T/N: RIP Eric Carle (ᵕ̣̣̣̣̣̣﹏ᵕ̣̣̣̣̣̣)
Day 16 21:00
Today’s dinner was an entire feast of crab.
He Zhiyuan had reserved an elegant private room. Nine main dishes that were cooked in various ways—steamed, boiled, baked, fried, raw, and so on—made their appearance, and along with the sides, rice, sweets, and pot of crab soup, there were more than thirty dishes altogether.
The crab legs and claws had been detached ahead of time and steamed. The meat, an exquisite snow-white sheathed in red, was contained within the red shells that had been cut open lengthwise, and a gentle poke with the chopsticks was sufficient to remove the entire piece. Dipped in a bit of vinegar and crushed ginger, its natural flavour came through. The baked crab meat was crispier and needed no seasoning; with a few drops of lemon juice to remove the fishiness, its taste was extremely fresh. The remaining crab roe and milt were used as ingredients in steamed egg, porridge, and baked tofu. Everything had its own place.
This restaurant had plates shaped like big red crabs and chopstick rests shaped like small red crabs. Uninterested in the food, Bubu didn’t eat much, choosing to play with the plates for a long time instead. Sometimes the small red crabs sat in rows, and sometimes the big red crabs were piled up high. He basically only ate when he was fed.
Song Ran scooped up a spoonful of tender golden steamed egg and held it up to Bubu’s mouth. “Ahh.”
With white shrimp, green spinach, red crab meat, and black truffle, the thin soup broth had a rich bonito flavour.
Bubu happily ate it with a nod and a satisfied ‘mm’ before continuing to fiddle with the chopstick rests, his head bowed. Song Ran then scooped up a spoonful of baked rice with crab roe. The grains of rice were plump, soft, and fragrant, and the salty cheese stretched out to form thick strings in the air. “Ahh.”
Bubu opened his mouth and ate it, but this time he didn’t even lift his head; his eyes were completely incapable of looking away from the small red crabs.
Song Ran wanted to also scoop up a spoonful of egg tofu to feed him but was stopped by He Zhiyuan. He Zhiyuan looked at his distracted son with a displeased expression and said coldly, “Eat your own food, don’t spoil him so much.”
It seemed that he had spoiled the child a bit rotten.
The first time Bubu came to Song Ran’s home, he was both well-behaved and diligent when eating, which made Song Ran’s heart ache for such a long time, but now… Ah, it was all his fault, he had been too lax.
“Bubu, Bubu.” Song Ran nudged the child who was indulging in playtime and quietly passed a secret message to him. “Don’t play anymore and focus on eating, Dad is about to get angry.”
What, Dad is about to get angry?!
Bubu jerked his head up in fright. Upon seeing He Zhiyuan’s stormy face, he promptly threw the small crabs ten centimetres away, sat upright, grabbed a spoon with his left hand and chopsticks with his right hand, and began to eat properly. From time to time, he even sneaked some furtive glances upwards.
He Zhiyuan and Song Ran met each other’s eyes and smiled at the same time.
After dinner, He Zhiyuan was responsible for the check. Song Ran took Bubu to the restroom to take care of his physiological needs, then washed and dried his hands before they met up with Dad.
As the three of them strolled through the mall, He Zhiyuan asked off-handedly, “What do you want to do next, watch a film?”
Bubu pointed to the Tom’s World recreational centre across from them. “Dada, I want to play there!”
When they had come here before, Bubu had made the same request, but He Zhiyuan used a rational and tactful method to refuse him. Now, with Song Ran backing him up, it was two against one, so the little fellow was filled with confidence and made a brave attempt once more. This time, He Zhiyuan not only agreed but also personally went with sleeves rolled up to play with him.
With a height of nearly 1.9 metres and slicked-back hair, He Zhiyuan looked every inch a business elite, but he was holding two drumsticks and playing Taiko: Drum Master with his child; the visual was a joy to see. Many intrigued passers-by stopped to observe from the sides.
After a while, He Zhiyuan switched to playing air hockey with Song Ran, and Bubu stood in the middle and acted as the referee. Gradually, people noticed that the genders of this family of three weren’t quite right and began to examine them with strange gazes. The stares made Song Ran uncomfortable from head to toe, and he continually lost points. Noticing this, He Zhiyuan gave him an encouraging look and comforted him, saying, “It’s fine, focus on the game.”
Song Ran nodded, took a deep breath, and treated the surrounding observers as if they were thin air.
The three of them battled fiercely all the way until nine o’clock. When they walked out of Tom’s World, each of them was carrying an extra doll in their arms: Bubu’s was a Pikachu, Song Ran’s was a Jigglypuff, and He Zhiyuan’s was an Eevee. All of them were won from the claw machines by He Zhiyuan’s own power, and he had only spent three game tokens in total.
“My dad is! Super! Awesome!”
Bubu, having a difficult time restraining his elation, jumped sideways as he walked just like a little crab. As the two parents walked side by side behind him, Song Ran squished the Jigglypuff’s ears to express his resignation with regard to his own terrible claw machine luck and asked very unhappily, “How long have you practised to be so good at catching dolls from the crane machines?”
“I haven’t practised before.” He Zhiyuan raised his eyebrows and smiled, deliberately annoying Song Ran. “Perhaps I have beginner’s luck.”
On the way home, apart from He Zhiyuan who was a workaholic accustomed to long continuous periods of high-intensity work, Song Ran and Bubu were both tired.
Bubu, fully content as he held the three dolls in his arms, began to snore as soon as he got into the car. Song Ran persevered for ten minutes but was finally defeated at an endless red light; his eyelids drooped lower and lower, and his head tilted to one side as he fell asleep. He Zhiyuan silenced the radio and turned up the temperature, then adjusted Song Ran’s posture so that he was sitting somewhat more upright and stuffed a U-shaped memory foam pillow behind his neck.
The silver Infiniti, carrying its family of three, steadily drove in the direction of Jadewater Bay.
When Song Ran woke up, the car had already stopped, and the driver’s seat was empty; He Zhiyuan had gone off to who knows where. He drowsily rubbed his eyes and let out a long yawn, rousing himself a bit before turning his head to look outside the window—street lamps, shops, pedestrians… They hadn’t arrived at Jadewater Bay yet.
They had stopped at the side of an unfamiliar street. A FamilyMart’s sign hung nearby, its green and white so shiny and bright in the darkness that it made people unable to open their eyes.
Song Ran looked at the back seat. Bubu was still obediently strapped into the children’s seat, only his expression seemed somewhat odd—as he hugged the Jigglypuff, his bright eyes radiated a ferocious light.
“Where’s your dad? Where’d he go off to?”
Song Ran asked.
Bubu pointed to the FamilyMart’s big sign. “He went to buy me ice cream!”
To be eating ice cream at this time of night, what sort of bad habit was this!
Song Ran tiredly leaned back into his seat, crossing his arms and pursing his lips as he rolled his eyes hard. And he says I spoil the child. No matter how much I spoil him, I wouldn’t go so far as to give him ice cream at nine or ten o’clock.
Not too long afterwards, He Zhiyuan returned. He opened the door and, sure enough, handed Bubu a container of Baxy ice cream. “It’s vanilla flavour, do you like it?”
Bubu accepted the ice cream, ripped off its plastic wrap, and ate large bites of it with the little spoon.
He Zhiyuan returned to the driver’s seat and threw a plastic bag with the FamilyMart logo into Song Ran’s arms. “The rest is for you. There’s orange and strawberry flavours, so you can choose.”
“I don’t want it.”
Song Ran issued a decisive rejection.
He Zhiyuan put on his seat belt and started the car. “Why not?”
“It’s so late, it would be stranger to want it, right?” Song Ran looked at his wristwatch and mumbled, “It’s already ten o’clock. As soon as we get back and wash up, it’d be time for bed, yet you specially went and bought this. What were you thinking?”
He Zhiyuan’s reason was very simple. “There’s none left at home.”
Song Ran was practically speechless. “Th-then you couldn’t wait until daytime tomorrow to buy it? You wouldn’t starve to death by waiting one more night.”
“But I would,” He Zhiyuan said forthrightly. “I’d starve to death if I waited even one more hour.”
Song Ran couldn’t resist wordlessly criticising him. That’s strange, how come I couldn’t tell you had such a strong sweet tooth before?
He Zhiyuan smiled, then leaned over slightly and murmured, “Or are you saying, Song Ran, that what you actually mean is… it’s also fine for us to not use it?”
His words were rather strange, coming out of nowhere and ridiculously baffling and flirtatious. Song Ran, unable to put two and two together, realised only after a good while that something was wrong and hastily opened the plastic bag resting on his knees.
With one look, his complexion instantly turned as red as pork liver.
Textured warming condoms, large size, packs of twelve. There were two boxes, one orange flavour and one strawberry flavour, along with a bottle of lubricant.
He stared at the large words on the packaging, overwhelmed with anger and embarrassment, then lifted his head to look at He Zhiyuan; on this man’s face was an evil smile that he had no intention of covering up. Right away, Song Ran fiercely pinched his arm out of exasperation. “How can you be! Like! This! Again?!”
Mr He was in an excellent mood, flirting with Song Ran the entire way home. At the beginning, he was worried about Bubu’s presence in the car, so he didn’t dare to be too unrestrained; overall, it could be described as roundabout and vague. However, once Bubu finished eating his ice cream and began to snore, he immediately turned brazen as though he were a well-dressed wolf revealing a set of sharp teeth.
Before, Song Ran had often been flirted with over the phone, but being flirted with in person was another matter entirely.
Red-faced, he hugged the bag of colourful Durex as he forced out one word at a time from between gritted teeth. “I… I’ll get my revenge.”
“I’m looking forward to it very much.”
He Zhiyuan took pleasure from it, treating it as a type of interest and not taking it seriously at all. As a result, his arm got pinched several more times.
By the time they returned to Jadewater Bay, Bubu had slept so much that his eyelids were stuck together; he probably wouldn’t stir without a crack of thunder. It was chilly in the dead of the night, with cold air aggressively making its way into the car as soon as the door was opened. The couple worked together; He Zhiyuan first brought Bubu out, allowing the child to continue sleeping on his shoulder, while Song Ran scooped up the suit jacket from the back seat and swiftly covered up Bubu with it.
They took the elevator up to the twelfth floor. The corridor was bright, and 8012A’s chipmunk doormat faced 8012B’s rectangular grey mat.
He Zhiyuan dug out his key and unlocked 8012B, but just as he was about to push the door open and enter, he was gently poked in the back.
He turned his head. “What is it?”
“Uh, that is… Mr He.” Song Ran scratched his head and said cautiously, “W-welcome home.”
He had always wanted to find an opportunity to say these words.