In spite of having fumed the day away, now that their hands were linked and tones had softened, even their hearts had softened.
It was a petty affair, no more than the anxiety having stacked across the span of the day.
It wasn’t much, in all honesty, not worth them having a row over.
Tao Xiaodong, with Tang Suoyan holding his hand like this, deflated slightly.
He consoled, “My hand’s fine, Yan ge.”
Tang Suoyan knew that there was nothing wrong with his hand; he had called the orthopaedic doctor after Tao Xiaodong left.
Tang Suoyan said, “If your bones get misaligned, you’d have to set them again.
Don’t take it so lightly.
You’re a tattoo artist.
You can’t hone your craft without your hands.”
Tao Xiaodong nodded and said that he understood.
That was all there was to it in the first place; once aired, blown over thus.
Tang Suoyan got Tao Xiaodong to allow him to drive.
Tao Xiaodong obediently got off and went over to the passenger side, freeing the driver’s seat for Tang Suoyan.
“I already told you not to come, but since you did, you should have let me know, I would have tried my best to end earlier.” Tang Suoyan said with slight helplessness, “Falling asleep in the car at such temperatures, are you really not afraid of freezing”
Tao Xiaodong simply smiled and didn’t respond.
Tang Suoyan was upset and he, too, wasn’t without the slightest temper.
He had been all geared up for a fight today; he was actually a very stubborn man as well.
They talked as Tang Suoyan drove out of the car park, and Tang Suoyan said that he’d have to work overtime a lot during this period, he’d probably end even later tomorrow than he did today.
Tao Xiaodong said that it didn’t matter.
After a few minutes on the road, the car took a turn.
Tao Xiaodong said, “Wrong turn, Yan ge.”
Tang Suoyan looked ahead as he said, “Stay with Xiao Nan for the next few days.”
Tao Xiaodong objected at once, “I won’t.”
Tang Suoyan said, “You can come back when I stop having to work overtime.”
Tao Xiaodong frowned, “I already said that I’m not leaving.”
Tang Suoyan only got off work at half past nine tonight, and it was hard to give an accurate gauge for the coming days.
He couldn’t have Tao Xiaodong wait for him every day, nor could he have him go home alone.
On the off chance that the other encountered someone who incited him, he might injure his hand again.
“That person doesn’t seem mentally fit to me, I can’t allow you to go back alone.” At that, Tao Xiaodong’s features darkened as he looked at Tang Suoyan, saying, “If that didn’t happen, I would be fine not staying at yours.
But he is stalking you.
I won’t be able to sleep soundly if you’re head back alone.”
Tang Suoyan glanced at the rearview mirror, changing lanes.
“The property management is keeping an eye out; he wouldn’t be able to enter.”
Neither of them would budge on this matter.
It boiled down to the same problem as the morning; they were both used to being strong, protecting the people around them.
It would be the same situation even if their positions were reversed.
Even if Tao Xiaodong refused, the car still stopped at the entrance of his own community in the end.
The last half of the journey was quiet, neither saying much.
Now that the car had stopped, Tang Suoyan unfastened his seatbelt, helping Tao Xiaodong to undo his as well.
“Xiaodong,” Tang Suoyan called his name.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t respond to him.
“Ever since you injured your hand, what I feared most was that it wouldn’t recover well.
I watched him hit your hand today, and I couldn’t stop him.” Tang Suoyan’s voice was low as he spoke.
“It really scared me.”
Tao Xiaodong looked at him out of his peripheral vision, and it was easy to see from the look in his eyes that Tao Xiaodong was in a terrible mood.
“Next week, when I start getting off work at regular hours again, I’ll let you know.” Tang Suoyan asked with a minute upturned hook at the end, “Come fetch me then”
Tao Xiaodong didn’t respond to that, and some time elapsed before he said, “Yan ge.”
“Mm,” hummed Tang Suoyan, waiting for him to speak.
“You don’t actually need me, do you, Yan ge” Tao Xiaodong himself nodded after saying that, then carrying on, “You said before that you have a cold disposition, I never sensed that.”
Tang Suoyan started to open his mouth, but Tao Xiaodong forged on heedlessly.
“As we are now, I have no way of insisting I want to go back with you.
Fact is, I have no right to shoulder your burdens with you.”
His words betrayed his emotions.
Tao Xiaodong turned his head, looking out of the window.
“I’m not afraid to say it.
I like you, I really do.
I want to be with you.
I’ve put my all into it.
Sometimes I get too excited and I overstep, but that’s okay, you’re steady, so I follow you.
Tao Xiaodong wasn’t done.
He paused for two seconds, then went on, “But I see the way it is now.
With you, I always have to listen to your arrangements and move only at your command.
Then, when you allow it, I’m expected to scurry back.”
He scoffed lightly and got out of the car.
The car door banged shut.
The cold outside pummelled into the car when the door opened and closed, sucker punching the face.
Tang Suoyan shut his eyes.
Tao Xiaodong never looked back once as he walked into his community.
In the little less than a year they had reacquainted themselves with each other, they had not gotten worked up.
They had remained respectful throughout, and now that tempers had frayed, it was a serious one.
Tao Xiaodong had slammed the car door behind him, and when he reached home, Tao Huainan was still awake and Chi Cheng was doing revision.
Hearing the door open, Chi Cheng glanced at the door and, seeing it was him, was mildly surprised as he greeted “Ge.”
Tao Huainan was in the bedroom.
“Ge, you’re back”
Tao Xiaodong said, “Go back to bed.”
“Why did you return” Tao Huainan came out after putting on his slippers, following his voice and feeling his way over.
Tao Xiaodong washed his hands before extending his hand to him.
“What did you come out for”
“Why are you back at this hour Is Dr.
Tang on a business trip” Tao Huainan mulishly questioned him.
Tao Xiaodong chuckled.
“My hand got better, so I’m back.”
Tao Huainan frowned.
He was in the thin pyjamas that he always wore to sleep, so Tao Xiaodong pushed him back in.
“Hurry to bed, you’ll freeze.”
Tao Huainan climbed into bed and kicked off his shoes, lying down quietly, eyes wide open and mind laden with thoughts.
Tao Xiaodong told Chi Cheng, “You should go to bed soon as well.
Don’t keep staying up late to study, it’s bad for your eyes.”
Chi Cheng, “Got it, Ge.“
In his room, Tao Xiaodong turned off the lights, then lay in bed.
He shut his eyes.
He was exhausted, yet sleep eluded him.
His mind was roiling with emotions that he couldn’t calm and his heart was awfully restless.
Loving another was an emotional roller coaster ride.
Wise were those who didn’t do relationships, but once caught in its hold, there was no escaping unscathed.
Those sentences earlier were rather unlike Tao Xiaodong, but his emotions had gotten the better of him, and the words rushed out irrepressibly.
Tang Suoyan had always been cold in his composure, and in comparison, Tao Xiaodong seemed much more emotional.
It was all so maddening.
Having acclimatised to Tang Suoyan’s body clock during this period of time, Tao Xiaodong woke up naturally in the early morning.
While his brothers got ready for school, he whipped up breakfast for them with his one good hand.
Once the two kids were done with breakfast and headed for school, Tao Xiaodong washed his hair, getting water all over himself, and as he towelled his hair, he received a notification on his phone.
Tang Suoyan: I’ve arrived at work.
Upon reading that, Tao Xiaodong replied: Okay.
Neither touched on what happened last night.
After calming, it was a difficult conversation to reopen, and no one would force the topic.
Tang Suoyan called Tao Xiaodong twice, at lunch and at dinner, and they chatted briefly.
Tao Xiaodong was working the whole time; an assistant helped him to hold the phone so he could talk for a while.
This call wasn’t as sickeningly sweet, nor their tones as soft, as before.
At its end, someone muttered, “Trouble in paradise so soon”
It was just a joke.
No one took it seriously.
But Dyer cast a look over at that tattoo artist, then lowered his head and got back to work without a word.
Usually, he would definitely slide in with a jibe at Tao Xiaodong.
Tao Xiaodong had the assistant tie his hair for him.
The kid had never touched anyone’s hair outside of his own and didn’t know how to do it.
The ponytail was too tight.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t utter a word of complaint, leaving it be.
The double hair ties pulled painfully on his scalp the whole day.
Tao Huainan was listening to the telly from the couch.
Tao Xiaodong pillowed his head on Tao Huainan’s lap and got a massage.
The woollen pyjamas the boy had on radiated warmth against his skin, and Tao Xiaodong settled in comfortably.
A variety show was being aired, filling the room with lively laughter.
While Tao Huainan couldn’t see any graphics, just listening to the audio transmission had him entertained.
After kneading for some time, he put his hand over his brother’s eyes.
Tao Xiaodong blinked under his palm, the fluttering tickling a smile from Tao Huainan.
“You’re still awake I thought you’d fallen asleep.”
Tao Xiaodong said that he was almost there.
“Does it hurt anywhere else” asked Tao Huainan.
“Nope,” Tao Xiaodong said, content, “This is comfortable.”
“Lie on your belly, I’ll give you a neck rub.” Tao Huainan moved and folded his legs beneath him, then patted the sofa.
You were working today, right I’ll help you relax your muscles.”
Tao Xiaodong lay prone and let himself be massaged.
Tao Huainan didn’t put a lot of force into it.
His fingers were fair and slender, and although he didn’t use strength, the gentle kneading of the tendons on his neck and shoulders was still comfortable.
Their family was well-off; his brother had provided for him well enough that he had no need to worry about his future.
Were it any other family, the vast majority would end up becoming blind masseurs.
Tao Huainan, while applying pressure, ended up smiling, and he said, “Let you experience a blind massage first-hand.”
Tao Xiaodong didn’t manage to get a word in before Chi Cheng, solving problems in the bedroom, interjected with a “shut up.”
Tao Huainan secretly shrugged, not too concerned, even smiling briefly.
Translated on ninetysevenkoi.wordpress
– ❀ –
Please do not repost or retranslate.
Xia Yuan had booked a place for Tao Xiaodong’s birthday.
Reaching thirty-five was a milestone age, he claimed, the party had to be grand.
“How is that a milestone” Tao Xiaodong, busy working, had his head lowered as he spoke.
“I’m busy, I’m not in the mood.”
“It’s a milestone every five years,” Xia Yuan said over the phone, “We have to celebrate you turning thirty-five.”
“Then let’s just have a meal.” Tao Xiaodong motioned for the assistant to switch the needles for him.
“Food is a must.” Xia Yuan brayed with laughter, “I’ll make all the arrangements.”
Tao Xiaodong said, “Don’t pull any nonsense.”
“You’re footloose and fancy-free, what’s there to be afraid of” Xia Yuan snickered, mocking, “Your balls are going to shrivel if I don’t set you up.”
Tao Xiaodong refused to take him up on his offer, simply saying, “I hate that stuff.”
“I know, I’m just teasing.” Xia Yuan laughed before asking him, “Is it just the usual crowd Da Huang and the rest, too Anyone else I have to check if the place is big enough.”
Tao Xiaodong’s hands paused.
He considered it then said, “Nope, that’s all.”
“Right,” Xia Yuan said, “got it.”
“There might be one more,” Tao Xiaodong amended, “I can’t confirm.”
“Who” Xia Yuan asked casually.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t spill, simply reminding, “Don’t try any nonsense.”
Xia Yuan had the astuteness to instantly latch onto the difference in tone.
“Whose the fella” Xia Yuan pressed, “Sounds to me that you’ve got a thing going on.”
Ignoring him, Tao Xiaodong hung up the phone.
As soon as he did, Xia Yuan called him back, “You seeing someone”
Tao Xiaodong, terribly irritated, refused to play along.
A figure flashed past Xia Yuan’s mind.
He probed, “A doctor… Do I know him”
Tao Xiaodong said sort of then went, “Gotta go, I’m busy.”
Based on thepresent state of affairs, it was a real possibility that Tang Suoyan wouldn’t have the time to attend his birthday celebration, let alone how awkward it would be in view of their tepid relationship now.
Tao Xiaodong had mellowed his temper with age, taking pains to sand those sharp edges in his personality away.
He wasn’t mild-mannered by nature, which, in turn, gave him trouble quelling his emotional outbursts.
That night when Tang Suoyan sent him home, Tao Xiaodong had truly worked up a temper.
Tang Suoyan’s composure even made him revisit his shame from the last time, any outward manifestation of emotion in front of him seeming irrational.
He had impulsively snapped back in a fit of pique, but when his ire subsided, even he felt that he had gone slightly overboard.
That was just how Tang Suoyan was; his actions had come from a place of good intentions.
It was senseless to make an issue of it as he had.
However, since it had come to this, it would contrarily come off unnatural to have another serious talk about it.
This matter ate away at them.
The slow burn of their relationship had abruptly gone stale.
If Tang Suoyan had Tao Xiaodong’s temperament, they might have had a direct confrontation.
If Tao Xiaodong had Tang Suoyan’s composure, then he wouldn’t have snapped back that night.
Either would have been better than the current impasse.
Tang Suoyan notified him every morning when he arrived at the hospital and every evening when he reached home, and Tao Xiaodong always replied with an “okay”.
He wanted to say more but couldn’t find the right words.
Besides, Tang Suoyan was busy.
Each call and message took up his time, and there was no way Tao Xiaodong was going to demand more on the basis of their quarrel.
An undefined relationship resembled a layer of flaky skin unable to withstand the slightest snag—as if that was all it took for them to fall apart.