T/N: Another unedited chapter—thanks for bearing with me as we slowly make our way to the end!
It was only a five minutes’ drive from the kindergarten to their home, but after five minutes had gone by, the wayside scenery became increasingly unfamiliar instead. In the end, they even drove onto an overpass. Song Ran asked what was going on, and He Zhiyuan tapped the steering wheel with his fingertips. “You previously said that you liked to eat crab, and I promised that I’d take you out to eat it. Do you still remember?”
Song Ran had long forgotten this throwaway exchange; it was only after much effort that he summoned up a vague recollection.
He had originally assumed that they would eat at home tonight, so he made a special trip to the vegetable market yesterday and bought a full basket of meat and vegetables. In addition, he also wrapped thirty delicate small white wontons; at this moment, they were sitting in the fridge and waiting to be boiled.
As soon as Bubu heard that there would be crab to eat, he cheerfully started shouting, “Crab! Crab! Clack clack!”
His enthusiasm made it sound like he could devour eight of them in one breath.
Song Ran thought that he himself hadn’t eaten crab in perhaps many years now and felt an unbearable craving, so he didn’t express any opposition. After expressing his thanks, he quietly leaned back against the seat and focused on watching He Zhiyuan drive. His gaze lingered, seemingly unintended, on He Zhiyuan’s right hand. Even this man’s hands were very beautiful: slim but not spindly, distinct knuckles, smooth fingernails, four clear-cut metacarpal bones protruding from the back, and several blue-green veins beneath the skin.
When held by this hand, both its power and heat were so strong as to not allow any sort of escape route.
Song Ran felt an itch inside his heart and couldn’t help quietly licking his lips.
“Stop watching, I’ll get flustered.”
He Zhiyuan said, his gaze directed straight ahead.
Startled, Song Ran swiftly looked away as if he’d received an electric shock before lowering his head to awkwardly stare at his own pants legs. He Zhiyuan began to laugh silently. Then, while they were waiting at an intersection’s red light, he let go of the steering wheel and held Song Ran’s hand. Their ten fingers interlocked and tenderly held each other.
The gifts that He Zhiyuan brought back filled the back seat. Bubu tugged and bit, contentedly fiddling with them throughout the car ride. Before they even arrived, he opened almost all of them—most of them were snacks, toys, and picture books, but for the first time, there was also a GoPro Karma drone.
After opening the pile of small cardboard boxes, Bubu was in high spirits, so he reached out with the intention of tearing apart the biggest cardboard box as well. He Zhiyuan noticed him through the rear-view mirror and promptly stopped him. “Don’t open that, that’s the gift for your Big Brother Song Ran.”
“Eh!” Bubu perked up.” What is it?”
Song Ran didn’t expect that he would be receiving a gift too, so he became curious as well. “What is it?”
“Some art supplies: paper, brushes, paints, and the like,” He Zhiyuan said. “Since I’m not too familiar with your field, I asked the designers at the company for help with picking them out. There’s around twenty brands. You can try them out one at a time, and whichever ones you feel are comfortable to use, I’ll buy those in the future.”
Song Ran was dazed. “Thank you.”
If He Zhiyuan had given him other expensive gifts, it would have been rude to refuse them, but he wouldn’t have felt comfortable accepting them either. In comparison, art supplies were probably the most suitable choice. But while it didn’t cost too much to buy low-end paper, brushes, and paints, the numbers added up quickly as soon as one started to seek out the higher-grade products.
There were many problems with the watercolour paper he was currently using. First, its water absorption was poor; second, its tensile strength was insufficient, which not only affected the results of the layering and shading but also made it unsuited for repeated revisions. There were several times when he wanted to switch to pure cotton paper, but he gave up the idea after calculating the cost—he didn’t earn much in the first place, so if his expenditures were raised even higher, he was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.
So he put up with it until now.
Song Ran sincerely liked picture book illustrations and wanted to produce better works, but the cost of paper and paint was like an ever-present obstacle—he couldn’t afford expensive supplies, and this gap caused by money couldn’t be closed with skill alone.
The painting supplies Mr He picked out for him must have all been costly. If he allowed Mr He to pay for these things from now on, would it count as being supported by the other man in some manner?
At this thought, Song Ran’s sense of self-respect began to kick up a strange fuss, and a stifling bitterness arose in his chest. “I like this gift very much and will definitely treasure it, but I still plan to buy supplies myself in the future. Mr He, I can’t spend your money.”
He Zhiyuan understood what he was thinking. He pressed down on the back of Song Ran’s hand with his palm and gently patted it a few times as if he were offering comfort. “Don’t quibble too much about these things. There are no accounts to be settled between family members, so just tell Bubu some extra stories in the future and we’ll be even.”
“That… that won’t do.” Song Ran shook his head. “Mr He, I really am not in a position where I can spend your money.”
He Zhiyuan smiled upon hearing those words. “I don’t mind proposing to you during our meal later.”
“D-d-don’t be hasty!”
Song Ran was so shocked that he leaped up. The seat belt forced him back into his seat, and he felt a dull pain in his ribs.
He Zhiyuan withdrew his hand and calmly said as he rested both hands on the steering wheel, “Song Ran, you shouldn’t create too clear a division between us in this regard. Ours isn’t a lukewarm cohabiting relationship, nor is it a collaborative relationship with distinct boundaries. We’re family members and partners who rely on each other.”
“I… I know that.” Song Ran paused. “But regardless of our close relationship, finances should still be calculated separately. How does the old saying go? Even blood brothers clearly settle their accounts.”
“If you must clearly calculate everything, fine, I’ll help you.” He Zhiyuan didn’t yield at all. “I promised to pay you a salary of fourteen thousand yuan for fifteen days, which amounts to twenty-eight thousand per month. This cost only covers taking care of Bubu and not me. If you include me, the salary would be doubled to fifty-six thousand. I can agree to separate finances, but only on the condition that I pay you fifty-six thousand yuan at the start of each month.”
“Mr He, why must you be like this?” Song Ran became anxious. “I didn’t mean anything else by it, I just feel that I myself should earn every cent that I spend.”
He Zhiyuan shrugged. “That fifty-six thousand is what you earned.”
“But we’re a family!” Song Ran unconsciously glanced at Bubu out of the corner of his eye. Seeing that the child was focused on playing with his toys, he lowered his volume. “I take care of you two, and you two keep me company, so aren’t we both giving something to the other? Why must you convert it into monetary value?”
He felt nervous and afraid of the prospect of arguing with Mr He again.
At the beginning, they had opposing outlooks on family, and only by traversing a circuitous route did they arrive at a consensus. Now that they’ve met and started talking a bit about economic ties, they discovered that their outlooks on money didn’t match. What should they do in the future?
But He Zhiyuan didn’t show any signs of anger, driving steadily as he did before.
It was only at a certain moment that he sighed very softly.
“Song Ran, you yourself said that we’re already a family. I’m not good at cooking, whereas your culinary skills happen to be excellent, so you’ll often prepare meals for Bubu and me in the future. I previously spent a lot to hire several nannies who have all received professional training, but frankly speaking, none of them have ever caused Bubu to be so lavish with praise before. You’re different from them—you’re more diligent. You pay attention to what Bubu likes to eat and also take into consideration what he needs to grow. You also remembered that I mentioned liking the small wontons you personally made. When you tidied the flat a few days ago, you even crafted some beautiful handmade decorations.
“To you, these things may be very ordinary, so there’s no need whatsoever to talk about their monetary values. However, not talking about them isn’t equivalent to them not existing. In fact, their values are far higher than you think. If a nanny did them instead, the resulting expense would not be small. Song Ran, why won’t you accept the money or even allow me to mention giving money to you? Because you love us, you give voluntarily, and I… also want to give you some things voluntarily.
“You like painting and make a living with it. I hope you can work a bit more comfortably, so I gave you drawing paper and paints. I won’t accept your money because I love you too. Song Ran, you said that our giving is mutual. That’s right, it’s indeed mutual—you have your method, and I have mine. What’s the fundamental difference between a bowl of wontons and a pad of drawing paper?”
Song Ran opened and closed his mouth a few times, unable to answer.
An orange sunset spread across the horizon, vivid yet bearing a soft warmth. The sunset glow that shone through the car’s windows applied a layer of flickering light on its occupants. For some reason, Song Ran felt that Mr He looked somewhat fatigued—after a long-distance flight that lasted thirteen hours and spending the afternoon working at the company, it was to be expected.
He Zhiyuan quietly drove for a while before saying, “Darling, I don’t wish to argue with you, especially not over such a trivial amount of money—to me, our relationship is more important than money. If you insist on not accepting it, I can concede, but I hope you know that when I give you a pad of paper and watch you use it for your paintings, it’s the same feeling as when you cook a bowl of wontons and watch me eat it bite by bite.”
“Mr He, I’m sorry.”
Song Ran finally gave in.
He understood that he had once again made the same mistake—not only in terms of feelings, but money as well.
Emotionally, he longed for a harmonious intimate relationship but feared putting in too much and having no way of backing out if he were thrown aside, so he simply guarded his heart by only giving and not asking for anything in return. Monetarily, he had struggled for seven or eight years and experienced a life of walking on tiptoe at the edge of going hungry, so money and dignity had become firmly tied together and developed into the same problem—no matter how much he gave, he would be embarrassed to assign it a monetary value, whereas he had to assign a monetary value to every little thing others gave.
Cooking a bowl of wontons, washing a couple of clothes, helping to look after a child for a few days… Those were effortless trifling matters, so how could he ask for money?
But when the other party gave him watercolour paper, his thought process was that those were all genuine goods—ten Waterfords cost so many hundreds, how could he accept them for nothing?
That wouldn’t do.
He definitely couldn’t accept them.
Due to this self-protecting mentality, he had always been unable to leave this strange loop. Putting it nicely, it was selflessness. Putting it meanly, he only treated his own sincerity as sincerity while he treated the sincerity of others as malicious intent.
That was why Mr He became unhappy.
“I’m sorry, I understand now.” As Song Ran stroked his own ice-cold wrist, he slowly spoke for both Mr He and himself to hear. “There’s fundamentally no difference between a bowl of wontons and a pad of drawing paper. So long as it’s sincere, there’s no difference, so…”
He lifted his head to look at He Zhiyuan and gave a carefree smile. “So I want the best watercolour paper.”
The Infiniti pulled into the parking garage and slowly backed into a parking space. He Zhiyuan killed the engine, then pulled out the key and deftly spun it a couple times on his finger.
It was silent within the car.
He suddenly propped himself up against the steering wheel, reached out to pull Song Ran closer by the neck, leaned over from the driver’s seat, and kissed him on the lips. They kissed soundlessly for a long time, reluctantly parting only once the air started becoming stuffy and Bubu, who was dozing in the back seat, let out a whimper.
“I’m very happy.” He Zhiyuan looked at Song Ran with a strong affection in his eyes. “Darling, I’ll give you the best of everything.”