T/N: I feel like this is skirting the edge of needing the NSFW content warning but I never actually had to type the word ‘dick’ so… please proceed at your own discretion!
Day 10 15:09
At midnight, rain came down in a torrential downpour.
The lights in the office building went out one after another, and a dozen or so cars were parked here and there in the parking lot. The dim yellow street lamps shone down on the tops of the cars and into the windshields.
He Zhiyuan hadn’t started the engine. Instead, he leaned against the reclined back of the driver’s seat while wearing a pair of Bluetooth earphones and quietly closed his eyes to take a rest.
The rain beat relentlessly against the front window, and the interior of the car was both dark and cold.
The long duration of the intense work wore him out both physically and mentally. He knew he needed a comfortable deep sleep, but strangely, he didn’t want to drive home—the house had heating, hot water, red wine, and a double bed with high thread count and high-density Pima cotton sheets; all the things that should be there were there, except for someone who could talk with him for a while.
There was no difference whatsoever regardless of if he returned early or late to that luxurious empty house.
Therefore, he dialled Song Ran’s phone number directly from within the car.
Even after talking together for more than ten times, Song Ran was still just as easily nervous as when they had just gotten to know each other; his tongue was tied into knots, and with each knot that was undone, another took its place, making him stutter like a jammed radio. Suspecting that he had a guilty conscience and wanted to cover up some embarrassing secret, He Zhiyuan couldn’t help smiling as he listened, and he stretched contentedly.
“Your voice is so soft, is someone next to you?”
“Yes… yes, Bubu is taking an afternoon nap on my bed, and he’s sleeping pretty comfortably. In just an hour, he kicked off the blanket twice.” Song Ran tugged on the little blanket, covering Bubu’s shoulder. “How about you? You don’t sound too energetic. Did you just return home?”
He Zhiyuan yawned. “Not yet, I’m in my car.”
Extremely surprised, Song Ran blurted out, “It’s already midnight where you are. Is work that busy?”
He Zhiyuan looked up at the clock inside the car. At the centre of the screen, it showed that it was 00:09 a.m.
He really was a caring child, being able to calculate the time difference this quickly.
He smiled, then closed his eyes and leaned back. “In a few days, the company will hold a product press conference. Not only will there be a new generation of products, there will also be entirely new ones, so it’s considered to be an important developmental turning point. All the departments are moving along, and it’s normal to be a bit busy—other companies are also like this. I have dependable VP engineers providing support on the frontlines, so it can’t be thought of as too insane.”
Product press conference?
Song Ran blinked twice, thinking of 8012B’s soft and cute white cocoon, and curiously asked, “New products… Are you referring to Little Q?”
He Zhiyuan thought for a while, then explained, “Not entirely. The Little Q you see is only a prototype with most of the specific functionality removed, and even its appearance isn’t that of the final version. The only reason why it’s in my home is to give it a real environment to check the security. Its final version will have lots of interesting details—I can’t disclose too much right now, but after some time has passed, I’ll bring one back for you and Bubu to play with, okay?”
“Okay!” Song Ran was so excited that he was in high spirits. “Then… will Little Q have promotional videos? The kinds that look super black technology-esque1‘Black technology’ is a reference to Full Metal Panic! and refers to technology that is far more advanced than that of the real world and beyond pretentious?”
“Are you referring to a style like Apple’s?”
Song Ran nodded his head as if it were a garlic masher.
He Zhiyuan couldn’t stop laughing; even his chest shook slightly. He reached up to rub his nose, saying, “I apologise for disappointing you. Little Q looks cute, so to match its appearance, our promotional video is also rather cute. If you’re fond of ‘super black technology’ and the like, it happens to have two brothers, one S7 and one T7, whose promotional videos ought to satisfy you.”
“I… I don’t like it that much. A cute style is actually my preference as well.”
Song Ran scratched his ear, self-consciously revising his own words, then asked, “Mr He, with your work being this busy, are you living by yourself over there? Is anyone taking care of you?”
“Someone will come by once a week to clean. Otherwise, I’m all by myself.”
“Is that so…” Song Ran’s shoulders drooped. With his chin resting on the propped-up notebook, he very anxiously said, “Then it must be very hard on you, since even after you return home, there’s nobody to keep you company.”
He Zhiyuan smiled. “Does it make your heart ache?”
Song Ran nodded without hesitation. “Of course it does!”
Just as he finished speaking, he weakly put a hand to his forehead—What nonsense are you saying? You’ve only been with him for less than a day! Do you dare to be any more straightforward in expressing your emotions than this? If this continues, then don’t even dream of being subtle for the rest of your life!
He restrained the intensity of his ‘heartache’ and did his best to ‘subtly’ say, “Mr He, either don’t go running to and fro all by yourself all the time in the future, or… or take Bubu and me with you on your business trips. That way, when you return home at night, I can talk with you at the very least.”
Upon hearing these words, in a place where Song Ran couldn’t see him, He Zhiyuan slowly opened his eyes. He quietly gazed up at the ceiling of the car for a while, then suddenly reached out to brace himself with his hands and sat up.
“I was feeling pretty tired just then, but now I’m much better, thinking that I’d be able to see you two once I drive back.” He Zhiyuan fastened his seatbelt and started the car. “I’ll be home in fifteen minutes, so would you mind chatting with me along the way?”
Song Ran hurriedly said, “I don’t mind, I don’t mind.”
Although they both clearly knew they couldn’t possibly see each other for real in fifteen minutes, these kinds of words made both expectant parties feel incomparably warm.
At around midnight, vehicles zipped along the highway. He Zhiyuan turned onto the ramp, floored the gas pedal, and swiftly merged into the continuous flow of traffic; amidst the sheets of rain, the red tail lights turned into moving streaks of light.
“Are you and Bubu doing well? How are your recoveries going?”
He Zhiyuan asked warmly.
Song Ran looked at the child sleeping soundly by his side, then reached out to ruffle his fine and soft hair. “Bubu’s fever broke yesterday, and his appetite looks to be not half bad as well. The amount he eats is about the same as before. Today… um, let me see… Today, he doesn’t seem to have grown any new spots, and I’m guessing that they’ll scab over in a couple days. If we’re lucky, when you come back you’ll be able to see a face that’s just the same as before, white and clean.”
“Then what about you?” He Zhiyuan asked. “Has your fever gone down?”
Song Ran nodded and said, “It went down this morning. Zhan Yuwen measured it for me at noon, and it was 37.7°C. Based on how my body feels, my current temperature should be even lower than it was then.”
It did sound like a piece of good news, but…
“Why did it suddenly go up to 39°C that day?”
He Zhiyuan grasped the key point.
Song Ran gave a start, then gnawed very guiltily on his fingernails and smiled dryly. “This… D-Doctor Zhan said it was a common cold fr-from getting chilled… Uh, probably because I hadn’t gotten sick in too long, so on the rare occasion that I do get sick, th-the symptoms would be this severe…”
He Zhiyuan caught the two words ‘getting chilled’ and frowned, seeming to have recalled something. “That day you went to Happy Valley, did you get wet?”
Song Ran was practically astonished. “Y-you even know that?!”
He Zhiyuan could only shrug his shoulders.
Of course he knew.
On the day they came back from Happy Valley, Song Ran had accidentally forwarded a bunch of photos that Lin Hui had secretly taken to him, and within them, one was an image of Song Ran squatting on the ground while holding a towel to wipe the water from Bubu. At the time, the movement of wiping away the water guided He Zhiyuan’s line of sight, causing him to only notice that Bubu’s hair and clothes had gotten wet, but as he thought back to it now, Song Ran’s hair and T-shirt had actually also gotten wet, and his situation hadn’t been much better than Bubu’s. In the subsequent few photos, Bubu had already changed into a set of clean new clothes, but Song Ran was wearing that half-wet and half-dry T-shirt the entire time.
If that was the reason for Song Ran getting chilled, as Bubu’s father, how could he not feel guilty?
He Zhiyuan thought of Bubu’s lively and uninhibited appearance in that photo and didn’t know if he should be relieved that this child was more cheerful than before or if he should be angry that this child was more fond of making mischief than before. With his mind in a whirl, he smacked the steering wheel a few times and asked, “How did Bubu get wet that day?”
Not daring to conceal the truth, Song Ran replied honestly, “Lin Hui and I had gone to buy ice cream and momentarily took our eyes off him, so he… ran around in the fountain square.”
“You brought him back?”
“Mm,” Song Ran said. “I saw he was practically soaked through, and without time to think of anything else, I just quickly rushed in.”
After staying silent for a while, He Zhiyuan suddenly asked, “After bringing him back, apart from wiping him dry and helping him change clothes, did you earnestly tell him that it was wrong of him to do that?”
“Huh?” Song Ran was stunned. “I… I didn’t.”
“Not even one sentence?”
Song Ran felt guilty. “No.”
It was exactly as he had guessed.
The heavy rain came down even more quickly. Puddles began to appear on the road, and when the car in front drove through one, it would send up huge sprays of water droplets and blur the field of vision of the car behind. He Zhiyuan calmly put some distance between himself and the car in front, increased the speed of the windshield wipers, and said mildly, “Song Ran, frankly speaking, your way of treating children also has problems. You and I are two different extremes—I’m too cold and you’re too indulgent. From the perspective of Bubu’s growth, we actually both haven’t done well enough. Of course…”
He paused, then changed the direction of his words. “You’ve scored ninety-five points, while I’ve scored five points.”
Song Ran had just started to get anxious; he sat there waiting to be criticised, but after being unexpectedly praised, he let out a puff of laughter into the phone.
He Zhiyuan heard his laughter, and the corners of his lips cheerfully quirked up before he continued to speak. “I know that because you like Bubu, you can’t bear to put on a stern face to educate him and you always want him to be relatively happy, but children are different from adults. Adults can clearly distinguish between priorities, along with what should be done and what shouldn’t be done, so it’s fine if they’re occasionally doted upon. However, children can’t clearly distinguish between them, so once they’re used to being spoiled, they’ll become completely lawless in the future. Therefore, between the three of us, I can spoil you, but you can’t spoil Bubu, got it?”
“Got… got it.”
Song Ran covered his burning face, feeling that his temperature had risen again.
‘I can spoil you’—th-this was blatantly a bit of lover’s talk, wasn’t it? He wasn’t overthinking it, was he? Even when discussing how to bring up children, he had to sneak in a few words! He was truly too aggressive!
Red card! Red card!
Song Ran used his own bright-red face to give Mr He a red card.
He Zhiyuan didn’t receive Song Ran’s red card. He changed into the lane on his left and neatly passed an old Ford pick-up truck, then continued, “Besides this, of course there are other possibilities as well—for example, you took into consideration that Bubu is my child and that it wasn’t appropriate to exceed your authority. But Bubu is also your child now, so the next time you encounter a similar situation, you must show a bit of parental resolve. You can’t continue to indulge him like this.”
Song Ran tugged at the bed sheets, feeling a great sweetness in his heart. “I understand.”
He thought for a while, then said in an attempt to justify himself, “It wasn’t like I spoiled Bubu on purpose, it’s just… since I came from the welfare institution, I kinda see a bit of myself in children, so I can’t be hard-hearted towards them. If you give me a little time, I’ll proceed step by step and definitely become extremely adherent to the rules in the future. Does that work?”
“It’s not not okay.” He Zhiyuan turned on the right blinker and returned to the original lane. “I’ll ask you a question, and if you answer it correctly, I’ll give you time.”
Becoming nervous in an instant, Song Ran swiftly pricked up his ears. “What… what question?”
Heavens, he wasn’t good at educational theory at all. No matter what was asked, even if it was simple and basic, would he be able to give a satisfactory answer?
He Zhiyuan paused for a few seconds, then caught him by surprise by tossing out the question, “Last night, did you dream of me?”
Song Ran was dumbfounded.
Slowly, his neck reddened. “I… I did.”
After that, his fingertips reddened as well. “Truly.”
“Then tell me, what did you dream of?”
He Zhiyuan deliberately teased him, his voice carrying a clear undertone of laughter.
Song Ran covered his face with the notebook and silently cursed in his heart. I dreamed that you mounted me with great force and came several times, practically like a beast.
He thought this, but of course he couldn’t say this out loud, so he made up a standard answer that seemed perfectly logical, didn’t reveal his lust, and was still full of love. “I dreamed that you had come back and I had gone to the airport to pick you up.”
Mm-hm, very good.
He had maintained the most fundamental restraint.
There was no change of tone in He Zhiyuan’s voice. “What about after picking me up?”
“After picking you up… um, that…” Momentarily unable to make anything up, Song Ran got stuck halfway through and forcefully rubbed his face twice with the hardback notebook, making the tip of his nose turn red. “Afterwards… it was a little unsuited for children.”
He Zhiyuan burst into full-throated laughter, and his deep eyes curved into two arcs.
At 12:30 a.m., the car drove through the deserted and leaf-strewn path before stopping in the front yard.
California’s rainy season was drawing to a close; with the clouds hurrying to dump their last remnants of stored water, raindrops pelted the car windows like hail. As soon as the car door opened, damp and cold air rushed in. Braving the rain, He Zhiyuan went indoors, took off his suit jacket and threw it onto the sofa, then walked into the kitchen and took out his usual small saucepan.
Half a bottle of a local Zinfandel, an ounce of brandy.
Cloves, cinnamon, honey, orange slices.
The wine needed to boil for ten minutes, so He Zhiyuan went to the second floor and took a warm shower. Ten minutes later, he punctually changed into a warm nightgown, came down the stairs with bare feet, and poured himself a glass of wine.
In the courtyard, the sound of rain went unabated. The orange trees and rose bushes rustled as they swayed endlessly in the rain, becoming loud when the wind picked up and becoming quiet when the wind weakened. A small night light lit up on the second floor balcony, reflecting off of the sheets of water flowing down outside the window. Through this layer of glass, the bedroom light was soft and its heating was very ample.
Sitting by himself at the side of the bed, He Zhiyuan drank half a glass of wine.
The warm wine entered his stomach, and he suddenly felt a burst of dry heat in his lower abdomen.
Earlier, he had felt bored while he was driving, so he couldn’t resist teasing Song Ran by asking him to tell a story using the same tone that he used to tell stories to Bubu. Instead of refusing, Song Ran only said bashfully, I haven’t memorised many stories, so I’ll tell you the one about the chipmunk. Don’t laugh at me.
Since it was his first time telling a fairy tale to an adult, it was inevitable that Song Ran was somewhat reserved and that his speech was stiff; only after he had slowly entered the right mindset did it start to sound good. He spoke gently and patiently, with a warmth that could melt ice in his voice, and when he imitated the chipmunk’s and squirrel’s speech, it was very lifelike and sounded extremely cute.
Perhaps because he had felt too happy, He Zhiyuan felt an unprecedented loneliness when the call got cut off.
Within his loneliness was anxiety, and within his anxiety was a discontent that could not be satisfied.
He tilted his head back and finished off the red wine in one go, then put down the empty glass and casually turned off the bedroom light. In the night, there was only a faint yellow glow on the balcony.
This sort of stormy late night ought to be used for making love.
He wanted to hold that fine young man in his arms, entice him into telling a fairy tale, then kiss him in the midst of it until he was left gasping and speaking so brokenly that he couldn’t complete even a single sentence. And this fairy tale would be about a velvety chipmunk who desperately waved its little paws to push away the rutting grey squirrel but was utterly incapable of turning over because it was pressed down so firmly.
He Zhiyuan leaned against the headboard with a hand moving back and forth beneath the nightgown.
Low panting sounds travelled through the air, changing from slow to fast, and the mood became increasingly restless, gradually intensifying to the point of being uncontrollable. Right as the movement halted, the panting abruptly broke off at the climax.
Immediately afterwards, a satisfied and drawn-out sigh came from within the bedroom.