T/N: Warning for a brief mention of self-harm that appears early on! If you wish to skip it, please jump from the sentence ‘There wouldn’t be’ to ‘But it was different now’. Happy Lunar New Year!
Day 10 06:14
That night, Song Ran actually did have a dream.
In the dream, it was early summer; the living room was quiet, and the unchanging monotony of cicada chirps came from afar. 8012A’s Canterbury bells and 8012B’s Casablanca lilies had been transplanted to the same balcony, and they had simultaneously entered the flowering stage. Narrow and broad leaves formed an intermingled patch and gave off a blended sweet and fresh fragrance.
He was drawing next to the French windows, Bubu was lying belly-down on the carpet and earnestly navigating a maze with a little wooden horse, and He Zhiyuan was holding a watering can as he watered the flowers one pot at a time. Probably because Song Ran had never seen his face, He Zhiyuan was facing away from him the entire time as he occupied himself with his work at a pace that was neither fast nor slow. The soft sunlight blurred the edges of his figure, making his shape not very clear.
Song Ran looked at his back, his teeth gently chewing on the pen and his heart itching—what did this man actually look like?
Would his appearance be just as good as the love that he gave?
Having experienced such a lonely period of time, Song Ran had lost his way and didn’t understand what value his life had. Every time the news broadcast a child’s unexpected death and the parents in front of the camera lens hysterically cried, he would wonder, if he died someday, would there be anyone in this world who would sorrowfully cry for him?
There wouldn’t be.
His death wouldn’t cause a single tear to be shed. As early as the day when his father led him to the entrance of the orphanage and left him with a lie before departing forever, he had been abandoned by the entire world. He had sought death by cutting his wrist with a keen razor blade, and it had been a very clean cut; scarlet blood gushed out, trickling along his palm lines to his fingertips and falling drop by drop. The smell of blood was thick enough to choke on, but it couldn’t evoke the pain that had been numbed by despair.
But it was different now.
Now, he had a home.
Bubu would care about if he was living well or not. Mr He would care about if he was living well or not. Pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy would never again be just emotions that he chewed upon by himself until they lost their taste.
What tagged along behind love was a pleasant surprise that was even greater than love.
Someone held him from behind, and his fingers were held in that person’s palm. Warm breaths puffed against his cheek, having a mature man’s aroma—he unconsciously looked at the balcony, but that place where the flowers were in full bloom was already deserted.
“Song Ran… my darling…”
The voice next to his ear was low and gentle, with a kind of bewitchment that was difficult to resist.
Song Ran was bewitched. After putting down his pen, he closed his eyes, turned his head, and calmly accepted He Zhiyuan’s kiss before gradually deepening it, unable to refrain from leaving lingering touches on his face and neck. His lower abdomen started feeling hot and dry, the lust difficult to address, and the thought of wanting to completely belong to each other became increasingly intense. He was picked up by Mr He, and then after the door was knocked open, he was thrown onto the bed, divested of his clothes, and had his legs parted.
In this dream’s early summer afternoon, Song Ran heard his own shameful moans. At first, they were moans of endurance, but afterwards they became so loud it was almost like he’d lost all restraint.
Cicada chirps. Cool breezes. A music box.
Sunlight was penetrating through, the plants were growing, and the child and kitten were playing in the living room.
In the pastel-hued painting, the two bodies moving in a wild rhythm on the bed seemed so out of place that it was like an out-of-control huge mountain fire, almost completely destroying the atmosphere in one fell swoop. But Song Ran felt the ultimate ecstasy; he cast away his sense of shame, voluntarily opened up his still-unripe body, and allowed his most beloved person to passionately love him.
Happiness arrived this quickly.
He didn’t dare to believe it.
Previously, he had also looked forward to being doted on by someone, but people who had not been loved before would always lack a bit of confidence in the idea of happiness—the person doting upon him today may leave and disappear tomorrow, leaving him all by his lonely self. After tasting sweetness, his expectations would become disrupted, and anything else would taste bitter.
Rather than having partners who come and go, it’d be better for them to not come at all.
Rather than leeching off other people’s happiness, it’d be better to not want it.
He couldn’t see into other people’s hearts. He could only see into his own self, which was why he liked looking after young children that much and was so willing to give love to others. If a child wanted to be doted upon, he would give it to them, just like a short little tree that couldn’t be considered sturdy, yet tried hard nonetheless to protect the even-smaller living creatures beneath its crown in an attempt to prove that its life was really not worthless; at the very least, it could still block the wind and rain for somebody.
The only thing was, this little tree didn’t imagine that a towering tree would suddenly spring up next to it and spread out its lofty shade, protecting it along with the small and fragile seedling that it liked.
People who give love will also obtain love.
Song Ran had never been this at peace before. He lay at ease on that patch of moist and soft soil and looked up at the sky-like vast tree shade, then closed his eyes and collected its dew with every leaf. When the wind blew, he trembled, and when the wind stopped, he gasped for breath; every drop of water that rolled off of his body all had the scent of that tree.
At a bit past six o’clock in the morning, Song Ran woke up, not yet satisfied.
This wet dream was too intense. He was limp all over, and even after lying there for ten minutes, he still didn’t have much strength. The crotch of his pants was both damp and sticky; once he lifted the duvet, the salty smell that had been covered for several hours was released, and the sheer intensity of it made his face feel hot.
After furtively creeping into the bathroom, he washed his underwear, wrung them out, aired them, and then slunk back to bed. While holding a big pillow, he sat at the head of the bed longing for Mr He; once he started thinking about the other man, he did not stop thinking for an entire hour. It wasn’t until Lin Hui knocked on the door and shouted for him to eat breakfast that he woke up from his silly lovestruck state and went to the dining room with flushed cheeks.
Lin Hui saw that his face was red and that when he scooped up a mouthful of porridge he would savour it for three seconds, so she thought his brain had been muddled by fever; as a result, she requested Zhan Yuwen to help measure his temperature. Song Ran hurriedly raised a spoon to shield himself, saying, “The fever receded a long time ago. I’m really fine, but if you don’t believe me, you can touch.”
Zhan Yuwen was poised to feel him, but Lin Hui deftly slapped away his hand and gave him a disdainful look. “Is it your turn?”
As she spoke she touched Song Ran herself; sure enough, he was cool to the touch.
She asked, puzzled, “The fever is gone, so how is your face still this red?”
“Um, because… the porridge! The porridge is hot!”
Song Ran tossed the blame onto the porridge.
Lin Hui looked at Bubu, whose little cheeks had also been steamed red by the hot air, then turned to look at Zhan Yuwen; upon seeing that his complexion was normal, she smiled impishly. “How come only your face isn’t red?”
Utterly resigned, Zhan Yuwen pushed his empty bowl forward, then spread his hands out in a shrug and said, “Please, miss, have you given me a serving of porridge?”
Only after this did Lin Hui put on an affected expression of sudden realisation; she went to the kitchen and returned with a ladle in hand, then scooped a ladle of porridge into Zhan Yuwen’s bowl and rewarded him with half of a limp youtiao1Deep-fried dough stick in passing. Looking at the breakfast that was not only made up of inferior materials but also couldn’t even fill the crevices between his teeth, Zhan Yuwen seemed to hear his starving belly lament and sorrowfully shook his head.
Bubu giggled at the sight, then revealed the truth. “The small portion is mine, and this portion that I have is yours.”
Zhan Yuwen swiftly looked at Lin Hui, and a cold light like a scalpel’s flashed in his eyes.
Lin Hui calmly stood up, calmly dusted off her apron, and calmly put the ‘child’s set meal’ and ‘adult’s set meal’ back in their rightful places. Then, she abruptly took out a piece of heart-shaped seaweed from her pocket and stuck it in Zhan Yuwen’s bowl before making a cute face at him.
Without waiting for the other party’s reaction, she leisurely sat back, picked up a spoon, and tapped the rim of the bowl, commanding everyone to eat. “Don’t speak with food in your mouth, go to bed on time.2This sentence is a reference to some of Confucius’s rules and habits. Nobody is allowed to talk.”
As Zhan Yuwen drank the porridge, he smiled so much that he looked like a fool.
Song Ran was stunned by the sight.
These few days, between Bubu and himself, one wasn’t permitted to work and the other wasn’t permitted to go to school, so they concentrated on recuperating at home. Zhan Yuwen and Lin Hui had unexpectedly developed from a pair of strangers to a pair of matched demons in a short span of time; they cooperated well with each other to urge the two patients to eat food, take medicine, rest, and sleep at set times, neatly managing their daily schedules.
If one were to say Zhan Yuwen was a shepherd dog, then Lin Hui was an animal keeper. Every day, she used special methods to cook excellent dishes for Song Ran and Bubu while refusing to toss food to Doctor Zhan only. But so long as Doctor Zhan begged a little and sold some meng, Lin Hui would jump down along a section of steps called ‘little tsundere’3Opted to use the Japanese term here because it’s originally a loanword and there isn’t a succinct direct translation to English and give him the portion of good food that had been prepared in advance and set aside for later.
Zhan Yuwen willingly bore it and behaved rather cooperatively.
Song Ran observed the interactions between this pair of quarrelsome lovers, thinking that it was particularly interesting. In the future, when Mr He returned, he would also hold back Mr He’s portion on occasion, wait until the other party sadly and earnestly lodged a complaint, then bring out a big happy surprise.
This afternoon, Song Ran avoided Zhan Yuwen’s surveillance to steal a few sheets of paper from his work table, then placed a hardback notebook beneath them and leaned against the head of the bed to draft a sketch—Little Wooden Boat Searching for Oars was due in two weeks, but he had finished less than half of it. If by any chance he turned in the work late, not only would the fee be docked, it would also affect his reputation.
Bubu was taking an afternoon nap at his side, covered with a little orange blanket.
The entire time, this child’s sleeping posture was rather random. What he encountered in his dreams was a mystery; he puckered his mouth, rolled over, and sent the blanket flying a full metre away with a kick of his little fat legs, revealing his little yellow duck underwear and his round little belly.
Song Ran put down his paper and pencil, then picked up the blanket and covered Bubu well. Right as he was preparing to keep drawing, he heard a string of lively music come from next to his pillow.
The pencil in his hand landed on the bed sheets.
That was the special incoming call tone that he had set for He Zhiyuan one hour ago.
Unable to contain his ecstatic mood, Song Ran bounced just like a pinball, nearly waking up Bubu from his dream when his butt landed on the bed. He grabbed the phone and took three deep breaths before pressing the answer key with great solemnity, but he then recalled something all of a sudden and awkwardly lifted his head to look towards the balcony—the soiled underwear from last night was still hanging on the clothes horse,4A frame upon which clothes are draped for air-drying dripping with water as it was blown left and right by the strong wind at the twelfth floor.
Balls of fire scorched his cheeks.
Going red from the corners of his eyes all the way to his neck, he was unable to even say ‘hello’.