Shu; honorific for uncle, familial or otherwise.
Da; honorific that means big.
Somewhat dage (big brother) vibe here.
Tong Ning’s voice was hoarse as he said that he wanted to end it.
His eyes were torn and agonised, yet he didn’t make any move to take his words back.
In spite of what was said, Tang Suoyan calmly looked at him and asked, “Why Because you can’t accept it”
Tong Ning shook his head.
His fingers scratched the cloth of his pants.
“Yan ge, I’m starting to feel that I’ve had enough of this.
Our life together is like an empty shell.”
“Which part of it” Tang Suoyan asked him bluntly.
Tong Ning didn’t dare to meet his eyes.
His gaze fixated on a spot slightly beneath his eye level.
“Give an example.”
“Don’t you feel so” Tong Ning asked him.
“For example, how we’ve been separated for so many days, yet you couldn’t even remember what our fight was about.
I don’t think that’s how a relationship should be.
We are passing our days in numbness.”
Tang Suoyan leaned on the sofa and pinched the bridge of his nose, but didn’t offer up any defence for himself.
“I can hardly even remember how we used to be.
I don’t know if it’s the same as we are now,” Tong Ning slowly exhaled the breath he held.
“I don’t even want to see you.
I feel pressured.
I’m scared that you want to do those things with me.
I’m unable to refuse but I’m really, really… repulsed by it.
All of this is tiring me out.
I spend every day on edge, avoiding you, and afraid to see you.”
Tang Suoyan suddenly smiled.
He leaned into the sofa’s backrest and laughed derisively.
“You’re making me sound like a sex maniac.”
Too long had passed since their last time; it was probable that the number of times they had sex in the entirety of last year could be counted on one hand.
Tong Ning was two years younger than Tang Suoyan.
Over the years, Tang Suoyan had conceded step after step to him, indulging his every whim.
Further, Tang Suoyan was often busy with work; the actual amount of time they spent in each other’s presence was limited.
With Tong Ning not being fond of it, the number of times they had sex was far less than a regular pair of sweethearts.
“I know that this isn’t a problem with you.
It’s what normal people ought to have.
It’s my problem,” Tong Ning’s fingers picked at his dress pants, practically pulling words from between his teeth.
“But I can’t control it.”
Tang Suoyan didn’t mince a single word today.
Every word he said was incisive.
“You get aroused as well.”
This made Tong Ning feel a trace of awkwardness.
He bit his lower lip, nodding.
My body reacts to it.
But my mind can’t accept it.”
“What can’t you accept Which step” Tang Suoyan stared steadfastly at him, expressionless.
Tong Ning said, “Every step.”
It was almost comical how the two of them were sitting together discussing something like this.
What was even more ludicrous was that they were partners who had been in a relationship for over a decade.
Tang Suoyan asked Tong Ning if he wanted to see a psychologist.
Tong Ning was adamant that he didn’t need it as it wasn’t a psychological problem.
We’re sorry for MTLers or people who like using reading mode, but our translations keep getting stolen by aggregators so we’re going to bring back the copy protection.
If you need to MTL please retype the gibberish parts.
He felt that it was hideous and shameful.
That was the basest of human desire, and he hated how two people would be stark naked, copulating like animals.
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Tang Suoyan’s sitting posture was completely upright.
He looked into Tong Ning’s eyes, which were reddened as the other quietly listened to him speak.
“The first thing you think of whenever we meet with problems is to break up, then throw all of it to me and have me resolve it.
I don’t know what are your views on homosexual relationships, but, in my opinion, they are no different from regular relationships and marriage.”
Tang Suoyan’s voice was pleasant to listen to.
The low-pitched timbre when he spoke was magnetic, making the ears tingle.
But today, what came out of his mouth weren’t sweet nothings that could move the heart.
“Breaking up falls out of your mouth like it’s nothing.
In the past, when your temper flared, I just took it as a matter of your age.
I coaxed you and I went along with you.
But we can’t just keep separating and reconciling based on your moods, tugging back and forth like this until our seventies or eighties.
You said that you’ve grown numb to this cycle already.
I don’t know whether you’ve become completely numb or if you still feel any pain—I only know that, even until now, I haven’t gotten used to this game of yours.
It’s unbearable for me.”
Tong Ning listened to him speak without interrupting.
When Tang Suoyan spoke of his hurt, Tong Ning lifted his gaze and looked at him.
Their eyes met.
The intense emotion in Tang Suoyan’s eyes caused Tong Ning’s breathing to hitch, and he immediately averted his gaze.
“This time, I’m giving you a chance to take back your words, Tong Ning.”
Tang Suoyan usually called him Xiao Ning, never directly by name.
Yet today, time after time, he called him Tong Ning.
“Tong Ning,” he repeated.
He gazed unwaveringly at the other’s face.
“Think carefully before you speak.
I assure you that if you end it this time, I won’t give you a second chance to look back.
I don’t know what position our many years living together, as well as I, hold in your heart.
I only know that I can’t see that you care.
You throw this relationship and I away by your whims.”
Tong Ning seemed to want to speak.
He opened his mouth, but Tang Suoyan didn’t give him the opportunity.
“You’ve changed a lot since coming back to the country.
You didn’t want to return; I know that.
I can actually keep indulging you, coaxing you when you get upset.
I can do all of that.
But the premise first has to be that you like it.
That you need it.
Since you dislike it this much, then forget it.
Let’s end it.
That’s your line; it’s actually quite useful.”
Once Tang Suoyan was through, he turned in, going into the guest room.
He left the master bedroom for Tong Ning; Tong Ning’s sleepwear were still there.
However, he didn’t change into them.
Tong Ning left in the middle of the night, and Tang Suoyan was aware of exactly when he did.
Tang Suoyan wasn’t asleep.
He knew that Tong Ning had remained seated on the sofa, and even when the door clicked shut, Tang Suoyan didn’t open his eyes.
With an arm over his forehead, he maintained this stillness for a very long time.
Tao Xiaodong had three stores in total, but he was more often than not in the newest one.
It was the largest and housed the most staff—a dozen or so, not including tattooists.
There were two bosses in charge; Tao Xiaodong and Huang Yida.
Huang Yida was a stockily built man, more bulk than fat, who loved drinking tea.
He was in his forties and had been business partners with Tao Xiaodong for over a decade now.
At the start, Tao Xiaodong only had talent but no capital.
Huang Yida had sponsored him, opening a store and starting a brand for him.
These sworn brothers had never fallen out all these years, nor had their faces ever turned livid over affairs involving money.
Fast forward to the present, Tao Xiaodong had everything—he had the reputation and he had the dollars.
Even the money Huang Yida invested in him back in the days was pocket change in comparison to what he had now.
But Tao Xiaodong didn’t make any mention of it, even scolding Huang Yida to the curb when the latter took the initiative to propose dissolving their business partnership.
Family shouldn’t speak like they’re not one—that was what Tao Xiaodong would say every time.
The young ones in the parlour would call Huang Yida ‘Yida shu‘, and the older ones would call him ‘Da Huang’.
Tao Xiaodong was going abroad next month and wouldn’t be back until two months later.
He was always on the road, visiting a tattooist he wanted to watch and learn from.
There was no lack of things to explore.
There was always someone more talented in the world, and artistic expression was limitless.
Every time he left, all business matters would be flung to Huang Yida.
In truth, Tao Xiaodong was rather dependent on the other. Da Huang had given him a lot of freedom over the years, letting him leave as he pleased and do as he willed.
He was a free spirit, going where the wind blew.
Even so, Huang Yida had never taken it up with him.
In his words, just tell me what you want to do and we’ll make it work.
This new parlour was a small building of more than a thousand square feet, situated in an upscale commercial distinct where every inch of land was exorbitantly priced. Da Huang hadn’t rented it but directly bought the land.
At that time, Tao Xiaodong actually didn’t have that much money in his hands; Da Huang practically smashed all his liquid and non-liquid assets into this one investment, deciding this plan at the last minute without leaving time to prepare beforehand.
Tao Xiaodong had wavered a bit, but Da Huang pretty much had it handled, telling him, “We go big or we go home.”
Da Huang was quick and resolute, a true man of action.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t say a single word of thanks, and really, there was no need for that between them; saying it would only put distance between them.
“Dong ge, are you attending the Guangzhou convention that Yan Xian is organising I saw that they featured you on their Weibo yesterday Did you tell them that you’re going” Huan Ge came up to him and asked the moment that Tao Xiaodong set foot in the parlour.
Tao Xiaodong lifted his brows.
“They’ve never mentioned it to me.
I don’t have time next month, I’ll be out.”
“Huh But they look like they’ve already confirmed us on their line-up.
I’ll go ask Xida shu.”
Huan Ge’s job was to manage the work accounts on the various social media platforms.
He had studied Broadcast and Media Operations in university and came here not long after graduation.
It was about to be his third year working here now.
“What is it that you want to ask me” Huang Yida just arrived as well, right in time to hear Huan Ge say that, and asked from behind him.
Huan Ge didn’t turn his head.
It was only when Tao Xiaodong pointed behind him that he looked over, went “ah”, and asked once more.
Huang Yida was taken back as well.
“Nothing of that sort.
They didn’t come to me.
Wasn’t he rather miffed with us the last time He hasn’t called me since.”
Baffled, Huan Ge asked, “So are we going Should I share that Weibo post”
Tao Xiaodong gave it a thought before asking Huang Yida, “I definitely can’t make it.
How about you Do you want to go”
Huang Yida fumed.
“If we do a no-show then those over there would definitely get their panties in a twist, thinking that we’re deliberately trying to show them up.
I’ll just make the trip.
We can’t not go when they’ve already put out the word.”
Tao Xiaodong laughed.
“Yan Xian is as petty as ever.”
It was good to be as sociable as Tao Xiaodong was.
Still, there was a drawback to this, and it was that everyone believed that they were on good terms with him.
They’d expect him to throw in his support whenever they needed it, and not showing up would be taking their friendship for a joke.
This was vexing, because Tao Xiaodong really didn’t have that much time in the first place.
Yan Xian was a brilliant tattoo artist from another city who started his own eponymous business.
Tao Xiaodong had known him for many years.
This guy was quick to anger and fastidious about the smallest things.
After asking this, Huan Ge moved one side to study.
He was preparing to take his graduate entrance examinations.
The workload on the staff here wasn’t heavy.
Once they were done with their tasks, they were relatively free to do as they liked; they could do their own work or even choose to learn the craft from the tattooists here.
There were around ten tattoo artists working full-time in the store.
Most of them had followed Tao Xiaodong for a long time, and the newest few had joined about two years back.
Each had their own style and were all excellent tattooists in their own right.
There were also two Europeans on their roster, along with a Japanese tattooist.
Aside from Tao Xiaodong, they were the ones with the fullest schedules.
Tao Xiaodong had to finish all his pending jobs before he left, so he was tight on time during this period to get them done.
It was a full-back tattoo lined up for today.
Tao Xiaodong rarely took small inks; they more often than not covered a large area.
The client was a young man with relatively low pain tolerance, constantly hissing and panting in front of him.
What did he want to have for lunch, Tao Xiaodong asked him, they’d order it for him from downstairs.
The young bloke said, “I can’t stomach anything right now.
Don’t mind me.
Just an iced cola to numb the pain and I’ll be good.”
“Eat up, you’ll have to keep at this until the evening.
You won’t be able to last,” Tao Xiaodong told him.
The young bloke gave a resigned sigh.
“Anything will do, in that case.”
“Get a set meal.
The set meals here are goddamn **ing good,” another client told him from the side.
There was a kitchen downstairs that made appetising food, nicely portioned for each customer, and delivered right up to their doorstep.
A young lady from the parlour brought the food up, boxed lunches stacked on top of each other on a large tray.
“Is there ice, miss Can you send a glass of ice up” The client, lying on his belly in front of Tao Xiaodong, spoke to the young woman who brought up his lunch.
The woman didn’t even look at him, turning around immediately after passing him the set meal.
“Young miss” The bloke shouted at her, “Ice!”
She continued to ignore him, not sparing him a single glance.
He turned his head to look at Tao Xiaodong, thrown by the loftiness of the people working here.
Tao Xiaodong saw the look in his eyes and said, “Someone’s already on it.”
“Ah, thanks.” The young bloke turned back.
At this time, the guy delivering the ice came up.
He set the glass down on the stand next to the client and smiled at him.
The bloke politely told him thanks.
Without deigning him a response, the youth walked off.
This client was finally unable to hold back, questioning, “No way.
Dong ge, are all of you that work here such personalities”
Tao Xiaodong smiled at him through the mask.
These eyes of his always seemed bright with faint mirth.
He angled his chin towards the youth that just left, saying, “Don’t be picky.
He can’t speak.”
The young bloke blinked.
He pointed at his larynx.
“Can’t speak Or… can’t speak.”
The young bloke was appalled.
He asked again, “Then, that beauty just now…”
Tao Xiaodong pointed to his ear with the hand that he used to change the needles.