In the early morning of the first day of the New Year, Yang Zhengming picked up Tao Xi by car and went to a cemetery in the outskirts of the city. Last night Tao Xi told him that he wanted to sweep Fang Sui’s grave.
The cemetery was amidst the mountains and rivers. It was still early, white fog caged the silent and unoccupied cemetery, Tao Xi followed Yang Zhengming for a long time before arriving at Fang Sui’s grave.
This was the first time Tao Xi saw his mother, separated by a tomb.
After seeing Fang Sui, Yang Zhengming walked a short distance away, leaving Tao Xi alone to speak with Fang Sui.
Tao Xi placed a bouquet of white roses in front of the tombstone; the snow-white petals were still covered with dew. He squatted down and looked at the tombstone, reaching out to touch the engraved words on the cold stone tablet.
The photo of Fang Sui on the tombstone was replaced shortly after, a pair of beautiful eyes gazing tenderly at everyone who came to see her. Those who came to see her grew older and older each year, but the person in the picture stopped forever at that flowery age.
Tao Xi looked quietly for a long time, as if he was looking at his mother in the photo, and he said softly, “Mom, I’ve come to see you, can you see me?”
Only the sound of wind and birdsong could be heard faintly among the graveyard, and after another long time, he continued to say to the tombstone:
“Mom, I’m home.”
“Grandpa and Grandma are very nice to me, I had dinner with them last night and Grandma cooked a lot of food for me.”
“Grandma said I like the rice wine she made as much as you do, so I drank an extra bowl, if only you could have it too.”
“I’m doing well now, I have someone I like very much, and he likes me very much, and I came here for him, and he took me home.”
“I’m learning painting with Grandpa Qiao. He always said that he has a very good female student. I know that it is you. In the future, I will make him as proud of me as you.”
“Mom, thank you for always blessing me from heaven.”
“I miss you so much and wish you happiness and joy in heaven.”
The fog gradually dispersed, and the light golden sunlight passed through the thin white fog. Tao Xi stood up in front of the tombstone, and finally slowly bent down towards the tombstone.
On the way back, both father and son were a little silent. Yang Zhengming drove the car and did not turn on the music this time. Tao Xi kept looking out the window and after a long time without talking, he suddenly asked Yang Zhengming:
“Why Taoxi Bay?”
On the way here, he already knew through Yang Zhengming the reason why Fang Sui had left his family in the first place.
A long-lost past, it couldn’t be told with just a few words. He could only know that many years ago, Yang Zhengming was still Fang Zuqing’s proud disciple, and because his parents died early, he was taken care of by the teacher. He and the teacher’s daughter secretly developed an affection, this could be a happy story for all, but ended up like this.
There was no hatred, no betrayal, everything was just a tear in the name of love, driving Fang Sui in the center of the whirlpool to desperation. She was pregnant with her lover’s child, bent on giving him life but was not allowed by his parents. Even her best friend turned her away when she asked for help and finally her lover chose to retreat and run away.
But why Taoxi Bay?
Tao Xi asked Yang Zhengming this question, and the car gradually stopped at the side of the road. He saw Yang Zhengming hanging his head, fingers clenched tightly on the steering wheel, and the tendons and veins on the back of his hand were livid, as if he was enduring great pain and remorse.
After a long time, he spoke, and his voice became hoarse: “I used to like photography, and I took pictures of scenery in many places. She… She liked the peach blossoms in Taoxi Bay the most, and I promised to accompany her to sketch there in the future.”
Those photographic works had also attracted the attention for Taoxi Bay for a short time, they were the thing he most proud of.
Later, when they were anxiously looking around for Fang Sui, they searched all the places Fang Sui might go, but he never thought of this place. He forgot the look in Fang Sui’s longing eyes and his perfunctory promises at that time.
Tao Xi remained silent after listening.
He thought of his mother who was in Taoxi Bay back then, she must have been expecting Yang Zhengming to go there, but until the end of her life, she couldn’t see the person she waited to take her home.
“I’m sorry.” Yang Zhengming suddenly said, his eyes were red as he looked at Tao Xi, “I didn’t go to Taoxi Bay to look for her, and then I didn’t go to Taoxi Bay to look for you later.”
Tao Xi did not respond to Yang Zhengming. He pressed the car window down to look out the window, the cold breeze from the mountains came in, but his chest seemed to be blocked by something, making him stuffy and uncomfortable.
He had heard too many apologies, but no amount of apologies could bring back his mother or the seventeen years he had missed out on.
And Tao Xi, the name taken by Guo Ping at will, seemed to be a prophecy, and also seemed to be the branding of his life by a joke of fate.
On the way back later, the father and son did not say a word.
Tao Xi returned home alone and saw Lin Qinhe standing by the living room sofa looking at him, wearing a gray-blue sweater and holding a book in his hand. Obviously, he had been reading a book here before waiting for him to return.
Tao Xi changed his shoes and slowly walked to Lin Qinhe, not saying anything and Lin Qinhe also did not ask anything, just reached out and hugged him into his arms.
He buried his face in the soft warm sweater on Lin Qinhe’s shoulder and his whole body weight was leaning on Lin Qinhe’s arms. He took a deep breath, like the returning bird that finally hid in the nest after the wind and rain, feeling the dullness in his chest was relieved a little.
“Do you want to go out for a bike ride this afternoon?” Lin Qinhe asked.
Tao Xi nodded his head, he really did not want to stay at home.
It was a beautiful day, a rare winter sun, they rode their bikes to many places in Wenhua City. Lin Qinhe took him to the elementary school and junior high school he had attended, and even to the kindergarten.
When they arrived at the kindergarten, it was just in time for the children to be dismissed. Tao Xi and Lin Qinhe stood abruptly at the entrance, and a lot of parents who came to pick up their children stood beside them, frequently looking at these two eye-catching teenagers.
A grandma stood beside Tao Xi and asked him, “Are you here to pick up your younger brother or younger sister?”
He blurted out, “I’m here to pick up my younger brother, kindergarten older1basically 5-6 year-old class.”
The grandmother got excited and said that her granddaughter was also in the older class, the name was Yunyun, and said that Tao Xi was so good-looking, so his younger brother must be good-looking too. She asked Tao Xi what his brother’s name was, and maybe he knew her little granddaughter.
Tao Xi thought about it, smiled a little and said, “It’s Lin Qinhe, did your granddaughter mention it when she came home?”
Lin Qinhe, who was sitting on the bicycle by the side, turned his head and glanced at Tao Xi.
“Oh, the name is so good, but I have never heard my granddaughter talk about such a child, ah.” The grandmother lamented with great regret and asked Lin Qinhe beside Tao Xi, “This handsome boy, are you also here to pick up your younger sibling?”
Lin Qinhe nodded his head with little expression and said, “Pick up my younger brother.” After saying that, he did not wait for the grandmother to continue to question, and continued seriously, “in the kindergarten older class, called Tao Xi.”
Tao Xi was so happy that he smiled at the grandmother and said, “Our brothers are in the same class.”
“It’s great, ah. The elder brothers have such a good relationship, and the younger brothers can also grow up together and have each other as companions.” After the grandmother sighing enviously, she suddenly heard her granddaughter call herself and rushed to pick her up.
The two hurriedly took the opportunity to ride away. On the way, Tao Xi still could not help laughing, so much that Lin Qinhe looked at him several times. He didn’t know where his mind jumped at once and suddenly asked Lin Qinhe.
“Hey, you’re so smart, why don’t you skip a grade?”
He thought that with Lin Qinhe’s IQ, it would not be a problem to jump four or five grades.
Lin Qinhe didn’t keep up with Tao Xi’s jumpy thinking and said, “A teacher suggested it in elementary school, but my mother didn’t agree.”
“Fortunately, you didn’t skip the grade.” Tao Xi tsked and looked into Lin Qinhe’s eyes with a bright smile. “Otherwise, how can I go to the kindergarten class with you?”
Lin Qinhe smiled when he heard the words, thinking that fortunately, Tao Xi didn’t continue to ask why Luo Zhengyin didn’t agree with him skipping grades.
In the next second, Tao Xi suddenly looked serious and said to Lin Qinhe, “After a while, when your mother is better, I’ll go visit her.”
He knew that Luo Zhengyin was in a sanatorium for treatment and recuperation, he knew that she probably had relapsed because of learning about his birth.
Lin Qinhe’s fingers holding the handlebars of his bicycle curled up, he didn’t expect Tao Xi would take the initiative to ask to see Luo Zhengyin. After a few seconds of silence, he finally said, “Okay, she also wants to see you.”
It was only at dusk that the two men slowly rode their bikes along the riverside greenway toward home. Tao Xi could not ride any longer, his two feet were pedaling very hard, but he saw that Lin Qinhe was still riding smoothly and easily.
He was a little unconvinced, pedaling a few feet harder to catch up, slightly panting and said to Lin Qinhe: “I will take you to Taoxi Bay to climb the mountain in the future, you will definitely not be as good as I am.”
Lin Qinhe looked at Tao Xi’s face that was a little red from sweat, the corners of his lips lifted slightly and said, “Physical strength doesn’t change because of different places.”
Tao Xi stopped his bike, one leg propped up on the spot, always feeling that Lin Qinhe meant something when he said this, but for a while he couldn’t figure out what Lin Qinhe was referring to.
At this point, Lin Qinhe, who had already ridden some distance away, stopped and turned his bike to look over, waiting for him with his back facing a river of glistening twilight.
Tao Xi looked at that image for a few seconds before pedaling a few times harder and riding up next to Lin Qinhe.
The end of the New Year’s Day holiday meant that there would be no other long holidays before the final exams, which would be followed by another ranking and class placement.
Even the students in the grade two Class 1 of Wenhua No. 1 High School were inevitably nervous about the final exams. Hence, Tao Xi also devoted himself to preparing for the exam.
Bi Chengfei shared an exclusive gossip with Tao Xi, saying that Xu Ziqi and Yang Duole from Class 2 had dropped out of school. From what his sister-in-law Bi Aoxue told him, they even got a mark on their records, and it was estimated that it would follow them for the rest of their lives, asking them if they had anything to do with the CAC competition.
Tao Xi only said that he didn’t know, but Bi Chengfei was curious. He clearly saw Yang Duole’s dad come and send something to Tao Xi several times, but in the end, he did not settle with Tao Xi?
Not long after, the final results of the CAC competition came out. Tao Xi lived up to the expectations and won the first prize in the country, it was the best result after the storm. He used the prize money to invite his classmates to dinner over the weekend to thank them for their support.
A group of high school students, who were going crazy with revision, had a great time eating and drinking and then spent the night in a karaoke bar. The boys had no parents or teachers to control them, so they ordered more than 30 bottles of beer alone. Tao Xi wanted to drink too, but Lin Qinhe didn’t allow him to, so he shoved a bottle of peach soda into his hand, causing him to sigh.
The private room was heated well, and the rotating coloured lights have been turned on by someone. The colorful halo was dazzling. The restless air mixed with the smell of beer and juice, and the noisy laughter of young people was noisy and vivid.
Tao Xi was in a trance in this noisy scene, remembering that at this time last year he should have been wrapped in an old cotton-padded coat that had no more cotton. In the corridor outside the dormitory of the ten-person room, a person with a flashlight shook his teeth with a cold, catching up on his homework from Wenhua No.1 live broadcast class. The idea that supported him at that time was simple, that was, the moon on the live screen thousands of miles away.
At this moment, he looked at the classmates of Wenhua No. 1 High School who were dancing in front of him, and at the handsome young man beside him. He was wearing a pair of wireless headphones, looking down at the tablet in his hands amidst the dappled sound, his long fingers writing something on the tablet, as if he was in a library instead of a karaoke bar.
Tao Xi couldn’t help but put his head over, and saw that it was his TOEFL English essay that he was forced to write last night by Lin Qinhe. Next to it were dense red correction notes, the number of words almost catching up with the main text.
“…Teacher Lin, you might as well write me a new one.” Tao Xi said with difficulty.
Lin Qinhe was blocked from view by Tao Xi’s head. He raised his hand and cupped Tao Xi’s chin and pushed it a little to the side, continuing to annotate the last sentence, his tone was somewhat serious: “The model essay has been written, you can refer to it.”
“…?” As soon as Tao Xi was about to say something, he was suddenly lifted from the sofa to the bar by Bi Chengfei and the class monitor. There was also a microphone in his hand that had just been shoved by Bi Chengfei, and the others shouted loudly to make him sing, “Sing one! Sing one!”
Tao Xi was in a good mood, and he ordered a song to sing, an old English song, “Fly Me to the Moon”, which he had heard before and liked so much that he wrote it down.
He sang sloppily, relying on the good and simple tune. No one made funny booze, which made him very satisfied.
Lin Qinhe finally stopped looking at the essay. His normally cold face was half hidden in the dim light, his gaze falling on him through the glittering coloured light, focused and soft.
After singing, Tao Xi sat back next to Lin Qinhe. Just as he was about to ask how he was singing, he saw Lin Qinhe was still writing on the tablet.
“Teacher Lin, if you correct homework at my party again, I’ll confiscate your tablet.”
Tao Xi feigned an anger and once again went over to look, but saw that on the tablet was not his broken essay, but a new document with a beautiful handwritten English sentence.
“You are all I long for. All I worship and adore.”
It was the words of the song he had just sung, and the next line was ……
Lin Qinhe handed the tablet to him. Looking at him from the corner of his eyes, he said casually: “Want to give it to you.”
Tao Xi took the tablet and looked at the English lyrics on it, blushing a little.
After a long night of fussing and sending a group of drunks to their cars, Tao Xi went home with Lin Qinhe. He was still excited, humming the song he sang all the way, and didn’t even stop when he crawled into bed after showering, nestling in Lin Qinhe’s arms and taking out his phone to calculate his prize money.
The prize money for the first place was very generous, there was still a lot left. Tao Xi said in every detail what he wanted to buy for his family and Lin Qinhe, what to buy for his grandfather and grandmother, and what to buy for his teacher Qiao Henian…
Lin Qinhe embraced Tao Xi with one arm and flipped through the book with the other hand, occasionally responding with a few sounds.
After counting, Tao Xi became quiet suddenly, seeming to be thinking about something.
Seeing Tao Xi’s silence, Lin Qinhe looked down at Tao Xi’s phone screen and found that he was staring at the weather in Wenhua City in a daze. It said that the cold wave was coming in the next few days and it was going to be cold and snowy.
He raised his hand and pinched Tao Xi’s earlobe, asking, “What are you thinking about?”
Tao Xi came back to his senses, turned around and sat on Lin Qinhe’s lap, saying: “I was thinking about my sister, I don’t know if she really received the things I bought for her last time.”
Last time there was also a cold wave, he bought a bunch of things for keeping warm in winter and sent it to Guo Ping, both for Guo Ping and Tao Le.
He didn’t know that Guo Ping was sick at that time.
Lin Qinhe knew that Tao Xi was thinking about more than his sister Tao Le, he reached out and wrapped his arm around Tao Xi’s waist, brought it a little closer to his arms, and asked tentatively, “Do you want to go to Hannan Hospital?”
The last time he met Tao Jian at the hospital, Tao Jian asked Tao Xi to visit Guo Ping sometime. Tao Xi never went, but Lin Qinhe knew that Tao Xi always had this matter in his heart.
Tao Xi put his forehead against Lin Qinhe’s shoulder, his fingers grabbed a piece of Lin Qinhe’s pajamas, smothered for a while and said, “I do not want to go see her, I just think that some things may need a closure.”
Lin Qinhe wrapped Tao Xi’s fingers holding his pajamas into his palm and said to him, “Go and see.”
No matter how far the road was in the future, there was no need to look back.
- 1basically 5-6 year-old