Tao Xiaodong’s client today was a university student with a pixie cut.
Fair, skinny, and a lovely sight with make-up on.
She had a tear-shaped beauty mark at the tail of her eye, and two tiny sequins dotted around it.
The piece, a dotwork tattoo, was picked from Tao Xiaodong’s portfolio beforehand.
Half of it was a geometric figure, while the other half scattered into nothingness like beads of sand.
Tao Xiaodong could only use one hand and thus needed an assistant.
A boy who often followed him around came over of his own accord, wearing a glove as well, subbing in as Tao Xiaodong’s other hand.
He needed to press down that small swath of skin and rub it with a cotton wipe.
With a hand on the tattoo machine, Tao Xiaodong spoke to the young woman, “I might go slower today, I’ll give you a discount.”
“No problem.” She had already changed into shorts, exposing her calves.
She didn’t seem concerned.
Dotwork tattoos were tedious work to begin with.
He couldn’t just join up the shading but had to ink every dot in.
A job like this would take ages for Tao Xiaodong to complete.
It looked easy but was actually delicate work.
Working next to him was a young tattoo artist the same age as Dyer, skilled in avant-garde designs.
His clientele base was young.
Most of his tattoos were modern and the colours bright and crisp.
The older demographic generally didn’t go for that vibe.
The client he was working on was a student as well, getting a small and adorable pink gecko tattoo on the inner arm.
Again, it was the storytime segment that everyone was familiar with.
Dyer also had a client today, but the moment he heard that someone was sharing a tale over here, he brought his client directly to the third floor, afraid that his own client would catch the propensity to share as well.
The story today was simple.
It was a classic tale of a heartbroken boy languishing after his ex-girlfriend.
He initially wanted to tattoo his ex-girlfriend’s name but was stopped by the tattoo artist, who convinced him to go for an alternative design.
Puppy love tended to fade over time, but a tattoo was permanent, and the reminder would be uncomfortable with time.
Switch it to something small and when he was ready to move on, he wouldn’t be reminded of the initial concept for the tattoo.
By the time Tang Suoyan came over, the story was almost wrapping up, going from falling in love all the way to the breakup.
Tao Xiaodong’s client was listening with rapt attention.
When the retelling ended, she asked him, “Why do tattoos all seem to have a meaning Mine doesn’t.”
Tao Xiaodong said, “They don’t have to have a meaning.”
Huan Ge followed behind Tang Suoyan, fawning over him, taking a chair out and setting it nearby Tao Xiaodong, saying, “Take a seat, Dr.
Tang Suoyan thanked him, then asked Tao Xiaodong, “Are you feeling up for the injection Or shall we put it off until you’re done with this”
“I’m good,” Tao Xiaodong looked up and smiled at him, “no need to put it off.”
The young deaf assistant next to Tao Xiaodong walked around to the opposite side, swiftly giving up his seat.
“Do all house-call doctors get this kind of treatment nowadays” the boy who had just finished telling his story whispered.
No one said a thing, though his tattoo artist laughed his head off.
He asked again, “Which app is this doctor from I’ll book one the next time I want an injection, too.”
The tattoo artist grinned.
“This is a personal doctor, you won’t be able to get the time of the day.”
The injection went into the inner part of his wrist.
As Tang Suoyan was sitting next to him, Tao Xiaodong rested the hand that was being injected on Tang Suoyan’s thigh.
Tao Xiaodong wanted him to go to the lounge as he was doing fine over here.
Tang Suoyan said that he was afraid that Tao Xiaodong would hit his hand in a moment of inattention, also that he had to switch the drip in a while.
Such a classy gentleman was out of place in this venue.
With him sitting down and talking in soft whispers to Tao Xiaodong, no matter how one looked at it, the atmosphere seemed somewhat different.
The female client’s eyes darted between them before inquiring, “Last year I saw on the news that a nurse got a lawsuit over problems that arose from an injection administered during a house call.
Are you sure this is okay”
Tao Xiaodong said while focusing on the shader needle, “Don’t worry about it.”
Half-jokingly, the young missy pressed, “Shouldn’t you be signing a waiver or something of that sort Who’s taking the blame if the injection goes wrong”
Tang Suoyan said, “Me.”
Da Huang had gone to film the next episode of the programme, so all business matters in the shop could only be directed to Tao Xiaodong during this time.
Fortunately, nothing much cropped up so Tao Xiaodong was able to work with confidence.
The girl’s leg jolted.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t lift his eyes.
“Is it starting to hurt”
“Not too bad, it’s bearable.” She touched her short hair and asked, “Is this too meaningless Shouldn’t every tattoo have a story behind it Having no story to tell makes it seem soulless.”
Tao Xiaodong, listening to her speak, glanced up at this.
“Doesn’t it” The girl stared at her leg.
“I don’t have exes, not that any asshole ex deserves a spot on my skin.”
Tao Xiaodong laughed.
“Every tattoo has a soul, you don’t have to deliberately seek one out.”
Tang Suoyan got up to change the drip for Tao Xiaodong.
Tao Xiaodong spoke slowly as he worked, calmly and steadily.
“You came to this parlour today and met a tattoo artist with a broken left hand, the doctor who administered an injection for him, and the mute assistant across from me.
All these are part of a story.”
Tang Suoyan sat back down, and Tao Xiaodong returned his hand to his thigh, smiling slightly.
He continued in a low voice, “From today on, you’ll have a beautiful tattoo on your body, but the process is difficult and painful… for this tattoo and every person that you see and encounter all form a story.”
With that, the girl fell silent for a while.
Tang Suoyan also turned to look at him.
Tao Xiaodong, when working, was always laser-focused.
His head was bowed, neck drawing a suave and elegant line, and there was a sliver of space between his shirt collar and skin.
Sensing Tang Suoyan’s attention, Tao Xiaodong paused and looked over, a smile dancing in his eyes as he asked, “Am I right Dr.
Tang Suoyan didn’t speak, simply looked at him, then nodded with mirth.
In the tattoo community, Tao Xiaodong’s status was absolute.
The words from his mouth carried immense weight.
This was Tang Suoyan’s first time watching him work.
It was not quite the same as usual; whether it be in his gaze, his demeanour, all of him seemed different.
He was serious and collected.
Every movement was worn in and flowed freely from move to move.
Tang Suoyan’s gaze was riveted on him, watching him hold the tattoo machine, and watching the tattoo gradually take shape in the wake of his shader needle.
Tao Xiaodong’s skin prickled under his stare.
He smiled at him every now and then or used the fingers that still retained some mobility in his left hand to gently tap Tang Suoyan’s leg.
This tattoo did take much longer than it usually would.
It was still uncomfortable for Tao Xiaodong to work with one hand, and it was the first time that the assistant was coordinating with him like this.
Their synergy wasn’t quite there yet.
Tao Xiaodong instructed the staff downstairs to take two hours off her total bill.
While slower-going, it didn’t actually take two hours more, but Tao Xiaodong said that it was only fair as she had to endure pain for that much longer.
The young woman, feeling that it was a steal, thanked him profusely.
Tao Xiaodong said to her with a smile, “Your tattoo artist cutting two hours from the bill because he had broken one of his hands is also a story.”
She gave him a thumbs-up.
The whole experience today made her tattoo feel meaningful.
She shook her thumb and said, “Amazing, Tao laoshi.”
After the gruelling work, Tao laoshi was slightly tired.
They had lunch in the store at noon, and the people remaining in the evening tried to keep them for dinner together.
Tang Suoyan simply smiled, while Tao Xiaodong shook his head.
“Nah, we’re off.”
As they continued to pester them to stay, Tao Xiaodong put on a smirk.
“Good children should know better than to hold us up.”
At that, everyone returned his smirk, chorusing “oh yes, oh yes” and “we understand, we understand.”
Tang Suoyan didn’t feel any unease at their teasing.
When Huan Ge sent them to the door, he urged him to come back often when he had the time.
Tang Suoyan even smiled and replied, “I’ll be over often, so you can drop the formalities around me.”
Huan Ge started briefly, but after that, his smile widened, and he nodded.
The ambience in the parlour had always been as unrestrained as this, without fixed hierarchy by role or age.
Tao Xiaodong, afraid that Tang Suoyan would find it rude, said to him over dinner, “We don’t really have rules at the store, so they don’t watch their language.”
Tang Suoyan scooped out a bowl of soup for him and placed it next to his hand, saying, “It’s nice, you’re all behaving naturally.”
Tao Xiaodong hummed in assent.
“Da Huang used to make a show of managing them, but he has since given up on pretending he cares.”
They headed home after having dinner out.
Tao Xiaodong kept a lookout from the moment that they drove into the underground parking, but Tang Suoyan said, “You don’t have to be so nervous.
Once his wife is hospitalised, he won’t have the time to come back here.”
“He freaked me out.” Recalling the morning caused Tao Xiaodong’s fine hair to rise.
He began to worry about how unsafe it was for Tang Suoyan to live alone.
Even as they headed for the elevator up, Tao Xiaodong was still glancing over his shoulder.
Unable to take how slowly he was walking, Tang Suoyan reached out to clasp his right wrist, pulling him along.
Tao Xiaodong turned his head.
He stared at their hands, then drew his hand back a bit.
Just as Tang Suoyan was about to let go, Tao Xiaodong held his hand.
Both their palms were hot, and when pressed together, their hearts thumped.
Tang Suoyan had always had a reserved character, especially when in public.
Therefore, even if it was before, he had seldom held hands like this when walking.
Both he and Tong Ning were not the type to parade their relationship.
However, Tao Xiaodong held tightly onto him, without meaning to release his hand.
And neither did Tang Suoyan.
After getting into the elevator, Tao Xiaodong looked at him, and Tang Suoyan also looked at him.
This hand-holding was eliciting subtle changes in their gazes and in their hearts.
Even at their floor, Tao Xiaodong didn’t let go.
His hand was scorching and steadying, and their clasped hands eventually caused a smile to spread across Tang Suoyan’s face.
Tang Suoyan opened the door with his right hand, smiling as he questioned, “What’s the meaning of this Director Tao”
Tao Xiaodong was an expert at feigning ignorance.
He didn’t speak nor did he let go.
Tang Suoyan continued to smile.
After they were both inside and the door was closed, he asked him, “Not letting go yet”
Tao Xiaodong pinched his palm.
Tang Suoyan carelessly placed the elevator card on the shoe cabinet, then tugged on their joined hands, bringing Tao Xiaodong stumbling towards him.
Without hesitation, Tang Suoyan directly pressed a soft kiss onto his lips.
They had engaged in acts and touches of even more intimacy, yet this brush of lips was honestly a first for them.
Strictly speaking, this kiss was much purer than what they had done before.
It was seriously as if they were two kids exploring how to kiss.
While intense passion was arousing, such chaste contact was also alluring.
Having taken no chances until assured of success, Tao Xiaodong finally had a taste of sweetness.
He ducked his head down to hide his smile and released his hand.
“Enough already” Tang Suoyan asked him in a low murmur.
Tao Xiaodong echoed, “Enough.”
“Easily appeased, hm” Tang Suoyan laughed quietly and headed to the bathroom, telling Tao Xiaodong, “Come and wash your hands.”
“Coming,” Tao Xiaodong answered, doing as told.