Chapter 17 – Guo Ying’s Invitation
Li Yiming opened his eyes and stretched his limbs. He had just spent the last three hours paying close attention to the domain. Although its duration seemed longer this time, the session was ultimately fruitless. ‘I wonder if I should use dinner as a pretext to learn more about Fu Bo? It makes me uncomfortable that I have to manipulate him like that when he thinks of me as a friend, but I have no other choice…’ Li Yiming hesitated.
The doorbell rang. Li Yiming looked at the floor of the study. ‘The domain isn’t gone yet. Who could it possibly be?’
Li Yiming approached the door silently and looked through the peephole. ‘What? Guo Ying? Why is she here?’
Ding Dong! Ding Dong!
The bell rang again. It sounded like the visitor was growing impatient.
‘I can’t hide forever.’ Li Yiming steadied his breathing and went to answer the door with the most convincing calmness he could produce.
“Hello, do you remember me?” Ying Mei’s tone was cold and she had an unnatural smile.
“Of course, we just met in the morning, didn’t we?” Li Yiming answered politely. He could see how forced Ying Mei’s display of friendliness was. ‘I wonder what kind of ulterior motives she has.’
“Xiao Qin and I have prepared a meal, would you like to eat with us? Don’t tell me you’ve already eaten.” Ying Mei went straight to the point.
“I…” Li Yiming was unsure of Ying Mei’s true intentions, and the last thing he wanted right now was to see Ji Xiaoqin again, especially with this mysterious “cousin” of hers around.
“Well, even if you did eat, come and join us for the meal. You were friends in college with Xiaoqin after all, and now, you’re lucky enough to have become neighbors! What are you waiting for?” Ying Mei pressed on and extended her hand in Li Yiming’s direction. This time, it did sound like the authority she exuded was consistent with her true character.
“Alright.” Li Yiming sighed, turned back to look at his own apartment and followed Ying Mei to the other side of the corridor.
“Are you done with the utensils? Yiming is here.” Ying Mei led Li Yiming to his seat in the kitchen as if she was the owner of the place. Ji Xiaoqin was busy preparing a fruit platter on the counter and kept adjusting the position of a final piece of apple. In reality, she was simply looking to delay the face-to-face with Li Yiming.
Ji Xiaoqin wanted to avoid the encounter as much as Li Yiming did, but there was little she could do to refuse Ying Mei when she showed up with a bag of food and proposed having a meal together, only to suddenly suggest inviting Li Yiming over as they finished their preparations. ‘Did she… notice something?’
“Alright. Come over then. The meal is going to become cold.” Ying Mei sat down right next to Li Yiming and poured beer into his cup.
“I… I don’t drink.” Li Yiming promptly declined.
“What? You’re in the same major as Ji Xiaoqin, aren’t you? I’ve never heard of an artist who doesn’t drink.” Ying Mei ignored Li Yiming and filled his cup up.
Li Yiming could not bring himself to say “no” to such a warm-hearted proposal and took his cup. He glanced at the soup and the six platters of delicious food on the table, at the perfectly clean kitchen counter, and then at the delivery boxes piled up in a corner. ‘I know that it’s impossible for Ji Xiaoqin to have made this… what about Ying Mei? By the looks of her nails, I don’t think that it would be her either. It seems like aside from the fruit platter, everything else is delivery. At least I won’t have to worry about the food tasting terrible then.’
“Alright. I’ll give the first toast to the reunion of you two. Hangzhou is a big city, and you two are very lucky to be able to see each other again.” Ying Mei raised her cup before Li Yiming even touched his chopsticks. She glanced at Ji Xiaoqin, and the latter responded by timidly raising her own and looking away.
Li Yiming also raised his own cup, but he could not help but look at the box of beer on the side. ‘If it goes on like this… there’s going to be trouble today.’
The three glasses clinked midair, and Ji Xiaoqin hurried to empty her cup in one gulp. Ying Mei, unlike her, only sipped a mouthful of her own drink like she would a cup of tea and frowned. Li Yiming looked at the two and hesitated and then opted to imitate Ying Mei.
Ji Xiaoqin stared at her own empty cup vacantly and put her cup down silently. Ying Mei picked up her chopsticks and called for Li Yiming and Ji Xiaoqin to start eating.
“Isn’t that apartment of yours worth more than five million? I can tell that it’s a lot bigger than this one.” Ying Mei suddenly asked Li Yiming, who was busy filling up his stomach.
“Yes. Five million two hundred thousand.” The answer slipped out of Li Yiming’s mouth.
“You bought the apartment?” Ji Xiaoqin was baffled.
“Uhm… yes…” Li Yiming knew that he had said something he should not have. ‘She knows about my circumstances… This will be a hard one to explain.’
“Where did you get the money from?” Ji Xiaoqin asked and immediately regretted it. She glanced at Ying Mei furtively and lowered her head.
“Well… our old house was recently demolished for a building project, and we received some compensation. Also, my parents managed to gather some funds…” Li Yiming stammered as he tried his best to craft a convincing explanation.
“Both of you have recently graduated, haven’t you? Have you found a job?” Ying Mei changed the topic of the conversation subtly.
“Not yet. I’m still adapting.” Li Yiming tried his best to answer in a way that would not arouse further suspicions.
“I have some connections with Producer Zhang at Hangzhou Opera House. He’s looking to make a show, and he’s missing a male lead. Interested?”
“Hangzhou Opera? Producer Zhang? You mean Zhang Kaiming?” Li Yiming almost choked on his food when he heard the proposal. ‘Hangzhou Opera? That would be a dream come true! I remember Zhang Kaiming… I attended his class back in my first year.’
“Don’t look at me like that. I took a look at your graduation choreography online. A solid performance I must say. It just happened that Produced Zhang called me, so I showed him your video, and he was pretty satisfied by what he saw.” Ying Mei picked up her own cup, but put it down after a second glance at the golden liquid within it.
Similar to Li Yiming, Ji Xiaoqin was also utterly shocked by Ying Mei’s proposal. But a second glance at Ying Mei made her think otherwise. ‘I’d bet that she called Li Yiming over to test him. If she really has Guo Xiang’s interest in mind, then she should be somewhat hostile, but the way she looks at him…’
Ji Xiaoqin’s sixth sense was sharp, especially since it had to do with Li Yiming. She was certain that Ying Mei’s display of interest for Li Yiming did not stop there. When she thought about it, she could taste her own sourness, as if her favorite toy was about to be taken away. Ji Xiaoqin went back to staring at Li Yiming and awaited his answer. She knew that it would ease her own guilt if Li Yiming accepted this opportunity and went on to live a better life. However, for the sake of her own pride, which had already suffered from Ying Mei’s superiority in appearance and air, she secretly hoped that Li Yiming would refuse the offer.
Li Yiming scratched his head, a little embarrassed at being stared like that by two beautiful women, but he quickly regained his composure and tried his best to guess at Ying Mei’s true intentions.
“I’m not looking for work yet.” Li Yiming’s eyes met Ji Xiaoqin’s and came up with a not-so-convincing refusal. ‘If I guess right, Ji Xiaoqin is behind this proposal. She asked Guo Xiang’s cousin to help me out in order to ease her own guilt.’
“Alright. Contact me when you think that you’ll be ready then.” Ying Mei knew that this was nothing more than an excuse and shrugged her shoulders. She picked up a piece of tofu and swallowed it down along with her cold smile.
Li Yiming’s glance stirred up a mixture of emotions in Ji Xiaoqin. ‘ He knows… and he gave up the opportunity just like that? Is he really here for me? But I just made him lose another chance at success…’
The meal concluded with all three being too busy with their own thoughts to even taste the food. Although Ying Mei continued her seemingly innocuous chit-chat, every single question of hers was aimed at obtaining more information about Li Yiming, and she grew cautious as it became evident to her that Li Yiming was not as simple as he seemed to be.
On the other hand, Ji Xiaoqin was now sure that Ying Mei had a personal interest in Li Yiming. ‘There’s no way she’s asking all of these questions for nothing. Also, her eyes… This is exactly how Liu Meng used to look at Li Yiming.’
Li Yiming, however, was growing more and more altert. He could notice that both Ji Xiaoqin and Ying Mei were acting strangely. ‘The way Xiaoqin looks at me… I know that gaze from back when we were together. But why now? Why when Guo Xiang’s cousin is here? Also, this so-called cousin of Guo Xiang’s, I don’t think that her cold air comes from just a year or two of pretense. She must have grown up in an environment like that… Why would she try to come closer to me? It doesn’t seem like she enjoys eating take-out, or drinking beer, or talking to people at all. Why do I have that could possibly make her do this?’
That is why it’s important to learn how to say “no” from a very young age xD. On the flip side, if my neighbor told me they had free pizza…