Tao Xiaodong’s heart had waltzed away with his attention.
Having to tattoo then and there was killing him.
“Just get it done another day, aren’t you scared that I can’t do my best work today” Tao Xiaodong continued to grouse before getting started.
“I’ve already dropped my trousers.” The client adjusted the incline of the tattoo chair, leaning halfway back, and began playing with his phone.
Tao Xiaodong put on his mask and his gloves, saying in exasperation, “You’re holding me up.”
“Don’t throw a hissy fit.
Can you really turn down that double pay” The client had known Tao Xiaodong for years now.
They were buddies, speaking without frills around each other.
Tao Xiaodong grumbled internally, it isn’t as though your measly two hours can get me much even twice the price.
The idea had come spontaneously, so the client had no concept for the tattoo and handed Tao Xiaodong full artistic control.
Tao Xiaodong jabbed the root of his thigh with a finger, asking, “Here”
“Sure, super sexy, ain’t that” The client was wearing boxer briefs and he slid it up.
“Is it in the way If it is, find me a room and I can do it butt naked.”
Tao Xiaodong hurriedly said, “Leave it on, just push it up.”
The assistant by his side was smiling as he helped out.
The quiet boy couldn’t speak but he liked to smile and would often be joining in the fun at the side.
Tao Xiaodong asked, “Do you want colour”
“You decide.” The old chap’s faith in Tao Xiaodong was astounding.
Tao Xiaodong considered it for about two minutes, then asked, “How would you like something a bit more risque”
“Damn,” the client eyed him, guffawing, “Have at it, go raunchy.”
Its location was one of the more sensitive areas of the body, only viewable in specific settings, and once there, the tattoo could help heighten the tension.
Tao Xiaodong turned his head back towards Tang Suoyan.
There was a partition blocking the lounge from sight, the metal grill dizzying to look at.
From the distance, Tao Xiaodong was unable to see past it, much less see Tang Suoyan.
The assistant brought over a blanket to cover the other leg, leaving the leg that Tao Xiaodong was going to work on exposed.
No matter how out of it he was before he started, once at this juncture, Tao Xiaodong was always able to keep steady.
The moment the machine was on, the earlier evasions and taunts paled into insignificance as he zoned in onto the task before him.
Tao Xiaodong drew the upper half of a black serpent that coiled powerfully from the groin.
The lines of its silhouette were ferocious and aggressive, and its head lunged forward, jaws agape, venomous fangs glinting.
The assistant released the clip holding the trouser leg, hiding the base of the thighs under fabric, with only a small part of the tattoo peeking out.
The caricature was so striking that this slight glimpse tempted one to lift the cloth to view it in its entirety.
Lascivious by nature, cold and lustful.
“You’re the best.” The client folded up the other side of the boxer, watching the tattoo gradually take form under Tao Xiaodong’s hands.
It was just missing some stippling at its sides.
Tao Xiaodong switched the needles, continuing to amble down, one hand pressing down the man’s leg while the other moved steadily in a fluid motion.
When the base of the tattoo was about done, Tao Xiaodong’s heart began getting restless again.
Yearning for the man a dozen or so paces away, waiting for him.
An hour and forty minutes later, Tao Xiaodong stopped the machine and said, “I’m done.”
The client was immensely satisfied.
He wiped himself down with green soap in high spirits.
The fee was paid upfront for two hours off the bat but now the tattoo was completed twenty minutes ahead of schedule.
Tao Xiaodong instructed the assistant to refund ten thousand yuan when downstairs later.
“Quit it, who needs you to refund the transferred money” The old chap snorted, waving him off.
“Off with you, your head’s long been in the clouds, amirite”
It was a given that anyone who had done over a dozen tattoos at Tao Xiaodong’s parlour wouldn’t be lacking this ten thousand-odd yuan.
The tattoos all over his body were extravagant enough.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t express reluctance, leaving with a short bark of laughter.
He tossed the gloves into a bin and went to check in with Tang Suoyan.
The man was sitting over there, reading a volume of Tao Xiaodong’s illustrations which also contained some interviews that he did.
When Tao Xiaodong came over, Tang Suoyan looked up, and Tao Xiaodong smiled.
“I’ll wash my hands first.”
Tang Suoyan hummed in assent.
When Tao Xiaodong came back from washing his hands, he saw that Tang Suoyan was still reading.
“Shall we go” Tao Xiaodong had even collected his coat, draped over his arm.
“I’m not done yet.” Tang Suoyan was only halfway through the book.
Actually, it felt a bit weird for Tao Xiaodong to see him reading that.
He had been posturing a lot in those interviews.
Tao Xiaodong said, “Take it with you, then.”
With that, Tang Suoyan didn’t demur, closing the book and standing up.
“What do you want to eat” They walked out together.
The tattoo artists waved them out, more cheerfully than ever before, one after the next.
Dyer called Dong ge as well, only to be ignored by Tao Xiaodong who knew that he was about to parrot that phrase again.
“Anything will do, I’m not really hungry.” Tang Suoyan watched Tao Xiaodong returning the greetings to the rambunctious store.
He was in a form-fitting black short-sleeve shirt and had his coat draped over his hand.
Such clothes accentuated his figure, showing off the definition of his musculature.
Actually, he wasn’t exceptionally brawny; his muscles weren’t chiselled with deliberate effort, yet they exuded a strong masculine charm all the same.
Of course, this was hardly news to Tang Suoyan.
Tang Suoyan had driven here.
When they walked up to the car, Tao Xiaodong veered straight for the driver’s seat.
“It’s okay, let me, you should rest.” Tang Suoyan walked over as well.
“I’ll drive.” Tao Xiaodong stressed, then went straight in.
Tang Suoyan could only route around to sit on the passenger side.
“Driving doesn’t tire me.” Tao Xiaodong buckled his seatbelt and then turned to tell him, “When you’re with me, you don’t have to drive.”
He spoke in earnest.
Tang Suoyan regarded him for a moment before saying, “Don’t talk like that.”
“Huh” Tao Xiaodong started the car and pulled out of the lot.
“I’ve already said; my resolve is crumbling,” Tang Suoyan then returned to that book about Tao Xiaodong’s stuff, smiling quietly.
They had dinner together.
As they took the same car, Tao Xiaodong’s car was left at the parlour.
Tang Suoyan said, “Take the car back with you, then.
We’ll be seeing each other tomorrow in any case.”
Tao Xiaodong instantly lit up.
“Tomorrow as well”
“Shall we not, then” Tang Suoyan arched his brows.
“No takebacks.” Tao Xiaodong was still beaming.
“I’ll look for you tomorrow.”
Tang Suoyan said all right.
Tao Xiaodong drove Tang Suoyan’s car home.
The parlour’s chat group hadn’t stopped buzzing all night.
Tao Huainan was in the group, too, and listening to the fervour unfold had him exhausted.
As soon as the door opened, Tao Huainan said, “I heard that you were whisked off by a perfect gentleman today You didn’t even take your car.”
“Which loudmouth said that” Tao Xiaodong set the car key on the shoe cabinet by the door.
The group chat was in full attendance, from the tattoo artist to the part-timers.
The ones with disabilities seldom spoke much, nodding and shaking their heads if not signing with their hands.
But after hours, WeChat was their favourite stomping ground, and each was more talkative than the next, in stark contrast to their usual toned-down temperaments.
Tao Huainan derived tonight’s entertainment from their antics; ever since Dr.
Tang set foot in the door to their leaving together, he didn’t miss a single word.
He gobbled it all up, though, the constant listening wore on his ears, scarcely able to keep up with the speed that the chat was moving.
Tao Xiaodong checked the chat group and found the pack of little whelps still throwing a party inside.
He popped in: Anyone who keeps this up will be docked two days’ pay.
The group was instantly silenced.
But the standstill only lasted two minutes before Huan Ge livened it up again.
Everyone knew that Tao Xiaodong was just pulling their leg; it wasn’t a real threat, he had never docked anyone’s pay.
Tao Xiaodong opened his chat with Tang Suoyan and texted: I’m home, Yan ge.
Tang Suoyan replied to him: Don’t stay up too late.
Tao Xiaodong: Back at you.
I’ll head over early tomorrow.
Tang Suoyan: How early
Tao Xiaodong: Seven Seven-thirty
Tang Suoyan responded: Suit yourself.
Why not now
Since warming up to each other, they had become less hesitant in their language to each other.
Tao Xiaodong wasn’t as ginger and afraid of overstepping as before, freely speaking his mind.
Tang Suoyan was the same, and the disparity between the aloof man Tao Xiaodong had once pictured widened day by day.
Translated by luckykoi
Consumed by thoughts of heading over to Tang Suoyan’s, Tao Xiaodong woke up all bright and early.
He immediately checked the time, a little after six, and stayed in bed for a while more.
After tidying up, he hit the road and bought breakfast for two along the way.
Tao Xiaodong checked his phone after parking underground.
It was half past seven, too early still, and Tao Xiaodong was afraid that Tang Suoyan wasn’t up yet.
Without an access card for the elevator and without having rung the bell, it was another ten minutes before he managed to scoot into the elevator with someone also heading up.
Only at the door did Tao Xiaodong then send out a text: Yan ge, are you awake Open the door for me.
Tang Suoyan told him: Let yourself in.
Entering the passcode, Tao Xiaodong went in and changed out of his shoes.
There was no one in the living room.
Tao Xiaodong took off his coat and hung it on a chair, put breakfast on the dining table, then went to wash his hands.
Even after that, the host was nowhere to be seen.
Tao Xiaodong called out tentatively, “Yan ge”
There was a two-second lag before Tang Suoyan responded with a hum, obviously not quite awake yet.
The bedroom door wasn’t closed.
Tao Xiaodong stopped at the doorway and looked in.
The curtains were drawn and so it was dark inside.
Tang Suoyan’s eyes were shut; he was still resting.
They had become close, indeed.
So close that Tang Suoyan didn’t even deign to get out of bed to welcome Tao Xiaodong who had come into the house.
No setting up of pretences, nor did he consider him a guest.
Subtle changes in a relationship were most clearly perceived by the heart.
Every little change, every step, was a step taken towards each other.
Tang Suoyan had an arm over his eyes, while the other one rested casually by his side.
Tao Xiaodong walked over and crouched next to the bed.
Tang Suoyan didn’t move, simply saying, “Sleepy.”
His voice sounded indolent and addled with sleep.
“Go back to sleep, then.” Tao Xiaodong smiled.
He touched the hand resting on the bed.
It was warm.
“You’re not cold today.”
Just as he was about to pull away, Tang Suoyan’s fingers curled around his hand.
At this simple gesture, Tao Xiaodong felt a nip to the apex of his heart.
“Just that little bit of ambition.” Tang Suoyan didn’t move from his original position, but the hand holding Tao Xiaodong tightened.
“Even when you pluck up the courage you only dare to touch a hand.”
Tao Xiaodong doubted the other was fully awake to be speaking so boldly.
“Is that right” Tang Suoyan even stroked Tao Xiaodong’s hand, not intent to let it slide.
The huskiness of his timbre airing such words Tao Xiaodong’s ears blaze with heat.
Stunned, Tao Xiaodong was unable to react.
Tang Suoyan’s palm was hot.
Conversely, having just come from outside, Tao Xiaodong’s hand was on the cooler side.
After speaking, Tang Suoyan didn’t make any other movements, as though he had fallen back asleep.
Tao Xiaodong settled onto the carpet, leaving his hand in the other’s hold, and stayed there.
In any case, since he couldn’t move away, he took the chance to study Tang Suoyan.
His eyes were hidden behind his eyelids, the ridge of his nose appeared even straighter, his lips were thin—not overly so, though—and his jawline was smooth and sharp.
In actuality, he had chiselled facial features, and one would think that someone with a face like his would have an austere personality.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t know if Tang Suoyan was harsh at work, but through his eyes, there were no hard edges in Tang Suoyan, only tender warmth.
“Is it cold outside” Tang Suoyan then spoke again, asking him.
Tao Xiaodong said, “It isn’t.”
“Oh, you can hear me now” Tang Suoyan spoke slowly, with a languidness in his voice unique to early mornings.
Tao Xiaodong said with a smile, “Heard you just now, too.”
“Why didn’t you respond if you heard me” Tao Xiaodong caught the tiny hook on the corners of Tang Suoyan’s lips as he asked, “Didn’t dare to respond”
When put that way, Tao Xiaodong couldn’t not answer.
Anything less would make him seem like he was backing down.
“I didn’t process it just now.
Tao Xiaodong tightened his grip as well, clasping Tang Suoyan’s hand.
“Don’t try me, I’m game for anything.”
“For example” Tang Suoyan continued to speak with that slight upturned lilt in his voice.
Tao Xiaodong’s response did one merry lap in his head before being swallowed down.
In the end, he waved a white flag with a “Yan ge.”
Tang Suoyan lightly scratched the back of his hand.
“I’m asking you a question.
Why didn’t you respond”
His eyes were shut and Tao Xiaodong’s eyes were open, yet at this time Tao Xiaodong felt that a phantom gaze boring into him, flustering him.
His brain jammed, and the truth spilled out.
“I was afraid that you mistook me for someone else.”
Regret crashed over him as soon as the words were out.
He would have taken it to his grave were it in the past, but now that their relationship had come to this stage, he had become less cautious with his words.
A brief spell of silence hung over the room.
Tao Xiaodong wanted to amend his words, but Tang Suoyan had released his hand.
Tao Xiaodong frowned internally.
The previous words didn’t come out right.
“Who could I have mistaken you for” Tang Suoyan set down his arm, fixing his eyes on him.
Tao Xiaodong smiled and said, “I misspoke.”
“You believe that I failed to recognise you” Tang Suoyan sat up.
“That I mistook you for someone else in my drowsiness”
“I really misspoke,” Tao Xiaodong hurriedly said.
“I got up too early so my brain isn’t functioning yet.”
Tang Suoyan didn’t respond to that.
He set his feet on the ground and put on his slippers, heading out silently.
Tao Xiaodong rose to his feet, too, following him out.
At the door, he reached out and grabbed Tang Suoyan’s arm, going “Yan ge.”
Turning his head back, Tang Suoyan told him, “I’m going to the bathroom.”
“Not now,” Tao Xiaodong coaxed with a smile, “I misspoke, don’t hold it against me.”
No matter how close they got or where they ended up in the future, Tong Ning existed in the past, and that was an unchangeable fact.
Tao Xiaodong wasn’t lying when he claimed that it didn’t bother him.
Those words today weren’t meant to be a jibe, simply that he had misunderstood in his surprise and that was all there was to it.
He had blurted out his first thought.
Tao Xiaodong tugged at him, not letting go or saying anything besides “Yan ge.”
At the persistent calls of “Yan ge“, Tang Suoyan turned over, wrapping an arm around the younger’s waist.
“I’m going to burst if you don’t let me go,” Tang Suoyan said next to him.
“I’ve been holding it in for ages.”
Tao Xiaodong finally smiled at this, and Tang Suoyan continued, “You don’t have to coax me.
I don’t have much of a temper; you don’t have to coax me like I’m a fair maiden.
I just don’t know how to convince you that since you and I have come this far, I won’t mistake you for anyone else.”
Tang Suoyan set his hand on Tao Xiaodong’s lower back.
His voice was low and even.
I’m not really good at romance, and nobody coaxes me every day like you do.
You bring me a sense of novelty, but also a strong sense of surety.
I know how well you’ve been treating me.”
He tapped the small of his back.
“When I’ve been waiting for you all of last night, you tell me.
Could I have mistaken you for anyone else”
With that, he released Tao Xiaodong and entered the bathroom.