Situ Zhang of course had no idea what Xiao Nanzhu was thinking. He bought into the excuse about bumming a meal and said yes immediately.
“All right, then don’t leave me hanging this time. We’re getting roasted lamb and crab stew at Yulan Eatery. I’ll order for you?”
“Pick a bigger crab for me…I want a female crab.”
This shameless line earned an eyeroll from Situ Zhang through his sunglasses. Xiao Nanzhu grinned back.
He just happened to stand up to go to the bathroom to wash up when Situ Zhang said he was probably going to head out. When he’d reached the door, he grabbed a bag of Tianjin-style dough sticks out of his bag and pointed at Xiao Nanzhu.
“Eat this quick or it’s going to go cold.”
“All right, all right. Just go. You’re so annoying.”
Situ Zhang had always been good to him, and Xiao Nanzhu had grown used to it. They’d known each other for so many years that nothing they said could hurt the other’s feelings.
Back in a familiar place, it seemed that having friends and family nearby was a great feeling after all. Xiao Nanzhu was letting his mind drift through these thoughts as he brushed his teeth. Suddenly his ears twitched, and something from the outside slithered into his ears.
“Oh, the day after Niansi? You’re here? Have you had breakfast yet?”
He poked his head out from behind the bathroom door to observe the young man who had tumbled from the almanac.
In response, Nianwu looked up with a tightlipped expression. He looked similar to Niansi in both appearance and clothing, but carried himself much differently.
If Niansi was an outgoing, active young man, this kid had “hard to get along with” written all over his face.
But Xiao Nanzhu understood too that anyone who seemed like that was probably just shy on the inside. Just last night Niansi had gone to the trouble of explaining his relationship with Nianwu.
“My relationship with Nianwu, how do you say, can be explained completely in one song!”
“Oh? What song?”
“Ah….Niansi…you’re a day less than Nianwu…ah…Nianwu…you’re a day more than Niansi…”
Pushing the hypnotic siren song of Niansi out of his mind, Xiao Nanzhu padded out of the bathroom in his slippers and grabbed a cigarette.
During this whole process Nianwu sat quietly on the living room couch, waiting for him to open his mouth and tell him what to do. Xiao Nanzhu noticed his nervousness in a glance and couldn’t help but laugh.
“Don’t be nervous, it’s my first day at work too. Be nice to me.”
When he passed by the couch he patted Nianwu’s lowered head. The moment his hand made contact Nianwu’s head swung up, his eyes wide.
“What are you doing! D-don’t touch my head!”
His flustered state made Xiao Nanzhu’s laughter even more wicked.
But as fun as it may be to tease, it’s no fun when you actually stir them up into a state of frenzy. So he didn’t keep bothering Nianwu, instead walking into the kitchen to heat up the breakfast Situ Zhang brought him in the microwave. He also heated up the porridge he’d prepared ahead of time again as well and cooked two extra coddled eggs.
Nianwu hadn’t had a chance to eat breakfast yet. Smelling the scent from the kitchen, he instinctively sat up. Logically speaking other than burnt offerings the calendar gods didn’t need to eat, but Nianwu just happened to love food. Just the sight of it was enough to stop him dead.
In the past Xiao Nanzhu’s grandmother was a terrific cook. So when it was his turn to come out for work, Nianwu always acted incredibly happy. Now Xiao Nanzhu had inherited his grandmother’s cooking skills. Nianwu, who had been left hungry for years, felt his heart begin to race again. Carefully he peered in the direction of the kitchen door, swallowing saliva that didn’t even exist, before speaking up quietly to Xiao Nanzhu, who was currently cooking his eggs.
“Um…can I have…two coddled eggs please…”