Chapter 75 (end)
January 1st, 2023
Tao Xiaodong’s vision remained stable throughout the year, keeping to this stage without progressing further.
He had difficulty seeing when the light was dim, though, and it was unpreventable that he would knock into stuff no matter how careful he was.
Eventually, Tang Suoyan padded all objects with sharp angles and edges in the apartment with a roll of sponge.
It didn’t affect his life much once he got used to it.
Basically, take more care of his eyes and take daily nutrients to maintain his eye health.
He had an authoritative expert at home, therefore would listen to him for everything.
In time, it stopped feeling like anything much, and he wouldn’t often brood over it.
Then Tao Huainan and Chi Cheng graduated from high school and, of the two younger brothers, only one remained.
As always Tao Huainan stayed by his side, studying psychology at a reputable university in the area.
He didn’t study at a specialised school.
Tao Xiaodong had submitted many applications for him and, after many rounds of reviews, the school eventually accepted him.
Tang Suoyan and Tao Xiaodong moved in with him; Tao Xiaodong even set aside his work for a long period of time just to spend time with him.
Tao Huainan swiftly matured and was now able to walk outside without needing anyone to hold his hand.
He also picked up the walking stick that he used to detest.
For a few months, Tao Huainan had become more reticent, even when being talked to.
He would sit at the same spot, silent and solitary, for most of the day.
There was one day, though, that he curled down and pressed his face to his brother’s legs, weeping mutely, saying, “Ge, I really love you.”
Tao Xiaodong stroked his hair, saying to him, “Ge loves you, too.
All of us do.”
On Tang Suoyan’s birthday this year, after work, Tao Xiaodong brought home a set of his personal tattoo equipment from the parlour.
That night, Tao Xiaodong turned on the lights and hunkered down before the mirror, under Tang Suoyan’s gaze, leaving a tattoo on himself.
Beneath his lower abdomen, on the flattest region of the most private part of a human body, he left behind a gentle eye.
It was a very small tattoo.
“I was thinking of you when I designed this before,” Tao Xiaodong told Tang Suoyan.
“You weren’t mine yet at that time, I wanted you but I didn’t dare to confess it.”
Stroke by stroke, Tang Suoyan watched him etch colour onto his own body.
“You bring light into the worlds of so many people; you are their eyes.” Tao Xiaodong took a deep inhale and slowly expelled the breath, smiling.
“I designed it for you originally, but you seemed unattainable to me.”
Tang Suoyan smiled, and Tao Xiaodong went on, “Later on, I ended up suiting it more than you, for I might lose my sight in the future.”
Tang Suoyan said that that wouldn’t happen.
“Whether or not it does happen is unimportant.” Tao Xiaodong met his eyes in the reflection of the mirror.
“I’ll permanently leave you an eye, for me to sense you even if I can no longer see you one day.”
Tang Suoyan walked over and stood beside him, gently stroking his hair, saying in a low voice, “I will not let you lose your sight.”
“Okay.” Tao Xiaodong smiled and nodded at him.
To Tao Xiaodong, Tang Suoyan was not only a warm beam of light.
He was much, much more than that, in a way that was difficult to put into words.
He provided Tao Xiaodong a lasting sense of security, brightening his every moment.
Translated by luckykoi
That winter, Tang Suoyan went on a business trip to a city up north, and Tao Xiaodong tagged along.
When Tang Suoyan went to work, Tao Xiaodong drove to a studio on his own.
The door opened and a bald guy sucking a lolly came out just then, without even looking up, went, “Hullo.”
Grinning, Tao Xiaodong returned the greeting, “Hey there.”
The receptionist was rather friendly.
Do you have an appointment”
“I didn’t make one,” said Tao Xiaodong.
“Is Zhou laoshi around”
The bald guy had come to the door to make a call.
Hearing his voice, he looked over his shoulder in astonishment, blinked, then laughed and went “mother**er.”
“Watch your mouth,” Tao Xiaodong shamelessly called, “son.”
“Who the hell are you calling son!” The baldie instantly bristled, pouncing onto his back.
“As if you can ever be my daddy when you’re only a few years older than me and, besides, you’ll need permission from my big bro first.”
“Your big bro said that he didn’t want you long ago.” Tao Xiaodong flicked his bald head, even scorning, “You look too ugly without hair.”
During the convention, Tao Xiaodong rocked a bald hairstyle as well, keeping his head shaved so that the hair wouldn’t be at an awkward length.
At the main convention area, with two handsome bald men in the same space, there were many who joked that they were related.
At that time, Tao Xiaodong shot back with a smirk, “Do I look that old”
“You’re reaching your forties, it’s not a stretch to think you’d have a son.”
Tao Xiaodong nodded and conceded the point, but the younger man refused to stand for it, blustering loudly, terribly upset.
“I let you be my son and you’re still complaining” Tao Xiaodong pushed him aside and walked further in, saying, “I’m not ecstatic about it either, you’re as annoying as a blast cannon going off all day long.”
“Big bro!” The bald-head Lu Xiaobei shouted from behind him.
“Tao Xiaodong is here!”
The boss of the tattoo studio came downstairs and was taken aback to see Tao Xiaodong, asking with a smile, “When did you come over”
“Yesterday, I came along with my partner on his business trip.”
“Why didn’t you drop a call” Zhou laoshi walked over.
The two of them clasped hands and pulled in for a hug, patting each other’s back.
Despite the length of time that they hadn’t seen each other, there wasn’t any unfamiliarity between them.
They were that close.
Tao Xiaodong sat on the couch and said, “It’s not as though I would get lost.
I reached late at night yesterday, I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“Where are you staying” asked Zhou laoshi.
Tao Xiaodong reported the name of the place and Zhou laoshi said, “That’s nearby.”
“Yeah, just a couple of bucks by taxi.
Oh, you reminded me, file this under work expenses.” Tao Xiaodong reached into his pocket and took out the receipt, handing it to Lu Xiaobei next to him.
“Reimburse me my two dollars.”
“Incredible.” Lu Xiaobei stopped heeding him, took the receipt, and then tossed it back to him.
“Did you bring your hotel bill Should I file that in for you, too”
“Nah, my partner got it covered.” Tao Xiaodong smirked.
“Two dollars, transfer me my money.”
Zhou Zui watched them from the bylines with a smile, while Lu Xiaobei glared at Tao Xiaodong and denounced him as being utterly despicable.
Tao Xiaodong had not actually come along for the funsies this time; he had also come to discuss a collaboration with an old friend.
Over the years, Zhou Zui had hidden away from the world in his own bubble and never increased his low prices.
In Tao Xiaodong’s opinion, the man was underselling himself, not giving his art the appropriate respect.
It was an affront to Tao Xiaodong’s pride.
The best should charge the highest prices, he knew his worth and he wouldn’t settle for a single cent less.
Midway through the meal, Tang Suoyan finally finished work and made his way over.
Gauging that he should be almost here by now, Tao Xiaodong stood up and said, “I’m going down for a bit.”
Tang Suoyan got out of the car to see Tao Xiaodong waiting for him at the entrance.
He asked after coming close, “Why come down when you already gave me the room number”
Tao Xiaodong said, “I was afraid you wouldn’t be able to find me.”
“Is it that hard to find you” Tang Suoyan patted his back with a smile.
“Did you drink”
The both of them headed up together, and there was another person aside from the two from the studio in the private room.
The other man was unfairly attractive; Tao Xiaodong couldn’t help but cast him a second look.
Lu Xiaobei did the introductions.
“Guys, this is Xiao Ke.” Then, he turned his head and went, “Ke ge, this is Tao Xiaodong—he was the one who put together the Shanghai convention I went to last time.
The guy next to him is…”
Huh, he did not recognise this other guy, either.
Tao Xiaodong completed the sentence for him, grinning.
“Tang Suoyan, my partner.”
Two tattoo artists, one with a university professor as a partner and the other with a doctor as a partner, as though it was a race who had better academic qualifications and more dignified bearing.
Lu Xiaobei internally groused: My Dou’er hasn’t grown up yet, it’s nothing special, nothing to flaunt about.
As neither of the two academics was a drinker, their partners fended the drinks off for them, even inquiring quietly “are you hungry” and “would you like a little more to eat”
Lu Xiaobei looked left and right, his eyes swivelling around grumpily, then whipped out his phone and reclined in his seat, head lowered as he sent out a text.
—What are you up to.
The response was immediate: Ge, I’m revising.
I’ve got exams the following day!
Lin Xiaodou: It’s the last sprint! Ahhhh vacation will start right after my exams! Then I can look for you!
Lu Xiaobei: Yo, are you that excited
Lin Xiaodou: Yeah, I miss you! Ge, wait for me!
After sending out a few texts with his head bowed, the lively boy’s jovial responses satisfied Lu Xiaobei.
So, he put down his phone and tuned back into the conversation.
They were all people who tinkered with tattoos, who here didn’t have a high IQ partner, pshhh.
Translated on ninetysevenkoi.wordpress
– ❀ –
Please do not repost or retranslate.
Like the year before, Tao Xiaodong took Tao Huainan to Tang Suoyan’s parents’ place on the Lunar New Year Eve for celebrations.
Tao Xiaodong had to address them as dad and mom, now, by Tang Suoyan’s insistence.
Midway, he took a taxi down to the hospital to drop off some dumplings.
Tang Suoyan chided when he saw him, “I told you not to come, you could have gotten a few more scrapes along the way if the roads aren’t sufficiently well-lit.”
“I took a taxi over, it’s fine.” Tao Xiaodong put down the tupperware for him, in a merry mood.
“It’s the Lunar New Year, you have got to have home-cooked dumplings.”
“Is it cold” Tang Suoyan noticed that he was only wearing a short-sleeve under his down jacket.
“Was it easy to flag down a taxi”
“Not too bad, I called for one.” Tao Xiaodong stood with him for a few minutes.
Tang Suoyan was pressed for time, so Tao Xiaodong decided to head off after just a few sentences.
Tang Suoyan called hold of him, then turned around and returned to the on-call room.
When he next emerged, he stuffed a small red packet into Tao Xiaodong’s pocket.
It was palm-sized.
“What’s that” Tao Xiaodong asked.
Tang Suoyan said, “A red packet for good fortune.
Everyone else has it so my Xiaodong must have one, too.”
Tao Xiaodong smiled radiantly, appearing years younger.
“I’d guessed that you would come.” Tang Suoyan mirrored the smile, saying quietly, “You haven’t been listening to me much lately.”
“That’s a false accusation.” Tao Xiaodong winked, hand reaching into his pocket to stroke his thumb over the small red packet.
“Forget today, what other days have I not listened to you”
“Not listening today is bad enough, why are you still going on about other days” Tang Suoyan stepped closer to him, whispering in his ear, “Happy New Year.
Wait for me at home.”
Tao Xiaodong nodded, fiddling with the small red packet still.
“Happy New Year, Yan ge.
I’ll be off, then”
Tang Suoyan said, “Okay.
Keep to areas with street lights and avoid dark alleys.”
“I know, don’t worry.” Tao Xiaodong waved, smiling as he ran off.
Hand in his pocket, he held the small red packet from Tang Suoyan all the way until he got seated in the car, then turned on the reading light, took it out, and opened it.
Inside, a card was folded into half, clipping a clean and simple ring within.
The card contained two lines from Tang Suoyan, the handwriting instantly recognisable to Tao Xiaodong.
—Happy New Year, Xiaodong.
—And stay with me.