Winter, Lunar New Year’s Eve.
At an office building in the shopping street of District A.
“For someone who’s quitting, how does it feel to work overtime at the office on Lunar New Year’s Eve?”
“I feel nothing.”
Wei Feng teased, “You won’t have a chance to work overtime here anymore even if you wanted to a year from now, so please treasure this moment.”
Qin Shaocheng burst out laughing.
Taking out a peculiar-looking felt-tip pen from Qin Shaocheng’s pen holder, Wei Feng found a small note hidden in the pen after slightly twisting the cap open. “Huh? There’s something…weird about this pen.” Wei Feng opened up the note with a click of his tongue, feigning a pretentious expression.
Qin Shaocheng’s eyes shifted towards Wei Feng from the data transfer screen before him.
“Woah! It’s a secret confession note!! Let me read it aloud for you…” Wei Feng went on to read it in a loving tone paired with a deep, tantalising voice. “Shaocheng, I like you. In my…”
Seizing back the pen and note, Qin Shaocheng asked, “Did Zeng Pingping make you do this?”
Wei Feng burst into laughter. “What could I do? She kept bombarding me with Wechat messages, pestering me non-stop! Saying that if you haven’t seen the note inside the pen, she insisted that I open it up in front of you and read it aloud.”
Qin Shaocheng placed the pen back into the dusty holder, crumpling the note in his grip.
“I can’t stand seeing a beauty like her missing her chance.” Wei Feng jabbed Qin Shaocheng with his elbow. “Sure you don’t want to give her a try?”
Seeing that the data transfer was finally done, Qin Shaocheng went on to switch off the computer. “Let’s go. Time to head home.”
Wei Feng shrugged his shoulders and followed suit.
The office was already deserted since that day was the Lunar New Year’s Eve. After the two of them verified that all the doors and windows were locked and everything was switched off, they locked the main office door. While waiting for the elevator, Wei Feng threw his arm over Qin Shaocheng’s shoulder and asked, “What time are you flying?”
“On the 7th day after New Year’s.” Qin Shaocheng threw the note into the garbage cart.
“You’re not going back this year?”
“Last time it was because of——” Wei Feng paused in his tracks, before continuing, “Haven’t you already decided to take over your family’s business?”
“There are too many relatives during New Year’s. It’ll be much quieter if I head back after.”
As they walked out of the elevator, Wei Feng who lived in the region, pulled out his cell phone and took a glance at the message he received. “My old man wants me to grab some carrots from the supermarket. He’s whipping up a lamb stew back home. Why don’t you spend New Year’s at my place this year? It’ll be livelier.”
“Thanks but it’s alright.” Qin Shaosheng replied, “I’ll go with you to the supermarket, though, since I need to shop, too.”
With two adult men shopping at the supermarket, it was a quick affair, getting whatever they needed and going straight to the cashier to pay for the groceries. There was no such thing as leisurely browsing around and comparing prices. By the time they got out from the place, it had already started pouring. After bidding goodbye to Wei Feng, Qin Shaocheng drove his car back to his rental apartment.
The Spring celebrations fell in the middle of February that winter. The beginning of spring had passed, and the raindrops were as thin as fine needles yet soft as wisps of smoke.
The drive back was smooth and the entire city had quietened down after a few days. The usually crowded parking lot in the community area was deserted. Parking the car below the loft, Qin Shaocheng opened the trunk and carried two bags of groceries up the staircase. He only remembered that he had forgotten to lock the car door when he was taking out his keys. Placing the bags on the shoe cabinet after heading into the apartment, he went to the kitchen.
Before he could look up completely, what entered his line of sight and greeted him first was a grey-coloured slipper on the floor.
The person wearing the slipper was currently standing before the stove, holding a ladle as he stirred the food in the pot. The fragrant aroma of the rice and the rich flavor of the meat, when blended in with the whiff of ammonia that could only be found in century eggs, produced a wonderful collision of flavours, which was enough to make any man salivate hungrily.
“You’re back?” Jiang Yishan curled his lips into a smile with a docile look on his face.
Qin Shaocheng stood still, trying to calm himself down.
Placing the lid back on the pot, Jiang Yishan turned off the stove. “The century egg porridge with meat is done! Do you want to have a taste?”
Without saying a word, Qin Shaocheng went to one side to open the window, pressing on the automated lock button to lock his car parked downstairs. Then, he headed to the entrance to sort out the groceries in the bags, and closed the fridge after putting away the last box of dumplings.
Jiang Yishan stared at him as he leaned against the fridge. The room temperature was too warm, his cheeks colouring slightly red from the heat. Grabbing a milk carton, he opened it up for a drink. As the cold liquid trickled into his tummy, a cold wave blanketed his entire chest. “Why are you ignoring me?”
Qin Shaocheng turned around and went out.
Jiang Yishan trailed after him and said slowly, “I thought you’d change the lock on the second year we broke up.”
Qin Shaocheng’s right hand that was hanging at his side, curled into a tight fist as he coldly answered, “You go or I go.”
“Won’t you have one last dinner with me on New Year’s eve?” said Jiang Yishan, his eyelashes quivering as he lowered his gaze. “I’ve already cooked the reunion dinner.”
Qin Shaocheng walked determinedly towards the entrance hall.
Prompting Jiang Yishan to say at once, “I’ve nowhere left to go.” He continued to explain again when Qin Shaocheng slowed down his pace. “I’m not lying. I don’t even have money to stay at a hotel.”
Jiang Yishan knew Qin Shaocheng’s personality too well. The man was too kind hearted, gentle and tolerant of him. He could not help but soften his tone and said, “Besides, this is your home. I should be the one who’s leaving. I’ll go once we’re done eating, is that ok?”
Jiang Yishan turned a blind eye to the disgust Qin Shaocheng held towards him, which the man did not even bother to mask. Upon noticing that Qin Shaocheng did not have the intention to walk out the door, he quickly walked back into the kitchen, saying, “I’ll continue cooking. It’s been a long while since I cooked. Can you please lend me a hand?”
The only response he got was the study room’s door slamming shut.
In his study, Qin Shaocheng switched on the computer, and searching for Jiang Yishan’s name yielded him more than ten million results.
Every news media were listing out various examples of Jiang Yishan’s scandalous conduct, explaining how he used the press to promote his own popularity as well as purchasing fake accounts to spread false rumors and splash blackmail materials at his competitors in the recent years. But these alone were not enough to destroy him. Qin Shaocheng logged into his Weibo account and found a keyphrase at the bottom of the hot topic list, leading him to eventually find the breaking news as a result.
Three consecutive shots in a row. The first one was a picture of Jiang Yishan’s look for the event, the second one was a picture of him changing vehicles mid-way while the last one, was a picture of him kissing a man in the car. The majority of the man’s facial features were concealed behind a rearview mirror.
And the man in the picture taken five years ago, whose face was hidden from view was in fact Qin Shaocheng.
The headliner was posted last week, and Qin Shaocheng, who was buried deep in doing his work handover before the New Year’s did not notice it at all. He roughly skimmed through the comments to get a gist of what was happening before walking over to the kitchen to ask Jiang Yishan, “How much do you need this time?”
“Huh?” Jiang Yishan was now slicing up the sausage in the kitchen at a snail’s pace. “You can lend me 20. I want to get an iQiyi account to catch my TV shows.”
“You knew exactly what I meant.”
Casting him a look, Jiang Yishan replied, “You’ve seen the pictures.”
“You didn’t destroy the film last time?”
Jiang Yishan shrugged, “I got rid of it but what can I do when the man had a trick up his sleeve? The paparazzi isn’t the one to be blamed, though.”
Qin Shaocheng frowned.
“It’s a long story. I bought someone’s blackmail material once—a nobody. I found some people to lead him to Mr Zhou’s dinner party. You still remember Mr Zhou, don’t you? Zhou Zheng. His dinner party was one big gigantic mess. At first, I thought I would be able to take some good shots of the guy in that kind of place but what I didn’t expect was that, not only did he not fall for it, he actually found a benefactor during his time there. Thinking that a scandal such as being a kept man was easier to manipulate, I hired someone to snap a few photos. Alas, I was gravely mistaken. Turns out that this benefactor of his really loves him dearly, so he easily laid me bare for everyone to see.” In all seriousness, Jiang Yishan placed the sausage slice by slice onto the plate before putting the whole thing into the steamer. He turned on the stove after pouring some water in. “I reaped what I sowed.”
Qin Shaocheng could not take it any longer. He asked once more, “How much do you want?”
Jiang Yishan broke off the leaves after washing the broccoli. He cut the stem into small pieces, blanching them in boiling water before picking them up again. “Can’t I talk about other things with you apart from asking you for money?”
“What else is there to talk about?”
“A lot of things, but the look on your face seems to suggest that you don’t feel like listening to me anymore.” Jiang Yishan poured the greenish water inside the pot into the sink. “Are you afraid that I’ll talk about my past to fool you again?”
The corners of Qin Shaocheng’s lips had turned completely flat.
Putting down the kitchen utensil in his hand, Jiang Yishan looked up to meet Qin Shaocheng’s chilly gaze, his fingers slightly trembling, afraid to let Qin Shaocheng see through the cowardice and the guilty conscience he tried hard to conceal deep down. After all, he was the one who was at fault to begin with.
That year, in order to be with Jiang Yishan, Qin Shaocheng had a complete fall out with his family, travelling a thousand miles to an A City which was unfamiliar to him to start his own business from scratch. After Qin Shaocheng had spent all of his savings to buy the film, Jiang Yishan had dumped him without a moment’s hesitation so that he could continue to be a celebrity.