Yu Wenwen stares at her phone, not at all pleased about her team’s recent win in the mobile game she’s been playing recently to kill time. With a flick, the notification wall appears, and she’s greeted with various messages from her group chats and a few more from her manager. She’ll deal with all work-related things tomorrow. For now, she’ll just melt further into the pile of pillows in her bedroom, one of her cats curled up at her feet.
It’s been a long day for her, what with having sprung out of bed before the sun dawned. Occupied as she was by what felt like a million meetings and another hour at the boxing gym before she caved, finally conceding that she needed some rest. She’s not really had the time to use her personal phone thus far, relegated as it had been to the bottom of her purse.
However, there are no messages from the person that hasn’t left her head for a good part of the past few weeks. She had been so sure that she was over Zhang Tian’ai, after that jittery getting-to-know-you phase from after they met at their friend’s party. Work has kept them apart, but now that it has somehow brought them back together… Zhang Tian’ai is still the one who always talks, talks, and talks, who nudges Yu Wenwen to open up about the gloomy clouds that float over her head whenever a particular mood takes over.
Okay, fine: she misses Zhang Tian’ai casual chatter, even if she often talks about anything except not particularly related to herself. But that’s fine, to Yu Wenwen. Yu Wenwen is grateful that she’s somehow not scared Zhang Tian’ai off. As things have been going, she doesn’t seem to be going anywhere far away soon.
Or… maybe she’s really misreading the situation.
After all, Zhang Tian’ai has not contacted her all day. And really, it’s been such a long day; how has she not replied to Yu Wenwen’s latest hedgehog selfie? She even posed for the photo, praying that no one else was looking at her when she took that photo earlier that afternoon, her lips scrunched up just so before the filter did the rest of the work for her.
With a deep sigh, she sinks further into her bed. Her cat meows, disgruntled that its resting spot is no longer in its preferred arrangement (i.e., its furry ears brushing against her feet, crossed at the foot of the bed.) It leaps off the bed and exits her room, barely sparing a disdainful glance back at her.
Left alone in her room, she returns to her game. Somehow, despite her best efforts, sleep just wouldn’t come for her tonight.
(Maybe she’s still hoping to get a reply on Weixin.)
“Is this Yu Wenwen? My apologies for calling you at this hour, but are you free right now?”
The first response that slips out of her is starkly ineloquent. That’s not Zhang Tian’ai’s voice on the other end. Who is it – oh, that’s one of the people that work closely with her. Why would they be calling? Has something happened to her? Has an accident happened—
Before she can panic any further, the person continues, “She’s safely home now, don’t worry. In fact, Actress Zhang is trying to snatch her phone back from me – so she’s a lot better than how she was earlier. Would you be free to come by now?”
A lot better than how she was earlier? “Is she okay?”
“Ah, about that… well, we didn’t know she was sick…” The person’s voice trails off as she hears the sound of the other phone dropping onto something soft, probably the carpet or the bed before the person’s voice sounds more distantly this time, somewhat muffled. “Just come over if you can, bye!”
With that, Yu Wenwen is left to the silence of her room again. Her once-grumpy cat has returned, but it is curled up on the couch, far away from her.
She fishes out the small polaroids of them strung together in her bedside drawer. Zhang Tian’ai has once asked why she keeps them in the drawer. The query had not been unhappy, merely curious. Well, alright, maybe it had a note of petulance buried in the affected nonchalance. She reasoned that she didn’t want them to get dusty, a truth, in part. She doesn’t elaborate that she wants to bring them everywhere she goes when she wants to. She should have, really, since Zhang Tian’ai probably assumes that she simply didn’t want anyone visiting her apartment to see the evidence of their relationship.
And that’s also a truth, in part.
But perhaps, unlike what Zhang Tian’ai probably thinks: sometimes she just likes keeping some secrets. For someone with much of her life under the spotlight, it feels nice to have something for herself.
Zhang Tian’ai’s smile is beatific, her white teeth gleaming even against the somewhat yellowish tint of a polaroid camera’s best effort against the summer heat. She mostly only sees Zhang Tian’ai’s face in this shot, though she remembers, quite clearly, the flowy summer dress that showed off her collarbones (too sharp, as usual) on that afternoon.
The warm memories of the past month drag the swell of worry in her down, down, down. She takes a deep breath and slips out of her house. The cat doesn’t make a single sound, only watching her leave without so much as a single complaint.
As she blinks awake, Zhang Tian’ai’s eyes widen quickly, almost comically. It’s clear she’s surprised, and the smile that threatens to bloom on her face warps rapidly into a tight frown as she pulls herself together. Ordinarily long-limbed and larger than life, she’s now swaddled in blankets, a small ball no different from the actual feline she’s left at home.
“I brought you soup. Don’t worry, I didn’t make it myself.” Yu Wenwen sets the thermos down on her bedstand before she shrugs her black jacket off, slightly damp from the autumnal drizzle. “There’s not a lot of places open at this hour, but this is the best I could do.”
Zhang Tian’ai sighs into her blanket. “Thank you. Eh, it’s okay, I can feed myself.” Yu Wenwen’s brows rise; ordinarily, Zhang Tian’ai is fond of being fed. “You shouldn’t be here – I don’t want to pass this flu bug to you.”
“Nah, I took my jabs. Didn’t you?”
Zhang Tian’ai shrinks further into the covers. “I don’t like needles.”
“Hmm? Our Xiao’ai tongxue doesn’t like needles? This must be the first time I’ve heard you say this.” Yu Wenwen almost laughs, but she stops herself, lest earn her patient’s ire.
“Mmm… Anyway, if there’s nothing else, you don’t have to stay, really. I will be able to take care of myself.”
“I heard you fainted after your shoot today.”
“That was earlier today. I’ve had some sleep, I’m fine now.”
Zhang Tian’ai is normally a pretty good actor, and she delivers her lines with admirable enunciation. But now, her words seem to be somewhat lodged in her throat, edged with a faint hollowness, the tell-tale signs of a poor throat. Yu Wenwen doesn’t understand why Zhang Tian’ai is insisting that she leaves. What’s so embarrassing about being ill? Everyone falls sick at some point.
“Shh, you should get more sleep—”
“And you really don’t need to be here—”
“But I want to, for you. Is that okay?”
Something about Yu Wenwen’s tone must’ve signalled that she brooked no argument, and Zhang Tian’ai sighs again. But this time, she pulls at Yu Wenwen’s wrist, her next question barely a whisper.
“You’ll stay till the morning?”
Yu Wenwen lowers herself and presses a feather-light kiss against Zhang Tian’ai’s compress-cooled, very-warm forehead. “Without a doubt.”
As she returns to the room from making a trip to grab some breakfast from nearby, Yu Wenwen’s neck is still stiff from sleeping on the couch all night. While she’s not really a fan of eating porridge most of the time, she made a visit to one of the local stalls nearby. The vendor carried one of Zhang Tian’ai’s less disliked flavours, so hopefully, she’ll be able to eat something today.
Hotel rooms in most establishments are equally decorated. A painting against the wall, usually painted a soft cream, a television set, and a more-than-serviceable bed. This room is no different from the ones that they often find themselves in, except that the sofa is lumpier than usual, earning her a sorer-than-expected neck.
Understandably, they’ve probably not expected anyone to have to sleep on the couch, but Yu Wenwen is sure that Zhang Tian’ai would’ve objected if Yu Wenwen even tried to sleep in the same bed, never mind that Yu Wenwen doesn’t really mind the risk of catching a cold or whatever it is that Zhang Tian’ai is down with.
Zhang Tian’ai stirs, and when Yu Wenwen turns to face her, she realises that her eyes don’t hold the slow milkiness of sleep, and instead, are alert enough to widen.
“Mm, good morning. Are you feeling better? I got you some porridge.” Yu Wenwen kneels by the bed, poking at Zhang Tian’ai’s cheeks with mock seriousness. “You’re already so skinny, aiyo, did you get even skinnier…”
Obligingly, Zhang Tian’ai sucks in her cheeks, though she doesn’t do it with the same playful cheer as she usually does. “Who let you in?”
“I was given a copy of your keycard. Are you hungry? Oh, do you want some water? I boiled some before I left – I’m sorry if the noise woke you up.”
Zhang Tian’ai shakes her head, no, it didn’t wake me up. Yu Wenwen presses a hand against Zhang Tian’ai’s forehead. After a night of changing her compresses, her fever seems to have gone down, even if her temperature’s still slightly warmer than usual.
That’s a relief. She hates seeing Zhang Tian’ai unwell. While Zhang Tian’ai likes to play around and sometimes whine a little bit, she’s hardly the kind of person to admit that she feels uncomfortable about her physical condition, much less openly whimpering in discomfort from fever chills.
As if noticing what Yu Wenwen is checking for, Zhang Tian’ai says, “I’m fine, you don’t need to fret over me.”
Are they having this conversation again?
“But I want to, Xiao’ai. I don’t like it when you’re suffering. I’m concerned about your health. I don’t want to just leave you alone when you’re unwell. I care about you. You’re…”
Suddenly, she doesn’t know how to speak. Calling Zhang Tian’ai her lover isn’t quite it. She’s not her girlfriend either, not really, not even when Yu Wenwen’s heart trembles whenever Zhang Tian’ai even so much as smiles at her. She’s so, so, so, pretty. Zhang Tian’ai’s eyes are wide and luminescent, set on a lovely, proud face framed by her dark hair. She could spend the rest of the year looking at her without doing anything else, and still long to see her more.
But they’ve just never had that conversation.
She’s never called Zhang Tian’ai her girlfriend, even though the flight of fancy seizes her sometimes. The words have simply never left her mouth.
So she settles for, “You’re important to me.”
And that’s a simple truth. But there’s so much more that threatens to spill from her lips.
No, don’t ruin it with Xiao’ai.
But – how would she ever know to think otherwise?
(You’ve kissed her.) (Multiple times.)
(And you also fled.) (More than once.)
(Well, her excuse is that she’s always been drunk in those instances.)
She doesn’t say anything more.
For someone who was named Wenwen by her parents, she sure doesn’t know how to use her words when she needs them.
(But, she stays.)
And that makes all the difference.