Green Plum Island Ch7

Fu Wei was my best friend in high school–for the first two years, anyway. He was outgoing, smart, and popular with the teachers and students. He was the first person to speak to me at our school’s opening ceremony, and the first person to ask me if I wanted to walk home together after school.

Because of my synesthesia, I wasn’t a huge fan of socialising, but whenever Fu Wei invited me to something, I’d always go for his sake. He was one of the few people I’d encountered who was the same on the outside and the inside; I never felt that he was putting up a front.

Our friendship bloomed quickly due to his outgoingness. When I was in my second year of high school, I confided in him about my synesthesia, and even about my parents’ dead bedroom problems and their subsequent divorce. The two of us got closer, to the point where there were several instances where I considered making him my sworn brother.

But then, things spiralled downwards.

 

One morning, I walked into our classroom just like any other day, but when Fu Wei looked up and saw me, the mood index over his head was different–it had become pink. The change came soundlessly and unexpectedly, catching me off guard; a shocking and awkward development.

It was my first time encountering such a situation and the information made me fumble around for a few days, during which I gave Fu Wei the cold shoulder.

My friend wasn’t stupid. He quickly caught on that something was up, and caught up to me one day after school to ask me why I was avoiding him.

Shouldn’t you know why?

“Did you get yourself a girlfriend?” he asked me.

Over his head, his mood value was a solid pink, mixed with the beginning shades of an angry red. It seemed he was really into me. After a moment of brief hesitation, I decided to talk openly with him.

 

“Fu Wei, do you like me?” Without giving him time to reply, I continued, “If you do, maybe we can give this a shot.”

I felt at the time that either way, I’d end up dating a boy. It wouldn’t have been so bad for this boy to be Fu Wei. After all, we were already familiar with each other and good friends. Going from friends to lovers was a natural development.

But the second the words came out of my mouth, Fu Wei’s face turned stormy and his mood value spiralled downwards, red mixed with black. I knew then that I’d started something.

“What are you talking about? How could I be into men?” His face was spitting red with anger as he furiously denied my assumption.

I didn’t expect the biggest issue here to be the fact that he wasn’t sexually attracted to men.

“You… You really aren’t into me?” I was a little perplexed, and briefly sunk back into the is it brain damage or a supernatural power conundrum of my childhood. I explained in a rush, “But your colour clearly changed…”

“Yu Mian, you’re a freak.” Fu Wei scrutinised me as if I were an oddity, and with those words that pierced through me like knives, he left me.

From then on, he started avoiding me and stopped hanging out with me altogether. In the classroom, rumours flew around claiming that I’d had a crush on Fu Wei, confessed, got rejected, and thus we were no longer friends.

Well, they’d gotten the conclusion right, but the events leading up to it wrong.

I wasn’t the socialising type to begin with, so after I lost Fu Wei, who’d been the only friend I’d had, I became invisible in class and people either avoided me or looked down on me.

The last two years of high school should have been a pleasant experience, but they became upsetting memories. Even though I’d never felt the desire to be well-liked and popular, and never cared much about what others thought of me, I also didn’t appreciate being the perpetual target of accusations or confrontations.

It took leaving the city entirely after graduation and coming to Green Plum Island for the years of accumulated suffocation to finally begin dissipating.

When college entrance exam scores came out, the classroom group chat was active with my classmates asking each other what their scores were, making plans for the holidays… but I just went ahead and left, blocking everyone in the process.

***

“So they stopped liking you because of your sexuality?”

In the dim ambience of the warehouse, the smell of dust travels up my nostrils, and Yan Kongshan’s slow, deliberate voice floats into my ears.

I nod. “Yeah.”

“That’s good.”

I look up, not understanding.

Yan Kongshan leans back against a shelf, his arms crossed in front of his chest. “Being liked by people like that isn’t really something worth being happy about. Nipping things in the bud at the outset isn’t a bad idea.”

“You don’t find me repugnant?” Fear and trepidation overcome my senses when I blurt the question out. I’m afraid that he’ll be like my classmates, seemingly accepting on the surface while regarding me as a freak inside. Anticipation overcomes my senses; I want him to think I’m normal from the bottom of his heart, sincerely and without fake platitudes.

“I don’t.” He answers me without hesitation, his eyes calm and void of prejudice.

The most important thing is, he’s genuinely telling the truth.

Up until this point, I’ve just obsessed over his beauty and his body–you could say my crush on him stems from everything he possesses on the surface. But in this moment, I submit myself to his hypnotic inner self, I fall for the quality of his character.

Sun Rui is right; Yan Kongshan is a man who’s in a class of his own, the kind of man who seems just always out of reach. But despite that, or perhaps because of it, he seduces with a power that is impossible to resist. The more unattainable he seems, the more I want him. Even if an ocean could fill the distance between us, I’m unable to give up.

I like him, but I also know that he might not fall for me. But it’s alright because while dating is probably not on the books yet, kissing him just might be a possibility.

Yan Kongshan lips are thin on top and thick on the bottom, they’re practically made for kissing…

My gaze zeroes in on his mouth and I unconsciously start fantasising about kissing him. Just when our lips are about to meet, I snap back to the present. My face is burning.

“…Thank you.” Embarrassment makes my voice so quiet, it sounds like the buzzing of a mosquito.

He walks up to me and places a hand on my head. “Once you get to my age, you’ll realise that none of this matters,” he says, bending down to look into my eyes, as if checking to see that I’m alright.

He’s too close to me, so close that the smell of cigarettes emanating from his body travels up my nose and makes me want to sneeze… which would completely ruin the moment, so I desperately hold in my sneeze until tears start forming in my eyes.

Except Yan Kongshan sees my tears and seems to misunderstand the situation because he stretches out a hand and wipes at a tear that has formed in the corner of one of my eyes and says, as if from personal experience, “Why cry? They’re not worth you being upset over.”

They’re not worth me being upset over, I think, but you are certainly worth being tempted by.

 

A rough, calloused finger brushes the delicate skin beneath my eyes, the sensation leaving a tingling feeling that’s almost painful. I control myself, stop myself from wanting to rush forward, and instead shut my eyes. The liquid accumulated in my eyes has nowhere left to go and trickles downwards.

“I’m… I mean, I’m not that upset anymore. I was just startled by their sudden appearance,” I say, my voice slightly nasally.

Yan Kongshan pulls back and replies, “Stay here for a bit. I’ll go out and see if they’re still there.”

I nod and move out of the way so he can exit the room.

The second the door opens, loud, youthful laughter drifts over. Fu Wei and his friends still haven’t left; in fact, the group’s volume has only gotten carelessly louder.

“Customers, do you mind lowering your voices?” Yan Kongshan doesn’t raise his voice that much, but his tone is unforgiving. The loud voices silence immediately.

I shut the warehouse door, but leave it open just a crack.

“What the hell? You’re trying to run a business but don’t even let your customers talk?”

“Yeah, it’s not like we’re screaming–”

“This is a bookstore,” Yan Kongshan cuts in. “If you want to talk, you can go to the market and talk your heart out. If you aren’t going to buy any books, please leave.”

His words don’t carry the hint of any dialect, and his voice is pleasant to the ear, but for some reason the way he talks is deliberate and almost lazy, in a sexy sort of way.

“What kind of shop owner are you, chasing out your own customers?”

“You think we even want to buy the old, worn things you sell?”

Evidently, Yan Kongshan’s reprimands have riled the group up. Then suddenly, amidst the loud and vocal complaints comes Fu Wei’s voice. Surprisingly, it’s an apology.

“We’re sorry.” Then he mutters to his friends, “Let’s go, stop shouting.”

That’s the kind of person Fu Wei is. You think he apologises because he feels sorry, but in reality, he doesn’t like being at the centre of an accusation. To him, nothing is more important than his pride.

Being lectured publicly and surrounded by his argumentative friends must be humiliating for him.

The shop’s doors open and my old acquaintance’s exit, leaving behind two scathing remarks:

“I’m never coming back here!”

“Yeah, what a trashy bookstore!”

With peace and quiet restored within the shop, I pull the warehouse door open and walk out anxiously. Outside, Fu Wei and his group are long gone.

Thank goodness.

It’s not that meeting them would’ve killed me, but sometimes you’d just rather not subject yourself to unnecessary repulsion.

Come lunchtime, I wait until no one is around to grab an apple for Yan Kongshan and, for what seems like the millionth time, tell him “thank you” again.

He chews his food slowly, and after swallowing his mouthful, he stuffs his chopsticks into his rice and reaches over to accept my offering. “You seem to always be thanking me,” he observes, taking a bite of the apple. His pearly white teeth dig into the flesh of the fruit. It’s clear how delectable it is from the crisp sound it makes.

“Because you’re always helping me.” My mouth is practically salivating; I grab an apple for myself in a hurry and start grinding away at it quietly.

Yan Kongshan’s lips curl up slightly–I almost don’t notice, but his mood value ticks up suddenly. It’s safe to assume he’s smiling.

***

Uncle Zhang and his family from next door come back home, and after dinner, Grandpa rushes over to their place to drink and chat.

I lie on top of a woven mat on our floorboards, tossing and turning, counting down the hours. When eight o’clock hits, I leap up and bolt out the door. I arrive at Yan Kongshan’s gate completely out of breath and force myself to stop and inhale some oxygen before proceeding.

When I enter through the gate, the window facing the front yard is glowing from inside. Through the white lace curtains, a person’s silhouette moves about, hazy and beautiful.

Darkness sets in quite late during summer evenings on the island. Although it’s already eight, there’s still a hint of light in the sky.

Often, I think that the island’s daytime is like a workaholic. When it’s time for nighttime to take over, it dawdles and stalls, refusing to leave until the last minute. Every second of the day is filled with heat and lively noise. In contrast, evenings on the island are silent and serene. Nighttime descends soundlessly and leaves soundlessly, unambitious and lazy.

I ring the doorbell, then wait patiently, hands clasped lazily behind my back. A moment later, the lock clicks and warm yellow light floods out onto the porch.

I look up, smiling at the man at the door. “Sorry to bother you again today.”

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