If Tang Suoyan had multiple surgeries in a day, instead of changing in and out every time, for convenience sake, he usually wouldn’t change out of his scrubs until the last surgery was through.
However, he was surprisingly diligent about changing in and out this week and, strictly following procedure, made sure to be out of the scrubs before leaving the operating room.
Wednesday was a full day of surgery without consultations.
At noon, Tang Suoyan changed out of his scrubs to have lunch with Professor Xu.
The professor’s wife had boxed lunch for her husband, and whenever she did she would prepare some for him as well.
The professor also had a full day of surgery.
Despite the high demand, he didn’t accept many patients now; almost all were pencilled into his schedule via connections.
During lunch, Xu lao discussed a few cases with Tang Suoyan, tossing arguments back and forth, before the professor eventually chuckled and ventured away from the topic.
By virtue of their long relationship as teacher and student, Xu lao had never tried to hide his regard for Tang Suoyan, who he had personally given tutelage and scouted back to the country when Tang Suoyan later moved abroad.
There were several deputy heads in the department, but he was the one with the highest authority bar Xu lao.
None of the consultants lacked the credentials; they each had years on Tang Suoyan, and were not lacking in either experience or technique.
Xu lao had pushed Tang Suoyan to his current status with every step, constantly vying against others in the hospital leadership.
Which company lacked office politics And which professor didn’t have their pet students
But Tang Suoyan did command respect.
He was faultless, excelling on every front.
“My wife’s talked about you many times.
When you can make the time, you should drop by,” said Xu lao.
Tang Suoyan smiled and inclined his head, saying, “She misses me.”
“That she does, she mentions you constantly when it’s been any longer than half a year.”
Tang Suoyan took the tupperware and they disposed of the food waste together.
Xu lao left to see patients, while he returned to his own office to wait for the surgeries in the afternoon.
His phone was silent and without a single notification.
It had been a silent few days.
Someone knocked on his office door.
Tang Suoyan told them to enter, putting the phone back in the drawer.
It was a daughter of a patient he had seen in the morning who came in.
She politely greeted, “Good afternoon, Consultant Tang.”
“Yes What is it” Tang Suoyan asked.
She walked in and shut the door behind her.
Although Tang Suoyan asked why she was here, he could hazard a guess.
The daughter looked to be in her forties; her dressing revealed her affluence.
She walked up to his desk and took a thick envelope, presumably filled with cash, from her purse, pushing it with both hands to Tang Suoyan.
“Consultant Tang, I’m not trying to imply anything.
Please don’t over analyse it.
This money is just a token of appreciation.” She kept her volume extremely low, such that even a person standing right outside the door wouldn’t have been able to hear her.
Tang Suoyan’s response to such situations had long become automatic.
He used a book to push the envelope back, saying, “I understand how you feel, but it’s unnecessary.
I accept the sentiment, so, kindly leave.”
The woman hastily waved her hands, still whispering very softly, “No, keep it.
It’s really just a token of appreciation.”
Virtually expressionless, Tang Suoyan said, “Our hospital doesn’t have such a rule.
You can rest assured even without having to resort to this.”
The woman’s cheeks coloured with her anxiety.
Such matters seemed to have become an unspoken agreement between doctors and patients, thus being rejected now agitated her heart.
She glanced around the ceiling yet was unable to find any surveillance.
She repeated, “See, I’ve already brought it over, please, don’t turn me down.”
“Must I accept it just because you’ve brought it” Tang Suoyan dropped his line of sight, unwilling to dwell on the topic.
“You can rest assured about the surgery this afternoon.
I will do my best.
I have not accepted any gifts since I entered the profession, and I never will.
It was obvious that he no longer wished to have this conversation.
No matter what the daughter said, she couldn’t get Tang Suoyan to respond, and in the end was forced to take back the envelope and leave gingerly.
The very first surgery for the afternoon was that daughter’s mother, an eye removal surgery performed under general anaesthesia.
After checking that the anaesthesia had set in, besides Tang Suoyan who was the chief surgeon, the attending physician and the anaesthesiologist began to exchange friendly chit chat.
“Did she look for you at lunch” The attending physician smiled.
“It’s a rather hefty envelope.”
Consultant Liu, head anaesthesiologist, smiled as well.
“She went to Consultant Tang before me.
Isn’t that the rule Surgeon first and anaesthesiologist second, everyone else has to shuffle back a bit.”
“Anyone who hears doctors secretly believe that we earn a six-figure monthly income.
Even if I deny that, they all smile at me and go, uh-huh, totally, we get it.” The attending physician was Tang Suoyan’s underclassman.
He didn’t have much experience but was rather sociable.
The operating room usually wouldn’t fall silent if he was around.
Consultant Liu said, “I also want a six-figure monthly income, then I wouldn’t be losing hair from worrying so much about sending my kids to a good school.”
This was a common topic between doctors.
Though they didn’t accept the money, they could tell the thickness with a glance, and would sometimes joke about the generosity or the stinginess of a patient’s family in the operating room.
“You take over.” Tang Suoyan interrupted their conversation and handed the remaining to his junior, watching him operate.
Before going out of the operating room, Tang Suoyan had help removing his surgical scrubs.
These days, the few scrub nurses helping him remove his scrubs had nary a change in their expressions nor a flicker in their gazes.
The neckline of the scrubs was low, offering a glimpse of his clavicles.
Once that was off, the clavicles would be fully exposed, hiding no secrets.
Last Saturday, Tao Xiaodong had used his teeth to leave marks on Tang Suoyan’s body, and all these were visible to the nurses at a glance.
As far back as Tang Suoyan’s first day of work at the hospital, he had never displayed such marks.
The impression he gave others in the hospital was that he was disciplined, and, to a certain extent, abstinent.
Now, with such visible marks littered across his body, though the nurses didn’t let their expressions betray them, who knew if they would gossip when there were no ears around.
When Tang Suoyan entered the changing room and glimpsed his neck in the mirror, he reached a hand up to rub the darkest coloured one with a smidgeon of helplessness.
And then, casting his mind back to how Tao Xiaodong had forcefully gripped his waist while biting him that night, he shook his head and smiled.
There was not a peep from Tao Xiaodong after leaving his place that day.
Tang Suoyan had tried to call him twice a few days ago, but they went to voicemail.
A few hours after that, a message came in, asking: What’s wrong, Yan ge I’m busy.
As though what he had done was wiped clean off his mind—and not open for discussion.
His messages were few, too.
He was always swamped with work, unavailable no matter the hour of the day.
When Tang Suoyan tried again yesterday, the call was picked up.
He said that he had just alighted the plane and that he had gone on a business trip.
Tang Suoyan questioned him over the phone, “Left on a business trip without saying a word beforehand”
Tao Xiaodong said, “I did give you a heads-up.”
Tang Suoyan asked, “When”
And then Tao Xiaodong tripped over his tongue.
Saturday was like a black hole to him; everything related to it had disappeared.
He didn’t want to talk about it and Tang Suoyan didn’t put him on the spot, smiling then redirected, “When will you be back”
Tao Xiaodong said that he still wasn’t sure.
Tang Suoyan asked, “Are you alone”
Tao Xiaodong replied, “Da Huang’s here, too.
He came with me.”
Tang Suoyan briefly dropped a few words of advice without going much into it.
Tao Xiaodong was obviously reluctant to talk to him.
The aftermath of a night of passion was too intense.
If he didn’t know Tao Xiaodong better, it would have been easy to assume that he was done playing around after getting his goal.
This guy was just full of surprises.
The things that he could say and do were without even half a second of warning.
Hearing that Tao Xiaodong was on the phone, Da Huang slid a look at him.
“What’s that about”
Tao Xiaodong said that it wasn’t important.
“That’s not right, are you ignoring him” Da Huang knew him pretty well.
With a glance, he was able to tell that there was something up with Tao Xiaodong.
“Nothing like that.” Tao Xiaodong couldn’t divulge anything else, nor did he even want to.
He had no way of looking straight at some things.
The moment those thoughts popped into his head, his sanity would crumble, forcibly preventing him from recalling that night.
He could hardly come up with any other instant where he had embarrassed himself even more, all decency down the drain.
Humped like a dog in heat.
Tang Suoyan had been gracious enough not to push him away that night.
Before that, he had dredged up so much of his past.
He took advantage of Tang Suoyan’s moment of soft-heartedness to rut against the other, and Tang Suoyan, being the gentleman that he was, was unable to spurn him.
Tao Xiaodong had made Tang Suoyan spill in his hand, but he wasn’t sated by that, pressing close still and ravaging his skin.
The second time that Tang Suoyan climaxed, he also did, painting stripes all over Tang Suoyan’s abdomen.
On sleepwear and on skin; his ejaculate had gotten everywhere.
Tang Suoyan had silently taken wet wipes, cleaning himself first and then even doing the same for Tao Xiaodong, cleaning his hand and the spots that had gotten onto his legs.
That was the memory that Tao Xiaodong refused to touch.
Just grazing the thought made his head combust.
It wasn’t as though he was drunk.
All he had was a plate of fruits and some tea, god knows how he worked himself to that state.
This was way beyond something explainable by a moment of indiscretion.
Let alone decency, he had not a shred of dignity left.
When Tao Xiaodong couldn’t sleep, his thoughts involuntarily drifted towards Tong Ning, picturing the other’s chilly and aloof manner; such an unrefined act must be utterly inconceivable by a person like that.
And then look at him.
Tao Xiaodong was so grossed out by himself that he wished to disappear into the ground.
The friend who had contacted him that day called again, bringing news of his father’s departure and his mother’s ailing health.
Tao Xiaodong told him not to worry about the other stuff.
They were long-time friends and collaborators.
He had also helped Tao Xiaodong in the past; back before Tao Xiaodong became successful, the other had taught him many rules of the industry and introduced him to many contacts.
Some things weren’t just about money, nor a matter as simple as requesting a favour from one to another.
With Tao Xiaodong, all kindness offered to him had to be repaid.
His friend said on the other end, “Thanks bro, I owe you one.”
Tao Xiaodong said, “Don’t say that.”
Were it anything else, Tao Xiaodong wouldn’t have given it second thought; he would definitely lend a hand.
In truth, however, Tao Xiaodong felt conflicted this time.
The show was beneath him; the few tutors on the judging panel were not on the same level as him.
Leaving aside that it cheapened his worth, Tao Xiaodong didn’t believe in the director’s vision of the programme.
It wasn’t that he was belittling the trade.
To them, there was nothing wrong with tattoos, really, it was an artistic form of expression.
But it was difficult to erase the social stigma within such a short time frame, and that was the truth as well.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t want to be involved in this, and he didn’t need the money.
When he talked about this with Da Huang, the other blew it off.
He raised his thermos and guzzled the warm water.
After hearing him out, he said, “What are you taking this trifle so seriously for It’s just a show.”
Tao Xiaodong frowned.
“You aren’t getting me.”
“How can I not” Da Huang snorted.
“If I don’t get you, no one can.”
Without Tao Xiaodong having to say anything, Da Huang declared, “It’s beneath you.”
It was indeed the way he felt.
That much was undeniable.
Da Huang sighed.
“Da’zi didn’t have to accept it.”
“He’s in a pretty difficult situation now.” Tao Xiaodong said, “His friend had taken away his employees and his clients.
His parlour has shrunk.
You can raise the price if they recognise you, but there are new spouts everywhere now.
The old-timers won’t be able to get a share if they can’t keep up.
He does the traditional style, which isn’t as fashionable among the younger folks.”
Parting ways with a friend hits hard, and it is almost always about money.
Over the length of time that Tao Xiaodong and Da Huang had known each other, they had also squabbled over money—but always because they felt that the other was not taking enough.
For example, the way Tao Xiaodong would do charity without dipping into the store’s accounts, and for example how Da Huang had pitched in the capital for the studio but didn’t claim what he would need to break even.
That was just how the best of bros got along.
They had broken into the industry together; in this business, they were inseparable.
Once, before Tao Xiaodong had grown to his present fame, someone had made an astronomical offer to Huang Yida, baiting him over as a business manager.
And Da Huang had said, “I don’t care how much your offer is.
I’m going to work with Xiaodong.”
This business trip of Tao Xiaodong’s was a long one.
He seldom contacted Tang Suoyan in between; when the call got through, he was quite chatty still, simply that the frequency of the calls wasn’t high.
Across the distance, over the phone, with Tao Xiaodong away and busy, they chatted briefly through the line and didn’t hold any serious conversations.
Another two days passed without being able to talk on the phone.
Tonight, at nine, Tang Suoyan tried another time.
Tao Xiaodong had just come out of the shower.
Seeing who it was, he picked it up and greeted “Yan ge.”
“Done for the day” Tang Suoyan reclined on the couch, a book in his hand as he asked the other over the phone.
Tao Xiaodong affirmed that with a hum.
“I was all grimy; just came out of the shower.”
“What were you doing that got grime all over you” Tang Suoyan asked with a smile in his voice.
“Hard work.” Tao Xiaodong sat on the bed, cross-legged, talking on the phone.
Tang Suoyan asked him if it was cold over there.
Tao Xiaodong said that it wasn’t though it was slightly humid.
Now, Tao Xiaodong would be rather reserved when speaking, somewhat reminiscent of the way he used to before they grew closer to each other.
He also stopped cracking crass jokes and talking out of his ass.
Tang Suoyan chatted with him for a while and then asked when he would be back.
Tao Xiaodong said, “Next week, thereabout.”
With him on a business trip, Tang Suoyan didn’t want to hold him up with conversation, and told him not to stay up too late.
So Tao Xiaodong said “goodnight.”
Before hanging up, Tang Suoyan called hold of him.
Perhaps it was the deep quiet of the night, or just how Tang Suoyan always was.
Either way, his tone carried a touch of tenderness.
Tao Xiaodong lightly scratched his phone case.
Tang Suoyan said, “Let me know when you’ve booked tickets.”
Tao Xiaodong blinked and said “okay.”