Prologue: Do You Know?
A near soundless humming sound.
“Testing. One. Two. Three. This is test #1.”
A throat clearing. A soft sigh. A gentle creaking as a body settles into a chair.
“Remember the first day we met? I was twelve-years-old, sitting in the corner of the room as a party went on around me. That classic awkward child, surrounded by a sea of graceful swans. I had never felt more out of place. I didn’t belong. I knew it. My mother was scolding me for getting my clothes dirty, about the state of my hair, the scratch on my arm, the streak of dirt on my cheek.
You were dragged over by your helpful mother to talk to that kid in the corner. Even at ten years old you were a precocious brat.
I know you wouldn't want to talk to me, but you were too polite to let on with words. Do you know how I knew? That’s because no one ever wanted to talk to me. No one ever had, not since . . . Ye Zun. The kids unlucky enough to be pushed into keeping me company always made sure to tell me how boring I was when they made their escape.
I tried to be nice. I told you to go away. I told you I had a wonderful book to read, even holding it up as proof. But you ignored the demand and sat down next to me. You asked me what I was reading, and then started talking to me about the game you were playing. You forced me to play with you, and I lost, of course. You laughed. And then, you gave me a lollipop, even teaching me the proper etiquette on consuming one of those.”
A soft clearing of the throat.
“Do you know I still have the wrapper?"
The gentle clink of glass against glass. The sound of gentle rustling before things settled into silence once more.
"All throughout our childhood we were thrown together. I guess it was just your bad luck that there were no other kids in our parents’ group of friends and business associates. I got used to you. Before long … I started to look forward to seeing you. Parties that had previously been purgatory became bearable. Became heaven.
Do you know that as pathetic as it sounds, I began to consider you a friend long before you considered me anything more than the boring social obligation you had to put up with at these adult gatherings?
When I was that twelve-year-old kid . . . as I went through awkward puberty, and things became even harder for me. All through those stages you were there … always happy, always shining, always caring. And you talked to me like I was an individual, someone with his own thoughts, his own ambitions and dreams. Up until then I had only ever been an extension of my parents. People only talked to me or pushed their children at me because they wanted favors from them. But not you.
I loved that about you.”
A beat of silence. A soft sigh and then a sound of determination.
“Do you know the exact moment I fell? I don’t. I don’t know when I fell in love with you. When did you become more than a friend? When did my heart start beating in anticipation of seeing you? When did I start wanting to breathe in your scent? Touch your warmth? Soak in your personality? When did I want to kiss your lips? Hold you in my arms? When did I start wanting something more?”
A near-silent movement in the chair. A shifting. The clink of glass against glass once more, and then a gentle rustling before silence settled once more.
“Suddenly, I was in the middle of a romantic love for my best friend, when I hadn't even known that I'd moved beyond the safe confines of friendship. I used to lecture myself for hours before meeting you. I would tell my heart to stop beating so hard, my breath to remain steady, my cheeks to stop blushing. I told my body not to betray me, lest you know the truth. But it never worked. My face would flush, my ears would turn red, and I would nervously push up my glasses with shaking hands every other minute when in your company.
And you … you were oblivious.
I would say that was a good thing, but for the reason. You didn’t see my crush because you didn’t see me as an object of interest. I was your buddy, a friend. I was one of the guys. I was never more than that to you. Over the years, you've dated lots of other people, both men and women. But you never saw me as more than a friend. And I never had the courage to ask if I could be more.
I don’t know why I’m thinking about this now. I thought I had accepted all of this a long time ago."
A gentle swallow and then the clearing of a throat.
"Do you know when our parents arranged the merger between our family's, otherwise known as our engagement, it was the happiest day of my life. We would be married. We'd be together. We would be linked forever.
You might not have loved me, but I knew that you didn’t love anyone else. I knew that you wouldn’t stray once you married, you would remain faithful to your best friend. You would be steadfast and keep your vows. You've always been a good man; I knew you would be a better husband.
And I, I would have the right to stand by your side. I would have the right to hold your hand, to hold you at night and make love with you. We would create a family, a loving unit. I would support you, as you would support me. You would ask me for advice. You would talk to me. You would value me. That was enough for me. Do you know that it really was enough?
But then there was that accident, and your parents were away on that business trip. I was there every day by your side. No one was happier than I was when you awakened, but everything changed when you opened your eyes. You changed. You pulled away.
All the plans our parents had made, the arrangements for the business, everything fell by the wayside. The doctor's urged caution, and your parents love you. They cherish you. And so, they backed off.
When I thought happiness was within my grasp, it slipped away. And loving you, I let it go happily."
A soft, bitter laugh.
“I want you to be happy. I want you to have everything you have ever wanted in the world. I want you to have the perfect love, the perfect life. I want you to be eager when you go home every night because you are going home to the one you love. I want you to … have more than just enough.”
A crinkle of paper. A tearing sound.
“This invitation. I don’t know why I've kept the pieces. Not like I need a reminder. You’re getting married. Quietly. A few close friends. You want me to be there. And I’ll be there, supporting you and that’ll have to be enough now.
It wasn’t unexpected. It was something that I had been dreading when I began to see your picture in the newspapers once more. But to get this, was like a slap in the face. It was the murder of the dreams that I had thought I'd killed myself long ago. And to realize that they had been living, waiting, hoping to be realized, hurt in a way that I hadn't expected.
I'm not ready.
So, I’ll see you get married. I’ll raise my glass in a toast. I’ll bring a present. And then I’ll leave early. And life will move on. But, God, I’ll love you forever, you bastard.”
A pause. A healthy swallow, and then the clink of glass against glass once more.
"Why couldn’t you have loved me, Ah Lan?"
A tapping of fingers. The sound of a distant bell.
“I wonder though … I still wonder … what was that look I saw in your eyes that day? In your hospital room? What was that flash of anger? Sometimes I still ask myself …"
The sound of a door bursting open, slamming against the wall.
"What is it?”
"There was an explosion at one of our sites."
"And lots of injuries. They need you on it right now."
"Tell me what measures have been taken."
The sound of something hitting the wall with a dull thud.
"Shen Wei, you’ve been drinking?"
"It's fine. Give me a minute, Chu Shuzhi."
"I'm sorry. I had Butler Yan set up a conference call in your office here. They're all waiting. Shen Wei, your father is on this call."
“Please clear everything away.”
The sound of fading footsteps, voices fading in the background.
"Take this, it'll make you more alert."
"Just tell me how ma--"
Glasses clinking against each other. Gentle thuds. The soft whisper of shoes against thick carpeting.
"Hmm. What could this be?"