything related to this person.
Under such earnest eyes, Li Chengxiu showed a shallow smile. He felt that the scars on his heart gradually started to melt away since he saw Shao Qun that day again. There was a sense of relief that came with it. So for the first time, when facing Shao Qun, he said clearly and without hesitation: “It’s alright.”
Shao Qun looked into his eyes, which were unusually bright, and Li Chengxiu felt a little uncomfortable, so he turned away.
Exquisitely styled desserts were served promptly, and Shao Qun warmly urged him to eat.
Li Chengxiu wasn’t hungry, as he had just eaten dinner, so he just picked at the food.
While eating, Shao Qun asked him how he was doing over the years.
Without any hard feelings, Li Chengxiu explained that after dropping out of school, he went to work part-time. Later, he said, there were many job opportunities in Shenzhen, so he decided to come here.
Shao Qun nodded. He was silent for a moment, then he finally said, “After that incident, my family sent me to England. When I came back, I looked for you, but I couldn’t find you.”
Thinking of the difficulties and embarrassment he had to face at that time, Li Chengxiu felt stuffy in his chest. He didn’t know what to say, so he just said “oh”.
Shao Qun put down his chopsticks and reiterated: “I’m really happy to see you again.”
For many years, no one had expressed enthusiasm or affection for Li Chengxiu. He was used to being either hated or ignored, and it was somewhat flattering to him that someone could be happy to see him. Even if these were just polite words. Shao Qun’s superiority complex and arrogance suddenly became less repulsive to him, and Li Chengxiu’s mood improved. Slowly, pronouncing every word, he said, “Thank. You.”
“It’s me who should be thankful to you for helping me with this party!”
Li Chengxiu remembered the “business” they were going to talk about, and asked, “Party. How to do it? I…have…no experience.”
“It doesn’t matter, you don’t have to worry too much about it. Specific things will be handled by other people. You only need to be responsible for preparing the menu, purchasing the ingredients, and then making certain preparations in advance. It is enough, if you make the dishes on the day of the party which is not so different from what you do at the hotel.”
Li Chengxiu was relieved to hear this. He has never done such work before. A couple of times in the past, the hotel had received conference groups, and he could use some of that experience but he was still afraid of messing up. If something went wrong, it might make his days in the hotel more difficult in the future.
Shao Qun told him roughly how many people were invited to the party, explained what flavor profile he expected from the dishes, mentioned which special dishes have to be included etc. Li Chengxiu listened very carefully to all the details.
In the end, Shao Qun said that he would take him to meet the party planner in two days, and they could focus on discussing specifics with each other.
During the meal, Li Chengxiu got less and less nervous in front of Shao Qun, and his speech became smoother and more fluent.
Shao Qun kept his curiosity at bay at first but finally asked: “You didn’t speak like this before. Why…”
Li Chengxiu was stunned for a moment – his tongue that had just been liberated seemed to tie itself into a knot yet again.
Before he even met Shao Qun, Li Chengxiu was already very quiet. After dropping out of school, he became even more autistic, and it was normal for him not to speak with anyone for days at a time.
When he was a child, he always played with girls. As he got older and was able to see the difference in societal expectations for men and women, his mannerisms, his tone of voice, and even his whole personality had already been affected in such a way that he seemed weird amongst other boys. This made him a target of ridicule. In order to avoid calling more attention to himself, he could only hide behind the silence.
He spoke less and less, till he almost lost his ability to speak at all.
The two of them right now have been chatting so smoothly, that Li Chengxiu forgot about his awkwardness for a while. Shao Qun’s reminder seemed to knock him right back to his original form.
Shao Qun also felt embarrassed by his own question, “I just asked casually.”
Li Chengxiu lowered his eyes and nodded.
Shao Qun bullied him lightly: “You haven’t changed much since school. You’re still the same.”
Li Chengxiu sat up straight and subconsciously moved his body away from Shao Qun.
“You also haven’t changed much.”
Shao Qun curled his lips into a smile: “You know, after I met you that day, I immediately told Big Li and the others! Do you still remember them?”
Li Chengxiu shivered, and his face turned pale.
Shao Qun continued: “They were all very happy to hear about you.They want to see you again. Big Li and A-wen are in Beijing, and Xiao Sheng is in Shanghai. At first, when I invited them to the party, they all said they were too busy. But as soon as they heard that you were coming, they immediately RSVPed. See, they respect you more than me…”
“No.” Li Chengxiu whispered.
“No.” Li Chengxiu repeated with a trembling voice.
He didn’t even want to see Shao Qun again, let alone his friends. He didn’t even understand why they would be happy to meet him.
They treated him like beasts back then, and now they want to casually apologize and suddenly become good old classmates that haven’t seen each other for ages? Do they think it’s possible to just laugh the whole thing away?
What happened back then can always be attributed to being young and ignorant, so Li Chengxiu had let it go a long time ago. If it wasn’t for Shao Qun’s appearance, he wouldn’t even think about it anymore.
But now this group of people was going to appear in front of him again. It was like being chased by the dogs who had bitten him many years ago. Even if this group of dogs had grown up and stopped biting people, he still had lingering fears and was wary of them.
Shao Qun looked at him silently, suddenly raised his hand and touched his hair, “If you don’t want to see them, I won’t let them come.”
Li Chengxiu’s body jolted violently, and he jumped out of his chair.
He hadn’t had physical contact with anyone for a long time, so at this moment he had the urge to dash for the door in panic.
Shao Qun awkwardly retracted his hand, as a strange look flashed in his eyes. But it quickly faded. He also stood up and said, “Are you full? Then I’ll take you home.”
Li Chengxiu nodded, picked up his plastic bag on the chair next to him, and quietly followed Shao Qun.
When Shao Qun turned around, he saw him walking slowly behind him with his head down, holding a bag on his arm like a woman. Shao Qun frowned and sped up when he was passing through the lobby of the tea house, in order to keep his distance from Li Chengxiu.
In the car, the two of them chatted for a bit.
Shao Qun took him right to the address Li Chengxiu gave him. As he looked at the dilapidated old house through the car window, he asked: “Do you live in this kind of place?”
There was a hint of surprise in his tone.
Li Chengxiu felt his face burn. He wanted to tell him that many people live in these kinds of places, but he suspected that it was useless to explain these things to a person like Shao Qun, so he only said, “Thank you. For sending me back. I’m going now.”
Shao Qun nodded and unlocked the door for him.
Li Chengxiu was about to open the door and get out of the car when Shao Qun suddenly stopped him.
“Cheng Xiu, when is your next holiday?”
Shao Qun shook his head: “Next Wednesday is too late. You should take a day off this Saturday.”
Li Chengxiu was stunned for a moment, and suddenly felt a little uncomfortable: “I can’t just ask for a leave.”
“Why can’t you have a day off? The hotel can go on without you.”
Li Chengxiu still shook his head: “I can’t ask for a leave.” If he asks for a day’s leave, he will not get his bonus. So why should he ask for a leave for Shao Qun’s sake?
Shao Qun finally showed a bit of impatience on his face, tousled his hair, and said: “If you are worried about your boss, I will send him my regards. Just do it. If I wait until next Wednesday, the time will be too tight. I hope that my party will be flawless, and I sincerely hope that you will cooperate with me on that. Isn’t that what your boss asked you to do?”
Li Chengxiu was left speechless. Shao Qun waved goodbye to him, rolled up the window, and his car sped out as soon as he stepped on the accelerator, as if it was too uncomfortable for him to stay even for a second longer.
Li Chengxiu was still holding on to tomorrow’s breakfast. He groaned, as he walked up the stairs in the dark corridor.
Every time he took these stairs, he was scared. The light bulb in the corridor was broken, and no one got around to repairing it for the whole year. The stairs were steep and narrow. At night, he had to touch the wall to be able to move forward. But the wall was bumpy and uneven. During the day, he noticed how dirty it was. It was a terrifying experience for him.
The moment he returned to his room and turned on the lights, he was covered in sweat. Without even noticing he collapsed on the bed.
In the stairwell with no light, he was surrounded by darkness with no exit. There was deadly silence on the campus – the only sound was of him crying and begging to let him out. His voice echoed in the empty building, making it seem even more eerie.
This distant nightmare became clearer with the reappearance of Shao Qun in his life.
Li Chengxiu’s last name was Li.
But very few people at school knew this.
“Cheng” was his mother’s last name. And since the teacher called him Cheng Xiu at the very beginning, everyone thought his full name was Cheng Xiu.
No one in this school really cared what Li Chengxiu’s last name was or how his name was spelled, even though everyone in the junior high and high school knew him.
Whenever the students mentioned him, they used his universal nickname: Sissy.
Everyone must have encountered such a person in school or university.
Although he looks male, some of his actions, his tone of voice, and the ways he deals with the world make him seem feminine in the eyes of outsiders.
Li Chengxiu was such a person. Whether it was in his actions, or his manners or the way he behaved, he wasn’t masculine at all.
Li Chengxiu wasn’t actually ugly. He had fair skin, straight eyebrows, and a nice silhouette. His grades were also good. If he wasn’t that sort of a person, he would definitely be popular amongst girls.
Even if one is a sissy, theoretically as long as people are open-minded enough and get over the uncomfortable first impression, they finally learn to accept such a person after getting to know him better.
But Li Chengxiu wasn’t acceptable to anyone. Because he always exuded an unbearable smell. Sometimes he reeked of alcohol, sometimes he was stinking of greasy food. Often it was a combination of those two. He only changed his clothes a couple of times during the semester, and even old teachers with a lot of experience couldn’t help but frown and avoid him when he was nearby.
He always seemed gloomy when he talked to people. At the age of thirteen or fourteen, he still looked thinner than girls. He walked softly and kept his head down, which made him look weak and dejected.
When he was a child, the situation wasn’t as bad. Although his family was not well-off and he was scrawny, his clothes were at least clean and he didn’t look completely malnourished. Later, they said, his father ran away with another woman, taking away all the money and leaving only a broken house behind. His mother started drinking every day and didn’t care much about him.
Li Chengxiu managed to get into the best middle school in the city because of his hard work. He was one of the few people in his county who got admitted into this school, so the county financed his education. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to study in a school full of children of high-ranking officials and wealthy businessmen.
His issues were not a secret. Everyone in class gossiped about him. Occasionally, there were a couple voices that felt bad for him. When they saw what he looked like, all they could do was shake their heads.
He was a person who kept his eyes on the ground and never argued with anybody. Even if his face turned red when he was being mocked, he wouldn’t say a word. Even if he was pushed and shoved, he would just walk away with his head down. Such weakness made bullies even more aggressive, so all these spoiled children got to vent their aggression and superiority on Li Chengxiu.
Whenever the class was over, Li Chengxiu was always the first one to rush out of the classroom.
Usually, no one would prevent him from leaving. As soon as they saw him, everyone would exaggeratedly pinch their noses and back away a couple of steps.
He was used to this kind of contempt. His self-esteem was beaten out of him before it could even take shape, so he gradually became numb to such treatment.
Since his father left, the trajectory of his daily life in the past three years could be depicted as a triangle – home, restaurant, school.
He needed to commute for an hour on a bus between these places.
Taking the bus was the most relaxing part of his day. He could just sit there, and he didn’t have to work. He used this time to think.
The 45-square-meter house was the only property he and his mother owned. He earned money for their daily necessities by working in a restaurant run by a distant relative’s family. With that, he could barely maintain the minimum standard of living.
After a while it got even more difficult.
When his mother was sober, she would at least go sell vegetables and bring in some money. But after drinking too much all year round, her body was destroyed, and her mental health was deteriorating rapidly. Not to mention, that when she was drunk, it was common for her to throw things around and hit people. There were no more electrical appliances left in the house except for the lights. She had smashed everything, and they didn’t have the money to buy those things again. This at least resulted in saving electricity. When Li Chengxiu grew up, at least he didn’t have to wash the dishes and sweep the floors by hand anymore. After doing his apprenticeship for a few years, he had learned how to cook a couple of dishes and was able to get a higher salary and afford all those appliances.
That’s right, life goes on.
But at that time, the only way he could comfort himself was to fantasize about his future.
He wanted to study hard – the county had promised him that if he could also be admitted to the key highschool of the province, they would take over the costs. If he went to that high school and worked hard, he could get into a good university and find a good job after graduation. Preferably in a different city, where no one knew him. He could start a new life, and everything would change forever.
When he got home at night, it was past 10 pm.
Many of the neighbors had already turned off their lights. He walked along the wall of his house, and when he touched the doorknob, he realized that the door wasn’t closed.
It has already happened several times before. But there was nothing in his house worth stealing anyway.
As soon as he stepped inside, he stepped into something and slipped. Fortunately, he was holding onto the door frame, otherwise, he would have fallen down. He looked down, and the light of the moon let him distinguish a translucent plastic bag on the ground. There was liquid dripping out of it.
It was his mother’s drink.
He remembered that during chemistry class, their teacher explained that these kinds of cheap “wine” bags contained industrial alcohol. He went home and told about the dangers to his mother but was slapped in the face for no reason in response. So he never dared to mention it again.
He touched the wall and finally found the electric cord. As soon as the room lit up, he heard a vague curse.
With a sigh, he walked over to help the drunk middle-aged woman get off the ground. He got her into bed with some difficulties and covered her with the quilt.
He liked it when his mother was sober because then she would just treat him like he didn’t exist and wouldn’t beat him and scold him. She would even cook for him sometimes.
It was a pity that lately she was almost never sober. She just kept spitting out her dissatisfaction and resentment at Li Chengxiu who was already used to hearing it.
After helping his mother, he started cleaning up the mess in the room.
In the past, his house was always clean. His mother was actually a capable and respectable woman. She kept her home in order – she would kneel on the ground and clean the floors daily, so Li Chengxiu grew up with good hygiene habits.
He didn’t want to go to school smelling badly. But he couldn’t afford to wash every day, due to high water bills. He only owned two or three pieces of clothing, and all of those were given to him by the people in the restaurant. That was his reality.
The way his classmates and his teachers looked at him was painful at first but soon he got used to it. He thought that if he could make money in the future, he could clean himself up and finally make friends. As for now… it was good enough to have food and warm clothes.
Li Chengxiu’s only hope was the future. Thinking about it, imagining it was what kept him going through the hard days with less than five hours of sleep. He was sure that if he did his best now, he would build a different and truly beautiful life for himself.