Chapter 39: Black Out
He Meng hesitated for a moment, then gingerly leaned over and lightly held his hand, her body nearly touching his face. She reached out with her other hand and with great effort helped him secure his seatbelt.
Gu Shi, watching from far across the street, saw everything. She suddenly felt a pain in her chest. Was it jealousy? Anger? Yet it seemed to be neither. It was true Zhang Chi was courting her, but after all they weren’t together. It wasn’t worth bothering with. She quickly flagged down a taxi and got in and shut the door.
A gentle breeze blew and Zhang Chi suddenly opened his eyes and sat up. “Gu Shi, Gu Shi,” he mumbled indistinctly.
He Meng let go of his hand, her fingertips still warm from his skin. Her face was burning. She looked at Zhang Chi reluctantly. In an instant he had become so distant. Zhang Chi soon feel asleep again, his breathing slow and heavy, calm.
She wiped her sudden tears and started the engine and merged into the night traffic. She knew the way back well, but the old classmate sitting beside her was so unfamiliar, and that faint, imagined rival now finally emerged clearly. It was no longer her imagination.
Gu Shi was a soft, feminine police officer. She was talented and attractive. If even Zhang Chi was not good enough for her, then what kind of man was?”
Just then she realized why her heart ached. She wasn’t sad because Zhang Chi loved someone else, it was more because she was pained to seem him not get the woman he loved. The man she wanted was beyond her reach, but was instead neglected and looked down on by that other woman, or perhaps she was letting him loose in order to capture him. But that in itself to her was shameful. She slowly steppe on the gas and quickly sped past car after car.
In the hazy morning light, Zhang Chi woke up even though his cell phone alarm hadn’t gone off. All he remembered from last night was that He Meng had helped him as he staggered inside. Only half-awake, he had distinctly felt a cool towel wiping him off. With difficulty he was helped out of his day clothes and into his night clothes. She had asked him something but he couldn’t a single word. He seemed to recall muttering something over and over, but he couldn’t remember what.
He noticed a bottle of mineral water on the nightstand and it suddenly came back to him a little. He only remembered that he was hazy and parched, and soon a stream of water poured into his slightly parted mouth like cool stream, but it felt like cotton candy, sweet and soft. He was like a man in the desert who couldn’t wait to lap up water from a small creek spring, eagerly sucking up sweet water. Mysteriously, this cold water seemed to also carry warmth. His eyelids were so heavy he couldn’t keep them open. He finished off the water and lay down and went back to sleep.
Zhang Chi wasn’t certain what had happened. He looked down. He still wore the pants he had on the night before at the party. That made him feel a bit better.
This was his first time he had gotten thoroughly drunk, to the point of blacking out. There was probably some explanation from a biological standpoint, or maybe his low spirits had increased the affect of the alcohol, but if He Meng had not come to his aid, his cautious personality would have allowed him to relax and get drunk.
If Gu Shi wasn’t in the picture, he and He Meng… But now it was time to let He Meng know. With some things it was less painful to say it early rather than later. Besides, he was now incapable of loving other women.
He called He Meng, who was peppy and girly as usual. His message was short, making plans to meet her at a coffee shop close to the branch office.
He hung up and looked at his watch, then hurried into the bathroom to shower and change, and was out the door in less than five minutes. He sped past cars on the road. When he stepped into the office, Gu Zhichang was pacing around in a circle. He saw him and said, “Little Zhang , your vacation has been approved. Hurry and book your hotel and plane tickets to wherever you’re going.”
That day He Meng was late. Zhang Chi sat outside at the coffee shop, looking over the menu for the third time. She walked over slowly in high heels.
Her face was slightly flushed, but her lightly powdered face was even more ravishingly beautiful. A light blue dress paired with cream-colored heels with thin straps, her fingernails and toenails painted cat’s eye sapphire blue. Several women looked at her, and the men looked at Zhang Chi with envy, but she just ignored them and sat down and smiled faintly at Zhang Chi. He had to admit, his vanity swelled to its limit at that moment.
“Did you sleep well last night?” He Meng lowered her head and pushed back her hair and looked at the menu.
Zhang Chi took a drink of his iced coffee and set his glass down. His Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat, but he said nothing. Every time they met He Meng shocked him with her beauty. Yet he was about to ruthlessly reject her face to face.
He Meng looked up at him and didn’t continue her earlier topic of conversation. She reached into her bag and handed him some information. “This is the reality show I told you about before. They’re filming it in Bali due to the special nature of the star. My friend is the producer, so I went ahead and signed you up. Should be around the time of your annual leave. You’re not mad at me are you?”
Zhang Chi raised his glass. “Of course not. Well then, I’ll go apply for vacation when I get back. The annual leave is whatever. I hadn’t really planned on going anywhere. But you’ve went to all this trouble, and also I want to thank you for taking me home last night. If I…”
He Meng seemed to have guessed what he was about to say. She rarely cut him off, but this time she said, “We’re old classmates. You really don’t have to be so formal.”
Zhang Chi put away what he had wanted to say for the time being, and went along with her. “I’ve never seen this show before. What’s a composite sketch artist like me supposed to do on a show like that?”
“Don’t worry about that; the director is experienced, after all. Their job is to design the program in a way that highlights your specialty while making it entertaining and interactive. Every skill has its own specialties. You just have to get your pencil ready and draw well and you’ll be fine.” He Meng handed him a letter.
Zhang Chi looked at it. It had the name of the show stamped on it. Inside were round-trip tickets and a detailed itinerary and information on the show’s production.
He Meng quickly ordered two of the same meals and smiled. “They’re very grateful to me for being able to find them such a uniquely interesting star for their show. Borrowing some of your luster, I was invited to act as an art consultant, with pay. This meal’s on me.”
Zhang Chi nodded and accepted politely. But he thought, “Bali, traveling together, completely on our own. You mustn’t do anything with He Meng.” Just then he couldn’t believe he was “preserving his honor”.
He Meng said, “Don’t look down on this new show. It has a lot of viewers, probably about ten million. And later it will be shown again online for people to view.”
Zhang Chi smiled and sipped his lemon water and fiddled with the straw wrapper. The long strip of paper was soaked by the condensation on the outside of the glass so that the color of the straw was revealed. Black like drop in the pit of He Meng’s stomach.
He went back and told Gu Zhichang about it first, on the whole making it seem like he didn’t really want to go.
Gu Zhichang was happy, however, the wrinkles on his forehead expanding. “That’s great. Go, why wouldn’t you want to. I’ll help you write the application.”
He hoped he would be refused so he wouldn’t have to go on a long trip with He Meng. He didn’t expect his low-key boss would through him into the teeth of the storm. “Sir,” he said helplessly, “is this really appropriate? Didn’t you say police officers shouldn’t reveal themselves to the public?”
Lao Fan, who was packing up his delivery trays, said, “Your police classification is public already. You’re not undercover. Why can’t you be known to the public? Several days without seeing you and still low-key, that’s not like you.”
“If you ask me, it’s very appropriate,” Gu Zhichang said. “You still have to wear a uniform and give me your all. Practice your art well in the time being and make us lowly Public Security people look good.”
“Yeah,” Little Wu said. “If you don’t want to go, let me go. Though I don’t know if anyone would want to watch me.” His eyes were shining. “Hey, go ask if their will be any special guests and about the work environment, let us show ourselves. Since I was little I’ve never been on TV.”
Sitting to the side, the usually reticent Chen Ting laughed and said, “If you think it’s a matchmaking show, why not call in the whole team and us all go to Bali?”
Zhang Chi spread his arms out as if to say, “You gotta be kidding me”.
Gu Zhichang laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “This is a good opportunity. You’re holding yourself back. Maybe your drawing skills will improve by leaps and bounds. What do you say?”
“Yes. Everything you said, Sir, is correct.” Zhang Chi looked around at everyone’s admiring and hopeful expressions. It only reminded him he had to keep his distance from He Meng.