Chapter 55 (1) – A Pack of Scoundrels
Without realising it, we became exceptional in each others’ circles.
Gu Wei and I weren’t necessarily the kind of people who networked for our own benefit, but we somehow found ourselves surrounded by very decent people. At our age, having good colleagues and friends we could speak freely to, people we could joke around with in our free time and lean on when times were hard, was its own kind of good fortune.
My circle of friends nicknamed Gu Wei the “wife whisperer”.
His circle of friends nicknamed me the “husband enchanter”.
We tried to explain: “It’s not that. We’re just very similar people.” For some reason, no one ever believed us.
Chen Cong is a Treasure
Chen Cong always said, “Now that you’re married, I can rest easy. You can take my poor old heart and make dumplings out of it.”
As Gu Wei’s close friend and colleague, they had gone to school together from junior high up to grad school. They weren’t the same age, but that didn’t stop them from forging a strong bond, a friendship that lasted through the years and into the present. In Chen Cong’s own words, “At this rate, we can betroth our kids before they’re born, and actually become family.”
However, it had been two years since Mrs. Chen entered the picture, and Gu Wei was still alone. Out of concern for his children’s future happiness, Chen Cong declared that he would “shoulder the important task of getting him hitched.”
When he first learned of our relationship, Chen Cong was worried: “Gu Wei, with someone so many years younger than you, won’t you be under a lot of pressure?” (What logic is this?)
Gu Wei: “Don’t you think her being young is significant?”
Chen Cong: “Ah? Then…. then what if she’s old?”
Gu Wei: “Don’t you think her being old would be significant?”
Chen Cong: “……”
In the wake of this, Chen Cong said to me, “Eh, sometimes Gu Wei’s train of thought… is a little bit wrong.”
But when it came to the change that being in love had sparked in Gu Wei, Chen Cong was very satisfied: “Man, she’s even fattened you up an entire kilogram. You’re looking more and more like a mature man.”
And so, this was how I quietly passed Chen Cong’s “assessment”. From that day on, every time I visited the hospital, he would happily call out, “Sister-in Law~ Xiaoxiao~” and encourage the rest to do the same. There were many doctors at the practice, so naturally this group of young people would have the tendency to be a bit silly.
Lunch in the cafeteria in the afternoon–
“Doctor Gu is dating!”
“Pics or it didn’t happen!”
Chen Cong jumped in. “Look at his wallpaper. His phone’s wallpaper.”
After that, the group of them eyed Gu Wei enviously. He returned to the table, took out his phone to call me, and found it promptly plucked from his fingers. From across the line, all I could hear was–
“Quick quick quick!”
I thought the lines had gotten crossed, and said, “Eh? Was there a glitch in the communications tower?”
This single sentence plunged the other end of the line into a moment of silence. After a bit of rustling, Gu Wei came on the line. “Have you eaten?” I could hear the smile in his voice.
I asked him, “What happened earlier?”
Gu Wei: “It’s nothing. You’ve already scared them off.”
From that day, whenever I visited the hospital, people I didn’t know would come up to me and ask, “Are you looking for Doctor Gu?” It was truly embarrassing.
With regard to Gao Xi’s situation, Chen Cong was the first to catch a whiff that something was wrong, and the first to tell Gu Wei, “If you’ve made up your mind, best be quick and tactful about it.”
Chen Cong was also the first to approach me for a heart-to-heart. “Xiaoxiao, Gu Wei has never even considered going back to Gao Xi.”
“I know,” I assured him.
The situation wasn’t as simple as novels often make it out to be. Hindsight cast the inflammatory elements of the situation in a light that showed them to be utter nonsense. Many times, after the ending of a relationship, when things are clear and one has had closure, they could look back on it and be able to finally let go of the past and scatter it to the wind. But when one had someone to love, to fumble through life with, to have a give and take with and become entangled with, it wasn’t so easy to simply let go. That being said, only an idiot would let go of an old love, only to seize it again in curiosity and the hopes of history not repeating itself.
Chen Cong: “Gu Wei’s approach is the most appropriate. By not giving the other party a chance, over time, their feelings will dissipate and die off. You both are a unit, it’s not good to have too much conflict. Besides, you’re the only one Gu Wei sees a future with. He’s head-over-heels for you, one would have to be blind not to see that.”
When two people have a history together, it doesn’t matter the length of the relationship they had. If Gu Wei had looked at Gao Xi with derision and disdain and badmouthed her, the one who would be the most disappointed in him would be me. One should never choose a man who leaves a lover and takes lingering feelings into his future relationships, nor should one choose someone who demonises and belittles his exes. These kinds of people are all scum. A man who has truly severed all emotional ties with his past will be calm and civil, with strict boundaries. Because no matter the good and bad of their past, an ex is an ex for a reason, and she would have no impact on our life together, now or in the future.
During that time, whenever we were in the hospital, Chen Cong spent almost all his time around Gu Wei. He wanted to reduce the number of chances Gao Xi and Gu Wei had to be alone together. Even when the two clashed for the final time, Chen Cong was by his side.
“Gao Xi, I already have a family. But even if I didn’t, we wouldn’t have a chance. We’re both very clear about the problems between us. You’re still you, and I’m still me. Even if we tried again, I doubt the outcome would be anything but the same. Don’t come to our branch anymore, I don’t want any misunderstandings.” At this time, I hadn’t even met his parents.
Although Chen Cong often looked back on these incidents with humour and ridicule, I knew that they weighed heavily on him. I was grateful to him for everything he had done; not many men would be willing to do something so draining and difficult. Not unless he considered you his brother. Chen Cong was just that kind of person. He had no time for false niceties, but if one was genuine, he would give of himself wholeheartedly; no amount was too much or too far. It didn’t matter whether you were a friend or a lover.
That year, it was with this same sincerity that he had proposed marriage to his future wife.
Mrs. Chen: “How can I be sure you won’t sleep around in the future?”
Chen Cong: “Sleep around? What would be the point? You could put all other women in the world before me, and underneath it all, they would all be the same to me. I’ve long seen past the surface into the heart of things. I’m not just looking for some action; it would do nothing for me.”
His future wife thought about it for a few more minutes, then agreed. They’re a mysterious pair.
Rumour had it that Mrs. Chen was notoriously difficult to win over. An excellent journalist, she was of sharp mind and tongue, eloquent and opinionated. She had a powerful presence, and was perfectly capable of standing up to – and overwhelming – Chen Cong.
The first time I was invited to Chen Cong’s home and met Mrs. Chen, I thought her unexpectedly delicate and beautiful, the living personification of the expression “a waist like a silk bundle, teeth like a string of shells”. But when she made like a teapot and stood before Chen Cong, arms akimbo, demanding that he buy seven kinds of vegetables in fifteen minutes, I discovered that appearances could be incredibly deceiving.
Eventually, the four of us washed and chopped enough ingredients for the entire table, and had a hotpot.
As we lounged about in our satisfied post-meal delirium, Mrs. Chen decided–-–”Truth or Dare! Out with it, when is Gu Wei at his sexiest?”
Someone poked me with a chopstick. I slowly came out of my food-induced stupor and turned to look at Gu Wei, who at that moment was in the middle of putting potato slices into the hotpot. “When he’s cutting vegetables,” I said. Gu Wei in an apron, slicing potatoes, shredding carrots, julienning, well, whatever, really – the clatter of the knife on the chopping board, the blade falling at the will of his hand, his movements skilled and smooth… he really couldn’t get any sexier than that.
Gu Wei smiled and shook his head.
Mrs. Chen: “You’re next! Do tell, when is Xiaoxiao at her sexiest?”
Gu Wei suddenly turned his attention to the points of the chopsticks, growing serious. “If you want to gossip, just say so. Why use your chopsticks as a cover up?”
Mrs. Chen: “I hide a little so you don’t have to.”
Gu Wei calmly continued adding potato slices to the pot. “When she’s ironing clothes. She feels particularly domestic when she does.”
From his seat, Chen Cong suddenly smirked. “Oooooh~~~”, but was silenced by a glare from his wife.
After that, Mrs. Chen said to me, meaningfully, “Next time you do the ironing, either dress a little more conservatively or wear something that shows a little more skin.”
Suddenly, something became apparent to me…..
Chen Cong and Gu Wei had something of a love-hate relationship, constantly teasing and trolling each other.
One random day.
Chen Cong: “Last night my wife wanted me to watch some romance flick with her. After it was over, I said it was boring, and she got mad at me. But I was just telling it like it is! She even grabbed me…”
Gu Wei: “My wife has never used physical force on me…” (Yes. I use psychological force instead.)
Another random day.
Chen Cong: “Did you watch the match last night? No matter how I tried to convince my wife, she wouldn’t let me. She hates when I watch TV at night.”
Gu Wei: “My wife watched the match with me.” (Honestly, I’m just looking for eye candy.)
Chen Cong: “I’ve been heating up quick-cook dumplings for two days already, now.” (Mrs. Chen was away on a business trip.)
Gu Wei: “Last night, we had a hearty meal.” (Only prepared on a whim.)
Yet another day.
Chen Cong: “My wife and my mother don’t get along. I can’t put them in the same room for more than half an hour; that’s the amount of time they take to come to some disagreement, and then I get caught in the middle.”
Gu Wei: “Things are pretty harmonious for me, she gets along with my parents just fine.” (Okay, this is true.)
Chen Cong, sighing: “How is it you’re enjoying the good life?”
Gu Wei was especially deadpan. “Don’t be jealous.”
Chen Cong burst out, “You damn show-off!”
On a separate occasion:
Chen Cong: “Ah, a new shirt?”
Gu Wei: “Xiaoxiao bought it.”
Chen Cong: “You’re not going to eat yet?”
Gu Wei: “Xiaoxiao is delivering lunch in a bit.”
Chen Cong: “How are you going to get home in this rain?!”
Gu Wei: “Xiaoxiao is picking me up, we’ll send you home at the same time too.”
Chen Cong: “Man, you get everything done for you, from your clothes to your food, to your transport. Are you even a man anymore?!”
Gu Wei: “When she gets here, you can ask her whether or not I’m still a man.”
Gu Wei, my man, that statement has way too many meanings.
And so, when I finally arrived to pick them both up, Chen Cong greeted me with a “Xiaoxiao, you can look after me, too!”