Disclaimer: The following story contains relationship and sexual act between young men. If material of this nature offends you, or it is illegal in your jurisdiction for you to view it, DO NOT READ any further. Although this story is loosely based on my real life experience, I have changed people's names in order to protect their privacy. Other than that, any similarity between real people or events is purely coincidental.
Also I've accidentally submitted an earlier unedited version of the Chapter 1 for my first submission. Just for a better continuation of later chapter, I've attached the final version of the Chapter 1 within this second installment.
Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, good or badJ.
by Sean Lee (C) 2008
"Don't you just love the sound ice-cubes make when the Scotch is being poured into a crystal glass?" Says David to apparently no one in particular. As an intern in a foreign city, legally having a drink in a club is still quite a novelty to him.
He stares into his twirling glass of Scotch, rather amused. It is quite mesmerizing how irregularly shaped ice-cubes dance with the light; and glow ever so subtly throw the honey brown Scotch.
His two co-workers are too intoxicated to care after couple of hours of drinking. Both of them just stared at the Jazz band with glassy eyes while holding ends of cigars that are dimmed, long time ago.
They are here to celebrate. A moderately sized contract was close today. David's only an intern, but due to his technical, interpersonal as well as his language skills, he has become very essential to the team's success. After all, not only David's on the Dean's list for Computer Science from MIT, but also his half American and half Chinese background and 4 years in a French private school in Switzerland did prepared him well for this job. Their client is the biggest retailer from France and they are expanding ferociously in China.
Although, one of his co-workers has been joking around, that the only reason the account was closed so quickly was because how exotically handsome David is. And the Parisian woman that is the lead on their client's side was simply giving the account away, hoping for some French benefit from David.
By now, David is used to the teasing from his co-workers and constant giggling he'd invoke every time he walks by where the secretaries sit. Two months into his internship, he had gone through the initial excitement about the new job in a foreign city. And almost immediate disappointment when he realize this big American multi-national corporation does nothing innovative like what they have been advertising to the world.
However, at this moment, he's quite content with what he and his "team" have achieved. After all, it was him that requested to be relocated to the sales side of the operation. He has really enjoyed working with people instead of being just another programmer.
David has noticed that his co-workers, only now in their inebriated state, have started to appreciate the famed Senior Jazz Band here at Peace Hotel, Shanghai. These veteran jazz musicians are all in their 70's and still jamming like they are in their 20's. Although the jaunty classic swing jazz is not really David's cup of tea, but in a hotel that was built in the second decade of the past century, it seems rather appropriate and oddly comforting. Different from his companions, he could hold his drink quite well. Probably thanks to the binge drinking back in college. Nevertheless, he's still rather buzzed.
Shanghai, especially the Jazz bar in Peace Hotel, is a haven for the expatriates ("expat" in short) working in China. And occasionally, there are students teaching English or study Chinese here in town would also show up. David had noticed this rambunctious table of such college students not too far from him. Although most of the matured crowd seems to be quite annoyed by them, David feels this instant connection.
Amongst them, one guy rather intrigues David. He's probably what David's mother would call "classic good-looking". He's got quite a chiselled facial structure, dark blonde hair, and this set of seemingly bottomless eyes.
But the most interesting of all, he's the only one out of this half dozen of young drunken students that has been listening to the band intently, while slowing nursing what looks like a ginger-ale. "Was he shy or just really into the music?" David couldn't help himself but wondering.
All of a sudden, that guy stops staring at the band and turns to David. David quickly turns his head. With a pause and a swig, he drains the remaining of his Scotch. He hopes that it'll also drown out the embarrassment from being caught staring.
It's only until then he realizes that the band has stopped for a break. And he could feel that guy is still looking at him from the side. David simply can't understand why that guy doesn't just quit staring at him.
"David, don't you play piano?" Louis, one of his co-workers asks. He's probably David's most favourite person with whom he works. Louis really knows what he's doing and has been always quite encouraging along the way.
"Yeah, even went to music school for it back in New York."David says, glad that something is distracting him from his embarrassment.
"But it didn't work out for me. I was told by one of my professors that I'm not that talented." he continues.
"Well, why don't ya play som'in and prove him wrong?"Louis is quite drunk from his Bourbon and his southern drawl comes out even stronger.
Normally, David would be more modest than just marches up there and starts playing. But in his desperate attempt of getting as far away as possible from the stare of that guy, David says "Sure thing."
He walks up to the pianist from the band, and asks in Chinese for his permission to play the piano, with a very respectful tone. The Pianist, probably in his late 70s, is rather surprised and pleased with this not so Chinese looking young man could speak the language with such a good manner. He squint his eyes at David and gives the go-ahead with a smile.
David adjusted the microphone a bit and says "Since we are two days from Valentine, I'd like to play this tone to all the people who are in love or still believe in love."
He balls up his fists and releases them quickly preparing for the tone. The whole bar quiets down a bit to this unscripted turn of the event.
David presses down softly on the keys for the intro of the tone.
"My funny valentine..." he starts to sing quietly and sensually into the mic. He loves Chet Baker's version. It really allows him to play the piano in his favourite way, gently and smoothly, almost as if he is caressing the keyboard. The crowd are completely quiet now, even that table of students.
David is lost in the song, memories of last year this time rush back to him.
How he and his boyfriend, Mike, were happily together.
How he was still secretly planning on the surprise get-away on Valentine's day for a ski-trip to Mount Tremblanc in Quebec.
How he went out of his way to prevent Mike from finding out the trip while trying to convince him not to plan for anything else.
And how everything just went black when he got a call from the police about what happened on I-93 just one day before the trip.
"... Each day is Valentine's Day..."
With that, the song ended, just as softly as it started. David is in a very sombre mood now. Didn't even notice when the pianist comes up to him until he places a glass of Scotch on the piano's closed front lid.
"On the house." the Pianist says in good English with hint of a British accent, "I like your style. Lots of emotion, more sad then happy though ..."
"Thanks." David picks up the glass and takes a swig, "Yeah, it reminded me of something happened in the past."
After a pause, "Let the bygone be bygone, my friend." says the Pianist ominously. "You are too young to be burdened with the heavy things in life."
David looks up and sees the other band members are approaching, probably for another session.
"Thanks Mister ..."says David and stands up to leave.
"Call me Jack." the Pianist says while extending his hand for a shake with David.
Louis is beaming proudly like a father and says, "That's ma boi! Didn't know ya really cou' play that well! And man you could do this as a pro."
"Oh, thanks. I haven't played in ... about a year..."David trails off.
"I gotta go out for a walk. Be right back." He says. The 22 feet tall hall feels almost claustrophobic all of a sudden.
"Ahh, don't worry `bout that. It's `bout time for us to hit the sack. We've got golf tomorrow mo'ning." Says Louis, while the other co-worker nodding on the side.
"Go ahead. I'll take care of the tab." Louis says. And almost immediately, he lowers his voice, "Some one there, been quite impressed with ya. Have fun and don't stay up too late..." With a wink he turns his head and waves at the waitress for the tab.
David instinctively looks to the table of students and sees two girls waving at him rather while smiling. He waves back politely and notices the guy is no longer sitting there.
"Where did he go?" David thinks to himself, "Was I that bad?"
Once outside, he looks to his right. Across the Bund and the river is the Pu-dong disctrict. With hundreds of futuristically designed skyscrapers stood proudly around this rather alien looking TV tower. All lit up from various angles, it is quite breath taking. But David feels, for the first time during his stay here in Shanghai, completely out of place, and completely alone.
"That was quiet a song you played."This rather low baritone voice comes out of nowhere. David turns around, and it is "that guy".
In close, he's even more attractive. He's got a really preppy taste in clothes. Nothing overly fitted but just left enough for the imagination. He's about David's height, but slight more built than David's swimmer's body.
"Oh, that..." David feels his tongue is tying up. "That was nothing, couldn't refuse my boss' request."
"Really, that red-face-big-bellied man?" That guy says. "He somehow doesn't look like the romantic type."
"Well the song was more of my choice..."David says rather softly.
"Ah." says "that guy". "By the way, my name's Charley, from LA."
"So he does have a name" thinks David.
"David, from Massachusetts." He replies.
"Wanna go for a walk?" Charley asks hopefully.
"Sure, that's what I am out here for" David says.
They walked toward the river bank on the Bund. It's about 1 am in the morning. The traffic is still quite busy. People haven't quit club-hopping around at this hour.
Upon reaching the river bank, Charley turns around with a whistle says, "Wow, this is quite a different architecture style. I must say. This looks rather English than Chinese."
"Yep, you know this side of the river was built using Liverpool's river bank as a blueprint back in the 20's."David says.
"Really, that's way cool. Walking here in between the future and past, definitely not what I was expecting from China" Charley says. "Sorry, I just got here today and am still in my tourist mode." he continues with a smile.
"That's all right. Although my mom was from here, it took me until only recently to get use to the city." David says rather softly. He still couldn't get rid of this sense of sadness out of his system.
"Well you ought to show me around then, buddy!" Charley demanded jokingly.
"Sure, I'd be glad to!" David says genuinely.
"Great, although I haven't got an apartment, I have got myself a local guide. You do have some Chinese in you right?" says Charley.
"Yep, about half" says David.
"About half? Why the qualifier" asks Charley.
"Well there might be a bit of Dutch on my mom's side. So..." says David.
"Jeez, your mom does get around." Charley jokes.
"Hey, watch it buddy! Just wait until I guide you to some unsavoury part of the city and sell you to a local pimp."David jokes back.
"Well, being a male escort has always been my dream. Where do I sign up?" Charley says while circling his fingers around his nipples as if he's trying to seduce David or something.
"With your ugly face, I'll probably have to pay the pimp to sell you." David goes one step further, emboldened by this apparently nothing's-limit joker. "I guess that I miss-judged him. He's not shy, he was just jet-lagged."David thinks to himself.
"Woooo, that's cold man. That's really cold." Charley acts as if he's hurt.
And then they both burst into laughs, the act is over, one could say.
"So you are looking for an apartment?" asks David.
"Yeah, the one that the school provides is a dump. I'll stay there for now but need to find a more "savoury" one." says Charley with a smirk.
David pauses for awhile and says "Why don't you check out my place. My company pays $1,000 US a month for my housing. With that amount I got myself a penthouse here. It's been really too big for just myself with 3 bedrooms. Interested?"
"Wooooot, again where do I sign up!" Charley cheers without even one second of hesitance.
"Wait, I only got like $200 US for housing, if I don't take my school's offer. I can't afford the extra $300." for the first time, Charley seems a bit down now.
"Bah, don't worry about it. It's all free for me." says David. "Just help me with some cleaning and chores, I'll take that as rent."
"Really, wait what chores? Would that involve escorting?" again Charley starts twirling his fingers around his nipples with this evil smirk on the face.
"Only if you pay me!" David says it with faked horror on his face. "Besides, let's go check it out first. Who's to say that you'd like it?"
By Sean Lee (C) 2008
"Wow, when you said penthouse apartment I was thinking an apartment on the penthouse level. But this is actually a real penthouse!" Charley is very impressed with David's place.
His place was part of the presidential suite of a hotel that was built in late 1950's by a Soviet architect. It is in a style called "early Stalinism" or "Postconstructivism". About five years ago, the hotel went out of the business and was subsequently taken over and converted into a serviced loft apartment. Now it is simply called "the 86th" after its street number. Many expats (short for expatriates) call it home here in Shanghai.
Regardless how much the exterior reminisce a simplified Art Deco style, which by the way is dear to David's heart, he is very much appalled by the era that it represents. It is one of the reasons, David chose to live here. Because it is the only place on the river front that the 86th itself could not be seen.
No matter how ugly David thinks about its exterior it does have simply the best view in Shanghai. The Hwang-pu River flows right towards the building, as the 86th sits right where the river bends east almost at a straight angle. So the entire Pu-dong District's towering futuristic skyline built in late 1990's could be seen to the left.
And then the piece de resistance, the entirety of the Bund that was built from 1910's to 1930's presents itself to the right. It houses 50 some buildings of various architectural styles such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Beaux-Arts, and Art Deco.
To an architecture aficionado, such as David, this is what the heaven would look like. There are some downsides, of course. The interior structure of the building is still true to its Soviet origin, consists of humongous yet predictably interrupted cubical spaces with excessively high ceilings.
"Don't you see what I meant? I am getting agoraphobia if I don't get a roommate soon!" says David half jokingly.
"But man, this is AWESOME!" by the look of Charley's face, he still thinks that's an understatement.
"Wanna a beer?"David hands Charley a bottle Duvel.
"Well, nothing religious, but I don't drink." Charley says sheepishly.
"Really? Ehmmm, I don't think this is gonna work out then." David is trying very hard to keep a straight face.
"Oh, I, err, understand ... Wait a minute! Very funny, ha-ha." Charley realizes that David is just pulling his legs when he finally broke his poker face.
"All I have is some mineral water, if that's ok with you." David reopens the fridge and pulls out a clear plastic bottle.
"Wooo, Fiji water. Man, 3-bedroom penthouse, Belgium beer and this? What do you do for a living? Don't tell me you are a drug lord or something." Charley jokes.
"Well my would-be meek US salary goes a long way here in Shanghai." David says while rubbing his right eye brow. He tends to do that whenever he feels guilty or when he lies.
David has this deep, almost self-abusive, sense of guilt towards his family's wealth. Sometime he hates his taste for finer things in life even more.
"Really?" Charley starts twisting the bottle cap. His forearm flexors bulge up rather prominently under the soft drop lights.
"Man, I didn't know how thirsty I was!" says Charley after he gulped down almost half of the bottle. With the same forearm, he crisscrosses wiping some water off his mouth, twice.
David's heart almost skips a beat. Mike did that all the time during the tennis breaks whenever they played together, even when there was a towel hanging off his neck.
David sits down on the couch facing the balcony windows and gestures Charley to the oversized chaise to the left.
It must be 2 am now. The lights on the buildings are being turned off.
One by one, it goes. As if they are being devoured by darkness.
"Just like that night ..." David thinks to himself. In fact, he'll sometime stay up until 2 am even on a week day night, just so that he could relive that fateful summer night in Paris.
It was close to their graduation from the Swiss boarding school they were both attending. Like some other of their weekends, they just randomly decided a city in Europe and went for a short trip.
When they got into the centre-ville of Paris, it was almost 11 pm. The Rive-gauche was always their choice to find a cool place to stay. As usual, they picked a small hotel, this time not too far from Champs de Mars.
Almost as a ritual, they ordered and ate hot dogs at the hotel restaurant. David loves hot dogs in Paris. It's always with longer hot dog on a baguette with Dijon Mustard and topped with slightly grilled cheese.
Knowing David wrote for the food critics column of the school newspaper, Mike always jokingly threatened to tell the entire school of this particular habit of his. David usually just joked back that he'd substitute the hot dog with one of Mike's body parts next time and feed it to him if he dares to do so.
After dinner they were both tired from 6 hours of driving and were thinking just calling it a night. However, right next to their top floor room was a door that led to the roof and it was left ajar. Curiosity got the best of them and they went up there even though the sign on the door said not to.
Their curiosity paid off, the view was fantastic. Almost all of the Paris' landmarks were lit up and within their view. They walked around the huge neon sign of the hotel's name and sat down on the edge of roof, side by side.
David felt rather down, knowing this is probably the last trip before their graduation. Mike was going to McGill University in Montreal for International Relationship and he was joining the music program at NYU. They were best friends ever since David spotted for Mike at their gym first week in their freshman year.
They got along perfectly and complimented each other very well. Mike was fun loving and full of life all the time. While David did have a quieter disposition, he was also genuinely nice and always very thoughtful to all of his friends. That impressed Mike to no end. He always said that David was the only one that could calm him down. Mike always liked to pull prank on their friends and David, inevitably, was coerced into planning for his "criminal intent.
Mike was the captain of the school rugby team while David led the swimming team. They both loved to drive aimlessly in Europe on the weekends or just played tennis for hours on. Just for fun, they both dated the girls from the finishing school half miles up the hill.
And now this is probably the end. And through it all, the entire 4 years, David had never spilled the beans about his true feelings towards Mike. Right there, David decided the parting is probably for the better, at least he won't be tormented again by this potentially damaging feeling he had for Mike.
David was about to stand up and go back to the room. The lights in the Parc du Champs de Mars started to go off.
One by one, it went. Then it skipped the Pont d'lena, and proceeded to devour the lights in the Palais de Chaillot. Just before it reached La Tour d'Effel, David felt someone's hand on him. And he turned and looked at Mike.
Mike's eyes were red and tears tittering on falling. "David, I've tried for so many times to tell how I truly feel about you, for so many times in the past 4 years. And I still couldn't articulate them in words. So this is the only way I could think of ..." He said it with a certain determination while staring right into David's eyes with his own stormy gray ones.
And he leaned in ...
David's world was spinning, right from the moment when Mike touched the back of his neck. This was to him, all but a dream. Because for so many nights before he had dreamt about this. He did not want to kiss back, because whenever he did before, he always ended up waking up alone in his bed.
After like an eternity, Mike pulled away and with the same determination he said, "Let me finish first, you could always kick my ass after that." Mike paused for a bit and his stare softened.
"I love you, David, more than just a friend. I've been selfish not telling you earlier, but I couldn't stand the thought losing you. That'll spell the end for me ..." With that, his dam was broken. Tears freely rolled down Mike cheeks. His determination finally failed him. His stare has mixed with more vulnerability then its initial bravery.
David had finally realized this is not a dream and Mike did love him the same way as he loved him. Mike raised his hand trying to wipe some tears off his cheeks, and David caught it half way. Then he leaned in with his cheek and it connected with Mike's.
David sighed deeply. "We are both fools. I loved you. I've always loved you. Do you know how hard it is not to caress your beautiful face every morning after you slept over at my dorm? Do you know how hard it is not to touch your powerful chest whenever we took a shower together after the gym? Do you know how hard it is not to kiss you when every time you laughed at your own joke and looked at me with that twinkle in your eyes?" David said it almost poetically. He then turned his head slightly so their lips were touching again.
And they kissed, like two lovers, they kissed.
The Effel was then, completely dimmed.
However the neon sign of the hotel was still gloriously lit at the background, with no sign of giving up.
Now as it was then, all buildings have been dimmed on the Bund. But David could still see that neon sign somewhere deep in his mind, it spells out the following name -"Hotel de la Paix".
(End of Chapter 2)