“Worker Lin.” Xiao Ke still called him in this manner. He then repeated it once more, “Worker Lin.”
Lin An’s eyes were very red as he looked at him.
Xiao Ke said, “Let’s not talk about the past. You know me, when have you heard me talk about the past?”
When he said this, he still wore a gentle smile on his face. But the words out of his mouth sounded heartless and cruel. Lin An rubbed his finger. He looked so frail as he stood there. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse. “But even if you nor I speak about it, it still exists.”
Xiao Ke nodded and responded, “Yes, it does still exist. And I won’t deny that it was nice, that it was very, very beautiful. I respect everything that ‘exists’ in this world, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to immerse myself in them.”
When they had broken up, Xiao Ke hadn’t said anything harsh. He had only made a quick decision, then immediately followed through without any hesitation. It wasn’t that he didn’t place an emphasis on love. On the contrary, it was because he respected love that he took this so seriously. He refused to make do; he refused to let it become the burden and suffering between two people.
Lin An obviously understood him. Thus, after their split, he rarely contacted Xiao Ke, because he knew that nothing would come out of it. After Xiao Ke spoke, he gently brushed his chin. His voice was sorrowful and scratchy. “I truly was the one who couldn’t give up enough……I truly was wrong back then. But I didn’t actually make a mistake, I didn’t get together with her. With you……After breaking up, I’ve remained single. You’re right, I understand you, so I didn’t dare to try and find you, even though I was extremely regretful.”
He stared directly into Xiao Ke’s eyes and repeated himself, “Xiao Ke, I’m very regretful.”
The person before him was still the same. Once, this had been the face he had seen before falling asleep and right after waking up every day. Xiao Ke closed his eyes, then lifted a hand to softly pat Lin An’s back. He said, “Happy new year, Worker Lin. After this year, turn a new page. You have to keep walking forward; you have to keep looking forward. The past is in the past.”
Xiao Ke walked Lin An to the gate of the neighborhood. Lin An’s car was parked there. When he left, Xiao Ke only waved at him, but didn’t say anything. He had already said all that should be said. As for that meaningless “see you again”, there was no need to speak it. Xiao Ke didn’t want to see him again.
When Xiao Ke walked upstairs, Old Xiao was already snoring. He laid on the bed to take his nap. Doctor Xu had her glasses on and was on her phone. Upon seeing him, she asked, “He’s gone?”
“He’s gone.” Xiao Ke switched shoes and breathed onto his hands, saying, “It’s quite cold today.”
“When isn’t it cold? It’s already a blessing that it’s not negative thirty degrees, seeing as it’s the twelfth month of the lunar year.” Doctor Xu observed Xiao Ke’s expression. She didn’t ask or say anything else.
Xiao Ke made a noise of acknowledgment, took off his jacket, washed his hands, then walked into his room and didn’t come back out.
He had spoken very directly and heartlessly, but the end of every relationship would take something with it. This was because every relationship was connected to one’s affections and the human heart. It was already quite impressive that he had been able to speak his rejection without any hesitations or struggling, but to say that this hadn’t affected his mood at all would be a lie.
At the time, Xiao Ke mocked himself and thought he truly had laughed too much these two days. He had been a bit too wild.
After Old Xiao woke up, he and Doctor Xu whispered who knows what to each other. But ultimately, neither of them came inside to bother him. Xiao Ke laid in bed, eyes closed as he rested. He didn’t manage to fall asleep, but also wasn’t completely awake. His brain was a mess, filled with bits and pieces of the past. His chest felt heavy too, as if something was stuck there, making him feel quite uncomfortable.
He had probably really been too cold when he left the house that afternoon. As he lay there, he realized that his discomfort wasn’t only because of his mood. He also had a headache and felt dizzy.
Mrs. Xu opened the door just a smidge to check on him. Upon seeing that Xiao Ke was still lying there obediently and not making a noise, she made to close the door and leave. Xiao Ke called out to her, “Don’t leave, Doctor Xu. You have a patient.”
As soon as he opened his mouth, he immediately furrowed his brows. What sound was that. Terrible.
There was practically no need for a diagnosis. One could tell just from hearing him speak. His mom walked in and felt his forehead. Afterwards, she flicked him. “If I hadn’t come in, would you have just kept silent?”
“I didn’t have any energy to yell. Right now I’m just a helpless little lamb. Doctor Xu, save me.” Xiao Ke reached his hand out. He knew that Doctor Xu was in the habit of feeling her patients’ palms after feeling their foreheads.
“There’s nothing wrong. Just eat some medicine and take a nap.” Doctor Xu folded the edge of the blanket over and made Xiao Ke roll in. “I’ll make some porridge for you tonight. You’ll be fine after spending an evening in bed.”
With a doctor at home, they never went to the hospital for colds or fevers. Xiao Ke followed her instructions completely. After taking some medicine, he drank a cup of hot water and continued staying in bed, pretending to be a corpse. Old Xiao walked in to observe him. He had his little glasses on, so peered over the rims subtly, then spoke like an unconcerned person, “Yo, you’re sick? Feel bad after seeing Little Lin?”
Xiao Ke didn’t open his eyes, but there was movement under his eyelids, meaning that he was awake. He kept his eyes shut and said, “Teacher Xiao, be more humane. Your son has a fever right now.”
Old Xiao lowered his voice and laughed a few times. He purposefully asked, “If you’re really so uncomfortable, just get back together with Little Lin. It seems to me that Little Lin has such intentions.”
Xiao Ke let out a sickly moan, dragging the sound out. He shouted, “Doctor Xu……Doctor Xu, your family member is disturbing the patient.”
Doctor Xu called back from the living room outside, “Shut your broken throat. Those that need to sleep, hurry and sleep. Those that need to get out, hurry and get out. Quit fooling around.”
Xiao Ke opened his eyes and looked at his dad. He smiled and said, “Please, Teacher Xiao. The doctor has ordered all guests to leave. Also, I’m uncomfortable because I got blown too many times by the cold wind, not because of anyone in particular. If you say this, people could misunderstand. I didn’t consider it when I was single, not to mention I now have a soon-to-be significant other. If I really did what you said, I would be scum.”
“Yo,” Teacher Xiao replied after hearing that Xiao Ke had a soon-to-be significant other. After he yo’d once, he didn’t feel satisfied, so yo’d once more.
Xiao Ke was just about to open his mouth to shout for Doctor Xu again when Old Xiao very conscientiously left by himself. He even closed the door behind him.
After an afternoon of silence, Xiao Ke had already pretty much finished organizing his emotions. But he still didn’t really want to talk.
An originally great day ultimately ended in such a tragic way. Xiao Ke laughed bitterly. He found it comical. His head still hurt; it felt like there was blood stuck in his brain. It felt heavy every time he moved.
Zhou Zui hadn’t finished the leg sleeve tattoo from a few days ago yet. He would probably be working till late again today. Xiao Ke didn’t want to call and disrupt him. Teacher Zhou worked very hard when he tattooed. But he really felt bored just laying there. This made his originally terrible mood even worse.
Fevers made people feel cold. Xiao Ke curled into a ball under the blankets. After dinner, he ate some medicine again, then was strictly ordered to keep lying there. Thus, he fell in and out of sleep. During the latter half of the night, his temperature dropped. He wasn’t cold anymore and had sweated the fever all out.
Though his fever had receded, he didn’t dare to try and take a shower. He only briefly cleaned up a bit. When he got back into bed, he reached for his phone and saw that it was already two o’clock. The last nap he had taken had lasted a pretty long time. Before he had fallen asleep, it hadn’t even been 11. His original intention had been to call Zhou Zui after waking up, but it wouldn’t be right at this time.
There were two unread messages on his WeChat. Xiao Ke guessed that they were probably from Zhou Zui. Upon opening them, he found that he was right.
——Teacher Xiao, asleep?
The first one had been sent at 12. The second was from 12:30.
Recently, Xiao Ke had gotten into the habit of always sending Zhou Zui a message at the same time every day. Before bed, they had to chat for a bit. Today he had been asleep so hadn’t sent anything. In response, Zhou Zui had actually taken the initiative to ask.
Xiao Ke stared at these two messages and smiled. He felt that Teacher Zhou was super cute. Thirty minutes after the first message and still no response, so he could only send a “goodnight” and give up on waiting.
In the middle of the night, Xiao Ke suddenly felt his heart become incredibly soft.
And, he didn’t want to be obedient and reasonable anymore. He wanted to be impulsive, to be stubborn. Thus, he called back.
It rang for over ten seconds before getting picked up. Xiao Ke even thought that the “dudu” sound coming from the phone sounded nice. He was at peace. Zhou Zui had probably already been asleep. He could tell from his voice. It was slightly raspy and a little deep. When he picked up, he only made one sound.
This word caused Xiao Ke’s soul to fall to the ground, unable to get back up.
After using his voice, Zhou Zui realized that his voice was hoarse, so cleared his throat. He was a bit confused, “Teacher Xiao?”
It was the middle of the night. Zhou Zui was using such a sexy voice to tease him. Xiao Ke couldn’t help himself at all. He very obviously felt the change that occurred in a part of himself that was under the blanket. He thought to himself, Teacher Xiao you really are a wild animal.
Xiao Ke closed his eyes and said, “You must already be sleeping? Sorry.”
After saying this, Zhou Zui immediately asked, “What’s wrong with your throat?”
Xiao Ke tightened his grip on his phone. He felt his heart twitch. Why else did he only like older men? The other hadn’t missed this crucial point at all. Xiao Ke laughed and said, “Nothing. It’s because I was sleeping.”
“You sound like you have a cold,” Zhou Zui said. “Be careful.”
“Okay.” Xiao Ke smiled silently on the other end of the line. He used his finger to caress his phone and added, “I seem crazy calling you in the middle of the night. I actually knew that you weren’t awake, but I just suddenly wanted to make a call. I wanted to hear your voice. I must be pretty bad, right?”
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.
Zhou Zui waited for him to finish speaking, then replied, “Call if you want to. You don’t need to worry about those things.”
“Un,” Xiao Ke acknowledged. Afterwards, the two of them remained silent, not speaking. Xiao Ke listened to Zhou Zui’s breathing and slowly adjusted his own breathing so that the two of them shared the same pattern.
Lf gfjiis kjr delaf mgjhs. Jjiilcu ab vlraegy Itbe Iel’r gfra, yea cba rqfjxlcu jcv bcis ilrafclcu ab fjmt batfg’r ygfjatlcu. Wljb Bf rwlifv jujlc jcv jrxfv, “Criffq?”
Itbe Iel lwwfvljafis gfrqbcvfv, “Rb.”
Wljb Bf rboais rjlv, “Ktfc ub riffq.”
Itbe Iel vlvc’a gfqis. C ofk rfmbcvr ijafg, tf lcdelgfv, “Qtja’r kgbcu klat sbe? Tbe’gf ectjqqs?”
Xiao Ke glued his phone closer to his ear. In this moment, the tickle in his nose suddenly got worse. It wasn’t that he wanted to cry; it wasn’t that bad. But the wronged feeling that had been hidden in the deepest crevices of his heart suddenly rushed forward with a vengeance.
Xiao Ke was thirty. To some young people, he was already an old man. Normally he was quite carefree and forgiving. He viewed the world very openly and didn’t get hung up over things he couldn’t change. He wasn’t dramatic. But it wasn’t true that people like him didn’t get upset, that they never felt heartbroken.
Today, Lin An told him that he hadn’t gotten together with anyone else. That he hadn’t actually made a mistake.
At the time, Xiao Ke hadn’t said anything, but he had refuted him in his heart. How could that not count as a mistake? If he truly hadn’t make a mistake, they wouldn’t have broken up. It didn’t only count as a mistake when you really got married or slept with them. It counted as a mistake from the moment you seriously considered getting married to someone else.
At the time they had split up, Xiao Ke had even comforted Lin An. He had patted his shoulder and said, “I hope Worker Lin’s life can go smoothly, that every step he takes will bring him someplace higher.” Lin An had been so upset, but Xiao Ke had been so carefree, almost to the point of being heartless.
Did Xiao Ke really not feel pained?
How was that possible? He had used so much energy wooing Lin An back then. In those five years, he had used his whole heart to be with Lin An; they had truly been in love. Xiao Ke’s 23 to 28 passed in the blink of an eye. All his best years had been spent being in a relationship with Lin An. But in the end, he had only gotten the questions is it okay if you share a lover with someone else? Can you accept your lover forming a different family with someone else?
Xiao Ke had given up, but that didn’t mean he didn’t care. He didn’t say anything, but that didn’t mean he didn’t actually feel wronged.
As long as one was sincere, it was impossible for one to not feel sorrow. Xiao Ke hadn’t mentioned his split with Lin An to anyone, so nobody knew the reason, including his close friends like Fang Qimiao. This was how Xiao Ke did things. This was the last bit of tenderness he could give Lin An.
So nobody understood how wronged and upset he felt being betrayed and abandoned by his lover.
Xiao Ke sniffled, then spoke into the phone, “Teacher Zhou, I’m really, really unhappy.”
He had never told anyone this before. Xiao Ke had always been pretty independent, very strong. But he was willing to show his weaker side to Zhou Zui. He would allow the other to block alcohol for him, to give him his jacket to wear; he could express to him, “Teacher Zhou, I’m unhappy”.
This could be because Zhou Zui made people feel safe. It could also be because Zhou Zui had already seen his worst and weakest side when they had first met. He had been drinking his sorrows away alone, a single person watching over a whole table of food, appearing desolate. So desolate that he had grabbed a stranger’s hand to invite him to sit across from him.
Xiao Ke flipped over to lay on his side. He squeezed his phone into the space between his ear and pillow. He could hear Zhou Zui asking from the other end of the line, “Then how can you be happy again?”
Zhou Zui didn’t ask why he was unhappy. He only asked how he could be happy again.
Xiao Ke closed his eyes and thought how could this old man be so perfect.
If he wanted to share, he naturally would. If he didn’t want to, Zhou Zui wouldn’t ask to make him repeat those events that caused him sorrow. Zhou Zui’s physical appearance was very rough, but he was actually very caring and gentle inside.
People were like this. If someone indulged in them, they wanted to act out of line, wanted to be unrestrained. Xiao Ke purposefully said, “I’ve been dumped ah. Am I not good? Teacher Xiao isn’t perfect? If you miss out on Teacher Xiao now, you’ll probably never find anyone better for the rest of your life.”
There was a long bout of silence from the other end. It was completely silent. He could barely even hear the other’s breathing.
Xiao Ke laughed quietly to himself. He suddenly felt much more relaxed. That depressing emotion buried in his heart slowly disappeared. Xiao Ke spoke up and asked, “Are you still there?”
“Yes.” Zhou Zui’s voice was deep as it sounded out. Xiao Ke smiled so hard that his eyes curved into crescents.
Zhou Zui’s relationship experience was very, very lacking. Things outside of his scope of knowledge made his thoughts jumble into a knot. That I’ve been dumped by Xiao Ke caused Zhou Zui to completely lose his voice.
Who dumped you? Weren’t you and me……Weren’t we going to continue? Who else could dump you? I’m not the only one? Who else is there?
Zhou Zui remained silent. Xiao Ke couldn’t bear to keep teasing him. In the end, he started laughing and said, “Teacher Zhou, I was just teasing.”
Zhou Zui heaved a sigh of relief after hearing his laughter. Two seconds later, he started chuckling too. His voice was deep as he shared, “You scared me so much that my brain went blank.”
“That scared?” Xiao Ke licked his lips. He rolled his eyes in thought and lowered his voice, “What are you scared of?”
If someone else asked Xiao Ke this, Teacher Xiao would be able to sweet talk his way out of it. But Zhou Zui wasn’t good at these things. He could only reply honestly, “That you’re not single.”
“Teacher Xiao never lies.” Xiao Ke smiled and asked, “But imagine I really wasn’t single?”
Zhou Zui was silent for a long time. He was probably thinking. In the end, he said, “I don’t want to.”
He didn’t want that to be true. He wanted to continue.
Xiao Ke’s entire heart was conquered by Teacher Zhou’s brief sentence. He stopped fooling around; his grief disappeared. After half an hour of conversation, Xiao Ke could only sigh at how cute Teacher Zhou was after hanging up. He couldn’t even remember anything about Lin An and the past.
After waking up the next morning, Xiao Ke had throat inflammation. But he didn’t have a fever anymore. Thus, Xiao Ke left the house after eating breakfast. Doctor Xu couldn’t stop him despite her best attempts.
He just really missed Teacher Zhou.
Tomorrow was New Year’s Eve. There were finally less cars on the road. Xiao Ke didn’t have to try very hard to find a parking spot next to the shop. He got out of the car and ran into the shop. When he entered, Lu Xiaobei and Zhou Zui were in the middle of eating.
As soon as he walked in, the two stopped in the middle of their chewing. Especially Zhou Zui. He stared at Xiao Ke for a long time. Xiao Ke smiled at him, not shy at all.
Lu Xiaobei asked him, “What are you doing here instead of waiting at home to celebrate or visiting your relatives?”
Xiao Ke walked over to sit beside the two of them. He said, “Is this not considered visiting relatives?”
Zhou Zui inquired, “Sick?”
Xiao Ke’s voice was raspy as could be. It had been this way since he had woken up. His nose was completely stuffed too. Anyone could tell that he was sick. Xiao Ke said, “Yeah. Yesterday I tried to seek death and took a walk outside. Got completely frozen.”
“Wow, you have so many interests. Even going out to take a walk.” Lu Xiaobei didn’t even bother being polite. He laughed at Xiao Ke, “Xiao ge, the tip of your nose is red. It’s pretty cute.”
“Git,” Xiao Ke smiled and glared at him.
Zhou Zui softly asked, “Uncomfortable?”
Last night, the two of them had just spoken over the phone. Now, they were inexplicably more intimate. Xiao Ke shook his head. “No, I just have a bit of a stuffy nose. Nothing else.”
“Un,” Zhou Zui said. “If you’re uncomfortable, go lie down upstairs.”
“Okay,” Xiao Ke agreed with curved eyes. He looked very obedient.
Only this master-apprentice pair was left in the shop. It was pretty lonely. Lu Xiaobei’s client was a little girl. She wanted to get a deer tattooed onto her calf. Xiao Ke took a brief look over his design. It was really beautiful: the image was colored with blue tones and bathed in starlight.
These deer designs were too common. Lu Xiaobei had done his best to make his unique and creative, so that people would be able to tell that it was different at first glance.
Lu Xiaobei told the little girl, “I need to shade your tattoo several times, otherwise, the effect won’t be ideal. We won’t be able to finish today. I’m scared that towards the end, it’ll be too painful for you. Either way, you need to come back in the future to get touch ups. If it gets too much, we can stop early today.”
The girl said, “Don’t worry, go for it.”
Xiao Ke sat there watching him for a while. Lu Xiaobei was really cool when he worked. He put on a mask and remained silent. Xiao Ke had come to the shop so many times that he had already learned to also love the things his love interest loved. Now, he truly believed that tattooing was a very tasteful art form.
It was very magical, permanently branding an image onto one’s body. Feeling its pain was the only way to be bestowed with its beauty. Maybe in a few years you wouldn’t like it anymore, but in the moment you had decided to get the tattoo, you were destined to deal with its consequences. Everything was uncertain; this was also the charm of tattoos.
Zhou Zui’s client today was also a girl. She had shoulder-length hair and wore a pastel pink down jacket with jeans and snow boots. She appeared to be gentle and quiet.
Probably because Zhou Zui worked with a more Western style normally, so he had many more male clients than female clients. And, he very rarely did small tattoos. Normally, he had full back tattoos or full sleeves scheduled. There were also generally less female clients who wanted big tattoos.
This little girl today had waited three months for Zhou Zui. She had specifically asked him to be the tattoo artist. The little girl spoke softly and smiled shyly. “Happy new year, Teacher Zhou.”
Zhou Zui said to her too, “Happy new year.”
Today she was going to get a portrait tattooed on her thigh. In comparison to what Zhou Zui normally did, this was a small job, very simple. Usually, the preparation for female clients was completed by Xu Wen, but Xu Wen wasn’t here, so Zhou Zui had to do it personally.
Her tattoo was close to the base of her thigh. Zhou Zui headed upstairs and retrieved a pair of shorts and a blanket for her. He pointed to a room on the first floor. “Go change inside. The door has a lock.”
The little girl was a bit shy as she grabbed the shorts. She kept her head down and walked into the room.
Xiao Ke had only learned after seeing Xu Wen hand a silk sleeping gown to a different girl that for female clients, no matter what part of the body they were getting tattooed, there were corresponding clothes they could change into. If they didn’t bring any with them, they could change into the ones at the shop. These were all grey and black, so were the same color scheme. And they weren’t cheap. Afterwards, the shop would just give these clothes to the clients.
“How generous,” Xiao Ke had jokingly said back then.
Xu Wen nodded and said, “It’s truly quite generous. I said it would be enough to order in bulk from Taobao, but Big Boss wouldn’t let me. One set is a couple hundred. Some little girls clearly don’t need to change but still ask for a set. Hurts my heart.”
Xiao Ke smiled and replied, “Your heart doesn’t need to hurt for your Big Boss. Give it to anyone who wants one. Any random tattoo by him costs eight to ten thousand. He has more than enough for some pajamas.”
When she came back out, there was already a towel placed over the chair. Zhou Zui told her, “You can put your stuff in the cabinet over there. There isn’t anyone else in the shop today, so you can put it anywhere and don’t need to lock it. After, come lay down here. Or, you can sit. The towel and pants are both new, so no need to worry.”
“I know.” The little girl put her stuff down and walked over, then sat in the chair. Zhou Zui covered her in the blanket, so only the left leg she was getting tattooed was visible.
Zhou Zui brought the design he had just printed out over and placed it on her leg. “Check the location.”
The girl nodded and said it was okay.
Zhou Zui showed her the image again and said, “Take another look. If there’s nothing wrong, I’ll start lining. When I do, it’ll be hard to change anything.”
She stared at the picture for a long time, then smiled and said, “Actually, he doesn’t have such a pronounced nose bridge. But he looks more handsome this way. It’s fine.”
“Then I’ll start?” Zhou Zui asked her.
He turned on the tattooing machine. The sound of it caused most people anxiety. The little girl’s leg tensed up. Zhou Zui looked down and said, “Relax.”
“I’ll try.” She smiled in slight embarrassment. “I’m pretty scared of pain.”
“Un, relax. It’ll hurt more if you’re like this,” Zhou Zui replied.
When the needle approached her leg, she trembled and went “si”.
Xiao Ke walked over to ask her, “Little beauty, have you graduated yet? You don’t look that old.”
She said, “Current PhD student.”
Xiao Ke said, “Then we’re the same age.”
The little girl nodded. “I think so too.”
Zhou Zui looked up at Xiao Ke and smiled. Lu Xiaobei added on from the other side, “Xiao ge, save some face.”
“What?” Xiao Ke raised an eyebrow. “I’m a first year PhD student this year.”
The little girl said, “I’m a second year.”
“Ah,” Xiao Ke immediately called, “Senior.”
Zhou Zui lowered his head to set the spots. A smile lingered on his lips. Lu Xiaobei was expressionless; he didn’t want to bother with them.
Xiao Ke had actually just noticed that she was overly nervous, so came over to distract her with conversation. Otherwise, Zhou Zui wouldn’t be able to start working.
Xiao Ke pointed at the image and asked her, “Boyfriend?”
Xiao Ke said, “He’s pretty good looking.”
“He’s alright.” The little girl smiled too as she gazed at the image. “He’s actually not this good looking in person. Teacher Zhou made him more handsome.”
These people who got their lovers tattooed onto their bodies actually weren’t rare, but they normally only got small tattoos or a more cartoonish or abstract design. Lu Xiaobei had done a lot of these in the past. Big, realistic sketches like this one weren’t as common, though. Xiao Ke felt that this girl was too young and that the future was uncertain. There was always the possibility that they wouldn’t be able to stay together forever. What would she do then?
But this was the uncertainty of tattoos. They were a gamble.
That day, Xiao Ke stayed by her side, chatting with her from time to time. She truly was scared of the pain; her leg would periodically twitch and her forehead was covered in a layer of sweat.
Zhou Zui asked which school she was from. She said T University.
“Yo, what a coincidence. We’re schoolmates.” The school she spoke of was coincidentally the one Xiao Ke worked at.
The little girl said she was a finance major. Xiao Ke said he was in biological engineering. Until the end, he kept saying he was a first year PhD student.
Single color designs were very fast. Zhou Zui finished in only two hours. After completion, the image still looked very good, very cool. The little girl looked at herself in shorts in the mirror. She was very pleased. Her eyes were red as she told Zhou Zui, “You’ve worked hard, Teacher Zhou.”
Zhou Zui said, “You’re being too polite.”
After she left, Lu Xiaobei chastised Xiao Ke, “You’re already so old but don’t care about your own face. If one day in the future she runs into you at school and calls you junior, I’ll be waiting to see if you feel awkward or not.”
Xiao Ke laughed and shrugged. “I’ll just answer if she calls me. Who’s fault is it that Teacher Xiao looks so young.”
Time always passed in a blink when he was by Zhou Zui’s side. Xiao Ke wasted a day away in the shop, but didn’t feel empty inside at all. After dark, he had to leave. Xiao Ke rubbed his stuffy nose and said to Zhou Zui, “Teacher Zhou, I have to leave. You’ll still be in the shop tomorrow?”
Zhou Zui nodded, “Yes.”
“Okay.” Xiao Ke said with a smile, “Then I’m leaving now. I’ll message you tonight.”
Zhou Zui said, “Don’t come tomorrow. Stay at home for the new year. Come back after the celebrations. Spend some time with your family.”
Xiao Ke agreed, “Alright.” He turned around to look. Lu Xiaobei was in the middle of diligently tattooing. Thus, Xiao Ke lifted his hand to caress Zhou Zui’s face very quickly before leaving. He flirted with him quite openly, staring straight into his eyes and whispering, “Teacher Zhou, I don’t have anyone else. You’re my only precious, don’t worry!”
Xiao Ke had actually wanted to say this last night, but had been scared that he would get himself hard and not be able to sleep. Thus, he hadn’t dared to say it. The phrase had been on the tip of his tongue the whole day. If he didn’t get it out to tease Zhou Zui, he wouldn’t feel content.
Old man Zhou Zui got teased. He got called “precious” by someone. Xiao Ke adored the current expression on Zhou Zui’s face. It was the same as in the past, very exasperated but with a hint of indulgence.
Xiao Ke smiled at him again, then opened the door and ran away.
It didn’t show on his face, but being called such a nickname made Zhou Zui feel sweet inside his heart. The old man’s spring was here. Flowers were blooming all across the land. Even the air was filled with the fragrance of fresh flowers. Zhou Zui specially went to look over his buckets of roses. He picked out a few wilted ones and threw them out.
Xiao Ke only wiped the smile off of his face after he had scrambled into his car. In actuality, his mood wasn’t as great as he had expressed. His heart felt a little heavy. Everyone else had gone home for the new year, why weren’t the two cool brothers at the shop going home? This gave him the grim feeling of two old, single guys who had no one to care for them.
Xiao Ke had never asked Zhou Zui about this. Even if he didn’t ask, though, he could make a pretty accurate guess. His heart just felt like it was in a lot of pain. A big bro with a messy past and his lonely little bro. Neither of them had a home, so they could only rely on each other.
Actually, with age, people enjoyed the celebrations less and less. They felt these were too much work, but also couldn’t not celebrate. Thus, even though Xiao Ke really wanted to run out of his grandma’s house to find Zhou Zui and Lu Xiaobei, he didn’t dare to actually do it. Their family tradition was that they all had to spend New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s house. No one could be absent. They had to go early in the morning, not leaving until after eating dumplings at midnight.
At around 11 at night, Xiao Ke sent a message to Zhou Zui. He asked: Teacher Zhou, where are you?
Zhou Zui said: Fang Xi and Old Cao came over. We’re drinking.
Xiao Ke asked again: They went to your house?
Zhou Zui replied: Un.
Xiao Ke immediately sent a message to Old Cao: Handsome man, send your location.
After thinking about it, he hurriedly added: Sh.
Old Cao ultimately wasn’t like those straight men who only had one nerve. He knew exactly what Xiao Ke was planning. He replied: Fee for keeping quiet.
Xiao Ke sent him a 200 dollar red envelope on the spot. “Wishing you prosperity, Cao ge is the most handsome.”
Old Cao opened the red envelope, then sent a location. He very helpfully added: Head north after getting in the main gate. The frontmost, building C6, 2201.
Xiao Ke sent 200 more.
“Dad, hurry up and eat.” Xiao Ke had finished eating his dumplings long ago. Doctor Xu had finished too. In their family, only Old Xiao was still eating.
Grandma smacked him with her hand. “Why are you rushing him! Let your dad take his time!”
“I’m scared he’ll get tired,” Xiao Ke smiled in placation. He hugged his grandma and fed a sweet grape into her mouth. “Besides, if we’re all here it’ll disrupt your rest.”
Uncle said, “Keep lying, you. Your grandma definitely won’t sleep before she finishes watching the Spring Festival Gala.”
Xiao Ke was incredibly anxious in his heart. He was caught up in thoughts about Zhou Zui, but he couldn’t directly say this. He could only stare at his dad as he ate his dumplings. As soon as his dad put his chopsticks down, Xiao Ke immediately put on his jacket. “Let’s go, my cold doesn’t seem to be completely healed. My head hurts, I’m about to fall asleep.”
His grandma was so angry she laughed. “Then sleep here! There are so many rooms. They aren’t enough for you to sleep in?”
“I need to sleep in my own bed,” Xiao Ke stuffed Doctor Xu’s jacket into her arms. He told his grandma, “Grandma, I’m sick. I even had a fever yesterday.”
Grandma waved her hand. “Hurry and leave!”
Xiao Ke didn’t hesitate at all. He kissed his grandma on the cheek, then charged downstairs. By the time Old Xiao and Doctor Xu came downstairs, he had already heated the car up.
When Old Xiao sat in the car, he scolded, “As anxious as a monkey.”
Xiao Ke turned on the ignition and drove out of the neighborhood. He smiled and said, “Monkeys aren’t even as anxious as me. You two need to try and understand your handsome and good-looking son. He’s still single. Shouldn’t I go find my new sweetheart on this day of family reunions and welcoming the new spring?”
Old Xiao didn’t hold back at all as he mocked, “So now you’re not the one who got a fever just from taking a walk outside with your ex?”
“Ey, you can’t say strange things like that, old comrade.” Xiao Ke smiled and shook his head, “That was because of the wind, Doctor Xu can confirm. I wouldn’t get that angry. We’ve been over for a hundred years already.”
He dropped his parents off in their neighborhood, then stuffed a thick red envelope into each of their hands. He grinned and said, “I won’t be back tonight, so I’m giving you these red envelopes in advance. I wish my dad and mom will be healthy and safe.”
“Hurry and go.” Old Xiao and Doctor Xu grabbed the red envelopes from him. They knew he was in a rush. Doctor Xu said, “Drive slowly. You don’t need to make up for this bit of time.”
“Don’t worry.” Xiao Ke watched them walk inside before driving away.
The streets on New Year’s Eve were the emptiest out of the entire year. Xiao Ke barely saw any cars the whole way. He followed the GPS to Zhou Zui’s neighborhood. It was one that separated cars and people; cars weren’t allowed inside. Xiao Ke circled around outside. By the time he found a parking spot and parked his car, it was already 11:50.
Xiao Ke ran the entire rest of the way. Though he kept his lips closed, he still got a mouthful of wind. His originally inflamed throat now felt dry and coarse. If he didn’t get a drink of water immediately, he felt like it would implode.
When Xiao Ke found building C6 and walked in the door, it was 11:53. As soon as Xiao Ke walked in, he froze. He needed a card to enter the inside door. Xiao Ke immediately sent Old Cao a message telling him to open the door without alerting Zhou Zui, and to also call him the elevator.
Old Cao probably had his phone right by his side. He worked extremely fast. The elevator climbed to the twenty second floor. Before the door opened, Xiao Ke checked the time. Fifty seven past.
Old Cao was already leaning against the door, waiting for him. Xiao Ke laughed and whispered, “Thanks. Where’s Zhou Zui?”
Old Cao pointed randomly behind himself. “Fang Xi told him to go find some cigarettes.”
Xiao Ke swapped shoes and walked in. Fang Xi was by the table, eyebrow cocked as he smiled suggestively and observed Xiao Ke. He pointed into the kitchen. Xiao Ke grinned and nodded at him. He didn’t have time to speak. He simply ran in that direction.
Zhou Zui’s back was to the door as he looked through a cabinet. He had just grabbed a box of cigarettes and was about to turn around when Xiao Ke lunged at him and covered his eyes.
“Fuck.” Zhou Zui had originally thought it was Fang Xi or Old Cao being crazy and made to reach a hand up to remove the one covering his eyes when he heard the sound of uneven panting. He suddenly paused.
Xiao Ke didn’t say anything. He had just been running too fast, so couldn’t quite catch his breath.
Zhou Zui caressed Xiao Ke’s hand a few times, gently rubbing the back of it with his thumb. Xiao Ke could feel the eyelashes underneath his palm fluttering. Zhou Zui then felt his sleeve. Xiao Ke hadn’t taken his jacket off after coming inside. He still carried the cold with him.
Zhou Zui spoke, “Xiao Ke?”
Xiao Ke smiled, but didn’t remove his hand. Using his other hand, he pulled out a red envelope from his pocket and stuffed it into Zhou Zui’s hand. His voice was still unsteady, but filled with amusement. “Teacher Xiao rushed over to give you a red envelope. Aren’t I good?”
Zhou Zui nodded. His voice was low as he responded, “Good.”
Thus, Xiao Ke chuckled and leaned in closer to Zhou Zui’s ear to whisper to him. His throat was very dry and hoarse. He was quite good at using this kind of voice to say sweet nothings.
Amidst the darkness, Zhou Zui heard Xiao Ke speak to him with his still slightly wavering voice, “It’s already midnight now. You need to remember that Teacher Xiao crossed into the new year with you. I don’t care how many years passed before this that you spent alone, but from today on, I’ll be with you every new year.”
These words, that voice, the person before him. Everything was too perfect, perfect to the point that Zhou Zui didn’t dare to open his eyes. He feared that they were only hallucinations, that they didn’t truly exist.
Zhou Zui didn’t remove Xiao Ke’s hands. He only reached his arms out to encircle this person. The hand holding the red envelope covered his shoulders while the other wrapped around Xiao Ke’s waist. Teacher Xiao removed his own hand, not minding the embrace at all. He hugged Zhou Zui tighter to him, then kissed his ear. He softly whispered into Zhou Zui’s ear, “……Happy new year, precious.”
This chapter was so long what even… (I’m out of town atm with bad wifi, so going to count this as two updates in one for now QQ. Tentatively one more update for this week, tomorrow, but gonna try to do two more… If I happen to only manage one, I’ll update an extra chapter next week to make up for it!)
There is an audio drama for this novel! Link here https://www.missevan.com/mdrama/drama/23022 if you’re interested!