Xiao Li was late by one minute.
That minute made Qi Xiuyuan suffered all kinds of torment.
By the time, Xiao Li appeared at the top of the stairs, Qi Xiuyuan had stared at his watch several times already. At first, there was all sort of thoughts racing through his head, even his expression was baked with anxiety. But once he saw that person walk toward him, a sense of relief and happiness sank into his chest instead.
“Sorry, I didn’t know that I couldn’t park in front of the shop, so I had to look for another spot. Qi Laoshi, you’ve waited long.” Xiao Li said apologetically as sat he in front of Qi Xiuyuan.
“No, no. It was only a minute. I didn’t notice it at all.” Qi Xiuyuan looked at his watch again, “You… you drove the car yourself? I thought you had your own dedicated chauffeur.”
A smile appeared on Xiao Li’s face before he laughed. “I only let them drive me once in a while. It can’t be extravagant like that every day since they also have other business to attend to.”
“Being that extravagant is already pretty good.” Qi Xiuyuan joked and laughed. Then he turned around from his seat to grab a case that he had prepared earlier in the day. “A couple of days ago, I went on a business trip to Yuncheng. This is the local specialty product. I was told that it’s made from an ancient mahogany tree about a century ago and can ward off evil spirits. I bought three, one is in my possession, one I gave to a colleague and this one… I wanted to give it to you.”
Looking at the gift for a moment, Xiao Li could only avert his gaze back Qi Xiuyuan. He wanted to say something, but he ended up receiving it with a smile instead.
Soon after the waiter passed them the menu, Xiao Li carefully took a looked.
Qi Xiuyuan explained, “One of my friends opened this shop a while ago. Even though there are only simple homemade-style meals, the flavors are pretty good.”
As he said that, Qi Xiuyuan noticed how Xiao Li’s expression gradually changed. It seemed as though he was relieved but at the same time disappointment.
Xiao Li quickly ordered two random dishes and passed the menu over to Qi Xiuyuan. While Qi Xiuyuan placed the orders, Xiao Li lifted his head and looked around the shop for a moment.
“The shop is decorated very well, and the scenery is also pretty good.”
“Don’t be so polite, you’ve seen many high-class entertainment places, would you really fancy this small shop?” Qi Xiuyuan said in a joking tone as a warm smile graced his lips.
But it seemed as if Xiao Li did not like this topic. He simply smiled and remained silent.
A sense of sadness filled Qi Xiuyuan’s mind, thinking that he had said something wrong.
In reality, the only reason he had picked this shop was that it was his favorite place to come to in the entire city, and he was also quite fond of this particular sitting area.
The seat faced a spacious window with an outdoor balcony with a river that flowed into the city in the distance. Most of the time, it brought along a cool breeze (occasionally a damp vapor) that circulated around the shop and on some days, the sound of water birds singing could also be heard mingling with the flowing water from the river.
When he had first sat here for the first time a long time ago, he had thought that if in the future he has a beloved person, he would definitely bring him here. They would sit here peacefully together and have a nice chat while their gaze met in a mutual understanding. But not like how it was at this moment. There was an overwhelming sense of courtesy and unfamiliarity.
It was in that ‘overwhelming sense of courtesy and unfamiliarity’ that the meal came to an end.
Qi Xiuyuan talked a bit about his experience in Yuncheng and some interesting stories about his job. Xiao Li listened cheerfully and only expressed his opinions from time to time.
However, Xiao Li barely mentioned anything about himself. Qi Xiuyuan was quick to notice that something had gone wrong. But he couldn’t pinpoint where and how it had gone wrong.
As they walked out of the shop, Xiao Li said, “Qi Laoshi, want me to take you back?”
Although that was certainly something that Qi Xiuyuan did not want to reject, he could only reply, “Thank you, but there’s no need to. I still have something to discuss with my friend. But—”
Xiao Li looked at him.
“We’re at least considered friends, right?” Qi Xiuyuan said earnestly, “Can you not call me ‘Qi Laoshi’ again or used such a polite form of ‘you’ to address me?”
Xiao Li only thought about it for a second, “Okay.”
From there, the two said their goodbyes and went their separate way.
After walking a short road before arriving at his own car, Xiao Li made a phone call.
“Is this Feng Qiang? It’s me Xiao Li. …no, no, I have something I would like you to take care of. I remember that the Northern district is your territory or has the leader of this district changed? … there’s a shop here on Linjiang street call, ‘The River of Hope Teahouse’. Nothing happened here recently, right?… ah, so it’s like that, then remember the name of this teahouse. Afterward, watch over it a bit more… no, it’s not mine. Someone asked me for help just now… what mistress? Don’t blindly guess. Do you think I’m like you? … no problem, come to the Eastern district later… you like to boss me around.”
After he hung up, he glanced at the case in his hand with the word ‘Yuncheng specialty’ written on it and gauged the distance from where he was to the closest trash can. In the end, he opened the car door and threw the case in the front passenger seat.
“I could have never imagined that you would invite me out.” Qi Xiuyuan took a sip of the coffee in front of him, “Does Susu know about this?”
“She knows.” Xiao Yang sat upright and faced him with a solemn expression, “Actually… Qi da-ge, you knew all along that Susu and I are still seeing each other, right?”
Qi Xiuyuan nodded his head lightly.
Keeping his eyes on him, Xiao Yang said, “I wanted to discuss something with you today. I might take Susu with me.”
A frown appeared on Qi Xiuyuan’s face, “What’s the meaning of that?”
“The company that I work in wants to transfer me to a different province in three more months. The supervisor over there is a senior that I know. With his assistance, I can better understand the job and work my way up, then it wouldn’t be hard to be a permanent associate there and the salary is quite good as well. I want to live there in the future and if the circumstances permit, I want to take Susu with me.” Xiao Yang stared at him, appearing nervous and scared. “So, Susu and I talked it over and… we want to hold an engagement ceremony before I leave.”
“Aren’t you being too anxious about it? Susu has barely passed the legal age.” Qi Xiuyuan raised his eyebrows, “Also since Susu has never left brother’s side since she was little, aren’t you afraid that I’ll be worried if she goes to such a far place?”
Xiao Yang explained with a sincere tone, “We know that Qi da-ge might oppose this proposal, but please trust me. Susu is the person that I will care for the most in this lifetime. I will never let her down or betray her hopes.”
Qi Xiuyuan did not say anything.
“Qi da-ge, I understand that you love Susu dearly, but so do I, perhaps even more. If I were to do anything that will let her down, you can punish me. Besides, if we move then the reason for why you denied our relationship in the beginning will also cease to exist. Qi da-ge, think about it.”
“Then, let me be frank with you Xiao Yang. The reason why I don’t want the two of you together is not that simple. Since you brought it up, I hope you can dispel one of my worries.” Qi Xiuyuan looked him straight in the eyes, “I know that your parents met with an untimely death. It’s obvious that the expenses accumulated during the years you’ve spent studying abroad were all paid by your older brother. But now that you’ve found a great job, you want to take your girlfriend and walk away from it all? Don’t take offense to what I’m going to say, but from the way I see it, you’re being ungrateful. I may be unclear about your family situation, but I’m afraid that that kind of ungrateful attitude will also rub off on Susu.”
In the wake of those words, Xiao Yang’s complexion gradually became unsightly. “Qi da-ge, of course, I know how to be grateful to people. I am Xiao Li’s younger brother, but I am also a regular person that can distinguish between right and wrong. I don’t think I should remain next to a blood-thirsty gang leader. I will not take the side of an evildoer.”
Qi Xiuyuan shook his head, “Can a person born into the criminal world raise his own younger brother as a regular person who can distinguish between right and wrong? Don’t tell me that this is a common thing to see? Looking at it from this perspective, your older brother has not done anything wrong that would need him to feel sorry towards you.”
Xiao Yang snorted.
“Humph! There are many things he should feel sorry for. I just don’t want to tell you.” Xiao Yang sighed, “Honestly Qi da-ge, I came to discuss things over with you because I respect your opinions but fixing an engagement is a matter between Susu and me. if I want to marry her and she does as well, then your opinions won’t matter much.”
Qi Xiuyuan laughed coldly, “What? You want to compete with me on who has more influence on Susu?”
Xiao Yang lifted his head, “That… I wouldn’t dare to do. But there is something I want to discuss with you. Since you have such high moral standards, why did you take advantage of my relationship with Xiao Li and asked him for help?”
“What?” Qi Xiuyuan looked at him with astonishment.
Xiao Yang snorted, “Since you are Susu’s older brother, I don’t mind helping you. But that doesn’t mean you can use my name in order to get Xiao Li to help buy a male prostitute for you. Not only that, but you had also asked him to help your friend’s shop gain more patrons. I think the way you handle matters are—”
“Stop, stop, stop!” Qi Xiuyuan was in utter disbelief, “What you just said, say it again!”
“Are you unclear of the things you’ve done that you need me to repeat it?” Xiao Yang said with a biting tone.
Qi Xiuyuan’s brows rose in bewilderment, “Who told you this?”
When the question was asked, Xiao Yang became angrier. “You made Xiao Li think that I asked him for help because of your requests. When that happened, someone from his gang actually came to shove it in my face, intentionally leaking the information to me. A sissy male prostitute had the guts to come and criticize me!!” His voice became harsher as he talked, “I don’t want to have any connection with Xiao Li, so Qi da-ge, don’t go looking for him again.”
As Qi Xiuyuan contemplated everything he heard, his expression seemed to loosen up.
Xiao Yang sat up and waited for his reply.
After some time, Qi Xiuyuan looked at Xiao Yang and chuckled. “If you’re willing to believe the words of a person that criticized you, then I have nothing else to say. There are only two things I want to tell you: one, I still do not approve of your relationship with Susu. If you want to compete with me, we’ll just have to rely on our own abilities.”
Immediately after those words dropped, he stood up and looked at Xiao Yang condescendingly. “Two, whether or not I want to look for Xiao Li again is a matter between him and I. If I want to see him, and he’s willing to see me, then your opinions won’t matter much.”
With that, he shot Xiao Yang an unsightly look and walked off.