The Long Chase for the President’s Spouse – Chapter 70: I Found Your Parents
Quality Check: Tezuka
First Published on Chaleuria
Chapter 70: I Found Your Parents
Zhang Heng grinned slyly as he asked, “You’re in love with me, aren’t you? Stop trying to deny it.”
Gu Zhun’s face reddened even further, but he remained silent this time, neither nodding nor denying Zhang Heng’s conjecture.
“Will you come back with me, then?” Zhang Heng asked quietly.
Gu Zhun raised his head at the question, his eyes lost and flickering with uncertainty. His cheeks remained flushed, and his lips quivered slightly as if he were breathless from anxiety and embarrassment.
Zhang Heng was not going to force Gu Zhun into giving him an answer. He had put everything on the line when he came to Japan in search of Gu Zhun, and he had already beaten the odds when he finally found him. This time, he would wait for Gu Zhun to make up his mind.
“Let’s go.” Zhang Heng took Gu Zhun by the hand.
Gu Zhun followed Zhang Heng and drifted along unquestioningly. It was as if he had complete confidence that Zhang Heng would keep him safe wherever they went – as if he believed that even the most insignificant places could be heaven on earth if Zhang Heng was with him.
This was the way that things had always been.
Seven years ago, shortly after Zhang Heng transferred to Gu Zhun’s school, their form teacher decided to conduct a class meeting outdoors. She encouraged the class to take inspiration from the theme, ‘In Search of Spring’, and immerse themselves in their surroundings. The room soon became empty as the class left in groups to enjoy the flora the school campus offered. Only Zhang Heng and Gu Zhun remained. Their teacher spared them no more than a cursory glance before leaving as well to join the other students; she knew that Gu Zhun would rather bury himself in his studies for an entire day than waste a single second outdoors.
Zhang Heng watched as Gu Zhun worked through the practice questions in his book. He could not understand why Gu Zhun was working so hard when they were only in their second year of junior high.
“Why didn’t you go out with everyone else?” he asked. But there was no response from Gu Zhun, who was completely lost in his studies.
Half an hour later, Gu Zhun paused briefly to put aside his math practices and pick up a new set before resuming his work. Zhang Heng’s mood began to sour as he continued observing Gu Zhun from his seat. How was it possible for anyone to study for such long hours without taking a break? Wouldn’t his mind be numb from all that work? Wouldn’t his butt hurt from sitting still for so long?
“Are you one those nerds who do well in exams but are hopeless in everything else?” Zhang Heng wondered aloud. After all, there were many types of elite students. Some of them had no trouble enjoying an active social life while maintaining exceptional grades in examinations. Some, on the other hand, devoted all their time to mind-numbing drills and spared no time for relaxation…
Instead of remaining silent, Gu Zhun unexpectedly replied, “Maybe…”
“What? Did you just admit that you’re a nerd?”
Zhang Heng eventually found out, much later, that Gu Zhun was not responding to his question at all. He was reading a passage aloud in order to experience the text more effectively and Zhang Heng simply mistook his recitation as an answer.
At the time, however, Zhang Heng reacted to Gu Zhun’s ‘admission’ by springing to his feet and forcibly pulling Gu Zhun out of his seat. Taken by surprise, Gu Zhun stumbled and snapped sharply at Zhang Heng, “What do you think you are doing.” Gu Zhun’s cold declarative tone made it clear that he was in no mood to entertain Zhang Heng’s explanation. School was ending soon and he was not going to waste his precious time on Zhang Heng.
“I’m taking you on a search for Spring…” Zhang Heng suddenly stopped short, embarrassed by the not-so-subtle sexual connotation of what he just said. 
“So?” Gu Zhun asked in confusion.
“Erm…” Zhang Heng scratched his head and turned away awkwardly. It would have been a huge relief to Zhang Heng if he had known that Gu Zhun was completely ignorant when it came to sexual innuendos. But since he was unaware of this, Zhang Heng tried to cover up his own sense of shame by dragging Gu Zhun out of the classroom. “Stop asking questions. Just get going!”
It was warm outdoors and some of their classmates could be seen taking a leisurely stroll on the grassy field, still bathed in sunlight despite how late it was in the afternoon. “The point of direct contact between the Earth’s surface and the sun’s rays shifts northwards, resulting in longer daytime…” Being the model student that he was, Gu Zhun immediately applied his knowledge of geography to the scene before him.
Beside him, a flabbergasted Zhang Heng asked weakly, “What in the world are you talking about…?”
Gu Zhun had no patience for Zhang Heng’s stupidity. “Where exactly are we going to ‘search for Spring’?” he asked impatiently.
Zhang Heng was shocked to hear such improper language from someone as pure as Gu Zhun. He slapped a hand over Gu Zhun’s mouth hurriedly. “Don’t repeat what I said. I coined the expression so I have exclusive rights to it.”
Gu Zhun frowned and rolled his eyes in obvious disbelief.
Unwilling to discuss the subject any further, Zhang Heng led Gu Zhun to the forest by the side of the field. Nestled in the heart of the forest was the pavilion where they first met. Looking up at the pavilion, Zhang Heng asked, “Do you remember this place?”
“Yeah. This is where I do my work.”
Zhang Heng shot Gu Zhun a despairing look. Had Gu Zhun really erased him entirely from his own memories of the place?
For Zhang Heng, this place represented everything that Spring stood for.
You came into my life in Spring too, right before Summer arrived.
“This is where we first met,” he reminded Gu Zhun.
Unpleasant images flooded Gu Zhun’s mind. He remembered being thrust roughly against the stone table before Zhang Heng pulled up his shirt to reveal his flesh…
“… Can I see it again?” Zhang Heng asked as his memories kindled an inexplicable desire to see that expanse of soft white skin again. At the time, he did not realise that he was in love. He would not realize it until a year later, in their last year of junior high.
Gu Zhun did not respond to the request. As Zhang Heng began to reach out for his shirt, Gu Zhun immediately pulled his school uniform tightly to himself and snapped angrily, “What do you think you are doing?”
In stark contrast to the fury in his tone, his face remained expressionless like an inanimate wooden carving. Zhang Heng stopped himself and withdrew his arm.
Was he out of his mind?! To think that he almost stripped another man in broad daylight… what happened to his sense of propriety and decorum?
Zhang Heng calmed himself down and cleared his throat in an attempt to pretend that nothing improper had ever crossed his mind. Gu Zhun was aloof by nature and seldom expressed his thoughts or feelings; he said nothing further about Zhang Heng’s behavior and went along with his pretence.
Zhang Heng found a seat and gestured for Gu Zhun to join him before bending down to pick up some of the cotton flowers that had fallen on the ground. As he fiddled with the flowers, his gaze fell lingeringly on Gu Zhun’s eyes. In those clear, watery depths, he caught a glimpse of his own reflection… Gu Zhun was looking back at him too.
“Your stare is making me uncomfortable,” Gu Zhun stated bluntly.
Zhang Heng shrugged. He leaned forward to tuck a flower behind Gu Zhun’s ear as he began to recite:
“Atop the cotton tree, a partridge sings 
Under the cotton flowers, a touch lingers on the lover’s sleeve
Time moves on though feet stand still
In the red sea of fallen petals, the sound of departing hooves is drowned.”
Gu Zhun was surprised that Zhang Heng was able to recite a poem from memory. Zhang Heng chuckled at the adorable expression on Gu Zhun’s face before continuing softly, “You must be curious about the poem. It’s a lyrical verse written in the Qing dynasty by Peng Xianmen.”
Although the explanation felt like a challenge to Gu Zhun’s status as an elite student, Gu Zhun remained unaffected as he responded sincerely, “It’s a very poignant poem.”
“It’s a sad story,” Zhang Heng added. Gu Zhun nodded in agreement.
They sat under the cotton trees in comfortable silence and looked up at the fiery cloud of brilliant scarlet blooms overhead. In the distance, the day drew to a close as the last bell went off and the field became abuzz with activity as students came out to play. But all was quiet in the pavilion where time seemed to have come to a standstill.
“Are you satisfied with this ‘Spring’ that I have found for you?”
“Yes.” Gu Zhun nodded, and though there was no trace of a smile on his face, Zhang Heng could see the contentment in his eyes. Gu Zhun liked this place… he genuinely enjoyed the experience of ‘Spring’ that Zhang Heng created for him.
He was happy wherever Zhang Heng took him; Zhang Heng’s presence alone was enough to fill his heart with contentment wherever they went.
At what point did he become so easily pleased? – When he fell in love with Zhang Heng, perhaps?
Hand in hand, Zhang Heng and Gu Zhun made their way down the stairs to the reception counter, where the lady boss was seated. They bowed gratefully as they walked up to her. Before Gu Zhun could utter a word, Zhang Heng spoke up, “Thank you for looking out for him in the past few days. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the care you have shown to the love of my life.”
She waved Zhang Heng’s words aside gently. She did not need his thanks as she had simply followed her heart and done what she felt was right.
After leaving the hotel, they headed for a nearby restaurant where the store manager had made a reservation for them. They were led to a private dining room and their dishes were served promptly after they placed their orders.
As they began eating, Zhang Heng prepared himself mentally for what he was about to tell Gu Zhun.
At first, he was resistant against the idea of triggering bad memories for Gu Zhun. He did not want to force Gu Zhun to confront a traumatizing experience that he was unwilling to face. But after they confirmed their mutual feelings for each other, it had become harder and more painful for Zhang Heng to watch Gu Zhun struggle with his traumatic past. Therefore, Zhang Heng eventually made up his mind to tell Gu Zhun about his parents.
“Are you open to the idea of meeting your parents again?” Zhang Heng began carefully.
A piece of chicken fell from Gu Zhun’s chopsticks into his bowl of ramen. He looked up blankly at Zhang Heng. It had been so long since he last heard someone refer to the expression – ‘his parents’ – that it sounded almost foreign to him.
“Actually…I found your parents.” Zhang Heng continued to reveal the information that he had received from his HR and Logistics staff earlier in the day. The expression on Gu Zhun’s face was complicated; it was hard to tell whether he was shocked or angered by the news. An overwhelming sense of numbness crept over his mind.
“You may deny it, but deep in your heart, I’m sure that you have always wanted to see them again.”
Gu Zhun looked down silently. After a long while, he finally replied, “They abandoned me a long time ago. Why would I want to have anything to do with them?”
“Because you still love them.”
“… No, I don’t.”
- Spring (春): The Chinese character for “Spring” also denotes wanton lust or sexual desire. In this case, Zhang Heng perceives “searching for Spring” (找春) as a double entendre for “searching for prostitutes / ways to release sexual tension”, though the phrase is not a standard expression in Mandarin.
- Cotton flowers (木棉花): Cotton flowers bloom in Spring, and their fiery red hue makes them an emblem of the vitality and warmth of Spring in Chinese culture, signifying the end of hardships in life (which are usually associated with Winter). Cotton trees are also known as Trees of Valour (英雄树), and their red flowers are regarded in turn as symbols of courage and unwavering loyalty. In romantic conventions, the cotton flower conveys the message – cherish your loved one and the happiness you share.
- Partridge (鹧鸪): When transcribed in written Chinese, a partridge’s song sounds like a plea for a lover or an older brother to stay: “行不得也哥哥” – you can’t leave, for the journey ahead is filled with danger and hardship. Thus, the bird is a common literary symbol for (1) one’s grief and yearning when a loved one is exiled or leaving on a long journey, and (2) the homesickness felt by those in exile.