We Only See Each Other at Weddings and Funerals
Their family reunion is abruptly set into motion by Ba’s death.
The last one was for a wedding—Shi Jinghui’s, actually—which ended sourly in divorce, so their track record for good moods and family bonding is clearly superb.
Shi Jinghui scrunches his nose in mild disgust as a film of dust implodes into the air of his father’s office. He waves his hand quietly in front of his face to avoid the debris.
They probably weren’t poisonous spores. Probably. Considering his father, it was a very real possibility.
/He always did say we’d be dead if we stepped in here alone/, Shi Jinghui thinks sardonically to himself. He sighs, tucking his face further into his cardigan. /Maybe some things never change./
“Old man really must have kicked the bucket if you’re in here,” a unsubtly delighted voice says from behind him. Shi Jinghui doesn’t have to turn to see the newcomer, closing his eyes instead and letting out a quiet huff of amusement.
Zhang Yuting lounges into the room, barely sidestepping a precious artifact from Egypt that had been so carefully maintained on their father’s private bookshelf. Shi Jinghui watches him silently from his perch on the desk as his adoptive brother languidly tosses various items onto the teakwood floor in a silent inspection.
“I reassure you, he’s rolling over in his grave,” Shi Jinghui answers. “If that’s your intention.”
“He’s too busy playing poker with Stalin to care,” Zhang Yuting says. He pauses, then fully turns to Shi Jinghui with an eyebrow raised. “Was the mothering personality triggered by coming back here, or are you still like this all the time?”
“Ha-ha.” Shi Jinghui deadpans. He opens his arms to the other man, who lets out an amused breath and obliges to step in and receive a brief hug. “Still blunt and charming as ever, aren’t you.”
“Things from the Academy hardly change,” Zhang Yuting says, stepping back to lean against the windowsill. He lets out a deep sigh, scanning the room with narrowed eyes. Shi Jinghui recognizes the bitter nostalgia in his gaze—the resigned disdain, the numb disbelief. He wonders if the others will think to head to the same forbidden room.
Or if they’ll even decide to come at all.
After several moment of heavy silence, deafening with the buzz of both of their minds flitting through memories a decade ago, a creak sounds from the doorway. Shi Jinghui turns to look back—then jolts to himself at the sight of the figure standing with his hands in his pockets.
“Room for another in this party?” Cheng Bowen drawls icily. Shi Jinghui watches as Zhang Yuting instantly tenses from his spot, his posture tightening from his loose draping over the windowsill into something more reminiscent of a fighter preparing for a next round.
He can’t say he blames him.
When neither of them answer, their brother raises an eyebrow.
“No,” Zhang Yuting says at the same time Shi Jinghui answers, “Three isn’t too much of a crowd, is it?”
Cheng Bowen’s eyes gleam in thinly veiled amusement at this as Zhang Yuting turns to Shi Jinghui with a displeased glare. Shi Jinghui elects to ignore him, instead turning away to pick at his nails in forced nonchalance.
Zhang Yuting lets out a resigned breath, then turns back with a steely look to Cheng Bowen, who tilts his head.
“Then I’ll just let you two … catch up,” he says tightly, rising from his spot. He gently touches a hand to Shi Jinghui’s side in parting before he levels Cheng Bowen with another irritated glance, taking his leave and leaving behind an awkward air.
Shi Jinghui doesn’t know if he imagines the softening in Cheng Bowen’s expression. If it’s just selective perception. After all these years—he’d like to think—well. Nobody in their family’s ever been good at reading each other. Much less Cheng Bowen.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” Shi Jinghui offers into the silence.
“Neither did I,” the other man answers. No elaboration.
Shi Jinghui hums at that. He doesn’t know what else to say, despite the incredulity of the occasion—always the mediator, and never his own voice when it came to his family. Even though his siblings would disapprove of this conversation itself.
“Where’s Xixi and Gu Kang?” Cheng Bowen asks. His face, his tone—reveal nothing about his feelings on the topic, even as Shi Jinghui’s hands ball into fists on the desk.
“ … Gu Kang,” Shi Jinghui answers, letting out a weary breath as he crosses his arms, “filed for divorce eight months ago. And Xixi, I—he got custody. So.”
Cheng Bowen mouth curves downwards at this.
“But anyways,” Shi Jinghui says stiffly, hopping gently off the edge of the desk. “That’s neither here nor there. I hope you’ve been—well. With your … job. I suppose.”
In another room, the family’s mansion’s housekeeper—their android of many years—dusts the wall next to a dimly lit oil painting in the likeness of a young girl poised on a velvet chair, the right side of her mouth quirked upwards.
The girl in the painting above the fireplace, with a shock of bone-white hair against a sanguine background, does not answer to Yan Siyuan’s hums as she dusts.