“Dong ge, are we really not going” Huan Ge moved a little stool over to sit in front of Tao Xiaodong, looking up at him.
Tao Xiaodong’s head was bowed, looking at the draft.
“But that wouldn’t reflect well on us, right” Huan Ge blinked, asking softly.
Tao Xiaodong said, “It doesn’t matter.”
“Oh, oh.” Huan Ge nodded.
“All right, then.”
Huan Ge craned his neck to see the sketch Tao Xiaodong was holding, and he asked, “Whose is this”
Huan Ge praised, “It looks good.”
He wasn’t really part of their community and didn’t have an eye for design; as long as it was done by their parlour, it all looked good to him.
Tao Xiaodong glanced over, chuckling.
“Yeah I will,” said Huan Ge obediently.
They were talking about a large-scale tattoo convention that would be hosted in their area next month.
It was the talk of the town.
The organiser was a tattoo artist from Beijing with a fairly large following.
As the convention was being hosted in Tao Xiaodong’s area, it went without saying that he had to do a social call.
And that he did; he had contacted Tao Xiaodong a long time ago hoping to rope him in as a co-organiser.
But Tao Xiaodong didn’t accept, saying that he was too busy lately to make the time and didn’t wish to delay them.
He had no intention of attending; let alone him, none of the others in the parlour had plans to go.
This was equivalent to not showing support at all, which shouldn’t be for Tao Xiaodong would usually extend the courtesy.
He had thrown his weight behind conventions held elsewhere, not to mention that this was on his turf.
Huan Ge didn’t stay long.
He had no clue what Dong ge was thinking this time.
Tao Xiaodong was assuredly not an inconsequential figure in the domestic tattoo scene.
For him not to attend a convention that was right at his doorstep was a slap in their faces.
The other party quickly got in touch again.
It was a manager who called the last time, but now it was the organiser who was on the call, directly dialling Tao Xiaodong’s mobile.
Tao Xiaodong was tied up with a tattoo when the call came in, so he didn’t take the phone but accepted the call on his earphones.
“Tao Xiaodong speaking.
The other party smiled, greeting Director Tao.
Tao Xiaodong couldn’t tell who it was from that; he said hi, and asked again, “Who is this”
The person on the other end put on a smile and said, “I haven’t had the chance to contact you before.
This is Feng Lei.”
“Oh, Director Feng.” Tao Xiaodong politely greeted.
The purpose of this call was plenty obvious.
When the other party spoke, he occasionally hummed in acknowledgement, signalling for the other to keep going, but his hands never stopped working on the tattoo.
And so he said, “How about this, Director Feng, I’m a little busy on hand right now.
I’ll drop you a call later on”
“All right, we’ll talk later.”
After the phone was hung, Tao Xiaodong continued to work, never lifting his head.
Reasonably speaking, Feng Lei was a famous tattoo artist based in Beijing, hailed by many as a great master.
Whatever it was, Tao Xiaodong should make a showing and offer the other due regard.
However, Tao Xiaodong was insistent that he wouldn’t be going this time, and indeed he stayed true to his word to the end.
Tattoo artists from other regions were also invited, and Tao Xiaodong would naturally meet up with them for drinks when they were here.
Those closer to him gathered a couple more times in private, subtly probing whether Tao Xiaodong had any beef with Feng Lei.
Tao Xiaodong shook his head.
“Nothing of that sort.
I don’t know him.”
“Then why are you being so stand-offish People are ridiculing that he doesn’t have enough clout to move you.”
“Spot on.” Tao Xiaodong laughed and put on a foul expression, playing along.
“He really can’t get me to go.”
His words were rather out of the line, and they wouldn’t reflect well on Tao Xiaodong if spread.
But he was not afraid to step on the toes of such people; furthermore, his conversation partner wasn’t someone particular about decorum, and though Tao Xiaodong’s social circle was wide he did hold a standard.
While others might not be aware of Director Feng’s past, he did know an inkling, which was that this bastard had once stolen a design from another person’s portfolio to win a competition under his own name.
Tao Xiaodong only had contempt for the likes of this, and didn’t put them in his sights.
When the convention wrapped up and tattoo artists gradually left, Tao Xiaodong finally had some time to spare.
While there wasn’t anything major hogging his time during this period, there were too many social engagements that he had to attend, going out almost every day for food and drinks.
It had been close to two months since coming back from Gansu.
While life had been hectic, it was also a restful time.
However, he hadn’t been in touch with Tang Suoyan since their return.
Neither of them took the initiative to reach out to the other.
While they weren’t deliberately avoiding each other, they weren’t planning on hopping on a call either.
Their talk that night had more or less established a tacit understanding between them both.
Yet Tao Huainan kept pressing him with questions from time to time, mentioning Dr.
Tang in front of his Ge, wondering when his Ge would next meet with Dr.
Tang and if he could bring him along the next time they did.
Sometimes he’d harrow Tao Xiaodong so much that Chi Cheng would be called over to take him away.
Even then, the boy was still unwilling to relent, adding after a moment’s thought, “Then I need to go for a check-up.
My eyes have been uncomfortable lately.”
“Lies.” Chi Cheng told him, “Just say it straight, don’t make things up.”
“You’re so annoying.” Incensed, Tao Huainan got to his feet, walking away with his hand feeling the wall.
In fact, Tao Xiaodong didn’t plan to contact Tang Suoyan in the short term, though he might play it by ear further down the road.
But maybe it was God’s will, for they still ended up meeting again.
On this day, just as Tao Xiaodong stepped into the shop, the school called him and requested for him to head over.
He asked, worried, “What’s wrong, Mr.
The form teacher reassured him over the phone.
“Don’t worry, it’s nothing major.” Then, he continued, “Chi Cheng got into a fight again.”
Hearing this eased his mind; he had become inured to it after Chi Cheng got into fights every other day back in middle school.
It was better in recent years.
Moreover, Chi Cheng had trained up his body since then and could usually hold his own.
He was an adept fighter, and the fact that he even knew to hold back his blows pleased Tao Xiaodong.
When he arrived, Chi Cheng was standing in the form teacher’s office.
The other student’s parents had yet to come.
“Ge,” greeted Chi Cheng.
Tao Xiaodong acknowledged it with a hum and glanced over at him, relaxing upon seeing that he wasn’t too heavily injured.
Chi Cheng’s eye was slightly red, though it could have been because he was still wound up from the fight.
The necessary compensation was settled, and the appropriate apologies were offered.
Tao Xiaodong was an old hand at this routine by now.
As Chi Cheng had mellowed down considerably after entering high school, he didn’t have a bad track record.
The teacher had only called the guardians over to patch up the quarrel amicably and did not intend to take any disciplinary action.
The school got the guardians of both students to bring them home to cool their heads before returning to school tomorrow.
Tao Huainan was unable to attend class with Chi Cheng gone, so Tao Xiaodong picked him up as well.
Tao Huainan kept nagging at Chi Cheng as they got into the car, scolding him for getting into yet another fight.
Chi Cheng has always had a taciturn nature; he didn’t try to elaborate or explain himself—nor did Tao Xiaodong need it.
He often went soft on the boys.
While it was fine in the morning, Tao Xiaodong received a fright when he next saw him in the afternoon.
Chi Cheng’s left eye was appallingly red, congested with blood.
When asked if it hurt, he only said that it was fine, he didn’t feel anything.
Frowning, Tao Xiaodong snapped a few photographs of his eye, sending them to Tang Suoyan without a second thought.
—Yan ge, my little brother might have gotten his eye hit in a fight.
Is this serious
It was approaching the end of Tang Suoyan’s shift at this time, and he called before Tao Xiaodong could.
Tao Xiaodong answered it.
Tang Suoyan asked him, “What hit his eye”
When asked, Chi Cheng said that it was an elbow.
Tang Suoyan said, “It should be fine, it’s just congested.
But you should still bring him over for me to have a look.”
“Aren’t you getting off work soon” Tao Xiaodong asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Tang Suoyan said, “just come over.”
But Tao Xiaodong had reservations about it, and, after a thought, politely said, “Why don’t you just clock off Since it isn’t serious, I can just go through the usual queue at the ED to get it checked.”
After a few seconds of non-response, Tang Suoyan chuckled, and his tone was even dyed with mirth.
“Hurry up, what are you being so courteous for I’m free now.”
His words elicited a laugh from Tao Xiaodong.
“Can’t I worry that you’ll be held up because of me”
Tang Suoyan laughed again, telling him to make haste.
Tao Huainan couldn’t see; hearing that Chi Cheng’s eyes were acting up shocked him so much that he dared not make a peep.
Being blind, his greatest fear was hearing anyone around him say that they were experiencing discomfort in their eyes.
He knew best how important eyes were.
Seeing that his expression had turned unpleasant, Chi Cheng said to him, “It’s nothing to worry about.”
Tao Huainan’s brows creased.
“I told you not to fight, but you wouldn’t listen.”
“Mm,” Chi Cheng mollified—a token gesture; he would still come to blows the next time the situation called for it.
Tao Huainan was genuinely worried.
He talked less and didn’t even get excited to see Dr.
Tang, simply frowning and sitting quietly to the side.
Tang Suoyan was waiting for them in the outpatient area.
As it was already after hours, they were the only ones there.
Chi Cheng’s eye had been hit with blunt force, causing capillaries to break and his conjunctiva to bleed, but it wasn’t too serious.
Tang Suoyan told Tao Xiaodong, “He doesn’t need to take medicine.
Just buy some anti-inflammatory eye drops on the way back, Levaquin or suchlike, and that’ll do.
Send a photo over in two days for me to have a look.”
Tao Xiaodong nodded and said that he would.
It was a simple check-up, over in a few sentences.
Tang Suoyan had already clocked off and changed his clothes.
The four of them headed down together.
They were the only ones in the elevator.
It was quiet for a time, and it took a moment for Tao Xiaodong to register that Tang Suoyan had spoken.
“Have we become strangers”
Tao Xiaodong turned his head over to look at him.
“The next time you behave so courteously around me, you’d better drop the Yan ge and call me Dr.
Don’t you think, Director Tao” said Tang Suoyan.
Tickled, Tao Xiaodong stuck his hands in his pockets, saying as they walked out of the elevator, “Quit making fun of me.”
Tang Suoyan shot him a look, and when their eyes met, Tao Xiaodong scratched his nose.
He asked, “Shall we have dinner together Or do you have something on”
Tang Suoyan arched his brows.
“Inviting me to dinner As a thank you for staying late at work”
“Oh my god…” Tao Xiaodong, momentarily at a loss for words, smilingly pleaded to be spared, “No, I’m really not.
I just want to have dinner with you, please”
Tao Huainan and Chi Cheng walked ahead, the former even walking quite briskly, softly urging Chi Cheng to move faster, “Go, go, go.”
The distance between the two pairs pulled apart.
Tao Xiaodong smiled and asked, “C’mon, shall we”
Tang Suoyan nodded and accepted.
Tao Xiaodong asked him what he wanted to eat, and Tang Suoyan replied that anything would do.
After settling on a place, they each drove there separately.
When setting out, a thought seemed to occur to Tao Xiaodong, and he shook his head with a smile.