Liu Yu disappeared from Lu Chengxiao’s world.
Since that day, Lu Chengxiao had not encountered Liu Yu for three consecutive days. The two little beggars outside Lu’s house had also disappeared from the alley.
Every time Lu Chengxiao entered or left his house, or passed by the small path from that day, he felt a surreal and indistinguishable sense. It was as if everything was too clean, so clean that nothing was left behind, as if everything from yesterday was just a figment of his imagination, Flowers in the mirror and moon in the water1 “镜花水月” (jìng huā shuǐ yuè) – something is not real. The idea is that flowers reflected in a mirror and the moon reflected in water are beautiful but unattainable and intangible, as they are just illusions or reflections.
The tranquility that Lu Chengxiao desired seemed to have been achieved, but the scene of the last meeting with Liu Yu became an unforgettable image in his dreams.
Returning home from the shop, passing through the alley where he and Liu Yu had stopped that day, Lu Chengxiao was startled when Babao shakily called him “Third Young Master.” He realized that he had once again come to a standstill.
It was as if he had never known that one day he would feel time passing so slowly, as if a magical hand had grabbed both ends and endlessly stretched it out. Three days felt like an eternity in his world, hazy and chaotic.
Lu Chengxiao finally understood that it was not Liu Yu who couldn’t let go of, but himself.
He also realized that when Liu Yu no longer deliberately crossed paths with him, in a small town like Changfeng, the possibility of encountering someone became so low.
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She knew her own sons well. The eldest was a straightforward fellow, not prone to such things. The second son was a bit slicker, but he had already started a family. Chen Shi had become a grandmother and understood that once a man, even if he had brothers bound by blood, got married and started a family, things would gradually change. They would prioritize their own households, introducing more variables.
At present, only the third son remained. He hadn’t dealt with the family business in recent years, and marriage hadn’t made it onto his agenda. In Chen Shi’s private thoughts, she feared her youngest son might suffer.
So, after the initial concern that came from not having her son by her side for several years, when she heard her son say he wanted to go to the county, Chen Shi was wholeheartedly supportive. As she packed things, she said, “No need to hurry back. Stay in the county for a while. Don’t just settle in the town at the drop of a hat. You can learn from Shopkeeper Yan and your father. Learn what Shopkeeper Yan knows and what your father knows. Take your time.”
Upon hearing this, Lu Chengxiao couldn’t help but smile and sigh, “Mother, I’m just going to the county for a stroll. Please don’t overestimate me. I haven’t even learned the basics of what Shopkeeper Yan knows. I won’t bother Dad and my older brothers.”
For these years in Yuanzhou, Lu Chengxiao had never taken care of the family shop. In terms of experience in the business, he probably couldn’t even compare to the apprentices in the shop, and there was still a lot for him to learn. Moreover, during his time in Suzhou, Lu Chengxiao had broadened his horizons. Compared to staying confined in the shop, he longed to explore different places.
Chen Shi was somewhat resigned. She knew that her youngest son had always been independent-minded. She didn’t bother too much and said with a smile, “Alright, alright, you can go for a stroll. Don’t stay cooped up in this town all the time.”
Chen Shi still had some thoughts in her mind. If her son went out more, maybe there wouldn’t be a need for her to worry too much about his marriage.
Babao initially wanted to accompany him but was refused by Lu Chengxiao. Then, Chen Shi dealt another blow, saying, “Enough, enough, Third Young Master doesn’t need you.” Originally, he could have shown off his youthful vigor by riding a horse, but now, with a servant and a carriage, who would notice him sitting inside? Where would his third daughter-in-law find him?
Babao: … If a servant like him is so dispensable, what’s the point of keeping him? Chen Shi might as well think he’s eating for free and sell him off. Of course, this was his own self-deprecating humor, and Babao understood that the Lu family was full of kind-hearted people from top to bottom.
Lu Chengxiao was happily sent out of the house by his mother, who was waving cheerfully at the doorstep. Originally troubled, seeing his mother so joyful outside the house brought a smile to his face, lightening his heart for a moment.
As Lu Chengxiao had mentioned, going to the county was indeed just to relax a bit, change the environment, and try to lessen his thoughts about Liu Yu.
However, his idea of “relaxing” was not about poetry, wine, tea, or music—things favored by wealthy young gentlemen. Lu Chengxiao had no interest in these. In Anyi County, he didn’t know many people. The classmate who rented the shop to his family was currently studying in Yuanzhou City. Therefore, when Lu Chengxiao arrived at the fabric shop and saw it busy, he didn’t need his father to assign him; he joined his elder brother, Lu Chengzong, to help.
By the time the father and sons could have a conversation, it was already dark. When Lu Chengxiao arrived, his elder brother Lu Chengzong had already instructed the servants to prepare some good dishes for the evening. The father and sons had a few cups together.
That night, Lu Chengxiao did indeed drink, but not with his father and brothers. Instead, he was pulled out by Lin Huaigeng and Liu Zhang, who had come together during the Lu family dinner.
At the fabric shop, things were fine with Lu Xun, the elder. However, once they left the shop, Lin Huaigeng’s whole demeanor slumped. Lu Chengxiao glanced at him and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Lin Huaigeng remained silent. Lu Chengxiao looked at Liu Zhang, and Liu Zhang shook his head, saying, “I don’t know either. He dragged me out in the afternoon to find you. When he heard you were here, he brought me straight to the county.”
“Alright, I just wanted to find you guys to have a few drinks.” Lin Huaigeng had a clear goal and led them directly to the best restaurant in the county.
Liu Zhang was surprised. The escort bureau rarely gave them extended breaks, and the monthly salary they received wasn’t much. This one meal might eat up half a month’s worth of salary.
However, Lin Huaigeng didn’t seem to care. He found a seat, summoned a waiter, and had Lu Chengxiao and Liu Zhang order.
Lu Chengxiao was observing his unusual behavior and didn’t say much. He looked at the menu and ordered two dishes, then signaled for Liu Zhang to choose. Liu Zhang, a thrifty person, only picked the cheaper options and ordered two of them. When it came to Lin Huaigeng, he didn’t mind his own pocket, adding two expensive dishes and ordering several barrels of good wine.
Lu Chengxiao frowned slightly as he watched the four barrels of wine brought to the table. It seemed like there was some serious matters.
Lin Huaigeng noticed the expressions of the two and exclaimed, “What’s with those faces? We’re out to have a good time, so be happy!”
Liu Zhang: “…” Is there something we’re not happy about?
Lu Chengxiao smiled and said, “Alright, I’ll drink with you cheerfully.” He lifted one of the barrels, filling the cups in front of the three. With some snacks on the side, he took the lead and drank a full cup.
As the first cup went down, Lin Huaigeng seemed to have found a way to vent. Seeing that there were singing girls in the restaurant, he slapped his money pouch on the table, had a waiter call one over, and enjoyed the music while drinking, looking quite cheerful.
However, the cheerfulness, in Lu Chengxiao’s eyes, carried a distinct bitterness. He had some guesses in his mind, but since Lin Huaigeng didn’t bring it up, he chose not to ask.
Liu Zhang was initially concerned about why Lin Huaigeng was in a bad mood and how much money would be spent on food and drinks, but soon, he became completely absorbed in the music when the singing girl arrived.
The singing girl, whose origin was unknown, spoke in a soft Wu dialect and sang with a gentle and lingering tone. While Lu Chengxiao accompanied Lin Huaigeng in drinking, Liu Zhang had already forgotten about the food and drink, fully engrossed in listening to the music. After the girl finished her song, he applauded enthusiastically, generously tipping her. He turned to Lu Chengxiao and Lin Huaigeng, saying, “Her voice is just too beautiful.”
Is it beautiful?
Lu Chengxiao had heard voices far more enchanting.
The reflection of Liu Yu’s face appeared in the wine cup, and with a gentle sway, it dispersed with a faint smile. A hint of bitterness appeared at the corner of Lu Chengxiao’s lips. It turned out to be so difficult to avoid someone who had taken residence in your heart.
During the dinner, Liu Zhang seemed to enjoy himself the most.
After leaving the restaurant, Liu Zhang headed back to the escort bureau, while Lin Huaigeng, half-drunk, insisted on finding a place to stay with Lu Chengxiao.
His gaze had become dull, swaying as he looked at Lu Chengxiao, saying, “Chengxiao, can I stay at your place for the night?”
Lu Chengxiao had long sensed that he had something on his mind. Moreover, considering Lin Huaigeng’s current state, with six or seven people sharing a common room in the escort bureau, it wouldn’t be easy to accommodate him. So, he agreed and let Liu Zhang return to the escort bureau, while he helped Lin Huaigeng to the room at the back of the Lu Feng fabric shop that his father had prepared for him.
Lu Chengzong (the eldest brother Lu) was meticulous in his thoughts. He had instructed the cook to prepare a sobering soup and keep it warm on the stove. He also ensured there was enough warm water. All the washing and grooming utensils in Lu Chengxiao’s room were also prepared. He heard the commotion when the two returned, instructing them to use the sobering soup before returning to his own room.
After freshening up, Lu Chengxiao helped Lin Huaigeng onto the bed. Since the weather wasn’t cold, he opted to grab another set of bedding and made a makeshift bed on the floor.
In reality, Lin Huaigeng wasn’t as drunk as he seemed. After having the sobering soup and going through the process of washing up, he was already half awake. Seeing Lu Chengxiao efficiently arranging a bed on the floor, he felt a bit embarrassed and said, “I’ll sleep on the floor.”
Lu Chengxiao halted his attempt to get off the bed and said, “Just rest here. Considering your mood today, I’ll give you the bed.”
Lin Huaigeng gave a wry smile.
Lu Chengxiao had already settled on his own bedding. He asked, “Can you talk now? What happened today? Is it related to your cousin?”
Lin Huaigeng’s lips carried a bitter taste. “Knew I couldn’t hide it from you.”
He lay down, eyes lifeless as he stared at the tent’s ceiling. “I pleaded with my mother for quite some time. She finally relented yesterday and prepared gifts to visit my aunt’s house this morning to discuss on my behalf.”
Lu Chengxiao waited for a while but didn’t hear the continuation. He nodded and asked, “And then?”
As for what happened next, Lin Huaigeng didn’t elaborate. He only said, “I’m afraid there’s no hope for me and my cousin.”
Lu Chengxiao could already guess. It seemed like there was some unpleasantness between the parents on both sides again. In such situations, he didn’t know how to offer consolation.
Lin Huaigeng didn’t need consolation; he just needed someone to listen to his grievances. He said, “Chengxiao, do you know how painful it is? A heart, once lively, now feels like it’s being stirred with a sharp blade. Chengxiao, just thinking about my cousin marrying someone else in the future, I can’t accept it. I can’t even bear to imagine it.”
Lu Chengxiao remained silent. Lin Huaigeng hugged his chest, curling his body slightly.
He continued, “Chengxiao, do you know what it feels like to like someone? Do you know the feeling of wanting something but not being able to have it? You don’t understand. You probably never will. If my family had the conditions like yours, my aunt…”
“Surely… surely she won’t reject it so decisively…”
He mumbled, his voice becoming increasingly faint.
Lu Chengxiao said, “If you can’t let go, then strive for it. If the conditions aren’t favorable, work hard to create them.2It’s basically what Liu Yu was doing, creating conditions. I find it hypocritical that he should judge her for doing exactly what he’s preaching to his friend now“
With those words, there was silence for a long time. Lu Chengxiao turned around and saw that Lin Huaigeng, with his head tilted, had somehow fallen into a deep sleep.
Sansukini: Another update today. I cut the chapter because it’s very long. If you see any errors, typo, etc, please tell me because I translate and edit on my own so I skip proofreading the second time and sometimes, I’m already so sleepy so I don’t notice some mistakes.
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