Comfort is something that Jun has completely grown accustomed to. As the forty-ninth year of his life approaches its twilight, he finally feels like he has been able to wholeheartedly achieve complete calm and uneventfulness.
While driving to the same resort where he and his family have spent their holidays every year since 1996, he smiles, feeling sure and coddled by the certainty that the relationships, the work and the secrets that have accompanied him until now, will continue to do so until the end of his days.
“I just don’t understand why Istill have to come with you?” His firstborn asks suddenly, covering the happy bubblegum pop tune coming from the radio.
“This is time for family bonding, Li. You can't skip it." His wife, Yanli, answers calmly, while Jun continues to look ahead and drive, trying to keep himself out of the incoming storm.
"Why are you acting like we don't live together?" Li presses.
Jun and his second daughter, Yunying, keep their mouths shut as the other two drone on in the same way they always do during their arguments.
This is what comfort feels like, Jun thinks, it's not only a soft couch and a warm bed; it's knowing exactly what to expect, being able to foresee the way in which every situation he is involved in will develop.
Jun finally pulls up among the fighting, a smile breaks his worried look as the golden letters of The Bear's Den’s sign come into sight. They visit this same hotel only once a year and it always fascinates Jun to see how committed the staff is in keeping it exactly the same through the decades.
"Each one of you will take their own luggage." Yanli clears her throat and she opens the car door to step outside.
"Okay, mom." Only Yunying responds, her voice jumping cutely, as she springs out of her seat. Her excitement always rubs off easily on Jun, it makes him want to mimic her quirky mannerisms, even if it means risking to almost bumps his head against the roof of the car while trying.
Yanli laughs at him and shakes her head, “Dumb.”
“Thanks,” he nods and finally steps out of the car all in one piece.
The huge, fake bear standing in the corner of the reception room is as striking as ever, as much as the grimace that instinctually appears on the faces of the women accompanying him at the sight of it.
“Ah! The Zheng family is finally here, as punctual as clockwork!” The owner of the place walks out of a door marked as staff only and claps his hands loudly, startling Jun out of his reverie.
“Just like every year!” he responds smiling politely. He’s excited to see him, his cargo shorts and his checkered shirt, all slightly too small for him; he’s just as Jun remembered him.
“Here are your keys and for anything... You come to me.” He poses a hand on his chest, his eyes stare seriously at Jun’s genuine smile, but suddenly stray away, looking somewhere behind him. “Ah! Here he comes!”
Jun turns to look at whoever the owner is talking about. He doesn’t know how to feel when he meets the unfamiliar young man’s eyes.
“This is Yixing, our latest addition! He’s been like a breath of fresh air for this old, decrepit hotel! He’s just turned thirty and he’s already been able to resurrect this place.” The old man explains, Jun listens but his mind is somewhere else; distracted by sweat, tank tops and fit bodies. By the willfully forgotten notion of men.
“You’re praising me too much! You know you’ll still have to pay me at the end of the month, right?” Pretty pink lips curl as the newcomer laughs, for a moment they twist up on one side, a small smirk that prompts Jun to meet his eye. He immediately wishes he hadn’t, because the look he finds is uncomfortably predatory. He is being scrutinized from head to toe, one single, long glance that gives voice to silent thoughts. Jun realizes he mustn’t look too different from him.
He hears his daughters laugh and he looks away quickly, jolting as if he were burned.
He already hates the feeling of this breath of fresh air on his skin, but he tells himself it's nothing that he won't be able to ignore and he goes on with the check in. The creaking of the wooden staircase is like music to Jun's ears, they mix perfectly with his daughters' complaints about the weight of their suitcases. It brings him back to a better mood, where everything is good and, above all, known.
Their rooms are next to each other, as per tradition, and Jun waves at his daughters as they disappear behind their door.
"Seems like even the old Bear's denis moving forward. Never thought I'd see the day." Yanli says, while looking at the flyer in her hand, a flyer that's never been here before this year.
"I think it was perfect before." Jun is slightly disgruntled.
"Oh, they offer guided hikes in the mountains… A bus to the lake! They really stepped up their game." Yanli continues excitedly, while Jun opens the door to their room.
Jun stares in shock at what is revealed. Where once used to be pale yellow, flowery wallpaper, now there's white and green colour block walls, instead of the old layered white curtains there's a kick of bright orange. The tasteful 80s look the room used to have has been completely wiped out and Jun's excitement has gone with it.
Yanli pushes past him "This is…" she twirls in the room like she's in a castle, "...Incredible!"
Jun grimaces and turns his back on her to slam the door shut.