He Gu stayed in the detention centre for six full days. He once thought that spending the last ten years alone for Chinese New Year was already quite unusual, but spending it in a detention centre was something else entirely.
Sun Qing came around to visit him for a while. She even brought along a few New Year dishes*, and promised she would have him released on bail very soon.
*餃子 - Dumplings is a very common Chinese New Year dish.
He Gu picked up a dumpling and popped it in his mouth. In a quiet voice, he asked, “Did you make this?”
Sun Qing froze. Her eyes reddened a little as she said, “You still remember?”
Feeling a little uncomfortable, He Gu lowered his head. He didn’t expect himself to remember that familiar taste, either.
With her hand over her mouth, Sun Qing started to sob, “Mom has let you down, I’m sorry I’ve let you down.”
He Gu’s eyes were also a little damp, but he managed to hold back his tears, “Mom, let’s have a good New Year’s together.”
Sun Qing wiped away her tears, then placed a few more dumplings in He Gu’s bowl before starting to peel shrimps for him. For the first time, she did what a mother would’ve done.
On the other hand, He Gu tried to comfort himself - at least this year he wouldn’t have to spend New Year’s on his own.
On the second day of the New Year, He Gu was finally released on bail, on the condition that he report to the police station every other day to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.
He also received a message from his line manager - through his mother’s lawyers - that Nanchuang would temporarily suspend him until further notice, depending on the result of the alleged drug case.
He Gu already expected as much. If it weren’t for his mother’s quick thinking to develop relations with the higher-ups, he would’ve been fired straight away. Nanchuang being a state-owned enterprise wouldn’t easily allow such a taint in their reputation. Even if He Gu’s innocence was proven in the end, from the moment Song Juhan was involved in this case, it was already pushed to the centre of public opinion. Nanchuang had to express their firm stance.
He Gu had been working in this company for over six years. Even if he did consider resigning numerous times, he never imagined that he could be fired one day.
Thanks to Song Juhan, things could be so unpredictable.
His mother picked him up from the police station and sent him directly to a hotel. There was no way He Gu would return to his home - no, it should be Song Juhan’s home. Sun Qing also mentioned she would get someone to pick up his things and move everything out very soon.
That would be perfect, since He Gu was reluctant to go back to that messy scene and recall the chaos of that night. Even though the last memory he had of that home was quite unbearable, it also held the sweetness that he and Song Juhan once shared. He Gu didn’t want to see it ruined in his memory.
When they got to the hotel, He Gu took a long shower, then collapsed in bed. After preparing himself mentally, he turned on his phone.
The moment the phone switched on, endless notifications exploded the screen as a string of dings rang out. There were countless missed calls, unread text messages, WeChat, and QQ notifications popping up one after the other. Some messages showed concern, some curiosity, and others endless questions.
Out of all the calls, the most came from Feng Zheng, Zhuang Jieyu, Gu Qingpei and Chen Shan.
He Gu sent Zhuang Jieyu, Gu Qingpei and Chen Shan a quick message to inform them that he had been released on bail and should be fine. Lastly, he stared at Feng Zheng’s text messages and hesitated for a long time before finally returning a quick message out of politeness.
Feng Zheng was the first to call back. After a moment, He Gu pressed the answer button and said in a weak voice, “Hello.”
“He Gu, how are you right now?!” Feng Zheng’s voice was laced with anxiety, “I went to the police station two days ago with my dad’s lawyers, but I heard your mother had already found you a lawyer.”
“Yes, I’ve already been released on bail. Now I just have to cooperate with their investigation. I do have evidence and numerous witnesses that can prove my innocence, so it should be fine.” After experiencing such a chaotic event, He Gu no longer had the energy to feel anything, good or bad, towards Feng Zheng. Right now, Feng Zheng was just like any other friend who cared about him.
“That’s good…” Feng Zheng paused for a moment, then gritted his teeth, “That bastard Song Juhan, why did he even bring them over to your house?”
“I don’t know.” Up to this day, He Gu still didn’t understand why Song Juhan brought all those people to his home - that incident not only hurt others, but himself as well.
“What about your work?”
“He Gu, come work for me. I can offer you double what you’re making now. Ignoring everything else, we used to work quite well together, didn’t we?”
“Feng Zheng, right now my mind is a complete mess and I don’t want to think about any of this.” No matter what happened in the future, there was no way He Gu could go to Feng Zheng, since all he wanted to do was to avoid the man.
“I’ll wait for you. Just know that there will always be a spot for you here. Even if you don’t want to come work for me, no matter what you want to do, I’ll always be willing to invest in your projects. It’s not because it’s you, but because you’re a trustworthy person.”
Feng Zheng fell silent for a moment. “He Gu, I don’t know why this is, but I can’t seem to let you go. Please don’t ignore me, okay?”
He Gu opened his mouth but didn’t know what to say. All he wanted was to stay far away from Feng Zheng, because every time he saw him, He Gu was reminded of the painful and laughable memories of the last six years.
Apart from going to the police station every other day, He Gu never left his hotel room. Sun Qing was worried that He Gu would be bored staying in all the time, and wanted to bring him out for dinner, but He Gu was reluctant to go. Just like every other law-abiding citizen, he was ashamed of being in a detention centre. He Gu felt as if the whole world was staring at him and judging him. Even with Song He’s best efforts to suppress the news, and not a single one of his photos leaked to the public, He Gu still felt nervous to step outside.
But there were too many curious people on the internet. Within a few days, rumours of him being the one that fought with Song Juhan at the restaurant were floating around everywhere. Coupled with the fact that this time, the incident happened at his own home; there were now rumours of Song Juhan’s homosexuality as He Gu’s name started to appear on the trending hot topics. He Gu was afraid that someone would recognise him if he stepped outside. Although he knew it was just his imagination, he still didn’t want to see anyone.
On the third day after he was released on bail, He Gu saw the news - Song Juhan had also been released on bail.
That day, the entrance to the station was crowded with reporters and curious fans at every corner.
In order to avoid any unnecessary commotion and disturbance to the police station’s day-to-day work, they had purposely organised Song Juhan’s release at six in the morning. Still, the entrance was swarmed with hundreds of people - fans, reporters, and righteous groups holding banners to protest against Song Juhan’s immoral actions as a public figure. The clash between the gathered groups almost got out of control.
Many people criticized Song Juhan and said he was a bad omen* for this coming year. Never before had Song Juhan experienced such negativity from the public. It was as if all the criticism, accusations, and insults from the last twenty-six years of his life were all thrown at him in one go. Just on his Weibo alone, there were over a hundred thousand comments, and most of them were scolding him.
*Bad omen - (流年不利) idiom. the year’s zodiac augurs ill or an unlucky year
A lot of netizens didn’t believe that Song Juhan was innocent in this matter. They were more inclined to believe that Song He was using his numerous relations to pressure the judicial system. Before long, the incident wasn’t purely entertainment news anymore, but had risen to national carnage levels*.
*Carnage - (腥风血雨) lit. foul wind and bloody rain, fig. reign of terror/carnage
Amongst the torrent of public opinion, a whisper of a rumour began to appear, hinting that Song Juhan was covering for his homosexual lover’s mistake. After all, the incident did happen at this so-called “He Gu’s” home. The articles were well written with detailed analysis of the entire situation, as if the writer, or writers, were present on the day of the event.
When He Gu saw the articles, he felt ridiculously laughable. But the tragic part was, he couldn’t seem to laugh at all.
That day, as he was sitting by the floor-to-ceiling windows, looking down at the busy streets below, he suddenly realised he hadn’t been so leisurely since he entered high school.
After his father passed away and his mother left him, He Gu focused all his energy in his studies. When he got into university, he packed his schedule with various internships and community volunteer work. By the time he started to work, he was very conscientious and was used to keeping himself busy at all times. After all, he had been living a rather lonesome life and it seemed only work needed him in this world.
But now, even his work no longer needed him.
It turned out no one was irreplaceable. Not a person, object, or thing.
Suddenly the doorbell started to ring as He Gu got up to answer the door. It must be Gu Qingpei and Zhuang Jieyu, he thought to himself.
“Surprise!” shouted Zhuang Jieyu. He was holding two large shopping bags - clearly filled to the brim with take-out and snacks - as he lifted them up to He Gu’s eye level.
Recently, Zhuang Jieyu had become quite popular and always needed to wear sunglasses when he went out. But even then, his youthful and bright smile could not be hidden under any disguise.
Standing to his side, Gu Qingpei smiled and said, “We got a lot of delicious food and also brought playing cards, too.”
He Gu showed a faint smile. “Perfect, I was just starting to feel bored.”
“If you’re bored, I could’ve just taken you out somewhere. Although lately I have been recognised on the streets, it should be fine if I just cover up a little bit more.”
“I don’t want to go out,” He Gu cut in as he took the bags from Zhuang Jieyu.
Gu Qingpei walked over and patted He Gu’s shoulder. “He Gu, don’t overthink it. Just walk out of here confidently and I’m sure no one will recognise you.”
He Gu revealed a self-deprecating smile. “That’s true.”
“Also, the people that do recognise you already know what kind of a person you are. So don’t take it too seriously.”
“Thank you, Chief Gu.” He Gu sniffed the food and added, “It smells great.”
“Hurry, hurry, let’s eat, then play some cards.” Zhuang Jieyu rubbed his hands together excitedly. “I’ve been trying to lose weight recently, so I haven’t eaten meat properly. I’m so hungry.”
They set up the table with a selection of different dishes as Zhuang Jieyu played music from his Bluetooth speakers. The three of them ate and chatted away merrily. With Zhuang Jieyu’s nonstop antics and Gu Qingpei’s witty humour, He Gu was left laughing uncontrollably. Thinking back, He Gu couldn’t remember the last time he had laughed so openly.
After dinner, they played cards for a while. Zhuang Jieyu kept laughing and acting like a child, whilst Gu Qingpei and He Gu indulged his immature behaviour. Deep down, though, they both envied Zhuang Jieyu’s youthful and carefree attitude - as if the sky was falling, yet there was nothing to worry about.
In the evening, Zhuang Jieyu had other plans, so he left first.
Gu Qingpei tidied everything up in the living room, then personally went to the kitchen to brew himself and He Gu two cups of tea. As he sat down on the sofa next to the floor-to-ceiling windows, he called out to He Gu, “Come sit, let’s have a mature conversation now.”
He Gu laughed, “That little monkey really knows how to mess around.”
“He’s still young and doesn’t know when to stop.” Gu Qingpei handed a cup over to He Gu and continued, “Before I came here, I was quite worried about you. But looking at how you’ve handled yourself today, I can rest assured.”
“Hey, don’t worry. I’ve thought about it these last few days. The worst that could happen is I lose my job.” With all the extra time on his hands, He Gu spent the last few days thinking about his future. After going through his finances and including the house his parents left him, as well as his eight hundred thousand yuan savings, He Gu concluded that it wouldn’t really matter if he couldn’t find another job for the time being. Besides, his mother had already paved him a very generous road to walk on. Although He Gu was still hesitant to take that road, as it probably wouldn’t be an easy one to walk on.
To be honest, losing his job wasn’t the most painful thing for He Gu. It was the fact that all his hard work and efforts for the past six years had gone down the drain, just like that. He Gu didn’t exactly love his job. In fact, he had been feeling quite tired and overworked lately. But after so many years of enduring and putting up with it, he had slowly managed to work his way up to his position today. He Gu couldn’t help but feel wronged. How could he lose everything in the blink of an eye, all because of someone else’s mistakes?
“It’s good that you can think like that. Besides, even if you did lose your job, you don’t have to feel bad about it at all,” said Gu Qingpei confidently. “Since the bowl you lost is merely a copper bowl*. If you come work for me, I can give you a gold one. We’re a private company so there isn’t much we pay attention to. All we care about is talent and ability.”
*Lose your job - (丢饭碗) lit. to lose your bowl. The Chinese saying for losing your job is to lose your means to feed yourself, aka to ‘lose your bowl’. In this case, Gu Qingpei is comparing He Gu’s previous job as a ‘copper’ bowl, whereas the potential job at Yuan Enterprise as a ‘golden’ bowl.
He Gu nodded. “Actually, I have been thinking about it these past few days. But since I’m not in the best state of mind at the moment and everything is still a mess... I do apologise, but I’ll have to trouble Chief Gu to give me a bit more time.”
With his current predicament, if He Gu could no longer work at Nanchuang, it seemed his best choice would be to work for Gu Qingpei. Although his social skills had improved significantly over the past few years, he was still a little awkward and reluctant towards new and unfamiliar environments. The reason why He Gu had been hesitating for so long about resigning was because he didn’t dare to resign. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to start fresh in a new environment, or to re-adjust to new colleagues. Perhaps moving to a company with a familiar acquaintance would make it easier for him to settle in.
“No problem. You did say you would get back to me after the New Year. I’m in no hurry.”
He Gu took a sip of the tea and suddenly felt a little flustered. Before he could even process what he was saying, the words fell out of his mouth, “Chief Gu, have you liked anyone before?”
Gu Qingpei was stunned. He never expected the normally cautious and reserved He Gu to ask such a personal and emotional question. He zoned out for a second, as if a thought had just come to him, but quickly recovered and answered, “No. When I was in my twenties, I focused most of my energy on my career and in the process missed out on a few good relationships. Now, I have too much to consider and too few impulses. It seems I’ve missed my chance to experience what genuine feelings are.”
Looking out the window, He Gu said calmly, “That’s good. I think one should always aim to achieve at least one thing in life; to be able to persist and succeed, even if it’s just a personal and individual achievement. But I seemed to have lived confusedly for so many years now, and in that time, I haven’t even learnt anything.”
To lose both his life goals of the last six years at the same time, it was as if his entire centre of gravity had shifted in the blink of an eye. Life was simply too fickle, it was actually quite… interesting.
“He Gu, this so-called personal achievement can vary from one to another. Everyone’s standards are different. For me, I pursued success and recognition, that’s why I was able to give up feelings and hobbies. But others might pursue emotional satisfaction from relationships or spiritual freedom; in that case, material items or fame wouldn’t matter to them. He Gu, you’re the latter. Although outwardly you may not appear so, and many others might disagree with me. But I know you’re the latter, and deep down I know you must know it too. Fundamentally, there isn’t anything different from me going after what I want, and you doing the same. As for whether we can achieve what we want, there are too many objective factors in play. So how can we determine if the pursuit is right or wrong based on the outcome? Don’t you agree?”
He Gu pondered for a moment, his voice trembling as he answered, “But what if you discover that your pursuit wasn’t worth it in the end?”
Before he found out about Song Juhan and Feng Zheng’s past, He Gu never felt regret. He had chosen this muddy path himself, and even if it was a difficult and embarrassing path to walk on, it was his own. It had nothing to do with others, and therefore he wasn’t ashamed of it. In fact, if one were to look at it logically, pain was simply another type of emotion. If one could feel happiness, anger, or helplessness, then why shouldn’t one suffer pain?
In order to justify his stupidity, He Gu even turned to such idealistic thoughts, and yet he couldn’t change anything. In the end, he could only comfort himself that at least he experienced what it was like to ‘love’ someone - the occasional joy, occasional satisfaction, and occasional sweetness of being in love. During the last six years, he had given himself numerous ways to escape from this situation, but ultimately he was slapped hard across the face by both his best friend and the man he loved.
In that moment, all his escapes vanished together as he fell from that self-sacrificing platform he had placed himself on, leaving him bruised and swollen, aching painfully and embarrassingly. Innocently, He Gu had thought that as long as he persisted in his choice and didn’t regret anything, he would never let himself down and would be able to forgive himself. But in the end, he regretted everything.
The sudden realisation brought on an overwhelming feeling of despair.
Gu Qingpei noticed the pained look in He Gu’s eyes and felt a sense of sympathy towards him. “Then let me congratulate you. You’re only twenty-eight this year, so it’s not too late for you,” said Gu Qingpei seriously as he raised his teacup.
He Gu let out a bitter laugh, then raised his own teacup and lightly clinked them together.
“Just think of it as being drunk for a while and let this cup of tea sober you up once and for all.”
Indeed, it was just a long drunken night, and He Gu was finally sobering up...