Tao Xiaodong halted at that, his hand freezing on the door as he looked over his shoulder, uncertain what he was meant to do.
Tang Suoyan didn’t go on either, and it was only a few seconds later that Tao Xiaodong turned around, shutting the door again.
There he stood, face twitching into a smile.
“What is it”
Tang Suoyan asked him, “Why are you acting like someone’s sweeping you out the door every day”
“Nope, no one is.” Tao Xiaodong, not knowing why Tang Suoyan called hold of him, simply smiled.
“Why did you stop me”
Tang Suoyan said, “It’s nothing.”
Their eyes met, looking at each other—one stunned into a silly smile and rooted to the spot, whilst the other watched him calmly from his seat.
“No, seriously, what’s with that” Tao Xiaodong stood up straight against the wall.
“Just looking.” Tang Suoyan’s gaze never wavered from where it landed on him, and his voice lilted ever so slightly at its tail.
“Are you not letting me”
“Fuck…” Tao Xiaodong was really a little unable to hold up under this come-on, whipping his head around and cursing under his breath.
After that, he looked back, standing straight and proper.
“Feel free, look as much as you want.”
Tao Xiaodong wasn’t self-conscious by any measure.
Besides, all of him was already exposed back when he was clad solely in his underwear; now that he was all prudishly covered up, what did he have to guard from sight The only thing he struggled with was how blatantly Tang Suoyan’s gaze was riveted on him, without any concealment whatsoever, getting to him in spite of the thickness of his skin.
Then, he shrugged, automatically walking over to take a seat, smiling still.
“Shall I let you look from closer up”
Tang Suoyan asked him, “Where are you going later”
Tao Xiaodong said, “Back to the store, where else.”
Tang Suoyan averted his gaze, his wrist plucking down and pulling out an apple from a drawer, tossing it over to him.
“Finish this before you leave.”
Tao Xiaodong blinked.
He took the apple and bit into it.
With eyes on him, Tao Xiaodong made sure to eat the apple properly, taking extra care to chew twice more before he swallowed.
Tang Suoyan held on for a long time before cracking, chuckling.
Tao Xiaodong chuckled too, and Tang Suoyan asked, “What did you talk about over dinner”
Tao Xiaodong took another bite.
“Did you have a good chat”
“Pretty good.” Tao Xiaodong even considered it seriously.
“We talked about you, about the past, and then he asked if we’re going out and I told him that I’m interested in you but that’s pretty much it, still far from getting together.
Tong also talked about your hand, that you traded yours for his.”
Tao Xiaodong confided this as he ate his apple, and Tang Suoyan frowned imperceptibly.
“I’d have done the same if I were you.
It’s only right.
Next time if I’m around when your hand hurts I’ll massage it for you.
Even if it only helps a bit, that’s still something.” Tao Xiaodong carried on.
With that, done with the apple and done with the retelling, Tao Xiaodong said tentatively, “So, I’ll be off, then”
It was only a minute crease in his brow before, but now it was obvious.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t even lift his gaze to look at him, never mind wait for Tang Suoyan’s response, before he stood up and left.
He took the apple core with him, tossing it into the bin at the lift lobby.
Actually, Tao Xiaodong was in low spirits when he came today.
Despite the constant smile on his face, he still seemed different from usual.
In the evening, after hours, Tao Xiaodong received a call from Tang Suoyan, and he went “Yan ge” the moment he picked up the phone.
Tang Suoyan asked him over the phone, “Where are you now”
“In the store.” Tao Xiaodong was wearing earphones.
“Why, what’s up”
“Shall we go out for dinner” asked Tang Suoyan.
Tao Xiaodong paused, then murmured after a beat, “I’m working…”
The dip of his voice was mellow, excessively so, catching minutely at the end.
The tattoo artist next to him obnoxiously cleared his throat, mimicking him in an affected tone, “I’m working…”
Tao Xiaodong slid him a sidelong glance before cracking a smile himself, then said, “It’s an urgent tattoo, I’ve to get it done tonight.
Another day, perhaps”
“All right, I’ll leave you to it,” said Tang Suoyan.
Tao Xiaodong wasn’t lying.
The tattoo he was working on was urgent, and it would be at least nine before he could pack up.
However, that call ate away at him, keeping him silent while he worked.
When he finished the tattoo and wiped down the skin, as the client put on his clothes, Tao Xiaodong got to his feet.
“I’m going to make a call.”
He made the call by the window on the third floor, next to a decor rack.
Tang Suoyan picked up quickly, going hello when he did.
Tao Xiaodong said smilingly, “I just finished up.”
“Haven’t had dinner yet, have you”
“Not yet, I hadn’t the time.”
Tang Suoyan set down the book in his hand.
“Don’t rush when you eat later.”
“Got it.” Tao Xiaodong took a small knick-knack from the shelf beside him, fiddling with it in his hand.
There wasn’t much sound from the other end for a while, and Tao Xiaodong quietly called out “Yan ge.”
Tang Suoyan, “Mm.”
“Are you overthinking it” Tao Xiaodong rubbed the wood carving in his hand, saying after a thought, “I can’t get that call out of my mind.
I’m scared that you’re thinking about it too much.”
“What could I be thinking” asked Tang Suoyan.
“I don’t know, but anyway, don’t you overthink it.
I’m okay, really.
I get along swell with Dr.
Tong.” The wood blob in his hand was about to gleam from how much he was rubbing it.
“All right, then.” Tang Suoyan chuckled, and, apropos of nothing, he asked abruptly, “How many people have you gone out with”
“Gone out” The giant leap in conversation threw Tao Xiaodong aback, only registering the question after he asked it.
“Do I tell the truth”
“Huh, I don’t know, actually.
I’m already in my thirties.” Tao Xiaodong confessed.
“I can’t recall most of them.
They come and go, I’ve lost track.”
In this regard, Tang Suoyan had far less history; it was a grand total of one.
Even Tao Xiaodong felt abashed after the words left his mouth.
“Warn a man, will you The next time that you want to quiz me on sensitive topics.
Then I can prepare a script in advance.”
They stayed on the phone for a long time, saccharine sweet, before Tang Suoyan eventually shooed him off to go grab a bite.
Tang Suoyan said that he wouldn’t be at the hospital for the next two days, ergo don’t come over at noon.
Tao Xiaodong said okay gotcha.
There were only so many people at the parlour, all thick as thieves after spending a dozen hours together day in, day out.
There wasn’t much hierarchy between bosses and employees.
Everyone was aware that Tao Xiaodong was taken with someone recently, and they’d often tease him for it.
Whenever he was caught on the phone now, they’d clear their throats and cough indiscreetly, and if one didn’t know better they’d think that the whole shop was down with flu.
Even the mute boy was getting in on the fun.
There was once that Tao Xiaodong’s phone rang.
Beside him, the boy actually started to cough.
Tao Xiaodong glanced up at him, swatting his leg with a smile.
“Why are you joining the circus when you can’t even manage a proper cough”
The boy shyly ducked his head with a smile and left him.
It wasn’t actually a call from Tang Suoyan anyway.
They haven’t gotten in touch since that night.
Tang Suoyan wasn’t at the hospital the first two days, and after that, who knew In any case, Tao Xiaodong didn’t ask.
Tong Ning certainly wouldn’t call it quits after just one meeting with him; there would definitely be follow-up, or else that dinner would have been meaningless.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t want to hover over Tang Suoyan relentlessly.
That would only be counter-intuitive; it was stifling to be involved in a tug-of-war.
Tao Xiaodong was savvy enough to understand this much about interpersonal relationships.
And Tong Ning did, in fact, seek Tang Suoyan out.
He came to Tang Suoyan’s office right before the end of the day.
Tang Suoyan was changing out of his work clothes, getting ready to leave.
When he saw him enter, his eyebrows raised.
Tong Ning called “Yan ge.”
Tang Suoyan asked him, “What’s the matter”
“Not much, I came for a seminar and thought to drop by to see you.” Tong Ning said that with poise and shot a smile at Tang Suoyan.
“It’s been a while.”
“Have you been well lately” Tang Suoyan changed his clothes and packed his bag.
Tong Ning stood in Tang Suoyan’s office waiting for him to be done packing, hoping to catch him for dinner after work.
When Tang Suoyan walked past him, Tong Ning happened to set his hand down, and the back of their hands touched, brushing by briefly.
Tang Suoyan opened the door.
Tong Ning said, “Your hand is really cold.”
Tang Suoyan didn’t respond to this, simply asking, “How did you get here”
Tong Ning said that he drove over, and so Tang Suoyan nodded.
I won’t send you, in that case.”
The dinner failed to actualise, but this didn’t stump Tong Ning.
He said, “Okay.
We should meet up another day when you’re free for a meal.”
Tang Suoyan didn’t respond to that, instead saying, “Drive safely.”
When Tao Xiaodong put his mind to staying away, he really did.
There was not a peep from him.
He was really able to bide his time.
Even so, he was never without his phone.
Tang Suoyan would send him a message from time to time, usually when he was resting, and Tao Xiaodong would reply at lightning speed.
But he never made mention of sending lunch to the hospital, nor did he suggest meeting.
“Our Dong ge has his phone almost planted on his body,” someone teased.
Dyer said in a low voice, “‘Course, he’s waiting around for a message.”
Tao Xiaodong’s phone rang again.
He checked it.
Tang Suoyan: Another busy day
Tao Xiaodong set a foot on a stool, sitting on a chair and replying: Nope, I’m not busy today.
Tang Suoyan: I’m also not busy today.
The text made Tao Xiaodong chuckle.
He typed: Shall we grab lunch, then
Tang Suoyan asked: Are you driving me
Tao Xiaodong said: Yep.
In this matter Tao Xiaodong was truly too passive.
While Tong Ning had met with Tang Suoyan twice, he remained steadfast where he stood.
Tang Suoyan remarked when he got into his car, “Director Tao can really bide his time.”
Tao Xiaodong replied earnestly, “Mm-hmm, gritting my teeth through the wait so long that my heart has gone wintry from absence.”
The way he spoke made Tang Suoyan huff with laughter.
Tao Xiaodong blew out a breath, speaking after a short silence, “Really.
I feel like I’ve been left out cold.”
Tao Xiaodong couldn’t bring himself to laugh; he said, “Dr.
Tong is regretting it, I can tell.
He wouldn’t have come to me, otherwise.”
His candidness today surprised Tang Suoyan, who then heard him continue, “I didn’t even dare to make a peep, lest I remind you that there’s still someone over here.”
With a few words, Tao Xiaodong pressed his presence down while Tang Suoyan looked at him, at a loss as to how to field this.
“You met Tong Ning once and gave me the cold shoulder for so many days afterwards.” Tang Suoyan shook his head, laughing.
“I couldn’t even see you, and now you’re telling me that you’re the one whose heart has gone wintry with absence”
Even Tang Suoyan didn’t know how to frame it.
“Just where did this heart of yours go cold”
In the interval that the car was stopped, Tao Xiaodong glanced over.
Tang Suoyan held his gaze.
Tao Xiaodong wet his lips, unable to get anything out, and even later was only able to call “Yan ge.”
And this address of “Yan ge“, time after time, had grown into something more tangible, more endearing.
Tang Suoyan responded with an “mm”, and then no more words were spoken in the car.
They returned to the same speakeasy-style restaurant from before and got out of the car.
As they walked in, Tang Suoyan said, “I wanted to chat with you last time but you told me what happened in one breath.
I didn’t want to hear all that.”
Tao Xiaodong paused in his step.
Tang Suoyan’s hand hovered over the small of his back, and they walked shoulder to shoulder.
“I wasn’t trying to use you to find out what Tong Ning said.
Even if I did want to know, I wouldn’t go about it in such a roundabout way.”
Before Tao Xiaodong could reply, Tang Suoyan continued to lead him forward.
“I’ve never intended to lead on two parties.
It sounds deplorable to string you along just to have Tong Ning change his mind.”
Tao Xiaodong had given his friend advance notice that he was coming.
The owner immediately came out when he saw them and, when he was fewer than ten steps away, Tang Suoyan slowly said while walking, “It also sounds deplorable to blow hot and cold with me in just a matter of days, do you agree, Xiaodong”
Before Tao Xiaodong could look over at him, Lin ge came up to welcome them, greeting, “Hey Xiaodong, you came.”
He and Tao Xiaodong were far too close for need of pleasantries; they cut it short.
The three of them walked in.
Tao Xiaodong said, “I forgot to tell you last time.
Don’t put ginger in the food today.”
Tang Suoyan shook his head with a smile.
Tao Xiaodong turned his head over, glancing at him.
“My Yan ge doesn’t eat ginger.”