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Did he stink?
Did he still stank?
He’d just brushed his teeth. Did his clothes still smell of smoke? Cui Dingchen took a sniff of his own clothes. He couldn’t smell anything. Seeing Xu Zhao come out from the kitchen, he rushed up to him and asked, “Xu Zhao, do I smell like smoke?”
Xu Zhao said, “I don’t smell anything.”
Cui Dingchen walked toward Xu Zhao and said, “Come closer and take a sniff.”
Xu Zhao leaned in and sniffed.
Cui Dingchen quickly asked, “Do I smell like smoke?”
Xu Zhao nodded, “Yes, but just a little bit.”
“Does it stink?”
“No, it doesn’t stink. It just smells like smoke.”
Cui Dingchen smelled himself again. He used to think that the smell of smoke wasn’t a big deal, but he suddenly found it really smelly. He immediately decided to return to the county town and take a shower, change clothes, then return to eat. As soon as he decided this, Cui Dingchen went into action.
Therefore, Xu Zhao wasn’t able to stop him. He watched Cui Dingchen leave in his car and didn’t know that this was entirely because of Xu Fan’s one sentence: “You stink, I won’t play with you,” and thought this was all because of Cui Dingchen’s OCD. He didn’t think more about this and took three saucers from the main hall to the kitchen. As soon as he entered the kitchen, he saw Xu Fan.
Xu Fan was sitting in front of the stove. Who knew where the sweet potatoes came from, but he threw one into the stove. As he tossed it, he said in a milky voice, “One for Daddy, one for Grandpa, one for Grandma, one for me—”
“Xu Fan!” Xu Zhao called.
Xu Fan turned his head and happily called, “Daddy!”
Xu Zhao curiously asked, “What are you doing?”
Xu Fan held a stick in his small, meaty hand. He learned from the adults and stabbed the firewood stove, looking very professional. In fact, he messed around till his small face was covered in ash and dirty. He said, “I-I’m roasting sweet potatoes.”
“Our food hasn’t even been cooked yet, so why are you roasting sweet potatoes? Fish it out.”
Fish it out.”
“I won’t. I-I want to eat, Daddy.”
Xu Zhao wasn’t able to convince Xu Fan. He walked in front of the stove and saw the four sweet potatoes shoved inside the small stove. It was neatly placed inside there. He stirred the fire, and the smoke started to flow out.
The ash covered Xu Fan’s eyes watered. Before Xu Zhao could speak, he had already fished out the sweet potatoes.
After the sweet potatoes were fished out, the cooking was delayed by a few minutes. Therefore, when Cui Dingchen returned, the food still wasn’t ready.
Cui Dingchen wanted to help cook, but Xu Zhao and Mother Cui stopped him. His gaze shifted to Xu Fan again. Xu Fan was obediently playing inside the courtyard. He earnestly stared at the radio as he listened to it. However, his eyes were red.
Why were his eyes red?
Cui Dingchen quickly knelt in front of Xu Fan and called out his name.
Xu Fan was focused on listening to the radio and didn’t hear.
Cui Dingchen called again, “Xiao Xu Fan.”
Xu Fan’s gaze moved from the radio to look at Cui Dingchen and asked, “What?”
“What happened to your eyes?”
Xu Fan stretched out his small, meaty hands and rubbed his eyes, “I-I stared a lot.”
Cui Dingchen asked, “What did you stare at?”
Xu Fan replied, “I stared at the smoke.”
Cui Dingchen asked, “Why did you stare at the smoke?”
Xu Fan was listening to the radio. It was his favorite story, ‘Journey to the West’. He very unhappily said, “Second Grandpa Cui, don’t talk. I h-h-have to listen to the radio or else it’s a w-waste of electricity!”
Cui Dingchen awkwardly rubbed his nose. He didn’t have any words.
Xu Fan focused on listening to the radio.
Cui Dingchen didn’t leave. He sat beside Xu Fan. He didn’t listen to the radio but gently looked at Xu Fan instead. He would also occasionally look toward the kitchen and Xu Zhao. He did this all the way until food was ready.
During dinnertime, when he saw Xu Zhao wanting to get a dish that was in front of him, he would push the dish toward Xu Zhao. When he saw Xu Fan stare at a dish for a few seconds, he would immediately place some into Xu Fan’s bowl. He took very good care of Xu Zhao and Xu Fan.
Mother and Father Xu saw it all and sweetness filled their hearts. They thought that Xu Zhao really was able to pick a partner, but Xu Zhao didn’t understand. After eating, he specially asked Cui Dingchen, “Youngest uncle, what’s wrong?”
Cui Dingchen asked back, “Is something wrong?”
“Did you eat your fill tonight?”
“But you were taking care of Xu Fan and me all night. you didn’t eat much,” Xu Zhao added, “Xu Fan and I aren’t little kids. You don’t need to take care of us this much.”
Cui Dingchen said, “I do.”
Cui Dingchen earnestly looked at Cui Dingchen and suddenly said, “Xu Zhao, it’s my life’s happiness to be able to take care of you and Xu Fan.”
The words of love continued to increase. Xu Zhao was shocked, but he was very happy. A happy expression also appeared on his face as he looked at Cui Dingchen. “Thank you, Youngest uncle.:
Cui Dingchen solemnly said, “I should be thanking you.”
“Thanking me for what?” Xu Zhao asked with a smile.
“Thank you for being this good and for raising Xu Fan to be this good.”
Hearing Cui Dingchen compliment Xu Fan, Xu Zhao smiled. It was rare for him to act so coyishly as he said, “Do you think that meeting me is the greatest blessing in your life?”
“Mn.” Cui Dingchen nodded. “It’s my life’s greatest blessing.”
Xu Zhao’s gaze softened as he gently looked at Cui Dingchen and said, “Youngest uncle, I’m also very lucky to have met you.”
He was also very lucky to meet him?
Cui Dingchen was frozen still from shock. The words that he had struggled to form were stuck in his throat, unable to be spoken out. He dazedly looked at Xu Zhao, and the guilt, self-blame, and all the thousands of things that he’d wronged Xu Zhao slowly settled in. “Youngest uncle, I’m also very lucky to have met you.” He slightly lowered his head and saw Xu Fan running with a ball padding over here.
“Daddy! L-let’s go on a walk!” Xu Fan shouted as he ran to Xu Zhao.
In order to keep Xu Fan healthy and aid with digestion, Xu Zhao had started taking Xu Fan for a walk into the village after dinner. This had already become a habit for Xu Fan.
This was a good habit that would increase Xu Fan’s immunity. Besides colds and fevers, Xu Fan’s body had always been good.
Therefore, Xu Zhao took Xu Fan out for a walk tonight as usual. It was just that Cui Dingchen was still there… Xu Zhao looked at Cui Dingchen and asked, “Youngest uncle, let’s go on a walk?”
Cui Dingchen nodded and said, “Okay, let’s go together.”
Xu Zhao thought that Cui Dingchen would return to the county town as they walked in the end, when they finished their walk, it seemed like Cui Dingchen wanted to return to their house as well. This made him very curious.
However, Xu Fan was already sleepy. He quickly washed Xu Fan, and under Cui Dingchen’s watch, washed Xu Fan’s face, hands, feet, and booty. He rubbed fragrance on him then stuffed him inside the blanket to tell him a story to lull him to sleep. When he started snoring, Cui Dingchen finally spoke up and said that he would return to the county town.
“You guys have a good rest,” Cui Dingchen said.
“I’ll send you off.”
Before Xu Zhao could stand up, Cui Dingchen pressed him down on his shoulders.
Cui Dingchen smiled and said, “No need, I can just leave by myself. You should rest early.”
Cui Dingchen gently kissed Xu Zhao’s forehead, cheek, and lips. Each kiss was very soft, sincere, and full of longing. This lasted until they heard noise coming from the east wing. Cui Dingchen finally said to Xu Zhao, “I’ll come back tomorrow.”
Xu Zhao’s gaze was very soft as he nodded.
Cui Dingchen stood and reluctantly stretched out his hand to rub Xu Fan’s little, meaty cheek, meaty arms, meaty hands then left the west wing, satisfied. He happened to encounter Mother Xu, who was walking in the middle of the night and very respectfully greeted her. He troubled Mother Xu to close the courtyard gates. He turned on the headlights and watched Mother Xu enter the east wing before driving the car out of South Bay Village and onto the main dirt road.
The night was very calm. There wasn’t a single person on the dirt road, and he unhurriedly drove off in this way, listening to the soft sound of the tires crunching on the road. Under the constant and soothing sound, his emotions also slowly calmed down, but he still wasn’t at peace.
When he returned to the county town, the entire county town was covered in a field of darkness. He didn’t return to his own home. He didn’t want to go home. He drove the car to Cui Qingfeng’s home. Digging out the key, he quickly opened the courtyard door. Father Cui’s voice came from the east wing.
“Is it Dingchen? Dingchen, did you come back?” Father Cui asked.
Cui Dingchen quickly replied, “Brother, it’s me.”
Father Cui pulled on his coat and grabbed the flashlight. He walked out and asked, “Why are you returning so late?”
Cui Dingchen said, “I had something to take care of today.”
“Did you finish settling it?”
“Sigh, then you can’t overwork yourself.”
Cui Dingchen said, “I’m not. Are sister-in-law and Qingfeng asleep already?”
Cui Qingfeng said, “Qingfeng is already asleep, but your sister-in-law hasn’t gone to sleep yet. She’s addicted to weaving a scarf. She wants to make one for each of us. She’s currently making one for Sanwa. She said to have you or Qingfeng deliver it to Sanwa later.”
“You and sister-in-law should go to sleep early. It’s getting late.”
Cui Dingchen and Father Cui walked into the main hall together, then separately went to their own rooms. Cui Dingchen didn’t sleep immediately but dazedly sat on the bed to sort out his thoughts. At this time, Father Cui’s voice came from outside.
“Dingchen, are you asleep?”
Cui Dingchen stood and opened the door.
Father Cui held a cup of milk and said, “During the new year, you bought milk for us and said it helped with sleep. I warmed up a cup for you. Drink a bit and sleep well. Your sister-in-law and I will cook you some delicious food tomorrow morning.”
Cui Dingchen reached out and accepted it. “Thank you, brother.”
Father Cui smiled and said, “What are you saying thanks for? Sleep early. Don’t exhaust yourself.”
Cui Dingchen nodded.
Father Cui turned around and headed toward the east wing.
Cui Dingchen couldn’t help but call out, “Brother.”
Father Cui turned his head and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Cui Dingchen looked at Cui Dingchen. He wanted to tell Father Cui the matter about Xu Zhao and Xu Fan, but it was currently too late. Plus, everything was currently a mess. He hadn’t sorted things out yet. His heart was also a mess, and he didn’t know how to tell him. For example, he wanted to confess everything to Xu Zhao, but he was scared that after Xu Zhao found out the truth, he would ignore him. He had let Xu Zhao and Xu Fan suffer so much, after all… He was terrified that Xu Zhao and Xu Fan would start ignoring him.
Since he was unable to sort out his emotions, he said instead, “Brother when I was younger, you used to always say that regardless if one was scared or hurt, they still had to take responsibility, right?”
Father Cui asked, “That’s right. What’s wrong? Did something happen? Tell your brother. Did you need me to help you?”
Cui Dingchen calmly said, “It’s nothing. I just suddenly thought of it.”
Father Cui let out a sigh of relief.
Cui Dingchen urged Father Cui to go back and go to sleep.