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One Day [有一天]

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“Long-ge, why aren’t you eating?”

Zhu Yilong looks at Bai Yu, who has a smear of sesame sauce at the corner of his mouth, and smiles. He points to the corresponding spot on his own face. “You have a bit of sauce here.”

“Here?” Bai Yu’s tongue flickers out and licks at the spot but misses. Zhu Yilong tries not to stare but already knows he’s lost the battle. “Eh, I’ll just get more all over my mouth later anyway.” He leans in and exaggeratedly puckers his lips. “Unless you want to wipe it away for me, Long-ge?”

Zhu Yilong scowls. “Don’t push it,” he says, and Bai Yu laughs.

“This is really good. I mean, I’ve had reganmian before, but it definitely can’t hold up to the authentic version.”

“Of course. You can’t have real reganmian unless you’re in Wuhan.”

“I’m still not used to how your dofunao is sweet though,” Bai Yu says, scooping up a spoonful. “I almost put soy sauce in it until I remembered.”

“We can ask for a plain bowl and then you can season it with savoury things.”

“Naw, it’s okay, I like it sweet too.” Bai Yu winks. “You are what you eat, right?” He puts the spoon into his mouth and licks it rather obscenely, his eyes fixed on Zhu Yilong the whole time, like how he’d exaggeratedly work at his lollipop when he played Zhao Yunlan.

Zhu Yilong wrinkles his nose, as he tries to disguise his emerging blush. “Then we should go get some stinky tofu because that’s more like you.”

“What, seemingly nasty but then delicious once you get a taste?” Bai Yu is totally shameless, and it shouldn’t surprise Zhu Yilong, but he still manages to top himself, somehow.

“That’s one way to put it,” Zhu Yilong says dryly. “Be quiet and eat your noodles before they become lengganmian.”

“Yes, boss,” Bai Yu says obediently, but then ruins it when he immediately says, “Why aren’t you eating yours?”

The truth is that he was enjoying himself watching Bai Yu eat, but he merely says, “I’ve been in Wuhan for a week, I’ve eaten lots of reganmian already.” He nudges Bai Yu’s glass of water closer to him. “Do you want more doupi?”

“Ooh, yes!” Bai Yu’s eyes light up. “People only talk about reganmian but doupi is soooo good. I could eat it all day.”

“Have as much as you want,” Zhu Yilong says fondly, putting the last piece into Bai Yu’s bowl. “We can always come back tomorrow. Or well, go to any restaurant. There isn’t a shortage here.” He waves down a waiter and asks for another two servings of doupi.

“Next time you go to Xi’an, I’ll take you to all the best food places only the natives know.”

“It’s a deal. That still includes roujiamo, right?”

“Of course,” Bai Yu laughs. “Can’t have Xi’an food without roujiamo.” He falls silent, suddenly, and stares at Zhu Yilong with an odd expression on his face.

“What?” Zhu Yilong asks. “Do I have sauce on my face?”

“You really want to come to Xi’an with me, then?”

Zhu Yilong’s eyebrows draw together. “Of course I do.” Has Bai Yu changed his mind about the invitation?

“And meet my parents and all that?”

Zhu Yilong’s face warms and he has to fight against the instinct to either lower his head or blink until the tough question passes. “Yes,” he says, quiet but firm. “I want to see Xi’an not just like a tourist but from your eyes. I want to meet your parents. I want—” He swallows and finishes in a barely audible voice, “all of that.”

Bai Yu’s expression softens. “Long-ge,” he says quietly, reaching across the table and putting his hand on top of Zhu Yilong’s. “I want that too.”

 

“The cherry blossoms are beautiful,” Bai Yu says.

“Mm,” Zhu Yilong agrees.

“Yellow Crane Tower is beautiful.”

“Yeah.”

“My Long-ge is the most beautiful!” Bai Yu crows, arms raised like he wants to announce it to the whole world, and Zhu Yilong’s cheeks fill with heat.

“You make me sound like a Wuhan landmark.”

“You should be,” Bai Yu says seriously. “Imagine how much money they can make from charging tickets to see you. You’d be the most popular tourist attraction here.”

Zhu Yilong makes a face. “I don’t know about that.”

“I’d pay a million dollars to climb you.”

“Xiao Bai!” he splutters, and Bai Yu laughs and laughs.

 

Later, they get caricatures of themselves drawn by a street artist who does a remarkable job in only a few minutes. Bai Yu laughs that Zhu Yilong’s head is bigger than his even in a caricature, and Zhu Yilong snipes back that his beard is better-looking in a drawing than it could ever be in real life.

After that, Bai Yu insists on buying tanghulu and they eat them as they walk down the street together, shadows overlapping in the setting sun and rock sugar crunching under their teeth. Just as they finish the skewers, Bai Yu sees an old man with a sugar painting stall and excitedly drags Zhu Yilong over.

“Hello, young man.” The vendor smiles at him. “Are you interested in a sugar painting?”

Bai Yu nods profusely. “Yeah, these look amazing,” he says, pointing to the dark golden figures of butterflies and dragons on skewers, almost too beautiful to eat. “Can I get a fresh one? A custom shape?”

“Sure, what would you like?”

Bai Yu’s mouth quirks up in a half-smirk, and Zhu Yilong can already predict what he’s going to say. “A monkey,” he says, and Zhu Yilong makes sure his expression of polite interest doesn’t falter.

“Ah, it’s the Year of the Monkey and all.”

“A really hairy one, if that’s possible?” Bai Yu says, and the old man gives him an odd look but he must receive much more outlandish requests because he accepts easily and starts working.

“Isn’t it amazing how there are all these artists here?” Bai Yu asks as he watches the old man expertly ladling hot sugar onto the metal surface. “We’re lauded so much for what we do but I think they deserve more recognition.”

Zhu Yilong thinks about the countless people whose work behind the scenes is missed, not just the camera crew but the costume stylists, the score composers, the special effects technicians, the stunt doubles, all the people who come together to produce a work that people only applaud the actors and director for.

“Definitely,” he says. “The invisible people who work so hard to make us visible.”

Bai Yu gives him an appreciative look. “You know, Long-ge, you say you’re bad with words but you definitely have some wise sayings.”

“I think you’re the one who usually says I’m bad with words.”

“Well, you know, after all the conversations that you end…”

“I don’t mean to,” Zhu Yilong says, a hint of a pout rising to his lips, and Bai Yu relents.

“Okay, okay, you’re an expert at keeping the conversation going, just like you’re an expert at PUBG. Happy?”

“No,” Zhu Yilong tells him, getting an amused, crinkle-eyed smile from him, and then, “Your monkey is ready.”

“Oh!” Bai Yu thanks the vendor profusely and then reaches into his pocket, only to emerge with an empty hand and sheepish expression. “Long-ge~” he starts.

“No,” Zhu Yilong says flatly. “I’m not paying for your sugar monkey.”

“But I’m out of change!”

“Just use WeChat pay or Alipay.”

“My phone is dead, remember?”

Zhu Yilong glowers at him and then schools his expression into a polite smile as he turns to the vendor, whose expression is starting to turn impatient. “Sorry,” he says, and pulls up Alipay on his phone. He adds a tip for having to put up with Bai Yu, but he can’t help but smile as Bai Yu takes the sugar painting with the gleeful expression of a marvelling child.

“Thank you!” Bai Yu says to the old man, before he and Zhu Yilong continue on their way. He seems to have no intention of eating the monkey and instead just looks at it and then looks at Zhu Yilong like he’s comparing the two. Zhu Yilong feels his eyebrow start to twitch.

“I can’t believe you almost left me stranded like that, Long-ge,” Bai Yu says with a pout. “You’re not even willing to buy me a treat?” He seems to have conveniently forgotten that Zhu Yilong had been the one to pay for both their meal and the tanghulu.

“If it had been anything other than a monkey…”

“What’s wrong with monkeys?” Bai Yu says innocently. “I, personally, am a big fan of them.”

“Hey look.” Zhu Yilong points at a fruit stall. “They’re selling fresh mangoes.”

Bai Yu’s playful smile slips. Zhu Yilong tries to hold his own back but he has a feeling Bai Yu can see it anyway.

 

“I wish Cola and Oscar were here,” Bai Yu says as Zhu Yilong opens the door to the apartment and gestures for him to go in first.

“I didn’t know you liked them that much.”

“Of course I do!” Bai Yu says indignantly. “Just because I’m their stepdad doesn’t mean my love isn’t genuine, okay?”

“If you don’t like that title, you could be their mom,” Zhu Yilong suggests, and has to fight very valiantly not to burst out laughing at Bai Yu’s grossly indignant expression.

“Long-ge, since when did you become so sharp-tongued?”

Zhu Yilong smiles. “I didn’t spend all that time around you for nothing, did I?”

“Hey, don’t pin this on me. You could have picked up my marvellous sense of humour or impeccable gaming skills, but noooo, you have to take advantage of me.”

“Take advantage of you?” Zhu Yilong repeats incredulously. “How am I taking advantage of you?”

“Now you’re acting all clueless.” Bai Yu crosses his arms over his chest. “Those puppy dog eyes won’t work on me, Long-ge.”

Zhu Yilong just keeps blinking at him, and Bai Yu ends up looking away.

“I mean.” Zhu Yilong’s voice lowers. “If you want me to take advantage of you, that could be arranged.”

A flush comes over Bai Yu’s cheeks. “Gege.”

Zhu Yilong swallows. “Yes?”

Bai Yu tilts his face up, a clear invitation, and Zhu Yilong answers him with a kiss.

 

“Long-ge?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you for showing me around Wuhan.”

Zhu Yilong blinks. “Since when were you so keqi?”

Bai Yu laughs. “I’m not being keqi. It’s just… This is your hometown, you know. The city that you grew up in and went to high school in and played basketball in. This is—a part of who you are. And I’m glad you shared it with me.”

Zhu Yilong wants to say so many things, that he’s thought about bringing Bai Yu here so many times, that there are even more places he wants to take him, that he wants them to explore the world together, leave their footsteps everywhere from the deserts of the Sahara to the coral reefs of Australia, but all he can manage is, “I’m glad too.”

Before, he would have been mortified by his ineptitude with words, at how he has so much bottled up in his chest but he simply cannot make it reach his lips, but now he knows it’s okay. He knows Bai Yu understands.

 

Zhu Yilong is at the cusp of sleep, dangling on its blurry edges, when he hears Bai Yu speak so quietly that he feels like he’s dreaming already.

“After this, we’ll go to Xi’an together and I’ll take you to all the hidden crooks and crannies of my childhood. And one day we’ll see the world together and we won’t have to hide anymore and we can take silly pictures all over just like regular tourists and go scuba diving in the ocean together and eat all the street food we can find and make so many memories it’ll beat any drama.”

Zhu Yilong feels his eyes prickling, and there’s such a long moment of silence that he wonders if Bai Yu has fallen asleep but then Bai Yu finishes in an even more hushed whisper, a voice that’s half breath and half dream.

“One day we won’t only be each other’s in secret.”

And as Zhu Yilong is gripped in internal conflict over whether he should say something, he hears Bai Yu’s breathing taper into the soft, even murmur of slumber, his body turning towards Zhu Yilong’s, seeking him out even in sleep.

With a soft sigh, half breath and half dream, Zhu Yilong pulls him closer.

 

The next morning, Bai Yu gives no indication of what he had said, as bright and chipper as ever.

“So, Long-ge,” he says, clapping his hands together. “What’s the plan for today? Are we going to visit the Three Gorges? Tortoise Mountain? The Yangtze River Bridge?”

“You really did your research before coming here, didn’t you,” Zhu Yilong says, amused.

“Of course! I’d be a bad xiaolongbao if I didn’t learn a bit about your city.”

Zhu Yilong laughs. “Since when were you a xiaolongbao?”

“Since always, Long-ge,” Bai Yu says solemnly. “What, do you doubt that?”

“No, I don’t,” Zhu Yilong says softly, and Bai Yu colours. “We can definitely go sightseeing as long as we make it back in time for dinner.”

“What, do you have something planned for dinner?” Bai Yu gives him a narrow-eyed look. “Are you planning to cook, Long-ge, because I thought we already concluded that’s not the best idea.”

“Do you have so little faith in me?”

“Don’t get me wrong, Long-ge, I’d trust you with my life…but not in the kitchen. And I don’t really want to eat instant noodles when there’s so much good food around.” Zhu Yilong gives him a hurt look, and Bai Yu caves. “Okay, okay, if you really want to make something, lay it on me.” He pats his chest. “I promise to eat it all.”

“You don’t have to sound like you’re making a valiant sacrifice.” Zhu Yilong almost rolls his eyes. “I never said I was cooking. My parents invited us over for dinner.”

Bai Yu’s eyes go wide. “I thought we weren’t meeting your parents yet.”

“What better time than now, right?” Zhu Yilong says casually. “Who knows when’s the next time we’ll be in Wuhan?”

“And you’re only springing this on me now?” Bai Yu’s voice shoots up, startling Zhu Yilong. “I didn’t even buy them any presents!”

“Relax, Xiao Bai, we have all day. And you don’t have to get them anything fancy.”

“Hey, these are my in-laws we’re talking about,” Bai Yu says, making Zhu Yilong’s ears heat. “I can’t skimp on presents here. They’re probably already wondering how I managed to steal you.”

“You stole me now?” Zhu Yilong says wryly.

“Yeah.” Bai Yu playfully leers at him. “I melted the ice in your heart, didn’t I, Long-ge?”

Zhu Yilong pretends to gag. “Do me a favour. If you’re going to say stuff like that, you stay here and I’ll go and eat my mom’s cooking on my own.”

“Noooo,” Bai Yu immediately says. “I want to eat your mom’s cooking! You’ve told me so much about it.”

“Then behave,” Zhu Yilong says with a stern expression that always falters around Bai Yu.

“Yes, sir,” Bai Yu says, pretending to zip his mouth shut, and Zhu Yilong can’t help his smile. It only lasts for about two seconds, of course, before Bai Yu talks again.

“Okay, tell me what your parents would like. Tea? Ginseng? A giant painting of you?”

Zhu Yilong’s eyes widen. “A what?”

“I don’t know. I can imagine them hanging one up in the living room.” Bai Yu grins, lopsided. “Or maybe it’s just that I want one.”

Zhu Yilong wrinkles his nose. “That sounds really stupid, even for you.”

“Hey, what do you mean even for me?” Bai Yu says indignantly. “Are you saying I have tons of stupid ideas?”

Zhu Yilong puts on his best innocent expression. “You said it, not me.”

“Long-ge.” Bai Yu clutches his chest like he’s been shot. “You’re just getting more and more savage these days.”

“Isn’t that what you call me, a savage beast who spent too much time on the mountains?” Zhu Yilong says dryly.

“I mean, you can definitely be a savage beast. Remember that time you marked up my neck so badly that—”

Zhu Yilong clears his throat. “Come on, let’s get going. I want to go pick out a nice bottle of wine for my parents.”

That effectively distracts Bai Yu. “Do they like wine? Hey, let me buy them the wine. Hell, I’ll buy them a vineyard.”

Zhu Yilong laughs. “I don’t think you have to go that overboard. If anything, just offer to help my mom cut some vegetables. She’ll love that.”

Bai Yu snaps his fingers. “Done. I’m handy with a knife, actually. Just don’t let me near a wok.”

“My mom doesn’t even let me near her wok. I think you’ll be fine.”

“Hey,” Bai Yu says in a panicked voice. “She isn’t going to try to teach me how to cook so I can make your favourite foods, right? I really can’t cook if my life depended on it. Not even if your life depended on it.”

“Don’t worry, just because she thinks of you as a daughter-in-law doesn’t mean she expects that much from you.”

“Oh, okay,” Bai Yu says, relaxing, and then jumps up as Zhu Yilong’s words sink in. “Hey, what do you mean I’m the daughter-in-law? I’m her dashing son-in-law, okay?”

And, laughing, Zhu Yilong pulls him into a kiss in lieu of a reply. Judging from Bai Yu’s enthusiastic response, it’s an answer he’s happy with.

 

Zhu Yilong sighs as, his anxiety about presents seemingly resolved, Bai Yu is now fussing over the state of his clothes and hair and beard.

“Do you need some clippers for those rose thorns?” he teases.

“Long-ge!” Bai Yu whines. “I want to make a good impression, okay? Plus, this is your fault.”

My fault?”

“Yeah, have you looked in the mirror? You may be able to just roll out of bed and look amazing, but some of us gotta put some work in, okay?”

Zhu Yilong blinks. “My mom thinks I’m just ordinary-looking anyway,” he says, and Bai Yu sighs so loudly Zhu Yilong thinks he might blow something away.

“Oh my god!” Bai Yu suddenly exclaims, and Zhu Yilong starts.

“What?” he says, alarmed.

“If she thinks you’re ordinary-looking, what’s she going to think of me?”

“She thinks you’re handsome. It’s not like she’s never seen pictures or videos of you. She’s told me before you’re handsome. Not that you need anyone to tell you,” Zhu Yilong adds teasingly.

Bai Yu is preening now. “She thinks I’m handsome?”

“Yeah, she thinks you have an attractive masculine aura.”

Bai Yu strokes his beard. “I do have that,” he agrees without an ounce of humility.

Zhu Yilong struggles to keep a straight face. “So see, you’re good.”

Bai Yu looks at him with a smile, and then shakes his head and sighs. “Long-ge, you’re just humouring me, aren’t you?”

“What? No, I’m serious.” And he is, mostly. His mother really had said those things. And then Zhu Yilong had told her that Bai Yu ruined any semblance of attractiveness as soon as he opened his mouth. “But if you’re not done grooming yourself, we won’t even meet my parents at this rate.”

“Well, I guess this is the best I’m going to get,” Bai Yu says, running a hand through his hair one last time.

“You look good,” Zhu Yilong says softly, sincerely, and Bai Yu gives him a different kind of smile from his usual playful ones. “It’ll be fine. Don’t be nervous.”

“Oh, like you won’t be nervous out of your mind when you meet my parents,” Bai Yu says, and Zhu Yilong doesn’t bother to deny it. “I bet you’re going to do your innocent blinking act at them if they ask you any tough questions.”

“What innocent blinking act?” Zhu Yilong asks, innocently blinking at him.

“See, I wish I had your puppy dog eyes to fall back on,” Bai Yu says. “But instead, I just have my rose thorns.”

Zhu Yilong bursts out laughing. “It’s okay,” he says, running a fingertip across Bai Yu’s stubble, lingering. “I like your rose thorns.”

And Bai Yu would never admit how he blushes at that.

 

“Xiao Bai,” Zhu Yilong says as they’re almost at his parents’ house. “You’re not still nervous, are you?”

“Actually, I think I managed to reach a state of forced calmness, but thanks, you just brought it all rushing back.”

“I swear, you’re not even this nervous at auditions.”

“Of course not,” Bai Yu says. “What kind of audition has stakes as high as this one?”

Zhu Yilong almost has to look away to hide the warmth that washes over him. He doesn’t. “You don’t have to be nervous. You got the part already.” And then he smiles. “This is the start, you know.”

Bai Yu gives him a confused look. “Of what?”

“Our One Day.”

Bai Yu stops in his tracks. “You…you heard me?”

“I heard you,” Zhu Yilong says. “And – you know what?”

“What?”

“That day will come,” he says, his voice steely with resolve but also soft with tenderness, and Bai Yu smiles, creases fanning around his eyes.

“I know it will.”

Zhu Yilong holds out his hand, and Bai Yu takes it, as they ring the doorbell together, making a first step towards that one day.