The dawn is just breaking over that old city, the first rays of sunshine extending their claws over all of its art, its history, its violence. A lone motorbike whizzes past and the green-clad street cleaners are just starting their scrape-scrape-scrape along the pavement. It smells like last night’s rain on stone and not yet like fresh croissants from the bakery downstairs. That mouth-watering foreign aroma that greeted them every morning this week, as they leaned out of their juliet balcony to take in the new day, the overflowing flower boxes in the windows opposite, the people rushing down below, stopping only to grab a coffee and sandwich at the Carrefour on the corner.
Every morning they took turns walking down those few flights of stairs to the rose-cheeked lady at the bakery, who filled her rustling paper bags with fresh delicacies, which they shared over coffee Bai Yu brewed in their kitchen’s fancy coffee maker. Inevitable crumbs painted snowflake patterns on the table between them, and Bai Yu leaned over to kiss traces of puff pastry off Yilong’s lips.
Yilong is still asleep where Bai Yu left him, tangled in white sheets, so relaxed, spent after all of the attention Bai Yu lavished on him last night. He shivers remembering it, Yilong’s moans, his lips open in a perfect o, hands grabbing Bai Yu’s shoulders painfully, frantically, his eyes too deep with emotion when Bai Yu begged him to look, to not dare close them.
Bai Yu takes a shaky breath, he should go back to him, to that soft bed, their bed, press against that sleep-warm body, enfold Yilong in his arms and never let go.
But how can he?
Their little Paris dream is coming to an end, and he’s already taking precious moments from it by idling here in the dark instead of soaking in the bliss of being with Yilong where no one can touch them.
Even here in this foreign country where they are just two faces in a crowd, they can’t take their chances and stroll along the Seine holding hands or kiss beneath the lights of Norte Dame. One snap ending up on Weibo can ruin both of them.
Bai Yu wants to say fuck it, let’s stay here and never go back. But he can’t do this to Yilong, who’s given so much of himself, worked so hard for what he’s achieved. And his own career too, Bai Yu would be a hypocrite if he said he could just drop it all himself. Part of him tells him he’s a fool for it.
This week has been like nothing else in Bai Yu’s life. Stolen, begged for, a bit of a hustle and something he’s used up all of his favors for. Perfect.
A few days ago they got drunk on Beaujolais in an artisan bar with red brick walls, scribbled chalkboard menus and rustic exposed wood tables - one of those chic garage conversions left intentionally unfinished.
Bai Yu got treated to a slowly relaxing happily flushed Yilong, who finally stopped darting furtive looks at the other patrons in case anyone looked like they were taking photos. Languid smiles and even an occasional full-on belly laugh, when Bai Yu said something particularly silly. Yilong’s come-hither hooded gaze tempted Bai Yu to abandon all common sense and kiss him right there, deep and thorough, press his mouth against those luscious wine-stained lips. Thankfully Yilong broke the spell by precariously lifting his glass to his right eye and saying something profound that only comes when you’re sharing your third bottle. He then kept scrutinizing Bai Yu through the transparent red-splashed surface, and refusing to relinquish the glass from his swaying hand. Instead of kissing they both ended up in stitches of laughter.
Himself drunk on red wine and his Long-ge, Bai Yu finally staggered them home. They twirled woozily under street lamps, Bai Yu crooning snippets of ridiculous saccharine love songs, and Yilong laughing and shushing him, but forgetting to roll his eyes as he always does, and swaying to the tune, arms around Bai Yu’s neck. They finally kissed on the stairs leading up to their apartment, clinging to each other, taking three times as long to get to the door.
The next morning Bai Yu who shed his hangover quicker, relished pestering Yilong to get up. He nuzzled Yilong’s face with his scratchy beard, but that only got Yilong to bury himself deeper under the sheets.
“Long-ge, get up! We have to go have that picnic breakfast at the Tuileries Garden!”
He finally coaxed Yilong to sit up, eyes closed and hugging a pillow to his chest. Bai Yu handed him a glass of water and made sure he drank it all. And then filled it again. His own head was a little heavy, but Yilong looked so adorably sleepy and pouty, he couldn’t help fishing his phone out of his pocket and taking pictures.
“Go awa-ay,” Yilong complained. Too cute not to get right in his blushing face with that camera. Yilong batted it away halfheartedly and laughed, trying to fight Bai Yu off with his pillow. The ensuing tussle on the bed turned their Tuileries picnic breakfast into picnic lunch, but Bai Yu hardly complained.
Giving it all up seems surreal. Even if it’s this that is really a dream and their real lives have been put on hold.
Bai Yu wants too much, wants the impossible. He should be content with this week they’ve snatched away.
Someone shouts angrily down on the street and he hears metal shutters being rolled up in the bike rental across the road. It’s still dark, the sun’s first rays only just starting to touch the gauze curtains. Bai Yu’s whole body feels leaden, he doesn’t think he could move away from the wall he’s leaned his shoulder against even if he tried.
He should be content, but he’s not. He doesn’t want one week, he wants the rest of their lives.
He wants to take Yilong home to meet his family. He wants to have breakfast with him every morning, listen to how his day went every evening, make him smile that heart-wrenchingly beautiful smile of his, have him roll his eyes at Bai Yu’s silly jokes, post their selfies on Weibo. He wants to buy him a house and put a ring on his finger.
The sigh that escapes is almost a sob. It just hurts too damn much. In this moment suspended between night and day Bai Yu shuts his eyes against the agony of this reality.
Gentle arms circle around him from behind and he shudders at the tender warmth that he’s suddenly enveloped in. Yilong softly kisses behind his ear, doesn’t say anything for a while, just holds Bai Yu, letting him soak in the comfort he’s offering.
The street below continues to wake up, more cars pass by, more shops open their doors. The grocer’s crates rattle as he heaves fresh vegetables onto his stall.
“It’s cold,” Yilong says, “Come back to bed.”
Bai Yu nods, but doesn’t move. Yilong doesn’t ask, he just waits until Bai Yu is ready to turn around in his arms. And then Yilong gives him a light kiss on the lips, and tugs him along towards the bedroom.
Bai Yu may like to cast himself as the tough guy always, but Yilong is really good at taking care of him, in his quiet unassuming manner, his strength a solid rock Bai Yu is now leaning upon.
Under the covers Bai Yu squeezes Yilong to him so tight it must hurt, but Yilong just returns the embrace. There’s a new day coming and they will see it together.