When he saw the man and the girl walking next to him, he thought it might be his chance. He came out of the alley where he was hiding, colliding with the man, his hands quickly looking for a wallet that he could take. The girl screamed, and the man held his wrist with quick and precise reflexes. His grip was firm, and Xue Yang tried to escape, grabbing the man's arm to pull, but nothing worked.
He raised his head to discover that the man smiled, calm and soft, his gaze lost in some point of the alley and the cane still in his right hand. The girl seemed angry, she crossed her arms and stared at him with a frown. They weren't alone on the street, he didn't want to put on a show, he didn't want to run away from another detention centre if someone decided to call the police.
"Calm down boy, it's okay. Give me back my wallet and you can go home."
"Dad! Are you really going to let him go like this?"
Xue Yang looked from one to the other, trying to let go of the man's firm grip.
"Close your mouth little blind!" Xue Yang let out a scream when she stepped on his foot
"I'm not blind idiot! Dad! Are you going to let him go?” she crossed her arms again, and the man's grip on his wrist softened
"If he gives back what he had taken from me, of course, give me my wallet and go home, kid. Your parents won't want to know that their son is stealing from a poor blind man, do they?"
"I don't think the dead care about those things, sir. Now let go of me!"
A growl interrupted him and Xue Yang felt the heat rise up his cheeks. He looked at the ground, trying to get his bangs to cover his face
"A-Qing ... how does our friend look like?"
Xue Yang wanted to throw himself at the girl when she looked him up and down, wrinkling her nose in disgust
"Horrible. Like he had rolled down a hill. Or worse. What's the matter?"
Xue Yang looked at his reflection on the store glass they had on the left. That week it had rained, his clothes were full of mud stains, the hoodie was broken after his last fight and he still had a black eye and a swollen lip. He didn't remember at what point he had lost his shoes, he struggled not to laugh, it was true that he looked awful. He seemed pathetic, at that moment he regretted not having used his knife, any other situation would be better than that
"Are you hurt, kid?"
"I'm not a child!" he tried to make his voice sound more serious and deeper. "I'm sixteen! I'll give you your fucking wallet, but let me go!"
"We can walk you home, this is not a good neighborhood..."
The man insisted again, as if he were some kind of good samaritan. That stupid smile painted on his lips. Xue Yang looked him in the eye, a cracked a smile on his lips and laughing before speaking
"I've already told you. My parents are dead, this neighborhood is my house. Take your wallet, I'll find something else to steal."
His stomach began to roar again and Xue Yang cursed between his teeth. He couldn't fall any lower than that.
"Aren't you in any orphanage?" the man asked him almost gently, as if he were afraid to hurt Xue Yang with his questions
"My life is none of your business," Xue Yang dropped his wallet, and the girl held it before it fell to the ground. "Can I go now?"
"Dad?" the girl seemed confused. "Dad you won't be thinking about--"
"My husband and I have a little coffee shop near here, how about we invite you to snack? Looks like you're hungry."
The girl covered her face with her hands, sighing frustrated, as if a man did things like this on a regular basis. There he was again, that innocent smile. Xue Yang felt like a stray dog who was offered food but put his hands in his pockets, trying to look selfless
"So, you can call the social services people later? No thanks"
Thunder stood in the distance and Xue Yang put on his hood while sighing, it looked like he was going to get soaked again
"I'm not going to let you stay on the street under a storm kid..."
It wouldn't be the first time, he thought. Not even the last one. He was used to living with that cold in his bones.
"He promised that I won't call social services, but at least come with us during the storm..." the man looked for his shoulder carefully, giving him an almost affectionate squeeze. "My name´s Xiao Xingchén, this is A-Qing, my daughter... "
Xue Yang looked from one to the other, trying to decide between going back to his alley or following that strangers. He was tired, cold and hungry, the wounds of his last fight still hurt. So, he sighed, he ran a hand through his hair before talking
"Xue Yang, where's that food?"
The storm had started when they were still on their way. The man opened the umbrella he was carrying, the girl sticking to him to cover herself from the rain, Xue Yang just put on the hood, shrinking on himself. Xiao Xingchén looked in his direction, smiling and trying to make room under the umbrella, but Xue Yang growled and kept walking. He had enough solidarity for a lifetime.
When the girl opened the door, some air bells started ringing and Xue Yang looked up. That wasn't a little cafeteria. It was a huge bookstore, a bar counter at one end. A-Qing took the umbrella out of his father's hand and went straight to lie down in one of the reading sofas
Xue Yang stood still at the door, not knowing very well what to do. He was soaked, barefoot and he was a mess. He didn't know how he should behave in a situation like that.
Someone came out of the shelves and Xiao’s face lit up, turning in the direction of the steps with a huge smile on his face
"Zichen!" the man approached smiling, holding Xiao Xingchén´s face in his hands and leaving a kiss on his forehead. "Zichen, this is Xue Yang..."
The man seemed to notice then that he was there and his face was dyed red, Son Lan cleared his throat before looking at him from top to bottom, one of his arms still hooked on his husband's waist.
"Xingchén..." he looked from his husband the girl who was still in the chair
"Don't look at me, it's been his idea, " she shrugged lifting her shoulders and the man looked so tired
"Xingchén... Tell me you didn't bring the kid who stole my watch to our store..."
"Is that true kid?"
Xue Yang looked at him in amazement, now that he thought about it that man remained something to him. And now Xue Yang knew from where, he had left that watch in a pawn shop, he smiled, lying hands in his pockets
"I have told you to stop calling me kid. My life has nothing to do with yours"
"I'm leaving, I'm leaving... I don't know why I bothered to follow you, bye-"
Xiao Xingchén´s hand held him back, with less force than before
"I'm not going to let you go out there with that storm... Zichen... He´s a kid. Don't be mad..." the other man looked away, now he looked like a tomato. "A-Qing can make sure he doesn't steal anything, and she says he looks awful, we can't leave him out there with that storm..."
The man sighed, massaging his temples before nodding
"Okay, okay... you win... A-Qing, make some tea. You, come with me... I'll leave you some shoes and... a sweatshirt or something... I'm Song Lan."
"Ohhh come now, can't I call you Zichen?" Xue Yang said putting his best puppy eyes
"Do it and you'll go back to the street, brat. Come here, before I change my mind... A-Qing is right, you're look like a fucking mess..."
Xue Yang shrugged, he couldn’t complain. The man was right.
He took him to a small bath in the back of the store and disappeared again, saying he was going to get some clean clothes and Xue Yang was left alone with his reflection.
He opened the faucet and wiped his face with hot water, undone his ponytail, trying to brush his hair with his fingers. When he took off his sweatshirt Son Lan entered the bathroom, looking at him surprised
"What do you want? Give me that sweatshirt... can't one have intimacy or what happens here?"
"Sit down right now, brat." Son Lan crouched to look in one of the closets in the bathroom and pulled out a first-aid kit. "You really look terrible... stood still..."
He knelt in front of him, dipping one of the cottons in alcohol to clean his cuts, Xue Yang complained, but the man knew how to work. When his eyesight landed on his hand Xue Yang tried to hide it, but Son Lan was faster.
"How long have you been with this broken hand, brat?"
Xue Yang looked away, he had taken off the gloves he was always wearing and now he regretted it. He didn't want to look at that deformed, broken hand.
"Years? I don't know how many... I was very small when it occurred…”
"A bad healed bone is hard to fix… "
Son Lan sighed before standing
"And on top of that you are in the bones. You should be grateful for Xingchén being blind, you'd be in a hospital right now if he could see you... You got away with it for once, brat. Now change, and took off those bandages before you broke something else."
Xue yang crossed his arms on his chest instinctively, bowing his head, all the cockiness dissipated as he felt like his face would explode out of shame. When the door closed again, Xue Yang took a few minutes to calm down, breathing slowly before changing clothes and throwing all the bandages in the small trash can of the bathroom
When he left the bathroom, the shop was still empty and the family had gathered in one of the seats, Xue Yang approached slowly, almost shyly, to them. He was still barefoot and shaking. Xiao Xingchén gestured to him to approach, putting a blanket over his shoulders as soon as he sat next to him
"I hope you like jasmine tea... grab a cup and warm up..."
Xue Yang obeyed, sticking his knees to his chest and getting more into the blanket to try to warm up
"Are we going to call the police?" Xue Yang strained into his seat. Looking at Xiao Xingchén in panic, waiting for the man to notice
"No... I promised him I wouldn't call anyone."
"We can't do that Xingchén, are you going to let him back on the street? Keep stealing?"
Xue Yang grabbed Xiao Xingchén's sleeve, Son Lan didn't miss the fear he had painted on his face
"Please don't... I can't go back to the orphanage..." he didn't miss the way he was holding his left hand, how he was shaking.
"Is there anyone you want to avoid there?" Xue Yang looked at his hands, letting the bangs cover his eyes before nodding.
"Do you have a solution?"
"There is only one orphanage in Yi City... I'm sixteen years old, no one... adopts someone so old, you can't..."
"Legislation only allows children under the age of fourteen to be adopted. After that... you stay there until you get kicked out for being to old..." A-Qing looked at him and Xue Yang would swear there was grief in her eyes. "I was adopted when I was still little but... I have friends who are still in the orphanage... I don't remember much, but... it wasn't too nice a place..."
"That's why I'd rather stay on the street than spend more time there..."
"Xue Yang...how long have you been on the street?"
Xiao Xingchén passed his fingers thought Xue Yang´s hair slowly, careful not to pull any knot
"Mmmmm.... I don't know. A lot. Guess... more than four years... I was in several foster homes... But they all gave me back..."
"Xingchén... I don't like that face..."
Xue Yang raised his head, the man's fingers were still in his hair. A sweet smile on his lips
"We would have to speak it well and calmly but... we could be your tutors... I don't like the idea of you going back on the street, kid..."
"Xingchén. It's not a cat you found in a box, it's a boy... We can't. Taking him home and saying he's ours now, it doesn't work that way. Look how long it took us to adopt A-Qing. He's older... it's not going to be... so easy. If we decide to do it. Or if he wants to-- "
"Xue Yang, the decision is yours... my husband and I will talk about it calmly, but I think Zichen will accept letting you come home at least tonight. We have a very comfortable sofa..."
"Dad. Do I have to remind you that he's a thief?"
"A thief who is sixteen years old and no place to spend the night.” Xiao Xingchén looked at his family serious and impassively." Do I have to remind you that I also come from an orphanage? If it wasn't for Baoshan Sanren I would have ended up just like this kid... someone gave me a chance when he found me alone and homeless... are you saying that I should have been left on the street too?"
"You weren't a thief dad..."
"Because I was adopted shortly after I was left alone. Who knows what I would have done if Baoshan hadn't appeared in my life... We all deserve a chance"
Son Lan took his husband's hand carefully, taking Xiao Xingchén´s hand to his lips to leave a soft kiss on his knuckles
"It's all right... we're all going to calm down. The child hasn't said anything yet... and you and I are going to have to talk... he can stay tonight, okay? If he wants to... there´s no problem with him sleeping on the couch..."
The eyes of the three were nailed to Xue Yang, who was still confused, trying to process what had just happened in the last few minutes. He played with his long hair, looking from one to the other before nodding
"It's all right... but only because it's raining"
Xiao Xingchén's smile was just as sweet as before, so much so that it is contagious to his husband and child. It looked like he wasn't going to have to sleep in the rain that night.
When three months later, the small studio in the couple's apartment became his room, Xue Yang couldn´t be believed it to be real. They had taken a long time to fix the paperwork, but now, looking at the little bed and desk that were now his, the closet full of clothes and the shelves with some of the books that the couple had left him...it felt a little at home. Although the truth was not sure if that was how he felt, he had never been in a place too long. But it seemed like that place could be a good home.
He could hear Xiao Xingchén and A-Qing talking in the living room. The family cat, a black furry ball, walked between his legs as he meowed for attention
"Do you like it?" Son Lan was leaning on the door. "The room was the only one we could reform…"
"It´s all right, I guess..."
"Stop being a pimp brat... Catch. Xingchén and I have spoken, tomorrow you will come to the doctor with us."
He threw a package at him and Xue Yang looked at him with an eyebrow raised as he opened it. He looked at the surprised man when he saw what he was, it was the first time he had a real binder.
"No bandages. Never again, have you heard?" Xiao Xingchén appeared behind his husband, that sweet smile on her face like always. "And no wearing it when we're at home"
"Okay..." Xue Yang looked back and forth. He still didn't think that was happening.
The couple walked away to make room for him, when they were closing the door Xue Yang used his foot to prevent it. He sighed before speaking
"Doozháng... Song Zichen... Thank you..."
And for the first time in a long time Xue Yang smiled, a sincere and happy smile. He had found a place, and it seemed like he was going to like it