Finding Happiness

Special thanks to Charlie, who offered to edit this story. He was very humble, but he did an amazing job. I am truly grateful for his kindness and his help.

Here is Chapter four. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.

Chapter 4

4.1 Anything for you

Luke was waiting at the front door of our school when I walked out that day.

"Run! Jake! Run!" Alison saw him first and she was shouting and laughing.

I ran as fast as I could. Although I was short, I could run really fast and I could run fast for a long time. Dad was a national athlete in college. I saw the time on his medal for 400-meter race. It was not an Olympic record but considering the malnutrition problem at that time in China, and the fact he never got any professional training, I would say he was rather amazing. I was not as interested in sports as Dad, but I guess good genes ran in the family, so I could run pretty fast too.

Luke didn't catch me. I ran directly into my house, with Luke right behind me, out of breath. Ever since the skull accident, Luke became Grandma's favorite neighborhood boy for saving me. That was Grandma: if you offended her, she would revenge ten times more severely: if you treated her nicely, she would treat you ten times nicer.

"What's going on?" Grandma followed us into my room and demanded. She hated people running in the house.

I was about to answer, but Luke cornered me finally in my bed. "This little devil made me a fool in front of everybody today!" he told Grandma.

"OK, punish him, but don't hurt him." Grandma left with a smile.

Now I was lying on my back, and Luke was all over me. He was pretty heavy but his weight was my last concern. I saw fire in his eyes, and I felt that I was melting.

"How should I punish you?" Luke murmured.

"I don't know." I closed my eyes, leaving myself to Luke and fate, open and vulnerable. I was sure Luke and I were on the same page about what was going to happen, until he rolled over and said, "I want you to massage my feet!"

I opened my eyes in shock, totally unprepared for this, "What? No! Your feet stink!"

"But you agreed to do anything I want. This is what I what. Massage my feet."

Disappointment must have been all over my face. Although I was trying my best to hide it, I failed miserably. Luke was not looking at me. He had a weird expression on his face, like his body was here, but his mind was ten thousand miles away.

I reluctantly removed his shoes and his white socks. His feet did stink, and they were icy cold.

"Your feet are really cold," I complained.

"They are always like that. No matter what I do to warm them up, they turn cold quickly," Luke explained.

I took off my shoes, sat cross-legged near his feet, and put them in my lap. I put one of them inside my jacket to keep it warm, and started to massage the other. Luke's feet were very large. Except for some hair on the topside of his toes, they were smooth. I slowly rubbed one foot for a while, warming it up. Then I added more force to the bottom, one area at a time.

When Luke started moaning, I began to enjoy the massage. His eyes were closed. He looked relaxed and peaceful lying there, and the usual lines between his eyebrows disappeared. His hands were behind his head, his breathing slow and smooth.

I noticed a small tent began to rise at his crotch, and my hope and desire returned.

"What are you doing?" Hearing Jenny's voice, both Luke and I almost jumped.

"I am rubbing Luke's feet," I answered, trying to be as calm as I could, although my face was totally red from embarrassment. I shot a glance at Luke, and he also looked embarrassed.

"I want to rub his feet too. Can I?" Jenny was much better behaved around Luke. If it were me, she would just demand or even go ahead without asking.

"Of course you can." I gave her one of Luke's stinky feet and she just copied my action, giggling and enjoying it very much. Stupid little brat. Then I noticed Luke covered his crotch with my pillow, a thing he seldom did.

4.2 Bicycle riders

In the middle of that semester, I didn't know when and how, but suddenly I grew up to 5'8" and 140lbs. Before I was 5'4" and 120lbs. I was not as tall and strong as Luke, but at least Alison couldn't call me "little" any more.

One day Grandpa asked, "Jake, now you are tall enough, do you want a bicycle? It could save you some time going to school and back home." I nodded "yes" with excitement. So we went to the department store (the only one in the city) to pick one. There were only two brands at that time in China: one was "Phoenix," the other was "Forever." I chose a "Phoenix." Since I got a bicycle and would stop walking soon after I learned how to ride it, Alison decided to get one too. Her dad was the head of a glass factory, so they could afford things easily.

When Luke saw my bike, he came over to have a look. Then he asked if he could give it a try. I nodded yes. He pushed the bike a few steps, then jumped onto it gracefully. After he was on the bike, the bike and Luke became one. He could ride it without using his hands. He could even make a turn without using his hands. It was amazing how he could control the bike like it was a part of his body.

Grandma saw it and asked, "Luke, why don't you teach Jake how to ride?"

"Me too! Me too!" Alison begged.

Luke agreed. So everyday after school, Luke would teach Alison and me how to ride. To my humiliation and frustration, Alison mastered it way faster than me, and she kept rubbing it in my face until, two days later, I mastered it too. Alison fell dozens of times before she learned. I only fell three times. Maybe that was why she learned faster, because she was more daring. Once I learned how to ride the bike, I was on it all the time.

Another consequence of growing taller was, one time after a P.E. class, the coach asked me to go to his office. I went and thought I was in some trouble. It turned out that the coach saw me running and asked if I would be interested in joining the track team. I really hesitated. I mean, what was the benefit of joining the team and becoming a jock? First, jocks were all bad boys with no academic and social futures and in school they were the bottom of the pyramid. No girls from decent families would hang out with them; or if girls would, their parents would forbid them to do so. Secondly, if I did join, after school I had to waste time training, the time I could spend playing or reading otherwise. Then I remembered Luke was on the track team too, so I said yes.

When I came home to tell Grandpa and Grandma this, both of them were angry and wanted me to quit. But I was determined. They knew they couldn't force me to quit once I set my mind. I always was a stubborn boy. They were pretty upset. Grandma was worried that I could get hurt. Also she complained that she had to wash more of my clothes. It would take another five or six years before washing machines were adopted into households in China. Before that, clothes were all hand-washed. I assured them I would be careful, and it wouldn't hurt my academic performance. Then I reminded them that Dad was a national athlete. That settled the argument.

I was nervous the first day of training, thinking most of the team members were bullies and I was the model student every teacher loved. But Luke was there, and it went smoothly. I thought the training was just running a few laps, but I was totally wrong. I got a heavy workout for almost every muscle in my body, including those I never knew I had (I would knew they existed the next day when I woke up). After two hours when the coach finally announced dismissal, I almost fell to the ground. Luke was a little bit better, but not much. Everyone was exhausted. I never used my body full out like that, and it was like a new dimension opening up for me. I found myself enjoying it.

It was late fall (or early winter), so the daylight disappeared pretty early. When the training finished, it was already dark. I was about to jump onto my bike and leave when Luke called out to me, "Kid, can I ride with you?"

"But I don't know how to carry another person."

"Then let me ride. You can sit on the back."

So that was exactly what we did. Shops were all closed. Except for the lamps along the street, everywhere else was dark. Even the lamps were too sparse, so every a few cycles we went into shadows. The city was very quiet; I could even hear the long whistles of a train from the north, where the train station was, announcing its arrival or departure. I rested my head on Luke's back. He was sweaty and cold. The school didn't have shower facilities, so we had to wait until we got home to clean up. I felt his trembling, so I wrapped my hands around his waist to keep him warmer.

"This is good, kid," he suddenly said.

"A-ha," I replied, not knowing what he meant. It became our routine of every Tuesday and Thursday when the track team had training.

4.3 A kiss is a kiss

Except for Tuesday and Thursday nights, I would always ride bike home with Alison. We hung out with each other most of the time during the day: if you saw me, you saw her. I tried to be friendly with every classmate, since I was the class president, but Alison was my special friend. Everyone knew that. Pretty soon the teachers knew that too, and they thought of it as a problem, because I was a boy, and she was a girl.

It was the last session in the afternoon. It was usually a free session, meaning you could do whatever you wanted, reading a book, doing your homework ... as long as you stayed in your seat and kept silent. Then the homeroom teacher, a short and skinny woman with high cheekbones, came into the room, and called Alison and me to her office.

Once we entered, she sat down at her seat, and didn't ask us to sit down. That was a little weird because usually we got to sit too. She kept silent for a while, and then she started talking, "People are talking about you two." I immediately knew what she was getting at but I stayed silent and let her talk.

"About what?" Alison asked.

"Think yourself," the teacher answered. Her tone was cold and I hated it. I actually liked this teacher. She taught us Math, and she was quite good at explaining things. She was very responsible. Although not the loving smiling kind, she took her job very seriously and that earned my respect. Now her tone was meant to frighten us, and I hated it.

"No, I couldn't think of anything," Alison replied.

"Me neither," I added.

"Think again - harder." She grew colder, if that was possible. We just stayed silent. After a few minutes of silence, seeing we were not going to submit, she started talking again.

"Jake, I wouldn't be surprised that Alison acts irresponsibly, but you are the class president, a good student."

Before I could reply, Alison said, with a raised voice, "What did Jake do? What did I do? Tell me! Or I am leaving!" Why didn't that surprise me?

"You are not going anywhere until I say you can!" Anger started to register in the teacher's voice.

"Then tell us what this is about!"

"It's about you two! Don't you know what a bad example you set for your classmates? Jake, you are supposed to be a model, a good example. Now you are doing the opposite. You and Alison! You are together all the time. Do you know what it looks like...?"

"I don't see what's wrong here," Alison said defiantly, "We are friends, so we hang out. I see no rules in the school's discipline book that forbid friends to hang out."

"Rules! Do you understand how shameful this is? You and Jake, people think you two are dating!" I was sure the whole building could hear the teacher's voice.

"I did nothing shameful!" Alison began to cry.

"You are shameless!" the teacher shouted.

"Shameless! If you think I'm shameless, I'll be shameless!" Suddenly Alison grabbed my face and planted a loud kiss on my right cheek. I realized a disaster was coming. Once Alison reached this point, there was no way back.

"How dare you? How dare you?" The teacher stood up, her trembling finger pointing at us. I guess she had never met a student as rebellious as Alison. I was really worried about how this whole thing was going to end.

Alison was not done yet. She pulled my head to face her and planted another loud kiss on my lips. Then she wiped her mouth, turned to the teacher, "Now what are you going to do?"

That day Alison's dad and my grandma were both called to school. Not by phone because phones hadn't been adopted into household yet, but by sending other students to our houses to deliver a message. The teacher was beyond angry. She refused to have two of us in her class any more. The principle intervened. As the outcome, both of us would be transferred out of our current class and into, of course, two separate classes. Both of us would also get a "severe warning," which was one level worse than a "warning." The principle told us that if we behaved in the future, the "severe warning" would be pulled out of our records before graduation. Otherwise, using the principle's original words, "It will follow you into your future, a not so bright one I am sure."

Grandpa scolded me although I had done nothing. It was all Alison. Since I agreed with her and admired her courage, I didn't deny anything. Anyway, Grandpa was always strict, but never went too far, so it wasn't too bad. I thought I would have a really difficult time from Grandma. Surprisingly, she only complained that the school called her over so she missed cooking dinner, now everyone in the house had to wait in hunger. Also, she thought the school was unreasonable to give us a "severe warning." She told me not to worry. She knew someone who knew someone who knew the principle's wife. Grandma was sure it wouldn't be in our records when we would graduate.

Alison's dad seemed pretty mad at her. As wild as Alison was, he must be mad at her all the time! From the casual expression from Alison, I didn't think she would be having a too difficult time when returning home with her dad.

The next day I joined another class, which Luke was in. Again, he sat in the last row alone, and I was sent to join him. We became desk-mates a second time. Later he asked me in a mischievous grin, "What's kissing Alison like, lover boy?"

I gave him a look that I hoped was the coldest I could come up with. He just laughed at that. I didn't realize it at that time but many years later it suddenly came to my mind: this was actually my first kiss. Not that I thought Alison was unworthy, but I wished ... I wished it were more special, not as an angry protest in front of an angry teacher.

4.4 That time of the year

Sitting with Luke again was like deja vu. Luke was just like before, paying no attention to any classes. He'd rather play poker with himself. Sometimes out of pity, I would play one or two games with him but he said I really sucked and he'd rather play alone.

Alison and I had to keep certain distance in front of the school. We talked after the event and had an agreement. She might be wild but she was not stupid. There was no reason to get into worthless troubles. As for me, I remembered what Grandpa told me once. He said, if you were a rock, no matter how hard you were, sooner or later someone would find a way to break you into pieces; if you were water, although soft, no one could really break you because you could always reshape. I guess sometimes we had to be like water, especially when facing powerful authorities.

We also talked about the kiss. I had to admit I got worried for a while because I thought Alison might actually like me that way. Before I could even hint the question, she said, "Don't think too much about the kiss. You are like my little brother." I reminded her that I was actually two months older than her.

She just said, "Whatever."

One day Luke came to school, silent and sullen, I began to worry. I asked him what was wrong. He just shook his head and said nothing. I let it go and turned my attention to classes.

That was a Thursday, so we had training in the afternoon. Luke didn't show up. That got me really worried, because he had never missed a training session before. After dinner, I went over to his house. There he was, sitting in the dining room with his parents, with a full table of untouched dishes and two lit candles. Suddenly it came to me. Today must be the day David died in the accident. I had totally forgotten.

I could hardly believe it was only one year before because it felt like a lifetime ago. Somewhere in time I began to think of this house as Luke's house instead of David's, and Luke's parents instead of David's. Time was a really powerful thing. Now I thought of David, I no longer felt this huge sorrow. I even began to forget how he looked.

I went in without knocking, because that was what I usually did. They were surprised, and Luke's parents had a worried look on their faces. I understood. This kind of ceremony was considered as superstition and a part of our evil tradition. Performing it could get you in trouble with a government where Marxism was the ultimate doctrine and no God or spirits should exist. They wouldn't put you in prison or something as severe, but they might inform your employer, and your employer might reduce your already very poor salary. I put my palms together, did a quick prayer, and bowed three times toward the candles where a picture of David's sat in between. That relaxed them immediately.

Luke's mom asked me to sit down. They were just about to eat, and she brought me a pair of chopsticks. She said, "Eat with us. We are having a lot of food today." I was already full, but I didn't have the heart to refuse. So we ate together in silence.

The dishes were all David's favorite. It seemed like my taste buds all died that night, because I didn't taste a thing. After the silent dinner, I went into Luke's room. To break the unbearable silence, I told him that the coach was not happy with him missing the training. Luke just said, "He'll get over it."

"Where were you?"

"I went to see David's tomb." Tears began to form in his eyes. He struggled to hold them back, but after a while, they finally began to drop. I reached out, wiping a tear off his left cheek.

"I totally forget today is the anniversary. I seldom think of him anymore." I dropped my head, sad and ashamed.

"It's OK. I begin to forget about him too," Luke said in a gentle and husky voice. The Luke that talked dirty, smoked, bullied smaller kids, smirked vulgarly ... it was all gone. What was left here was pure and innocent, the one under all layers of surfaces, the Luke that was caring, sad, and vulnerable. That was the Luke I loved deeply.