Sunset Boulevard - Chap 20
Zhang Jue was wearing the short sleeves that Chen Boqiao had passed to him, as he sat on the chair and ate the porridge with his head lowered.
His hair was slightly curled and tied loosely, with a few strands falling by his cheeks. His body gave off the scent of two different pheromones mixed with the smell of the shower gel, one of which was the smell of Chen Boqiao.
Chen Boqiao had already eaten, so he sat beside Zhang Jue and looked at him. He inspected Zhang Jue from head to toe, but he didn’t find a lot of traces of sex except for his paler-than-usual face and overly red lips—residual evidences that had not been destroyed yet.
Zhang Jue was quiet in bed. Most of the time, he didn’t make any sounds. He had a soft tongue and long legs. When he orgasmed, he looked at Chen Boqiao dazedly. He didn’t say anything, but Chen Boqiao found out that Zhang Jue didn’t like not seeing his face, and was willing to cooperate with any position that allowed them to look at each other.
Perhaps Chen Boqiao’s gaze remained on him for too long, because Zhang Jue raised his head and glanced at Chen Boqiao. The two looked at each other for a second or two. Chen Boqiao did not speak, so Zhang Jue did not speak either. He lowered his head again and ate slowly.
Zhang Jue was very reluctant to talk about what happened last night. His body language, facial expressions, and tone all pointed to that. He was even more afraid of mentioning that they had been in bed together than Chen Boqiao was, which made Chen Boqiao somewhat sorry.
He regretted saying too much at the love hotel.
He thought that Zhang Jue was too self-aware, had low self-esteem, and couldn’t express himself at all. He did not need any reminder. Even without Chen Boqiao telling him, Zhang Jue would give up faster than anyone else.
He might send a generous gift to Chen Boqiao when he gets married, hide in some place far away from the wedding site to take a peek, hold on to the things Chen Boqiao gave him before and space out, or secretly save his photos from news broadcasts. The one thing he wouldn’t do was to chase after him and persuade him.
What Chen Boqiao said at the hotel was too cruel to Zhang Jue, as well as unnecessary and meaningless.
Zhang Jue was not done with the bowl of porridge when Ai Jiaxi called him back. Zhang Jue picked up the phone and put it by his ear. Ai Jiaxi was yelling at the other end, and even Chen Boqiao could hear it, though he couldn’t hear the specific words.
Ai Jiaxi chatted to Zhang Jue for a long time before it was Zhang Jue’s turn to speak. Zhang Jue said, “Don’t go if you don’t want to.”
Then Ai Jiaxi started chattering again. After a while, Zhang Jue said, “Okay,” and after a few seconds, he said, “I will peel lots of them for you.”
Chen Boqiao realised that Ai Jiaxi was still upset about the last shrimp.
Zhang Jue coaxed Ai Jiaxi like he would a child, “You can eat as many as you want.”
The vague sound of Ai Jiaxi’s voice that came out of the speaker sounded very proud. Zhang Jue quietly replied to him, “No, my hands don’t hurt.”
Then, there was no sound from Ai Jiaxi. After a while, Zhang Jue told Ai Jiaxi, “Soon… I’ll definitely celebrate your birthday with you.”
Chen Boqiao heard Zhang Jue assure Ai Jiaxi with the things he wanted to hear, and Ai Jiaxi finally allowed Zhang Jue to hang up.
After finishing his call, Zhang Jue turned off his mobile phone, took a sip of porridge, and suddenly told Chen Boqiao, “It’s good.”
“Isn’t it pretty hard to mess up instant food packets?” Chen Boqiao was straightforward.
Zhang Jue stirred the porridge with a spoon and said, “It’s not impossible to mess up.”
Chen Boqiao looked at Zhang Jue and thought of the person who had just called. He paused and asked, “Ai Jiaxi?”
There was a little smile in Zhang Jue’s eyes. He nodded and said, “Every time he’d give it to me before it had completely cooked through.”
Chen Boqiao did not speak for a long time. Zhang Jue probably thought that the topic was over. He lowered his head and planned to continue eating, but Chen Boqiao called him by his name and he looked up very quickly.
“Why did Ai Jiaxi break off the engagement?” Chen Boqiao asked Zhang Jue. “He didn’t look like he would be unhappy being married to you.”
“He didn’t want to break it off,” Zhang Jue said honestly. “His parents knew about my health condition and they thought we were incompatible, but they couldn’t talk any sense into him. My parents tried too, since they felt bad for their family. In the end I managed to persuade him to call it off.”
“Really,” Chen Boqiao said noncommittally. “Must be pretty difficult.”
“Well,” Zhang Jue looked at his leftover porridge and murmured again, “I had been persuading him for a long time. I have known him for a long time, and we are both okay with the arrangement, but what if he meets someone he really likes in the future?”
Chen Boqiao felt that Zhang Jue’s statement was interesting. After pondering for a while, he asked Zhang Jue ruthlessly, “Don’t you have someone you like?”
Zhang Jue slowly put down the spoon and raised his face. He did not speak.
Chen Boqiao looked into Zhang Jue’s eyes, and the second time he felt regret in the day appeared much faster than he’d expected. Zhang Jue’s eyes were a little red, and there was no expression on his face. He did not know if it was because he was too tired from last night or upset.
Chen Boqiao was not a person who made decisions based on his instinct. He was accustomed to thoroughly analyzing things and keeping a distance from others to avoid unnecessary trouble. He could not do that with Zhang Jue.
He deliberately provoked Zhang Jue without thinking beforehand, but even so, he did not want Zhang Jue to show such a sad expression. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have lied to Zhang Jue about not minding the smell of cigarettes at all.
Chen Boqiao wanted to change the topic for Zhang Jue’s sake, but it was too late, and Zhang Jue had already replied.
He said, “I’m not like him.”
Chen Boqiao looked at Zhang Jue, whose eyes were not focused on anything, embarrassed and in pain, and for once he felt bad.
Zhang Jue probably misunderstood and thought that Chen Boqiao was persuading him to give up on him. Afterall, he had always thought the best of Chen Boqiao. Zhang Jue continued, “Like I said, stop caring about me and what I feel.”
Zhang Jue looked like he had already abandoned his hopes, his lips were still very red, and his eyes wandered. Zhang Jue was mild-mannered when he was with Chen Boqiao, not withdrawn like he normally was, but he was not clever and he could not tell lies or woo anyone.
Although he couldn’t remember clearly, judging by Zhang Jue’s current personality, Chen Boqiao doubted that Zhang Jue’s so-called confession was anything more than stopping him somewhere and saying “I like you”.
There were so many people who confessed to Chen Boqiao then that he barely had any time alone. From the ski cable car of the Roche winter campus to the art gallery of the summer campus, people stopped Chen Boqiao in every slightly romantic location. He briefly wondered which place Zhang Jue chose.
Zhang Jue spoke and acted with little fanfare and romance, so he would obviously not draw his attention. Eighteen-year-old Chen Boqiao listened to him patiently, refused him patiently, and immediately forgot. That’s not to mention, Zhang Jue smoked.
But Chen Boqiao, trying to look back at age 29, thought that Zhang Jue was probably quite interesting as a teenager. He easily fell in love with someone who didn’t like him back and then lived in befuddlement until more than a decade later.
Chen Boqiao suddenly remembered Zhang Jue standing among the mercenaries on the day of the Asian League’s trial. That was the first time Chen Boqiao saw the forest and the blue sky since he was in prison for half a year.
Chen Boqiao was interrogated twice a week in prison. He was often forced awake by bright lights glaring into his eyes or seated in a chair and dehydrated for more than ten hours on end, repeating the same answer to the interrogators. Even if he kept his eyes closed and returned to the dark cell, it would still take a long time for his eyes to adjust and focus.
Sometimes there were executions at night, and Chen Boqiao would go to bed a little late and think about his father. It was difficult to get information in prison, so Chen Boqiao had never even seen a photo of his father’s funeral. However, the interrogation officer played Chen Boqiao a lot of the video recordings of Chen Zhaoyan’s assassination.
Chen Boqiao had fought a lot of tough battles and made sufficient preparations before entering prison, but life in the Fifth prison still left him exhausted.
When he finally attended the court trial, he was trying hard to look energetic and prepared, and even when he was sentenced to death he was calm. He even smiled at the reporter’s camera and pretended to be relaxed.
But he knew very well that it was only when he found their plan disrupted, and saw Zhang Jue and his helicopter, he actually felt free.
Zhang Jue was someone who lived in the shadow of Chen Boqiao’s eighteen-year-old self.
People who hadn’t gotten to know him would never believe how gullible he was. Sometimes Zhang Jue was so insensitive and obtuse that Chen Boqiao couldn’t bear to point it out, but sometimes he would be influenced by god knows what, and lied horribly in order to get another kiss.
Zhang Jue was like a one-month transitional period, bringing Chen Boqiao back to modern society after a long period of imprisonment.
“Okay, don’t be nervous,” Chen Boqiao said lightheartedly. “I will let you be in the future.”
Zhang Jue gave an “okay” in agreement and looked relieved. He considered for a while and called, “Chen Boqiao.”
Chen Boqiao actually found the sound of his name being called by Zhang Jue a little attractive, because he looked at Chen Boqiao earnestly and enunciated slowly. He said, “Everything is consensual and it’s what I want, so you don’t need to…”
Zhang Jue stopped, suddenly lowered his head, pursed his lips as if he was thinking something absurd, smiled sheepishly, and then muttered to himself in a quiet voice, “It’s not like you would.”
Zhang Jue always stopped mid-sentence, and Chen Boqiao did not know whether Zhang Jue wanted to say “You don’t need to take responsibility” or “You don’t need to feel guilty”. But since they both meant the same thing, Chen Boqiao understood him easily.
Chen Boqiao looked at Zhang Jue and felt that he needed a crash course on how to pursue someone without second thoughts or rationality, learn how to make a huge scene and throw tantrums, or how to baby-trap them and force them to get married.
Regardless of whether or not he succeeded in the end, he’d never know unless he tried.
“What if I would,” Chen Boqiao asked Zhang Jue, “what would you do?”
Zhang Jue glanced at Chen Boqiao, then thought for a moment, and told him, “Don’t say that.”
Zhang Jue’s eyes were unchanged, and not a trace of unhappiness could be found. He didn’t seem to be tempted by the hope Chen Boqiao was giving him, and he didn’t look like he would ask for a chance. He said, “I wouldn’t dare.”