No Money to Divorce
First Published on Chaleuria
Chapter 35: New Year Gifts
When he bought this place, Adrian never expected that he would see something like this happening here.
At three in the morning, he sat at the dining table, handling the news he received from Headquarters while Zhong Yan was busy cooking noodles for him in the open kitchen.
The aroma of food slowly wafted out from the kitchen. Adrian had been hungry, but now, he was starting to get a little restless from the tempting smell. When he failed to process that piece of information on his screen that he had looked over more than three times, he decided to shut off his terminal screen.
His efficacy was too low at the moment. It would be best if he ate before he went back to work.
He walked into the kitchen separated by the bar. He stood by Zhong Yan’s side and watched as he sliced ham. He asked, “How much longer?”
“It’s almost ready. Five minutes.” After slicing the ham, Zhong Yan stacked them neatly on the chopping board. Just as he was about to grab the kettle, he noticed that Adrian was standing in the way, so he gave him a light push. “Don’t block the cabinet door.”
Adrian made way and retreated to the chopping board.
There was a row of ham on it. Ham was a cooked food, which meant it was ready-to-eat, and he really was very hungry at the moment. He stared at the tempting row of sliced ham.
Zhong Yan boiled the water and heated up the pan. He pushed away Adrian who was blocking the chopping board, and just as he was about to fry the ham, he suddenly paused.
“Where’s my ham?!” asked Zhong Yan as he pointed to the empty chopping board.
Without a change in expression, Adrian replied, “I was testing it for poison.”
“Get out, don’t mess around.” With a headache, Zhong Yan drove him out.
Whenever he cooked, he would have to spend twice the effort whenever Adrian was in the kitchen; if the ingredients weren’t going missing, then the young master who, volunteering to help but could not differentiate between sugar and salt, would add the wrong seasoning; or, he would latch onto him regardlessly to watch him cook, making it hard for him to move.
Adrian was unwillingly driven out of his own kitchen, and could only watch from outside by the bar.
“Aren’t you cooking for two?” He saw Zhong Yan put only a single portion of noodles into the pot, so he asked.
“I’ll split them into two bowls. I’m just taking a bite.” Zhong Yan slowly stirred the noodles in the pot while he spoke, “It’s the middle of the night and we’re heading to bed after this, so it’ll be better if you don’t eat too much either. It’s bad for your stomach, so it’ll be just right after I take some.”
As he spoke, he started staring at the noodles for some reason, and a look of confusion formed in his eyes. Then, he quickly turned on his terminal and typed something in.
Adrian could not understand what he was doing. “What’s wrong?”
“I haven’t cooked noodles for too long. I forgot how long I need to cook it for.” Zhong Yan’s fingers slid over the screen and found the corresponding guide. He mouthed the words as he read, and then he turned off his terminal.
Adrian was puzzled. “Do you not cook noodles in the Capital?”
“I don’t cook when I’m by myself. I usually just buy take out,” Zhong Yan responded.
“What do you mean why?” Zhong Yan was confused. “I’ve only cooked for you. I never cooked when I was by myself. It’s too troublesome, and it’s a waste of time.”
It seemed to be somewhat different from what Adrian had imagined. He asked, “What about when you entered the Supreme Institution?”
“I didn’t know how to cook before I met you. I was either living in an orphanage or the dormitory of compulsory schools. I would also live short-term with a few adoptive families when I was younger. I didn’t have the chance to enter a kitchen. From where would I learn to cook?”
Adrian was truly shocked by this revelation. He had always thought for sure that Zhong Yan definitely belonged to the “poor kids who handled the household early” group. He never thought that Zhong Yan would tell him so many years later that he actually had not known how to cook even during the days when they first met.
“You said the food in the canteen was unpalatable, so I learned from guides. Actually, I was quite unfamiliar with it the first month I started, so I only cooked simple things.” When the noodles were done, Zhong Yan scooped them up with a skimmer and casually said, “Later, I thought that if I could cook even better, that you might be even more willing to stay with me, so I kept learning to improve my skills. Didn’t you notice that my cooking skills soared in our third year?”
Adrian: “…” He was completely unaware. At that time, he was watching Zhong Yan through the eyes of a lover, and thought from the first moment that his cooking was the best. It was the food prepared by the person he liked. How could he have any attention left to think about the taste?
“And just a few days ago…” Which was the time when Adrian had suddenly gotten angry and ruined the half-cooked soup in the pot. Zhong Yan paused and tried to avoid bringing up the awkwardness of that day. “That was the first time in seven years that I’ve cooked since graduation.”
So it turns out that he was the only person in this world who had tried Zhong Yan’s cooking skills. Adrian tried to control his emotions, but he could not stop himself from feeling overjoyed.
While filling up the bowls, Zhong Yan tried to probe in a subtle way, “If you’re coming home during New Year’s Eve, should I cook dinner? Just…Just take it as a New Year’s gift.”
They had once gone through two New Year’s Eves together. School starts for the Supreme Institution at the start of the year and ends at the end of the year, with two holidays in between. Due to Adrian having completely thrown the towel with Stalvern, he did not return to the Capital, while Zhong Yan did not even take that small planet as his hometown. With the two left with no home to return to, and with the school unaccepting of stragglers, they went to a tourist planet nearby and rented a room to spend their holidays.
Friends with good relationships would send each other New Year’s gifts, and during those two nights, they waited together for the clock to strike zero, exchanged gifts, and fell asleep.
Adrian knew that he should give a firm rejection to his proposal. He should tell Zhong Yan that there was no need for that. They were not friends anymore. They did not need to exchange any more gifts for New Year’s. He had already reached the edge of the cliff, and he should not let himself come any closer, but…Zhong Yan was leaving soon.
Why not just indulge for a few days? Zhong Yan would not be staying for long anyway. After the New Year’s, Zhong Yan’s assistant will set off from the Capital to come pick him up, and there was only two days before then.
It was a moment of the calm before the storm, it should be fine to indulge himself a little, right? When Zhong Yan leaves, he’ll pay the fines. Then they will have no more reasons for any more private contact. Everything will go back on track.
“Whatever you want,” Adrian heard himself say.
Even though Adrian did not give him a definite answer, Zhong Yan had still bought a lavish selection of ingredients early in the last day of the year.
This is the first New Year’s Eve that he will be spending with Adrian after seven years. The quake was coming. Everything would start to change. Nobody knew if this would be the last one, or if Adrian would even allow him to use his kitchen after tonight; this might be the very last meal he cooked in his life.
So, he pulled out all the skills he had, prepared the recipe plan for the afternoon, and after lunch, he began to work, finally completing his work when the sun had set.
It was only a dinner for two, but he cooked enough to fill the table; all of it were dishes that could be preserved in the fridge for a few days. After all, this was going to be a New Year’s gift. He had to make it grand.
He wondered when the celebration at Navi Military Headquarters would end.
Zhong Yan sat in the living room and went through his documents absent-mindedly. Every other minute, his eyes would peer towards the clock on his terminal.
The minutes and seconds passed, but at eight, Adrian had still not returned. Zhong Yan did not mind. Thinking about it, it would not be good for the General Commander to excuse himself early in a grand celebration such as the New Year’s.
But nine passed, then ten, and even eleven; Adrian had still not returned
At 11:30, Zhong Yan could not sit still any longer. After much hesitation, he called the reception desk of the Navi Military Command.
He never had much hopes to begin with, but he never expected the reception desk to still be operating as usual on a celebration like this. He told them his name and asked, “I would like to ask about the New Year’s celebration for the military command…is it not over yet?”
“Mr. Zhong, are you talking about the New Year’s celebration at the headquarters?” For some reason, the receptionist’s voice sounded very unsure, “It ended long ago. Everyone left after nine because we didn’t want to deprive everyone the right to celebrate with their family and friends. Of course, there may still be private celebrations happening after nine, and for that, I’m not too sure. May I ask if you need something?”
Did that mean…that Adrian was at someone’s private celebration? Was he going to countdown to the New Year’s with his “good friends”?
Zhong Yan pursed his lips, but still decided to ask, “I’m looking for your commander, can you please tell him for me?”
“The commander is not at headquarters.” After a pause, the operator finally could not help but ask, “Is he not with you?”
Zhong Yan said, “No. So he left after the party?”
The operator was surprised. “No, the commander did not attend the party today! We all thought he went home to stay with…Um, well, what I mean is, the commander is not at headquarters right now.”
After thanking the operator, Zhong Yan sat confused in the living room.
Adrian did not attend the celebration at all? So what was he doing? Why was he still not home yet?
Looking at the time, it was now 11:40. Zhong Yan gritted his teeth and found a number in his address book that he had never called.
“Hello, who is this?” That person from the other side asked.
Zhong Yan hesitated for a moment, but he asked in confusion, “Did you not save my communication number? Didn’t we exchange numbers in front of A…in front of him?”
“Zhong Yan?” Fayn was even more confused than he was. “What’re you calling me for? And don’t kid me, I deleted your number long ago. With what happened between you and Adrian back then, why would I still have the contact information of my best friend’s ex-boyfriend? That’s too inappropriate.”
Zhong Yan listened on enviously at him calling out Adrian’s name unimpeded. When he heard the final bit, he was speechless. “What ex-boy…forget it, that’s not important. I called because I wanted to ask, is he with you?”
“What? Is he not with you?”
“No…he didn’t come home.”
“What do you mean he didn’t come home?” Fayn was astonished. “He never came to headquarters at all today. Wasn’t he at home this whole time?”
He didn’t go? But Adrian went out early this morning! Zhong Yan had no clues at all. He hastily responded to Fayn and hung up the call. There was only ten minutes left until twelve.
Where did Adrian go this whole day? Even Fayn did not know his whereabouts…
Zhong Yan had not yet time to think of a reason when a dull bang sounded out from the backyard as if something large had landed on the ground. Zhong Yan could even feel the sofa he was sitting on trembling faintly.
What was that?! Did something invade the yard?
Zhong Yan jumped up and rushed to the kitchen to pull out a kitchen knife. If some armed forces really came in, a knife would actually be of no use with his physical limits, but it was better than going unarmed. Zhong Yan held the knife and carefully approached the window. He pulled open one corner of the curtain and looked outside.
Then, he saw a scene that had him dumbfounded.
Originally, the only thing between the grassland of the house and the backyard was a row of five-meter-tall trees. Not only did they provide shade, they also prevented anyone from looking into the house from the backyard, allowing more privacy; similarly, it was difficult to see what was in the backyard.
The only reason Zhong Yan could see it, was because that thing was much taller than the row of trees.
It was a big, snow-white, fluffy, floppy-eared…
With a beep, someone had opened the back door with the owner’s authorization.
Adrian walked into the house, weather-beaten. He raised his wrist to look at the time: 11:59.
“Hey,” he greeted Zhong Yan who was standing like a fool with a knife in his hand, “Happy New Year.”