Liu Yu’s eyes lit up but remained hesitant, “Would it be too much trouble for you?”
Chen Sheng’s heart pounded, shaking his head repeatedly, “Not troublesome, it’s not troublesome at all.”
Not far away, Liu Zhang nudged Lin Huaigeng’s elbow, “Huaigeng, look over there.”
“Look at what?”
“Outside Ji Xian Zhai, that girl. Isn’t that the one Chengxiao likes?”
Lin Huaigeng noticed that Liu Chengxiao liked Liu Yu when they last met. Liu Zhang caught on a bit later, only understanding it after hearing from Lin Huaigeng.
Lin Huaigeng looked toward Jixian Studio’s entrance, “It really is…”
Seeing Chen Sheng talking with the girl, Lin Huaigeng frowned, “Why is she talking to Chen Sheng?”
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Ubydtqldt Msod oyp dsv zyatl, yde obld Nw Ubldtmkys, Nkd Twyktldt, yde Nkw Hbydt olal uswdt, vblu wple vs rzyu vstlvbla. Gv vbyv vkxl, vblka qyxkzu pkvwyvksdp olal alzyvkhlzu pkxkzya—dsv olyzvbu, cwv vblu yzz bye psxl pxyzz cwpkdlpplp, xyjkdt vblx xsal rasprlaswp vbyd vurknyz qyaxkdt qyxkzklp. Gp y alpwzv, vblu olal yzz pldv vs rakhyvl pnbsszp vs zlyad bso vs alye yde oakvl qasx y uswdt ytl.
Ubld Fbldt yde vblu olal nzyppxyvlp kd y rakhyvl pnbssz, cwv vblka alzyvksdpbkrp swvpkel olal saekdyau. Gv vbyv vkxl, vbl Nw qyxkzu byed’v ulv akpld vs rasxkdldnl. Nw Ubldtmkys’p qyvbla pvkzz ayd y pxyzz qycakn pvyzz, pkxkzya vs vbl Nkd yde Nkw qyxkzklp. Gxsdt vbl nbkzeald yvvldekdt vbl rakhyvl pnbssz, vbl Ubld qyxkzu bye vbl clpv qkdydnkyz pkvwyvksd.
Ubld Fbldt nsdpkelale bkxplzq pwrlaksa yde zssjle esod sd vbl qyxkzklp sq Nw Ubldtmkys yde svblap obs olal ldtytle kd pxyzz cwpkdlpplp. Tl vbswtbv vblu olal vss wdawzu yde zynjle xyddlap. Xd vbl svbla byde, Nw Ubldtmkys yde bkp qakldep qswde Ubld Fbldt yaastydv, yzoyup awddkdt vs vbl vlynbla vs vyvvzl sd vblx, yde zynjkdt alqkdlxldv.
Mblalqsal, elprkvl clkdt nzyppxyvlp qsa plhlayz ulyap, vblu dlhla bwdt swv vstlvbla.
Ebld Nw Ubldtmkys oyp qswavlld, bl oldv vs Zwydgbsw Ukvu, yde bl yde Ubld Fbldt bye yzxspv ds nsdvynv vblalyqvla. Nkw Hbydt yde Nkd Twyktldt snnypksdyzzu ayd kdvs Ubld Fbldt, cwv kv oyp yzoyup yojoyae, okvb zkvvzl nsdhlapyvksd yde lhld qlola nsxxsd kdvlalpvp.
Lso, pweeldzu pllkdt vbl tkaz Ubldtmkys yexkale vyzjkdt okvb Ubld Fbldt, Nkd Twyktldt yde Nkw Hbydt olal kxxlekyvlzu sd yzlav.
Nkw Hbydt zssjle yv Nkd Twyktldt, “Ebyv pbswze ol es?”
Mblu eked’v lhld jdso vbl tkaz, ps vblal oyp ds alypsd vs yrrasynb yde kdvlaawrv.
Lin Huaigeng pursed his lips. Though they were still quite far away, it was evident how attentive Chen Sheng was. He made a decision, saying, “Let’s go find Chengxiao!”
In Lufeng’s fabric shop, when Lin Huaigeng and Liu Zhang entered, Lu Chengxiao was at the counter, learning about store management from the strict store manager. Upon seeing the two, he asked, “Why are you here today? Don’t you have to go to the escort agency?”
Lin Huaigeng, Liu Zhang, and Lu Chengxiao were all skilled in martial arts from a young age. During those years when Lu Chengxiao was learning martial arts, they also practiced for a few years. While they didn’t become martial arts experts, their agility surpassed that of ordinary people. In recent years, they found work at the county escort agency.
Speaking of which, Liu Zhang sighed, “The escort agency we’re at now doesn’t have as much business as before, and there aren’t many tasks for us. We don’t need to go there every day anymore.”
Lu Chengxiao had guests, so the strict store manager let him attend to them first. Lu Chengxiao led the two into the backyard, where the family usually handled office matters. They sat in the accounting room, and Baobao brought tea. Liu Zhang and Lin Huaigeng each took a sip, exchanged glances, silently debating who should speak first.
Lu Chengxiao observed their silent interaction and chuckled, “What’s the matter? Is there something you can’t say in front of me?”
Liu Zhang, being less eloquent, waited for Lin Huaigeng to take the lead.
Seeing that there were no outsiders present, Lin Huaigeng went straight to the point, “On our way here, Liu Zhang and I saw that young lady from last time.”
The smile on Lu Chengxiao’s face froze for a moment as he tightened his grip on the porcelain cup. However, this reaction was so subtle that even Lin Huaigeng, who was paying attention to his expression, didn’t notice.
“Just like last time…”
“Huaigeng.” Lu Chengxiao interrupted him, “I’m not acquainted with that young lady. Since both of you rarely come, let’s not discuss these trivial matters.”
Lu Chengxiao didn’t want to hear more about anything related to Liu Yuyu and didn’t want his friends to notice anything. He casually glossed over the previous events and then shifted the topic with a serious expression, “Tell me about your escort agency. I’ve encountered you a few times since I returned. Is it not doing well?”
Lin Huaigeng and Liu Zhang were initially bewildered upon hearing Lu Chengxiao inquire about the escort agency. Lin Huaigeng, being more observant, glanced at Lu Chengxiao’s expression, but he didn’t notice anything unusual and went along with the change in topic.
After leaving the fabric store, Liu Zhang belatedly scratched his head and asked Lin Huaigeng, “Does Chengxiao seem a bit off?”
Last time, he seemed quite pleased watching that young lady. Why didn’t he talk about her much today? It was as if he wasn’t interested at all.
If even Liu Zhang noticed, how could Lin Huaigeng not feel it? Thinking back to a few days ago when he borrowed a horse from the Lu family, Babao’s reaction at that time was now worth some careful consideration.
At that time, Lin Huaigeng was in a hurry to go to the county and didn’t think much about it. Later, when he returned the horse to the Lu family and heard from Aunt Lu that Chengxiao and Babao had not returned from the mountains, he simply ignored the matter.
Lin Huaigeng wondered, could Chengxiao have encountered some trouble?
He didn’t connect Lu Chengxiao’s emotions with Liu Yu.
Lin Huaigeng patted Liu Zhang on the shoulder, saying, “It’s okay. Chengxiao is more decisive than us. Perhaps he has something on his mind. If he really wants to talk about it, he’ll let us know.”
Liu Zhang thought about it and agreed, putting the matter aside.
As for Lin Huaigeng’s remark about Lu Chengxiao being more decisive, after seeing off his two friends, Chengxiao lost interest in continuing his studies in the shop. Checking the time and finding it not too late, he decided to lead Babao home. However, when they turned into the small alley where Liu Yu had caught up with him the day before, Lu Chengxiao’s figure subtly hesitated.
The image of Liu Yu seemed to reappear in front of him—the words, the expressions, the smiles, and even the final solemn look—all flashed through his mind.
He shook himself out of his reverie. This small alley, walked countless times since childhood, seemed to have changed because of Liu Yu.
Realizing that he was once again thinking about Liu Yu, Lu Chengxiao sighed inwardly, and his steps unconsciously quickened.
Babao, who was behind him, felt his pace quicken and hurriedly followed suit.
Entering the alley where the Lu family lived, Lu Chengxiao’s steps were swift, but just as he was about to step through the gate, he seemed to think of something. He turned his head and glanced at the place where the two young beggars often stayed.
The spot was empty now, and the siblings who were there in the morning were nowhere to be seen.
Lin Huaigeng had mentioned that she came to Changfeng Town today. Perhaps Lu Chengxiao had already informed those two children not to linger near the Lu family in the future.
Lu Chengxiao thought it was for the best, avoiding each other in this way.
Yet, a growing emptiness filled his heart, as if he had lost his direction and couldn’t find his way home.
In the Chen family in Zhennan, Chen Sheng left his bookstore early today, leaving it under the care of his assistant. He quietly returned home to find his younger sister.
Seeing him avoid their mother and quietly pulling her into the inner courtyard, Chen’s younger sister asked curiously, “Brother, what are you up to? Why so secretive?”
Chen Sheng felt a bit embarrassed, glanced around to make sure no one was eavesdropping, and hesitated for a while. It wasn’t until his younger sister was about to leave that he blurted out a genuine statement in a hurry, “Little sister, do you have a few pieces of the embroidery patterns we bought from Yuanzhou city last time?”
Chen’s younger sister found it odd, “Are you sure you’re asking me for embroidery patterns? Not calligraphy samples?”
Chen Sheng’s face blushed even more, “It’s embroidery patterns. Find a few good ones for me to borrow. I’ll return them to you in a few days.”
Chen’s younger sister stared at her brother’s blushing ears, finally figuring it out. With widened eyes, she playfully pointed her slender finger, “Brother, do you… have someone in your heart?”
The last sentence was spoken in a hushed tone, making Chen Sheng extremely embarrassed. He nervously glanced in the direction of the hallway and whispered, “Don’t talk nonsense. It’s just a customer who wants to buy this. I thought you might have it here.”
Chen’s younger sister, observing his flushed face, found it amusing. Smiling with understanding in her eyes, she said, “Oh, it’s a customer. Let me guess, it must be a female customer, probably a charming young lady.”
Chen Sheng became increasingly anxious; if his sister weren’t already fifteen, he would have wanted to cover her mouth. Seeing his distress, Chen’s younger sister finally stopped teasing and said with a smile, “I know, I know. Don’t let Mom find out. Wait here; I’ll go find the embroidery patterns for you.”
Turning into her own chamber, she returned shortly with a small flat box and handed it to Chen Sheng, saying, “I’ve kept the embroidery patterns with ‘福’ (Fu – Fortune) characters in this box. Take it, brother. No need to hurry with the return. If you need anything like flowers or butterflies in the future, you can also come to me.”
She added with a teasing wink.
Chen Sheng blushed, but his eyes gleamed with joy. He didn’t bother correcting his younger sister’s playful remarks.
Thinking about the girl he saw in the morning, Chen Sheng’s heart couldn’t suppress its rapid beating. He knew this feeling – it was infatuation. He was certain he had never seen a woman more beautiful than that girl. If he could marry her, just the thought filled him with unstoppable joy.
However, he had no idea about the girl’s background or marital status.
Tomorrow, when that girl visited again, Chen Sheng decided that he would find a way to ask more questions.
Perhaps the next time she brought embroidery patterns.
His heart was in turmoil, filled with thoughts of the girl. As he received the wooden box from his younger sister and walked through the corridor with her, they unexpectedly ran into their mother, Chen Shi. Startled, Chen Sheng instinctively moved the hand holding the box behind him.
Chen Shi, seeing her son with a smile on his face, asked, “Why did you come back so early today, Sheng’er? How is the business at the store?”
Chen Sheng didn’t dare to say that he came back early for a girl and left the study to look for embroidery patterns for someone else. Normally an extremely obedient person, this was the first time he lied to his mother. He said, “I felt a bit tired of copying books in the study this morning, maybe because I didn’t eat much for breakfast. I felt hungry, so I came back a bit early.”
He then provided details about the business at the store to Chen Shi.
Upon hearing her son complaining of fatigue and hunger, Chen Shi hurriedly said, “You go rest now. I’ll check the kitchen and tell Aunt Chen to be quicker with her work.”
Chen Sheng smiled and agreed.
As mother and son passed by each other, Chen Shi caught a glimpse of something. When she turned her head, she saw her son moving the hand that was originally behind him to the front, holding a familiar wooden box.
Chen Shi frowned slightly, thinking. She remembered that it belonged to her daughter’s room. Upon further thought, the siblings must have come from the inner courtyard. She furrowed her brow, a hint of displeasure flashing in her eyes. However, she remained silent, pretending not to notice.
In the afternoon, after Chen Sheng went back to the study, Chen Shi called her daughter to the main courtyard to inquire about the wooden box.
Chen Xiaomei never expected her brother to leak the secret so quickly. She was quite clever but wasn’t sure how much her mother knew, so she pretended to be clueless, saying, “What wooden box?”
Chen Shi gave her a glance. “The one your brother was holding behind his back at noon. I saw it. It’s the box you usually use for storing embroidery patterns in your room, isn’t it?”
Chen Xiaomei pretended to suddenly realize and slapped her forehead. “Oh, that! My brother borrowed it from me. He said he wanted to collect some manuscripts.”
Chen Shi found it strange. Why would he collect manuscripts secretly from her?
She glanced at her daughter, thinking that her daughter wouldn’t lie to her, so she concluded that she might have been overly suspicious. She said, “Alright, if your brother needs it, just give it to him. If you don’t have enough, buy another one later.”
Chen Xiaomei breathed a sigh of relief. She managed to get through it smoothly.
When Chen Sheng returned home in the evening, Chen Xiaomei took the opportunity when they were alone to craft a story. Chen Sheng thought it wouldn’t be a big deal if his mother knew. He was of marriageable age, and hiding the item was just a matter of embarrassment. He thanked his sister for covering for him.
That night, as Chen Sheng lay down to sleep, his mind was filled with thoughts of the girl he had seen during the day. It was the first time he found himself unable to sleep at night, tossing and turning on his bed, occasionally getting up to look at the embroidery patterns in the box on his desk, eagerly awaiting the arrival of dawn.
In the town of Changfeng, another person finding it difficult to sleep was none other than Lu Chengxiao.
During the day, there were endless tasks to occupy his mind, but as the night swallowed the world, his entire focus was taken over by one person. The thoughts and memories were profound and vivid, almost maddening.
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