“Happiness, even just a brief moment of it, I wish I could recall…” ─Yue Tui
Even on New Year’s Eve, there were still trials being convened to tie any loose ends on any remaining legal cases from the past year. Most people were fed up with this routine, but they were required to attend. About two out of every five people attending today’s trials felt this way.
This was equivalent to working overtime every New Year’s. Empress Xi Ying’s expression was still as cold as ever, Luo Shi’s expression wasn’t good, Ling Shi looked indifferent, and Yin Shi seemed extremely bored as he watched Wei Shi’s performance.
Looking at the list of criminals being investigated today, it was comprised entirely of New Residents again and most of today would probably just be declaring “death penalty” over and over again. Although it was clearly the same result each time, Wei Shi somehow managed to say different things for each one, as if he had thoroughly investigated the case before deciding that the death penalty was the best punishment. It was to the point where one couldn’t tell if he was seriously hardworking, or if he was just being fastidious. Regardless, this didn’t really improve his reputation among the people.
However, a bit of a unique situation came up today.
Firstly, when they’d reached the ninth criminal or so, just as Wei Shi was still grandiloquently announcing the death sentence:
“Aside from the aforementioned points it’s clear to see from this criminal’s psyche that this was a deliberate crime that he has no regrets about. This means that there is absolutely no chance that this criminal will have a useful future in Eastern City, so I believe that he should be sentenced with the death──”
Before Wei Shi managed to say the last word, his voice suddenly cut off unnaturally.
Everyone turned to look at him in confusion. While they were still trying to figure out what had happened, a light meow reached their ears. It turned out that a cat was currently rubbing against his foot.
Wei Shi had an extremely stiff expression, as if he were struggling to maintain his calm and respond appropriately. At this moment Xi Ying spoke.
“Why is there a cat? Where did it come from?”
“I don’t know how it could have ran in… Or, was it here originally?”
Luo Shi checked the boundary to the area but there were no problems with it. In that case, the cat had most likely been in there since the beginning.
Since Empress Xi Ying’s tone was somewhat unpleased, Wei Shi’s expression paled. The cat, which didn’t know that every person here was a potential threat to its life, was still affectionately rubbing itself against Wei Shi’s foot as if it was trying to win his favor.
“Don’t let the cat interrupt the trial, Wei Shi, and…”
“Your Majesty! I sincerely apologize! My stomach suddenly hurts, so please excuse me leaving for a brief moment!”
Before Xi Ying had even finished her sentence, Wei Shi fervently interrupted her and to everyone’s surprise, immediately ran out of the area in large strides.
“Ah, where did the cat go?” Yin Shi looked left and right but both the cat and Wei Shi were nowhere to be seen.
At the same time, Ling Shi turned around with his hand covering his mouth, seemingly making a supreme effort to keep himself from laughing. Ying Shi and Luo Shi hadn’t comprehended the situation yet while Xi Ying was also clueless.
Of course, the four of them couldn’t possibly wait for a single person, so the trials continued after Wei Shi left. With one less advocate for capital punishment, two of the criminals actually managed to escape the death sentence.
After the kitten disturbance, Wei Shi returned wearing glasses, back to his previous, shrewd appearance and calm demeanor. Thus, he continued to give out his ‘wise’ opinions on the criminals’ sentences, sending each convict to their death to prevent those ill-reputed New Residents from taking up space in the city.
But just when the trials were reaching their end another astonishing situation arose.
The current case was, like the previous ones, regarding a New Resident. However, this time the subject was a child who had just turned eight years old this year. He hadn’t been in Eastern City for very long before he was discovered stealing food, and recklessly attacked and injured several people in a panicked attempt to flee. Thus, he’d been seized and brought to trial.
Although this wasn’t a very serious crime, this kind of case wasn’t uncommon and Wei Shi had always concluded it with a death sentence, so it would be expected for this child to meet a bad end too. Luo Shi bit his lip and looked as if he wanted to speak up and Yin Shi seemed to be having a hard time as well. Both were waiting for Wei Shi to speak and preparing to refute his suggestion. But to their surprise, after Xi Ying asked for everyone’s opinions, Wei Shi remained silent for a long while, unlike his immediate, self-righteous responses of ‘death penalty’ from before.
This was already strange enough, but what followed was even stranger.
After a long while of internal struggle, his words were:
“Since the perpetrator is still young and his living needs hadn’t quite been met, I ask for Your Majesty to administer the punishment for this one under a more merciful light. A lighter sentence such as forced labor or prison time, perhaps.”
The fact that the words “lighter sentence” had come from Wei Shi’s mouth in regard to a New Resident was enough to make Yin Shi and the others gape in astonishment. The sentences that he had suggested were extremely lenient, to the point where it was unimaginable.
“Wei Shi, have you finally seen the light? Have you realized that the death penalty isn’t that great after all?”
Yin Shi couldn’t resist asking this question. This entire situation was just too strange, completely different from Wei Shi’s normal behavior.
“As if! It’s just because the child is very cu–….Children are the country’s assets, its future pillars, and they must be looked after! They can’t just be killed at will!”
But if they’re discovered to have gone astray after having grown up, they must be killed as quickly as possible? Really?
Did Wei Shi even realize that a New Resident’s child wouldn’t ever grow up properly…
In short, even after all the trials ended and Yin Shi left, he still found the entire situation strange.
“Wei Shi, is that guy really Wei Shi? Is this some kind of prank, and it’s actually someone else pretending to be him?”
“Who would do that? Hui Shi?”
Ling Shi retorted with a tactless joke.
“But he was nothing like Wei Shi! In what way was that person like Wei Shi?”
“His naivete, and the way he executes things.”
Ling Shi calmly replied, having clearly not found anything odd about Wei Shi’s actions today.
“Ah, old man, I bet it’s just that your eyes are completely different from mine, right? And your ears? Are we hearing completely different things?”
“No, you just don’t have eyes or ears.”
“What! I clearly have eyes and ears! Ask Xiao Luo Shi and Ying, they can back me up!”
“I definitely know that they will confirm your lack of eyes and ears. The only one who would be able to unconditionally verify your words is Xiao Rou.”
“What! Why are you so horrid you old fart!”
Ling Shi was clearly very used to hearing Yin Shi’s disagreeability, so he obviously didn’t respond to these words either.
“We’re going to get together with the others tonight, have you prepared your dish?”
From the sound of his exclamation, he seemed to have forgotten about this.
“I’m doomed! I haven’t even bought any cooking utensils yet! Ling Shi, can a sword be used to cook a dish? Can it?”
“Even if it could, you wouldn’t be able to do so.”
Besides, couldn’t things like cooking utensils easily be found and borrowed from Shen Wang Dian?
“Exactly what dish do you want to make?”
“Oh, I found a pretty cool one from the cookbook I got last time called ‘Baked Pepper Asparagus Seafood Steak Salad with Lemon Vinegar Salmon Sauce’. What do you think?”
“…What kind of alien cookbook did you get that from? If you can really make that, I’ll address you as ‘The Great Yin Shi’ from now on.”
In terms of naivete, Yin Shi was on par with Wei Shi.
Compared to Shen Wang Dian where borrowing cooking utensils was easy, Fan Tong and Yue Tui had a lot more difficulty trying to borrow the kitchen utensils at the student dorms. Although the dorms did have a kitchen that students could use, it required them to line up, and they had limited time for using it. By the time they’d finally gotten their turn after lining up for an entire morning, they only had half an hour to use it. In addition, by the time their time was up, their final product was an appalling sight as well.
There were things like burnt egg, meat that was charcoal black on the surface but not even cooked in the middle, and some very wrongly seasoned noodles.
Putting aside the horrible product, the kitchen was beyond recognition as well. So, after their time was up, they were forced to clean the entire kitchen before being allowed to leave as punishment.
“What to do?”
“What do we do…”
The two of them looked at each other in dismay with the feeling of facing a hopeless end.
“We can’t present any dishes…”
That’s right… If we can’t provide any presentable dishes ourselves, then how can we ridicule others when they bring out strange dishes…
“If we don’t present any decent dishes or gifts, we’ll be empty-handed on both fronts. Great.”
I’m definitely not trying to sound so sour on purpose! I meant to say that since we don’t have a dish, we still have the afternoon to prepare gifts so that we won’t lose too much face.
“No, it would be too tragic if the situation developed to that point. Let’s go choose some gifts first, and I’ll think some more about what to do for the dish…”
Yue Tui took out the wages they’d gotten from working today, and split it evenly with Fan Tong before they each went their own ways to find gifts. After all, presents should have a certain level of mysteriousness, and if they went together, they’d know what each other had chosen. Thus, they split ways.
Fan Tong found himself wandering randomly back and forth on the streets since he hadn’t quite decided what he wanted to buy. Presents were equivalent to breaking one’s own bank to give money to others. Buying anything too expensive was painful, but buying anything too cheap made one seem petty. In addition, since the gift exchange was lottery-based, there was no way of knowing who would get what. Without knowing who the receiver would be, choosing a present became much harder, and he found the task extremely difficult.
Why celebrate New Year’s like this? It’s so troublesome.
“Are you planning on buying this or not? If you’re not, don’t just stand there, you’re blocking other people’s views.”
Perhaps because he looked so shabby, the salesperson grew impatient with him and tried to kick him out when they saw him looking left and right, clearly short on money and very hesitant.
How do you even run your business! Haven’t you ever heard that amiability makes you rich! Even if I originally wanted to buy something, I won’t anymore!
Whenever Fan Tong encountered this kind of store, he’d simply switch to another one. However, even after searching around for a while, he hadn’t found anything satisfactory. Not only did his cooking have no sincerity, he lacked the genuineness to give others gifts as well. Really, he was just going through the motions that he was being forced to do.
Eventually, a brilliant idea came to him. He suddenly realized that he could give away something he was expert at making as a gift; after all, using the local specialty of one’s hometown was always a good choice for a present. He couldn’t possibly obtain the technology and goods here that he’d used to use, but fortune-telling goods weren’t hard to make on the spot.
Thus, he bought a small wooden plaque, borrowed a brush and some ink, and wrote some peace charms. After he finished, he began to walk back home while marveling at his own elegant calligraphy, before suddenly facepalming.
Ah! What’s wrong with me! I could’ve just written the calligraphy on paper and used that as my gift! To think I even went and specially bought a wooden plaque! Such a waste──
The sight of a full-grown man suddenly clutching his head in frustration in the middle of the street was enough to make others whisper amongst themselves as they passed, not daring to approach him. At this point, Fan Tong had finally realized how strange his actions were as well, and he lowered his head and walked away in embarrassment.
The only good thing about buying the wooden plaque was that they’d given him a small box for free as a bonus, which saved him the trouble of wrapping the gift. But when he thought about it again, he decided that he’d rather wrap it with string, so he walked to a nearby store to get some.
This shop’s owner was pretty nice, and was willing to lend the string to him. As the owner went to retrieve the string, Fan Tong took a casual look at the things being sold there. Just then, his eyes caught something on one of the displays and his heart skipped a beat.
Ah, this is…
By the time Fan Tong returned to the dorm, Yue Tui was already there waiting. He’s bought his gift incredibly fast, making Fan Tong feel inferior.
Zhu Sha was taking a nap, so Yue Tui greeted Fan Tong in a hushed voice so as not to disturb him.
“Yue Tui, the food…”
“Ah, don’t worry, I asked Bi Rou to help me buy new ingredients and finished preparing the dish already. Just tell them we made it together.”
How could you be so fast? We even spent the entire morning distressed without a clue on what to do about this, didn’t we?
“Where… is it?”
“I put it in there.”
Yue Tui pointed at a basket covered by a cloth near his foot. Fan Tong couldn’t help but bend down to uncover it in curiosity, only to stiffen, goosebumps forming all over his body.
Holy crap! What is that! Actually, should I be saying as expected of Yue Tui, creating something only he could ever make? If we said we made it together, who would believe me! Exactly which part of that did I make?!
Fan Tong silently covered it with the cloth again. Actually, it wasn’t a bad dish, he was just slightly shocked. However, at this point he didn’t really care anymore. As long as they could say they had tried, anything was fine.
“Fan Tong, what do you think?”
Yue Tui looked somewhat uncertain and wanted an evaluation from the person before him.
“It’s, it’s very normal. I think anyone would be able to recognize it.”
No, no, no! I was saying that it was amazing and that only you could make something like that!
Upon seeing Yue Tui’s dejected or disappointed expression, Fan Tong hurriedly added another question to shift Yue Tui’s attention.
“Did Zhu Sha see it? What did he say?”
“Yes. He said… why waste my time and do all this to some food…”
Yue Tui let out a dispirited sigh after accepting these two reviews.
That’s… what terrible luck… can’t someone please console him? I actually think it’s amazing, but this mouth of mine is just impossible──
“Yue Tui, did you finish buying your gift?”
“Mhm, I didn’t know what to get so I just chose randomly. Anyways, I guess we’ll just wait until it’s time to meet up with the others.”
It sounds like everything is prepared, not bad at all.
When night fell, Bi Rou came to notify them of the gathering location and all three went together. Since the weather was nice and they’d heard that there would be shooting stars tonight, they decided to have a picnic at a nice grassy place nearby. Neither Fan Tong nor Yue Tui had any objections; having a picnic on the grass seemed to be much better than going to Shen Wang Dian.
Surprisingly, Yin Shi and Ling Shi were already there in addition to a third person who originally said he wasn’t coming.
Yue Tui shot an astonished look at Luo Shi sitting next to Yin Shi and Ling Shi, pleasantly surprised by his presence.
“Didn’t you say you couldn’t come because you were busy?”
“Some space suddenly opened up!”
Luo Shi was very thin-skinned and couldn’t even properly reply.
“Ah, I brought him with us because I thought Xiao Luo Shi looked as if he really wanted to come.”
Yin Shi nonchalantly said, causing Luo Shi to immediately retort.
“As if I wanted to come! I just didn’t have anything to do!”
“But you said you bought your gift ages ago…”
“No way! I bought it just today!”
Lord Yin Shi, please stop trying to expose him, it’s unfair. Just empathize a bit with his thin skin.
“It’s really great that you were able to come.”
Yue Tui looked extremely delighted. Indeed, the more the merrier when friends gather.
By now, the sky had begun to darken. After the last traces of the sun’s presence had faded, the moon rose into the heavens illuminating the evening sky.
Everyone sat down on the grass. The comfortable breeze and fresh air created a nice ambiance. Since even the moon had come out by now, it was naturally already dinnertime. Under Bi Rou’s lead, everyone started to reveal the dishes they’d prepared and braced for inspection.
“I made sandwiches! This is a light and convenient food in Western City; I’m sure none of you have eaten these before, right?”
The first one to show off food for everyone to see was Bi Rou who had made normal-looking sandwiches that seemed perfectly harmless. When Fan Tong saw this, he immediately felt remorse for not having thought of that himself.
Sandwiches! Sandwiches, such simple things! All you have to do is stack all the ingredients on top of one another and there’s no issue of it tasting good or bad, plus anyone can make them. Why did we give ourselves headaches by spending so much time cooking food?!
“Ah, I have indeed never seen them before. Xiao Rou, you really are so perfect.”
Simply being able to make sandwiches means they are perfect? Lord Yin Shi, I think your standards are way too low.
“Really? Am I ready to marry now?”
Being able to make sandwiches means you’re ready to marry? Do you think being a housewife is that easy?
“Ah, of course you can! Xiao Rou, do you want to marry someone? If you want to marry, I’ll take you as my wife.”
Someone help and please drag them away, preferable to the ends of the earth where they can disappear forever and not discuss marriage here!
“Oh? I’m so happy! But, but…”
The strange thing was that Bi Rou didn’t seem to immediately reply in joy, and instead began to hesitate after an initial brief flash of delight.
“You’re not the one she wants to marry.”
Ling Shi coldly stated while drinking some tea that he had brought for everyone.
“Huh! What! Xiao Rou, don’t you like me?”
Lalala~ Just please break up──stop blinding us with your lovey-dovey acts──
Fan Tong felt like his own jerk side was indeed very hard to deal with since saying anything unpleasant could result in him being called lowly. However, as he was the type who would never get a chance to date, he felt that feeling disdain upon seeing a sight like this was inevitable.
“I like you! But, but…”
But what? Could it be that you’re a guy as well?
Fan Tong made some conjectures on his own. After witnessing the strange situation with Zhu Sha, he felt that even if Bi Rou did suddenly say she wasn’t a girl, he wouldn’t be surprised.
However, a long while passed and Bi Rou was still unable to explain. Yin Shi seemed somewhat hurt, and turned around to start drawing circles in a corner. Everyone quickly began to continue displaying their dishes so that the atmosphere wouldn’t die.
The next person to go was Luo Shi. Although he insisted that he had only decided to come last minute and had been dragged by Yin Shi, he had still prepared a dish. In addition, it seemed like he’d put in a lot of effort in making tofu, which made it even harder for anyone to believe his claims.
“So Xiao Luo Shi also knows how to cook? It looks pretty good.”
In reality, rich people like them could actually just buy pre-made food or ask someone else to prepare it for them, it wasn’t like anyone would be able to tell. However, Fan Tong was sure that Luo Shi had made it personally since Luo Shi was a very hard-working person, and wouldn’t choose any lazy alternatives.
“This tofu looks like it would take quite a bit of time to make, definitely at least two hours.”
Ling Shi judged with experienced eyes.
Oh, Luo Shi, just confess that you decided to come ages ago. Perhaps you even started making it yesterday and failed several times before producing something you were satisfied with…
“At the very least, I’ve tried it and it should be ok, so just eat it.”
Luo Shi modestly said. Although he feigned an air of indifference, his face still failed him and reddened a bit.
Your skin really is so very thin…
Yin Shi’s turn was next. When he took out his dish, nearly everyone’s eyes popped out.
“What… what is that…”
Fan Tong couldn’t help but utter these words, unable to restrain his panic.
“Ah, this? Mm… I guess it’s a failure because I didn’t have enough ingredients. I wasn’t able to make what I really wanted to, but it’s something like gratin.”
What do you mean you guess you failed! Did you even try to make this properly? Not enough ingredients? If there aren’t enough ingredients, you can’t use that as replacement can you? Why is there the base of a goblet poking out? And that’s clearly some pieces of porcelain on the surface! What exactly are you trying to make us eat, is that even edible? Gratin? Porcelain gratin? Glass shard gratin?
Please try eating it yourself first…
“Yin, do you really know what food is?”
Ling Shi asked Yin Shi with a smile, but while that smile was extremely beautiful it also had a harshness behind it.
“Huh? Are you talking about the goblet, bell, pearls, ring, porcelain fragments, and glass powder? Those are just ornaments. Don’t think that the shiny glass pieces look pretty on top?”
…So there were actually so many terrifying things in it. And there’s just enough for each person to get some? You’re really too considerate.
Fan Tong firmly agreed with the impression that “Lord Yin Shi really is an idiot.”
“Can you tell me what else you put in there aside from those ‘ornaments’?”
Lord Ling Shi’s smile is turning more and more scary. You should really give at least one answer that will satisfy him.
“Ah, actually I wasn’t really able to stuff anything else in after putting all those ornaments, so I just covered the mix and baked it.”
You’re doomed, Lord Yin Shi.
“…I demand you to eat that entire thing by yourself right now.”
“Ah! Why! Is there something wrong with it? I think it’s pretty cool! Xiao Rou, do you think this would taste bad?”
Yin Shi, who had just suffered a blow from his companion, turned his hopes onto his lover.
As expected, you can’t answer huh. You need to think carefully; if you say it looks good, then you might have to eat it with him as a lover’s meal. Can true love really endure the test of eating broken glass?
“It… it shouldn’t be that bad…”
Wow, have you mentally prepared yourself to jump into hell and stay there for all eternity?
“That’s right! I feel that way too!”
Yin Shi grabbed a spoon and ate a bit, seemingly unable to sense any abnormality.
“Xiao Rou, do you want to try a mouthful too?”
Yin Shi brought his dish over to Bi Rou. Her face was somewhat ashen, as if she was facing a test of her love, but she still made an effort to pick up the spoon and eat a mouthful.
“How is it? Is it good?”
Bi Rou replied with tear-filled eyes. Those definitely were not tears of delight at its deliciousness.
Ling Shi seemed somewhat unable to continue watching and turned away with a sigh.
You’re really brave. I’ve changed my opinion of you two; you guys should just do whatever you want.
But if you dared to even eat glass for him, why aren’t you willing to marry Yin Shi?
Also, Lord Ling Shi, you’re really heartless to not even try to stop her. Don’t tell me that you also wanted to see how solid Bi Rou’s feelings are, like I did?
I’m really starting to believe that this New Year’s gathering is supposed to be a convention to administer punishment, or some kind of punishment game if we have to eat those kinds of things…
Fan Tong and Yue Tui went next. After Yue Tui stated that they’d prepared the dish together he brought the basket up and took away the cloth on top.
Although everyone didn’t stare blankly at it the same way Fan Tong had, they still froze.
Simply put, it looked like some fruit. However, these were fruit that had been processed.
There were unbelievably thick slices arranged at the bottom. Some of the fruit had been transformed into a beautiful display after the middle had been carved out. In the center of the dish were fruit-carved flowers that could only be achieved by amazing skill with the blade. The entire appearance was extremely pleasing to the eye, but rather than food, it seemed more like an art masterpiece.
“Oh… it’d kind of be a shame to eat this.”
Bi Rou expressed everyone else’s thoughts, excluding Yin Shi. Ling Shi speculated that it was probably because Yin Shi had been born with a lack of appreciation towards beauty, to the point where it was doubtful if he could even distinguish a beautiful woman from an ugly one.
Although this dish was clearly prepared with sincerity, Luo Shi couldn’t help but question:
“Yue Tui, you said you did this with Fan Tong… what exactly did Fan Tong do?”
Very good, you’ve asked the central point.
It’s true that one could tell Yue Tui did it with a single glance. With my clumsiness, how could I ever help…
This lie was one that Yue Tui had to justify. Fan Tong himself had absolutely no idea how to. Yue Tui struggled to smile and replied:
Oh, the platter…brilliant answer! If only your smile was a bit more genuine…
One could tell from Yue Tui’s expression that it wasn’t the truth, but asking any further would just put Yue Tui in a difficult spot. Nobody could bear bullying Yue Tui for being a good kid that was trying to help the shameless Fan Tong cover the reality of him not having a dish prepared, so nobody pursued the topic any further.
The last person remaining was Ling Shi. As the only expert at cooking, the dish he presented obviously smelled, looked, and tasted great. Preparing a dish himself was a piece of cake to him. Plus, he’d anticipated that nobody else would be able to really provide any decent food, so he had specially prepared a bit more. The amount he had was enough to fill everyone’s hunger tonight. When Fan Tong saw Ling Shi pull out different food one after another, he couldn’t help but feel extremely grateful.
It’s really great that we have Lord Ling Shi! As long as we bring him whenever we go out, everything will be okay!
Of course, Yin Shi was the only one who could make Ling Shi go outside. Fan Tong knew this was something he’d never be able to do.
“The dishes are all done, let’s all start eating──”
As long as they ignored Yin Shi’s weird gratin, all the other dishes were generally accepted. Thus, everyone began to move their chopsticks towards the food they wanted.
Most of them went for Ling Shi’s dishes, Luo Shi’s tofu, and Bi Rou’s sandwiches. As for Yue Tui’s dish, that was fruit meant for dessert, so they would naturally eat it later.
Although Fan Tong was indulging himself with the great food, he noticed that Yin Shi, Ling Shi, and Bi Rou didn’t really eat. At a meal like this with everyone gathered together, it was very easy to notice that they didn’t touch the food. Even Luo Shi found this strange.
“Are you guys not eating? There’s enough food.”
“Ah, but, I’m not hungry.”
This was Yin Shi’s reply.
So, Lord Yin Shi, you actually ran off to eat somewhere else before coming here?
“I… just ate Yin Shi’s gratin.”
After Bi Rou gave her explanation, everyone else seemed to empathize with her lack of appetite.
Although it was just a small bite, I’m sure it was an extremely uncomfortable experience, right?
“I don’t have any interest in eating the food I made myself.”
Ling Shi replied, then looked over at the sandwiches Bi Rou had prepared and smiled.
“However, I must try some of what Xiao Rou made to cheer her on.”
Lord Ling Shi, it’s really a shame that you don’t go out and try to catch some girls. One can only say that your appearance is to blame.
“Ah! What! As if I’d let you eat any. All of the remaining sandwiches are mine!”
When Yin Shi heard Ling Shi’s words he grabbed all the sandwiches away before Ling Shi had reached out for one, clearly not letting anyone else touch them.
His jealousy is really a bit overboard.
Or maybe it could be called a desire for exclusive treatment? A common problem among men.
But even if you do that, Bi Rou won’t ever grab your gratin and say “This is mine, nobody else can eat it.”
“Would you not waste food? You can’t even finish them. Hand over the sandwiches.”
In short, the sandwiches were seized by Yin Shi. Who knew if he was planning on bringing them back and offering them as sacrifices or something. Either way, even without the sandwiches, there was still enough food. Thus, everyone just let him be.
After eating, it was time for the next highlight: the gift exchange.
Since everyone had decided to celebrate the New Year the Western way, and the only one that seemed to really know how to do that was Bi Rou, everyone followed her words.
“I’ve prepared lots, everyone draw one!”
Bi Rou had folded some pieces of paper and held them in her hand, waiting for each person to draw. However, Yin Shi didn’t seem to understand the point.
“Ah, Xiao Rou, why are we drawing lots?”
“Huh? To decide who gets whose gift. You have to give your present to the person you draw…”
“What! I thought we were just giving the gift to whoever we wanted!”
At this moment, Yin Shi began to panic.
Can you at least try to think? Did you think that exchanging gifts was like exchanging diaries? If everyone gave gifts to whoever they wanted, wouldn’t it be extremely awkward if someone didn’t get any?
“Nope, we have to follow the rules. In addition, there’s one added rule.”
Bi Rou smiled widely, clearly excited to announce this rule.
“When you give your gift away, you have to hug the one you drew and give them a kiss to express your enthusiasm and good will!”
When Bi Rou announced this, Fan Tong felt his facial expression twist, and his stomach began to churn.
Miss, why do you look so happy about this? Regardless of whether you’re kissing or hugging the other person, if you aren’t doing it to Lord Yin Shi, won’t you be the one to suffer? You’re the only girl, you know.
If I draw Lord Ling Shi, does that mean I should go back and brag to Mi Zhong about it? …No, I’d probably be beaten up to pulp if I did that…
“Since when did such rules exist!”
Yue Tui asked in horror and shock. He probably didn’t really want to get very intimate with another person.
“This is a tradition in Western City”
Bi Rou blinked her eyes as if this was obvious.
Sigh, I feel like drawing lots like this is extremely stressful. If I draw the wrong person, the situation could turn very scary…
“Alright, who wants to go first?”
Yin Shi was still as energetic as before. Perhaps he felt that choosing any remaining lots after someone else had picked meant that his fate was partially decided by someone else. As the proverb said, if one wants to die, they should die by their own hands.
He drew a lot, and everyone else waited for the result. He opened the paper slip and read out the name with slight confusion.
“Fan…Tong? Who’s that?”
Oi! That can’t be!
Not only, not only is there a problem with the fact that you still don’t remember a name as simple as mine, why would I be chosen by you! This joke is too much, isn’t it?
“Ah! It’s you?”
After Yin Shi realized Fan Tong was ‘the mop’s owner’ he seemed unwilling.
“If it were Xiao Luo Shi, it would still be okay! But my arms will not hold a man! Xiao Rou!”
What are you trying to say, do you think I want to be held by a man? Also, it’s okay as long as you don’t recognize Luo Shi as a man?
Luo Shi’s expression turned dark. It looked like this statement had really offended him.
“Yin Shi, you can’t. You have to follow the rules.”
Bi Rou had no intention of being lenient and insisted they both stick to the rules.
“Or how about this, if you don’t like the rule, we can change it to the receiver hugging and giving a kiss to the giver to express their gratitude. I’ll let you choose.”
…Both options sound uncomfortable. In addition, why are you letting him choose? Is my opinion so unimportant that I don’t even have the right to choose?
“Ah! No! It sounds horrible just thinking about it!”
Fan Tong felt like he was being resented, but he clearly didn’t want to accept this situation either.
“Just pretend he’s a woman and it’ll be extremely easy for you, won’t it?”
Ling Shi sarcastically remarked while sipping his tea, adopting an air of indifference.
“But he’s nothing like one!”
“Wait, easy if it’s a woman…?”
Bi Rou’s ears perked and immediately inquired about the keywords she’d caught.
“Those women that always come to Shen Wang Dian to see Yin Shi, obviously…”
“Ah! Ahhhh! No! That’s not true! Those women are there to visit Ling Shi!”
“I’m sorry, but typically speaking the people that come to Shen Wang Dian to see me are men.”
Lord Yin Si, just a second ago you were struggling to defame your friend’s name to clear your own name, and the next second you’re laughing heartily at your opposing side’s truthful assertion? Is that really okay?
“Whatever, can you just do it? We still have to continue the event.”
“I know, alright.”
Whoa! Wait a minute! Are you really doing it? Seriously?
Fan Tong was a bit scared, and frantically looked left and right. However, there was no way he would be able to run away in this situation. In the end, he could only let Yin Shi reach out to touch his shoulders and then give him a peck on his cheek.
“This counts as hugging and kissing right?”
Bi Rou pouted in slight disappointment.
Oi, what exactly do you want? Did you think that a passionate kiss with tongues intertwining was something two straight men would be able to accept?
It was also a Western City tradition to open the gift on the spot. As soon as Fan Tong unwrapped the present, his face immediately turned dark.
It’s… very adorable, pink woman’s clothing. If a cute girl was to receive this they’d definitely be very happy, but I’m not a cute girl arghhhhh!
“I originally thought we were giving gifts to whoever we wanted, ok? It was for Xiao Rou!”
Then Miss Bi Rou, it’s better for you to just take it. I really don’t want it. Although giving away a received gift is impolite, I’m sure neither of you would mind, right?
“Fan Tong, do you like it?”
Luo Shi took advantage of the situation to interject.
“Of course I like it…. ah!”
Luo Shi! You’re toying with me again!
By the time Fan Tong had realized he’d been tricked, Luo Shi had already hid himself in the back to snicker to himself.
Ahhh! Can you guys not look at me like that! I just misspoke there! Although people normally speak the truth when they misspeak, that’s not applicable to me! Luo Shi, you’d better remember this! I’m going to tell Yue Tui bad things about you!
“The receiver is the next person to draw lots, and this continues until the end.”
That meant it was Fan Tong’s turn to draw. Fan Tong didn’t object, and randomly reached out to grab a paper slip. The instant he unfolded it and read the name written, his face twitched.
Ugh, so I have to hug Luo Shi, give him a kiss, and then give my gift to him?
If it weren’t at this special gathering, there’d be a high chance I would be slapped by him and then called out for harassment, right?
“It’s Luo Shi. Go on, give your present!”
Luo Shi was also given a shock, and his expression turned ugly.
“Tsk, whatever, just come.”
Why must you make it sound like you’re generously offering to be a martyr?
Of course, Fan Tong wouldn’t go overboard. His ‘hug’ was really just the level of touching, and kissing was even less so; whether that touched skin or not was unknown, but it was done in a flash. Who cared about the details.
Luo Shi opened the gift. His expression didn’t particularly show any dislike for the calligraphed wooden plaque, and properly said thank you.
When Luo Shi then drew Yue Tui’s name, his expression completely changed. Fan Tong didn’t know how to even describe the subtle, complex look on Luo Shi’s face, but he was just waiting for an entertaining scene to unfold.
Luo Shi walked up to Yue Tui and seemed unable to act. Perhaps he didn’t even know what to say. It looked as if he was quickly turning into a stiff wooden sculpture. Since it seemed to be going nowhere, Yue Tui just went and hugged Luo Shi himself and pecked his face before thanking him and taking the gift with an overall extremely practiced manner.
Luo Shi’s gift was extremely useful, a pack of high quality Fu Zhou papers. However, Yue Tui excelled at everything but Fu Zhou, so giving it to him was basically a waste.
As for the respected Luo Shi that had turned into a human statue, he seemed to have petrified into stone after receiving Yue Tui’s hug. Who knew when he’d return to a functional state?
You’re clearly very happy, exactly how thin is your skin?
Next, to his unfortunate luck, Yue Tui drew Bi Rou.
Of course, the only one who would know this was unfortunate was Fan Tong, who was always with him. He felt that while Yue Tui had become as rigid as Luo Shi, Bi Rou was very happy.
“Oh, Yue Tui’s gift is for me? So happy~”
Oi, you already have Yin Shi, stop trying to get Yue Tui as well! Have you really not realized he dislikes you?
Because rejecting would make his thoughts too obvious and it was inappropriate for this kind of situation, Yue Tui smiled with great difficulty and gave Bi Rou a hug and a superficial peck. His gift was a small potted plant. Although Bi Rou said she’d take good care of it, Fan Tong felt that Yue Tui’s gaze towards Bi Rou turned colder after their hug.
There were two people left. Technically, there should’ve been a high chance of Bi Rou drawing Yin Shi, but she just had to draw Ling Shi. Although Yin Shi’s eyes grew wide in protest, he couldn’t change the reality.
“Wow, Xiao Rou is giving her gift to me? And she’s even going to hug and kiss me, not bad.”
Ling Shi glanced at Yin Shi, his tone complacent. His gaze seemed to be purposely baiting Yin Shi, and Yin Shi, being very simple-headed, became enraged.
“You old fart! You can’t take advantage of Xiao Rou like that!”
Really, Bi Rou, are you seriously going to hug another man in front of your lover? You’re not afraid of causing hostility between friends? The Western City must be very open-minded…
“There’s nothing wrong with her calling me Gege and hugging me, right? Xiao Rou, don’t you agree?”
There’s something very wrong, to the point where it could be called cheating.
“Mm, Yin Shi, don’t be mad, it’s no big deal…”
Bi Rou said before giving Ling Shi a big hug and kissing his face.
No big deal? The fact that you two hugged each other the tightest is no big deal? Lord Ling Shi, you must feel great. Is this what you would call neglecting your friends when in love?
However, Ling Shi quickly stopped smiling, and Yin Shi’s expression changed from green to gloomy; they realized that there was only one slip remaining and Ling Shi had yet to draw. In other words, Ling Shi’s gift was to be given to Yin Shi.
“Ahhh! Old man, get away from me! I don’t want to be hugged by you!”
“As if I want to! Do you think your body armor is soft?”
“Get away, get away, get away! I don’t want your gift! Shoo!”
“I would prefer to give it to the guards in front of Shen Wang Dian over you, but this is a rule that we have to follow, don’t we?”
Yin Shi refused to submit even unto death. When Ling Shi hugged him with an expression of loathing and his lips brushed against Yin Shi’s face, Yin Shi had an expression of extreme disgust. It was an extremely displeasing experience for the both of them…
Ling Shi’s gift was just a different approach to Luo Shi’s. While Luo Shi had given away blank Fu Zhou, Ling Shi had given away already drawn Fu Zhou that could be used immediately. It was a pity that giving it to Yin Shi was just a waste, as he could already draw the charms, rendering the gift useless.
After the gift exchange was completed, everyone sat on the grass and chatted. Occasionally, they’d spot a shooting star and would hurriedly make a wish.
Fan Tong had once heard that any wishes made on a shooting star would come true, so he couldn’t help but get excited by the sight of shooting stars streaking across the sky. Thus, when he caught one from the corner of his eye, he opened his mouth to make a wish.
“I hope that my debt will not disappear! The more the better!”
The shooting star disappeared into the horizon.
Both him and the others that had heard his wish couldn’t bring themselves to speak any further.
Eventually, everyone somewhat dispersed. Yue Tui, who wanted some peace and quiet, went to sit in another corner and would come back to the central area only to retrieve tea once in a while.
“Bi Rou, why don’t you want to marry?”
Because he happened to pass by Bi Rou sitting alone next to the tea, Fan Tong couldn’t help but ask out of curiosity.
“I just feel that if Yin Shi knew my true face, he wouldn’t want me.”
Bi Rou sadly replied. Fan Tong couldn’t figure out why.
“Don’t tell me your true face is extremely beautiful?”
“I was beautiful in the first place… ah, are you being sarcastic and saying that my current appearance isn’t beautiful? How mean.”
No….. just forget it.
Because they couldn’t understand each other, Fan Tong gave up on asking and after filling his cup with tea, turned to walk to where Yue Tui was sitting.
Although Yue Tui probably wanted to enjoy his time quietly alone, Fan Tong still needed to do something, so he walked over and sat next to Yue Tui.
“Yue Tui, this…”
Fan Tong took out a wrapped box. Yue Tui looked at him in confusion.
“….? This is?”
Yue Tui grew even more confused.
“Isn’t the gift exchange… didn’t you draw Luo Shi? Your present… huh?”
You’re so lost. Really, is it that hard to understand?
“I bought this as an additional thing since I wanted to give you a present. I think you’ll like it. Ah, and I hope that you continue to give me advice this year.”
It’s really great that the curse didn’t do anything! Victory!
Yue Tui finally understood. His originally blank expression turned happy, and he immediately opened the present to discover something he’d never seen before.
“This is a Thousand Grass Cylinder. If you look through there and turn it, you’ll see different images.”
Yue Tui immediately looked into the kaleidoscope like Fan Tong instructed and grew amazed. He then excitedly played around with it, seemingly enjoying the gift very much as some energy returned to his gaze. After playing for a bit, he remembered that Fan Tong was still next to him, and felt ashamed for having ignored his presence.
“Fan Tong, thank you for your gift, I really like it.”
You’re welcome, I used the money I borrowed from you to buy it.
“Mm, I’m going to go grab some food, you can keep looking at it.”
After Fan Tong left, Yue Tui looked at the kaleidoscope some more before finally putting it down and shifting his gaze back to the night sky as he had before.
His mood seemed to shift from endless loneliness to one of tranquility.
A distance away, he could hear the chatter of his friends. He could feel the chilly night breeze on his skin. He could smell the scent of fresh grass in the air. And he could see the never-ending night sky and the moon that slowly climbed its way up… nevertheless, he felt disconnected from the world.
He lifted his head to look up and murmured softly to himself:
“The current me can use these eyes and look up at the same starry sky you see…”
With the chattering and laughter in the background, the youth’s quiet words were faint and indistinct.
The name he uttered silently afterwards also vanished from his closed lips.
“You’re what?” Tang Feng didn’t know how to react. What did Lu Tian Chen just say? He was jealous?
“Do you need me to repeat it?” Lu Tian Chen drove calmly down the street, and said in the same calm manner, “I’m jealous.”
“Oh.” Tang Feng finally understood. He leaned back in his seat and mulled over the deeper meaning of Lu Tian Chen’s words. “If it’s too , then you can stop at the next intersection and I’ll go buy you some sweet bread.”
“I don’t need any.” It was another direct reply.
“Then what do you need?” Tang Feng laughed. He knew what Lu Tian Chen meant, but the president was hard to understand. He wasn’t sure what Lu Tian Chen was trying to get at between the words.
Lu Tian Chen slowed down and parked near the sidewalk. He rested his hands on the steering wheel, but turned his head sideways to stare at Tang Feng. His dark eyes were like a pair of black holes, pulling Tang Feng’s eyes toward him.
Tang Feng suddenly understood what was going on. He immediately shook his head and waved his hand in protest. “No, no, no. You’re definitely joking. My god, please tell me you’re just joking around.”
“I don’t like jokes,” Lu Tian Chen said.
“That what are you doing right now?” Tang Feng could feel a headache coming on.
“I’m confessing.” Despite all his wishes, Lu Tian Chen still uttered the two words he didn’t want to hear.
Tang Feng covered his ears and sighed. What was going on these past few days? Was it national confessing week? He’d thought that Lu Tian Chen was merely curious and treated him well simply out of business appeal. Even if Lu Tian Chen did like him, it was the physical kind of like. Despite that, Lu Tian Chen hadn’t made a move on him at all over these six months.
All right, Tang Feng had to admit he was wrong.
“You mean, you like me. Do you want to sleep with me or something?” Tang Feng asked directly out of curiosity.
“I won’t sleep with people I’m not interested in,” Lu Tian Chen said while his scrutinizing gaze drifted downwards.
Tang Feng felt as if Lu Tian Chen was undressing him with his eyes. After scanning over the actor’s body, Lu Tian Chen nodded to himself, as if saying he was satisfied with what he saw.
“That just now…I felt that was sexual harassment.”
“You can think of it that way.” Lu Tian Chen’s unperturbed acceptance made Tang Feng swallow any reply he might have made.
He opened the window for a breath of fresh air. Otherwise, he was going to burn up under Lu Tian Chen’s intense gaze. Tang Feng rested his forehead on his hand and gazed at all the cars passing around them.
He wasn’t a narcissist, but he had wondered about what he would do if Lu Tian Chen suddenly fell in love with him. Of course, when that thought had appeared in his mind, he laughed at himself for how ridiculous and unrealistic it sounded. But here he was, faced with a confession from Lu Tian Chen.
“Then, what do you want to tell me?” Tang Feng asked.
“I want to be together with you.” It was a straightforward answer, fitting with Lu Tian Chen’s personality. Tang Feng rather liked that part about the man.
Lu Tian Chen was different from Charles. The latter might appear like a dumb bear on the surface, but was a sly, old fox underneath. Charles could smile and pat you on the shoulder like an old friend while stabbing you in the back with a sharp knife. Afterwards, he could even put on a worried act and swear to take revenge for you.
Lu Tian Chen was the exact opposite of Charles. If he didn’t like you, then he simply didn’t like you. He didn’t bother hiding his displeasure and openly voiced his thoughts. It wasn’t necessary to question the sincerity of his actions. He wasn’t the kind of person who would stab you in the back if he truly liked you.
A blunt personality made it easy to offend people, but Lu Tian Chen had the assets to back up his straightforward disposition.
It was the reason why Tang Feng was willing to collaborate with him, and also why he trusted the man.
But faced with Lu Tian Chen’s confession, Tang Feng smiled and shook his head. “No, that’s not possible.”
“Why not?” Lu Tian Chen then added with conviction, “You don’t like Charles.”
“No, I do like him. He’s a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, and also a ticking bomb at that. But don’t drag him into this conversation.” Rather than listening to Charles’ confession, Tang Feng would much rather hear Lu Tian Chen’s. While crafty, Lu Tian Chen at least lived according to a set of principles.
“Look, you disliked me a lot before, right? You even sent me over to Charles because of how much I annoyed you. Of course, I admit I was also at fault. But between the two of us, you will always be the one holding the reins. You have power and you have influence. I don’t have any of that, because I am in an inferior position.” Tang Feng was truly showing his age with his reply. Normally, no one would be able to remain so calm after hearing a confession and start analyzing the situation instead. Tang Feng concluded, “At the moment, I am incapable of forgiving you or accepting your feelings.”
Lu Tian Chen narrowed his eyes. He understood the hidden meaning in Tang Feng’s words.
The actor was incapable of accepting his feelings at the moment, but that meant there was still hope in the future.
“I have plenty of time. I don’t mind gambling on you,” Lu Tian Chen replied.
“All right. To be honest, I’ve never had the pleasure of enjoying someone chasing after me.” Tang Feng smiled at Lu Tian Chen. “I’m guessing that it’s rare for you to deliberately pursue someone. Am I the first one?” Tang Feng’s smile was a bit too gleeful.
“That’s right, you’re the first.” Lu Tian Chen made a mental note to himself about the all too obvious dig. He was going to take everything back plus interest in the future.
For someone to realize their feelings, there often needed to be an external stimulus. For Gino, he’d only realized his love for Fiennes after the latter’s death, and the realization sent him down a spiral of hopelessness.
Lu Tian Chen was much luckier in that respect. He’d been slapped in the face with evidence of Charles and Tang Feng spending the night together. Then, he’d watched Gino and Tang Feng act out an intimate scene with his own eyes. After been hit with so many stimuli, Lu Tian Chen finally came to a realization. He’d been doubting the subtle feelings he had for Tang Feng, trying to decipher whether it was love or admiration. Now there was no doubt about it; he understood his feelings all too well.
He was in love with Tang Feng.
It was the first time in his life that he felt a stirring in his heart for another person. For a newbie at love, Lu Tian Chen had an amazingly difficult time understanding his own feelings. Thankfully, his natural intelligence applied to topics in romance as well. Otherwise, who knew how long it would take for him to understand his own heart.
“Can I ask you a question, Tang?” Having just come clean with his feelings, Lu Tian Chen tried calling the actor with a nickname.
Tang Feng nodded. “Yeah, you can.”
“What do you think of me?”
Tang Feng thought for a moment and glanced at Lu Tian Chen. The president was young and handsome, and excelled in every field imaginable. However, Lu Tian Chen’s excellence was also his weakness.
“Your looks are fine. Your face is handsome, and your body is well-built. The air about you is also quite refined. You work hard, yet you also understand when you need to take a break and enjoy life. You aren’t a single-minded workaholic, but you’re too pragmatic. I know you like to be efficient, but…success in the workplace can’t fill or replace what actual emotions can bring you. Do you understand?” Tang Feng explained.
Lu Tian Chen suddenly chuckled. “I understand. You’re like my college professor, always going on and on about the principles of life and how we should live.”
Lu Tian Chen had struck the bull’s eye. Tang Feng glared at the other man. So what if he liked talking in principles? He had the right to do so at his age!
You bunch of brats!
Lu Tian Chen understood what Tang Feng was trying to say, but what about Charles?
The sly, old fox would never easily voice his thoughts to Tang Feng, much less Lu Tian Chen. He had his own plans.
Like normal, Charles welcomed the other two into the house when they returned. He tried to take advantage of Tang Feng in his usual way, and then had a drink with Lu Tian Chen and chatted about work.
Everything seemed peaceful. But as the saying went, it was the calm before the storm.
That weekend, three different people invited Tang Feng to go out, but he rejected all of them.
One of them was Charles. He wanted to go out on his yacht with Tang Feng. They could fish, sunbathe, and go diving.
The second was Lu Tian Chen. He wanted to attend an art exhibition with Tang Feng, and then have a romantic dinner afterwards.
The last invitation was from the little girl Tang Feng came to know recently, Annie. Whenever she had time, Little Annie would call and chat with Tang Feng. Today was the first time she invited Tang Feng to visit her house. Unfortunately, Tang Feng had already made plans with Gino.
They were going to visit Fiennes’ grave today. Tang Feng had given a simple reason for the trip: Fiennes was his idol.
He was going to visit his own grave. It sounded strange no matter how he thought about it. He’d heard that his grave was at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles. It was one of the most beautiful cemeteries in America. Situated near a mountain range, the cemetery had green grass and towering trees. It was a beautiful environment. Many celebrities had been buried there, including the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
It sounded great to Tang Feng. After sweeping his own grave, he could go visit Michael Jackson while he was there.
It was a two-day trip if they were heading down to Los Angeles. It meant that Tang Feng and Gino would be spending a night together. Upon hearing that, Charles immediately called off his plans to have a party aboard his yacht. Likewise, Lu Tian Chen also canceled his plans to buy a few paintings at the art exhibition.
Fortunately, Annie wasn’t coming along.
Despite that, the two-person trip had somehow become an outing for four.
Ever since Gino first laid eyes on Tang Feng, he was struck with a sense of familiarity. And strangely enough, he found that he also trusted the other to an inexplicable level. Yet despite that trust, he’d kept several things from Tang Feng. One of them was that he’d been secretly excited for the kiss scene for an entire week before they were scheduled to film it.
Another thing he’d never told Tang Feng was that he’d brushed his teeth at least four times and chewed through an entire pack of gum before the scene. He was afraid that Tang Feng would dislike him.
When he kissed Tang Feng back at the church, he was only half-immersed in his role. When he felt the other’s lips on his own, he felt as if he’d been transported back in time. At that moment, he felt as if he were a seventeen-year-old who’d just been struck with the first signs of love. His heart was racing, and he could feel the blood rushing to his head. In his panic, he couldn’t control himself and ended up biting Tang Feng.
It was the first time that he found that a kiss could be more nerve-wracking and more memorable than the actual act of love itself.
“Is this your answer? Michael Gino, you’re disgusting! You bastard! I hate you!” Lilith screamed as she launched a pillow at Gino’s head.
Gino leaned sideways and dodged the soft projectile. He’d thought about everything and came to the conclusion that Tang Feng was right. He didn’t love Lilith. He’d simply been in a rush to find someone to fill the hole Fiennes had left behind.
“Let’s break up,” he said calmly.
It was better for them to end it now than later. He didn’t want to continue living this foolishly.
“Why are you so selfish, Gino? I love you…” Lilith stared at him for several long seconds. After she processed Gino’s words, she fell onto the couch as if injured and started crying.
“Lilith, nothing will come out of our relationship even if we stay together. Since I’m the one who brought it up, I’ll take full responsibility. If the media picks up on this, I will deal with it.”
At first, they’d started dating because it was their agency’s idea. They needed to create anticipation for the movie they’d starred in, so their agency leaked to the media that they were dating. The plan was a success; they’d won the media’s undivided attention. Somewhere along the way, they truly started dating each other. Even now, Gino still had a tough time deciphering whether they had been simply acting or if they had actually loved each other.
“Aren’t you afraid that I’ll tell people? I’ll tell everyone that you’re in love with Fiennes Tang! A dead man who’s a decade older than you!”
Gino chuckled and replied, “Lilith, you know I’m not afraid of those sorts of tactics. I don’t mind letting the world know that I love Fiennes. Also, Fiennes is not dead. He still lives in my heart, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.”
“You’re out of your mind,” Lilith mumbled. Leaning into the couch, she rubbed at her eyes. When she removed her hand, the back of it was completely black. All her makeup had smudged into a mess.
Gino walked over and handed her a tissue. Almost ripping it out of his hand, Lilith accepted it and wiped at her face. She then reached for her bag and pulled out a mirror and a bunch of makeup. As a devotee to beauty, Lilith wanted to look beautiful no matter the situation she was in.
Fortunately, Lilith was still young. Gino knew she would never break herself over a half-serious relationship. She was a Hollywood girl.
“Fine, whatever. In any case, I’m going to marry someone who’s handsomer than you. And you’ll only have your memory of me to comfort yourself when you’re all old and lonely,” Lilith said angrily. She pulled out a tube of lipstick and retouched her lips. “We’ll break up. I hope you don’t regret it afterwards.”
“Of course I’ll regret it.” Gino smiled and shrugged. “Thank you for your good wishes.”
Lilith snapped her mirror shut and glared at Gino. She looked as if she wanted to say something else, but then pursed her lips in displeasure. She lowered her head and started storing her makeup away. She then said quietly, “I hope you can thank him for me. That man with black hair and black eyes.”
Even though Lilith had been completely drunk that night, she still remembered who’d saved her and then looked after her.
“I will, he’s a good person.” Gino understood who Lilith was referring to.
“That’s right. He’s a good person, and I am a good girl. Yet how did we both come across someone like you?” Lilith slung her bag across her shoulder and stood up. She collected herself and said, “Listen up, there better be a good reason for why we broke up. I don’t want the world to know that I lost to a man who’s already passed away. My manager will contact you about this. Also, don’t talk to me in the future!”
Lilith turned around and walked away with big strides, leaving behind a confident figure. Yet she couldn’t stop the rims of her eyes from turning red again. She quickly pulled out a pair of sunglasses and put them on.
Who hadn’t had a passionate and short-lived love back in the days of youth?
Like Lilith, those adolescents would laugh and cry, and would live on to see tomorrow.
After coming back to the United States, what Tang Feng wanted to do the most wasn’t meeting up with the people he once knew, but to take a trip around the places he’d once stayed at and look around, this included his final resting place.
His death had come in a sudden manner, so he had no idea who’d taken care of all the matters related to his death afterwards.
Had it been his manager John?
Or had it been his good friend Randa, or perhaps Leroy?
No matter who it was, they did a very good job. There hadn’t been any public broadcasts on the news or exclusive interviews with reporters. It had been a private funeral with a group of his close friends. It had been a simple and quiet affair, something that suited him perfectly. Although he didn’t know who had planned everything, fortunately, they had made sure that his grave would be open to the public afterwards.
Tang Feng thought he had a right to visit his own grave once, so he planned to visit it together with Gino over the weekend. Coincidentally, they were going on the same day as Fiennes’ birthday.
After having a talk with Gino, they’d spent two days finishing the filming of their first bed scene. Although it was described as a bed scene, the actual time they had to expose themselves in front of the camera was minimal. Tang Feng did have his pants taken off, but he was still wearing something underneath. Not to mention, he was also wearing the long and bulky monk robe on top.
For the entire scene, Gino merely held himself above Tang Feng and simulated a few movements. However, the director was a perfectionist and asked the two of them to repeat the scene several times, with a different set of movements each time. The director was also particular about which direction they should face and whether they needed to look at the camera and who should look at the camera.
Whenever the director came up with a new idea, they had to repeat the scene. After several repeats, Gino was embarrassed to find that he was physically reacting. He could feel himself getting hard, but fortunately, the monk robe was loose enough to hide his reaction. Even though no one else had noticed, Tang Feng was the exception. Gino had been rubbing himself on him back and forth for the better part of the day. If it weren’t for the obvious look of apology on Gino’s face, Tang Feng would have assumed that the other was taking advantage of the situation and doing it on purpose.
For the entire scene, the two of them mainly exposed their legs, and only up to their thighs at that.
The director didn’t have any plans to turn the film into an erotic film. Regarding the relationship and actual nudity in the film, the director had chosen to turn up the intensity in a gradual manner. The first kiss and the first bed scene had to be controlled and subdued. Later on, it would turn more passionate as the two main characters collided more and more with each other.
“Are you all right?” After the day’s filming wrapped up, Tang Feng ran over to Gino and asked. Gino had been in the same position for quite a while now. It wouldn’t be good if he developed a problem because he was holding it in for so long.
“Do I look like all right to you? If you give me a tree, I’m pretty sure I would start humping it right now,” Gino joked crudely. After talking with Tang Feng a bit more, Gino made an excuse that he had to go change and ran off to his trailer.
As for what Gino was actually doing inside his trailer, who knew?
Tang Feng snickered to himself. What was Gino going to do when the more intense scenes came around?
To avoid coming across Gino and getting himself in an awkward situation, Tang Feng left first. Today, the one picking him up was still Lu Tian Chen.
The president seemed to be in a bad mood today. When he saw Tang Feng, none of his usual “cordialness” was present, cordialness as in holding the door open for Tang Feng and asking where he wanted to go before heading home.
“Get in.” Lu Tian Chen didn’t bother holding the door for Tang Feng. He also didn’t ask Tang Feng where he wanted to go. Right after Tang Feng got in, Lu Tian Chen put the car in drive and sped away.
Only an idiot would fail to see that Lu Tian Chen was angry, but Tang Feng couldn’t recall what he’d done to make the man angry. Was Lu Tian Chen angry at the fact that his “loving breakfast” the other day had given him an upset stomach?
“Are you feeling okay? It was my first time making breakfast. Sorry.” Out of politeness, Tang Feng felt that he should apologize for making the brave man beside him eat everything he’d made.
Lu Tian Chen didn’t reply; he outright ignored Tang Feng.
“Are you angry at me?” Tang Feng tried asking.
Lu Tian Chen ignored him again. This time, Tang Feng was a bit angry himself. Since when had he ever had to lower himself this much? One couldn’t act too weak around Lu Tian Chen or Charles, otherwise they’d eat you for breakfast.
Tang Feng smiled and said, “Keeping your anger all bottled up is going to lead to health problems. I hope you’d take care of your health, President Lu.”
“I’m not angry. I’m only jealous.” Lu Tian Chen’s answer was direct and simple. A calm and logical conclusion that nevertheless shocked Tang Feng.
For the sake of convenience, Gino had rented an apartment near the set as well. When Tang Feng went to visit, Gino had just finished taking a shower. His hair was still dripping wet when he went to open the door.
“Did you go for a swim in the ocean?” Tang Feng chuckled when he noticed. “Am I intruding?”
“No, of course not.” Gino pulled the other through the door and shut it firmly. To an onlooker who didn’t know any better, the speed at which he welcomed Tang Feng in made it seem as if he had some ulterior motives in mind.
“Find a seat. There’s juice and milk in the fridge. The coffee is over there. And that’s the bar. Help yourself,” Gino rattled off while walking off to another room.
Tang Feng grabbed a glass of juice and sat on the couch. He found the remote and turned on the TV. He didn’t know what Gino watched while he was at home, but maybe a bunch of horror movies?
Understandably, he was a bit surprised to see his own name come up on the screen. The movie playing was Life of Luxury, which he’d starred in as the lead actor. He’d never expected Gino to be watching his films, just like he hadn’t expected Gino to have liked him in the past.
After getting changed, Gino walked out of his room. Tang Feng was already several minutes into the movie. Staring at the TV screen, he asked, “Do you like Fiennes’ movies?”
The image of him on the screen was still young, barely into his thirties. It was an age when men were at their most charming. Tang Feng had to admit that he wasn’t as eye-catching in the past as he was now. Fiennes’ appearance could be described as cultured. Luckily, it was something he’d retained throughout his life.
“He’s an amazing actor.” It was rare for Gino to let go of the chance to make a joke. He sat down quietly beside Tang Feng, eyes drawn to the image of Fiennes on the screen.
Tang Feng took in everything.
Gino truly liked Fiennes. Gino truly liked the past him!
“When I first met him, to be honest, I didn’t like him all that much. You could even say that he irritated me.” Gino chuckled, and described the circumstances in which he’d met Fiennes. Tang Feng already knew what he was going to say, but it was different hearing Gino’s perspective on the events.
Gino first saw Fiennes at a film festival. At the time, both Gino and Fiennes had been nominated for Best Actor. Gino’s debut performance was very good, if not spectacular. He had chosen a challenging role in a horror movie for his first appearance. Film critics and the audience alike lauded his acting in the movie. He had practically become famous overnight.
Nevertheless, it was obvious that the festival committee liked Fiennes more. Fiennes had already won several awards abroad at international film festivals; it was inevitable that he would win Best Actor this time around as well. Gino could only watch as the trophy that he most certainly deserved sprouted wings and flew away.
“I firmly believed that the Best Actor should’ve gone to me and not to Fiennes. I hated him because of that. At the after party, I couldn’t help myself and said some nasty words to him.” Gino shook his head while recounting the night. He couldn’t stop a rueful smile from spreading on his face. “Just thinking about it makes me want to hit myself for how immature and laughable I was acting. I was young, so I believed that everything rightfully belonged to me. But looking at it now, I think my performance was child’s play compared to his.”
“No, I think you acted very well,” Tang Feng blurted out. He quickly added, “I’ve seen your debut movie. I think you did quite well for a newcomer. I could feel the tension in your acting. Most horror movies just go with the established method and rely on exaggerated expressions, but you expressed the inner fear perfectly. I think it was great.”
A film festival committee was made up of a group of different people, and unfortunately, different people had different tastes.
Gino was too young back then. It was difficult for young actors to win awards if their acting wasn’t downright stunning to the entire public. There were many reasons for that.
One, the judges probably felt that it wasn’t right for someone to win an award right after debuting. After all, there were plenty of actors and actresses who were waiting in line in front of them.
Two, if a newcomer were to win Best Actor or Best Actress, the road ahead of them would become too easy. Would they still struggle and pursue their dreams with as much passion as before?
Lastly, personal interests played a big part in the awards. As people, the judges couldn’t help but be biased. If they were to award someone such a big trophy, would they still be able to put forth acting of the same caliber next time? Suspicions like that ran through their minds all the time.
A good performance wasn’t enough to win Best Actor. Tang Feng experienced plenty of that in his past life.
“Exactly, I thought my acting was quite good as well. In any case, that was how I came across Fiennes. As an immature kid, I butted heads with him at every turn. At that time, Fiennes was pretty influential in Hollywood. He had his own resources and a place to exert his power. If he’d wanted to teach me a lesson, it would have been easy as cake for him. But he never did. He only argued with me occasionally.”
Gino started laughing, but abruptly ended it with a sigh. He rested his chin on his hand and said, “I know he didn’t like me, because I was an impolite and stupid idiot.”
“The reason you argued with him… Was it because you wanted to catch his attention?” Tang Feng asked tentatively.
Gino nodded, but he’d come to that realization too late. When he’d finally understood his feelings for Fiennes, the man had passed away.
It had happened in the blink of an eye. A star that had burned the brightest in the sky fell down to earth in mere seconds. He was still reeling from the aftereffects even now. He’d been in love with Fiennes for seven years. How stupid was he to have just discovered it now?
“It’s already too late now. I didn’t even have time to apologize to him. I didn’t even have time to…to tell him that I’ve collected all his movies and every poster imaginable of him. I’ve gone to many of his movie premieres. I’ve even secretly asked after him from other people.” Gino’s eyes glazed over with a layer of tears as he stared at the man on the TV, a man who had left the world forever. Despite the smile on his face, he was choking up over his words.
“I didn’t even have time to tell him that I love him. Do you know? The more I learn about him, the more I fall in love with him. But I’m an idiot. I didn’t even have the chance to confess.” Giving in to the tears, Gino covered his face with his hands.
Tang Feng wrapped an arm around his shoulders. He comforted, “He’ll know. He’s listening to every word you’re saying.” He ended it there and sighed.
He wouldn’t tell Gino about his secret. Even if he did, he wasn’t sure Gino would believe him.
It wasn’t the first time that someone had confessed to him, but Gino’s confession made him feel both warm and remorseful. In the heat of passion, one person might confess to another on the spur of the moment, or maybe it was simply love at first sight. Often, these kinds of impulsive love left as quickly as they came. A strong and passionate start often led to a gloomy and tired end that eventually petered out.
For seven years, Gino’s one-sided love for him continued to trickle like a sluggish stream. The people who had once loved him had become distant due to his continuous hospitalization. Others had left him due to societal pressure. And others still, had buried their feelings for him at the news of his death.
In the half-year since his death, how many people truly missed him?
He didn’t know that Gino had loved, and still loves, him. He also didn’t know why Gino had fallen in love with him, but that was the reality he was faced with right now.
Fiennes Tang had already died. Someone who had departed the world shouldn’t bring harm to the living.
“Gino, do you love Lilith?” Tang Feng asked.
“I can’t face her. After Fiennes passed away, I tried dating a girl instead. Lilith is a great girl. It’s just…I can’t forget about Fiennes,” Gino replied, his emotions gradually calming down. Tang Feng exited out of the movie and switched to a random channel on the TV.
“I know I’m not in a position to say anything, but Fiennes isn’t coming back anymore. If he knows that you’re suffering because of his death, I’m sure he would be racked with guilt. Gino, let him live on in your memories. You need to look ahead of you. Pull yourself together. I don’t want to spend another morning just filming a bed scene with you.” Tang Feng tried to cheer Gino up in his own way.
“Sometimes, you act a lot like him. You’re kind to everyone you meet, but that also means you’re distancing yourself from everyone. Because of that, I really liked picking on Fiennes and angering him. He would glare at me and tell me off, but those were the only moments when I felt that he was truly living and breathing.”
Gino glanced at Tang Feng. With a rare serious expression, he said, “You’re still young. Don’t suppress yourself so much.”
“Now it’s your turn to lecture me, is it?” Tang Feng chuckled. “Then don’t fall in love with me like you did with Fiennes. I don’t want to be a substitute.”
Would he be a substitute? Or would he be the true Fiennes?”
It wasn’t important in any case. Tang Feng wanted Gino to step out of Fiennes’ shadow. He wanted Gino to cry because he was reminiscing the past, and not because he was suffering. How long would it take for Gino to be himself again?
“I forgot to ask, did something happen recently?” Tang Feng asked. Gino wouldn’t start acting strange for no reason. Lilith’s words couldn’t have affected him to this point.
“It’s almost his birthday.”
Tang Feng blinked. He’d completely forgotten about his own birthday.
“Then why don’t we go visit him?” Tang Feng suggested. He rather wanted to see his own grave.
EXT. OUTSIDE THE CHURCH NEAR THE SEA―DAWN
With a wooden tub beside him, Tang was washing clothes by the sea. His long fingers appeared all the paler when submerged in the dirty water. His gaze was unfocused, staring blankly at the grey suds on the dirty robes. It was difficult to tell what he was thinking.
It was early in the morning. The sun had yet to rise fully into the sky; there was only a smidgeon of white decorating the border that divided the sky and the sea. It was a peaceful morning, with a hint of mysterious anticipation of the day’s start.
The sky gradually lit up, like a fish leaping out of the sea and exposing its white belly. The waves slapped against the seaside rocks, while a freezing wind blew over the shore. Submerged in the icy water, Tang’s fingers gradually turned a bright red.
What was he thinking about?
Perhaps he was thinking of all the candles that had fallen on the ground that night. Perhaps he was thinking of Chris’ bold and passionate kiss.
He had once again committed an unforgivable crime in front of God. In his shame, he had pushed Chris away and ran back to the small room that he’d been allotted. He wasn’t permitted to speak, so he ran his trembling fingers over the words of the bible and repeated them silently to himself. But he couldn’t help but also brush a finger over his lips; he could still feel the warmth of Chris’ lips against his.
He couldn’t believe that he had been defeated in the face of temptation. He couldn’t stand that his heart had been sent racing just because of a single kiss.
Had he been born like this?
He didn’t know, but he could feel the pain from his conflicting heart. From that day froth, he avoided Chris whenever possible. Similarly, Chris stopped sneaking glances at him. but that only made it more difficult for Tang to resist the urge to turn around and check whether the golden-haired monk was near.
The answer was unfortunate; Chris had stopped paying attention to him altogether. The memories of that night seemed like an alluring dream that a devil would use to tempt someone into wrongdoing. It was as if nothing had happened.
Was Chris playing with him? Tang’s thoughts ran wild as he scrubbed the dirty clothes in a numb manner. He had already lost all feeling in his fingers due to the icy water. The cold was climbing up his hand, his arm, and all the way to his heart.
“When I’m not there behind you, are you disappointed or are you hurt?”
The voice that had appeared in his dreams countless times sounded behind him. Tang kept his head lowered and gazed at the surface of the sea. It was a hallucination. He would not reply.
“Just because you can’t speak doesn’t mean you can escape from everything.” Chris walked toward Tang and stood behind the latter. He called out lightly, “Tang.”
The pronunciation was perfect, as if coming from the other side of the world. In an instant, Tang could feel the sadness and loneliness well up in his heart.
Tang shut his eyes. He prayed that the other monk would stop coming near him. He prayed for Chris to stop tempting him.
But reality was cruelly different from what he desired. When Tang’d least expected it, Chris came up and enveloped him in a hug. For a moment, Tang was still, but he then struggled to get out of the hold. But compared to the young and strong Chris, Tang couldn’t do anything.
The two of them fell and rolled onto the patch of grass beside the seaside rocks. Tang couldn’t breathe and wasn’t able to speak. He didn’t even know whether he should call out for help or not.
Chris’ breath was rough, but he kept his arms around Tang. They encircled the other like a pair of iron claws; Tang felt as if he would snap in two.
The warmth Tang felt on his hands and body was in sharp contrast to the cold sea breeze. He felt as if his senses had been amplified; every touch was made more vivid. Tang bit hard into his lip as they rolled into a field of overgrown weeds. Chris started pulling at his pants.
Heavens. He could feel the fiery heat from Chris’ palms on his skin.
“Cut! Very good! Let’s take a break and prepare for the next scene,” the director called at the most important moment. His clear voice snapped the staff out of their engrossment.
It was an exciting scene to watch even without the postproduction effects and music added in. Once they were added in though, this scene would definitely become one of the most memorable in the audience’s minds. After all, it was an exhilarating yet poetically beautiful scene.
Tang Feng and Gino’s assistants walked over to help them up, but Gino waved them off, indicating that they were fine. Gino stood up and pulled Tang Feng along with him, the latter had already firmly buttoned up his pants.
“Did I scare you earlier?” Gino said with a teasing smile in his eyes. As a professional actor, he would never take advantage of a scene and place his hands where he shouldn’t, but being absorbed in his role, it was natural to have a few slip-ups. He had pulled Tang Feng’s pants off earlier, but the actor had been wearing underwear inside. What a shame.
At Gino’s question, Tang Feng pretended to be angry and glared at the other. “Obviously, you almost scared me to death.” He brushed aside the awkward atmosphere with a joking answer.
The two of them walked off the set and sat down to rest and get a drink of water. The makeup-up artist immediately came over to touch up their faces.
The other staff walked around them, busy preparing the set for the next scene. Although they were filming intimate scenes in the wide open, the area they had chosen was rather isolated. There wasn’t anyone unrelated disturbing them, or standing around and watching them film.
Despite that, the director had told the crew to put up barriers around the set, preventing potential curious onlookers from walking in.
“The two of you, remember to relax in the next scene. Tang Feng, this might be your first time filming these type of scenes, but don’t be tense. We aren’t filming porn after all. However, for the sake of artistry and in order to create tension between the characters, we have to have a bed scene.” Director Li Wei came over to chat.
To everybody else, Tang Feng was someone who had grown up in China. As a result, as a fellow Chinese man, the director automatically assumed that Tang Feng would be reserved and shy about filming intimate scenes. Adding on his quiet and gentle demeanor, Tang Feng often gave others the impression that he was a reserved individual.
Li Wei was also worried that as a new actor, Tang Feng would burden himself with too many thoughts and considerations when it came to the bed scene.
“In the next scene, I want you guys to act with the image of a cat and tiger in mind. Tang Feng, you’re going to act as the cat that has been forced into a corner. Gino, I want you to be a bit overbearing, and a bit forceful. Not only do you need to get through to Tang through his body, but also his heart. You need to show passion, but also conflict.” The director left after leaving a few words of advice, giving Tang Feng and Gino the time to prepare and get into the proper mindset.
Gino swatted at Tang Feng like a tiger. “This is great. Since I’m the tiger, I’m going to eat you all up.”
Although Gino joked around like usual, Tang Feng had a suspicion that the other was forcing himself.
Did it have something to do with what happened at the party?
Tang Feng wanted to ask Gino about it, but they had to film in a few minutes. It was better to wait until their work was over.
EXT. NEAR THE SEA―DAWN
Lying on top of Tang, Chris tore brutishly at the other’s clothes. The fabric bunched in his hands and soon ripped apart.
“Don’t refuse. Don’t refuse me…” Chris pulled the collar of Tang’s robe down, laying a hesitant yet fervent kiss on the back of the other’s neck.
His movements were rough, yet his words were gentle and almost begging in tone.
Tang couldn’t speak, but broken gasps escaped his throat. He widened his eyes, he didn’t feel any pain or humiliation, but he felt a bewilderment and oppressiveness that he couldn’t understand.
At that moment, Tang Feng felt something wet drip onto his neck. Before he could understand what was happening, Gino pulled him into a hug and he heard the sounds of crying beside his ear.
“Cut!” the director immediately yelled.
“Are you all right?” Tang Feng asked worriedly. He was the one being assaulted in the scene, yet Gino was the one who had started crying.
“I’m fine.” Gino shook his head and managed a smile. Despite his words, Gino didn’t seem fine. He appeared gloomy and miserable, which was a bit different from the sorrowful yet hopeful and determined feeling that the director was trying to express.
They took another ten-minute break and tried the scene again, but the results were even worse than the first time around. Gino didn’t cry again, but he had trouble getting into character. Tang Feng didn’t even need to look at the replay footage to know that Gino’s words were coming out too soft for his character.
The director took Gino aside and explained the scene again to him, but nothing seemed to work. They’d spent an entire morning on a simple bed scene, yet what they had to show wasn’t good enough to get a pass from the director.
Even if Gino wasn’t tired, Tang Feng was starting to feel a bit exhausted.
The pale morning sky had already turned a clear blue. The sun was also hanging high in the clouds. The director told Gino to go home and rest. Instead of struggling with the bed scene again, they were going to film some of Tang Feng’s individual scenes this afternoon.
Like usual, Tang Feng finished his scenes in a smooth manner.
It was time for him to have a talk with Gino.