Tao Xiaodong’s birthday, by the gregorian calendar, marked him as a Capricorn, a January baby.
But going by the lunar calendar, he was born in the last winter month.
When he was young, he celebrated his birthday following the lunar calendar, which did not correspond to a fixed date on the gregorian calendar.
While others were eating congee as was customary on the eighth day of the twelve lunar month, he was still indulging in meat.
It was his birthday, after all.
Afterwards, he ventured out into the world.
His parents were gone and when life got busy, he stopped keeping track of his birthday by the lunar calendar.
On the other hand, his brothers and friends would help him remember his birthday by the gregorian calendar every year, even celebrating it with him.
Tao Xiaodong would be exactly thirty-five on his birthday this year, midway through his thirties.
Actually, Tao Xiaodong didn’t really care much for his own birthday, it served more to have a good time with everyone.
But it was different this year.
He had high hopes for this year.
This year, he had a special someone by his side and started to long for a little something more.
Tao Xiaodong had done the calculations.
By their current progress, they could probably publicly hold hands and smooch in front of others.
He had endured the mocking of those at the store, Tian Yi and Lao Xia as well, for years now.
Once at the dinner table, he would proudly introduce his partner, and henceforth the topic would finally be laid to rest.
Tao Xiaodong’s birthday was on Saturday.
Tian Yi’s call came in on Wednesday, griping about how long it had been since they last met up and how a meet-up was long due.
He was meant to be on shift on that day but managed to swap it with someone, so they must throw a proper party on Saturday.
At that time, Tao Xiaodong was having breakfast.
His hair wasn’t completely dry yet, and Tang Suoyan mussed his hair in passing while bringing the milk over.
“Sure, so long as you don’t have work,” Tao Xiaodong said, nibbling on toast.
They hadn’t seen each other for some time.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t have the heart to fess up that he was over at San Hospital pretty much every day now.
He dropped in at noon with a lunch to deliver but just never went the extra length to see Tian Yi.
If word got out, he’d be one friend less.
After the call ended, Tao Xiaodong said, “I’ll be going to cut my hair after you get to work.”
Tang Suoyan looked over, and Tao Xiaodong said, “It’s getting long, I need to trim it otherwise it wouldn’t look good.”
“All right,” Tang Suoyan said, “Don’t go to the hospital at noon, it’s too rushed.”
Tao Xiaodong acquiesced.
They made quick work of breakfast and then had to leave.
Tang Suoyan went to take his phone from his room, whereas Tao Xiaodong put on his shoes first and opened the door.
Whereupon Tao Xiaodong looked up and a curse word slipped out of his mouth from shock.
—There was someone standing outside.
Tao Xiaodong instantly recognised him as the man who had stopped them at the car park last time.
He looked haggard and his eyes were bloodshot.
“What are you up to” Tao Xiaodong asked, his brows knit.
Having retrieved his phone, Tang Suoyan was coming over to change into his shoes, but when he heard him speak, he asked, “What happened”
At once, Tao Xiaodong tried to close the door behind him to stop Tang Suoyan from coming out, but was unsuccessful.
Tang Suoyan came out and was also taken by surprise.
“Hold up, what are you doing here” Tao Xiaodong had an foul look on his face.
He kept blocking Tang Suoyan from coming forward, willing him to go back in.
The man’s mouth moved, and his voice was extremely low.
Tang… you were deceiving me, weren’t you”
Tang Suoyan tried to push Tao Xiaodong aside, but Tao Xiaodong didn’t budge.
Tang Suoyan said to the other man, “No matter what you want to say, this is not the place to say it.
I won’t say anything or whatsoever to you at the door of my house.
You may seek me out at the hospital.”
“You were deceiving me… the hearts of doctors are corrupt.
You don’t care about us folks with no income, you only care about those who are rich…” The man glared squarely at Tang Suoyan.
“You were deceiving me, and I was a fool for trusting you.”
The look in his eyes made Tao Xiaodong uncomfortable, plus the fact that he had come up to the doorstep.
The distaste from such behaviour overwhelmed any sympathy he felt for the other’s plight, and he said irritably, “Leave now.”
“My wife is gone.
She was cremated yesterday.” The man’s head was bowed, and the white hair on his temples made him look world-weary.
“Your heart is cold.
We came over especially for you, changed hospitals just to see Dr.
But you refused to treat her…”
Babbling, he pulled out a booklet from his pocket and took a few paces forward, pointing at it.
“This is my wife’s cremation certificate.
You refused to take her in, and now she’s been turned to ashes… What gives you the power You only have eyes for money, isn’t that right”
Tao Xiaodong shoved him, making him take two steps back.
This man was entirely absorbed in his own head, muttering non-stop with the cremation certificate in his hand.
He advanced and Tao Xiaodong forcibly pushed him away.
He also blocked Tang Suoyan out of the way, who then went, “Xiaodong.”
Tang Suoyan looked back over his shoulder at him, brows furrowing.
Tang Suoyan placated him with a look, and only then did Tao Xiaodong turn to the side, no longer stopping him.
Tang Suoyan first phoned the property management, getting them to come up and handle this.
Thereafter, he said to the man, “Calm down.
I am saddened by the passing of your wife, but the truth is that we do not have the ability.
I had already informed you that this would happen back when you brought your wife over to see me for the first time.
I can understand what you’re feeling, but I’ll say this again.
If you have any grievances, seek me out at the hospital.
This is my home.
You have recently lost a loved one.
I hope not to have to get the police involved, so please leave.”
The other person was quiet as Tang Suoyan spoke, and when Tang Suoyan finished speaking, the man abruptly reached into his pocket.
Reacting quickly, Tao Xiaodong rapidly took a step forward to shield Tang Suoyan again, assuming a defensive stance.
Tao Xiaodong shielded him squarely; Tang Suoyan couldn’t get him to move away.
“Xiaodong,” Tang Suoyan frowned, “let up.”
Tao Xiaodong turned a deaf ear to him.
Holding a piece of paper, the other man muttered lowly as he walked over, and Tao Xiaodong held an arm up to stop him from passing.
Then, the other raised a hand and brought a fist down on Tao Xiaodong’s splint.
Tao Xiaodong instantly turned white as a sheet.
He kicked his shin, sending the man to the elevator door with a dull thump.
Alarmed, Tang Suoyan pushed harder, forcing Tao Xiaodong aside.
“I told you not to shield me!”
Tao Xiaodong’s shoulder hit the wall.
Brows tightly locked together, Tang Suoyan grabbed his wrist and examined his hand.
The morning had been incredibly frustrating, regardless of whether it was the man coming up to his doorstep or Tao Xiaodong for constantly shielding him.
After examining Tao Xiaodong’s hand, Tang Suoyan turned back over to look at the man still lost in his own thoughts.
Coincidentally, the elevator doors opened right then, and the manager in charge of this flat led two security guards over.
After being apprised of the situation, he asked Tang Suoyan how he wished to handle this incident, and Tang Suoyan apathetically said to make a police report.
“This is the second time that he has come in.
How did it happen Was he logged” Tang Suoyan questioned the property manager.
“Is he allowed to find me at my doorstep as and when he wants”
The manager apologised profusely to him and said that they would launch an investigation and conduct stricter checks at the guardhouse.
The patient’s husband didn’t even lift his head nor respond when being questioned, simply muttering to himself for the most part.
Tang Suoyan had a lot of work to attend to at the hospital; he didn’t have the time to wait around for the police to come.
The handling of the report was left to the manager.
Tang Suoyan was visibly furious.
Tao Xiaodong had never really seen him angry before; it was the first time that he had seen his face look so cold.
They got into the car, and Tao Xiaodong called “Xiaodong.”
Tang Suoyan asked him, “How much does it hurt”
“I’m all right,” Tao Xiaodong glanced at his hand.
“It only smarted during the contact, I don’t feel anything now.”
Tang Suoyan studied his face—the perspiration on his forehead, the way he averted his eyes—then, said with furrowed brows, “You’re lying.”
He started the car.
The seatbelt warning beeped.
Tao Xiaodong ignored it, thinking that it was fine, but Tang Suoyan reminded, “Seatbelt.”
Tao Xiaodong silently fastened it and said after a while, “I’m really all right, Yan ge.”
Tang Suoyan didn’t speak.
The silence in the car was stagnant.
It lasted until they reached the car park at the hospital, where Tang Suoyan said, “Get off.”
Tang Suoyan dropped by his department to notify them first, then took Tao Xiaodong to the Orthopaedic Department for an X-ray.
Tao Xiaodong insisted that he didn’t need that, he could get it himself.
Tang Suoyan said, “It’s okay, I’ll take you there.”
“It’s not as though I can’t find my way there, you should get to work.” Tao Xiaodong was reluctant.
“It’s just an X-ray, I can’t screw it up.”
Tao Xiaodong was slightly agitated.
This was a busy period for Tang Suoyan, with hardly any time to catch his breath.
And now he was holding up the other from work, also that it was almost time for ward rounds.
Tang Suoyan walked briskly.
Tao Xiaodong followed behind him, but suddenly grabbed his arm, saying with a frown, “Just get to work, I don’t need you to take me around.”
Tang Suoyan stood still, looking at him.
Tao Xiaodong urged again, “Hurry up and go.”
Tang Suoyan asked him, “You don’t need me”
Tao Xiaodong knew that he might upset the other, but that was still preferable to keeping him from work because he had to get an X-ray.
So, he nodded and said, “I don’t.”
Tang Suoyan also gave a curt nod, then turned and left.
It wasn’t as convenient without Tang Suoyan around.
Tao Xiaodong could only register his own name and get a queue number.
After sitting a while, he saw that there were still dozens of people in line before him; he couldn’t even locate his own number on the queue management display.
With this queue, he would likely be waiting until the afternoon.
Tao Xiaodong sighed, then went to the vending machine to purchase a bottle of water and settled down in the waiting area.
It wouldn’t be his turn for a few hours yet.
However, not more than fifteen minutes later, a young nurse suddenly came out and asked, “Who is Tao Xiaodong”
Tao Xiaodong responded to the call.
She said, “Follow me.”
Being called in and cutting the line, Tao Xiaodong could understand what was going on with barely any effort.
The same doctor as before greeted him with a laugh, then wrote him a slip to get an X-ray.
His bones were still on the mend, just that the splint which was supposed to be removed soon had to stay on for another few days due to the impact earlier that morning.
He left after seeing the results, texting Tang Suoyan before he did, letting him know that he was fine and that he was heading off first.
Tang Suoyan didn’t answer him; he seldom checked his phone on busy days.
For the rest of the day, the two of them weren’t in contact much.
Tao Xiaodong dropped Tang Suoyan a call before he got off work, asking him if he was going to work overtime.
Tang Suoyan said, “I am, I don’t know what time till.
Don’t go to my place tonight, I’ll give you a call if I don’t have to work overtime tomorrow.”
Tao Xiaodong gave a start, then went “un” and kept silent after that.
Tang Suoyan said to him, “Apply a hot compress tonight, do it yourself.”
Tao Xiaodong said “okay.”
Hardly any conversation was exchanged before the line was cut.
The two of them had known each other for so long, even living together for a month now, yet it was their first time encountering a situation like this.
It was testament to how upset Tang Suoyan was that he wasn’t even letting him go over.
Tao Xiaodong laughed derisively at himself.
To think that he had believed that Tang Suoyan didn’t have a temper.
Look here now.
Despite Tang Suoyan having told Tao Xiaodong not to head to his place tonight, when he got off work at half past nine, he still found Tao Xiaodong waiting for him at the car park.
Tang Suoyan got into the car, cloaked in a chilly nip from the air outside.
The inside of the car wasn’t much warmer; Tao Xiaodong had stopped here for a while now and had switched off the engine.
He had almost nodded off.
Tang Suoyan asked, “When did you arrive”
Tao Xiaodong said, “Roughly an hour ago.”
Tang Suoyan eyed the time then said evenly, “More like four hours.”
Tao Xiaodong looked at him.
“I can’t possibly let you return alone.”
Almost imperceptibly, Tang Suoyan frowned, looking away from him.
“Did you not understand what I said”
Tao Xiaodong said, “I did.”
“So you chose not to listen” Tang Suoyan looked out of the window.
“Why are you so full of ideas.”
Tao Xiaodong had more to say, but the atmosphere now wasn’t right for that.
It was easy to end up arguing if he bickered back.
The two of them sat in silence for a while.
Tao Xiaodong sighed, then reached over to bump his right hand against Tang Suoyan’s arm, calling “Yan ge.”
Tang Suoyan hummed and said, “Don’t shield me next time.
Don’t try to take anything in my place, all it’ll serve to do is scare me.”
Shaking his head, Tao Xiaodong said obstinately, “I’ll still stand in front of you next time.”
Tang Suoyan pursed his lips.
The action made him appear much more austere, completely unlike the warmth that he usually showed and rather much more like how he was at work.
Tao Xiaodong said, “It was an instinctive reaction.
It doesn’t matter who was there; I’d have protected them all the same.”
Tang Suoyan said, “You can protect whoever else you want, but I don’t need it.”
Tao Xiaodong also had frustration pent up from the day, although it was just that little bit.
He looked at Tang Suoyan, then let out, “I can also do for you what you did for Dr.
Tang Suoyan rubbed his thumb over his index finger, utterly silent.
“You must understand how I feel, Yan ge.” Tao Xiaodong paused before pushing on, “You know where I’m coming from.”
When he said those two lines, he only meant to explain how he felt to Tang Suoyan, he wasn’t trying to make it personal.
But even if the intent wasn’t there, thoughtless words can cause offence, and what he said was cutting.
And once the words were spoken, Tang Suoyan lost.
There was no other argument he could give.
Those thirteen years loomed before them, a past that could never be erased.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t feel so good after saying that; Tang Suoyan’s silence told him that he had spoken out of turn.
He messed up.
Even emotionally intelligent people could have obtuse moments.
His tight restraint had slipped under the onslaught of emotions, for love made fools of us all.
Tao Xiaodong reached over to grab Tang Suoyan’s hand, saying, “Yan ge… I didn’t mean that.”
Tang Suoyan held his hand back, then sighed, speaking slowly.
“I feared that he would hit your hand.
And he did.”