In social connection, physical touch was an intriguing interaction.
Intimacy increased with each touch, and a relationship could advance rapidly with but a brief physical contact.
Could Tao Xiaodong be unaware of that He understood this best, which was why he kept within bounds when touching hands, and also initiated a hug under the banner of comfort.
Tang Suoyan asked if he only dared to touch hands even after plucking up courage, and that was the undeniable truth.
While Tang Suoyan was lying there, Tao Xiaodong dared not make a single move.
The half-embrace just now put them in close proximity, exchanging whispers, and, in a sense, this was embracing a truth.
Their actions before, the touches and massages, already crossed the line of normal friends.
But it wasn’t impossible to pretentiously play it off as friendly affection.
However, the half-embrace and the touch on the lower back today tore that translucent screen right down.
No more tip-toeing around.
Tang Suoyan came out after washing up, drying his hair with a towel.
Their eyes met.
Having just been held close, Tao Xiaodong stopped going “Yan ge” now and was instead with a dreamy look on his face and in his heart.
Tang Suoyan joined him at the table and they shared breakfast.
Tao Xiaodong took out the congee and breadsticks, opened a container, and pushed it in front of Tang Suoyan, asking, “What do you want to have for lunch”
“I’ll cook for you.” Tang Suoyan tore into a breadstick and replied.
Tao Xiaodong burst into laughter.
“You can cook”
Tang Suoyan responded in affirmative.
After mooching so many meals off Tao Xiaodong, he ought to return the gesture.
They both ate the congee.
From the sound of it, there were no plans for them to head out today.
Tao Xiaodong was in a sweatshirt and jeans.
Tang Suoyan offered, “Is it stuffy Shall I find a set of pyjamas for you”
“Your own” Tao Xiaodong asked.
“A new set.” Tang Suoyan took another spoonful of congee, then said with his eyes cast down, “Though, you can wear mine if you want.”
At this time, every sentence from him sounded deliberate to Tao Xiaodong.
And again he didn’t respond; he had a distinct feeling that he wouldn’t be able to control the scene if he did.
Two eligible bachelors in their thirties going at it in turns; no one would let them live it down.
Tang Suoyan routinely exercised in the mornings on weekends.
Tao Xiaodong only fooled around for a few minutes before giving up on it.
He didn’t want to work up a sweat; he wouldn’t be able to shower.
It was one thing to hang out at Tang Suoyan’s place and another to shower here, as if making deliberate overtures.
He watched Tang Suoyan work out from a sitting position by the side, watching the bunching of his muscles during exercise, the power rippling through his body, the sweat seeping from his pores.
“I should have known.
How else would you have such a good figure.” Tao Xiaodong watched, enraptured, leaning against the glass door.
He snagged a long pillow and set it in his lap.
“I was wondering why you’d have so much muscle when doctors spend most of the day sitting down at work.”
Tang Suoyan looked up at him.
A drop of sweat happened to slide down his chin just then, and Tao Xiaodong’s gaze followed it as it dripped to the ground.
“Work demands it,” Tang Suoyan said with a smile.
He sounded slightly winded, not heavily so.
Tao Xiaodong pulled a knee up to his chest, in Tang Suoyan’s short sleeve and exercise shorts, sitting unusually boldly.
Tang Suoyan wasn’t free to pay attention to him; it was a rare chance for him to openly ogle at Tang Suoyan until he got his fill.
From head to toe, riveted on the sweat daubing his neck, then from broad shoulders to narrow midsection, down to those legs.
He even stared at his ankles for a while, tendons tensing as the man moved, joints jutting prominently.
Through, he savoured the mental image, not revealing his thoughts as his mind galloped miles out.
Tang Suoyan spared him a look.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t even notice, still immersed in his daydream.
“What are you thinking about” Tang Suoyan asked.
“I can’t say.” Tao Xiaodong ducked his head and chortled, hugging the pillow.
“Go on, have fun.”
“You’ve already tipped me off by saying that.” Tang Suoyan put down the gym equipment, looking over at him.
He regulated his breathing while sweat snaked into his collar.
Tao Xiaodong looked up at him; the other was slightly backlit.
He shielded his eyes with his hand, actually daring to snark back, “Enlighten me”
Tang Suoyan didn’t immediately reply but chuckled softly.
He exhaled and left the balcony.
“Why don’t you show me what’s under that pillow”
Tao Xiaodong jolted, startled, then went “**” with a laugh, not daring to banter with him, thus backing down again.
The last time, Tang Suoyan had said that he was about to shower and suggested that Tao Xiaodong could come up to sit and listen.
And now, Tao Xiaodong really did get to listen in.
A shower was a major distraction to the ears.
Even if you weren’t paying attention, the pattering of water would still drum incessantly in your ears.
When the water flow weakened, you’d subconsciously guess what was stopping it, and the mind would inevitably continue down this tangent.
When the water stopped completely, you’d wonder—was he done showering Or was he shampooing Lathering shower gel
When water drummed down anew, sparks would shoot through every nerve.
After showering, the clothes worn to exercise were dumped straight into the washing machine, and Tang Suoyan emerged in sleepwear.
Tao Xiaodong listened to the whole showering process from the couch.
In his opinion, this was way too much excitement for one morning.
Tang Suoyan poured a glass of water for Tao Xiaodong and himself.
He drank from it, standing, while Tao Xiaodong drank from it, sitting.
Fresh out of the shower, steam wrapped around Tang Suoyan and a few stray water droplets could be seen clinging to the back of his hand.
“Your phone rang just now.” Tao Xiaodong said after clearing his throat.
“Who was it” Tang Suoyan went to get his phone from the coffee table.
“I didn’t look.” Tao Xiaodong added internally—besides, I was too preoccupied.
Tang Suoyan checked it and then set his phone aside, ignoring it.
“I’m going to prepare lunch for you.” Tang Suoyan asked him, “Any dislikes”
At this question, Tao Xiaodong’s mind reflexively leapt back to “I don’t eat ginger”.
He smiled then shook his head.
“I’m not picky, no allergies either.
I’m down for anything.”
Tang Suoyan said all right.
The plan was to make lunch for him, and so Tang Suoyan refused to let him help out at all, not even allowing him into the kitchen.
Tao Xiaodong had lent a hand with washing the vegetables or whatnot but ended up being driven out by Tang Suoyan.
Later on, for true lack of anything to do, he could only sit at the dining table and play with his phone.
Tao Huainan voice-messaged him: “Ge, say hi to Dr.
Tang for me.”
Tao Xiaodong said: “Sure.”
Xia Yuan asked whether he was in today, he wanted to meet up.
Tao Xiaodong replied: Don’t go over, I won’t be in today.
Xia Yuan: Huh Tomorrow, then
Tao Xiaodong: Won’t be in tomorrow, either.
Xia Yuan flatly asked him via voice message: “Are you avoiding me”
Tao Xiaodong shrugged: “What would I be avoiding you for Where did all these theatrics come from”
Xia Yuan: “Are you still upset with me about the last dinner I didn’t know that you were so tight with that Dr.
Tang, if I’d known I would have stopped them long ago, okay”
Tao Xiaodong could barely even remember that quarrel.
He hurriedly said, “Beat it.
I’m busy over here.”
Cooking some way off, Tang Suoyan couldn’t hear Tao Xiaodong’s conversation over the vent hood.
Nor could he hear the knocks on the door.
At the knocks, Tao Xiaodong called out “Yan ge.”
Tang Suoyan looked over his shoulder at him and asked him what was wrong.
Tao Xiaodong pointed at the door.
They looked into each other’s eyes, the same thought on their mind.
After a few seconds of silence, Tang Suoyan drew a piece of tissue to wipe his hands.
“I’ll get the door.”
The situation last time was still fresh in the mind’s eye.
Tao Xiaodong was even a little tempted to hide in a room; he was dressed in Tang Suoyan’s clothes while Tang Suoyan was in pyjamas.
The first impression anyone would get was that they were already living together.
Tao Xiaodong called “Yan ge” again, then quietly asked, “Shall I go in and wait for a bit”
Tang Suoyan calmly said that there was no need for that.
Tao Xiaodong was all ready to receive the jury.
It was going to be a tough battle, he felt.
But when Tang Suoyan opened the door, Tao Xiaodong heard him say, “Dad Mom”
Tao Xiaodong first expelled a breath of relief then—sharply inhaled.
“Why are you here” Tang Suoyan fetched indoor slippers for them.
He preempted them.
“I’ve got a friend over.
Don’t be shocked.”
“You’ve got a friend over” His mother tittered.
“What’s shocking about that”
“If you get startled by him, not expecting to see anyone, you might startle him as well,” said Tang Suoyan.
Tao Xiaodong had come out to greet them, uncle and auntie, with a smile.
They had pretty much met all of Tang Suoyan’s closer friends, but this one was new.
His parents recovered quickly, warmly returning the greeting.
“I’m Xiaodong, you can just call me that.” Tao Xiaodong said politely.
He was dressed in Tang Suoyan’s clothes; it was immediately apparent to them as his parents.
Tang Suoyan’s mother praised, “You look radiant, dear.”
“Oh, are you cooking” his father asked, glancing inside the kitchen.
Tang Suoyan said, “Yeah.
I’m making soup.
Have you had lunch yet”
His mother said that they hadn’t.
They had come to shop in the area and thought to drop by to make lunch for him.
Then again, from the looks of it now, it didn’t seem necessary anymore.
Disagreeing, Tang Suoyan pulled her into the kitchen with a smile.
“Since you’re here, I don’t have to worry about messing up.
You’re right in time to help me.”
Before stepping into the kitchen, Tang Suoyan turned back to tell his father, “Dad, pour some tea for us.”
Tao Xiaodong said, “I’ll do it.”
“Let my dad do it.
Try his tea.” Tang Suoyan walked over and whispered to him.
“Lighten up, talk to my dad for a while.”
A piece of cake, Tao Xiaodong thought, were it not his dad.
Since when was he scared of a little conversation He was at ease around anyone.
Tao Xiaodong and Tang Suoyan’s father settled down in the living room.
Tao Xiaodong pulled out a small hassock from under the coffee table and sat opposite, watching the elder brew tea.
Tang Suoyan more closely resembled his father, the nose and the mouth especially.
“What do you work as, Xiaodong” Tang Suoyan’s father asked while waiting for the water to boil.
“I do tattoos,” Tao Xiaodong said before shaking his head, a weak smile on his face.
“It’s not that respectable.”
“How is that not a respectable job” The elder frowned.
“Granted, I’ve never encountered it much, so I don’t understand it well.
But work is work.
It’s all a basic means of living, what’s there to be ashamed of Don’t think like that.”
“Yes, it’s all work.” Tao Xiaodong bobbed his head and retrieved tea leaves from under the coffee table, passing them over.
“There are times that people don’t consider it a proper job.
There’s prejudice, that’s unavoidable.”
The elder sighed heavily.
“Don’t mind them.
Nobody has any grounds to judge.”
Tao Xiaodong replied with a smile, “That’s a very broad-minded way of thinking, uncle.”
“Speaking of which, I’ve watched a short programme about that on the telly before.
It’s a form of art, what you do.
Not anyone can do that.” Tang Suoyan’s father liked to brew his tea with slow and steady movements.
It was familiar.
Watching him, Tao Xiaodong was able to glimpse Tang Suoyan’s temperament.
“You’re overstating it,” responded Tao Xiaodong.
“Like you said, it’s all work.”
There was little point in debating with a professor whether that job of his was considered an artistic pursuit.
At the end of the day, they belonged to different fields, and it would be difficult for either to really get into it.
“How did you get to know Suoyan” The elder poured tea for him, a kindly expression on his face.
Holding the cup, Tao Xiaodong confessed, “My little brother is blind.
Tang is treating him.”
At this, the other went “oh” in surprise and then asked, “Did it get better”
“No, there’s no cure,” said Tao Xiaodong.
The elder sighed in remorse, saying thereafter, “Children who can’t see with their eyes can see rightly with the heart.”
Tao Xiaodong agreed with a chuckle.
“He’s actually very bright.
He is emphatic when it comes to matters of the heart.”
No more than a few minutes later, Tang Suoyan’s mother took over the kitchen, and the man himself came over to sit on the couch, listening to them chat.
Bafflingly, they had lunch together, which was even more unpredictable than Tong Ning’s appearance would have been.
The two professors left after lunch, inviting Tao Xiaodong to visit them when he had the time.
As they were departing, Tao Xiaodong wanted to go down and drive them back but was stopped by them.
Tang Suoyan tugged his arm.
“It’s all right.
Come back in.”
The door shut.
Tao Xiaodong shot Tang Suoyan a look.
The two of them stared at each other, conflicted at the absurdity of it all.
Tao Xiaodong said, “We haven’t even figured things out and I’ve already met the parents.”
“I reckon they got a shock, too.
It probably didn’t occur to them that I’ll have someone over.” Tang Suoyan guided him into the living room with a hand on the small of his back.
“Open the door and what do they see A young and handsome fellow right there.”
“Even dressed in your clothes.” Tao Xiaodong tugged at the clothes on him.
“Who knows what conclusions your parents have leapt to.”
“Their thoughts couldn’t have wandered far.
At most, they’d assume that I have a new boyfriend,” said Tang Suoyan.
“It’s not quite that, is it” hedged Tao Xiaodong.
“How innocent can it get” Tang Suoyan pushed him to sit on the couch.
“Soon-to-be… boyfriend and new boyfriend; how much difference do you expect there to be”