Que Jian Hong put down his weiqi tile and looked up at the person sitting on the other side of the table expectantly.
Wen Ming Ru brushed his beard and narrowed his eyes at the board. The longer he stared, the less he knew what to do with the tile in his hands. It seemed that regardless of where he put his tile, Que Jian Hong would still win in the end. He gave a sigh and looked up at the other man, his lips pressed into a tight line. “It’s my loss.”
Que Jian Hong grinned. “Indeed, indeed but that doesn’t come as a surprise, does it? You can’t deny that I’m the world’s best weiqi player!”
Que Jian Hong just smirked in response. “Whether I’m shameless or not, you would certainly know best. After all, it takes one to know one.” His smirk got even more pronounced while Wen Ming Ru’s eyes were ablaze with indignation. “Have you ever heard me spout such nonsense?! You’re a braggart and a big one! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for tooting your own horn like this?”
Que Jian Hong’s smirk didn’t lessen in the slightest as if this win had put him in an exceptionally good mood and nothing that was said or done could diminish it. He put his arms on the table and leaned slightly forward, interlacing his fingers while he fixed Wen Ming Ru with an amused look. “Don’t be a sore loser. You can’t scold me for winning when I played fair and my only advantage was my natural brilliance. Having a sharp mind and being flexible in your ways is essential when playing weiqi. You should watch closely and do some meditation later on. Maybe you’ll be able to best me in a decade or so.” He laughed heartily before turning serious again and giving a cough. There was a hint of awkwardness in his expression. “Anyway, I won this game, so I’ll be on top tonight.”
Wen Ming Ru who had just picked up the teacup that stood to the side trembled and a few drops spilled over, running down his hand and into his sleeve. “What are you saying!” He looked around to make sure that nobody was around before he turned back to glare angrily at Que Jian Hong.
The other man didn’t feel as if he had done anything wrong. He chuckled and reached over, grabbing Wen Ming Ru’s hand. “What? You wouldn’t want to renege on your promise, or would you?” He raised his brows in playful outrage.
Wen Ming Ru became even angrier. He pulled his hand back at once and even went so far as to brush it off on his sleeve, raising his chin and scoffing as if this was beneath him. “What promise are you talking about? Weren’t we just playing weiqi? There was no bet involved!”
Que Jian Hong tsked. “What ‘just playing weiqi’? Don’t tell me you have forgotten! On this very same day, twenty-five years ago, we made a promise before we returned to the capital: We said that after everything was settled in the future, we’d play a round of weiqi every day to determine who will be the one lying on top and who will be the one at the bottom. Don’t tell me you really forgot?!”
Wen Ming Ru’s wrinkled face flushed crimson and his bushy, white brows drew together. “You!” He pointed at the other man’s nose, his old hand trembling. He didn’t get out anything though. This really was too shameless. It actually made him speechless! How could this guy have the face to say something like this? “That was twenty-five years ago!”
Que Jian Hong nodded happily, not the least bit disturbed by his friend’s reaction. “Indeed, indeed. It really took us twenty-five years to come to this point. I can hardly believe it’s been so long. To think how many years we’ve wasted … Ah, we should have been more shameless back then! We wouldn’t have needed to wait this long then and you couldn’t play stupid now.
“Anyway, we have no reason to hold back any longer. Our parents have probably gone into reincarnation by now, our children have long married and started their own families, and our wives have already departed for the Yellow Springs. What’s there to consider now? We can just be ourselves.”
Wen Ming Ru shook his head, still unable to believe that Que Jian Hong would be able to say something like this. “You think just because our children have married nobody will care anymore? My oldest son is still living over at my house with his wife! There is also a bunch of servants around. What will they think when they see two old men doing something like that?”
“Aiya! Who would’ve thought you were this adventurous? I was just thinking of doing it alone in our rooms but you actually wanted to do it in front of servants! I’m afraid you’ll have to give me a bit of time to get used to this idea first. We definitely can’t do it outside today yet.” He shook his head and sighed deeply as if he really couldn’t believe that Wen Ming Ru had said something like this.
Wen Ming Ru spluttered. This time, he wasn’t even able to lift his hand to point at the shameless guy’s face and scold him. What he wanted to do it in front of the servants! That wasn’t what he had meant at all! And this guy knew that very well!
Que Jian Hong reached over and patted his friend’s hand when he saw that Wen Ming Ru was getting angry again. “You better calm down now or do you want to have a heart attack? We haven’t even done it for the first time. Are you really trying to cheat me out of the experience?” He tsked and shook his head as if fed up with the discussion but there was still the hint of a smile on his lips.
“Anyway, stop thinking so much already. We’ve lived through three wars and came back alive each time, we’ve fulfilled everything our families wanted us to and always put our own wishes last. We waited twenty-five years to be together. Do you really want to make it any longer? Then how long should it be? If you continue to be like this, one of us will have dropped dead!”
Wen Ming Ru’s anger dissipated at those words and he lowered his head, not daring to look his friend into the eyes.
Qu Jian Hong sighed when he saw him like this, feeling a bit regretful about that outburst. But still, he stood by what he meant. “I don’t mean to anger you but we just can’t afford to get cold feet anymore. We’re old.” He laughed and shook his head, looking out of the pavilion and at the courtyard where he had spent fifty years of his life. “We’re really old. Our days are numbered. They always were but now, their number isn’t as big anymore. If we still don’t dare to do it now, then we’ll part from this world without ever having lived as we wanted. I, for one, would regret that.”
He looked back at this friend of his and gave a faint smile that was reminiscent of those days long past.
Wen Ming Ru took that expression in and couldn’t help but feel a little regretful himself. Right, time wasn’t on their side. It had never been. First, they hadn’t dared to be together because they had been afraid of what their family would say. Then, the first war had come and there was no time to think about something like love. Every day, they had been fighting for their life. If anything, then the only thing they had had been some beautiful thoughts, some silent talks about the future.
But what then? They had returned from the first war and before they could even warm their chairs, they had already been called to take part in the fights at the other border. And when that second war had also ended, and they returned to the capital city once again, what awaited them were their families that were eager to have some girl marry into the family to make sure the bloodline wouldn’t cease to exist in their generation.
They had given in once again, thinking that it was the right thing to do. Being filial, having a child of their own, that was what the ancestors would expect of them. Giving in to their old feelings … They hadn’t been able to do that.
In that way, twenty-five years had gone by. Those wives had died, leaving them with their children already grown, and their children’s children already a few years old. If they still didn’t live these feelings now, then they would never be able to do so.
Wen Ming Ru finally nodded slowly, picking up the weiqi tiles and putting them back into the chest at the side. “A gentleman should always honor his promise, shouldn’t he? Find then, since I’ve promised back then, then we’ll do it that way.” Before Que Jian Hong could celebrate Wen Ming Ru pointed at his nose. “Don’t think that I wouldn’t remember what exactly you’ve said! It was only a promise about that first night! Tomorrow, we still have to talk about who’s on top and who will be below!”
“Ah?” Que Jian Hong furrowed his right brows. “What’s there to negotiate? I’m obviously still much more vigorous than you! So it should be me who is on top!”
Wen Ming Ru snorted. “What more vigorous? I remember you were limping the other day, holding your back and muttering under your breath! And didn’t you have some serious injury to your knee? That certainly can’t be called vigorous. My body, on the other hand, is completely healthy! The other day, the physician that came to take a look even said that he couldn’t believe I was a day past thirty.”
Que Jian Hong just laughed at that. “Are you sure that physician looked at you and not at your son? Maybe it’s not that your body is unhealthy but that you’re not of sound mind anymore.”
Wen Ming Ru scoffed. “Hmph. You’re just trying to divert my attention from the fact that you wouldn’t be able to take being on top for more than a night anyway. Don’t think I wouldn’t be able to see!”
Que Jian Hong slammed his fist down on the table and leaped to his feet. “Are you questioning my stamina?!” He furrowed his gray brows and limped around the table, grabbing Wen Ming Ru’s arm. “Alright, that’s enough! I won’t stand for this! Why wait for tonight? I’ll show you just how much stamina I have! We can start now and I’m sure I can go until the morning!”
“It —” Wen Ming Ru wanted to continue to put the tiles back into the chest but he was already dragged off. “Old man Que, what do you think you’re doing?! You really can’t hold back?!”
“What holding back?! You’ve made me wait for twenty-five years! If I still don’t rush to the bedroom, then who knows what you’ll come up with until tonight! Anyway, don’t even try it. A promise is a promise. For tonight, you’ll be at the bottom.”
With that, he continued to drag Wen Ming Ru away, not bothering about the servants that were wondering just what had happened now to make these two old men argue again. Nobody went to check on them though. After all, this wasn’t a new sight at all. Certainly, the two old Masters would soon calm down and be harmoniously sitting in the pavilion again, playing weiqi and drinking tea as if nothing had ever happened.