–Happy birthday. I hope you can always be carefree and innocent, just like before.
Xiao Ke stared at the short email displayed on his screen. It was so short that it only comprised of one line. After, he looked at the two words “Lin An” in the email’s closing. An indecipherable feeling rose in his heart. He sipped at his freshly brewed coffee and slightly burned his mouth. He put the mug down and sighed, then placed his hands on the keyboard and wrote out a reply.
Xiao Ke only typed one word before pressing send. He didn’t like to speak so much, that wasn’t his style. Besides, there wasn’t anything left to say, given their relationship.
Old lovers, ex-boyfriends. With this relationship, everything was awkward.
Xiao Ke glanced at the time. It was eight fifty-something, almost nine. The apartment building he lived in was close to the street and wasn’t very tall, so the lights outside were extremely bright right now.
His work group chat kept lighting up with notifications. One of the experiments he was in had recently entered into its last phase. The whole team was maintaining an excited energy, waiting for the last data set. It was also because this experiment had gone on for too long. They wanted it to end sooner so they could split the bonus money afterwards.
Someone asked him in the chat: Teacher Xiao, were you the last to leave tonight? Did you lock the door to the laboratory? I left my phone in there.
Xiao Ke replied: I did. Are you going to get it?
The other said: Un, I want to go grab it. Are you home? Would it be convenient for me to pick the key up from your place?
Xiao Ke sent: Wait for me by the North Gate. I’m about to head out and it’s on the way. Give me about fifteen minutes.
The other immediately replied with a long line of emojis that were kneeling as they cried. Xiao Ke laughed, then turned off his computer.
He put on a lambskin leather jacket; it was his first time wearing it, so there was still a gamey scent radiating off the lambskin. Black pants hugged his legs attractively, a patch of skin above his ankle remaining uncovered. No matter from what angle, this person was striking to look at. The only blemish on his otherwise perfect body was the scar on his ankle. It was whiter than the surrounding skin and slightly raised, so somewhat ruined the aesthetic. But it also added a hint of sexiness to his overall appearance.
Xiao Ke thought to himself as he was styling his hair, this outfit is a little coquettish.
After changing and doing his hair, Xiao Ke also casually picked up a black face mask before leaving the house. His look today was too different from how he normally appeared in public, which resulted in his coworker being unable to recognize him even when he was standing right across from the other.
Xiao Ke reached a hand out and pulled down his mask. He laughed, “Good evening, young man.”
“Oh my goodness! You scared me!” His coworker took a small step off to the side. He smiled after regaining his wits, then glared and said, “I really didn’t recognize you. Your hairstyle is different from how it is normally. I didn’t even consider it could’ve been you.”
We’re sorry for MTLers or people who like using reading mode, but our translations keep getting stolen by aggregators so we’re going to bring back the copy protection. If you need to MTL please retype the gibberish parts.
“What am I like normally?” Xiao Ke handed the key to him. “You can keep the key after using it. Just give it back tomorrow.”
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“I hate people like you who talk bullshit because they have the privilege.” His coworker pointed at him, then waved his hand. “I won’t waste any more of your time. Go on whatever date you need to, or go do whatever you need to. Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me. I won’t tell anyone else that you can be so……You know.”
Xiao Ke inquired, “Know what?”
His coworker smirked suggestively, “Must you make me directly say it? Don’t you have a good idea already, Xiao Shuai? Coquettish, you know.”
Xiao Ke chuckled. He exchanged a few more words with his coworker before the car he had called arrived. His coworker waved at him, then ran off to the laboratory building.
Xiao Ke got into the car. The driver asked, “Spring Wind Road, is it?”
Xiao Ke went “un”.
After that, nobody spoke again in the car. The driver glanced at him a couple of times from the rearview mirror. Xiao Ke’s head was down the whole time as he looked at his phone. Later, he took out the mask from his pocket and put it over his face.
He was a teacher. His students stared at him every time he had class; in the classroom, he was always the center of attention. Communicating with the students through eye contact was a necessary part of his everyday life. But strangely, he didn’t like being ogled at outside of the classroom.
Other’s gazes didn’t cause him extreme discomfort, but were ultimately uncomfortable to some degree. To the degree that made him want to furrow his brows.
It wasn’t the driver’s fault for being curious. Spring Wind Road was a street filled with bars. The destination Xiao Ke had set was Su Pond, which was considered chaotic even in a place like Spring Wind Road. Drivers who often worked in these parts all knew that the people who went there for fun weren’t really normal.
The girls acted like guys while the guys acted like girls. That was just the most common occurrence. There were also a bunch of otherwise strange people who frequented it. The whole place was like a gathering center for weirdos.
The driver couldn’t resist himself in the end. He looked in the rearview mirror and asked, “Young man, are you wearing cologne? It smells nice.”
“Yeah,” Xiao Ke replied.
The driver continued, “Are you a student at X University? What year?”
The judgment and curiosity in the driver’s gaze were obvious. Xiao Ke lightly laughed from behind his mask. “What year do you think I am?”
“Third or fourth?” The driver glanced at him again. “Can’t tell.”
Xiao Ke went “un”. They were almost at his destination, so he pocketed his phone and nodded. “If you say so.”
“Su Pond” was a place Xiao Ke was very familiar with. He had been here for the first time in his early twenties; now he was thirty. Added up, it had been almost ten years. But he really hadn’t visited in a long time. So long that when he discovered all the decorations in the lengthy hallway had been changed, he felt out of place. He wondered if he had walked in the wrong door.
“My goodness, who is this?” Someone was leaning against a pillar and playing with his phone close to the entrance. Upon looking up and seeing him, he immediately walked over and stared at Xiao Ke’s exposed eyes for a long time. He prodded Xiao Ke with his phone. “Has my vision gone blurry?”
“It has if you say it has.” Xiao Ke lifted his hand to brush the other’s hand away, then put it back in his pocket. He asked, “You redecorated?”
“Had to. This profession is all about keeping up with the fucking times. If the decorations are too old school, I wouldn’t get any business.”
The person speaking was the owner of this place. His last name was Su and he told everyone to call him Su Chi. That most certainly wasn’t his real name. One time he had gotten drunk and revealed that his true name was so lame that he couldn’t bring himself to use it. It didn’t sound as nice as Su Chi either. Back then, he had been in his thirties and could be considered a handsome man. There was nothing wrong with him renaming himself in such a way. But now that he was over forty, it seemed weird to still use that name. It didn’t match either. Xiao Ke and the others started calling him Old Su.
He glanced behind Xiao Ke and asked, “You’re here alone? Or is Little Lin parking outside?”
Xiao Ke took off his mask and spun it around his fingers. He smiled, then said, “We broke up a long time ago.”
Old Su exaggeratedly cocked an eyebrow to look at him. “A play fight? Or for real?”
Xiao Ke lifted his gaze and replied, “We’ve been broken up for over a year already. Does that seem real enough for you?”
Old Su opened his mouth but didn’t say anything. Even someone as clever as him couldn’t come up with a good response. In the end, he could only smile and say, “I was wondering why you hadn’t been here in over a year. Scared that this familiar setting would bring back your sorrows? Forget about it, little brother. Whether or not we can be together is dependent on destiny. When we split up, it’s because our destiny has ended. Don’t dwell too much on it.”
Xiao Ke nodded. “I really haven’t.”
“That’s good. Well, you do you. Come here when you’re looking for some fun. Being single is so liberating, don’t you think?” Old Su had other things to do, so left after chatting with Xiao Ke for a bit.
Xiao Ke found a small two-person table not far from the bar. The singer on stage was singing his soul out to some rock and roll song. He really hadn’t been here in a long time. Xiao Ke thought his head was going to explode listening to this music.
The waiter walked over to ask what alcohol he wanted to order. Xiao Ke said, “Just beer is fine. Dark beer.”
“Okay. How many?”
The server continued to ask, “Do you need anything else?”
Xiao Ke shook his head. “No. There’s a minimum spending fee for using the tables right? Just bring me anything.”
Xiao Ke didn’t hear what the waiter said after that. The singer was shouting too loudly. It hurt his ears to try and decipher what anyone else was saying, so he didn’t bother.
When the waiter ultimately brought over several plates of different nuts and shredded squid to cover his table, Xiao Ke was speechless. He said, “You could’ve simply brought a glass of expensive alcohol only. You’re too honest.”
The server bent over to say something else, but Xiao Ke still couldn’t understand him. He waved his hand and the waiter left.
Actually, Xiao Ke’s original intention hadn’t been drinking. He had ordered the two bottles of dark beer just to keep up appearances. Whether or not he would actually drink them was to be decided later. He didn’t know if he was here as a goodbye to the past or simply because he was feeling nostalgic, but he seemed like a grade A idiot sitting at a full table himself. Xiao Ke furrowed his eyebrows in annoyance. All his other emotions vanished and he only felt awkward.
Later, Xiao Ke finished both bottles of dark beer while eating a plate of pistachios. And then he asked for another dozen bottles. He drank until only two were left.
He was a little drunk. Mini movies of when he had come here with Lin An flashed through his brain. Back then, Lin An was in the design department and he was still in graduate school. The two of them had come to Su Pond to drink often. Lin An could hold his alcohol, but he liked pretending to be drunk. He would use the liquid confidence to say what he wanted to say, and if what he said was too much, he could use the excuse that it was the alcohol talking
Xiao Ke shook his head. This was his first time here since breaking up with Lin An. He hadn’t spent too much time thinking about it before coming; he had just changed and made his way over. This would probably be his last time here. Drinking alone at a place like this truly made someone appear sorrowful. It seemed too much like he was suffering from heartache.
–“Are there no more tables?”
There was a pause in the music. A voice sounded from beside him. It sounded a little hoarse, but was a low male’s voice.
The server asked, “For how many?”
The man said, “Just myself.”
The server looked around in a circle before replying apologetically, “I guess there really aren’t any more small tables. You can take a seat anywhere else first.”
Xiao Ke’s gaze fell on that person’s hand. He squinted. The fingers were very long and the hand was quite large. He looked up, but the lighting was too dim for him to clearly see the other’s appearance.
Xiao Ke was truly drunk. His mind was fuzzy and he wasn’t thinking straight.
Which was why he grabbed that person’s hand when the other was about to walk away. He lifted his gaze and said, “Buddy, we can share.”