The next day, Yuan Yuan’s flight was at eleven.
Chen Dong Lan got up early to stew some porridge for him. Yuan Yuan saw that he had not left for work at by eight and asked doubtfully, “You didn’t request for a day off to send me to airport, right?”
Chen Dong Lan nearly dropped the pot. He hit the target in a single guess. Could he read minds?
“Yu Lin has already agreed to send me. You don’t need to waste your leave [T/N: Vacation days].”
Now, it was just a few days before the Chinese New Year. By right, it should be the most difficult time for Chen Dong Lan to get away from work. If there was a leave request, it would surely have to be made up for during the Chinese New Year holidays. Most people would not carry out such an unworthy exchange. Chen Dong Lan’s Chinese New Year holidays were only three days, from the eve till the second day. Whichever day he used to make up for it, would not be advantageous for him.
Not getting an answer, Yuan Yuan couldn’t continue eating his porridge. “Did you request?”
Chen Dong Lan shook his head. “I didn’t.”
Yuan Yuan heaved a sigh of relief.
The time crawled towards nine-thirty. Chen Dong Lan could only force himself to tidy up and head to work.
Yuan Yuan was clearing up. He saw Chen Dong Lan lingering at the door slowly wearing his shoes, and called out to him, “Wait, I’ll send you there.”
Chen Dong Lan got a shock. “No need. The metro station is very near.”
Yuan Yuan thought about it carefully. Just before the new year, there were many cars on the road. The traffic jams every day were very bad and driving might not be faster than taking the metro. “Then I’ll send you to the metro station.”
For an adult, why would he need to be sent to work? He should refuse, but Chen Dong Lan couldn’t do it.
Outside, it was a fine day with some rare sunlight. Every day, he walked hurriedly with his head bent on the way to work. But today, he felt it was beautiful like never before.
Chen Dong Lan’s pace got slower and slower.
Yuan Yuan glanced at his watch. “If you don’t hurry up, you’ll be late.”
Chen Dong Lan checked the time. Nine-forty. Even if he boarded immediately once in the station, he wouldn’t be on time.
Yuan Yuan looked helplessly. “You…” He paused. “Can you take care of yourself?”
The only adult male he would question like this, was Chen Dong Lan.
After being asked this, Chen Dong Lan was in a daze. It took some time before he nodded.
“When I’m back, I’ll check.” Yuan Yuan said. “If you eat a biscuit, or even a mouthful of instant food, then…”
He stopped, momentarily unable to think of a good punishment. There wasn’t a good punishment for Chen Dong Lan. If the punishment was serious, he would be sad. If the punishment was light, it wouldn’t work.
Chen Dong Lan said solemnly, “If I eat it, I’ll move out.”
“No, change to something else.” Once Yuan Yuan heard the words “move out”, his head hurt and he suddenly thought of that night when Chen Dong Lan got out of his car without a word.
In moving out, was Chen Dong Lan the tired one? Instead, after moving out and moving back in, the one responsible for driving and moving was him.
Chen Dong Lan couldn’t feel Yuan Yuan’s pulse, and sounded him out by asking, “Then punish me by letting me wash the dishes every day.”
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.
Yuan Yuan: …
“…Viffq bc atf rboj fnfgs vjs?”
Tejc Tejc’r ojmf kjr yijmx. Mbgaecjafis, atfs tjv jgglnfv ja atf wfagb rajalbc. Lf rabqqfv jcv kjnfv. “Gbc’a rjs jcs wbgf. Tbe wjxf la rbecv ilxf P’w rbwf ijybeg mbcagjmabg ktb’r bqqgfrrlcu sbe.”
Jtfc Gbcu Ojc kjr revvfcis jczlber. “P’ii ajxf mjgf.” Lf rjlv, “P’ii fja kfii fnfgs vjs. Tbe vbc’a cffv ab kbggs.”
Yuan Yuan relaxed his eyebrows and acknowledged with a hum.
Hearing his voice, Chen Dong Lan felt that the sunlight was too great, so great that it was causing him to be dizzy.
He almost reached out his hand to hold onto Yuan Yuan.
Almost said aloud, I want to go with you. Take the plane with you and go to A city together. Almost said, when you and your family reunite, I wouldn’t disturb. I’ll just wait at the side, as long as I can stay beside you.
In Chen Dong Lan’s life, he had too many impulses which he had to restrain with his life, making them become things that almost happened (if there’s a noun to describe something that almost happened, that’ll be great =X).
“I’m leaving.” He said, “Be careful on the road. It’s colder in A city than it is here. Make sure you put on more layers.”
Yuan Yuan smiled at his long-windedness. “I know.”
Chen Dong Lang’s lips curved, then he turned to leave.
He spent a day wandering around the city, ridding himself of the loneliness and preparing himself sufficiently before returning to his room alone.
Yuan Yuan’s parents were workaholics. Compared to looking after their child, they preferred to take care of their careers and had passed down this trait in its entirety to Yuan Yuan.
When Yuan Yuan got home, his parents were still at work, so he got the house keys from neighbour Grandma Wang. Putting down his luggage, he picked up his phone and started discussing work matters with his colleagues who had stayed to work overtime in the office.
When Father and Mother Yuan returned home, it was seven in the evening. Yuan Yuan had just hung up the phone and his throat was almost raw [T/N: Original text 冒烟 means to discharge smoke. Here, it implies the overuse of his throat in the excessively long telephone conversation. In another context, 气到冒烟 can also be used to mean fuming with rage.]. He drank a glass of water before greeting his parents.
Mother Yuan measured the situation with a glance and looked disappointed. “Still no girlfriend?”
Yuan Yuan laughed. “Sorry to disappoint.”
Mother Yuan frowned. “As useless as your dad.”
Father Yuan didn’t react to her remarks and went into the kitchen, washed his hands and prepared to cook.
Yuan Yuan followed him. “Dad, let me help.”
Father Yuan looked at him as if he was looking at a biological weapon. “Don’t.” He looked at Mother Yuan who had came over in curiosity. “Quickly bring him out.”
Yuan Yuan was dissatisfied. “I know how to help.”
Father Yuan was still unwilling, but Mother Yuan actually believed him. “Where did you learn?”
Yuan Yuan proficiently scrubbed the potatoes. “The friend I’m staying with cooks for me every day. He taught me.”
Mother Yuan was surprised. “Why don’t you bring her [T/N: 他 used in Yuan Yuan’s previous sentence means “he”, whereas 她 used here means “her”, but both sound exactly the same in Chinese.] home? These days, there’re not many girls who can cook.”
Yuan Yuan didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Mother Yuan didn’t like to control him and had brought him up with the free-range parenting method from young. All along, she had little interest in his love life. But recently, her colleague had become a grandmother, so she became enthusiastic about it.
“He’s an old classmate of mine, also a single guy.”
Mother Yuan’s face was full of disappointment and she turned, leaving the kitchen.
Father Yuan saw his wife’s back and couldn’t help laughing. “Don’t feel that your mom is being trite. It’s not that she wants grandchildren. Just that now you’re older and have always been alone, so she’s worried that you’re lonely.”
Yuan Yuan helped Father Yuan to wash the chopping board and brought it over. “Of course I know that it’s for my own good. I’ll consider it.”
Father Yuan didn’t take it to heart. He knew how well his son could sprout verbal formalities and put on a good show.
“You…” His voice was sad. “I don’t know when someone will open their heart to you.”
Yuan Yuan was relaxed and laughed. As always, he consoled his father, “There has always been. Don’t worry.”
Father Yuan laughed as well, and didn’t continue the chat.
It was very boring at home and he had two days more than the previous years. Yuan Yuan felt very uncomfortable and wanted to find something to do.
Mother Yuan had been observing him silently and on the morning of Chinese New Year’s eve, she asked lightly, “Are you feeling very bored at home?”
Yuan Yuan nodded.
Mother Yuan laughed. “Let mom arrange a blind date for you, okay?”
Yuan Yuan got a fright and felt goosebumps all over. Mother Yuan had always treated people coldly. Except when Yuan Yuan was young, she had never laughed and called herself “mom”.
“You don’t have to. Since it’s Chinese New Year, you should put down your chores and have a good rest.” Yuan Yuan refused without hesitating.
Mother Yuan herself was a little uncomfortable. She coughed and resumed her cold face. “You think I’m in a hurry? It’s fine as long as you’re not.”
Yuan Yuan sent her away with a laugh.
A few minutes later, Mother Yuan came back. “Yuan Yuan…”
Yuan Yuan put down his phone and listened attentively. “Go ahead.”
“Tell me about that friend of yours who cooks for you.” Mother Yuan gazed at Yuan Yuan, her eyes showing “I don’t believe that is a boy”.
Yuan Yuan didn’t have a choice. He said, “Wait for me awhile.” He started searching in the cabinet where his old belongings were kept. If he didn’t remember wrongly, his junior high graduation photos were somewhere inside the cabinet.
“Come and take a look.” Using the eyes of today, old photos were not very clear. Additionally, they had been kept in the cabinet for very long and the images were dull.
Going over the teenage faces one at a time, Yuan Yuan spent some time before he found Chen Dong Lan.
Chen Dong Lan had changed a lot from his past.
“Is this him?” Mother Yuan moved closer and said tactfully, “He wasn’t happy when taking the photo?”
With a tender-looking face, Chen Dong Lan stood in a group of brilliantly smiling junior high students. Although he was very tall, he wasn’t noticeable. He didn’t laugh while looking at the camera and his eyes looked cold and empty.
He carefully recalled Chen Dong Lan during junior high, but could only find vague fragments. When Chen Dong Lan was sitting in the centre of the classroom, it seemed like he was sitting in the corner, with his head bent, his thoughts unknown.
The first time he saw him in college was the first day the freshmen joined the debate team.
Chen Dong Lan stood up, his back straight. His tone was light and his voice wasn’t loud, but gave an impression of clarity and self-confidence.
“Why are you staring into space?” Mother Yuan said, “I’ve seen it. Then what?”
Yuan Yuan came back to the present. “He’s called Chen Dong Lan. We were junior high classmates, also high school and college schoolmates. Now he’s also working in T city.
“That’s quite a fate.” Mother Yuan took the photo for a closer look. The old photo triggered her memory. At that time, she and Father Yuan were busy working and seldom cared about Yuan Yuan, often leaving him at her sister’s home for a month. But she was relieved that he had not been hurt because of this.
“Your classmate, it’s possible that his family doesn’t treat him well.” Mother Yuan said.
Yuan Yuan was astonished. “Why do you say that?”
“It’s just a feeling. Taking a graduation photo is such a happy occasion, but the child didn’t even smile. He must be used to his family’s serious upbringing.” Mother Yuan was not a gossipy person, so this evaluation was made based on sentiment.
Was that so?
Yuan Yuan took back the photo, but couldn’t bear to look at it again.
No matter which memory came up, Chen Dong Lan never laughed. Those junior high school years when he was the most carefree, the noisiest and happiest, Chen Dong Lan had never felt happy.
What was he like then?
Until it was time for the Chinese New Year’s eve dinner, he still had this matter on his mind.
In Yuan Yuan’s family, there were only the three of them at this dinner, few but lively. Father Yuan’s excellent cooking skills had been trained for decades by Mother Yuan’s tricky preferences. Every year, he would set up a table full of food, which they had never managed to finish.
The family had started to prepare the meal at noon and could only enjoy it in the evening. They ate while chatting, and the atmosphere was filled with unspeakable warmth.
After dinner, Yuan Yuan took the initiative to wash the dishes, and Mother Yuan followed him in.
She asked, “Are you preoccupied with something?”
Yuan Yuan smiled. “You can tell?”
Mother Yuan snorted. “Don’t change the subject. What’re you worrying about? If it’s regarding work, then mom wouldn’t ask. But if it’s about a relationship, I’d like to understand more about it.”
Yuan Yuan looked at the white suds on the back of his hand and pressed his hands together to crush them. “It’s not really a worry. Just concerned about the friend who’s living with me.”
“Chen Dong Lan?” Mother Yuan’s memory was very good. If she had the heart to remember it, the name would not be forgotten once it was said.
Yuan Yuan nodded.
“He’s an adult. What’re you concerned about?” Mother Yuan didn’t understand.
Yuan Yuan wanted to sigh, but in front of his mother, he decided to refrain. Chen Dong Lan had many areas for concern. His eating and sleeping habits, as well as his commute to work, every point was a cause for concern.
At this moment, Yuan Yuan realised the decision he had made. He said, “Mom, I’ve decided to return to T city in advance.”