The visitor had ruddy cheeks and seemed more excited than ever as she broke through the entrance. When she saw Liu Meng fall down, she cried out in shock and rushed toward her with a speed that defied the laws of physics and stopped her fall. Her angry voice was heard before Liu Meng could have a good look at her face. “What are you doing? Letting her clean the floor in her situation? Why are you just like that stupid father of yours? Do you even know how to take care of her? Don’t you know that she needs your affection and protection? Pfft, how blind can you be? Hey, girl, come, take a break, my Yiming is a little fool, so don’t take it to heart, okay? Leave this to me, I’ll make some soup for you too.”
The angry-sounding woman was Li Yiming’s mother, and, after scolding her son, pulled Liu Meng to a seat on the sofa with a gentle smile. She scrutinized Liu Meng from head to toe and seemed very satisfied. The wrinkles around her eyes pulled in closer together as she smiled and complimented her. “What a beautiful girl, sorry, you haven’t been treated too well.” She reached out for Liu Meng’s hand in the most natural way.
“Ah… Hello aunt…” Liu Meng squeezed out a smile. She was far too surprised by the suddenness of it all. ‘What exactly is happening? ‘
“Mom, why are you here?” Li Yiming’s hand trembled behind his back. Just a moment ago, he was ready to send a bullet into the forehead of his mother. ‘Phew, what a close call…’
“Yiming! Why didn’t you tell me you were coming back home? If it weren’t for old man Wang’s wife, who called aunt Liu at my workplace, I wouldn’t even have known.” Li Yiming’s mother threw another reprimanding glance at him and resumed her examination of Liu Meng. ‘Wow, what a beautiful girl. Look at this face, look at this body! A perfect fit for Yiming.’
‘Old man Wang and aunt Liu?’ Li Yiming glanced at the balcony of the apartment facing his, a little surprised, and it all suddenly became clear to him: old man Wang saw it all before he closed the curtains after arriving with Liu Meng. ‘Holy crap, does gossip spread this quickly nowadays? I’ve barely arrived and mom’s already here? That’s the power of the neighborhood crowd I guess, no wonder some celebrities are ruined by rumors that spread far too quickly.’
“Have a seat, okay? I’ll clean up the room and make you some food.” After setting Liu Meng down, Li Yiming’s mother quickly began her work. Needless to say, the efficiency of a professional was incomparable to theirs, and between the occasional turning back of the head to smile at Liu Meng, the room was tidied up in no time. Liu Meng stood up to help her on several occasions, only to be stopped firmly and told to sit back down. She sat back with a freshly peeled apple and stared at Li Yiming innocently.
Li Yiming hunched his shoulders and sat down next to Liu Meng with a half-amused smile. He knew that his mother was making the wrong assumptions about himself and Liu Meng based on what his father had told her. However, Li Yiming did not want to explain the situation to her right away as he found the whole misunderstanding to be quite droll.
A sumptuous supper was soon made ready and the three took their meal happily together. Li Yiming’s mother’s eagerness and enthusiasm almost scared Liu Meng, and not only did she insist on Liu Meng drinking a lot of chicken soup, she constantly bombarded her with reminders such as not walking around too quickly, not washing her head, and not using cold water. This surprised Li Yiming at first, who thought that even his mother would not treat a girl he had just brought home in such an exaggerated way. However, right after his mother left, Li Yiming suddenly caught the reason behind such an odd behavior.
“What’s wrong with your mom?” Liu Meng asked him in a shaking voice. “I feel like she’s treating me as if I was pregnant.”
“That’s exactly what she’s thinking.” Li Yiming remembered the call he made back at the hospital in Jing Prefecture and wiped away the cold sweat on his forehead.
As night, but Liu Meng still turned left and right on the fresh bed sheets that Li Yiming’s mother had just put on. Li Yiming himself was sleeping in the living room. For a reason unknown to him, Liu Meng did not lock the door to her room and left it ajar.
Li Yiming lied on the sofa with a quilt that made it too warm once it was put on, but once he took it off, he would be freezing. He also turned left and right, and, after looking at the slit of the bedroom for the twenty-first time, he searched for a Buddhist scripture on his cellphone and went over it inside his head over and over again.
while practicing deeply with
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore,
suddenly discovered that
all of the five Skandhas are equally empty,
and with this realization
he overcame all Ill-being.
this Body itself is Emptiness
and Emptiness itself is this Body.
This Body is not other than Emptiness
and Emptiness is not other than this Body.
The same is true of Feelings,
Perceptions, Mental Formations,
and Consciousness. 1
The door to the bedroom was flung opened silently, and Liu Meng scuttled to where Li Yiming slept with her feet bare. He quickly put his cell phone down, just like a junior high student when the school residency is being checked. “Don’t you feel anything?” Liu Meng asked in a quiet voice, but her heavy breathing betrayed an inner turmoil.
“Feeling… yes.” Li Yiming gulped down some saliva. His eyes wandered about her svelte, white legs, but he did not dare to climb upward.
“Then why aren’t you making a move?” Liu Meng asked in a surprised voice.
“I…” Li Yiming was unsure about what to say. ‘Aren’t we bros, how can I…’
“What do we do now?”
‘What do we do now? With you like that, what is the only thing for me to do?’ Li Yiming threw his blanket to the side and stood up in a surge of passion. ‘So, in the bedroom, or right here on the sofa?’ Li Yiming wondered.
“The domain is very far away, are we going to make it?”
‘Domain?’ This came to Li Yiming like a bucket of icy water.
“It would take us six hours by train to go to Shangbei. We should be good for time. When should we leave?” Liu Meng sat down on the sofa and covered her legs with Li Yiming’s blanket. With how short her pajamas were, between its ends and the blanket lied a very attractive sight.
“You can feel the entrance of the next domain?” Li Yiming sat down right next to her without minding the lusciousness of it all.
“Yeah, I saw it. The Mingzhu tower in Shangbei. Also the time, it’s tomorrow.” Liu Meng looked at Li Yiming. It was obvious that she was terrified from “feeling” Heaven’s Laws for the first time. 2
‘I don’t know about this… Even with my vein activated, I’m still not an official guardian. Should I even go? Even with my life marks zeroed, I don’t actually have to participate in it, and I’ve verified before with Bai Ze. But Liu Meng… No, I have to do it.’ Li Yiming pondered over the situation. “Let me search online, we’ll take the train as soon as possible.”
“I’ll go get our things ready then.” Liu Meng ran for the bedroom.
Li Yiming put his cell phone back into his pocket with a frustrated expression. His mother had just called him; she had come again to his home in the morning with a pot of red beans porridge, only to find the apartment vacant. She made an angry call to her son that was only appeased by repeated explanations from Li Yiming that he was simply escorting Liu Meng home. She only agreed to hang up after repetitively urging him to be tactful when he would visit Liu Meng’s parents and to not hesitate to give her a call if necessary.
Liu Meng looked at Li Yiming and laughed when he scratched his head in frustration. She grimaced at him playfully and that alone was enough to bend the necks of those who were around her.
The two found their seats on a train that was making a brief stop in Lishui. The size of the city meant that there would be no departures from it. Li Yiming had put away their luggage into his bracelet. Liu Meng, without knowing about Li Yiming’s “exceptional” case, was very moved by his sacrifice.
September was the off season for traveling, with students already back in school. When Li Yiming and Liu Meng got into the seemingly empty train to find their seats, they found only one out of the six seats in the compartment occupied. The stranger who was there smiled politely at them when they arrived. Li Yiming nodded and sat down with Liu Meng facing him. However, when he had the time to look at the man more carefully, his mood worsened slightly.
The man was in his thirties, with pale skin and handsome features. His cleanly cut short hair that supported a defined jaw which let through a feeling of conviction and determination. Although the muscles which were showing through his shirt conferred to him a pleasant air of masculinity, the pair of silvery metallic glasses he wore also made him seem like a knowledgeable person. With the way he smiled and the way he looked at the others around him, he was like a magnet for attention.
‘A perfect man.’ Li Yiming thought. This was a little irritating to him, especially since Liu Meng was with him.
“Are you headed to Shangbei?” The man asked with a magnetic voice, just like one on the radio at midnight.
“Yes, and you?” Li Yiming did not answer him, but Liu Meng did. It was natural for alikes to attract each other.
“Ah, then we are companions for the road. Li Huaibei.” Li Huaibei extended his right hand and revealed a bracelet of scarlet wooden Buddhist beads bracelet on his wrist. By the looks of it, the accessory must have cost a fortune. ‘Why would someone as rich as him take the train?’ Li Yiming thought a little sourly. However, the man was very tactful; although he spoke to Liu Meng, he extended his hand in Li Yiming’s direction. Since it would be extremely rude to not reciprocate such a showing of good will, Li Yiming squeezed out a smile and shook his hand.
“Liu Meng.” Liu Meng extended her right hand toward Li Huabei. When the latter shook her hand, he had very gentleman-like manners and did not linger a moment more, which pleased Li Yiming quite a lot.
“Are you going to school?”
“We’re actually going to see a musical show.” Li Yiming answered. This was from an advertisement he saw when he ordered the tickets online. It was a performance from a famous troupe overseas, which was the perfect explanation for why they did not have any luggage.
“Oh? You like musical shows too?”
“I go to one from time to time, but honestly I can’t quite understand them.” Li Huaibei answered earnestly. The two continued their conversation for a while, and, while Li Huaibei seemed to be very knowledgeable and could talk about seemingly anything, he was also very clever in his speech. He would spend just enough time on a topic to build a conversation, but not enough as to make Li Yiming or Liu Meng feel like they were being patronized. This was enough to quickly improve Li Yiming’s opinion of him. Liu Meng, upon noticing that Li Yiming was starting to appreciate the company of this newfound friend, leaned closer to him and rested her hand on his wrist, which brought to him a lot of comfort.
Time went by quickly as the two chit-chatted. A crew member passed by their compartment with a trolley of food. Li Yiming was generous enough to treat Li Huaibei to a 25 yuan chicken rice meal.
“It’s been a long time since someone has treated me to a meal.” Li Huaibei remarked as he split the bamboo chopsticks in two and cleaned away the splinters of wood.
“Ah, it’s nothing,” said Li Yiming. ‘What’s wrong with this guy? I thought he was rich? I wouldn’t have paid for him if he didn’t just sit there and waited. I’ve gotten 3000 from the rehearsal, and 5000 from my dad, that’s not going to last me very long. Hmmm, I have a gun now. Maybe I should go look for a bank and get some money while I’m at Shanbei?’
Liu Meng helped Li Yiming open his food box and poured the drink for him as if she was his wife. She pushed the paper cup in front of Li Yiming and was about to do the same for Li Huaibei when Li Yiming’s phone suddenly rang. Li Yiming retracted his hand instinctively for his cellphone, but Liu Meng had already pulled back her hand too. With the vibration of the train, the cup full of drink slipped from the edge of the table and began its fall toward the ground.
Li Yiming had just picked up his phone when he noticed the cup. He reached for it without thinking, and, with a scooping motion, even managed to catch all of the liquid that was above it. He looked at his phone: it was a call from overseas. ‘I don’t remember having a friend outside of the country.’ He picked up the phone and an automated female voice came from the speaker. “Dear client, congratulations on being the lucky recipient of the grand prize that we are offering. You will receive a gift bundle valued at more than 18888 yuan! To claim your prize, please first register at www(dot)screwyou(dot)net.”3
“……” Li Yiming hung up his phone, speechless. He sipped his drink: this was his seventeenth prize this year.
“Good reflexes.” Li Huaibei remarked as he finished his chicken leg.
“I just got lucky…” Li Yiming realized what he had just accomplished. To be able to catch a falling cup like that without even looking, and to be able to put its content back inside, this was no stroke of luck. This was all thanks to his improved body after Heaven’s punishment.
“Well, I think that with that alone, you would be able to do decently in Shangbei.” Li Huaibei smiled and continued to work on his chicken leg. Although eating a chicken leg was by no means an elegant task, it was somehow possible for him to do it as if it were a form of art.
A new acquaintance and some old friends will show up soon… :
1. Passage from the Heart Sutra, especially the part about body being empty has been absorbed into Chinese culture and is a very common saying.
2. Shangbei is a fictional name that’s the obvious fusion of “Shanghai” and “Beijing”, however, the place Shangbei refers to would be real life Shanghai, since there’s a tower, the Oriental Pearl, or otherwise the Mingzhu tower there.
3. The naming of that site name is just to prevent it from being rendered as an URL, also xD at that name.
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