T/N: I haven’t said this in a while, but as always, I really appreciate every single comment! Thanks for taking the time to read and leave your thoughts!
Day 11 16:43
Song Ran felt that today’s Mr He was a little off.
It was subtle, so he couldn’t say exactly what was off about him, but it was indeed different from before—it was probably that he was too affectionate. Just listening to his voice would make one go weak at the knees and strongly want to act spoiled while pillowed on his chest.
While he was cooking in the evening, He Zhiyuan called to say that it was almost two o’clock in the morning over there and he couldn’t fall asleep lying on the bed all alone, so he wanted to chat with Song Ran for a while. Right at that time, Song Ran had been uneasily holding the cell phone and calculating the time difference, assuming that there would be no lovey-dovey phone calls after midnight. When the ringtone suddenly started playing, he gave a start, picked up within seconds, then hurriedly turned on the hands-free mode and put the cell phone neatly on the countertop.
After tying on his little apron, he chopped vegetables while talking with He Zhiyuan.
As they chatted, his face turned somewhat red.
He didn’t know what He Zhiyuan had been possessed by, but every word the other man spoke was accompanied by a laugh. This man’s voice was inherently very nice; low, mellow, dignified, and now coupled with an undercurrent of laughter, it was exactly like a subwoofer playing love songs right next to a person, constantly making the heart resonate, and also like the beginnings and endings of each sentence had little hooks smeared with honey, stirring up Song Ran to the point where his ears itched, his cheeks felt hot, his heart beat quickly, and a bulge swelled up in his pyjama pants, unbearably difficult to endure.
Only this point was a drawback to being young; being stirred up would make one stay hard for ages.
Half happy and half shy, Song Ran blamed his own prick for being too lively. He covered his face with one hand and smashed the peeled garlic cloves with the back of the knife—Mr He, I beg you to stop laughing. We’re separated by such a long distance yet you’re still lighting a fire here, so where would you have me go to extinguish it?
Bubu was still sitting in the dining room, so Song Ran didn’t dare to act rashly; he covered up his lower half with the apron and furtively rubbed at his crotch next to the counter.
This dinner took a total of forty minutes to make, and He Zhiyuan also chatted with him for forty minutes. Once the dishes were plated, there was a plate of sliced celtuce with lily and minced garlic, a plate of five-spice sliced veal, and a bowl of icefish and tofu soup, all of which were Song Ran’s home cooking specialities.
He Zhiyuan expressed repeatedly that he wanted to have a taste, so Song Ran had no choice but to playfully cooperate with him. He reached out with his chopsticks and picked up a piece of celtuce. “Open your mouth.”
He Zhiyuan: “Ah.”
Song Ran’s expression was stiff as he swiftly poked the cell phone button. The pitch-black screen lit up, and it showed that the other party was indeed ‘He Zhiyuan’.
His behaviour had become strange.
Song Ran thus continued the charade. “It’s a piece of celtuce. Is it tasty?”
“Mm-hm, it’s pretty tasty.”
Shocked by his incomparably natural tone of voice, Song Ran thought that the one on the other end wasn’t He Zhiyuan, but rather a child who had never grown up.
“Th-then I’ll feed you a piece of stir-fried lily as well?”
He Zhiyuan paused for a while, then coolly appraised it. “It’s a little bitter.”
Song Ran: “A piece of five-spice beef?”
“Too much salt.” He Zhiyuan was dead earnest as he suggested to Song Ran, “I prefer lighter tastes when I eat, so you can add a little less salt next time.”
“Hey hey hey, that’s enough!” Song Ran threw down his pair of chopsticks, pretending to be angry. “How old are you, playing house just like a small child? Can you act a bit more proper… It’s not like I really put it in your mouth.”
He Zhiyuan laughed lowly. “But I really tasted it.”
“Liar!” Song Ran chided him. “How is it salty? Would you believe that I didn’t add salt at all?”
“I wouldn’t.” He Zhiyuan laughed again. “Bubu said that the food you make is particularly tasty, so how could you not add salt? Don’t be angry, I was just teasing you. It’s quite tasty, I mean it.”
Tasting the dishes from so far away, what nonsense.
Song Ran remorselessly scolded in his heart, but he couldn’t stop the corners of his lips from lifting, and his cheeks were suffused with red. He untied the apron, then balled it up in his hands and repeatedly kneaded it before hanging it back up on the hanger. After that, he picked up the cell phone and put it next to his ear.
He heard He Zhiyuan ask, “This way, don’t you think that it’s very much like we’re eating at the same table?”
That’s right, it did have a bit of a communal dining atmosphere.
Song Ran softly hummed in agreement, and his expression softened. “Then come back home soon, so we can eat at the same table.”
“There’s still a few days left. Don’t be impatient, hm?”
“I’m not impatient.” Song Ran words were the complete opposite of his thoughts. “It’s… It’s Bubu who misses you.”
His cover-up attempt was so obvious that He Zhiyuan thought he was ridiculously cute. The tiny inclination to flirt with Song Ran reared its head again, so he asked, “My preferences are rather particular. Can you make any dish?”
Song Ran jumped straight into the pit, earnestly and purely replying, “So long as there’s a recipe and the ingredients can be bought, I should be able to make anything. I haven’t cooked western-style food before, but if you want to eat it, I can sign up for a class to learn it. Then… Mr He, what would you like to eat?”
He Zhiyuan: “The chef.”
Song Ran couldn’t continue the conversation. His neck sporadically felt hot, and his ears swiftly went from a light red colour to blood red. He squatted on the ground, gripped his own arms, and buried his head deeply within them. “What’s wrong with you!”
He Zhiyuan asked in reply, “What’s with me?”
“Two days earlier, your behaviour was clearly not like this! It was clearly… normal and particularly observant of the rules. As soon as we agreed to date, you underwent a genetic mutation, changing into an… an…” Song Ran stopped speaking, the words trapped in his throat for a long while until he finally gave them enough firepower, clearly enunciating, “An! Old! Scoundrel!”
His words were loud, forceful, and stern.
He Zhiyuan laughed out loud, not hiding even an iota of his true roguish nature. Once he was done laughing, he straightened out his attitude and asked Song Ran, “You don’t like it?”
‘Like’, my ass.
Song Ran buried his face, which was as red as a baboon’s bottom, even more deeply.
He Zhiyuan then said, “If you don’t like it, of course I can also be a well-behaved gentleman in front of you the whole time. However, living like that will be very boring—it’s more interesting to be a gentleman in the streets and a scoundrel in the sheets. After getting together with you, the old scoundrel in my bones can never stay still, always wanting to make an appearance if nothing is going on.”
When facing the person he liked, all men were scoundrels at heart. However cool the skin was beneath his shirt collar, that’s how hot the blood pumped by his heart would be.
Regarding this point, Song Ran himself also understood very well—because after dreaming at night, he was also an absolute little scoundrel in Mr He’s embrace.
He himself couldn’t hold back, so how could he request it of Mr He?
The little scoundrel and the old scoundrel had a tacit understanding in this regard, and they very quickly reached an unspoken agreement—since they were dating, they should act like it. From today onwards, neither of them should fake respectability. If the flames ought to be stoked, then they’d be stoked. If they ought to play around, then they’d play around. Whoever couldn’t endure it first would be the loser.
Song Ran enthusiastically accepted the challenge, then regretted it a second later.
He Zhiyuan’s level was so high that he couldn’t parry many of the other’s moves even when they were separated by the phone. If they met in the future, wouldn’t he lose so badly that not even his underwear would remain, and he’d be unable to protect his chrysanthemum?
Old scoundrel, you’re too crafty!
He dared to be angry but didn’t dare to voice it. After embarrassedly bidding goodnight to He Zhiyuan, he turned off the range hood, scrubbed the cookware, and washed his hands, then carried the three dishes to the dining table. Just as he was about to scoop out the rice, he saw Bubu propping up his face in both hands and blinking his big eyes as he watched Song Ran with a smile, his expression mysterious as if he had just played some little trick in secret.
“What’s going on with you and your dad? Each one is stranger than the other.” Song Ran cast a glance at the child, then picked up a small bowl and filled it with rice for him. “Be good and confess, what wicked idea are you thinking?”
Bubu swayed left and right. “Not telling you!”
Ah, so there really was something.
Song Ran pushed the rice bowl towards Bubu, pretending to be unhappy. “You’re so small, yet you dare to make such great mischief, learning how to bully Big Brother in just a few days. Your punishment is to eat an extra spoonful of rice.”
Bubu grinned, picked up his small spoon, and ate the heaping bowl of rice while hiding his secret.
On April 14th, the colourful footprints advanced by another square. Song Ran took Bubu to 8012B to perform a thorough clean-up, planning to welcome Mr He back with a bright and clean home.
At eight o’clock in the morning, the two front doors faced each other on the twelfth floor, both wide open, and sunlight shone through the small window next to the flowerbed to spill into the communal corridor in the middle. Song Ran, who had gone to 8012B first, opened the windows to let in air and sprayed a bit of air freshener. Bubu, following close behind with a bag of rags and cleaning solution, put on plastic gloves and diligently wiped the chairs, then diligently wiped the table.
Bu Doudou, who normally feared nothing, was somewhat fearful now.
It crouched at the doorway and cautiously stuck its head in, wanting to follow but not daring to. After observing for a moment, it seemed to think that the home across the hallway wasn’t full of lurking dangers, so it plucked up its courage, quietly passed through the fragrances and shadows of the sunflowers and Casablanca lilies, and slipped into the room along the foot of 8012B’s wall. Leaping onto the sideboard in the living room, it curled up its front paws and quietly lay on its belly next to a jade pixiu.1A Chinese mythical creature. Click here to learn more.
Neither Song Ran nor Bubu discovered it, but Little Q did.
Little Q could capture all moving objects within its field of vision without missing a single one. Locking onto the sideboard, it chased all the way over with red lights flashing. After its camera lens aimed at Bu Doudou and swept over it with a beep, the red light changed into a soft blue light.
This was its first time identifying a pet.
In terms of functionality, of course Little Q could identify pets, and the spots of ‘family members’ were not limited only to humans, but 8012B had never raised pets before, so this functionality of Little Q’s had been sleeping the entire time. Today, it finally discovered a kitten, causing it to become so excited that it resembled Columbus discovering the New World. Radiating blue light, it went around in circles as it approached.
Bu Doudou had never seen this weird thing before, so it was so frightened that its fur stood on end. With its back arched and body pressed against the wall, it slapped Little Q with a paw.
A soft cat sound came from Little Q’s speaker.
Bu Doudou was tricked; its pupils dilated, and it suspiciously stared at this strangely-shaped ‘kindred’, unable to discern if it was friend or foe.
Meow, meow, meow.
Little Q changed to a bunch of ‘friendly cat sounds’, rhythmically playing them a few times in a row with the intention of improving its likeability with the pet. Unexpectedly, Bu Doudou didn’t appreciate it at all and fiercely slapped Little Q with a paw once again.
In the living room, Little Q and Bu Doudou were not-very-smoothly building a cross-species friendship. At the bedroom doorway, Song Ran took a deep breath, then pushed open the door that belonged to He Zhiyuan.
As the standard bedroom of a single man, it was exactly what Song Ran had expected.
A beige carpet, light grey big bed, small end table, and an armchair, with the wall paint and grain of the solid wood continuing the same simple lines. Apart from the lamp and clock on the nightstand, there were also four or five books on the end table. In the entire room, there were essentially no ornamental plants, decorative items, or picture frames.
It was too empty.
The books placed on the end table were very thick. Each volume was the original English edition, and the titles contained either acronyms with unknown meanings or long words that weren’t commonly seen. As a junior high graduate, the number of words Song Ran knew was limited. He managed with difficulty to see that the title of the book at the bottom was only three words long and that he knew two of them, ‘natural’ and ‘language’, so he immediately flipped it open and started to read—he could read two-thirds of the title, but the table of contents jumped straight into another dimension, and as he continued to flip further into the contents, every page was comparable to gobbledegook. Large sections of incomprehensible English were mixed with complicated tables and example code. Apart from the articles,2Words such as ‘the’ and ‘a’ he recognised practically none of the words.
Song Ran hurriedly closed the book and put it back on the end table.
Science and engineering and whatnot… It was too scary to read alien language all day long.
In the future, don’t try to understand Mr He’s profession anymore. Rather than expending useless effort, it’d be better to draw some watercolour rabbit cards and give them to Mr He to use as bookmarks. Even the most incomprehensible book on niche subjects would be cuter with a cute and silly lop-eared rabbit crouched on the edge of it while gnawing a radish.
Skilled people each had their own specialities, but all occupations were equal.
Mr He knew how to make robots and he knew how to draw rabbits. Overall, they were still very well-matched.
Song Ran earnestly comforted himself.
His past self, which hadn’t ever been nearly this optimistic, definitely would have been bogged down by the disparity between the two of them and unable to get past it; however, Mr He said that the person he liked was Song Ran himself, not his education or income, so if he dwelled on it any longer, then he really wouldn’t be worthy of Mr He’s feelings.
Song Ran happily tidied up the end table, neatly stacking the books, then walked over to the big bed and expectantly looked at it.
In a few days, this bed will belong to him.
His fingertips stroked the smooth bedding. More than ten days had gone by without anyone using it, so a hint of coolness emanated from the fabric. He slowly leaned down, lay on the bed, grabbed the single pillow, and inhaled the smell left behind by Mr He.
He ought to be a fastidious man.
It didn’t have the smell of tobacco or even a hint of the smell of alcohol. The unadulterated male scent carried with it a slight undertone of subtle perfume; deep, rich, and seductive, it infiltrated his breaths and shook his nerves.
Song Ran liked it a lot.
He felt that he had probably imagined something incorrectly. Mr He, who had such taste, would definitely be more good-looking than the ordinary and underwhelming IT uncle in his mind. Even more good-looking, or perhaps… he could even be considered handsome.
Abruptly pushing off from the bed, Song Ran stood up, threw down the pillow, and began to search all over the room for photos of Mr He—although he understood in his heart that, according to Mr He’s personality, he would definitely not display photos in the bedroom. He carefully inspected all around, searching every nook and cranny apart from the drawers and wardrobe, but he still did not discover anything like picture frames.
Oh well. As expected, it was an unrealistic fantasy.
Song Ran despondently sat on the armchair and felt increasingly itchy, as if he was being tickled in the armpit by a feather.
He wanted to see Mr He too badly. If he couldn’t resist asking for photos right now, would he be laughed at? If he’d known earlier that he’d be like this from how difficult it was to endure, he would have securely grasped that video-call opportunity before; even if he was holding Bubu, that would have been fine too.
Song Ran regretted it in hindsight. He curled up in the armchair and stared at the wall across from him in a daze.
Then his line of sight was drawn to a decorative painting on the wall.
It was a decorative painting with very minimal content. On the square white paper, two pairs of small footprints were painted; one was slightly bigger and cobalt blue, while the other was slightly smaller and emerald green.
The painting was delicate and cute, not really matching the style of the bedroom.
Song Ran felt strange. As a result, he walked over to that painting and earnestly examined it, then realised a small peculiarity—these two pairs of small footprints weren’t painted, but rather printed.
Someone had held two little infants, dipped their feet individually in paint, and printed two pairs of young imprints.
Underneath the small blue footprints was a line written in pencil:
Bubu, six months and eleven days.
And beneath the small green footprints was also a line written in pencil:
Ashley, happy birthday.