The Lunar New Year would soon be upon them.
Tao Xiaodong had already had the annual meeting and rendered fairly large bonuses.
He gave generously to both the tattoo artists working with him and the kiddos with disabilities.
The tattoo artists joked with him, “Wow, you’re even giving us money Shouldn’t it be us giving you money, your money is flowing out, mister.”
All of them had deep pockets.
To them, it wasn’t so much about their bonus but participating in the New Year festivities.
The studio taking a 20% cut was rather reasonable considering that most other studios would take a 50-50 cut.
While Tao Xiaodong did take a portion of their revenue, he also provided resources.
The parlour was a phenomenal platform; to young artists, being able to work here was indicative of their skills.
If they worked independently, they wouldn’t get such an unending deluge of clients, nor was it likely that they would be able to upmarket their prices.
Needless to say, Tao Xiaodong wouldn’t short-change his friends.
His stinginess was only directed outwards; he only hefted ridiculous prices on external partners.
The part-timers were streaming back to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year.
The studio had been rather sparse lately as there weren’t as many people working.
Whenever Tao Xiaodong was free, he would mop the floor; winter shoes after stepping in snow brought dirty slosh inside.
He had to mop the place down several times each day.
Tao Huainan and Chi Cheng were out on winter vacation therefore frequently hung around the studio.
Although Tao Huainan kept trying to expel him from the house, truthfully, he still missed his Ge.
On the occasional days that Tang Suoyan had to work overtime or was out on a business trip, Tao Xiaodong would return to stay at home.
Since yesterday, Tang Suoyan had been transferred temporarily to a nearby province for a consultation.
The patient was of relatively high standing and many experts in the neighbouring provinces had been flown over.
His time was so chopped up that he had to juggle several matters at any time, and even the short breaks to call Tao Xiaodong were frequently interrupted.
Tao Xiaodong stayed back at his own place for the night.
It snowed that night.
Tang Suoyan called the next morning asking if he was up yet; Tao Xiaodong, having just roused, said in downy soft tones “not yet”.
That was the voice that he used to wake Tang Suoyan every morning; across the phone, Tang Suoyan told him that he had pulled an all-nighter.
Playing the pity card dealt a critical hit.
Tao Xiaodong’s heart went out for him and he cooed softly for a long while, the frostiness of the falling snow outside unable to withstand the blasts of warmth he was sending out.
Meanwhile, Tao Huainan chilled on a couch in the lounge, pulling apart and eating the chunks from half a pineapple.
He liked eating it, especially in this fashion.
Translated by luckykoi
Tao Xiaodong, having finished work for the day, was now mopping the floor with one hand and Chi Cheng helping out.
Tao Xiaodong’s and Chi Cheng’s phones were left with Tao Huainan.
When it rang, Tao Huainan felt for it and picked it up, greeting, “Hello.”
“Xiao Nan” Tang Suoyan, able to recognise his voice, asked, “Where’s your brother”
Tao Huainan instantly beamed and went “Tang ge” then, “Hang on, I’ll call him.”
“You don’t have to if he’s busy,” said Tang Suoyan.
“He’s not, he’s mopping the floor.” Tao Huainan raised his voice into a shout but, not knowing which direction to face, simply angled his face marginally away.
Chi Cheng said from behind, “He’s gone down.”
“My brother has gone down,” Tao Huainan dutifully parroted, “Shall I get him to call you back later Are you back, Tang ge”
Tang Suoyan said that he was.
Tao Huainan, the sensible child that he was, asked at once, “Then when do you end work”
Because of Tang Suoyan’s present relationship with Tao Xiaodong, Tao Huainan, often conversing with Tang Suoyan on the phone, had warmed up to him.
Tao Huainan would even message him during breaks; he was the one who had pre-empted the doctor of Tao Xiaodong’s birthday.
Tang Suoyan said with a smile, “Around seven or eight.
I’ll drop him a call beforehand.”
“All righty,” Tao Huainan acceded.
Tang Suoyan said to him, “Now that you’re on vacation and don’t have to go to school the two of you can move over, too.”
There was no way Tao Huainan was doing that.
The couple hadn’t been going out for long, so it was perfect that it was just the two of them staying under a roof now.
Having more people around would be a hindrance.
When Tang Suoyan came down from the inpatient wing, he was holding another bouquet of flowers.
This was the nth bouquet during this period of time.
Seeing this, Tao Xiaodong instantly smiled.
He couldn’t take it as he was driving, and got Tang Suoyan to carry it for him, saying, “My heart is stopping.”
Tang Suoyan arched his brows.
“Because of me”
Tao Xiaodong, “Because of the money.
It’s so hard to earn money.”
Tang Suoyan wasn’t going to entertain this scrooge, but he couldn’t contain his smile in the end, asking, “Are you not aware that these flowers are inexpensive”
“Pah, it’s still an extravagance,” Tao Xiaodong deadpanned but with an obvious smile in his eyes.
He was swooning on the inside, and the sparkles shooting out of his eyes sparked a smile from the handsome doctor.
It was telling how happy he was from receiving one bouquet of flowers when Dong shen could easily afford a hundred bouquets with a mere hour’s work.
Before they became a thing, the weeks that they spent apart was a yearning redolent of green pastures that grew on the heart, but it still much differed from the present state of affairs.
Now that they were officially an item and seeing each other daily, this one night apart made the heart feel barren.
As Tang Suoyan prepared dinner, Tao Xiaodong didn’t arrange the flowers but set them aside, watching Tang Suoyan from the dining table.
It was only after dinner that he started to tend to today’s bouquet.
He had brought back several vases from the studio.
The staff at the studio were predominantly male and thus had less sentimentality.
The vases used to hold fake flowers that were tossed into the trash after gathering dust.
Conveniently, these empty vases were given to Tao Xiaodong to display his gerberas now.
Tao Xiaodong’s mind roamed as he arranged them.
Gerberas; in etymology, derived from ‘holding your beloved’.
It was a carefree and romantic name.
Having not slept the previous night, Tang Suoyan went to bed early today, hand resting on Tao Xiaodong’s stomach through the pyjamas fabric.
He was completely wrung out and thus slept very soundly.
In the past few days, he had only gotten some light sleep.
In the subsequent period, until festivities died down two weeks after the lunar new year, he would only get busier.
It was the duty of doctors to pull extra hours while others were reuniting with families in celebration of the Lunar New Year.
Actually, this busy spell came at a good timing—Tao Xiaodong was glad for it, even.
It still hurt Tao Xiaodong to recall the blow Tong Ning dealt the last time.
Tong Ning had never featured in their conversation since; there was nothing good that could come out of it nor was it an easy topic of discussion.
Only time could heal some wounds.
The mind would be engrossed with other matters when busy.
Subjective willingness aside, at their age, men didn’t often have the luxury of time to mull over past relationships.
On the twenty-eighth of the last lunar month, Tao Xiaodong drove over to visit Tang Suoyan’s parents with many gifts.
The elders wanted to keep him for lunch, but Tao Xiaodong said that he couldn’t.
He was busy, really, lots more to do.
Tang Suoyan was on duty at the hospital starting today and the massive influx of patients with critical eye injuries kept him from returning.
Tao Xiaodong had many house calls to make.
Even though his own parents were no longer around, he didn’t fail to visit the parents of his friends, paying the necessary courtesies.
He had been to Tian Yi’s many times, Xia Yuan’s as well, also the homes of friends who were working abroad and couldn’t come back to visit often.
There were elderly and there were children, and he had to prepare gifts for them all.
Tian Yi’s parents asked Tao Xiaodong if he had found a partner yet and when he would settle down.
Unlike other years, Tao Xiaodong smiled and nodded and said that he had.
As it was difficult for the elder generation to accept homosexuality, there was no need to expound on it.
Still, the affirmation made them happy for him.
This poor child had taken care of his younger brother for so many years without an established partner by his side.
“Good, good,” said Tian Yi’s mother and extended an invitation for him to visit them with his partner in the future.
On Lunar New Year Eve, Tao Xiaodong didn’t take a single step out of the house for most of the day, spending it with Tao Huainan and Chi Cheng.
There were no firecrackers being set off in the neighbourhood and the stars were sparse in the sky.
Tao Xiaodong asked Tao Huainan, “Not going to play with firecrackers this year, precious”
Tao Huainan instantly shook his head.
Tao Xiaodong smiled.
“Why is that”
“I don’t dare to when Tang ge already has so much on his plate.” While setting off firecrackers wouldn’t necessarily hurt the eyes to the extent that one would require a trip to the hospital, this association with Tang Suoyan reminded the boy that doing so would only incur trouble for doctors.
Tao Xiaodong tried to allay his reservations.
But Tao Huainan’s mind was set; he even scolded his brother, “Don’t egg me on.
Shouldn’t you have more sensibility as someone involved with a doctor You have zero concept of self-preservation.”
Chastised, Tao Xiaodong stopped asking, taking a nap on the couch instead.
When he next awoke, it was four in the afternoon.
Chi Cheng was making dumpling filling in the kitchen, and Tao Huainan sat on the stool next to him meanwhile, saying that he wanted lots of shrimps.
Chi Cheng fished out a shelled shrimp that had finished cooking and held it before his mouth.
Tao Huainan opened his mouth and ate it, then softly grumbled that it was tasteless.
Smiling, Tao Xiaodong got up to wash his face, then said to them, “I’m going out for a bit.”
“Where are you going” Tao Huainan asked in his direction.
Tao Xiaodong said, “I’m going to visit Tang ge‘s parents for the New Year.”
“Ah, okay.” Tao Huainan nodded.
Tao Xiaodong grabbed his coat and left the house.
It had been several years since Tang Suoyan last went home for the Lunar New Year.
That was the trouble of raising an exceptional child; the aforementioned child was often busy, even on public holidays.
In the past, while Tang Suoyan’s grandparents were still around, Tang Suoyan’s parents would visit them for the Lunar New Year, but since they had passed a few years back, it was just the two of them celebrating the eve at home alone.
Professor Tang was mincing meat in the kitchen.
It was slightly noisy, thus it took a while for the knocks on the door to be heard.
Tao Xiaodong had been knocking at the door for a long time before it opened, and even then it was slow to open, the occupants mistakenly assuming that it was relatives of their neighbour who had gotten the wrong door.
Tao Xiaodong stood at the door and said brightly, “Happy New Year, auntie and uncle!”
Professor Bai opened the door and, seeing that it was him, gave a start, then hurriedly welcomed him in.
“Lao Tang, Xiaodong is here!” Professor Bai said in the direction of the kitchen.
Professor Tang set down the kitchen knife and invited him to sit.
Tao Xiaodong had come empty-handed.
He wasn’t here on a house call but to celebrate the new year with them.
They took out assorted nuts and fruits for him but Tao Xiaodong smiled.
“I’m good, I’m here to have dumplings.
Auntie, you don’t have to entertain me, don’t you have other work to do I can’t do anything with you watching over me.
I’m hopeless in the kitchen anyway, but I can help out elsewhere.”
“But your hand! What are you trying to do” Professor Bai stopped trimming the string beans and sat down next to Tao Xiaodong, inquiring how came over.
Tao Xiaodong said, “I drove over.
There aren’t many cars on the road today, everyone has travelled back to their hometowns.”
“Can you drive with your hand like that” Professor Tang came over as well.
He moved the coffee table over, setting up the frame, preparing a tea session with Tao Xiaodong.
“It’s no issue,” Tao Xiaodong helped clear up.
“It’s been almost two months.
It just can’t handle carrying much weight right now, but otherwise it is pretty much back to normal.”
“You should still take care,” Professor Bai chided, “You wouldn’t want to develop a chronic condition by accident.”
“Sure,” Tao Xiaodong nodded, “I’ll be careful.”
It had been many a year since they last had such a lively Lunar New Year Eve.
Tao Xiaodong had tea with Professor Tang whilst conversing with them.
Tang Suoyan couldn’t spare the time to come back during this period.
The elders missed their son rather much, so Professor Bai constantly talked about her son.
Tao Xiaodong loved listening to such stories, too; he was more than happy to accommodate.
The atmosphere in the flat was warm and bright, and Professor Tang even drank a small cup of white liquor during dinner.
When offered a cup, Tao Xiaodong said that he normally drank but would abstain today as he was driving.
Professor Bai didn’t stop putting dishes on his bowl.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t eat many of the dumplings but kept to the vegetables, and there was a plate of dumplings leftover after dinner.
Tao Xiaodong asked, “Do you have tupperware at home”
“Why Have your brothers not had dinner” Professor Bai got a fright, thinking that he’d dumped the two children alone at him without supervision.
Tao Xiaodong said with a smile, “They had dinner, one of them is a really good cook.”
“That’s a relief.” Professor Bai got up and headed to the kitchen to look for tupperware, rinsed it, then came over and asked him, “What would you like to take back”
Tao Xiaodong said the dumplings.
He wasn’t in a hurry to leave, so he packed the food in good time, allowing the dumplings to stop steaming first before storing them in a tupperware to keep them warm.
Tao Xiaodong then left it at the door, going back to accompany the two elders with conversation.
The two elders were usually reserved and weren’t particularly extroverted, tending to speak with reason and tact.
On this day, they looked much more engaged than normal, laughing and conversing much more freely.
Tao Xiaodong spent the evening with them, only rising to his feet when the hour ticked past nine.
“I’ll be heading back now, then.
I’ll come by whenever I’m free in the next couple of days, just drop me a call if you need help moving or getting anything.”
Professor Bai patted his arm.
“Drive slowly on the road, your hand is still a little stiff.”
“I will,” said Tao Xiaodong.
Then, he took out two thick red packets from his coat pocket, a broad smile on his face.
The elders eyed him with disapproval when they saw him bring the red packets over, feeling that he was being overly courteous.
Tao Xiaodong bent down and placed the red packets by the tea set.
“It’s just to bring some festive cheer into the house.”
Professor Bai held his wrist and said, “We should be the ones giving this to you.”
“What’s with the ‘we’ and ‘you’, aren’t we all family It’s the Lunar New Year.” Tao Xiaodong said, “Yan ge is busy saving lives.
It’s normal that there’s not a lot of flexibility in a doctor’s schedule.
But while he is busy with his, we can still celebrate the Lunar New Year without him.
Sorry that I came over today without notice, auntie and uncle, don’t hold my rudeness against me.
I’ll be back often to visit in the future.”
Tao Xiaodong bent down to wear his shoes, then carried the loaded tupperware.
When he looked up again, he found that the rims of Professor Bai’s eyes had reddened.
Tao Xiaodong was still smiling as he spoke, pretending not to notice that.
“I won’t help you clean up, it’s not convenient with this hand of mine.
Turn in early after cleaning up, all right May we be blessed with good health and happiness in the coming year.”
“Yes, yes,” Professor Bai agreed, nodding.
Then, Tao Xiaodong went out of the door.
There were no elevators in the old residential flats, so Tao Xiaodong dashed noisily down the stairs.
The door didn’t close immediately.
The two elders were still advising him to drive slowly and to take care on the road from above.
Tao Xiaodong raised his voice and replied, “Un, I will!”