‘Wow, what a beauty.’ Guo Xiang thought. But his surprise quickly turned to scorn. ‘I knew he wasn’t gonna be able to afford eating here without having someone else paying for him.’
Li Yiming nodded courteously in Qing Linglong’s direction: paying for a meal was a small favor after what they had gone through together.
Qing Linglong had the same thought as Li Yiming. After braving through the domain back in Hangzhou together, and given his display of a strong familiarity with Li Huaibei, Qing Linglong thought that it was best to stay on good terms with the mysterious young man. If she was ever to encounter any kind of danger in this domain, perhaps he would be able to help him. Qing Linglong was a little surprised when she saw Guo Xiang, however. ‘An NPC appearing twice in a domain that knows Li Yiming?’
Guo Xiang had turned his head back and was searching through his mind for another way to embarrass Li Yiming when he noticed the young girl who came close from behind him. She wore a dark marine casual outfit with a white shirt tucked underneath. Her trousers were wrapped tightly around her slender legs: just thin enough at the calves and gaining a pleasant, attractive curvature at her thighs. Her hair was tied into a ponytail behind her head that swung left and right as she walked and brought with it fresh winds of youthful energy. And then, her face, the rosy cheeks that were colored the same as peach blossoms in a warm spring, the bright eyes watered by kindness and innocence, the slightly shy smile that carried the beauty of one’s first love.
‘Wow, how can such a beauty exist?’ Guo Xiang was just thinking about how to start a conversation with this beautiful stranger when she sat down right next to Li Yiming. She dropped one of her arms onto Li Yiming’s shoulders and stared at him with her big, radiant eyes.
“I knew that you were going to come. I wanted to say hello to you earlier, but sis didn’t let me.” It was Qing Qiaoqiao. She was passing by from a trip to the bathroom, and the good impression she had of Li Yiming after eavesdropping on his monologue to Ji Xiaoqin compelled her to approach him. Her age predisposed her to be easily moved by such tragic tales of love, especially when it was one that happened so close to her.
Guo Xiang gulped down a full throatful of bitterness as he looked at the two. Ji Xiaoqin, who was not so surprised by Li Yiming’s intimacy with Liu Meng, given that they had also been friends for so many years, was very surprised by Qing Qiaoqiao. ‘Who is she? I wasn’t aware that Li Yiming knew someone like that. Judging by the looks of it, they aren’t just normal friends.’
Liu Meng looked at Qing Qiaoqiao, and an impulse of alertness suddenly sprung up in her heart. She had heard about these “friends” of Li Yiming’s when he talked with Li Huaibei. ‘So she’s one of them? How long have they known each other to be this intimate?’ Liu Meng slowly put down her tablet and faked a light cough.
“Are these your friend? Why don’t you introduce me to them?” Qing Qiaoqiao answered to the coughing and her eyes collided with Liu Meng’s provocative stare.
“This is my friend from college, Liu Meng. Liu Meng, this is Qing Qiaoqiao. We’ve worked together and…” Li Yiming could not say anything more, given the lack of privacy.
Li Yiming wanted to introduce Guo Xiang and Ji Xiaoqin as well since the “domain version” of them had yet to meet her. However, Qing Qiaoqiao ignored them completely and interrupted him by extending her hand in Liu Meng’s direction. “Very happy to meet you, you’re so pretty!”
“You’re beautiful too. I like your hair cord.” A terse compliment from Liu Meng. The two shook hands. Li Yiming could have sworn to have seen a spark emerge out of each’s palm as their hands touched.
“Oh, really? I used to keep my hair loose. It’s just that Yiming told me last time that it would look better if I tied it up, so I wanted to try it.” Qing Qiaoqiao brought her hand back to her head and flicked her ponytail up into the air.
‘Did I say something like that?’ Li Yiming kept his head lowered and took a long sip of water from his cup: it somehow brought a feeling of sourness to the roots of his teeth.
“Oh? I thought he preferred short hair?” Liu Meng crossed her fingers on the table and smiled menacingly at Li Yiming.
“Both, both look good.” Li Yiming equivocated between two sips of water.
“Haha, enjoy your meal, I’ll go to my sister.” Qing Qiaoqiao caught the warning glance her sister had thrown at her and knew that she had done something she was not supposed to do. She quickly stood up, but, before walking away, she lowered her head and whispered into Li Yiming’s ears, “Remember to save me when I’m in danger!” She smiled, waved goodbye to Liu Meng and made for her sister’s table.
This was adding fuel to the fire that burned within Guo Xiang’s heart. From where he sat, it seems as if Qing Qiaoqiao was kissing Li Yiming on his cheek.
“Miss Qiaoqiao.” Guo Xiang suppressed his irritation and stood up with a smile. ‘I can’t give up just yet, I can take one from you and so I can take another one.’ However, before he could even open his mouth, Qing Qiaoqiao condemned him back into an awkward silence with a contemptuous and abhorring glance.
“Do you know each other well?” Liu Meng did not spare even a sliver of her attention for Guo Xiang. Of course, the same was true for Ji Xiaoqin, since she had sworn to not talk to her for five years.
“Not really.” Li Yiming was not so oblivious as to not notice Liu Meng’s sour tone, but he was too embarrassed to meet her eyes.
“Hmmpf!” Liu Meng grunted lightly and scooped up the tablet with the menu inside.
‘Wait a second, these two…’ Ji Xiaoqin looked at the pair and pondered over their relationship. Guo Xiang sat down, a little discouraged, and reached out for Ji Xiaoqin’s waist abruptly. He held her in his arms; this was the only way for him to regain some morale. However, it was quick before his anger was distracted by the arrival of another group of people. The person who led the way had an imposing stature and a very eye-catching beard. However, he was not the recipient of Guo Xiang’s attention as the latter quickly shifted his attention to the woman behind him. She walked gracefully with light steps and had a charm unlike anyone Guo Xiang had ever seen. ‘Is there a beauty contest here today?’
“Fang Shui’er?” When Ji Xiaoqin saw the flame in Guo Xiang’s eyes, she instantly guessed the cause of it. She looked at the entrance frustratingly, only to be happily surprised when she recognized the newcomer. She was also a diehard fan of Fang Shui’er, so she had grown very excited at the prospect of being able to meet her in person.
Fang Shui’er’s appearance in the restaurant was enough to draw the attention of most of its occupants. However, those who had the means to dine in such a place also usually had the manners to not rush to her and ask for a signature or a picture together. Fang Shui’er’s group followed the waiter across the hall and sat down around a table not too far away from Li Yiming’s. Li Yiming squinted his eyes while Liu Meng put on a frown. Both Ji Xiaoqin and Guo Xiang were excited, but for different reasons.
“Yiming, what about your job?” When Guo Xiang noticed that Fang Shui’er was coming closer, he instantly pulled his hand away from Ji Xiaoqin. He picked up the glass of water in front of him and asked in a composed voice, behaving as gracefully as he could. He did not talk in a very loud voice, but it was just enough for Fang Shui’er, who sat on the neighboring table, to hear it clearly.
Fang Shui’er had noticed Li Yiming’s presence the moment she stepped through the door. After all, they came here with ulterior goals in mind. Just like Qing Linglong, she wanted to start the domain on a positive note, and so she came with the goal of clearing away some of the grudges and embarrassments from the previous domain.
“I’m telling you, you shouldn’t be this courteous with me. Listen to me, I’ll invest in a dance studio for you. That’ll give you and Meng Meng a place to settle down at least, and Xiaoqin can also have some fun when she has nothing to do. We’ve been friends for this many years, so there’s no reason to refuse, really. It’s okay, it’ll be a few million at most, and I’d certainly be grieved to see you wander around without a place to settle down.” Guo Xiang tried his best to create the image of a graceful, magnanimous heir to a big company.
Guo Xiang, of course, was using Li Yiming as a stone to elevate himself, and, while the old Li Yiming might have grown irritated, all it managed to bring out of him now was an inward sigh. Liu Meng turned her head toward the window: they had completely elevated themselves above such petty considerations. Fang Shui’er had seen Liu Meng in the public square, and, while she was initially surprised at her becoming a guardian, it made sense once she thought about Mr. Kong’s involvement in the previous domain. However, when she saw with whom Li Yiming was seated, she also grew puzzled. ‘What’s wrong with this NPC, why is he here again?’
“Yiming, Guo Xiang has good will.” Ji Xiaoqin, who still had yet to get rid of her guilt toward Li Yiming, naively thought of Guo Xiang’s words as a genuine proposal to mending up their relationship and was a little moved by his sudden gentleness.
“Good will?” Liu Meng could not hold it in anymore and broke her oath of silence.
“Well, Guo Xiang…” Ji Xiaoqin started to explain.
“Ah! Yiming! What a coincidence!” A voice suddenly interrupted her. Fang Shui’er skirted around Guo Xiang and sat down right next to Li Yiming as if she had known him for a long time. Having overheard the conversation between Guo Xiang and Li Yiming, Fang Shui’er easily figured out his true intentions. After all, her clever perception skills were what brought her to her current stature. It all sounded like a joke to a guardian, but she thought of it as a precious opportunity to improve her relationship with Li Yiming. Fully manipulating the result of such human weakness was where her advantage lied after all: she herself rose to fame this way.
“Yes, what a coincidence…” Li Yiming moved a little bit further away from her in frustration. ‘Can I have my meal in peace?’
Fang Shui’er’s sitting down right to Li Yiming astonished Guo Xiang and Ji Xiaoqin. ‘Wait, he knows her?’ Guo Xiang was incapable of forming a coherent thought. As for Ji Xiaoqin, she found her former boyfriend to have become even more unrecognizable and wondered what had happened to him during the last two months. Fang Shui’er stayed silent, but she swayed toward Li Yiming with an affectionate expression. If she were a flower, then all of her magnificence, her aroma would be destined to him only. Li Yiming guessed her intentions somewhat and could not help but feel a slight tinge of guilt as he peeked at Liu Meng.
“Do we know each other?” Unsurprisingly, Lady Liu was quick to voice her dissatisfaction. She stretched herself onto the table and cast a hostile look at Fang Shui’er. ‘I’d have born with it if it was just that Qing Qiaoqiao earlier, but you too? Do you really think that I’m invisible? Also, did you really think that I already forgot about the fact that you tried to kill me with your arrows?’
“Ah, Meng Meng, you’re also here?” Fang Shui’er answered Liu Meng’s accosting with a smile and put down her hand on Li Yiming’s thigh. ‘She’s still holding a grudge because of the domain. Seems like coming over this time was the right decision. I’d think that my goals are accomplished looking when I look at that Guo Xiang.’
“Oh yeah? You’ve noticed me? Then why are you putting your hand on my man’s thigh?” Liu Meng stood up and vented her anger. Fang Shui’er’s flirty gesture was a fresh addition to her dislike for her, especially after being attacked by her back at Ning Village.
Liu Meng’s loud voice, along with her standing up abruptly, was enough to attract the attention of the other diners. Guo Xiang fell back against his seat with a gaping mouth. Ji Xiaoqin was staring vacantly at the table. ‘They’re really going out with each other…’
“Your man?” Fang Shui’er was shocked, but found an explanation. ‘Last time I saw them, based on the way they acted, I’m pretty sure that they weren’t a couple. And now… I see, she has seen through my intentions. Well, I should congratulate her for the initiative and her acting ability. Smart. Are dance actors this witty nowadays? Well, this is a nice opportunity to further my interests.’
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re not married to Yiming, are you?” Fang Shui’er stood up slowly with her smile unbroken. However, she had gained a new air: the Imperial consort from the Eastern Palace of the TV show was back, and she plunged head first into her role.
As the two faced off against each other, a clamor of surprise was heard coming from the spectators. Fang Shui’er, the star who has never had a scandal ever since her surge to fame, was fighting for a man against another girl in a restaurant? Was this a scene for an upcoming show, or some kind reality TV program? Quite a few people searched around for a better angle to observe the scene, and some even pulled out their cell phones as discreetly as they could. Qing Qiaoqiao looked at them with a surprised frown, while Qing Linglong and Grandma Wang exchanged an amused smile. Eyeglasses had the expression of someone very interested in fresh gossip, while Fang Shui’er’s group, including Zeng Qian, seemed to not care at all about the development of the situation and kept their heads lowered on the menu. Guo Xiang was completely baffled while Ji Xiaoqin looked at Li Yiming as if he were a ghost. ‘My friend and a superstar fighting for my former boyfriend?’
“So that’s it, you’re going to fight with me for him?” Liu Meng was very irritated: does this woman have no shame?
“It’s not about fighting. It’s only fair competition.” Fang Shui’er did not disappoint those looking for drama. Her words had turned the eyes of the onlookers wide. The meal today was one well worthy of the price.
“Hey, can we stop? We’re here to eat.” Li Yiming looked at the two who had sunken into their on-stage stance.
“Stop what? You should make your position clear right here, right now. Is it her or me?” Liu Meng had finally awoken her impulsive habits once again.
Fang Shui’er, once the other hand, stood facing her in an elegant posture. The skin of her cheeks was as smooth as silk, and she exuded gracefullness and magnanimity, just as when she played her popular role on TV.
Li Yiming was at a loss for words. ‘Are you really going to play around like that?’ He swept around with his eyes on the people in the restaurant and noticed that almost everyone was looking in his direction. Qing Qiaoqiao seemed curious for the next turn of events while the waiter looked at him with the eyes of a worshipper. Guo Xiang seemed to have had the life crushed out of him whereas Ji Xiaoqin threw a look surprise mingled with other more ambiguous feelings.
“I choose you, of course.” Li Yiming smiled earnestly as he met Liu Meng’s eyes. The sincerity he saw almost made him believe that she was being serious when she asked her question.
“Hmmpf!” Liu Meng raised her eyebrows in satisfaction and smiled happily.
“Everything’s still yet possible. I’ll see you later.” Fang Shui’er answered with a composed smile. She threw a glance at Guo Xiang, who was still too shocked to express any kind of emotion, and turned around slowly toward her seat. ‘My goal is accomplished, and with this, I’d think that our relationship has slightly improved.’
Those around sighed in disappointment, but the fire of gossip was burning fiercely; Fang Shui’er had just lost to a no-name girl in fighting for the favor of a man. Who was he? Also, that girl was indeed remarkably beautiful.
Li Yiming and Liu Meng sat back down. Guo Xiang and Ji Xiaoqin were at a loss for what to do. The turmoil of emotion was written all over their faces. Li Yiming did not care much at all about their reactions, he was just a little amused by Liu Meng’s lingering smile of satisfaction, and secretly happy about it too. Flaunting had to be one of the greatest possible satisfaction ever known to men. He gestured to the waiter, who came close with an expression of frenzied veneration, and was about to order a meal and fulfill his initial goal when his attention was suddenly drawn by another person who walked in his direction.
The kind of plot device that I like slightly less… a harem-ish? Also as an explanation, Liu Meng is “acting” when she fights with Fang Shui’er, since she has figured out that what Fang Shui’er really wanted was to embarrass Guo Xiang for making fun/manipulating Li Yiming. Although the author is a little ambiguous as to whether she’s really acting or not. (Is this a half-assed confession, I wonder.)
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