The night darkens. Brilliant city lights adorn the inky painting depicting the scene outside the banquet hall.
Li Luo stands in the parking lot, leaning against an extravagant, black Maybach. He holds an ignited cigarette between his fingers. Only when it’s about to burn his fingertips do Duan Mingyang and the others finally leave the banquet.
Behind Duan Mingyang follows a crowd of people bowing as they see him off. The crowd includes Luo Peng, but Lin Cheng is the only one beside him.
Inhaling deeply from the remaining length of the cigarette, Li Luo burns his finger by accident. He bears the pain and tosses the cigarette butt on the ground. Pocketing his hands nonchalantly, he grinds the butt with the sole of his leather shoe, exhaling a coiling breath of smoke. As expected, he sees Duan Mingyang frown as he approaches.
Li Luo is finally able to make him reveal an emotion — even disgust is better than apathy.
“Luo-ge!” Lin Cheng runs a few steps ahead and gets to him before Duan Mingyang does. “When did you start smoking? It’s bad for your health…”
Li Luo strokes Lin Cheng’s head. “I’m fine. I have something to tell Mr. Duan. Could you leave us for a bit?”
He tries his best not to sound like the mean love rival of a romantic drama protagonist.
Even though he once played the kind and innocent female lead for Duan Mingyang, he’s really not a soft bunny like Lin Cheng is. No matter how well he acts, he’s still only a minor character in this story, destined for failure.
He did, in fact, fail horribly.
“Yeah, okay.” Lin Cheng doesn’t question or refuse him at all, as obedient as usual. But next, he turns to Duan Mingyang, “Luo-ge is really nice to me. Be nice to him too. Don’t do what you did back then.”
On the surface it sounds reproachful, but there’s something coquettish underneath.
This shouldn’t work on Duan Mingyang, Li Luo thinks. At least, when Li Luo acted this way in the past, Duan Mingyang only turned his gaze elsewhere, expressionless and refusing to respond.
“Chengcheng, you can go back first.” Duan Mingyang pulls Lin Cheng back to his side and strokes Lin Cheng’s head as well, almost as if he’s declaring some kind of authority.
Li Luo can’t help but to give a self-mocking grin.
So, it’s not that it didn’t work on Duan Mingyang — it was only when he did it that it didn’t.
Seeing how both parties want him to go back, Lin Cheng can only leave, accompanied by a bodyguard.
Duan Mingyang orders the rest of the bodyguards to keep their distance as well. Having ensured that nobody can hear them, Duan Mingyang turns to look at the person in front of him.
Li Luo pats the car he’s been leaning against and smiles, “So you do like Maybachs after all, Mr. Duan. Then why didn’t you want one as a present from me?”
Duan Mingyang doesn’t answer. He doesn’t ask anything, either. Like a spectator, he stands right there and gazes at Li Luo, his eyes filled with iciness. He waits for Li Luo to speak first, as if he already knows everything Li Luo will say.
Duan Mingyang’s calmness is daunting indeed. He doesn’t have to do anything, and Li Luo would make a blunder.
It was the same the day after the night they first met each other.
When Li Luo woke up, realizing that he was sleeping on a cold, hard bed with no else in the room, he immediately went back to the bar’s parking area and drove to campus, wanting to find out what Duan Mingyang’s major was. However, after he arrived at the school, he ran into a group of his friends. One of them patted his shoulder and teased, “Li-shao*, how was your adventure at the gay bar yesterday? Did you bring anyone back?”
[*The shortened form of “Young Master,” often used by upper-class young men to refer to one another (especially in dramatized fiction).]
Just as Li Luo was about to answer, he saw Duan Mingyang walk out from behind. Having obviously heard the conversation, Duan Mingyang’s eyes were cold as ice. Li Luo felt his heart shiver, yet blood surged to his brain. He grabbed Duan Mingyang’s hand and dashed toward a quieter place, ignoring everything else. When he stopped, he blurted—
“It was really my first time there. I just wanted to get a boyfriend… Could you be my boyfriend?”
Naturally, Duan Mingyang turned him down.
Li Luo had planned to stop right there and go elsewhere to find a more obedient puppy. Yet, he considered it some more. Compared to ambiguously playing pretend with another man, the tasteless plot of Young Master Li chasing after the waiter of a gay bar might embarrass or enrage his dad even more.
No matter which option he chose, in his eyes, Duan Mingyang would only be an interesting yet pitiful toy.
But everything that happened afterward proved that he was the one whom Duan Mingyang had been toying with.
“You and Lin Cheng?” Li Luo speaks up first, but he doesn’t finish his sentence.
It’s impossible that Duan Mingyang doesn’t understand what he means, but Duan Mingyang remains silent. He doesn’t deny it.
Li Luo jokes, “We’re both good little lambs — why were you so cold to me back then, Mr. Duan?”
“Are you?” Duan Mingyang asks.
“You’re right. I’m not.” Li Luo steps closer, staring into the depths of the cold pair of eyes. “But you’re not what you appear to be either, are you?”
He suddenly reaches out to grab Duan Mingyang’s left hand, bringing it from Duan Mingyang’s side to the space between the two.
“Who said, ‘If I love someone, I’ll love them for my entire life?’ Wearing your engagement ring as you flirt with your sweetheart, Mr. Duan — your cloak of a faithful lover is falling apart, isn’t it?
He thought that the sudden question would surprise Duan Mingyang a little, but the latter remains unflinching, not even frowning in the least. Duan Mingyang glances at his hand that was grabbed before coolly turning back to the person in front of him.
“It used to be my engagement ring.”
Turns out Li Luo is the first to receive a shock.
“… I’m sorry. I must’ve touched a sore spot.” Li Luo fixes his expression quickly, smiling as he lets go. “Who would’ve thought even Mr. Duan would be hurt by love one day? So, what is Lin Cheng to you? A replacement?”
Duan Mingyang twists the platinum ring around his middle finger.
“Nobody can replace them.”
There’s a subtle tenderness to these words, drifting along the breeze of the night. It brushes against Li Luo’s cheek, but leaves a stinging pain behind.
So Duan Mingyang knows how to love.
Li Luo had always thought that the heart of someone like Duan Mingyang could never be warmed, so it was normal that Li Luo couldn’t succeed back then. Yet, Duan Mingyang is now telling Li Luo directly that his heart can indeed be warmed — Li Luo just wasn’t the right person to do it.
It’s as if there’s a one-of-a-kind toy in this world. It’s fine if nobody can have it, but if one is aware that somebody else has it, the balance would instantly be shattered. Jealousy and frustration will sprout as vines, entangling the heart with the intent to suffocate and stifle it.
“If they can’t be replaced, don’t trample over him.” Li Luo’s smile fades, his amber eyes dark against the night. “He’s a good boy. Don’t drag him into your filthy world.”
“You seem to care about him,” Duan Mingyang says, “so you were waiting for me here, for his sake?”
“What did you think, Mr. Duan?”
“I thought you came to beg me not to force you out of the industry.” Duan Mingyang’s eyes grow colder. “It seems I overestimated myself. After all, you dared to use the Jiang family’s name on me, Mr. Li, which means Jiang Liusheng will definitely protect you. When would you ever not look down upon an illegitimate son like me, Mr. Li?”
“Hah, if I knew you were the new boss, would I ever do that? Brute force never worked on you, right?” Li Luo takes another half-step forward, his body almost touching Duan Mingyang’s. “And please don’t be so humble, Mr. Duan. You were able to transform from a broke college student to the official second young master of the Duan family — how could I look down upon your ruthlessness, Mr. Duan?
“But if you’re really going to force me out, I have nothing to be scared of, either. After all, I joined this industry only to have some fun. Mr. Duan, you didn’t think the Li family is so pathetic that I have to sell myself to acting to make a living, did you?”
Li Luo snorts, his tone sinking, “Yes. You crushed our family. You sent my dad to jail. But if you want to completely eradicate the Li family, this is what I have to say — keep dreaming.”
Duan Mingyuan remains unmoved. “I didn’t take part in what happened to your dad.”
“Really,” Li Luo replies half-heartedly.
He doesn’t believe a single word.
Only on the day his dad was taken into custody did he discover that the poor part-time waiter living in a cheaply-rented home whom he pursued so hard for an entire year — was none other than the son of his family’s rival.
It wasn’t that Li Luo never asked, “Your last name is Duan. Do you have anything to do with the Duan family?” or other such questions. However, back then, Duan Mingyang’s answer was “Not at all.”
It was a lie through and through.
Duan Mingyang stays quiet for a few seconds before he raises a hand and presses Li Luo’s shoulder, pushing Li Luo away slowly yet steadily. It seems as if he is disgusted by Li Luo’s wine-stained shirt, or perhaps Li Luo himself.
“If you don’t believe me, Mr. Li, there’s nothing I can do about it. But before you doubt me, I hope you reflect upon yourself a little — who was the one first approaching with ulterior motives?”
He doesn’t say anything else and turns around to leave, but Li Luo grabs his arm.
“Let’s just say that I’m the pot calling the kettle black, then.” Li Luo’s tone brightens again. His expression changes; he even grins at Duan Mingyang. “I’m not here to dig up the past. Apart from Lin Cheng, I actually… want to discuss a deal with you, Mr. Duan.”
Duan Mingyang’s footsteps pause. He turns around. “A deal?”
“What bargaining chips do you have to make a deal with me?”
“I do have one. And that is—”
Li Luo’s lips curl into a confident smile.