Duan Zhi Hao slowly nodded, feeling that he was getting closer to the truth bit by bit. “I see. So you came back here because it’s a kind of milestone and you want to completely tie up loose ends. I guess you did sign the contract then?” Because he felt like he had seen that photographer run past him with documents several times. He couldn’t quite imagine that Li Ming would actually like to do that kind of thing but it might indeed help with letting go of the matter.
Li Ming nodded. “I did. I just … well, I think that in a way, it’s something that will allow me to not see them as just couple photos of us anymore. Instead, they’ll be something new, something that somebody else is using as part of his job. It won’t be our thing anymore, that part will be a thing of the past. Instead, it’ll be something else and I think that’ll help me with letting go. Especially since this was what started the whole breakup.
“In a way, I guess I’m trying to re-contextualize the photos. Just … make them into something new, give them a new purpose so they’ll be good for something at least even if that can’t be as a memento of our relationship as they were originally supposed to be.”
Duan Zhi Hao nodded again, feeling that this wasn’t such a bad idea. Although there was still one problem with it. “I hope you won’t regret it if you ever come across it somewhere.”
Li Ming shook his head with a smile. “No, don’t worry. I thought about it for quite a while before coming here and we’ve made some adjustments to the contract to make sure I’ll be comfortable with it. He was actually really nice about it just now. I expected more trouble since he’s pretty passionate about his job.
“Anyway, I’m done with that now.” Li Ming fell silent for a while and then shook his head again. “It’s just … seeing the photos for the first time was pretty hard. And then, I also found out that my ex apparently left the country. I kind of feel guilty for that.”
Duan Zhi Hao raised his brows at him but didn’t respond immediately. Instead, he gave him a long look.
“So … what exactly are you feeling guilty about?”
“The fact that, apparently, I was mean enough to him after our breakup that he didn’t even want to stay in the same country as me? I mean, I know it has nothing to do with me. Rationally, at least. It’s his decision, his life, and I shouldn’t even be thinking about this. But it’s just … The last time we saw each other, I was very direct with telling him what I thought of him. He looked pretty hurt that day.”
“Yeah, alright, but this is your ex. Somebody who hurt you pretty deeply as well. I mean, you just went in to sign a contract to have a few photos published, and you came out looking like you were really down. Just because you saw the photos and found out something else about that person that you didn’t know yet. No matter what you said, it couldn’t be worse than what made you end the relationship in the first place.”
Li Ming sighed. “I know that. I also know I shouldn’t be thinking like this but I just can’t help myself. When we met, I had this idea of him that he was … very delicate, getting distraught easily, and should be protected from whatever out there could hurt him. I don’t know, I just … resonated with that. I felt responsible.”
Duan Zhi Hao gave a hum. “I guess there is a reason why you became a security guard. You probably didn’t just feel responsible for your ex. You generally feel responsible for others. That’s why you’re always listening to sister Yao, letting her complain, trying to give her advice. You’re the type of guy who wants to save the world and you probably feel doubly so when it’s about a person you’re romantically involved with.”
“Yes, I guess that’s exactly it. Seeing him down on his luck was something that made me feel sorry for him. He was continuously seeking me out and I tried to comfort him and bit by bit, I got sucked in further, caring about him more and more until we somehow ended up together. And then, I just felt like it was meant to be, that the two of us had come from bad situations and could heal through each other and become a strong couple able to weather any kind of storm.
“That is, until I found out that everything was just a lie and he was, in fact, not as delicate as I imagined.” He shook his head at himself, really not sure what he was thinking. “Really, when I think about him now, about the real him, then I realize that he isn’t the person that I loved and he definitely wouldn’t be the kind of person I’d get with.”
“Which is probably why he lied in the first place.”
Li Ming stopped in his tracks, and stared at Duan Zhi Hao, not sure what to make of that.
Duan Zhi Hao also turned around when he realized that Li Ming wasn’t following anymore. “What’s the matter?”
Li Ming took a deep breath and then sighed, shaking his head. “Nothing. Just that … I could never really figure out why. But I think you hit the nail on the head. He knew that I wouldn’t be interested in him if he was his usual self so he pretended to be a different person, the kind of person that I would like.
“But I guess that makes it even worse. I just … I felt betrayed and … used, I guess. I still do. And the fact that, on the one hand, there is this person that I loved so much, this person that I thought I might spend my life with, and then, on the other hand, there is another person but also the same who I don’t even know and who manipulated me from the moment we first met each other, that makes me feel so lost.
“I don’t know what to do. I have trouble getting over it. I know I’m taking steps, changing my own life, and tying up loose threats as you said, but still, it is so difficult to let go of this. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to do so. At the very least, right now, I don’t know how to do that.”