Edited by PohTahTvh
The first day they arrived at Luotan, it was on this very bridge that they had been taken home by Dai Xiao.
Back then, Linglan was a few sizes smaller than she was now, and had yet to start speaking. Chewing on a pacifier, she huddled into He An’s arms. Cheng Xiu dragged three heavy luggage all by himself, walking in front as he went from door to door, looking for a place to lodge temporarily.
There were nearly a hundred inns and youth hostels in Luotan, but after an entire morning’s worth of struggle, they had yet to find one that was willing to accept them. All said that they were afraid the baby would be noisy, affecting their other guests.
He An knew that this was an excuse.
The actual reason was that they did not have enough cash. They had no way to pay the rent in one go, and needed to work to pay off a portion of the sum — it was fine for Cheng Xiu, as he was a proper looking Beta. With his four years of work experience in Jiusheng, working in Luotan could be considered to be beneath his abilities.
But as for He An?
He An was an Omega, and had long been marked by someone. He had a baby that had yet to be weaned, and he had just recovered from illness. His appearance was so pale and thin that he looked like a piece of paper. With how sickly he looked, which inn owner would dare hire him?
The noon sun was scorching. After being rejected by the fifteenth inn, He An was so exhausted that his lips had turned pale, and could truly not walk any longer. Cheng Xiu placed the luggage down, and asked He An to rest by the bridge with Linglan, while he rented a cheap bicycle and cycled around the town looking for a place to stay.
Linglan’s eyes were sharp, and she discovered a group of ducks by the bank combing their feathers.
Of course, they were different from the ones they had seen today.
The ducks were arranging their feathers, looking very elegant. Little ducklings were gathered together, forming a yellow downy ball. Just as Linglan was entranced by them, a huge orange cat suddenly appeared. Nimble and wicked, it leapt right into the cluster of ducks, causing the ducks to flee and scatter everywhere; flapping their wings and heading to the water.
Linglan was badly frightened. Grabbing He An’s collar, she started wailing.
The moment she cried, a wooden door was heard opening next to them. Under the “Green Apple Inn” sign, a strong and muscular Alpha walked out. He was dressed in a racerback singlet, wore a pair of slippers, and was holding a bowl of insanely spicy beef instant noodles in his hand. He looked at Linglan by the bridge, who had tears pouring down her face, then looked at the tyrannical and powerful orange cat under the bridge. Immediately, his face became stern, and he shouted firmly, “606, come here!”
The orange cat paid no attention to him, remaining on the stone tiles and continued bullying the ducks, looking like a wilful rich master.
Treated like air by the lord of his family, the Alpha’s dignity had been completely stripped away. He gestured in the air with his chopsticks, smiling placatingly at He An. “My cat has grown up, and is really unruly now. My apologies. Why don’t… you bring your child in and rest inside?”
Five minutes later, He An was seated under the shade of flowering plants in Green Apple Inn.
Rattan chairs, a wooden table, warm milk tea, and Linglan was even waving a stalk of blue flowers.
One by one, the Alpha carried the luggage inside, arranging them neatly under the porch. The sun was beating down strongly, and he had immediately started this labour after finishing a bowl of very spicy noodles, causing him to be covered in sweat. His bulging biceps shone and gleamed, and his pheromones unavoidably filled the air. However, he did not take any advantage, the scent of his pheromones very pure and clean, without even the slightest tinge of challenge in it.
Comforted by a strong yet friendly Alpha, He An’s headache reduced by quite a bit.
The Alpha had finished moving the luggage, and gave a simple introduction of himself. His name was Dai Xiao, and he mainly worked as a photographer and a scuba diving instructor as his second job, doing all of this while managing Green Apple Inn.
Holding one tiny, indistinct scrap of hope, He An mentioned his situation of having nowhere to go. Without saying another word, Dai Xiao stood up and opened a door to a room, asking him, “Is this room fine?”
This was a south-facing bedroom; spacious, clean, and a large portion of it was bathed in sunlight. The walls were dotted with images of orchid cacti. It was on the first floor, and so there was no trouble with stairs, as well as being a distance away from the front door, so there would be no disturbance from the bar near the river. With just one glance, it was obvious that this was the best room in the inn.
Overwhelmed by the favour, He An hurriedly said that he did not need preferential treatment, and just a bed would be fine.
Dai Xiao smiled, “Please don’t stand on courtesy. You’ve also seen my inn for yourself. There’s not much business, and I have many empty rooms. Don’t mention a room, there’s no trouble at all to spare you ten rooms too. If you feel bad about it, then just go for a stroll outside more often with your daughter, and my business would naturally come. To tell you the truth, recently, the general mood around the county has been too poor, and every inn is advertising by showing off their cats. 606 is getting fatter and fatter, slacking off at work as well, and it completely cannot compete with the cute and soft kittens of the other inns. I have to blaze a new trail, seeking a new way of pulling business to this inn.”
He An still wanted to say something, but Dai Xiao continued, “Don’t worry, I won’t let the two of you stay for free. If you have time, help me tidy up the yard by taking care of the flowers and grass, trimming the branches, and watering the plants. I’ll take that as rent.”
Dai Xiao’s personality was frank and straightforward. In a few sentences, he settled the matter of them settling in. Taking his phone out, he changed the status of the theme room from “open for reservations” to “already reserved”. After changing it, he thought for a moment, and decided to just take it down from the system.
“I- I still have a friend travelling with me, he’s a Beta.” He An remembered the currently hard at work Cheng Xiu, and quickly asked, “Can he stay with us?”
Hearing that, a calculative gleam flashed across Dai Xiao’s eyes. Very quickly, his expression returned to normal, and he said generously, “Of course, he’s more than welcome.”
Half an hour later, Cheng Xiu, who had received the information, rushed over, panting.
His neck was covered with a layer of sweat, his skin red from the sun, and he was fanning himself with a randomly picked up leaf, looking just like a wild monkey from deep within the mountain. When he had arrived, He An was accompanying Linglan for a nap, and in the large yard, there was only Dai Xiao there.
Dai Xiao was not idle. In his hand was a planer, and he was currently using it to skilfully shave at an old wooden plank about two metres long.
With a smile, Cheng Xiu greeted him. He thanked him as well, and asked which room he would be staying in. Dai Xiao looked up, glancing at him. Expressionlessly, he turned his head around, pointing at a room at the bottom of the stairs that looked rather cold. “You’ll squeeze in with me. There’s still space in my room, enough for you to have a bed.”
Cheng Xiu’s smile froze. “Why?”
Dai Xiao was very honest. “To save money.”
“Then why does He An get a single room?”
Dai Xiao paused in his actions, putting aside his planer. He looked at Cheng Xiu, his expression asking him if he was an idiot. “Because he’s an Omega.”
For an adult Omega to sleep in a room with an adult Alpha, it was equivalent to delivering a hunk of juicy, tender meat to the mouth of a tiger. No matter how great their willpower, they were bound to end up in bed together. To ask such a stupid question, Cheng Xiu felt that he was really like an idiot.
Scratching his neck, he still felt very resistant towards sharing a room with an Alpha he was meeting for the first time.
Alphas were domineering and uncivilised, always scattering their pheromones about randomly. Although Cheng Xiu was not as sensitive as Omegas, he still had the awareness to protect himself. Without understand the other person well enough and agreeing to move in just like this was not much different than moving into a wolf’s den without any consideration. As such, he said, “Then just empty a single room for me as well then, since your inn…”
He surveyed his surroundings. “-doesn’t have a high occupancy rate.”
Dai Xiao’s face immediately darkened.
It was true that his inn was about to shut down, but this was the sort of matter where only he could criticise it, and anyone else could just get the hell out. With how direct Cheng Xiu had poked at his sore spot, he snorted gruffly.
Cheng Xiu asked, “Y-you can’t do that?”
“No.” Dai Xiao rejected him in an absolute manner. “I’ve been living well enough alone, and to be willing to sacrifice my privacy and give you a bed, I’m already very kind. Don’t push your luck.”
Clicking his tongue, he gifted Cheng Xiu a disdainful glance, that he was not sensible at all. He picked the planer back up and continued to work on the plank. Wood shavings piled up at his feet, fine and soft, and very quickly, his feet were buried under it.
While shaving, he said, “Don’t be unhappy about it. Let me put it across this way, every room in the inn is available to be rented online. For every room that is unavailable, a sum of income is thus gone. Recently, competition between the inns have been fierce, and the profit margin is not high. Everything has to be calculated meticulously, and we have to save wherever we can. Now, I have one theme room taken out of the catalogue already, and if I were to take one more out, my accounts would definitely be bled dry this year. Do you know how difficult it is to earn money, and how annoying those people from the bureaucracy are?”
“Furthermore, it’s fine if I go hungry, but my cat can’t. When you came in, did you see? That one — that extremely fat one lying on the eaves. It eats eight meals a day, and if it’s not satiated, it would wail non-stop, and even snatch the kibble from the corgi next door, embarrassing me completely. Just this cat alone, and I’m not exaggerating, costs me thousands of dollars each year…”
Dai Xiao spoke glibly, his every sentence clear and logical. From the amount of food 606 ate, he then talked about managing costs for the inn, and from the vicious competition in the industry, he then talked about the economic bubble. Finally, he concluded — an extra bed was fine, but there was no need to discuss an empty room.
Feeling a headache coming upon him, Cheng Xiu raised a little white flag in resignation, giving in.
Only then did Dai Xiao dust off his overall, standing up. He put down his planer, steadying the wooden plank that had been shaved flat and hit it once against the ground hard. Countless fine wooden shaving drifted down.
He moved the plank over to the wall, then pointed at a broken down hut in a corner and told Cheng Xiu, “Give me a hand, go into the storeroom and find a few planks around the same size. I’ve processed the rest of the bed boards for you. Be careful, you should choose the ones with fewer mildew spots. They were removed from old beds, and have been piling up for a few years. It’s not easy to make a new bed from them.”
Cheng Xiu was stunned. “What?!”
Looking at how he was kicking up a fuss, Dai Xiao said gruffly, “What ‘what’? If I don’t make the bed, are you going to cough up the money and buy one?”
Cheng Xiu looked up at the sky for three seconds. Struggling, he accepted his current life, and dove into the storeroom to look for more planks.
Now that their place of stay had been dealt with “successfully”, that very afternoon, Cheng Xiu now owned a custom-made bed — 1.2metres in width, and 1.8metres in length, not a centimetre more or less. The only thing more that could be done was considerately carving it into the shape of a human for him. Lying on it and flipping around, every board creaked and groaned as though they could break any moment.
Angry, Cheng Xiu threatened Dai Xiao. “I’m a very restless sleeper, you might be deafened to death.”
Dai Xiao looked unbothered. “You can be as restless as you want. If you’re louder than my snores, I’ll admit my defeat.”
His threat was a failure, and gnashing his teeth, Cheng Xiu swore.
At night, the two men slept on their beds in the stiff atmosphere. Cheng Xiu closed his eyes, resting, lying there without moving at all. Next to him, Dai Xiao suddenly said, “I feel that with how you have two other people with you, you should be working the jobs of three people.”
Fuck, how shameless is this person?
Cheng Xiu bounded up, the inferior wooden planks under him shrieking tragically. “Two people? Linglan isn’t even as heavy as 606, and you have the cheek to consider her as one?”
“Why would I not do so? Is a baby not considered a person? As her godfather, you’re not even earning money for her formula. Aren’t you ashamed?”
Dai Xiao was openly behaving like a sordid merchant, looking at Cheng Xiu like how Zhou Bapi looked at an indentured labourer, wanting nothing more than to scrape every inch of benefit from them. “If you were an Omega, there might be a slightest chance that you could end up as my wife, and I wouldn’t take rent from you, or even give you 20% off. But just look at yourself, you’re a Beta, and you don’t have anything special about you at all, and your looks… hmm…”
“What about my looks? Come, complete your sentence. If you have the guts, complete your sentence!”
Cheng Xiu was in a rage. Slamming his hand onto his bed, he jumped up, lunging over as he wanted to kill this miserly and vicious-tongued Alpha. “You look down on Betas? Just because you’re a bit ahead on the alphabet, you think you’re all that. Want me to recite the alphabet backwards for you?”
Three seconds later, his two hands were caught, and with a thud, he was thrown back onto his bed like a sack. A towel was tied in a dead knot around his wrists, and no matter how he struggled, he was unable to free himself.
Hatred brewed in Cheng Xiu’s eyes, almost bursting into flames. While twisting about, he scolded, “And you want me to do the jobs of three people! You can’t even afford to hire me for one! Do you know how much my previous salary was?”
Dai Xiao yawned lazily. “Since you have the money, then first pay six months of rent.”
Cheng Xiu fizzled out in a second.
Dai Xiao was amused. “Other people store money in the bank, but you store money in your mouth?”
“Scram, my money is all in fixed assets already. It’s a 140sqm house, located in a desirable zone in the centre of Yuanjiang City. On its left is a museum, and on its right is a theatre. It’s so damn expensive, that the insignificant sum you earn will not even be able to pay off the monthly instalment. Once that house is sold, I guarantee that I’ll be able to pay all the rent one-shot… No, I’m going to buy the inn next door to yours, renovate it well, and rent it out at a super cheap price, just to steal your business.”
Dai Xiao was even more amused.
With such vicious competition here, I wouldn’t have to lift a finger, and all the hooligans in the county collecting protection money would teach you a lesson.
Cheng Xiu did not hear any of Dai Xiao’s silent mockery, and thought that he had admitted defeat. Quickly, he enjoyed the delight of having taken his revenge, and said sarcastically, “Hey, you’re so kind, don’t tell me you like my He An? Listen to my advice, don’t hanker after him. Even if his mate has died, you would never get a chance. Do you know how awesome his Alpha was when he was alive? If we add up all the rooms of the inns in this entire county, it still wouldn’t compare to the number of rooms he had in one hotel.”
“Shut up, you’re talking too much.”
Dai Xiao grabbed a blanket and threw it at Cheng Xiu. Picking up a set of earplugs, he shoved it into his ears, flipping over and falling asleep.
The first day upon moving into Green Apple Inn, Cheng Xiu and Dai Xiao were now bonded by hatred. Even He An had never expected that two people with such good personalities would actually be at odds with each other like this, creating disorder in the inn.
Due to a bed, Cheng Xiu bore a grudge against Dai Xiao, always picking all sorts of little pieces and complaining to He An about them. He tried to describe Dai Xiao as Grandet, the miser who only cared about money, the sort that would never lift a finger to help. However, He An knew that Dai Xiao was kind hearted, and was an Alpha who was very well-liked.
When Dai Xiao wore a singlet, revealing his tattooed arms, and with a 606 sprawled across his broad shoulders, the image was both strangely at odds, yet also strangely warm. It made people yearn for life in a quiet town.
Nine months went steadily past like this. Like a music canon, it repeated over and over again, gradually incorporating in it a slight, wonderful difference.
Today, without the disturbance of 606, the ducks were able to finish grooming themselves. They jumped into the water, creating ripples in the water and shadows of trees. Swimming under the low bridge, they headed to the east of the county in a group.
“Bye bye, duckies.”
Linglan waved her little hand, bidding them farewell.
On the horizon, the sun was rising from the east. The sunrise was a magnificent, crimson gold, and the sky gradually turned brighter. Shopkeepers along the street removed the planks covering their shopfronts one by one, opening for the day, and only the bar that had been busy till late at night was still slumbering.
At the corner of the street was a bookstore. He An had been there many times. It sold illustrated books, recipe books, encyclopedias on plants… and the only thing it didn’t sell were business magazines with portraits of people in suits on the cover. The rural little county was unconcerned about things that belonged to the city.
However, today, He An was a little curious.
After nine months of tranquility, he suddenly really wanted to know, that in the big, faraway city covered in smoke and exhaust, that man who had banished him… how he was now.