Although they were not of Li Chuan’s design, the house suited Li Chuan’s taste; it was a mix of French romance, German detail, and Italian creativity. Li Chuan liked spacious and high-ceilinged rooms. He liked glass, hardwood, colorful sofas, and other furniture in black and white. The first level was big and had many living rooms. It felt like it could fit all of CGP’s staff and still have room left. He showed me room after room, and then we sat on the sofa to rest. He used a remote to open the curtains.
“Which part was designed by you then?” I asked.
“Everyone fought to design everything, so I didn’t get a chance.” He shrugged, “If you want to see my designs, you’ll have to go to my brother’s home. I think it looks better than my home. I even built them a wine cellar. Their home is not far from here. It’s in walking distance. Do you want to go? I have his key.”
I smiled and shook my head while feeling jealous. If I had an older or younger sister, I thought maybe our relationship would be close like this. After dad passed away, Xiao Dong suddenly matured and became a man. He cared a lot about me, but we talked less and less, and rarely visited each other. Whenever we called each other over the phone, we were always occupied with other things. We had both grown up and started living our own lives, so it was natural to become more distant from each other due to our gender differences.
“What would you like to drink?”
“Do you have coffee?” I was a little tired.
“How about Cappuccino?”
“You know how to make it?”
“I have a machine. Do you want to see it?”
He led me to his kitchen. He took out a nice coffee mug and placed it on top of the coffee machine to preheat it. He grabbed a pack of fresh coffee beans from the fridge, grinded a small bowl, and made a small cup of Expresso first. It was too bitter for me. He warmed up some milk with a steamer and made me a cup of cappuccino. He poured a thick layer of frothed milk on top, used a chopstick to separate the milk, and a leaf appeared in the cup. He then poked the top a few times with the chopstick, and the leaf turned into a rabbit.
“You even know how to do this?” My eyes widened as I looked at him in shock.
“My grandpa taught me. He does it best, and he knows how to draw a lot of different pictures. He wrote all of his love letters in the cup.”
“Can you teach me?”
“Let’s start with something easy. The key is how you pour the milk.”
He made another two cups of Cappuccino. He held my hands and poured the thick milk into the coffee. He stopped after it became full. He gave me a chopstick, stretched his arm from behind, held my right hand, and taught me how to draw step by step.
“Like this…make a stroke on the left, then one on the right. Drag it down a bit, and it’s done.”
I smelled a light scent of coffee coming from behind. His face brushed across the side of my forehead unintentionally; I felt the familiar affection that I once received. I couldn’t resist turning my head; as I looked up, his lips were there waiting for me. But just as I approached, he moved back and avoided me.
After so many years, Li Chuan was still full of attraction to me. He continued to be full of surprises as if I could never find out everything that he knew.
I drew three pictures in total. I drank a cup, and Li Chuan drank a cup. He wanted to pour out the remaining one, but I insisted on turning it into a cup of cold coffee and put it into the fridge. I held the cup in my hand, sat on the bar stool, and watched Li Chuan tidy up the kitchen counter. He didn’t bother using his cane, so he was hopping on his one leg. It made me feel dizzy, so I said, “Can you take a rest for a bit?”
He picked up his cane and asked, “There’s a garden in the back, do you want to take a look?”
I pointed at the ceiling, “What’s upstairs?”
Li Chuan’s study, drawing room, and bedroom were all upstairs. The staircase was long and wide; a non-slippery carpet laid on top of it, and it had a railing that was specially designed for him. I was curious to know why Li Chuan had to build a home with a staircase since it was inconvenient for him to walk up and down. But I understood why after landing upstairs. The second floor faced the big lake where you could see sailboats and wild ducks. The distant clouds lingered in the sky above faint green hills. Looking at the scenery from the sofa, the sun glittered onto the rippling surface of the lake and the water flowed to the other end with no shore in sight.
“There’s such a great lake view here, and it’s all mountains in the back. The price of this home must be very expensive, right?”
“It is, but I didn’t pay,” he blinked his eyes, “My grandpa bought it for me as a birthday present.”
I stuck out my tongue, “And…you actually accepted it without feeling bad?”
“I did feel bad,” he said, “but it wasn’t like I could turn him down. heehee.”
“Which one is your bedroom?” I asked.
“The bedroom is off limits.” He quickly rushed to a room and closed its door.
“Why is it off limits? Don’t tell me, is there a woman sleeping in there right now?” I dashed over, opened a crack from the door, and poked my head inside.
Li Chuan’s black and white bedroom was very distinct. His bed frame was black, while his closet was white. His blanket was purple, his bed sheets were white, and several grey pillows spread across on the top.
A twelve inch photo with a purple frame hung on the wall across from the bed. Its background was made up of street lights and Jinma Archway of Kunming. Li Chuan in the photo was looking at me from the side, helping me tuck my hair behind my ears. His gaze was full of affection.
It was the one and only photo that Li Chuan and I took together. He didn’t even leave it to me when he left, not even its original film. I was mad for a long time because of this.
In those five years, I recalled my memories with Li Chuan alone painfully; his images were like sand slipping away through my fingers. His expressions slowly became blurry because I didn’t have a photo of him to remind me. I could only find a stamp-sized head shot photo of Li Chuan from google. It was low in quality, but I kept it on my computer. The small and blurry photo was all I had to remember Li Chuan for the past five years.
I looked at our photo silently; the memories we had flashed across my mind. After so many years of pain, all of it became sweet and intimate.
A white table lamp stood on top of the bedside shelf. Three palm-sized picture frames were placed beside it. The vibrant colors and lively backgrounds were photos that Li Chuan took of me wearing different kinds of dresses when I was seventeen.
I was young at the time; I looked naive and like a high school student. I thought I was the happiest person in the world. My face was glowing with a big smile as I looked into the camera full of proudness.
My heart began to ache.
The right side of the bed stood a steel drip stand with an intravenous bottle hanging on it. There were two oxygen bottles lying on the ground. The low shelf also had many medicine bottles and a blood pressure meter inside it. A triangular handle also hung above the bed, which was used to help patients get up.
It looked like, this wasn’t Li Chuan’s bedroom, it was his hospital ward. Li Chuan must have stayed in the room during the years that he couldn’t get out of bed.
I closed the door and returned to the living room on the second floor. Li Chuan was already sitting on the sofa, looking off to the lake through the long glass window in deep thoughts.
I called his name and then sat beside him. He tilted his head to look at me. He looked vexed, serious, and wanted to say something but didn’t.
“I know you’re sick, and it’s serious.” I said softly into his ear, “You don’t want to tell me because you don’t want me to worry.”
He caressed my face and didn’t say anything. I found his lips and concentrated on kissing him. He didn’t return my affection, but rather, he started turning his chin away, trying to avoid me.
“But do you know that if you are cruel to yourself, you are also being cruel to me? Did you think that I would not worry because you didn’t tell me? I’d rather know the truth than be like now, always having insomnia and nightmares. Li Chuan, I beg you to tell me! Tell me what your sickness is.” I hugged and shook his body as I cried till my voice was gone.
“Xiao Qiu, I’d rather you not know. Furthermore, there is nothing you can do about it,” he said calmly while sounding cold, “After you go back, don’t come to Zurich again.”
“I beg you.”
I let him go and let out a sarcastic laugh, “Are you planning to hide here forever and not come back to Beijing?”
“Is this farewell forever again?”
“If I tell you that I can’t take it anymore, will you give me mercy this time?”
As if he thought for a long time, he comforted me, “…I will return to Beijing. I never break my promises to you.”
He shook his head, “There is nothing else. You have to remember what you swore in the Guan Gong Temple.”
I was withered away. I wrapped my arms around my knees and cried depressingly as I couldn’t say a word. He kept his body still and didn’t console me.
After a while, I wiped my tears and suddenly jumped up from my seat, “Hell with it, Li Chuan. I don’t care! I don’t care about keeping my promise! Tell Guan Gong to go to hell! Let the lightning strike me! Let me drown in the river!”
He quickly covered my mouth and flames were bursting in his eyes, “Do you have to make me say things to hurt you, Xiao Qiu?”
“Haven’t you said enough things to hurt me already? Say it! Keep saying them!”
“Xie Xiao Qiu, I beg you,” he stared at me and said word by word, “stop tangling yourself with me.”
I suddenly stopped breathing. All my blood rushed to the top of my head. I looked at him dumbstruck for three seconds, turned around, and walked away in big steps. I tripped over the sofa as I was walking too fast. He saved me from falling out of reflex.
“Where are you going?”
“Do you care?” I sneered and pushed his hands away. He tugged onto me and wouldn’t let go. His hand was like a pincer on my wrist.
“You’re not allowed to go anywhere!” he pulled me into his embrace, “Do you hear me, Xie Xiao Qiu?! If you run away, I…I won’t be able to catch up to you.”
His voice was raspy and veins were bulging on his forehead. He was afraid that I would run away, so his other hand was grabbing my clothes tightly. Not only would he not be able to catch up to me, he couldn’t even stand properly. When I attempted to shake him off, he almost lost his footing. He would have fallen if I didn’t grab onto him.
I lifted my head, looked at him, and said in a shaky voice, “Li Chuan, don’t think that I can be put down by others so easily. If you slap me and call me a slut, I will leave immediately. I’m serious. I will never come back. Do you want to try?”
He stood there frozen while his eyes were full of emotions, numerous thoughts crossing through his mind.
“I’m sorry…” he mumbled, “I’m sorry…”
It felt like my heart was stung by a needle. He looked very pitiful and even more helpless than I was.
“Li Chuan, I can give you whatever you want. If you insist that I leave, I will do so as well.” I said gently, “But before I leave, you must make me believe that you will still live well without me. Are you living well? You have been so sick and you’ve already become so thin. You have become a million times more different than when I first met you. Li Chuan, how can I leave you without any worries? Tell me!”
I held his face in my hands and kissed him passionately. He tried to avoid me stubbornly and helplessly. I let go of his lips and continued kissing him from the bottom of his ear. I kissed his Adam’s apple, and licked his collarbone. He suddenly sighed, grabbed my shoulder, and rubbed his nose gently on the back of my neck. His warm breathing made my skin itch. It had a light scent of coffee. I wrapped my arms around his waist. He groaned and his belly suddenly became stiff. He struggled to escape, but I held onto him and snugged closer to him.
“No…” He continued to dodge me and wanted to stop as he was getting aroused, but he was too weak.
“No,” he frowned and looked angry. I wanted to let go, but it was too late. Tiny drops of sweat were already showing up on his face. He was getting hot and his body was stiff from being aroused.
“Okay.” I released my arms, moved away from him, and sat down obediently.
He looked at me fiercely. His eyes were burning and his throat was dry. He said while suppressing himself, “That’s—That’s all you’re going to do?”
“What else can I do?” I looked at him with my eyes wide open and spread my hands, “You pushed me away despite me coming willingly.”