Leaving the bar called “Yan Huan,” nearby restaurants and shops were gradually opening for business, with flickering neon signs reflecting in the eyes, and the calm water surface rippling slightly.
Yu Xinqiao’s mind was in a daze. When Xu Yanhuan leaned over, he instinctively avoided until Xu Yanhuan pulled the seat belt and fastened it for him. Only then did he relax slightly and sit up straight.
It’s not like he didn’t notice Yu Xinqiao’s vigilance and resistance over the past few days. Hands gripping the steering wheel, Xu Yanhuan looked ahead and said, “You don’t need to worry. Without permission, I won’t touch you.”
His wrist hidden in his sleeve turned restlessly. Yu Xinqiao thought, “I didn’t give permission, yet you still touched me, didn’t you?”
Then he thought again, could the “touch” here refer to more intimate contact?
Between them, how could that be possible?
It’s really hard to imagine.
As the car drove onto the main road, Xu Yanhuan received a phone call from an elderly woman whose voice sounded gentle. She asked if Xu Yanhuan was done with his work and if he would continue today.
Xu Yanhuan said he would be there shortly. After hanging up the phone, he said to Yu Xinqiao, “I was meeting with a client before I came here. Now I have to hurry back.”
Yu Xinqiao regretted a bit that he didn’t refuse to get in the car and walk home by himself. Now, it was difficult to stop even if he wanted to. Moreover, Xu Yanhuan was called here by his own text message while he was working, making Yu Xinqiao feel guilty.
He had no choice but to go along. When they arrived at the destination and got off the car, Yu Xinqiao thought it would be a law firm or a café, a place suitable for a conversation. However, it turned out to be a residential area.
Yu Xinqiao glanced at the time. It had been twenty-seven minutes since they left the bar. This was the normal travel time, indicating how fast Xu Yanhuan had been driving. He arrived in less than twenty minutes.
He couldn’t describe the feeling in his heart. Yu Xinqiao silently followed Xu Yanhuan and walked into the courtyard of an old building.
The client, the old woman who called half an hour ago, came out of the house and warmly greeted the two of them.
Xu Yanhuan first apologized to the woman, saying there was an urgent matter that needed his immediate attention.
“Urgent matter,” Yu Xinqiao felt inexplicably embarrassed when he heard that.
After they entered the house and sat down, Xu Yanhuan opened the case file and continued to talk with the client. Yu Xinqiao finally relaxed and stood by the window in the living room, looking at the carefully maintained potted plants in the courtyard.
In the meantime, he replayed the conversation that happened in the underground bar.
Although they didn’t say much.
Facing Yu Xinqiao’s question of “Why did you come,” Xu Yanhuan apologized first.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I never intended to hurt you.”
But the harm had already been done, and Yu Xinqiao still asked in the end, “So, is the house compensation?”
“No,” Xu Yanhuan said, “It’s what you deserve.”
Yu Xinqiao found it both funny and uninteresting. It was funny because back then, he was the one pursuing someone else, and the other person naturally had the right to choose not to accept or respond. Now, he was picking on this matter, not only without justification but also a bit like making trouble out of nothing.
Xu Yanhuan’s “I’m sorry” only made the situation more ridiculous. How could someone who hadn’t done anything wrong apologize and offer compensation?
The uninteresting part was that Yu Xinqiao realized that even in the changing present, he still felt sad, as if that day’s rain hadn’t been blocked by the eaves and umbrella but had impartially poured onto him and seeped into his heart.
It must be because of amnesia that made this memory passive and feel so close. Twenty-four-year-old Yu Xinqiao would certainly not ask such a childish and meaningless question.
After comforting himself, Yu Xinqiao took a slow breath to dispel the chill that had penetrated his lungs.
On the way back, he started to act like an objective and rational adult, suppressing his emotions and inquiring from Xu Yanhuan, “How much commission do you receive for handling a case?”
Not expecting him to ask that, Xu Yanhuan pondered for a moment and said, “It depends on the specific risks. Today’s case is pro bono, as it falls under legal aid.”
When Xu Yanhuan was discussing the case with the old woman earlier, Yu Xinqiao overheard a bit. It seemed that the woman’s daughter couldn’t bear her husband’s domestic violence and jumped from the second floor, resulting in a spinal injury and paralysis. Yet her husband refused to take responsibility or provide compensation. Now the daughter lived in her mother’s house, and the mother planned to sell the house to fund her daughter’s treatment.
This kind of case, which Yu Xinqiao had only seen in social news, was happening right in front of him, naturally evoking his sympathy, and he believed they should be helped.
“So, most of the cases you take are uncompensated?”
“Recently, I’ve taken two.”
Then the mortgage for the house…
Thinking about the amount in his own bank account, Yu Xinqiao said, “When we get back, give me your account number. I’ll live in the house and put it under my name, but I should at least contribute half of the monthly payments.”
Upon hearing this, Xu Yanhuan unexpectedly laughed.
It wasn’t a mocking laugh but rather a laugh that seemed to understand everything, as if he saw through it.
Yu Xinqiao instantly felt embarrassed and added, “I’m not worried that you won’t be able to pay it back. Even if you say it’s not compensation, I can’t accept your gift without a clear conscience.”
He used the word “worried.”
Xu Yanhuan, in an unusually cheerful tone, said, “Don’t worry, I’ll pay it back.”
Yu Xinqiao: “…” I should just keep quiet. The more I say, the more awkward it becomes.
He turned his head away, looking out the window, keeping silent. He heard Xu Yanhuan say again, “What you need to do now is to rest well. And trust me, rely on me.”
In fact, when Yu Xinqiao’s memories regressed to when he was eighteen, he had no choice. He didn’t have the ability to discern the truth of every piece of information he received from others. Between believing and not believing, he would rather choose to believe.
After returning home and having dinner, Yu Xinqiao received a call from his father, Yu Hanzhang, saying they were flying to the United States tomorrow.
At such a time that required companionship, Yu Xinqiao was naturally reluctant. “What time is your flight? I’ll go to the airport to send you off.”
A few days ago, he was notified to pick up his repaired car. Liang Yi was afraid he would forget how to drive, so he accompanied him to the place. Yu Xinqiao, familiar with the route, comfortably sat in the driver’s seat and drove all the way from the repair shop to their doorstep.
Yu Hanzhang was also concerned about this issue, and Yu Xinqiao said, “I can still drive. Maybe driving is like playing the piano, using muscle memory.”
The hands-free phone on the opposite side was on, and Yao Qiongying leaned over to speak, “But you still need to be careful. Don’t forget that the car incident was caused by you. If it happens again, does that mean your memory will regress to the mandatory nine-year education?”
At first, Yu Xinqiao was stunned, but then he started laughing.
In his remaining memories, he hadn’t heard his mother joking with him since he came out of the closet. As he laughed, Yu Xinqiao’s voice choked a bit.
He guessed that he must have done things over the years that made his parents sad. Even at the age of eighteen, he was like a madman, opposing his parents as if they were enemies hindering his happiness.
But when he was hurt and feeling sad, his first thought was always to go to his mom and dad.
He thought that twenty-four-year-old Yu Xinqiao must have regretted it.
So, Yu Xinqiao accepted that he was still immature like a child, with red eyes, and said, “Dad, Mom… I’m sorry.”
After chatting with his parents for a few more minutes, just as he hung up the phone, he heard a knock on the door from outside.
Yu Xinqiao wiped the corners of his eyes absentmindedly, slipped on his slippers, and went out. Xu Yanhuan also came out of the study, and the two of them went to the door together to confirm that it was their next-door neighbor standing outside before opening the door.
It was a stylishly dressed young woman. “Mr. Yu, you’re at home. That’s great.”
She handed the carry-on suitcase she was holding forward. “I have some last-minute work and need to go on a business trip for two days. I’m sorry to trouble you this time too.”
Yu Xinqiao lowered his head to look. Through the gaps in the mesh on top of the suitcase, he could see a gray British Shorthair cat inside.
From her tone, it seemed like this wasn’t the first time she had asked him to take care of the cat.
Since he had these few days off, Yu Xinqiao accepted the request. The neighbor was considerate and had already divided the cat food into small bags, labeled with precise feeding times.
Before leaving, the neighbor glanced inside from the doorway. “Haven’t seen Huanhuan for a long time. Has it gained weight recently?”
The human Huanhuan was standing less than half a meter behind Yu Xinqiao, which made him feel embarrassed. He thought that the twenty-four-year-old Yu Xinqiao not only enjoyed spoiling pets but also had no filter in his speech. It seemed that he hadn’t matured much compared to when he was eighteen.
While he was contemplating how to answer, Xu Yanhuan suddenly spoke from behind, “It has gained weight. We weighed it yesterday, and it’s three and a half pounds.”
Yu Xinqiao: “…”
In fact, Yu Xinqiao really didn’t know the weight of the hedgehog Huanhuan. Yesterday, the day before yesterday, and the day before that, Xu Yanhuan was the one who fed it and cleaned its nest spotlessly. Yu Xinqiao only had to hold the hedgehog in his hands and play with it, without worrying about anything else.
After settling the cat next to the sofa in the living room, Yu Xinqiao walked somewhat guiltily towards the bar counter, where Xu Yanhuan was cleaning the exercise wheel for Huanhuan.
As he approached, Yu Xinqiao suddenly noticed that Xu Yanhuan was wearing a pair of thin-framed glasses.
He’s nearsighted? Since when? He didn’t see him wearing glasses back in high school.
They hadn’t seen each other for these past few days either, so it must be a low prescription. He only wore them when he needed to read. He probably didn’t have time to take off his glasses before coming out when someone knocked on the door.
Xu Yanhuan wearing glasses.
Yu Xinqiao couldn’t help but glance a few more times. The discreet frames drew one’s gaze to his high bridge of the nose, and the slightly angular frames complemented his sharp profile from the side.
Maybe he did it on purpose, Yu Xinqiao secretly thought.
The two of them cleaned the hedgehog’s nest together, and Xu Yanhuan told Yu Xinqiao that their neighbor’s surname was Xu. They had helped take care of Huanhuan when they were too busy to be home, and they had a friendly neighborly relationship.
“What about you?” Yu Xinqiao asked randomly.
Surprisingly, Xu Yanhuan understood and said, “Cats and dogs are not for me, but I can take care of hedgehogs.”
Yu Xinqiao nodded. Perhaps no one in this world understood Xu Yanhuan’s aversion to cats and dogs better than him.
Just as he was about to ask the name of Miss Xu’s cat, Xu Yanhuan suddenly turned his face away and sneezed.
Yu Xinqiao, who was still in the heated house, was bewildered. “Are you catching a cold?”
As he spoke, Xu Yanhuan sneezed again.
Seeing this scene, a guess gradually formed in Yu Xinqiao’s mind.
He picked up a clump of cat hair sticking to his clothes. “You’re not… allergic to animal fur are you?”
Xu Yanhuan froze for a moment, then in the eerie silence, he replied in a very low voice, “Mm.”
Yu Xinqiao was speechless.
As he rummaged through drawers and cabinets, looking for the appropriate medication, he angrily asked, “Didn’t I know? I mean, at twenty-four years old, not only did I not know you were allergic to animal hair, but I also brought someone else’s cat home?”
“It’s fine,” Xu Yanhuan approached him, helping him search. “Just don’t let them into the bedroom. I can wear a mask.”
“Don’t come near me!” Yu Xinqiao took a big leap back, increasing the distance between them. “Wait until I get rid of the cat hair on me!”
Xu Yanhuan: “…”
It was already too late. There were many symptoms of animal fur allergies, and Xu Yanhuan had accumulated several of the more severe ones. Not only did he cough and sneeze, but he also developed a rash.
Yu Xinqiao moved the cat to the guest bedroom for “isolation,” changed his clothes, washed his hands and face, and then appeared near Xu Yanhuan again.
Fortunately, there was no close contact with the cat, and the rash only appeared around his neck. Yu Xinqiao rolled up his sleeves like a massage therapist, took some ointment on his fingertips, and applied it to Xu Yanhuan’s neck.
First, he applied it to the backside, and as he touched a raised scar where the neck met the shoulder, Yu Xinqiao lifted the collar to take a look. “What’s this here…”
There’s an injury too?
Perhaps it was due to the relevant cases he came across in the afternoon. Yu Xinqiao made a bold guess, “Could it be that I abuse you at home?”
Xu Yanhuan didn’t answer but his shoulders trembled slightly.
Yu Xinqiao: “…” Are you laughing at me again?
Yu Xinqiao discreetly glanced at the mirror. He was still considerably shorter than Xu Yanhuan, and his physique was two sizes smaller. Standing behind Xu Yanhuan, he was completely shielded by his broad shoulders.
He suddenly recalled Xu Yanhuan mentioning “reliance” during the day. Yu Xinqiao lowered his eyes and casually asked while applying the ointment, “Why didn’t you mention your allergies before?”
There were so many opportunities during high school, so why was it never brought up?
Instead of giving a direct answer, Xu Yanhuan said, “It’s not too late now.”
How can it not be too late? Yu Xinqiao thought. We’ve been apart for six whole years.
He had become increasingly accustomed to thinking and handling things as the twenty-four-year-old Yu Xinqiao.
“So, in our usual life,” Yu Xinqiao asked again, “is this how we coexist?”
They would eat together, respect each other’s personal space and habits, take care of each other, occasionally apply ointment like this, keep busy during the day, and sleep separately at night, passing through each day without any ripples.
The silence persisted until they finished applying the ointment. Yu Xinqiao was already accustomed to the fact that he might not receive a response. So when he returned the ointment to the medicine box and looked up to meet Xu Yanhuan’s direct gaze, he couldn’t help but be stunned.
“No,” Xu Yanhuan said.
“It’s not like this.”
“What is it like?” Yu Xinqiao showed an expression of confusion.
Not like this, does that mean it’s even worse? Living under the same roof but feeling like strangers?
In the midst of contemplation, Yu Xinqiao heard a clicking sound, which was Xu Yanhuan placing his removed glasses on the marble countertop.
…What is he about to do?
Lost in confusion, Yu Xinqiao’s thoughts became sluggish, completely unaware of the change in the situation. Xu Yanhuan bent down, moving his whole body closer to him, forcing him to retreat to the edge of the sink, with his lower back against the edge of the countertop.
He could feel that they were too close, even closer than the last time by the bed.
Xu Yanhuan had excessively deep eyes, and being stared at from such a close distance made Yu Xinqiao involuntarily hold his breath, afraid that he would be sucked in if he wasn’t careful.
Just when their noses were about to touch, less than a centimeter away, so close that they could feel each other’s warm breaths, Xu Yanhuan stopped, motionless.
Yu Xinqiao uncomfortably shifted his body and noticed that Xu Yanhuan’s arms were supporting on both sides, leaving him with nowhere to hide.
His heartbeat thundered in his ears, and amidst the cacophony, Yu Xinqiao forced himself to remain calm. “What … what are you doing?”
Xu Yanhuan stared at Yu Xinqiao without blinking, the darkness in his eyes gradually deepening, hinting at a surging tide.
“I’m waiting for your permission,” Xu Yanhuan said.
Consent is sexy ASF!!!!
PS. There was a small section missing in Chapter 11…just one paragraph. You can go back and reread the chapter. Thank you Atys for pointing it out 💜.
Certified member of the IIO(International Introverts Organization), PhD holder in Overthinking and Ghosting, Spokesperson for BOBAH(Benefits of Being a Homebody), Founder of SFA(Salted Fish Association), Brand Ambassador for Couch Potato fall line Pajama set.