When Zhuo Xiang Ming arrived, Tong Yan was no longer crying. He sat opposite Tong Yang, separated by a hot pot. The soup in the pot was half-dried, and it was already cold. There was a lot of meat inside, after the chili oil had condensed, they formed into small floating lumps.
Tong Yan was hugging his schoolbag, his head lowered. Tong Yang was holding his cell phone in his hand, staring at it, but the screen was dark.
Both were extremely despondent. When Zhuo Xiang Ming was led in by the waiter, he saw this scene.
He called out: “Tong Tong.”
Tong Yan immediately looked up, and Tong Yang did the same. Zhuo Xiang Ming walked to the table and put his hand on Tong Yan’s shoulder, saying to Tong Yang, “Then, I’ll take him back first.” “
Tong Yang looked away, sorting out his clothes, he said, “Ok, you guys head back.”
“Let’s go.” Zhuo Xiang Ming lightly pressed Tong Yan’s shoulder, “Give me your schoolbag.”
Tong Yan murmured: “I’ll hold it myself.”
His voice was still nasally, and his eyes were puffy and red.
Zhuo Xiang Ming took the schoolbag from his hand, and the two walked away in single file. Then, Zhuo Xiang Ming suddenly said, “You didn’t say goodbye to your brother.”
Tong Yan stopped walking, and straightened his back ramrod straight. Silent, and not looking at anything in particular.
They were already a short distance away from Tong Yang. Zhuo Xiang Ming looked at Tong Yan’s stiff little face and wanted to smile, but he also felt distressed for him. He bowed his head and said, “We’ll only leave after you say goodbye.”
Tong Yan’s eyes watered again, glaring at him: “I won’t.”
The teenager was tall and slender, wearing a white shirt inside his school uniform, red lips and white teeth, his eyes were moist, bright and round, and his black hair was soft and fluffy. His indignant look was also very cute, like a budding daffodil.
Zhuo Xiang Ming hung the schoolbag on the crook of his arm, pulling a reluctant Tong Yan into a hug, saying by Tong Yan’s ear: “Be obedient, ok?”
Tong Yan took a deep breath: “I hate him.”
“Don’t say that.” Zhuo Xiang Ming gently hugged him again, patting him on the back. “Alright, calm down, go say goodbye, then we’ll go home.”
Tong Yan’s arms hung loosely by his side, and he stiffly leaned on Zhuo Xiang Ming’s chest, his eyes on Zhuo Xiang Ming’s shoulder socket. After a while, he said, “You made me go.”
Zhuo Xiang Ming: “I made you go.”
Tong Yang was still sitting in the booth, Tong Yan saw him as soon as he turned around. There was a cold pot in front of him, and he was sitting alone, still in the position he’d left him.
“Brother.” Tong Yan stopped two steps away from him, “I’m leaving.”
Tong Yang didn’t expect him to come back, the dejection on his face was fully revealed. He hurriedly put on a quite ugly smile: “Alright, drive safe.”
Tong Yan felt the tears coming on again, but in the end, he held it back, properly saying his “goodbyes” to Tong Yang.
Zhuo Xiang Ming had left first to settle the bill. This time, Tong Yang followed them downstairs, and watched Tong Yan get into Zhuo Xiang Ming’s car. Zhuo Xiang Ming didn’t leave immediately. After a moment, Tong Yang bent over and said to the passenger side, “Big brother will come pick you up after the busy spell is over. Go to school properly. It’s getting colder, so wear some more layers.”
It was completely dark, saying these things, Tong Yang couldn’t manage to force a happy expression, the neon lights behind him casting strange shadows that made him look somewhat pitiful.
Tong Yan nodded towards him, and Zhuo Xiang Ming started the car, but didn’t leave, saying: “They have a sports meeting this weekend, Tong Yan picked the 400m relay race.”
“Eh, oh.” Tong Yang was stunned, “Ganbatte.”
Tong Yan: “Thanks.”
The two brothers were awkward, but Zhuo Xiang Ming seemed to be in the mood to dilly-dally. Still not leaving, he again said, “On last Friday’s quiz, he got first place in his class, and second in his grade, one-point behind the first.”
Tong Yang looked at Zhuo Xiang Ming, then looked back at Tong Yan, scratching the back of his head: “You did so well? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Tong Yan didn’t answer, and Tong Yang looked quite helpless.
Finally, he took out his wallet and pulled out a wad of cash, stuffing it into Tong Yan’s arms: “Here, buy whatever you want with this.”
After that, he again took out a card and gave it to Tong Yan, adding, “I also topped up your other card two days ago. Take a look. Don’t be shy about using it, just tell me if it’s not enough.”
Tong Yan remembered, he’d received a transfer message two days ago, he seemed to recall getting it at around three in the morning.
“Why did you transfer money at that time?”
Tong Yang himself couldn’t remember: “What time?”
Tong Yan looked at his cell phone: “2:48 am”
“Oh, might have been overtime.” Tong Yang said.
“I’ve been working overtime recently.” He hazarded a smile at Tong Yan, lowering his head, he lightly tapped Zhuo Xiang Ming’s front car tire with the tip of his shoe: “My days and nights are reversed. I always think about calling you, but I forget a moment later, or the timing is wrong, or I accidentally fall asleep… Big brother was wrong, I’m sorry.”
He didn’t apologize to Tong Yan often, and Tong Yan couldn’t even seem to recall him ever giving him a straightforward apology. Saying something like this at this time, the most uncomfortable one was Tong Yan.
“No … you didn’t… actually, I was also wrong …” Tong Yan grabbed the hand Tong Yang had placed on the window, tearfully saying, “Brother …”
Tong Yang pinched his face: “This is the second time you haven’t eaten hot pot. Let’s try again next time.”
After saying this, he glanced at his watch again, hesitatingly adding: “It’s just seven o’clock, we could …”
As if he didn’t hear this muttering, Zhuo Xiang Ming suddenly put the car in drive and said, “It’s late, we’re heading out first. Drive safe, Tong Yang.”
Tong Yang said his goodbyes, and Zhuo Xiang Ming drove out as soon as he pulled his hand away. They turned a corner, this time, there was no stopping.
Tong Yan was clutching the wad of money. He packed it into his wallet along with the card, and Zhuo Xiang Ming casually handed him a bottle of banana milk. Tong Yan said: “Thank you.”
Zhuo Xiang Ming hummed in acknowledgement, and a moment later, Tong Yan said again: “Thank you, brother.”
This time, Zhuo Xiang Ming understood why he was thanking him, and smiled: “Don’t mention it.”
Tong Yan was distressed: “I’m terrible.”
Zhuo Xiang Ming: “Why do you say that?”
Tong Yan: “I was thinking, why couldn’t I be considerate to Tong Yang, like you? If I was willing to tell him about myself, like you did, we wouldn’t have argued tonight. He managed to carve out some free time for me, but I just argued with him.”
Zhao Xiang Ming thought for a moment, then said, “I think you’re misunderstanding something. Do you think I did what I did, because I understand and agree with Tong Yang’s actions?”
Tong Yan turned to look at him: “Didn’t you? I didn’t even give him a chance to explain himself, I just lost my temper at him. I accused him of not caring about me, and said a lot of excessive things, then I immediately demanded that he bring me back.”
Taking a few sips of banana milk, Tong Yan looked very remorseful, and very guilt-ridden, saying again, “If I was more like you, we wouldn’t quarrel.”
“It’s because you looked so miserable.” Zhuo Xiang Ming said, “It’s because I knew, if I let you leave in that state, you wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight. Over the next few days, when you don’t see Tong Yang, you’ll think about your fight constantly. And if you left the dispute unsettled, you’ll cry in secret, over and over again.”
“First, you’ll tell yourself that it wasn’t a big deal, but you clearly can’t even convince yourself. Then, you’ll start to question yourself. Did I go too far? Was I too aggressive towards Tong Yang? After that, you’ll start to blame yourself, but at that point, the other person isn’t in front of you, so you can’t even apologize.”
Encountering a red light, Zhuo Xiang Ming reached over to help fasten Tong Yan’s seatbelt, which he had forgotten about, saying, “From deciding that the other person was excessive, to suspecting that you’re the one who was excessive, this is a very complicated and painful process.”
He looked into Tong Yan’s eyes: “I don’t want you to suffer like that.”
Tong Yan also looked at Zhuo Xiang Ming–they were so close, he had no choice but to look at him.
Zhuo Xiang Ming’s eyes were very gentle, making Tong Yan feel like he was a treasure worthy of being treasured: “I made you say goodbye to him, and said all those things to him, not because I agree with him—I can’t understand him. Do you want to hear the truth? When you called me while crying, and I heard how cruel he was being to you, in my head, I just wanted to lay him out. But I ‘helped you’ talk it out with Tong Yang. Us ‘winning’ the argument wouldn’t have really made you happy. Your problem needed to be settled, I didn’t want to let you suffer.”
Hearing “lay him out”, Tong Yan was stunned, he examined Zhuo Xiang Ming, finding that his expression was still the same, honest and serious– Tong Yan wouldn’t want anyone to beat up Tong Yang, but hearing Zhuo Xiang Ming say such a thing was really quite abnormal, making him want to smile.
After the red light passed, Zhuo Xiang Ming drove single handedly, tapping Tong Yan’s wrist with the other hand, motioning him to continue drinking his milk: “It’ll be a while before you can eat.”
“When you get older, you’ll find that no matter what the contradiction, it will always fade away. Regardless of if you choose to face it immediately, or let time deal with it, it will always fade away. But in this world, there’s no such thing as a shortcut. If you leave this work to time, while it solves the problem for you, it will also return the pain to you.”
Tong Yan asked: “So, no matter the problem, do I have to face it immediately?”
Zhuo Xiang Ming: “Whenever it’s painful. Tong Tong, don’t give it a chance to torment you.”
After thinking over it, Tong Yan said: “But I’m still in the wrong. I really didn’t give him time to explain.”
Zhuo Xiang Ming: “Why are you in the wrong? I’m the one who gave Tong Yang information just now, but you also could’ve told him those things yourself. Why didn’t you? It’s because you wanted him to ask, right?”
After a pause, Zhuo Xiang Ming said: “You can obviously bring everything up yourself, but you just feel that, if the other person asks first, the meaning is different, right?”
Tong Yan nodded, his eyes reddening: “Sometimes, I feel confused. I think I’m right, but it also seems wrong … because my thoughts aren’t as clear as brother’s, I wasn’t able to explain my feelings.”
Zhuo Xiang Ming said gently: “Because you’re growing up for the first time, you lack the experience to handle these things. It’s the elders’ responsibility to help children grow up with as little suffering as possible.”
Growing up for the first time, this was the first time Tong Yan heard such a phrase. Zhuo Xiang Ming was truly quite amazing. He could reason so well, no matter when, he could let Tong Yan stand on the side of rationality.
Not only could he make Tong Yan feel rational, he could make Tong Yan feel rational, while preventing suffering.
Now, Tong Yang had already apologized to him, and his chest also no longer ached. Tong Yan once again thought: Zhuo Xiang Ming is truly amazing. He’s such a good person, why is he celibate?
This question suddenly popped up, it was simply part of the confusion, but Tong Yan repeatedly began to ponder over it: Why is he celibate?
The car came to a halt, but they weren’t at Zhuo Xiang Ming’s house.
Zhuo Xiang Ming leaned over to help Tong Yan unfasten his seat belt, then smiled and said, “Let’s eat hot pot.”
Zhuo Xiang Ming: Tong Yang, you only get one chance to bring Tong Tong out to eat hot pot
I’ll just say it, this is my favorite chapter in this story, and the whole reason I decided to translate it. I won’t reveal too much online, but what ZXM said to TongTong touched me on a personal level. I hope I was able to properly convey everything in English.