T/N: Plenty of fluff this week to make up for the previous week’s knives! ( ˘ ³˘)~♥
Day 09 21:51
After he finished telling the story, the distant and bitter recollections accumulated to form a pool of black water that engulfed the lonely narrator, and tremulous breaths sounded within the unoccupied space of the room.
He had cut open his way of thinking to He Zhiyuan, similar to a round clam that had opened its shell while facing a keen sandpiper’s beak to reveal soft flesh that lacked the slightest defence. If the sharp beak pecked now, he wouldn’t even be able to maintain an intact corpse.
Song Ran believed He Zhiyuan wouldn’t hurt him, but he timidly cowered nonetheless.
“Mr He, Mr He…” Feeling very cold, he burrowed beneath the duvet and rubbed his ice-cold toes together as he ceaselessly called to the other party, urgently wishing to ask for some comfort, “Are you still holding me?”
He Zhiyuan could not stop the rims of his eyes from reddening.
He braced himself against the edge of the bed and sat up, warmly saying, “I am. I’m holding you, so don’t be afraid.”
Don’t be afraid, my precious one.
The tone contained a gentleness that he had never used before in his entire life.
The current Song Ran closely resembled a small animal that had received a fright, like a rabbit, mole, or fawn, and He Zhiyuan couldn’t help recalling the quarrel over the phone that had occurred a week ago. At that time, Song Ran was completely different; he was bristling and sharp with his words, just like a blown-up puffer fish covered with spines.
—Children, partners, and family are a person’s most precious things. Nothing else can compare to them!
—If family isn’t important, then don’t have children. If you have such a low opinion of reproduction, then don’t do it! Be a bachelor like me; then there will be plenty of time for you to pursue your career!
—I don’t care how old you wanted to be before having a child. Since you have Bubu now, you must shoulder a father’s responsibility!
That day, He Zhiyuan had genuinely gotten angry, thinking that Song Ran had been smiling the previous second yet immediately changed his face1There is a subgenre of Sichuan opera called 变脸 which translates literally to ‘face-changing’, and the changing of facial appearances can be done by using masks or greasepaint in the next second and became so furious that he was impervious to reason. Without even thinking, he had carelessly painted a prejudice-filled mask and unyieldingly put it on Song Ran: a child who had grown up swimming in honey, been pampered by his parents from a young age, lived very self-indulgently despite being more than twenty years old, and assumed that everywhere in the whole world ought to be the exact same honey pot as he made brash criticisms towards his methods of bringing up Bubu without brooking the slightest dissent.
But in reality, Song Ran had never had any honey pot or even so much as a single spoonful of honey.
That so-called quarrel had merely been a case of an abandoned child who had come across another child in a similar circumstance, then wanted to loudly wake up the father on the other end of the phone who was taking the wrong path and have him turn his head to look back instead of continuing to disregard Bubu’s hopeful heart. In his moment of desperation, he wasn’t particular with his words, nor did he care about the appropriateness of his speech.
How could he have the heart to quibble over this trivial slip and even cast aside a set of seemingly-rational views on family, standing on the high ground as he sneered at Song Ran’s ‘naivete’ and ‘rudeness’?
Don’t judge me.
He had once said that.
But the one who was full of prejudices and who had made assumptions based on a tiny bit of single-sided information was actually himself.
He Zhiyuan could not help but blame himself.
He knew that Song Ran was a seedling that had unluckily landed in a salt marsh and had his roots get scorched and burned, yet he had still persisted in growing towards the sun; in the end, he grew into a tree that gave shade to the surrounding vegetation.
If it were him instead, he definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it.
At 7 a.m., the morning sunlight on the horizon gradually brightened, shining through the translucent bedroom curtains. He Zhiyuan threw on a nightgown, then pushed the door open to come outside to the second-floor balcony, and a morning breeze wrapped around the humid fragrance of oranges blew past his hair and cheeks.
The backyard garden was very peaceful, with only a few sporadic bird calls.
Separated by a wooden wall of wisterias, he heard the stirrings of the neighbouring family—the microwave and oven dinging in turns, stainless steel knives and forks clinking on porcelain plates, and young children happily chattering away.
“Dad, Joey took the blueberry jam again!”
“Then how about spreading some mayonnaise, Ari?”
“No, I don’t like it! I only want Joey’s blueberry jam!”
“I want it too!”
The neighbours were a French-descended family of five. The younger brother and sister stubbornly persevered, wanting to take back the jam that the oldest brother had snatched away.
“Joey, you’re a good boy. Share the jam with Ari and Sophie.” The capable and experienced mother spoke, and after calming down the tiny dispute between the children, she asked, “Who wants to eat fried eggs today? Raise your hand.”
The dining room immediately became lively again.
This very warm conversation was a household routine that could not be any more common. As He Zhiyuan listened to it, his heart felt moved, and a scene suddenly flashed by in his mind.
After getting out of bed early in the morning, he and Bubu were standing side by side in the bathroom washing their faces and brushing their teeth. As he faced the mirror, he shaved, cleansed his face, and tidied his hair, while Bubu puffed his little cheeks and, gripping his small toothbrush, brushed the left side for one minute, then brushed the right side for one minute. In a moment, the father-and-son pair finished washing up, and the fragrance of food travelled from the kitchen. He bent down at the waist and pushed Bubu’s shoulders from behind, then one adult and one child ran in a single-file line to the dining room. Song Ran had just come out while wearing a plaid apron, and in his hands was a tray that contained two bowls of steaming fresh meat wontons.
Bubu swiftly crawled onto the high stool, picked up a spoon, and began to eat with loud slurps. On the other hand, he himself stood in place, waiting for Song Ran to walk over and personally knot the necktie that matched today’s button-up shirt for him, then tilt his head back and land a soft kiss.
Song Ran looked at him, a smile in his eyes.
These eyes truly were very attractive; jet-black and shining, they possessed the lustre of a moonlit night. At the moment, both a bit of morning sunlight and his own face were reflected in them. The most important thing was that within these eyes, there was no longer any timidity or loneliness to be found, only the happiness born from a long period of stable living.
If he could lend his shoulder to Song Ran to lean on and receive this kind of expression in return, why would he not do it?
Family was a jigsaw puzzle. He and Bubu made up one half, and Song Ran made up one half; when they were joined together, it was perfect.
The answer was obvious, and it appeared vividly in his heart.
Half of the morning sun rose over the rooftops of the townhouses, and the sky began to take on a faint red hue; the western hemisphere’s daytime had arrived.
But the eastern half of the globe was still within the long night.
He Zhiyuan closed his eyes and leaned back, resting his back against the balcony wall, and gradually let out a breath. “Song Ran, that time last week… It was I who maligned your view on family. You said that children, partners, and family were a person’s most important things. At the time, I said many things in rebuttal, but now I have thought things through, and I’m willing to acknowledge you, truly willing.”
He assumed this would more or less make Song Ran somewhat happier, but he didn’t think that the other’s response would be a drawn-out silence.
“No need to acknowledge me, Mr He. At the very least… don’t acknowledge me only because of my story.”
When he spoke once again, Song Ran’s voice was still trembling.
He Zhiyuan asked, “How come?”
Song Ran paused, then said with difficulty, “Because… even I don’t know if it’s correct or not.”
“I heard that people will be obsessed with things they can’t ask for, and the more time that passes, the more abnormal the obsession becomes. I haven’t had a family since I was young. No matter where I lived, what kind of work I did, or how many friends I made, I always felt my days were empty and that I was floating by myself without roots. I wanted a family too much. I wanted a child I could take care of and a man to come take care of me. Even if this child wasn’t Bubu or if this man wasn’t… wasn’t…”
Abruptly closing the shell, Song Ran covered his mouth and clumsily tried to conceal it by coughing twice.
He Zhiyuan silently smiled.
“… In my case, even if a child was randomly thrown at me, I would have no way to refuse. Mr He, if children, partners, and family were really that important to me, I should be doubly cautious. Why would I welcome one and all? Unless… unless what I wanted in my heart wasn’t a ‘home’ at all but rather just an empty shell that, as long as it was called ‘home’, would be fine. As for what kind of people lived in this home, or whether or not I liked them, I wouldn’t care at all…”
“You really don’t mind?” He Zhiyuan interrupted him, asking in a solemn voice, “Or is it because you’ve met the right one on the very first try, so you didn’t have the chance to compare?”
These words were like a sharp wake-up call, making Song Ran give a mighty start. “I…”
He Zhiyuan didn’t stop and went a step further, saying, “Song Ran, you always think very badly of yourself and have the habit of underestimating your own sincerity. From what I see, everyone has selfish motives. To you, of course what you desire the most is the most important. This kind of mentality couldn’t be more normal—it’s far from being abnormal.”
Song Ran hesitantly asked, “Is that so?”
The answer was loud and clear.
Self-doubt was an unsolvable deadlock and sinking into it would only beget suffering, so He Zhiyuan had to pull Song Ran out of it. Unexpectedly, Song Ran’s thoughts were confused; just when he had jumped out of this pit, he held his cell phone and was bafflingly confused for a while before he jumped into yet another pit in the blink of an eye. “Then… you previously hadn’t acknowledged it, but you’re acknowledging it now. Is it because you changed your mind and want to form a family?”
He Zhiyuan nodded, “Yes.”
“So you’re preparing to get remarried to Bubu’s mother?”
He Zhiyuan was bewildered.
He had never gotten married before in the first place.
He didn’t come around for five whole seconds. By the time he realized Song Ran had misunderstood and wanted to deny it, Song Ran had already run several kilometres in the wrong direction and, as if escaping, stated in one go, “Mr He, I had previously scolded you for being an unworthy father, but please don’t take it to heart. I can see that you actually love Bubu very much and are a good father. You just want to earn money to take care of your family, and when you become busy with work, you occasionally can’t take him into consideration. Once… once you get remarried and have Bubu’s mother help you take care of the house, the situation will become much better than it is now… Thinking about it like this, remarrying i-is also a good idea.”
He Zhiyuan was unsure whether to laugh or cry. Seeing that the other was still talking to himself stubbornly, he straightforwardly asked, “You hope for me to ‘get remarried’?”
Song Ran choked on the spot.
He felt emotionally distressed. The corners of his eyes became increasingly damp, and his five slim fingers desperately abused the pillow with the veins on the back of his hand all visible as he wished to grind the six words ‘Mr He wants to get remarried’ to fine powder—what was the matter with him? Wasn’t it normal? What he cared about was the little angel Bubu, not the ‘large-size complimentary gift’ Mr He. Now that Mr He was going to get remarried, what was he feeling so uncomfortable for?
Rain falls from the sky and mothers get married. The world is so big, so you can do what you want. It’s none of my business.
Song Ran mightily squirmed for a while before his obstinate temper rose and he snapped, “What are you asking me for? If I oppose it, then would you not get remarried?”
He Zhiyuan smiled faintly. “Try saying it and see. I’ll consider it.”
Upon hearing that he’d consider it, Song Ran’s just-hardened bones softened again as he thought that this ‘large-size complimentary gift’ was mature and considerate and that it was still worth attempting to persuade him. He racked his brains and thought for a while before he picked a roundabout and sensible angle, chose his words and phrases, and carefully stated, “Mm, if you get remarried, Bubu will have a mother, so it will never fall to me to take care of him. I’m a little reluctant to part with Bubu, so how about this… Don’t get remarried, and I’ll volunteer to help you to take care of him. Is that okay?”
With a cold face, He Zhiyuan gave a forced smile as he summarised for him, “You want to take care of Bubu, so you hope for me to not ‘get remarried’. Is that it?”
“Y-yes.” Song Ran became nervous, “Is this reason sufficient?”
He Zhiyuan: “Not quite.”
Song Ran blushed in embarrassment and stuck his head into the crack between the pillows, nearly breaking his nose from the pressure. He gripped the cell phone, his wrist straightening and tensing as he planned to hurl it into outer space. In this lifetime, he would never pick up He Zhiyuan’s calls again. After a brief pause, he heard He Zhiyuan say, “I can teach you a sufficient reason.”
Get the hell out!
Song Ran covered his head with the duvet, acting as though he weren’t listening, but his hand sneakily retracted; in the end, he wasn’t willing to throw it.
He Zhiyuan smiled and said, “You want a child to look after and a man to look after you, so it’s very simple. Your ideal dream lover should be a single dad with a child, and his orientation can’t be too straight. This kind of disposition is difficult to come across in a hundred years, but you finally managed to run into one with much difficulty, and he also happens to quite like you. Tell me, wouldn’t it be too much of a loss to let him go ‘get remarried’?”
He also happens to quite like you…
Quite like you…
Song Ran lifted up the duvet, then turned over and sat up, blinking hard within the darkness.
His fevered head was comparable to a rusted gear, tightly stuck and getting jammed on its way in or out; no matter how one pushed, it wouldn’t turn quickly. He Zhiyuan’s one sentence reverberated in his ears dozens of times, but in his stupefied state, he was unable to understand the implications. After approximately half a minute, a lightning bolt struck the crown of his head, and all the blood in Song Ran’s body instantly boiled. He hastily turned on the big bedroom light, knelt on the edge of the bed, and squeezed the cell phone in his hand as he asked with a stammer, “M-Mr He, you saying these things… should have no other meaning, right?”
He Zhiyuan smiled in delight. “Precisely speaking, I only have ‘other meanings’.”
Song Ran was struck dumb; his tongue was tied, and his brain was completely empty.
Mr He had taken the initiative to confess to him—this plot line was so crooked that it almost had no shape. Even in his dreams he didn’t dare for it to go this well, okay?
He Zhiyuan smoothed down his wind-tousled hair and smiled as he said, “Song Ran, don’t act so surprised. However much you want to take care of Bubu, that’s how much I want to take care of you. It’s a man’s selfish wish that came very naturally and is very intense, and I can’t explain the reason, nor can I control it. I can only follow my conscience.”
“B-but… we’ve only known each other for fewer than ten days, and we haven’t even seen each other before!”
Having been thrown onto the rocks by the great waves of joy, Song Ran was so dizzy he couldn’t distinguish between heaven and earth. The inside of his head was a ball of paste, and no matter how he thought about it, he felt that it was truly too fast.
He Zhiyuan raised his eyebrows, knowing that Song Ran had already forgotten all of what he had said.
“When I had previously entrusted Bubu to your care, I said that whether or not a person is dependable hinges upon his own moral character, not how familiar we are with each other. Similarly, I have feelings for you, and what matters is the two people, you and me, and not whether it’s the first day or the hundredth day that we know each other.” He changed to a comfortable standing posture, leaning against the fence with one hand stuck into his nightgown pocket. “Of course, if you don’t feel secure, I can also leave the confession for one month, two months, or even half a year later, but speaking from my selfish desire, I hope you can respond as quickly as possible, because I… really am not good at exercising restraint.”
Song Ran became flushed from these words that had no deeper meaning. Holding the hot-potato-like cell phone, his voice trembled, “I-I’m not too clear-headed right now. Can you… allow me to calm down for an hour first?”
“Of course I can.” With great poise, He Zhiyuan took a step back. “I await your reply.”
The phone was hung up, and Song Ran sat dumbly on the bed for a full ten minutes.
This unexpected plot twist took him by surprise, and his body seemed like it was floating amidst the clouds, drifting and unable to touch the ground.
He resolutely pinched his thigh, then grimaced from the pain.
Within his mind, even if he truly did want to confess, it should have been ten days or half a month later, when He Zhiyuan returned to this country. He would have written a script in advance, uneasily recited it face-to-face for Mr He to hear, and then uneasily waited for the other party to finish scoring his height, age, education, income, and moral character one by one before announcing the final result. How could the other party have turned things around and taken the initiative instead?
He got out of bed, ran into the bathroom, turned the faucet all the way open, and doused his head in cold water.
After dousing himself, he still wasn’t clear-headed, so he simply opened the bedroom door.
The living room lights were blazing brightly. Zhan Yuwen, Lin Hui, and Bubu were sitting on the sofa watching TV, where Tom and Jerry were running helter-skelter all over the screen while accompanied by the BGM. When they heard the sound of the door opening, all three of them turned their heads; upon seeing Song Ran, Bubu excitedly hopped down from the sofa and sprinted over on his two short legs, calling out, “Big Brother, you’re awake!”
Song Ran firmly caught him, then turned around, carried him into the bedroom, and closed the door.
Bubu turned his head to look. “What are you doing?”
“Big Brother has something to ask you.” Song Ran kneeled on the ground, wiped his damp face, and looked steadily into Bubu’s eyes. “If, I’m saying if… If Big Brother and your dad were to get together, would you mind?”
Bubu sweetly asked, “What is ‘to get together’?”
“Once your dad comes back, Big Brother will move in to live with you two, and whether it’s morning, noon, or night, we won’t be apart. In the future it’ll be Big Brother who takes care of both of you, and of course, your dad will also take care of us…”
“Okay, okay.” Bubu hurriedly replied, nodding like a rice pounder. “That’s the best!”
Song Ran held Bubu’s little hands, then came a little closer and asked, “But this way, you won’t have a mom… Between Big Brother and your mom, only one can live at home. Bubu, do you understand?
Bubu nodded again, a broad smile on his face; he didn’t look the least bit upset.
He said, “Mom already got married and won’t live in this house again, so feel free to move in, Big Brother!
“Ah, got married?”
Song Ran was stunned.
If it was like this, then the final excuse in his heart had also lost its effectiveness. The only obstruction remaining between him and Mr He was himself.
Have a little more self-confidence.
Song Ran, you must have a little more self-confidence.
Mr He is so good, you absolutely mustn’t let him slip away.
Unable to wait for even a second, he reached out and picked up Bubu, then quickly said, “I still want to sleep for a while, so you go outside and play with Big Brother and Big Sister first, okay?”
Without knowing what was happening, Bubu nodded and responded affirmatively.
Song Ran forcefully hugged Bubu and delivered him back to the living room, then swiftly returned to his room, flopped onto the bed, and snatched up the cell phone that was next to the pillow.