If Tao Xiaodong were to head for the usual office in a blur at this time, he’d be better off renouncing his claim as a doctor’s significant other.
He made a beeline for ophthalmology in the emergency department (ED), where Tang Suoyan was sure to be now.
When peeking in at the internal medicine wards in ED as he passed by, he saw that there was no space to squeeze even one more bed inside.
Several beds were crowded along the halls and the walkways, the faces of patients’ family and friends riddled with anxiety, and the patients ashen with pain.
The internal medicine physicians and nurses were also terribly busy during the Spring Festival.
The combination of fatty foods and alcohol consumption could provoke many acute or chronic diseases in the liver, gall, gastrointestinal tract, and pancreas.
It was hard going everywhere.
When Tao Xiaodong reached the ophthalmology wards, he saw Tang Suoyan at the doorway speaking rapidly to a patient’s next of kin.
He waved at Tang Suoyan, who seemed mildly surprised to see him at first, walking towards him after closing the conversation.
Tang Suoyan was only in a set of scrubs, which covered his body in a flimsy layer.
Tao Xiaodong asked, “Do you feel cold”
“Not really, it’s convenient.” Tang Suoyan asked him, “Why are you here”
“Just checking in on you.
Should I bring you to the on-call room” From Tang Suoyan’s complexion, Tao Xiaodong guessed that he hadn’t had any rest in a long time.
While his eyes remained sharp and focused, there was a hint of lethargy on his face.
Tao Xiaodong asked him, “Are you able to take a break”
“I can probably take one around three or four.” Tang Suoyan looked back at Tao Xiaodong.
His eyes were slightly red, but his gaze was very soft.
He said, “You didn’t have to come.”
Tao Xiaodong said smilingly, “It’s no trouble.”
He didn’t want to occupy too much of his time, just a few sentences would do.
Their surroundings were raucous, and they leaned against the wall, conversing quietly for a couple of minutes.
Tao Xiaodong said, “I’ll leave dumplings for you in the on-call room.
Remember to eat them when you can spare the time, it’ll stave away hunger.
It’s the New Year, after all, it’s not New Year without dumplings.”
Tang Suoyan said “okay.”
Tao Xiaodong said, “See you around” and then turned towards the on-call room.
“Xiaodong,” Tang Suoyan called out to him.
Tao Xiaodong looked over his shoulder.
In truth, Tang Suoyan didn’t call him for any particular reason, the name had fallen from his lips spontaneously, without conscious thought, so there wasn’t anything to fill the silence after calling hold of the other.
He ducked his head down in a faint smile, then said, “It’s nothing, you should head back soon.”
Tao Xiaodong gazed at him for two seconds before abruptly walking back, leaning close to Tang Suoyan’s ear and whispering, “Miss you.
Happy New Year.”
Tang Suoyan looked at him and the mirth in Tao Xiaodong’s eyes.
Tang Suoyan told him, “And I, you.
Happy New Year.”
Tao Xiaodong turned and left with a jaunty wave of his hand.
He snuck into the on-call room to drop off the dumplings, then hurried out before anyone noticed him.
At this time, there wasn’t much traffic on the road, he’d only come across a few cars on the way back.
Once home, he could hear the two little ones listening to the Spring Festival Gala on the couch; one unable to watch, the other lazy to watch.
“You’re back” Tao Huainan greeted lazily.
Tao Xiaodong went yeah and took off his coat, setting it on the back of a chair, then went to wash his hands.
Tao Huainan asked, “There are still dumplings.
Have you eaten”
Tao Xiaodong headed to the kitchen to look for them himself.
Chi Cheng had especially kept a plate for him; Tao Xiaodong ate two, and Chi Cheng came over wanting to heat them up for him, but Tao Xiaodong waved him off, saying that he had enough.
He really wasn’t hungry.
He’d only come over to eat a few of the dumplings that his brothers cooked.
Tao Huainan was getting sleepy.
When Tao Xiaodong settled down on the carpet next to the couch, Tao Huainan extended his arm and stuffed a hand under his brother’s cap.
He was an early sleeper, thus fell asleep before the Spring Festival Gala ended.
Even asleep, his hand remained curled under Tao Xiaodong’s cap.
Tao Xiaodong reached behind to gently pry out his hand, telling Chi Cheng, “You should go to bed soon.”
Chi Cheng said, “Ge, you should rest early, too.”
Tao Xiaodong yawned.
“I’ll give you your red packet in the morning tomorrow.”
Smiling, Chi Cheng took out a red packet from his pyjama pocket and handed it to Tao Xiaodong.
Tao Xiaodong arched an eyebrow, looking at the red packet and then at the boy.
Chi Cheng said, “For you.”
Naturally, it wasn’t as hefty as the red packet that Tao Xiaodong gave them every year, but it was still substantial.
Tao Xiaodong received it and kept it in his pocket, and said simply without further questions, “Thank you, Ku ge.”
“Don’t mention it, Ge, take care.” Then, Chi Cheng went to carry Tao Huainan.
Ever since Tao Xiaodong broke his hand, he hadn’t been able to move Tao Huainan around; Chi Cheng was afraid to let him do the heavy lifting lest he set back the progress.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t insist on helping.
He didn’t really dare to exert much strength with his hand, further, the boy could handle it; Tao Huainan had grown up in Chi Cheng’s hands.
This was Tao Xiaodong’s first time receiving a red packet from one of his younger brothers.
He immediately slid it under his pillow when he returned to his room as per tradition to ward off evil spirits.
It was an indescribable feeling, and it was also at this moment that Tao Xiaodong had this sense that his little brothers had, indeed, grown up.
Even the tanned and skinny and grubby boy that he had picked up all those years ago was now able to give him red packets on the Lunar New Year.
It was possibly scholarship money; Chi Cheng had exceptional grades.
Smiling, Tao Xiaodong fished it out from under his pillow again, then sent a photo to Tang Suoyan: From Ku ge.
Give you half when you return.
Tang Suoyan returned on Tuesday afternoon.
It was just past lunch hour.
Tao Xiaodong and Tao Huainan were playing poker with Braille playing cards.
While drawing the card, Tao Huainan would feel the corner with his thumb.
Tao Xiaodong often used this method to train the boy’s memory.
Tao Huainan was a clever child, often memorising his hand after a single touch.
The blind child had to count on his intuition if he wanted to win.
On the other hand, all Tao Xiaodong had to do was crane his neck to see what cards the boy held.
Chi Cheng was revising in his room.
When he came out to use the bathroom, he happened to chance across Tao Xiaodong moving closer for a look at the other’s cards, and he told Tao Huainan, “Feel the cards face-down.”
“Huh” Tao Huainan turned his head in that direction.
“Ge has been peeking at your cards.” With that, Chi Cheng went to the bathroom.
Tao Huainan hissed unhappily, scolding his brother, “You have the nerve to scam the blind!”
Tao Xiaodong doubled over in laughter, and it was during this that the doorbell rang.
Tao Xiaodong got up to get the door, and seeing Tang Suoyan outside the door startled him.
His smile had barely faded before brightening further.
“I could hear your laughter from outside.
What were you laughing about” Tang Suoyan wondered as he entered.
“I was playing poker with Xiao Nan.” Tao Xiaodong asked him, “Why didn’t you call me when you got off work I could have fetched you.”
“A colleague ferried me over.” While Chi Cheng hadn’t come out from the bathroom and Tao Huainan couldn’t see, Tang Suoyan wound an arm around Tao Xiaodong, pressing their lips together and even biting once with moderate pressure.
Tao Xiaodong reacted extremely quickly, at once returning the embrace.
Tao Huainan felt his way over on his own and, touching Tang Suoyan’s sleeve, he excitedly called Tang ge.
Despite their position as role models, the two men were unscrupulous, only separating when the child had come right before them.
Tang Suoyan gave a response and then led him by the hand to sit on the couch.
This was Tang Suoyan’s first time over.
He had been too busy before to make time to come over.
He had found his way up by the unit number that Tao Xiaodong had previously provided him with.
Tao Huainan had always liked him.
The other was Dr.
Tang before, but now that he was considered family, he had to call him Ge.
Exiting the bathroom, Chi Cheng came over and greeted “Tang ge.”
Tang Suoyan gave the two younger brothers red packets.
Tao Huainan accepted it with a merry laugh, going “Thanks, Ge.” Tang Suoyan patted his head and chatted with him.
Tang Suoyan hadn’t gotten much rest in recent days.
Tao Xiaodong only let him chat with Tao Huainan for a while before putting a stop to it, pushing him to his bedroom to catch up on sleep.
Despite Tang Suoyan’s reassurances, Tao Xiaodong wasn’t hearing it.
“Not another word of that, you’ve lost weight.”
Tang Suoyan was truly exhausted and did need to rest.
He lay on Tao Xiaodong’s bed and held Tao Xiaodong’s wrist, not letting him leave.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t intend to, at any rate.
The door wasn’t closed so they didn’t dare to say much.
With Tao Huainan’s sharp hearing, he would be able to catch anything that they said.
Tao Xiaodong quietly kissed Tang Suoyan on the lips.
It was meant to be a fleeting press, but Tang Suoyan didn’t let him go, keeping him in place, also squeezing his waist through the clothes.
It was completely indecorous.
The two men didn’t even dare to breathe too loudly in fear that the little ones would be able to hear them.
Their minds were clear.
Yes, they were setting a poor example like this, but it was truly hard to hold back when Tang Suoyan had been gone for several days.
Considering how intimate they currently were, this separation had stretched on for way too long.
Even so, that didn’t allow them to really fool around now.
In the end, Tang Suoyan could only keep holding Tao Xiaodong, hand clasped on the latter’s nape.
Tao Xiaodong leaned on him, burying his face in the hollow of his shoulder, nosing the hard collarbone, slowly calming himself.
Tang Suoyan pressed a kiss to Tao Xiaodong’s ear, holding the soft outer shell between his lips.
Tao Xiaodong raised his head and looked into Tang Suoyan’s eyes, mouthing, ‘We really have no shame.’
Smiling, Tang Suoyan caressed his neck and shut his eyes.
Tang Suoyan fell asleep and Tao Xiaodong kept him company.
Under the duvet, Tang Suoyan’s hand rested on Tao Xiaodong’s stomach.
This was his spot now; his hand would always migrate there whenever he slept.
Tao Huainan eventually went to take his afternoon nap as well.
When passing by the room, he’d even helped them shut the door.
Tang Suoyan slept for three more hours.
His fatigue granted him deep sleep.
Tao Xiaodong, held in place meanwhile, made no attempts to move while Tang Suoyan slept next to him.
During this, his phone rang, rousing Tang Suoyan from his sleep.
His eyes cracked open, but Tao Xiaodong whispered “Go back to sleep.”
The next time he awoke was at his own time.
He opened his eyes to find that Tao Xiaodong was also looking back at him, and they immediately locked eyes.
It was a comfortable feeling.
Tang Suoyan wasn’t fully awake yet, and his smile curved ever so slightly.
“Xiaodong,” he called.
Tao Xiaodong went “un” and asked softly, “Awake yet”
Tang Suoyan blinked.
And so Tao Xiaodong said, “Sleep for a while more, then.”
Tang Suoyan pulled him into his arms, enjoying the warmth emanating from his body.
Tao Xiaodong was a warm person, to start.
Anyone by his side would be softened by his warmth.
He was someone with a positive outlook on life.
He wasn’t afraid of hard work; he wasn’t afraid of what it took as long as it enabled him to live a good life.
Life, in fact, wasn’t afraid of hardship either.
It was only with that was there then proper semblance of living.
Tang Suoyan only had the time to eat the dumplings from Lunar New Year Eve at dawn, and he could tell from the moment he popped one into his mouth that his parents had made them.
He also only then had the time to open the few messages Tao Xiaodong had sent him, reading them as he ate the dumplings, and then knew that someone was waiting for him at home.
Living with someone like this could thaw even the frostiest of people.
He had a heartwarming vigour within him, which offered the people around him a sense of reliability, unfazed by anything that life threw.
The end of the Spring Festival heralded the beginning of spring, soft shoots breaking the earth.
Tao Xiaodong had spent the entire last year romancing the doctor, and thus many things took the back seat.
Now that he had succeeded and life had settled down, he had to travel again come spring.
He had places to be and money to earn.
He couldn’t just stop everything; there would be nothing to look forward to if he did.
Life moved on and one had to aspire for more.
During this year, Tao Xiaodong carried out two tattoo masterclasses, organised an international convention, and went to Europe to participate in several other conventions, meeting many friends.
The show that they were skeptical about last year actually trended for a while, thrusting tattoo culture into the public eye.
The show went on to run for another season.
While Da Huang didn’t go back for the second season, Tao Xiaodong’s name still frequently popped up.
During this year, the academic project that Tang Suoyan was working on received another award.
Consultant Tang was as busy as ever, starting two experimental projects, leading the doctorates under Professor Xu in research, and making new findings.
Tao Xiaodong did another medical mission trip with San Hospital, even funding ten bookshops for blind children; Tang Suoyan saved another dozen of people who had been forsaken and rejected by other hospitals; Tao Huainan and Chi Cheng entered their junior year in high school.
All this happened this year.
Then, Lunar New Year’s dumplings and the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth.
These came back for another cycle, and that was another year passed.
Tao Xiaodong first ate glutinous rice balls, as was traditional on the fifteenth night of the first lunar month, when he was six.
His father had boiled a whole basket.
That night, Tao Xiaodong was so full from the rice balls that he couldn’t sleep, admiring the full moon for half the night instead.
On the fifteenth of this new lunar year, Tao Xiaodong admired the moon from the balcony with Tang Suoyan, a pot of tea between them, a vase of blooming flowers beside them.
Recalling this, Tao Xiaodong smiled and shared the story with Tang Suoyan.
Then, he mused for a moment, smiling absently as he said, “It’s been exactly thirty years.”
Time slipped by and before he knew it, he was already thirty-six.