Uh-huh. Someone’s Yan ge doesn’t eat ginger.
Lao Lin nodded with a knowing smile.
Some of the rooms were closed as he had been busy with renovations lately.
He brought them to one with a small round table. Lao Lin didn’t follow them in but headed straight back to the kitchen.
The thing about round tables was that it was awkward whichever seat they took.
In the end, Tao Xiaodong sat next to Tang Suoyan, keeping an empty seat between them.
There was no one else around, just them both.
Tao Xiaodong had heard some stuff when being led in with the phantom touch on his back and now, with the sudden hush around them, he didn’t know how to respond.
The words were already spoken; Tang Suoyan wasn’t afraid to repeat them, either.
He wanted to clear the air, Tao Xiaodong knew.
There was nothing to cover up.
“I got together with Tong Ning when I was twenty-three.
That’s thirteen years, altogether.” They had just entered; the tea wasn’t even served yet.
Tang Suoyan opened a wet tissue packet and slowly wiped his hands.
“When we first got together, I never thought that we would break up one day.
That’s the truth.
At least, on my part, the thought never occurred to me.”
“But we have, and the years we spent together still exist.
No matter good or bad or how it ended, it did happen.”
He leaned over to take a wet wipe from the other side and tossed it to Tao Xiaodong for him to wipe his hands.
“If I said that Tong Ning doesn’t have a space in my heart or that I don’t know him, those would be lies.”
Tao Xiaodong opened his mouth and said, “That’s for sure.”
Tang Suoyan had long fingers.
As he spoke, he wiped his hands, and Tao Xiaodong’s gaze was riveted on them.
He heard Tang Suoyan say, “So, you will hear a lot of our history.
Even if not from me, you’ll hear about them from others, including the last time when Tang Ning told you about my hand.
There are still more of that, perhaps much more, even.”
A young lady knocked on the door and came in to serve tea, her movements slow and graceful.
Tang Suoyan didn’t continue to speak with her in the room.
The only sounds that broke the silence were the clinks of porcelain plates on marble as the table was set.
Tao Xiaodong uttered his thanks as she left.
When the door was closed again, Tao Xiaodong spoke first.
“You don’t have to tell me all these, Yan ge.”
Tao Xiaodong also began to wipe his hands, ducking his head as he smiled.
“It’s making me feel fluttery.
It’s like you’re trying to give me an explanation, but I really don’t need it.”
Tang Suoyan’s phone rang.
He took it out and glanced at it, then casually set it aside.
“I’m the brash type, I don’t think that much.
Besides, I’m already at this age.
I don’t really care about all that like the younger kids do.” Tao Xiaodong said to him, “I don’t mind, I mean it.
The past is the past, and the future is the future.
Yesterday and today are different; it’s meaningless to compare them.”
Tang Suoyan sipped his tea and looked at him.
“I just wanted to tell you: No matter where you and I end up in the future, that’s just between us.
No part of it would be due to Tong Ning’s influence.
Do you understand what I mean”
And this, Tao Xiaodong understood.
He understood at once.
And the dawning comprehension made his emotions soar, for today’s exchange touched too intimately.
Tong Ning and I are in the past, I don’t want you and I to be affected by him.
It was hard to discern which between ‘him and me’ and ‘you and me’ was closer to the heart, but the implicit ‘past’ and ‘future’ were crystal clear.
Translated on ninetysevenkoi.wordpress
– ❀ –
Please do not repost or retranslate.
Tong Ning sought Tang Suoyan out twice, at the hospital both times.
He was always all smiles, whereas Tang Suoyan kept a distance.
Tong Ning wasn’t as acerbic as before nor his temper as sharp.
The second time, he also broached the topic of ‘Xiaodong’.
Tang Suoyan didn’t engage and didn’t agree to dine.
Even till now, they hadn’t had any meals together.
After this meal with Tao Xiaodong, the atmosphere between them was, almost out of nowhere, charged with slight electricity that wasn’t there before.
Their dialogue was nuanced, subtly different from how they spoke to others.
Tao Xiaodong had some time to spare after delivering the lunches at noon, but he warmed the seat for no more than a few minutes before rising to leave.
Tang Suoyan asked him what he was always rushing off for.
Tao Xiaodong’s responding grin was filled with mischief.
“I only came to deliver food, not to use this as a pretext to chat you up.
If you want to talk, you’ll have to ask me out separately.”
Tang Suoyan smiled at that.
“Aren’t you the tricky one.”
“Didn’t I mention I’ve got more than enough tricks to take in one person.” Tao Xiaodong whisked the lunch box away and opened the door, turning his head back to say, “I’ll still come by tomorrow.”
By now, even Tao Huainan had caught wind of his brother’s daily escapades to the hospital.
It was rather late in the evening when Tao Xiaodong returned from the store.
Tao Huainan was still awake, sitting on the couch, listening to music.
Tao Xiaodong opened the door and walked in and Tao Huainan called out “Ge“.
“Still awake” Tao Xiaodong noticed him in his thin pyjamas, and asked, “Aren’t you cold”
“Nope.” Tao Huainan moved to his brother’s side to hold his hand, but Tao Xiaodong avoided him with an explanation that his hands were dirty, and so Tao Huainan held his wrist, following along.
Tao Xiaodong darted a look at him and scoffed at his height.
“When I was your age, I was close to one-eighty.”
“Aren’t I about there anyway” Tao Huainan was almost at his brother’s chin now.
“I think that this is enough.
Any taller and it’ll be hard for you guys to manhandle me around.”
“Manhandle you around Do you think that you’re still small enough for me to carry you around all day” Tao Xiaodong washed his hands and then touched the boy’s ear.
“Where’s Ku ge”
“Ku ge‘s listening to English.” Tao Huainan stood at the doorway of the bathroom in his brother’s room, listening to him shower.
After a while, he asked, “Are you having dinner with Dr.
Tang this week”
“Yeah.” Tao Xiaodong answered then sprung a question, “Do you particularly like Dr.
“Loads, it’ll be great if the two of you can speed it up and become a thing.” Tao Huainan beamed.
“Can you get it together How long has it been already”
The boy’s words startled Tao Xiaodong.
“What’s going on in your head every day”
“A lot.” Tao Huainan rapped a, rather pretty, knuckle on the bathroom door.
In Tao Xiaodong’s heart, he still saw Tao Huainan as a child.
The boy had many ideas but they were all childlike and innocent.
So, it really surprised him that such a sentence had sprung out of nowhere.
Then again, he mused, fair enough.
When he was at that age, he had already cycled through quite a number of girlfriends.
When Tang Suoyan asked about Tao Huainan, Tao Xiaodong even shared this with him.
He leaned his face against a hand, smilingly watching Tang Suoyan eat as he recounted Tao Huainan’s words.
Tang Suoyan paused.
He looked up and then asked, “Yeah, even Xiao Nan is asking you now, can you get it together”
“I can, I can,” Tao Xiaodong bobbed his head.
“I’m doing my best.”
“Keep doing your best, then.” Tang Suoyan smiled and carried on eating, his eyes crinkling softly at the corners.
Tang Suoyan ate slowly, one bite at a time, and Tao Xiaodong likewise took his time watching him eat.
Today was a Friday.
Tao Xiaodong asked him, “Are you on shift tomorrow”
“I’m not, I was just about to ask you out.
Are you free tomorrow” Tang Suoyan followed up.
“I am,” answered Tao Xiaodong.
“I’m having lunch with some friends tomorrow.
Since you’re free, do you want to come with me” Tang Suoyan glanced up and told him, “They are all doctors, my university classmates.”
“Sure.” Tao Xiaodong readily replied, “I’ll pick you up tomorrow.”
Tang Suoyan had expected Tao Xiaodong to hesitate, turning it over from a few angles; the way that the latter had agreed without a second thought took him aback.
Tao Xiaodong seemed to read his thoughts, saying with a chuckle, “Director Tao has no fear.
This is my chance, so how can I say no”
That was true.
It was indeed in character for Tao Xiaodong.
When Tao Xiaodong reached the community gates the next morning, he informed, “I’m here, Yan ge.
Come down whenever you’re ready.”
He was half an hour early; Tang Suoyan had just finished exercising and was about to shower.
Seeing the time, he said, “Why don’t you come up and take a seat”
“Are you sure that’s okay” Tao Xiaodong deliberately said, “I don’t want to impose.”
“I’m going to take a shower, you can come up to sit and listen.
But if you’re not feeling up to it then just wait downstairs for me.
I’ll be quick.” Tang Suoyan said to him on the phone.
Tao Xiaodong almost replied with something crass but the words did a sharp U-turn at the tip of his tongue before being swallowed back down.
He ended up saying, “I’d better wait for you downstairs.
There’s no hurry.”
Given their present relationship, Tao Xiaodong would feel awkward if he really went up to listen to Tang Suoyan shower.
They were not at that level of familiarity yet.
Moreover, there was no point for him to wait up there for something as quick as a shower, it wasn’t worth the trouble.
Food had to be savoured bite by bite, and a relationship had to be fostered step by step.
Tao Xiaodong found it novel every time he saw Tang Suoyan dressing more casually.
It was a good look on him.
Naturally, he felt the same even when the other dressed up for work and in his white coat.
The fact was, this guy was eye-catching no matter what he wore.
So long as he dressed in a slightly different style, it would alter the temperament he exuded.
Tao Xiaodong dressed more formally today; he was all primped up.
He had to make a good first impression, after all.
When they arrived at the hotel, the car was handed over to the valet at the entrance, and the two of them got into the elevator.
Tang Suoyan said to him, “They are my close friends.
There’s no need to be too polite with them.”
Tao Xiaodong said understood.
Up the stairs, the door was pushed open, and Tang Suoyan went in.
Inside Chen Lin was the first to speak, going “yo”, and then saying, “You’ve reached.”
Tao Xiaodong followed him in.
There were only three people inside currently, the others hadn’t reached yet.
When they saw him and not the one they expected, they were slightly stunned.
Like before, Tang Suoyan set a hand on the small of Tao Xiaodong’s back, leading him in.
He introduced, “This is my friend, Xiaodong.”
Chen Lin received him very enthusiastically.
This was the adult’s table, no joke was too far nor was he shy to ask, so he demanded in a jocular tone, “What kind of friend, huh”
Tang Suoyan smiled, “Must I spell it out for you”
He then turned his head to Tao Xiaodong and introduced the group to him.
Tao Xiaodong smiled, nodding.
Chen Lin said, “C’mere, you two! Over here.
The birthday boy has to sit in the middle.”
At that ‘birthday boy’, Tao Xiaodong’s head immediately jerked towards Tang Suoyan.
“It’s not right to avoid alcohol on your birthday! Besides, you don’t have work tomorrow.” Chen Lin moved a seat over, squeezing next to Tang Suoyan’s other side.
His eyes skipped past him, landing on Tao Xiaodong; he questioned, “Do you drink, Xiaodong”
Tao Xiaodong answered “yeah” with alacrity.
“Good sir,” Chen Lin clicked his tongue approvingly.
“We’re going to have a blast.”
Eight showed up in the end.
It was a rare gathering as everyone tended to have busy schedules, just barely managing to put together a party for Tang Suoyan on his birthday.
The people in this room were not your average Joe.
They each had a commanding presence, attaining MDs and PhDs in their respective studies.
However, Tao Xiaodong had friends from all walks of life and knew no lack of doctors.
In the past, they didn’t drink much at the table when Tong Ning was around.
Despite the years that they’ve known each other, they weren’t that close.
His impersonal manner deterred anyone from saying anything to him lest they incurred his disdain.
Tao Xiaodong was different.
Although it wasn’t clear what relationship he had with Tang Suoyan—what type of friend, specifically—Tao Xiaodong was sociable.
He was warm but not smarmy, quickly making himself one of them.
Chen Lin liked his vibe and found him increasingly pleasant company.
He asked Xiaodong what he worked as.
Tao Xiaodong said that he was a craftsman.
Chen Lin filled his glass to the brim and asked, “How did the two of you meet”
“Don’t tell him,” Tang Suoyan told Tao Xiaodong from the side.
“He’s too annoying.”
“If you don’t want to say it then drink.
You drink, since you’re the one not letting him speak.” Chen Lin had always been a party animal.
“I’ll drink.” Tao Xiaodong intercepted the drink with a smile.