December 25th, 2022
With that declaration, Tao Xiaodong unequivocally believed in Tang Suoyan.
Despite knowing what medical condition this was, despite knowing that it was incurable, he still believed him.
Like a terminally ill patient told by a doctor ‘I won’t let you die’, hope bloomed unbidden in his chest.
At that moment, Tao Xiaodong genuinely felt as though he had been saved.
This ‘salvation’ was not, strictly speaking, a firmly rooted expectation of results, but more like being enraptured by the attitude of the person in front of him and being saved by a powerful soul.
All the burdens and anxieties in his heart were suddenly cast off in that moment, as if everything wasn’t that hopeless and terrible.
He smiled at Tang Suoyan, the first genuine smile in recent days, and even the radian of his eyes ticked downwards in delight.
He said softly, “Yes… I am meant to be yours.”
The people in the studio were astonished.
After many days of gloom, their Dong ge‘s mood had abruptly cleared up.
The sore was still at the corner of his mouth, but he no longer said that it hurt and spoke much more.
“Has Dong ge‘s hysteria passed” Huan Ge whispered to Da Huang, asking, “What was that about”
Knowing the truth, Da Huang had also lost sleep and appetite due to worry the last few days, his chest painfully tight at the thought of Tao Xiaodong’s situation.
Others were to remain oblivious, and this matter was left to fester in their hearts. Da Huang merely said, “Just take it as menopause.”
“The previous few days had me shaking,” Huan Ge blinked, “I don’t know what came over him.”
Da Huang helped Huan Ge tear off a stray thread from his shirt, unconsciously winding it twice around his finger, lowered his head, and said that it was nothing.
Eyes swivelling around, Huan Ge made a few more careful guesses, before Da Huang flicked his forehead with a smile, saying, “Your Dong ge is doing all right, stop worrying.”
“No, Dong ge, you only have this leg left to do.” The client pointed at the unfinished calf, both amused and exasperated.
“Won’t you be done in a jiffy”
“I need a break.” Tao Xiaodong waved him off, saying, “I’m tired.”
“Look here, if you leave this I’d still have to come back tomorrow, just finish it for me.” The client was familiar with Tao Xiaodong.
They had a mutual friend and he would often sit in the studio to chat with them back when still studying.
After going abroad for two years, he was now managing his own business and came over less frequently.
“I’m being serious, I’m tired and my neck hurts.” Tao Xiaodong took off his gloves and stretched his neck.
“My spine isn’t that good.”
“Good grief, I can’t believe you.” The youngster was getting a cover-up tattoo today.
He had a tattoo around both his calves that he had gotten when in a relationship with his ex-girlfriend.
Many years had passed and he had also gone through multiple girlfriends since.
He came over once last month, but wasn’t able to get it done—and today he still wasn’t able to get it done today.
Tao Xiaodong said, “It isn’t as if you are busy lately, just come back tomorrow.”
“What do you mean by I’m not busy, I’ve got a whole bunch of things to do.” The youngster grumbled and put on his trousers.
“You can really put on airs now, sticking so strictly to proper working hours.
Dong ge, you’ve changed.”
Tao Xiaodong smiled and didn’t try to elaborate.
“I’d already spaced out my schedule, I still have an appointment in the afternoon, it’ll mess up my schedule if you end it here.” The client said even after putting on his trousers.
“I can’t work, but I can chat with you for a while, that’s fine.” Tao Xiaodong pointed his chin at the lounge.
“You can grab a cup of coffee.”
“Incredible, you don’t work or try to make money, but you drink coffee with people.” The client got up and went to the lounge.
“What’s wrong with you.”
“Work-life balance.” Tao Xiaodong asked him, “Do you want freshly ground beans or instant coffee”
“What the hell, instant is fine, freshly ground is overkill.” Fuming, the client snorted in anger.
Why grind beans when he could have been tattooing for him instead
But Tao Xiaodong had already laid down the law and had discussed it with the staff managing the bookings.
Tang Suoyan had stipulated that he couldn’t work more than five hours a day, so Tao Xiaodong set the limit even lower.
If anyone asked, Tao Xiaodong would say that his neck hurt too much from the long hours sitting down.
No exceptions would be made, regardless of who.
Tao Xiaodong dismissed all attempts at convincing otherwise with a smile.
When the time was up, he would take off his gloves and put off all remaining tattoos for the next day.
If a client insisted on having it done in a day, Tao Xiaodong would tell them that they would have to allow him two-hour breaks.
During those two hours, he would go upstairs to rest his eyes and massage the area around them.
The doctor at home watched over him with a stern eye, and Tao Xiaodong was dedicated to following his every instruction.
Tang Suoyan wasn’t at the hospital in the afternoon but at a school giving a lecture.
He would pass by Tao Xiaodong’s parlour on the way back in the evening, so the two of them agreed to head back together.
Hence, from three in the afternoon, Tao Xiaodong was out of work to do.
Not daring to strain his eyes, he didn’t continue to sketch designs for his bookings, sitting on a couch on the ground floor instead, gazing out of the glass door.
The staff would occasionally give him fruits and water as they passed by, and he would eat whatever was given to him.
Sitting there, Tao Xiaodong was fed fruits for two hours.
Tang Suoyan could see Tao Xiaodong reclining on the couch lackadaisically even before he stepped in.
When he pushed the door open, Tao Xiaodong instantly sat up and smiled at him.
The others in the studio greeted Tang Suoyan, who smiled back in response.
He walked over to sit beside Tao Xiaodong and gave him a cup of mixed fruits and vegetable juice.
Tao Xiaodong took a sip before smiling.
“I already had fruits in the afternoon, I’m full.”
“Then don’t drink.” Tang Suoyan, noticing that the coffee tables were missing a few fruit baskets, guessed that he had eaten quite a fair amount.
Tao Xiaodong rubbed his stomach, whispering, “My belly feels icy.”
Tang Suoyan looked at him.
There were too many people around them for him to show any overt displays of affection, so he simply said, “You didn’t have to eat so much.”
Having eaten too many fruits during the day, Tao Xiaodong didn’t have much for dinner.
That evening, Tang Suoyan put his hand on his stomach, warming his tummy.
Comfortable, Tao Xiaodong’s eyes were half-lidded.
“I feel a lot more hydrated after eating so much more fruits and vegetables recently.”
The term was so loosely used that it made Tang Suoyan burst into a chuckle.
“How much more hydrated”
Tao Xiaodong thought about it.
“Like I aged down.
No wonder my skin feels so supple.”
Tang Suoyan shot him a sidelong look.
Tao Xiaodong darted a look out of the corner of his eyes, wetting his lips.
Both their hearts were laden with other affairs during this period of time and hadn’t been in the mood to make out.
With the Tao Xiaodong popping the ‘supple’, the air suddenly became thick with tension, and even listening to each other’s breathing sparked arousal.
“Yan ge.” Tao Xiaodong rubbed the back of his head.
There was now a dark layer of stubble over it, prickly to the touch.
“Actually, I’ve been a little worried about something.”
Tang Suoyan, thinking that he was worried about his eyes, asked solemnly, “What are you worried about”
Tao Xiaodong rubbed the back of his head, smiling apologetically, “Now that I have no hair… have I become undesirable to you”
Tang Suoyan burst out laughing.
He reached out and petted the other man’s head.
Before Tao Xiaodong shaved his head, Tang Suoyan would often thread his fingers into his hair when making love, and would press his nape when the sessions got more heated.
In the aftermath, he would card his sweaty hair and press an affectionate kiss to his neck, making his heart skip a beat.
There was none of that now that he was bald.
All of a sudden, Tao Xiaodong was regretting his decision.
Before, he had been afraid that he wouldn’t be able to groom his hair after he lost his sight, thus did away with it.
But since then, they hadn’t made out once.
For a period of time, he couldn’t figure out whether Tang Suoyan found him less appealing now.
Tang Suoyan didn’t say a word, simply stroking his head.
Tao Xiaodong was a foot in the grave.
He was doomed, he had lost his charm.
Looking at his grave face and droopy eyes, Tang Suoyan pulled him over with a smile, kissing his forehead.
“Not tonight, it’s too late and you need more sleep.
Come with me to the hospital tomorrow to do an electroretinogram.”
Tao Xiaodong said oh.
Tang Suoyan smiled again, “Follow me to work tomorrow morning.”
Tao Xiaodong said un.
He gave only single-syllable replies, deliberately displaying his desire on his face.
Amused, Tang Suoyan cuffed him on the back of his head, saying, “You’re worried now Why didn’t you consider whether it would affect our chemistry when getting it shaved, hm”
Tao Xiaodong raised his gaze and looked at him.
His heart was ashen at that time, how could he have the spare mind to think about that.
Tang Suoyan only said this to tease him, though.
Tao Xiaodong looked stylish and energetic with his hair long, but his baldness now accentuated the shape of his face more, adding a sort of vigour, giving him a wild and rakish charm.
Also, it made him look younger.
Sometimes, the way he rubbed the back of his head with a sheepish smile made him look like a jungle boy.
That said, Tang Suoyan would like him whatever his appearance as long as he wasn’t as haggard and forlorn as he was during the few days after shaving his head.
The room lights were turned on, leaving the night light at the door.
The brightness was dimmed so that it wouldn’t affect their sleep.
Tang Suoyan asked him, “Can you see me clearly”
“I can’t.” Tao Xiaodong touched the corners of Tang Suoyan’s lips and said, “I only know that you’re here, but I can’t see you clearly.”
“Knowing is enough.” Tang Suoyan said, “Since you know this, sleep tight.”
Tao Xiaodong hummed and echoed, “Sleep tight.”
It was a dreamless night.
The moon didn’t conceal its light in the sky, spilling evenly over the earth.
The pale white light was luminous and steadfast, gentle and healing.
The results of Tao Xiaodong’s genetic test should have been out by now.
He didn’t ask Tang Suoyan; it was superfluous to ask.
The ending was already set in stone.
The test was merely to determine the type of genetic mutation.
It was too in-depth for him to understand, but there were many different genes and mutations that could cause retinitis pigmentosa.
It was, however, useless information to Tao Xiaodong.
The next morning, on the way to work, Tang Suoyan simply told him that his genetic test revealed cone-rod dystrophy, so another electroretinogram had to be done to check the condition of his photoreceptor cells.
In fact, he had previously done an electroretinogram.
The last time, Tang Suoyan said that everything was okay so far, still in the early stages.
“Get it checked again.
If the cells are in good condition, we will try to stay at this stage for as long as possible.” Tang Suoyan smiled calmly.
“We’ll see if we grow old first or if they give out first.”
“All right.” Tao Xiaodong smiled back, nodding.
All of Tao Xiaodong’s tests were directly handled by Tang Suoyan, and all the results of the laboratory tests and examinations were sent straight to him, eliminating the need for several intermediate handover processes.
The drawer in Tang Suoyan’s office now had a thick stack of the various laboratory results and paper reports, which had become worn from how often he flipped through them.
The high frequency that Tao Xiaodong came to the hospital these days, as well as the many tests he did, made it improbable that no one knew about his condition.
Many of the doctors and nurses in the hospital were aware, but nobody brought it up to him.
They still greeted each other as usual, a hello and a smile, and neither side breathed a word about his eyes.
There was just one intern doctor, though, a girl with a round face and wide eyes, who was blinking back tears when greeting him.
At that time, Tao Xiaodong was waiting for Tang Suoyan at his office door.
It was nearing the end of work, and the young doctor was likewise getting ready to change out and clock off.
“What happened” Tao Xiaodong asked, startled.
The young doctor shook her head, forcefully blinking back her tears, whispering, “Fortune will favour the kind!”
It took Tao Xiaodong a moment to register that she was feeling sad for him.
He smiled faintly and nodded, saying, “That’s right.
Fortune will favour the kind.”