The sky was already dark when they reached the city, and Amy had fallen asleep leaning on Xiao Zhou. Chen Dong Lan was obviously tired as well, but he leaned against the car window looking outside.
Yuan Yuan first sent Senior and Amy back to the hotel they were staying at in the city. Senior’s Caucasian husband was waiting at the car park. Senior had briefly told him about what happened today over the phone, and he was very worried.
This Caucasian was very tall and sturdy. On a winter’s day, he was only wearing a thin long-sleeved top. It was a contrast when he carried Amy, making her look especially petite.
He muttered a long string of words in a slightly accented English. Yuan Yuan was in the car and couldn’t hear very clearly. It seemed like he wanted to invite them for a meal next time.
Next, it was Xiao Zhou’s turn. Today, she had experienced many ups and downs, suffering quite a bit. She sprained her ankle and skinned her elbows when the man flung her to the ground. Although it wasn’t a major issue, it would be difficult for her since she lived alone.
Xiao Zhou’s family had bought her a place in T city on the sixteenth floor. Yuan Yuan got out of the car, wanting to send her up.
Xiao Zhou touched her hair. “No need to trouble you, Yuan Lao Da. I can support myself against the wall and move up slowly. Once I get into the building, I’ll take the lift. It’s not troublesome.”
“With you walking so slowly, it’ll take you half the night to get home.” Yuan Yuan opened the back door of the car. “Sit a little further out. I’ll piggyback you.”
Xiao Zhou wanted to refuse, but Yuan Yuan had already half squatted in front of her.
In a timely manner, Chen Dong Lan said, “I’ll piggyback her.”
Xiao Zhou nodded frantically.
Yuan Yuan took the initiative to piggyback Xiao Zhou. His original intention was that he didn’t want Chen Dong Lan to waste his energy on this. “You rest in the car. It shouldn’t take me more than ten minutes to piggyback Xiao Zhou up.”
Chen Dong Lan didn’t say anything and released his hold on the car door handle.
Yuan Yuan’s tone was so firm that Xiao Zhou didn’t dare to be bashful. But, it was clear from her action of climbing onto his back that she was flustered. Yuan Yuan was not in a rush and waited till she had adjusted herself properly before carrying her out of the car.
Closing the door with a backhand, Yuan Yuan piggybacked Xiao Zhou all the way into the lift before putting her down.
Xiao Zhou supported herself on the handrail in the lift and praised Yuan Yuan with exaggeration. “Yuan Lao Da, you’re more stable than Chen Dong Lan when piggybacking.”
Yuan Yuan laughed. “How do you compare?”
Xiao Zhou carefully analysed it for him. “Your physiques are actually almost the same. He’s slightly thinner, but it’s not a big difference. The main point is, when he piggybacked me previously, he would never watch where he was going and almost bumped into the person in front a few times.” She laughed. “Come to think of it, it was strange. He was clearly looking straight ahead, but how could he walk like that? I don’t know who he was looking at.”
Yuan Yuan listened with divided interest. “Maybe the scenery was too nice.”
Xiao Zhou waved her hand. “He wasn’t looking at the side. I think he was looking at you. Weren’t you walking in front of us then?” She said jokingly.
Yuan Yuan gave Xiao Zhou an indifferent smile, but inside his coat pocket, his fingers tightened unconsciously.
Reaching her floor, Yuan Yuan didn’t piggyback Xiao Zhou again, instead supported her while she walked slowly. When she reached her door, Xiao Zhou didn’t open it immediately.
When parting, people always seemed to muster up courage which they usually would not have.
“Yuan Lao Da…thank you.” Xiao Zhou bent her head and kneaded the key in her palm. “Do you want to come in and sit, drink a cup of tea or something…?”
Yuan Yuan shook his head. “No, Chen Dong Lan is still waiting in the car. Next time, we can have a meal together when there’s time.”
“Okay.” Xiao Zhou nodded with some effort. “Yuan Lao Da, I’ll ask you something. Don’t get mad at me. Previously, when Senior asked if you had a girlfriend, you said no. Is that true?”
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Yuan Yuan replied affirmatively, “It’s true.”
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Xiao Zhou laughed. In that moment, her face showed loneliness and relief. “Yes, Yuan Lao Da is a career-oriented person. This matter isn’t urgent.” She laughed and scratched her head. “It’s my way of thinking that is old, asking these questions like an old woman. Yuan Lao Da, go quickly and thank you for today.”
Yuan Yuan said, “No need to thank me. Rest well.”
After watching Xiao Zhou enter her home, Yuan Yuan turned to leave. When he took the lift down to the car park, it had already been more than ten minutes. Opening the car door, he realised that Chen Dong Lan had fallen asleep while he was waiting. He awoke to the sound of the car door opening and shuddered.
The shadow left by the previous event had likely not dissipated yet.
“Tired? You can continue to sleep. We’ll need another half an hour to get to your house from here.” Yuan Yuan fastened his seat belt while observing him from the rear-view mirror. Chen Dong Lan’s face was a little red, and so were his eyes which had a misty glint in them. Yuan Yuan saw him lifting his hand to rub his eyes and said hurriedly, “Don’t rub. What happened? Are your eyes uncomfortable?”
Chen Dong Lan’s voice was dull. “It’s a bit itchy.”
Yuan Yuan pursed his lips, then undid his safety belt and supported himself against his seat, leaning towards Chen Dong Lan.
Chen Dong Lan widened his eyes in surprise. “What?”
Yuan Yuan didn’t say a word, reaching out a hand to cover his forehead.
It felt hot to the touch.
Yuan Yuan frowned. “When did you start feeling unwell? Your forehead is so hot. Didn’t you feel anything at all?”
Chen Dong Lan stared vacantly at his strict tone. “Catching a cold…is not a very serious illness. Once I reach home, I’ll be fine after taking some medicine.”
Yuan Yuan sat back in his seat and refastened his safety belt. “We’re going to the hospital.”
“…it’s not so bad that I need to go to a hospital. I’ll be fine after going home and resting for a night.”
Yuan Yuan drove out of the car park and headed straight for the nearest hospital. That direction was obviously not towards Chen Dong Lan’s home.
“Yuan Yuan, I don’t need to go to the hospital…”
Yuan Yuan ignored him and kneading the steering wheel, he sped up.
“I don’t want to trouble you.”
“Yuan Yuan, if I’m still not well after resting for a night, then I’ll visit the hospital myself tomorrow.”
Hearing Chen Dong Lan rejecting his good intentions without stopping, Yuan Yuan felt irritated. Not knowing which muscle was connected wrongly, he felt that he had to bring Chen Dong Lan to the hospital today even if it meant tying him up.
“Just alight me here.” Chen Dong Lan’s back stooped down. “I’ll take a taxi home myself.”
Yuan Yuan’s temples ached. He slowed down and stopped in a parking section ahead.
“Then get out.”
He had never before used such a cold tone with Chen Dong Lan. Since he were young, he had usually been gentle. It was rare for him to speak like this.
Chen Dong Lan was obviously stunned, and after two seconds, he opened the door and got out of the car without a word.
Yuan Yuan stared at his back in the rear-view mirror. Winter was a wonderful season. It set off a contrast, making the heavily bundled-up Chen Dong Lan seem as frail as a piece of paper, shaky and unsteady.
After a second, he chased after him and pulled at Chen Dong Lan, asking him loudly, “Do you get out just because I said so?”
Why does he always fail to pick the right time to listen?
Chen Dong Lan stumbled from his pull and turned his head. His eyes were red and he didn’t know if it was because of discomfort from his cold or…
Yuan Yuan’s voice softened unconsciously. “What’s wrong with visiting the hospital when you’re sick?”
As if in slow motion, Chen Dong Lan lifted his hand and rubbed his eyes. “There’s nothing wrong, just that we’re not living together now. You’ve been driving for quite a few hours without rest and sending me home is already very troublesome for you. Now having to go to the hospital, I don’t know how much longer that’s going to take, and I really don’t want to.”
Chen Dong Lan seldom spoke so much in one go.
Yuan Yuan felt guilty.
This was like saying, “It was you who cast me aside first.”
Since he was already cast aside, what was this?
He wanted Chen Dong Lan to lift his head and carefully look at the kind of expression he had on, but he didn’t say anything. After a few rounds of breathing, he didn’t have any other choice. “Then let’s not go to the hospital. I’ll send you home. Is that okay?”
Chen Dong Lan didn’t say a word.
“Okay?” Yuan Yuan asked again.
Chen Dong Lan nodded.
The two of them returned to the car and drove straight to Chen Dong Lan’s newly rented place. Chen Dong Lan sat in his previous seat without saying a word. Yuan Yuan felt the atmosphere wasn’t right. It felt like hard candy that had melted away, and when you open the wrapper, it was sticky and its implications were unclear.
So, he let the silence continue.
This was the first time Yuan Yuan had gone to Chen Dong Lan’s new home. The place was quite remote and in an old neighbourhood. The building was not more than six storeys high, with mottled outer walls and peeling paint.
Yuan Yuan searched for a long time before finding an open-air car park. There were chicken cages on the belt of greenery beside it, and several free-range chickens occupied a few parking spaces.
They got out of the car, and Chen Dong Lan walked in front, leading the way.
Entering the stairwell, there were no lights. Chen Dong Lan didn’t think to use the phone to illuminate the way and only supported himself against the wall as he climbed the stairs. Yuan Yuan did the same, and his hand became grey.
Reaching the sixth floor, Chen Dong Lan opened the rusty iron door.
When the lights came on, the forty square metre room could be seen in a glance.
The sofa was on the right, and on a winter’s day, there was a summer blanket on it. Yuan Yuan knew that blanket. Three years ago, the summer when they had just started living together, Chen Dong Lan had brought that blanket over.
Sleeping on the sofa instead of the bed he had, was actually something that Chen Dong Lan would do.
Chen Dong Lan couldn't lean again the wall and was slightly helpless. “Do you want some water?”
Yuan Yuan didn’t reply and went inside. The kitchen had a gas stove, but there was no gas tank under it. The kitchenware brought from their co-rented house were neatly arranged on a shelf at the side, but there were no signs of use.
Yuan Yuan took a deep breath.
Even if he had a pet and left it, its life wouldn’t be as much of a mess as Chen Dong Lan’s.
Yuan Yuan said, “This lousy place has such bad conditions. Which nuisance of a friend rented it to you?”
Chen Dong Lan felt a little embarrassed. “Actually, it’s not a friend, but a colleague. We don’t normally interact.”
He knew it.
Based on Chen Dong Lan’s income, he didn’t need to rent a place like this. It must have been due to urgency, so he looked for someone randomly to help him search, eventually ending up with such a lousy place.
How could such a thing happen in this world?
Without him, Chen Dong Lan would not eat properly or sleep well. Without him, he would lose his vitality and motivation.
Yuan Yuan thought for a while, then said, “It’ll be about a month before my new house is ready.”
Chen Dong Lan nodded stiffly, as if he hadn’t really heard.
Yuan Yuan sighed. “At that time, you can rent from me. I wouldn’t collect any rental fees from you. You just need to cook for me everyday.”
As he spoke, he looked at Chen Dong Lan staring foolishly and at a complete loss.
“Why are you staring into space? Do you want to rent or not?”
Chen Dong Lan had not responded.
“If you continue being quiet, I’ll take it as if I never asked.”
“…I want to. But, can I still pay half the rent like before?”
“Up to you.”
In fact, it wasn’t half previously. In the spirit of taking care of his junior, he had paid a little more.
“Although I’m paying rent, let me do the cooking.”
“That’s also up to you.”
“I…I’ll learn how to cook even more dishes.”
“This…” Yuan Yuan laughed. “Let’s not worry about it now, okay?”