At this, the fashionably dressed gentlemen around the table cheered.
Tang Suoyan hardly drank at all.
He would take a token sip if etiquette called for it, putting the glass to his lips, but he didn’t like to let spirits impair his judgement.
Chen Lin went “oh-hoh” in delight, the inflection at the end of his words flying high.
“Don’t make that strange sound.” Tang Suoyan’s eyelids flicked up at him.
“Haven’t I been even back in uni It isn’t as though this is the first day you’ve known me.” Chen Lin was unfazed.
He was Tang Suoyan’s closest friend at the table.
Tao Xiaodong intercepted the drink and Tang Suoyan didn’t stop him, watching him drink with a smile.
The table of them started to heckle, flaying Tang Suoyan for letting someone else take a drink for him.
Tang Suoyan simply smiled and kept mum, whereas Tao Xiaodong received their jeers with good humour, saying that “it’s only proper.”
There was a subtle shade to those three words no matter how they were taken.
Chen Lin’s eyes darted between them, and then he smiled without passing comment.
“Here, a toast to the birthday boy.
You must drink.” Chen Lin still filled Tang Suoyan’s glass in the end.
Tao Xiaodong was about to speak but Chen Lin reached his hand to the back of his seat, shushing him.
“I let you take the last one as you were both conspiring to keep us guessing, it isn’t wrong for you to take the shot.
But not this one, this glass is his, a drink to celebrate his being one year older.”
Tang Suoyan reclined in his seat, listening; Tao Xiaodong glanced at him, then said with a grin, “Nah, I’ll take it.”
“I already said I’m not letting you.” Chen Lin tutted.
“If you insist, we’ll go on a round-robin instead.
Are you going to let us drink you under the table Xiaodong, he and I were bunkmates, I advise you not.” He pointed a finger around the table.
“Don’t judge a book by the cover, each one of us here can carry our weight in alcohol, think again.”
Tao Xiaodong scanned the table and, without a pause, nodded with a smile still.
“I can take it.”
“Tch, don’t be so stubborn.” Despite saying so, Chen Lin cheerfully filled up his glass.
“Does this mean you intend to shield the guy next to you all of today Yes”
“Un.” Tao Xiaodong stood up and shrugged off his jacket, perching it on the back of his chair.
“Come at me.”
The jacket wasn’t placed well and slid down to the ground.
Seeing that, Tang Suoyan reached behind and picked it up, folding it back over the chair.
“Really now, and you’re just letting him” Chen Lin jostled Tang Suoyan’s chair with his knee.
“Even sitting so comfortably Don’t you have any shame, mister”
“None at all,” Tang Suoyan answered calmly, a faint smile playing on his lips.
Tao Xiaodong was already on his feet, and since he was up he raised his glass.
As this was his first time meeting everyone, by right, he did owe them a toast.
His shirt was no longer as pristine as it was at the start of the day, a loose fold creasing the cloth slightly above his belt.
His black shirt was fitting and accentuated his slim waist and long legs.
Standing here now, he was a magnetic sight full of vim and vigour.
“Today we meet for the first time.
All of you are respectable ophthalmologists; my brother is blind, so I’ve been around the Ophthalmology Department far too often.
I’ve come across many doctors over the years, all good doctors, and I’m indebted to your care.
Therefore, doctors are like family to me, especially ophthalmologists, it’s great to have you guys.
It’s nice to meet everyone, here’s to you, and to seeing each other around in the future.”
Everyone present was Tang Suoyan’s classmate from university, and they were, in fact, all ophthalmologists.
Tao Xiaodong’s words came from the heart and also moved the heart.
They raised their glasses with him and drained their drink.
After the toast, they inquired how his brother lost his sight.
Tang Suoyan answered concisely and nods of understanding were aplenty around the table.
They asked when did it start, and Tao Xiaodong said at four.
“That’s too young, how unfortunate.”
“My dad was blind, too.
It’s hereditary,” said Tao Xiaodong.
At this, Chen Lin looked up at him, and someone soothed, “Don’t worry, there will be a treatment sooner or later, it’s just a matter of time.”
Another person went “hey” and laughed, “Isn’t that what Suoyan does He’s the expert, catch hold of him, wait for him to find a cure.”
Tao Xiaodong eyed the expert from his seat and nodded.
“Yep, holding tight.”
At home, Tao Huainan had just finished his lunch and was about to take his afternoon nap when he abruptly sneezed out of the blue.
Chi Cheng was sitting at the table, reading.
He picked up the remote and turned on the air conditioning.
Tao Huainan flipped over.
“It’s blowing in my face.”
Chi Cheng silently fixed the wind direction overhead, letting the cold air blow above them, and Tao Huainan murmured “comfy” in satisfaction.
In this crowd of ophthalmologists, the earlier topic about retinitis pigmentosa alone was able to sustain the conversation for half an hour.
The service crew even froze up when pushing open the door, thinking he had been spirited away to some academic seminar.
Tao Xiaodong seemed slightly redundant in this setting.
He wasn’t able to pitch in, nor could he understand what he was listening to.
Although Tao Huainan was afflicted by this disease and he had become a quasi-expert after taking him places to be treated, their conversation was too technical.
Most of the conversation now revolved around the status and findings of overseas research, and there were terms that he had never come across.
Since he was unable to understand, Tao Xiaodong took the chance to get a few bites in so that he wouldn’t be drinking on an empty stomach later.
As Tang Suoyan talked, he slowly rotated the turntable, rotating a small dish of pastries over.
“Have two.” While the others were engaged in conversation, Tang Suoyan inclined his chin to the left, whispering.
Tao Xiaodong heard him and took two pieces.
Then, Tang Suoyan chatted with others.
Tao Xiaodong was almost full, and these people were through getting the topic out of the system, finally remembering to revel in drinking again.
This time, Tao Xiaodong was prepared and no longer on an empty stomach.
The lunch carried on for a long time, and they drank and they talked.
It had been too long since they last saw one another, there was a lot of catching up to do.
Tang Suoyan had only needed Tao Xiaodong to take that one glass for him at the beginning and no more afterwards.
Chen Lin was just jesting in good fun; they all knew that Tang Suoyan wasn’t one to drink, so after the initial fanfare they didn’t even try to ply him with drink.
Tao Xiaodong drank a fair amount; his alcohol tolerance was pretty good after years of practice.
When they parted, Tao Xiaodong was still sober whereas Chen Lin was tipsy.
He was a talkative drunk, slurring an incessant stream of random nonsense.
And endlessly calling “Xiaodong”.
“Stop that, hurry home now.” Tang Suoyan saw him up the car, and the substitute driver adeptly drove off.
When they came, Tao Xiaodong had taken the wheel, but Tang Suoyan had to step in for the road back.
“Sleep it off,” Tang Suoyan told him.
“It’s fine.” Tao Xiaodong chuckled.
“I didn’t drink much.”
He really hadn’t.
His mind was still clear and his words weren’t slurred.
Now that it was just them, Tao Xiaodong then asked with a furrow in his brow.
“It’s your birthday today”
Tang Suoyan hummed in assent.
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier” Tao Xiaodong leaned against the side of the car, looking at him.
“I only just found out.”
“No matter.” Tang Suoyan said, “It’s just another day to me.”
“It matters.” Tao Xiaodong shut his eyes.
“You should have told me it was your birthday.”
He claimed that he hadn’t drunk much but he still had.
It wasn’t something he would have said were he completely sober, and even if he did it wouldn’t be in this tone.
Tang Suoyan was amused.
“I’ll tell you next time.”
“There’s no need to next time.” Tao Xiaodong said with his eyes shut.
With that, he fished out his phone, leaning away as he swiped down, conveying something to someone or other then said, “I won’t go home yet, then.
You’ve got to have dinner with me tonight.”
Tang Suoyan said “it’s fine.”
Tao Xiaodong, still fiddling with his phone, said, “It’s not fine.”
And so Tang Suoyan went along with him, relenting.
Tang Suoyan had planned to send him back at first, but since Tao Xiaodong didn’t want to now, Tang Suoyan asked him, “Do you want to head over to mine for a while”
“Sure.” Tao Xiaodong’s fingers rapidly typed out a message.
They reached, got out of the car, and it was only after Tao Xiaodong followed the other into the elevator that it suddenly hit him that he was going to Tang Suoyan’s place.
Drinking had delayed his processing speed; everything was a bit of a blur.
Tao Xiaodong averted his eyes when Tang Suoyan keyed in the passcode, and as soon as the door was opened, a crisp and clean fragrance billowed into his face, carrying a weak hint of herbs from further inside.
It was a comforting scent, very much so, and it was only then that Tao Xiaodong finally grasped what Tao Huainan referred to as the scent that Dr.
Tang Suoyan’s apartment was tidy.
The balcony was partitioned from the living room with French windows, therefore the room was bright.
Tao Xiaodong sat on the couch while Tang Suoyan went to fetch a glass of water for him.
With a bellyful of alcohol, Tao Xiaodong looked up at the sight of the water, asking, “Can I use… the bathroom first”
Tang Suoyan pointed behind him.
The fragrance permeated every corner of his apartment, and the bathroom was no exception.
Tang Suoyan had previously mentioned that it was the herbs that his mother mixes.
Tao Xiaodong liked it.
He thought back to the phone call earlier that morning when Tang Suoyan said that he was going to take a shower and asked if he wanted to come up and listen.
Just one trip to the bathroom had his head spinning.
Tang Suoyan grabbed a few throw pillows from the couch and arranged them on the reclinable side.
When Tao Xiaodong came out of the bathroom, Tang Suoyan told him, “Lie down for a while.”
Tao Xiaodong said, “It’s fine, I’ll just sit.
I haven’t changed out of my clothes.”
“It doesn’t matter, you don’t have to in the first place.” Tang Suoyan turned his head towards that side.
Tao Xiaodong took off his jacket and draped it over the armrest, going over to recline on the seat.
It was easy to feel drowsy after drinking, plus Tang Suoyan intended for him to rest, so didn’t speak much to him.
Eventually, Tao Xiaodong seemed to drift off.
Tang Suoyan casually took a book to the side to read, and when his phone rang he quickly picked it up.
It was a call from his parents.
Tang Suoyan went to answer it on the balcony, saying with a smile, “It’s my birthday today.
Thank you, mom.”
A son’s day of birth also marks a mother’s day of labour.
Tang Suoyan spent some time softly conversing with his parents.
They asked if he was heading back tonight, and Tang Suoyan said that he was going out with his friend tonight, so he’d head back tomorrow instead.
“Don’t party too late into the night,” his mother said on the other end.
“I’m not going to party,” Tang Suoyan told her.
Tao Xiaodong was fast asleep, not rousing even during Tang Suoyan’s call.
He did keep his volume down, regardless.
The phone call went on for a long time.
After the call, Tang Suoyan drew the curtains to the French windows, shading the room and also blocking the wind.
The glass sealings, though of good quality, still allowed a bit of ventilation.
People were more susceptible catching colds when falling asleep in a windy room after drinking.
Before Tang Suoyan set his hand down from the curtains, he heard soft knocking from the door.
His movements paused.
He unconsciously turned his head over.
The knocks started again, and Tang Suoyan went to open the door.
It was Tong Ning at the door, holding a cake and a paper bag.
He smiled faintly and said, “Happy birthday, Yan ge.”
Tang Suoyan looked at him, and Tong Ning blinked, saying, “I thought that you wouldn’t be home, but here you are.”
He was dressed in a white coat.
Tang Suoyan had a matching black coat; they used to make purchases in sets of two for convenience’s sake.
Tang Suoyan stood at the doorway, and Tong Ning took a step forward, meaning to enter.
However, Tang Suoyan silently remained steadfast, causing Tong Ning’s brows to lift slightly.
Again he called, “Yan ge.”
And then his line of sight caught the two shoes at the doorway; he abruptly stilled.
“Are you…” Tong Ning blinked, long eyelashes quivering minutely.
“…not letting me in”
Tang Suoyan didn’t speak.
He inclined his body to the side, making way.
“…Who is it” It was a question that didn’t bear asking.
Tong Ning already knew who was inside, how could he not
It was a question that didn’t require a response.
Tang Suoyan didn’t speak, nor did he block the door.
They looked at each other.
Tong Ning passed the cake over, his eyes fluttering shut twice, and his voice was slightly unsteady.
Tang Suoyan took the cake and responded in thanks.
“You’re welcome…” Tong Ning touched the door handle.
He whispered, “I’ll go, then”
Before Tang Suoyan could speak, he repeated himself.
With that, he went out, closing the door.
The noise as the door shut wasn’t heavy; Tao Xiaodong didn’t stir.
Tang Suoyan sat on the other end of the couch, pinching the bridge of his nose in silence.
When the door lock beeped again, Tang Suoyan’s head snapped up, glancing over.
This time, Tong Ning opened the door himself.
Neither the passcode nor the fingerprint lock had been changed, so it was easy for him to enter if he was so inclined.
Tong Ning came in directly, closing the door behind him.
The two people on the couch were more than obvious now.
He looked at Tang Suoyan and asked, “Why didn’t you change the lock”
Then, he pointed at Tao Xiaodong, “Since you’re already bringing others home, why haven’t you changed the lock”