When ordering, the waiter asked if they had any dietary restrictions, to which Tao Xiaodong was quick to answer, “No ginger.”
The waiter respectfully said, “All right.
Tao Xiaodong looked at Tang Suoyan, smiling as he asked, “Is there anything else”
Tang Suoyan actually kept a straight face, solemnly saying, “That’s all.”
Tao Xiaodong took a sip of his water; Tang Suoyan took a sip of his water as well.
The two men made eye contact, and their lips involuntarily curled with mirth.
When the waiter left, Tao Huainan looked lost.
“Who doesn’t eat ginger”
“Me,” Tang Suoyan candidly confessed.
They’d clearly dined together every day on the trip, yet never was it mentioned.
Furthermore, not liking to eat ginger, scallions, or whatnot—food preferences as trivial as these—sounded more like something that only a child would say.
It seemed jarring and dissonant against Tang Suoyan’s staid bearing.
“Huh…” Tao Huainan was rather surprised, tempted to smile but tactful enough not to.
“It was just a passing remark,” said Tang Suoyan, “but your brother insists on bringing it up.”
“There you see.
I forgot last time, how could I forget again this time” Tao Xiaodong asked Tang Suoyan, “Have you been busy lately”
Tang Suoyan said that it wasn’t too bad.
The young ones at the table didn’t speak much.
Chi Cheng had never been one to talk much, and Tao Huainan’s chatter lessened when he ate.
One was engrossed in serving the communal dishes, while the other focused his attention on eating.
Upon biting a bell pepper, Tao Huainan elbowed Chi Cheng with a frown.
And a while later when he tasted a leafy vegetable, he elbowed him again.
The adults were in the midst of conversation when Tang Suoyan suddenly called out to Xiao Nan.
Tao Huainan answered, “Yeah”
“You don’t like eating that”
Tao Huainan immediately beamed.
“Nothing of that sort.”
“He bullies his xiao-Ge,” Tao Xiaodong exposed him, “making easy pickings of an honest man.”
“Vitamin A.” Tang Suoyan asked, “How many times do I have to repeat it to you”
“You don’t have to, I remember.” Tao Huainan’s face was the picture of obedience.
“I’ll make sure to eat them.
Carry on with your conversation.”
Tang Suoyan told Chi Cheng, “Give him his greens.”
As such, Chi Cheng set some in Tao Huainan’s bowl, and Tao Huainan bowed his head, meekly eating them.
Tang Suoyan said to Tao Xiaodong, “I’m beginning to realise that Xiao Nan has a cunning streak.”
“You’re only noticing this now” Tao Xiaodong huffed in laughter.
“He’s a little fox.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t tell before.”
After a beat, Tao Xiaodong said, “Whose brother do you think he is Can any brother of mine really be that well-behaved inside and out It’s just that you don’t see it; if you do, you’d probably want to smack him.
The children under my roof are both full of tricks.”
Hearing this, Tang Suoyan chuckled and looked at him, asking, “And you”
Tao Xiaodong looked back at him, nodding.
“Even more so.”
Tang Suoyan lifted his brows.
“How much more”
Tao Xiaodong, “It’s not about how much more but how they are used.”
He was the first to crack at his own words, laughing, then saying after a moment’s thought, “If my tricks are to take in one person, then it’s quite enough.”
Tang Suoyan averted his gaze, took a sip of water from his raised glass, and nodded with a faint smile.
Having dinner on a weekday night wouldn’t take long when there was still work to attend to the next day.
The dining establishment wasn’t too far from Tang Suoyan’s residence—a location Tao Xiaodong had deliberately chosen, so that Tang Suoyan wouldn’t waste too much time on the road.
Actually, Tang Suoyan often frequented this restaurant, simply that he hadn’t mentioned it earlier.
The manager, coming with the bill, saw that it was him and greeted him.
Tang Suoyan returned the greeting, remaining polite and respectful.
Watching his cordial exchange with someone else reminded Tao Xiaodong of the first impression that Tang Suoyan had given him.
He was kind, but also cool and distant.
At this thought, Tao Xiaodong unwittingly drew the association to Tong Ning, casting his mind back to the last conversation when Tang Suoyan said that they were, inherently, actually the same.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t have a deep understanding of Tong Ning.
Their few interactions were shallow and fleeting.
Yet, he kept feeling that this view was erroneous.
They weren’t actually that similar.
After a few minutes, Tao Xiaodong regretted it slightly.
He shouldn’t have let his thoughts disperse so swiftly earlier, much less thought of Tong Ning.
Basically, he jinxed it.
Coming face to face with Tong Ning stirred a sliver of embarrassment in Tao Xiaodong—not that he himself had anything to be embarrassed about, but that old flames meeting by happenstance felt like a rather awkward scene to him.
Behind this awkwardness was an inexplicable lack of clarity, as well as an even more uncomfortable remorse from an uninvolved party witnessing the demise of a decade-long relationship.
Tong Ning and Tang Suoyan naturally saw each other as well.
Their eyes met, and they both didn’t break the stillness.
The same composure rested on their faces, showing neither surprise nor even a flicker in their expressions.
Nobody could tell if there was any fluctuation in their hearts, but in any case, there was nothing that anyone could read from their faces.
It was truly as though the past had passed, that this was a casual encounter between two acquaintances.
Tao Xiaodong spoke first, greeting, “Dr.
“Director Tao,” Tong Ning nodded and greeted him in kind, then turned to Tang Suoyan and called, “Yan ge.”
This personal address touched off thoughts in three minds.
If counting in the one little fox a short distance away, that would be five people and four churning minds.
Tang Suoyan acknowledged it, then asked, “Are you here for dinner, too”
“Mn.” Tong Ning’s head turned back towards his car, at which time a person just happened to alight.
He said, “My colleague did me a favour, so I’m treating him to dinner.”
This colleague obviously recognised Tang Suoyan, smiling as he waved at him.
From the looks of it, he was still oblivious to the fact that the two had already separated.
Tong Ning turned his eyes back to Tang Suoyan and Tao Xiaodong before him, asking Tao Xiaodong, “Is that your younger brother You’ve mentioned him before.”
Tao Xiaodong nodded.
“Yeah, these are my brothers.”
“They’re rather handsome,” Tong Ning smiled faintly, “like you.”
Tao Xiaodong thanked him with a smile.
And that was all he said here; anything more would be unbefitting of the awkward status he presently held.
As it happened, many things could be chalked down to coincidence.
Other than travelling on medical mission trips, Tong Ning even chanced upon the only two times that Tao Xiaodong and Tang Suoyan had dined out together in the city.
The moral of the story was that people couldn’t dwell on dishonourable thoughts; once they did, their hearts wouldn’t be able to rest at ease.
Taking it further, it was to be above board in one’s conduct, for it was useless to try and hide it from the eyes of those who should be seeing it anyway.
They parted ways from each other.
Tao Xiaodong and Tong Ning exchanged see you laters; the ones who were going for their meal, went for their meal, and the ones who were leaving, left.
This run-into shook things up so much that Tao Xiaodong and Tang Suoyan were similarly a little tongue-tied when bidding their goodbyes.
Affecting nonchalance, Tao Xiaodong said to meet up again next time.
With an “mm”, Tang Suoyan also bid the two young ones goodbye as well, then said to Tao Xiaodong, “Remember to send me a photo of your brother’s eye in two days.”
“I got it,” Tao Xiaodong said.
And so they each went on separate ways.
At that time, Tao Xiaodong thought that he had behaved quite naturally, but afterwards he thought—natural my ass.
A natural course of action would be to bring up Tong Ning; ask Tang Suoyan how he felt seeing Dr.
Tong, and then lead it on to ‘why don’t you guys talk more’.
Not mentioning it conversely made him seem even more awkward than Tang Suoyan did.
Tao Xiaodong had never been one to blunder his words, but this time he truly felt that he hadn’t rounded it off nicely.
Three days later, Chi Cheng’s eye was much better.
Tao Xiaodong took a photo and sent it to Tang Suoyan, saying: It’s okay now, Yan ge.
He deliberately picked nine in the morning, the busiest hour for doctors, to send it out.
At this time, Tang Suoyan wouldn’t have his phone on him; he would either be performing surgery or holding consults.
Therefore, Tang Suoyan didn’t follow up on this text the whole morning, and when he did it was past noon: It’s recovering well.
Presently, Tao Xiaodong had finished his lunch and was munching on a melon.
He glanced at his phone, didn’t respond, and tucked it back into his pocket.
After the third slice, he rinsed his mouth and wiped his lips, then headed up to work on some designs.
Once things lost their shine, that was when too many loose ends would be exposed.
To get along comfortably in a relationship, boundaries were of the utmost importance.
Knowing what to say and how far to take a joke was an unspoken acquiescence between two parties, and it was within these boundaries everyone could get along comfortably.
However, it was easy to incur annoyance if too much of one’s intent was exposed, and even if the other wasn’t annoyed, it easily put someone in a spot.
As Tao Xiaodong seldom put people in a spot, he didn’t often incur annoyance.
Originally, he hadn’t even planned to contact Tang Suoyan during this time frame.
This meeting was purely an accident, so after this meeting, Tao Xiaodong had no plans for them to see each other again soon.
He even went travelling.
He met some old friends, cleared his mind, and saw some outstanding tattoos.
On the flip side, Tang Suoyan was still shuttling back and forth between home and the hospital.
His life was quite predictable in its monotony, but there was no true tedium in the hospital.
Every patient he handled was more difficult than the next, and every day that he donned his white coat was a new challenge.
Tong Ning dropped by a week after that chance encounter.
After pulling overtime, Tang Suoyan came out of the elevator to see someone standing at the doorstep of his apartment.
Tong Ning looked at him, and called “Yan ge.”
His brows lifted, and he questioned, “Yes”
Tong Ning said quietly, “I’m here to get something.”
“What is it” Tang Suoyan asked him while unlocking the door.
In fact, he hadn’t changed his passcode; Tong Ning knew this.
It isn’t at mine; I remember leaving it in the study,” said Tong Ning.
“Mm.” Tang Suoyan asked him, “How did you get here”
“I drove straight over after work.” Every sentence from Tong Ning directly answered the question.
Tang Suoyan didn’t continue to pay him mind after entering.
He washed his hands and changed out of his clothes, while Tong Ning helped himself to indoor slippers and went into the study.
When the other came out with a folder, Tang Suoyan asked him, “You found it”
“Yeah.” Tong Ning briefly flipped through it.
“I’m leaving now, then.”
Tang Suoyan nodded.
Tong Ning said okay, took his things, and changed into his shoes at the door.
Tang Suoyan watched him, but Tong Ning didn’t immediately turn to leave after putting on his shoes.
He stood still for a while, then slowly spoke, asking Tang Suoyan with slight hesitance, “Are you and Xiaodong… going out now”
This question was a bit inappropriate.
Tang Suoyan raised his brows marginally, looking at him.
Tong Ning pursed his lips.
Tang Suoyan didn’t answer, so his question turned more direct, “Are you going out with Xiaodong”
Tang Suoyan calmly spoke, “Xiaodong is a nice guy.”
Tong Ning looked straight at him, biting on his tongue.
The arch of Tang Suoyan’s brows raised further.
He asked, “What are you trying to say”
Tong Ning kept silent for a long time, but ultimately didn’t touch on it, simply dismissing, “It’s not important.”
With that, he turned and left, softly closing the door behind him.
The click of the door as it shut was heavy and muted.
Previously posted 3/6/22 on CG
Previous: Chapter 21
Next: Chapter 23
Misc t/n about nuance lost in translation:
The last few lines of dialogue can be read in different ways according to context.
Given that the subtext is about the status of a relationship, 你們好嗎 can take on another meaning, which is are the two of you together yet.
I tweaked it slightly to keep it vague but understandable (hopefully).
But if it were a normal conversation, below is how it will be read at face value.
[…] asking Tang Suoyan with slight hesitance, “Are you and Xiaodong… doing well”
[…] Tang Suoyan didn’t answer, so his (Tong Ning’s) question turned more direct, “How are you (plural) doing”
Tang Suoyan calmly spoke.
“We’re doing well.
Xiaodong has a good character.” (Lit.
translation, but it can be simplified to ‘Xiaodong is a nice guy’ (used above) due to the functional usage of this phrase.)
What actually happened in this conversation was that Tong Ning was subtly asking whether Tang Suoyan and Tao Xiaodong are together.
Though Tang Suoyan understood him (staying silent at first), he deliberately sidestepped the question by taking it by the face value meaning (in this t/n) when Tong Ning pressed for an answer.
This isn’t the only described instance that Tong Ning has played with words so far.
Actually, the classic words that Tong Ning uses for breaking up, ‘let’s end it’ [算了], can also double as ‘let’s drop this (topic/argument)’.
But considering the subsequent conversation in c6 and the cold war that usually follows their arguments, as well as the author describing their relationship as an on-and-off relationship, ‘let’s end it’ was the only way I could’ve interpreted it.
Nonetheless, it’s a less direct way of calling for break up, and due to this ambiguity the ‘end of relationship’ is less definite; i.e.
some consider that relationship might still be salvageable, and it’s up to them whether they want it to give up on it or coax the other party back.
This is the reason why Tang Suoyan was confirming that Tong Ning meant it for real in c6, and later described in narration that Tong Ning never spelled his words out in full in c12.