After this tattoo exhibition, Zhou Zui’s shop suddenly became much busier. The pictures from the exhibition had been spread on social media; their shop’s address wasn’t a secret either. Several clients suddenly arrived from out of town to schedule an appointment with Zhou Zui. There was an even greater increase of clients from within the same city.
One reason was that he was truly extremely skilled. Another was that his stall had been right next to the event organizer’s. In the past, people who had stalls in that location charged at least five thousand per hour. There was no question about Zhou Zui’s skill, but he charged less than half of what they did. A large tattoo would only cost a couple thousand. It was worth it even having to buy a plane ticket to see him.
Xu Wen originally didn’t have any pressure sitting at the front desk. Only a limited number of people visited every day. Normally, they had already messaged on WeChat or made phone calls in to schedule appointments. The little girl usually spent her days reading gossip and painting her nails. It was an easy life. But now, there was a sudden influx of people. She was a bit lost.
The people in their shop had been with Zhou Zui for a long time. They had long since gotten used to only having a set number of clients scheduled per day. Regardless of discussing designs or actually tattooing, they had enough time in their days. Discluding Lu Xiaobei and Xu Wen, even the other tattoo artists in the shop were unhappy. They worked under Zhou Zui’s name so didn’t worry about not having enough customers. Tattooing wasn’t like owning a restaurant, where any number of customers could visit and be served. For them, no matter how many people showed up, they could only work on one tattoo at a time. Since they had stayed with Zhou Zui for so long, to some degree, their personalities matched with his. They weren’t the type to be overly flamboyant. And besides, they were already scheduled for the next two months. What could they do about all the new people?
There weren’t only clients who were visiting. There were also several other artists in the circle who came to observe and communicate. Some also wanted to become Zhou Zui’s apprentices and work in his shop. They wanted to learn from Zhou Zui and were willing to spend money. One had even told Zhou Zui, “You name your price for starting lessons. It’s fine no matter how much you ask for. Just name your price.”
Zhou Zui was very exasperated too. To these people, he responded, “It’s not about money. Thanks for thinking so highly of me. But I’m not a good teacher, and I’m also not good enough to teach people yet. Many other places are better at teaching lessons than me.”
He wouldn’t say anything else. He had already said all that he needed to, so only needed to keep working without responding. As for those who were adamant about learning, Zhou Zui would tell them to go to the Dongda region, which was where Tao Xiaodong was.
Originally, all of their tattoo artists were very casual. Unless the client themselves requested it, they normally worked in the lobby. But with the sudden increase in onlookers, the shop was much more crowded than before. The tattoo artists had all moved to work inside the rooms. Lu Xiaobei and Zhou Zui hid upstairs. People weren’t allowed to loiter in the lobby.
When Xiao Ke came over on the weekend, only Xu Wen was downstairs. He turned around to look at her, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. “How come it’s become like this now?”
He spoke with Zhou Zui over the phone every day, so naturally knew that it was abnormally crowded in the shop these days. But he hadn’t expected for it to be this bad. Xu Wen had a pained expression on. “We’re out of coffee and juice already and the new shipment hasn’t come in yet. Xiao ge, do you want milk tea?”
Xiao Ke laughed and shook his head. “No thanks. Where’s Zhou Zui?”
“Big Boss is upstairs.” Xu Wen pointed a finger up. “Don’t know which room. You can ask.”
When Xiao Ke got upstairs, every room’s door was closed. He first knocked on one of them and asked, “Who’s inside?”
Lu Xiaobei’s voice rang out, “Come in Xiao ge, it’s Beibei!”
Xiao Ke smiled and opened the door. Lu Xiaobei had a mask on and was helping a beauty work on a leg band. Xiao Ke greeted him, “Hello, Little Beibei.”
Lu Xiaobei offered a greeting from behind his mask.
Xiao Ke closed his door, then turned to knock on a different one. It was probably the person he was looking for, but he still purposefully asked, “Who’s inside?”
Zhou Zui replied, “Me.”
Xiao Ke hadn’t come by in a week. Now that he was hearing Zhou Zui’s voice, he realized he missed the other a great deal. Zhou Zui’s client was a man. When Xiao Ke opened the door, he was naked on the bed, almost asleep. Zhou Zui was in the middle of lining something on his butt. It seemed to be part of a full body back tattoo.
As soon as he walked in, the man turned around to glance at him. He seemed quite unbothered.
Xiao Ke paused and inquired, “Sorry bro. Do you mind?”
“No.” The man casually waved an arm. “Do whatever you want. It’s okay even if you take a picture. I think I’m quite photogenic.”
Xiao Ke smiled and responded, “We’re not in a rush to take a picture. We’ll take one when the whole tattoo is finished.”
After saying this, he walked over to stand beside Zhou Zui. When Zhou Zui looked up at him, Xiao Ke soundlessly made a kissy face at the other. Zhou Zui had a mask on too, so Xiao Ke couldn’t see his smile, but he could see the softened angle of the other’s eyes. Xiao Ke placed a hand on his shoulder and gently squeezed his neck. He mouthed, “Missed you.”
Zhou Zui’s hands were dirty. He was holding onto the machine too, so had no free hands. Thus, he could only lean back slightly to touch Xiao Ke.
Their little interactions were very heartwarming. As Zhou Zui worked, Xiao Ke would occasionally pour a cup of water and bring it over for him to drink. Between lines, Xiao Ke would also reach a hand out to brush him, silently reminding the other of his presence.
The man had been pretty calm while Zhou Zui had been tattooing his butt. As soon as he reached his thighs, though, he couldn’t take it anymore. He started screaming that it hurt. His screams were so tragic that Xiao Ke could barely handle them. He told the client, “Endure it for a bit. After the pain, you’ll have leveled up.”
“I don’t need to keep enduring it. I feel like I’m already about to level up to heaven.” The man’s forehead was covered in sweat. He clenched his teeth together and said, “This hurts too fucking much……”
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 stepped on the power button and inquired, “Need a break?”
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It had already been a bit over four hours. At most, they would’ve been able to work for two more hours. When he said he wanted to stop, Zhou Zui naturally agreed. Xiao Ke was already here, so he didn’t really want to make the other sit around and watch him work.
Zhou Zui put his machine away and walked out with Xiao Ke to leave time for the client to get dressed. The two of them were very in sync. Neither made a noise, but both started heading in the direction of the bedroom. After closing the door, they spent a brief period of time kissing.
Xiao Ke was wearing a white t-shirt and light green shorts. He looked very neat and clean, and also very young, almost like a student. Zhou Zui wanted to use his finger to caress his face, but he hadn’t washed his hands after taking off his gloves. Thus, he put his hand down again and didn’t touch Xiao Ke’s face.
Xiao Ke’s eyes curved into crescents. “Don’t worry, you can touch me. At worst, I’ll just wash my face later.”
Zhou Zui silently kissed his face, then shook his head.
It was still early. Since he didn’t have any more customers scheduled, they didn’t need to stay in the shop. Zhou Zui walked out while holding Xiao Ke’s hand. When they got downstairs, they coincidentally ran into two young people here because of the hype. Xu Wen saw that Zhou Zui had come down so immediately said, “That’s our Big Boss. If you need anything, you can directly talk to him.”
Xiao Ke moved his hand, wanting to let go, but Zhou Zhou held onto it tightly, refusing to do so. They held hands and walked out; he used the other hand to slightly wave. He smiled and said, “We have some business to attend to so are leaving now. If you need anything, go find Teacher Lu.”
For a moment, Xu Wen was lost. Her expression was blank. “Which Teacher Lu?”
Xiao Ke grinned and answered, “Teacher Bei.”
Xu Wen burst into laughter. She nodded and said, “Okay. Bye-bye Big Boss, bye-bye Xiao ge.”
Xiao Ke was still laughing when they got into the car. He looked over and asked with a grin, “Very bold ah, Teacher Zhou?”
He was talking about just now when Zhou Zui had been adamant about holding hands with him in front of those people. Zhou Zui looked at him and smiled, but didn’t answer right away. A long time later, after Xiao Ke’s thoughts had already become occupied by something else, he finally slowly answered. “Recently I feel that I’ve become very childish. I would’ve never done many things in the past, but now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much less by the books.”
“Un?” Xiao Ke looked over. He didn’t know what he was talking about.
Zhou Zui stared straight forward, not looking at him. The angle of his eyes exposed his slight amusement, though. “A moment ago, I just wanted to keep holding onto your hand. I didn’t want to let go. One reason was that there was no need. I don’t care if other people see. But also, I felt……”
Here, he started to feel embarrassed again. It was rare for Xiao Ke to hear this enigma of a man speak so much regarding this topic. He definitely needed to get to the bottom of it. Xiao Ke tilted his head and looked at the other with a smile. “Felt what?”
Zhou Zui pressed his lips together. He self-consciously used a finger to rub the tip of his nose, then stuffily said, “Felt that Teacher Xiao is too handsome. I really wanted to show off.”
“……” Xiao Ke stared at this person in slight shock. This didn’t seem like something that could come out of his Teacher Zhou’s mouth. At first, he actually kind of wanted to laugh, but his heart felt soft and sore. It was like some tiny, toothless animal had bitten it.
He lifted a hand and rubbed Zhou Zui’s ear before taking a deep breath and saying, “Recently you’ve been a really big tease huh, Zhou Liwu?”
Zhou Zui didn’t realize that he had said something flirtatious. He only felt shy and that his old face was burning up.
The two of them went to eat. In the group chat, Lin Xuan had recommended a restaurant. It truly was commendable. This place was coincidentally quite close to Old Cao’s shop. Thus, Zhou Zui took Xiao Ke to visit.
Xiao Ke remembered that Old Cao had previously said he was a craftsman. Until now, he had never dropped by his shop to take a look. He only discovered when he got there that it was located outside a high end furniture mall. Though it wasn’t very big, Xiao Ke was still astounded when he walked in. He felt like he had walked into a museum.
The shop was truly filled with art of all shapes and sizes. Those made from metal, those made from wood, from bamboo, from bone, stone, everything. Right across from the door, a huge metal fan made of asymmetrical metal pieces hung. It attracted one’s eyes immediately, and was very impressive.
The employee standing outside was a woman wearing a qipao. She looked to be around thirty and carried herself very elegantly. When she saw Zhou Zui, she smiled and greeted, “Zhou ge’s here.”
Zhou Zui smiled back and nodded. He asked, “Cao Yuan’s not in?”
“He is.” The pretty woman saw Xiao Ke and smiled at him kindly before saying, “You guys take a seat first. I’ll go call him out.”
When Cao Yuan walked out and saw the two of them, his eyebrows shot straight up. He was very surprised and questioned, “How come you two are here? Showing off your relationship in the chat isn’t enough? You’ve come to invade other people’s houses to show off now? You don’t want your faces anymore?”
Xiao Ke started laughing because of his words. He shook his head and said, “It was along the way, so we dropped by.”
Cao Yuan sat down beside the two of them and poured himself a cup of tea. He stated, “Well since you’re here, don’t leave empty handed. Pick something out to take home. Just take it as a gift from me for your gay relationship.”
Xiao Ke didn’t bother being polite at all. He told the other, “Point out a few that you made. I’ll pick one from those.”
Cao Yuan pointed out about a dozen different pieces. In the end, Xiao Ke chose a piece of artwork created from conjoined metal pieces. It was very similar to the one on the wall, just at a smaller size.
No wonder Fang Xi had introduced Old Zhu and Old Cao as artists when they first met. Now, it seemed like they were truly very artistic. He couldn’t reconcile this side of Old Cao with the unreliable one he normally interacted with.
After Xiao Ke picked which one he wanted, Old Cao said, “I don’t give away things for free. You need to give me money.”
Xiao Ke asked him, “How much?”
“Two hundred eighty.”
“Too expensive. Make it a whole number. Give him two hundred,” Zhou Zui said.
Xiao Ke pulled out his phone and transferred two hundred over. Afterwards, he said, “Thanks, Boss Cao.”
Cao Yuan pointed at Zhou Zui, face full of disdain. “You’re too stingy.”
Xiao Ke and Zhou Zui both laughed, ignoring him. In actuality, Xiao Ke knew that Old Cao was only joking about accepting money. His work was most definitely not worth this price. He had previously scanned a sign with the price on it nearby. A small metal decoration cost around eight thousand. The one in his hand probably cost over ten thousand. But since Old Cao said it was a gift, they would accept it. Gifting between friends wasn’t about money.
They were already here, so naturally had to get dinner together. Old Cao said he wanted to eat millet soup hotpot. The three of them drove across three districts just to go to a restaurant that was rumored to be good. It was a weekend evening and they hadn’t made a reservation. There were twenty-something parties before them. They sat in the car chatting while waiting. When it finally got to their number, Old Cao said his stomach was about to spasm from how hungry he was.
After they sat down, Xiao Ke told them to order first. He was going to go wash his hands. Cao Yuan said, “Me too. Let’s go together.”
Xiao Ke turned around to ask, “Are we sisters?”
“Ah,” Cao Yuan expressionlessly answered. “We originally could’ve been a couple, but you had to be blind and go with Old Zhou. Now, we’ve become sisters. Or am I sisters with Old Zhou? Goodness, I daren’t think of that.”
The nickname “sisters” was okay when Xiao Ke used it to joke about himself, but he couldn’t take it being used on Zhou Zui. He hurriedly squeezed Cao Yuan’s neck and towed him towards the bathroom. He said, “Shut up, ge.”
The world was never lacking in coincidences. The word “coincidence” sometimes gave people a pleasant surprise. But other times, it represented an enormous awkward situation waiting to fall onto someone’s head. It would cause them to have no ability to avoid it.
Xiao Ke and Cao Yuan teased each other while walking to the bathroom. At the door, they ran into someone leaving. Xiao Ke didn’t look up, only turning his body sideways to let the other pass.
But that person suddenly stopped in front of him. Xiao Ke still didn’t look up, only to hear a voice that had once been extremely familiar speak up in a surprised and disbelieving tone. “……Xiao Ke?”
Even though they hadn’t seen each other in a long time, Xiao Ke couldn’t not recognize his voice. He looked up and smiled faintly, “Worker Lin? What a coincidence.”
Lin An’s gaze shifted between Xiao Ke and Cao Yuan. Cao Yuan stared judgingly at Lin An too. Those who understood didn’t need to ask further questions. He could already guess what this person’s identity was just from the look in his eyes.
Lin An inquired, “This is?”
Xiao Ke answered, “My friend.”
Lin An had probably misconstrued their relationship because he and Old Cao had been laughing and walking together just now. But Xiao Ke didn’t want to explain anything. There was no need to.
Lin An nodded. He was ultimately someone who had received a good education. The cold impression he gave outsiders was still present. His chin was tensed, his back and shoulders straight. When others saw him, they felt that he was quite arrogant.
Xiao Ke wasn’t interested in talking to him for too long. From any perspective, it wasn’t right for him to be standing here and catching up with his ex. Thus, Xiao Ke smiled and told him, “I’m going to go wash my hands.”
Lin An’s gaze was still glued to his face. He could tell that the other still had a lot he wanted to say, but since Xiao Ke had said this, and there was an outsider present, he couldn’t say anything else. He only nodded and turned around first to leave.
Xiao Ke pursed his lips and washed his hands. Next to him, Old Cao scrubbed his hands together too. He looked at Xiao Ke in the mirror and asked, “Ex?”
“Un, ex.” Xiao Ke nodded.
Old Cao smiled. “I can immediately tell that you don’t have many exes. If we were talking about my exes, I probably wouldn’t be able to remember all their faces.”
Xiao Ke thought to himself We spent practically every hour together for five years. I would be able to remember his face even with my eyes shut.
There was no reason to keep the fact that he had run into an ex a secret. But it also wasn’t important enough for him to specially tell Zhou Zui, “I just saw, you know.” That was too purposeful and unnecessary. He would just find an opportunity to inform the other that night. Old Cao also wasn’t the type to say these things. He wouldn’t get himself caught up in other people’s business.
Xiao Ke felt unconcerned. He didn’t even put much thought into it. Zhou Zui had already said “yesterday has died”, so naturally, his heart was also only filled with Teacher Zhou now. Everything in the past had truly only become faint memories.
These days, as long as they went out to eat, Zhou Zui would always order a pot of hot soymilk for him to drink slowly. He would even very considerately add sugar for him. He knew that Teacher Xiao liked sweeter soymilk. As he and Old Cao drank beer, he didn’t forget to put food into Xiao Ke’s bowl.
Xiao Ke laughed and thought When he’s in a relationship, Teacher Zhou acts like he’s babysitting. Though Xiao Ke didn’t need to be cared for so much by others, he still wanted to accept his boyfriend’s intentions.
At the time, Xiao Ke really hadn’t expected for Lin An to specially come find them. Because Lin An’s personality had always been very introverted and quiet. He was rarely willing to share his innermost thoughts with outsiders. Xiao Ke had guessed that he would try to contact himself after going home, but he hadn’t anticipated that he would make a direct confrontation.
Actually, this was very easy to understand. Lin An had misinterpreted Old Cao to be his boyfriend. After five years of dating, his ex-lover now had a new lover. Regardless of why they had split up, personally seeing the other and his new boyfriend was very jarring. He would feel unimpressed, would want to announce his presence to press a stamp onto his ex-lover. He wanted to prove that he, too, had once owned this person.
So Lin An had directly come over. He was carrying a glass and a bottle of alcohol.
When Xiao Ke saw him walking over, he knew things weren’t going to end well. A big bowl of dog blood was threatening to slowly pour itself over his head.
——“Let’s have a drink, Xiao Ke.” Lin An stood in front of Xiao Ke. When he spoke, an abundance of emotions flitted through his eyes. He wasn’t able to hide them; his eyes became slightly red too.
Zhou Zui had originally been chatting with Old Cao. They had already stopped and were now quietly looking in this direction.
After saying this, Lin An poured a glass for himself first. He stared at Xiao Ke and said, “Let’s drink a glass. We haven’t drank together in a long time. I’ll toast you. Toast……a toast to your innocence, passion, purity, romanticness, and courage.”
After every word, he paused. At the end of this sentence, he couldn’t keep his composure anymore. His eyes became completely red and his voice started trembling. He tilted the glass back and chugged all the liquid down. Xiao Ke’s finger twitched, but he didn’t move.
“I’m not as courageous as you, so now I have nothing.” Lin An poured another cup for himself. He probably had already had a lot to drink before. One could tell that he was truly in enormous pain. His Adam’s apple quivered. After a moment of silence, he finally continued, “This glass is a toast to everything you gave me before. A toast to our past that was as beautiful as a poem or drawing, a toast to the fact that history fades away like clouds and the years don’t look back. And also a toast……to the fact that fate gave me everything I loved and needed, but I didn’t value them enough.”
His hand was slightly shaking. He wanted to pour alcohol for Xiao Ke. Xiao Ke hesitated for a second in his heart. He shouldn’t be drinking to this toast, because everything he loved and needed, given to him by fate, wasn’t the person toasting him anymore. But Xiao Ke still downed the soymilk in his cup and placed the empty cup to the side. He grabbed Zhou Zui’s glass and filled it up himself.
The table was still quiet. Nobody said anything. Only the pot in the center was still bubbling.
The corners of Xiao Ke’s lips lifted up as he smiled. He said, “Worker Lin, this toast is to you. I hope your new path in life is amazing, that your future is impressive.”
After this, he cleanly swallowed the alcohol in his cup in one gulp.
Lin An closed his eyes, then said, “You still owe me a glass.”
He used the bottle of alcohol in his hand to fill up Xiao Ke’s cup once more. He casually placed the bottle on the table and knocked his glass against Xiao Ke’s. He raspily said, “In the past, I wasn’t very willing to drink with you because I was scared that your stomach would hurt and you would feel uncomfortable. My flight to Munich is next week. I think it might have been fated for me to run into you today. So……be unbridled for me one more time.”
Since he had said this, Xiao Ke couldn’t refuse this cup of alcohol. Besides, Xiao Ke had wholeheartedly been in love for those five years. He didn’t say anything, only reaching a hand out to pick up his cup.
——But he wasn’t able to pick it up. Zhou Zui who had been sitting beside him this whole time used his palm to cover the opening of the cup.
“Maybe not. If you drink any more, your stomach will hurt.”
Xiao Ke looked at him. Lin An did too. Zhou Zui lifted his gaze and rested it on Lin An. He calmly asked, “How unbridled do you want to be?”
“I’ll accompany you.”
“You guys toast each other however much you want. Give toasts to your pasts or futures, whatever. But pour the alcohol into my cup. I’ll drink it.”