Chapter nine

When Lin Xi came out of the hospital, he walked around the parking lot a few circles without finding Duan Shen’s car. He called Duan Shen, but the older man’s cellphone wasn’t on. Standing there for a while, Lin Xi finally absorbed with some anger the fact that he had left him behind and departed.

Taking the elevator, he went back to the first floor and walked out from the main door to the side of the road, planning to take a cab back to the bar so he could drive the car he had left in the bar’s parking lot. Only a few steps later, he heard a car honking in his direction.

He recognized Duan Shen’s car, and moved to open the back door. But then he seemed to remember something and opened the front door instead.

He got into the car. Duan Shen regarded him with slight concern. “It’s late. You weren’t planning on waiting for me at the hospital, so where were you going?”

Lin Xi raised his face with an indignant accusation. “I called you, but your phone was off. I thought you were gone.”

“I left in the middle to fetch something.” Duan Shen explained in his flat tone. He leaned down and picked up a small black box and passed it to him. “Take it.”

Lin Xi hesitated. “What is this?”

“A ring.” Duan Shen lifted his ring finger from the wheel. The band on it reflected glints of light.

Without a word, Lin Xi opened his own box. The companion ring was lying inside quietly. There it was again–his heart started pounding outside of his control, ringing in his ears, almost drowning out Duan Shen’s voice.

He anxiously pursed his lips, and spoke with hesitation. “…Didn’t we say we wouldn’t make this public?”

“A wedding ring will save me lots of trouble,” Duan Shen said, his voice still emotionless. “Just take it. Wear it when you’re visiting your grandfather.”

Lin Xi still hesitated, looking down at the ring.

Picking up speed, Duan Shen sped past the intersection before suddenly braking. They stopped underneath a light. He turned to Lin Xi. “You don’t want it?”

Lin Xi lifted his face to look at Duan Shen. After a long pause, he let out a deep sigh, his expression still taut, and called out the man’s full name. “Duan Shen.”

Duan Shen responded with an affirmative noise.

Clearing his throat, Lin Xi lifted his chin without meaning to. The slight tremble in his voice betrayed him. “…Why do you still have my hoodie from so long ago?”

Duan Shen’s eyes finally showed some surprise. “What do you think?”

Lin Xi raised his voice impatiently. “How do I know? I’m not the one keeping your clothes around for years.”

“Which answer do you want?” Duan Shen retorted without a single change in his expression, “I forgot to throw it away? Or, I like you?”

In a simple moment he revealed all of his vulnerabilities, left him nowhere to hide. Embarrassed, Lin Xi ground his teeth together and looked away, refusing to answer.

Without a warning, Duan Shen changed the topic. “Lin Xi, why did you decide to fight Zhang Ye today?”

Why? Lin Xi’s mind went blank. Suddenly he remembered why. His hands sunk into the leather seats, his back hunching. He felt so stressed that his head was on the verge of exploding.

“Because of this?” With two long, slender fingers, Duan Shen plucked the tie out of his pocket. “Because Zhang Ye stepped on my tie?” As he asked, he threw the tie into the glove compartment.

His eyes following those movements, Lin Xi’s whole body felt cold.

The next moment, the man unfastened the tie around his neck. He folded it neatly and tucked it into his shirt pocket.

Duan Shen’s deep, magnetic voice entered his ear canals at just the right frequency, just as matter-of-fact and flat as usual, but finally overrode the intense drumbeat of his heart. “Lin Xi, if the tie’s dirty then throw it away. Whatever you say you want, I’ll get for you.”

“As for why I’m keeping that hoodie from when you were sixteen…whatever you think the answer is, that’s what it is.”




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