After returning from Harbin for less than two days, Tang Xue’s parents came back.
Tang Xu sent him home but did not meet his parents face-to-face.


“My grandfather is going to the south to visit his old comrades during the Lunar New Year, and we’re all going with him.
So we’ll be celebrating the New Year there,” Tang Xue said, pinching Tang Cuo’s earlobe with his hand.
“I won’t be able to spend the New Year with you.”


The two sat quietly in the car, with only the faint sound of a warm wind blowing.
Tang Cuo understood the concept of “there’s a long way to go in the future1The phrase “来日方长” (there’s a long way to go in the future) indicates a sense of optimism or hope for the future despite the current separation.,” so he didn’t feel too sad about parting at the moment.
However, there was still a lingering feeling in his heart, probably because of the reluctance he couldn’t let go of.


“When are you coming back then?” Tang Cuo cleared his throat and asked.


Tang Xu glanced sideways and said, “My grandfather rarely goes on a trip, so it will probably take more than half a month, after the tenth day of the lunar new year.”


“Oh,” Tang Cuo responded, “then I’ll come pick you up.”


As soon as the words came out, he inwardly scolded himself for speaking without thinking.
Of course, Tang Xu would come back with his family; there was no need for him to go pick him up.


But unexpectedly, Tang Xu wrapped one hand around his neck and gave it a gentle rub, quickly agreeing, “Alright, come pick me up then.
But how are you going to go?” Tang Xu suddenly thought of a question: “Can you drive?”


“Yes,” Tang Cuo said, though he looked a bit frustrated as he pursed his lips.
“I have a driver’s licence, but my parents won’t let me drive.
They… always treat me like a kid.”


Tang Xu chuckled softly.
“That’s because they love you and worry about you.
When I come back, I’ll accompany you to practise driving.”


Tang Xu got out of the car and took his luggage from the back.
Tang Cuo also followed suit and handed him the suitcase, and then Tang Xu took out a bag from the backseat.


“New Year’s gift.”


Tang Cuo was taken aback for a moment.
After Tang Xu wished him “Happy New Year” again, he extended both hands and received the bag, saying, “Thank you; I also prepared a gift.”


Tang Cuo sat with his right leg bent, supporting himself on the ground.
He took off his backpack and placed it on his thigh, unzipping it to reveal a small box.


“I didn’t know what you needed, so I prepared this.”


The packaging box is black with gold embossed patterns on the diagonal corners, simple yet elegant, and adorned with a golden velvet bow.
But what caught Tang Xu’s eye the most were the four golden characters on the box, written in a graceful and clear brushstroke, exuding a dignified and resolute aura.


“Did you write these characters?” Tang Cuo held the box in his hand and examined it closely.


Tang Cuo nodded.


“Although your handwriting in your exercise book is also very nice, these four characters are even more beautiful,” Tang Xu praised generously, gently rubbing the golden characters with a smile.
“I always find you surprising; you are so talented and versatile.”


“Oh, it’s nothing.
I just practise casually when I have free time.” Tang Cuo looked away and lifted the box with one hand.
“Well, then… I’ll go first.”


Tang Xu didn’t say anything, but tilted her head and looked at him with a smiling gaze.
Tang Cuo was momentarily stunned and didn’t move.
In the distance, there were children laughing and playing, and Tang Xu took a step forward in the gradually transitioning atmosphere from quiet to noisy and embraced Tang Cuo.


“It’s a pity that we can’t meet on our first New Year together.”


Tang Cuo’s parents were both engineers with busy jobs, often travelling for work.
Even during the Lunar New Year, although they didn’t work, they were still busy meeting old friends and relatives whom they didn’t have time to see on regular days.


“You see, I told you we should have bought the khaki-colored one.
We’re both fair-skinned, and light colors suit us better,” Xiang Wan scolded Tang Yishan, who was sitting on the sofa, while she smoothed out the hem of Tang Cuo’s clothes.


“It’s all because of you.
You insisted that dark blue looked better,” she continued.


Tang Yishan changed the TV channel to the news and clicked his tongue, saying, “Hey, what’s wrong with any color our son wears? Seriously, what’s wrong with dark blue? I think it looks good and mature.”


“Why does he need to look mature? Cuo Cuo is still young; he doesn’t need all that,” Xiang Wan retorted.


“You, today you…” Tang Yishan was about to say something, but then he stopped himself.


Tang Cuo looked at them curiously and asked, “Dad, what’s going on today?”


Xiang Wan glared at Tang Yishan behind Tang Cuo but then turned around and resumed her smiling face, saying, “It’s nothing, it’s nothing.”


Tang Cuo was familiar with his parents’ friends, as they only had a few close families.
However, when they entered the private room of the restaurant today, Tang Cuo saw some unfamiliar faces, including a young girl with a cheerful smile.
It wasn’t until they sat down and exchanged a few words that Tang Cuo figured out the purpose of this gathering.
He found it somewhat ridiculous and amusing.
His parents were highly educated intellectuals; did they really need to arrange a blind date for him before he even graduated from university?


Tang Cuo sneakily took out his phone and sent a crying face emoji to Tang Xu, followed by a message saying that he felt like he was dragged into a blind date.


“Are the courses in engineering difficult?”


The girl was in the same year as him and was studying law.
According to Tang Cuo’s aesthetics, she was very good-looking, petite, and delicate, with a delicate heart.
Her name was Xiao Yijing.


“Not too difficult, just manageable.”


Tang Cuo’s response was straightforward.
Normally, he should have thrown back a conversational topic to keep the conversation flowing, but Tang Cuo was never good at that.


Xiao Yijing smiled lightly, with a playful expression on her face.
“I think studying engineering or science is impressive.
My math is not good, so I couldn’t have studied science in the first place.”


“Everyone has their own expertise.
If I were to look at your books, I would find them difficult too.”


Xiao Yijing listened to his words and looked at Tang Cuo for a moment with bright eyes.


At the dining table, there was a lively exchange of conversations among the adults, with occasional compliments and praise.
Tang Cuo would occasionally stand up to toast, and when the waiters were busy, he would also pour wine for the elders.
However, when Xiang Wan went to the restroom and came back, she secretly held him back from getting up.


Tang Cuo looked over in confusion as Xiang Wan picked up a piece of food with her chopsticks and said, “You haven’t eaten much.
Eat more.”


By this point, although Tang Cuo didn’t know why, he had already sensed that something was off, and he understood that Xiang Wan didn’t want him to attend this gathering anymore.


When it was time to disperse, Xiao Yijing suggested exchanging WeChat contacts.
Tang Cuo took out his phone and saw a message from Tang Xu that had just arrived.


—What a coincidence.
I think I am too.


As a result of those few words, Tang Cuo called everyone by the wrong names during the subsequent farewells, which caused laughter from the others.


On the way back, Tang Cuo leaned forward and tilted his head, placing his hand on Xiang Wan’s arm as he asked, “Mom, are you unhappy?”


Tang Yishan, who was driving, glanced at the person beside him upon hearing this, “What’s wrong?”


Xiang Wan snorted but didn’t say anything.


Tang Yishan asked again, “Why are you snorting? Who made you unhappy? I thought that girl today was quite nice.”


Little did Xiang Wan know that upon hearing these words, she immediately turned her head and said, “No, this girl is absolutely not acceptable.
The young girl is fine, but her mother is not.”


“What’s wrong with her mother? You don’t even know her; how do you know she’s not acceptable?”


“I don’t need to know her.
When they went out to the restroom, I went too.
And guess what I overheard,” Xiang Wan gritted her teeth and tried to suppress her anger.
“Her mother told that girl that Tang Cuo is adopted, with an unknown background, and that there might be troubles in the future.”


Xiang Wan took a deep breath and said, “Ha, I really… If it weren’t for my good upbringing, I would have confronted them right then and there, you know?”


Tang Cuo listened, but he didn’t feel much.
His parents had adopted him when he was young, so it was inevitable that people would gossip when a sudden child appeared.


Xiang Wan continued to be indignant, saying, “I think you should avoid the Yu family in the future.
They have loose tongues, always saying things without restraint.
It was they who insisted on introducing a friend to Cuo Cuo, and I only agreed to bring Cuo Cuo to meet them because they were so enthusiastic.
But now they are gossiping behind my back.
Can you believe it? I’m not hiding anything; Cuo Cuo is my own son in my heart, and I don’t appreciate others gossiping about my son like this!”


With each statement of defence, Tang Cuo’s heart trembled.
He paused for two seconds, then rubbed Xiang Wan’s arm again and said, “It’s alright, Mom, don’t be angry.
We won’t dine with them anymore in the future.”


Tang Cuo was grateful and guilty towards Tang Yishan and Xiang Wan.
Over the years, he had felt their unconditional love as parents, both materially and emotionally, never holding back in their care for him.
It was precisely because of their generosity that he felt guilty.
He always felt that he had never truly become a good son, knowing that he had received much more than what he had given in this family and being overwhelmed with guilt yet unable to find a way to change himself.
He accepted their love, but his mind was always filled with thoughts of Tang Xu.


Xiang Wan was not a petty or grudge-holding person.
By the time she arrived home, she had already put the events of the evening behind her.
After comforting her a few more times, Tang Cuo rushed back to his room, closing the door with an impatient motion.
He leaned against the door, quickly sending a message to Tang Xu.


—I’m home.


After about fifteen minutes, his phone rang, but it wasn’t a text message but a phone call.


“I was just driving; I just got back.” Unlike Tang Cuo’s side, Tang Xu’s was not quiet, and he could hear noisy voices even through the phone.


“These kids are probably planning to overturn the roof.”


Tang Xu’s voice sounded like he had reached his limit of patience.
Tang Cuo unconsciously smiled, took a few steps, and lay down on the bed.
“Don’t you like kids being noisy?”


“Of course, I don’t like kids.
I have very little patience with them,” Tang Xu chuckled lightly.
“My nephew used to be naughty, but my sister and brother-in-law couldn’t bear to scold him.
One time, he annoyed me so much that I grabbed him and gave him two slaps on his buttocks in a place where no one was around.
Since then, whenever I tell him to stop, he doesn’t dare to continue.”


Tang Cuo vividly imagined the scene in his mind and chuckled, biting his blanket.
“Wouldn’t your sister and brother-in-law come after you for that?”


“That kid is a coward.
He didn’t even dare to let my sister know.” Tang Xu chuckled again.
“Now he’s acting up again with a group of friends.
I might have to find an opportunity to remind him again.”


Tang Cuo knew about Tang Xu’s strength, and just the thought of it made him cringe.
So he pleaded on behalf of the unfamiliar child, “Let him have fun during the New Year…”


Before he could finish his sentence, he was interrupted by a high-pitched, childish voice.
Tang Cuo heard Tang Xu scold, “Go play elsewhere; don’t come bother me or I’ll beat you.”


Tang Cuo couldn’t help but laugh.
When the phone on the other end became less chaotic, he turned over and lay on the bed, saying, “But I think you’re quite patient, though.”


He recalled his childhood memories and couldn’t reconcile the image of Tang Xu from back then with the one on the other end of the phone now.


“You mean when I was teaching in a rural area? I couldn’t get annoyed back then, and those kids weren’t as mischievous.” Tang Xu’s speech slowed down, as if reminiscing about something.
“As for when I took care of you later… I swear, I’ve never had one-tenth of the patience I had with you for any other child.”


The white ceiling seemed to suddenly display many scenes from his memories.
Tang Cuo held his phone tightly and hugged the blanket closer.


“Is that so…”


“Absolutely true,” 


That’s how it is when you’re in love.
You can feel ecstatic just from your partner’s few words, confirming that you hold a special place in their heart.
It’s like drinking two bottles of strong liquor and getting intoxicated, dizzy with happiness, in the embrace of the happiness that surrounds you.


The two of them listened to each other’s breathing over the phone for a while, then Tang Xu asked again, “So, how did the blind date go?”


Tang Cuo touched his own face and said, “Of course, it didn’t work out.”


After restraining himself for a while, Tang Cuo couldn’t hold back any longer.
He anxiously asked after Tang Xu’s laughter subsided, “What about you?”


Tang Xu’s laughter, which had just died down, suddenly reignited.
He coughed lightly to suppress his laughter and said, “The person I went on a blind date with asked me if I smoke, and I told them, ‘My partner doesn’t allow me to smoke. ’”




Although he felt some sympathy for the girl’s situation at that time, he couldn’t help but feel quite happy about it.


After thinking this through, Tang Cuo suddenly realized, “When did I ever forbid you from smoking?”


With a loud crash, it seemed like there was another accident on the other side of the line.
Tang Xu sighed helplessly.
“They knocked over the potted flowers.
I need to go and clean up to prevent them from hurting themselves.”


“Oh, then you should go quickly.” Tang Cuo was already eager to end the conversation after the awkwardness of their previous conversation.


“Yeah, I’ll contact you later.” Amidst the increasing noise in the background, Tang Xu finally said, “Goodbye, my partner.”




After hanging up the phone, Tang Cuo threw his phone on the bed and rolled around with his blanket, kicking his legs and tossing the sheets into wrinkles.


1The phrase “来日方长” (there’s a long way to go in the future) indicates a sense of optimism or hope for the future despite the current separation.

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