Novel The Innocent Landlord and His Charming Tenants

Discussion in 'Community Fictions' started by feitianyexiang, Oct 7, 2023.

  1. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 39:

    "My dad and mom divorced when I was very young," Oscar said. "My dad was a domestic violence monster, he used to beat my mom regularly."

    It was precisely because of this that Oscar had a strong aversion to any form of violence.

    "Oh, I see," Kevin nodded.

    Oscar continued, "After the divorce, I lived with my dad. After I graduated from high school, he stopped taking care of me and didn't encourage me to go to college..."

    "Your dad must have been very handsome," Kevin said.

    "Yeah, he was a playboy," Oscar said.

    Oscar then thought to himself with self-deprecation, "I'm also a playboy, aren't I? Why is it that as we grow up, we slowly become the people we dislike?"

    Kevin looked at Oscar in a daze, and Oscar continued, "There wasn't anything particularly memorable in my childhood. The most vivid memories were either helping out in the kitchen of a restaurant or asking my dad for money after school... It's been relatively better since I started working."

    "I'm sure many people like you," Kevin said.

    "Yes," Oscar replied, while also thinking about how he used to ask for money from his dad at home, and after leaving home, he asked for money from his male or female partners... Life seemed to have not changed much.

    "And then what happened?" Kevin asked.

    "After that..." Oscar said, "It's just how it is. I..."

    Oscar wanted to say, "After that, I just hooked up with people everywhere, fortunately, I didn't contract HIV."

    But he didn't say those words to Kevin. Instead, he explained, "After that, I realized that I was... very popular. I'm sorry, am I being too..."

    "No, not at all," Kevin said. "You're really handsome."

    Oscar said, "So, when something comes easily, you don't know how to appreciate it. Isn't that how people are? From eighteen to twenty-five, the love affairs were almost never-ending."

    Initially, Oscar didn't plan on having his girlfriends spend money on him, but later on, he gradually discovered that it was much easier to be supported by others.

    "I mean," Kevin curiously asked, "When did you realize that you liked guys?"

    Oscar replied, "There was this one girlfriend, and her boyfriend also liked me. After I broke up with her, that guy started pursuing me..."

    "He was handsome too, right?" Kevin asked again.

    "Yeah," Oscar thought of that guy. In fact, it wasn't exactly as he described. That guy was his junior high school classmate, and they had known each other for a long time.

    "He's actually my good friend," Oscar said. "We've known each other for eight years. He had a strong reaction when he found out that I and his ex-girlfriend got together."

    "Oh," Kevin said. "And then you went from rivals to lovers and ended up together?"

    Oscar's expression became somewhat lost, and even until now, he hadn't quite sorted out the confusion of those emotions and his own state of mind at that time.

    "His girlfriend liked me first," Oscar explained. "I... I didn't think there was anything I could do about it, but he was really angry, very angry. Or I should say, after senior high school graduation, our contact slowly decreased. We were still good friends in junior high, yeah, he was my best friend in junior high."

    "Where is he now?" Kevin asked.

    "He went abroad," Oscar said. "His family is quite wealthy, and he went to Australia. Now that I think about it..."

    Oscar fell silent. It was because on this night, he remembered some things from the past: Did he really like that girl back then? If it was about liking, it wasn't that strong. Perhaps he subconsciously hoped to maintain some connection with "him". He never truly confirmed his own homosexuality, the entire process of acknowledging his sexual orientation was not as clear as it was for Vincent or Geoff.

    "Who's the 'top' between you two?" Kevin asked curiously.

    "We switched roles," Oscar replied.

    "Let's go set off fireworks later," Oscar suggested. "I brought back some cold fireworks left from the set."

    "Sure," Kevin said. "But we're going out to play on the sixth day of the Lunar New Year, so let's save some for everyone."

    After they finished their New Year's Eve dinner, Oscar was cleaning up in the kitchen and couldn't help but think of many past events.

    After he broke up with that girl, his childhood friend reached out to him to chat. They sat in front of a flower bed, drinking and talking about their middle school days. His good friend still carried anger and, when talking about Oscar kissing her, Oscar lost his patience and said, "Is it such a big deal to kiss someone?"

    As he said that, he turned his head, as if asking if he wanted to give it a try.

    Then, he hugged his good friend and kissed him. They started kissing, and things quickly escalated. Driven by alcohol, Oscar went back to his place. Since they already kissed, why not do something even more forbidden?

    Oscar was the "top", and his friend moaned and groaned. Oscar was generous enough to let him be the "top" as well. Whether it was in their daily lives or in bed, they surprisingly harmonized. The accumulated years of knowing each other allowed them to have a deep understanding of each other, avoiding many conflicts and misunderstandings. Their similar living environments and experiences also made their values quite compatible.

    They were together like this, unclear and undefined, for nearly half a year. His good friend even bought him a camera, which he used for a long time before it was eventually stolen, just like his feelings.

    When his lover went abroad, the love that could have possibly lasted a lifetime came to an abrupt end.

    Oscar handed the cold fireworks to Kevin, who happily set them off in the garden. At this moment, he felt that perhaps he should give him a belated greeting, so he made an overseas call.

    "Hello?" came a slightly sleepy voice from the other side.

    They hadn't been in contact for a full seven years, and upon hearing his voice again, Oscar's heart skipped a beat.

    "Oscar?" The voice suddenly became alert. "Is that you? Oscar?"

    Tears welled up in Oscar's eyes. Perhaps his acquaintance with Eric and these dozen or so scenes made him nostalgic for the past and brought to light many emotions that had long dissipated, the melancholy hidden behind those subtle expressions, the true meaning lurking beneath the undertones.

    "Oscar," the voice said.

    "Yue," Oscar replied.

    "It's you!" Yue exclaimed. "It's really you!"

    Oscar chuckled. "You definitely didn't save my number."

    "You changed your phone number!" Yue's voice answered. "Where are you? What are you doing?"

    "Happy Lunar New Year," Oscar said. "Not doing much, just wanted to greet you for the new year."

    "Where are you?" Yue asked.

    Oscar thought for a moment and told him he was in River East. Yue then asked how he had been in these years, what kind of work he was doing, if he was doing well... So Oscar stood in the garden and talked to him on the phone.

    "You must be married, right?" Yue said. "Are you married or about to get married?"

    Oscar looked at Kevin's figure setting off the cold fireworks in the garden. As he turned his head, he smiled at Oscar.

    "No, no," Oscar chuckled and said, "I'm not married."

    Yue said, "I thought you would have a cute daughter."

    "Ah," Oscar said, "that kind of life isn't for me. I'm still single. How about you?"

    Yue said, "I live with Ann..."

    Oscar was shocked. "You two..."

    Ann was a close friend of the girl they both had a relationship with.

    "No, no," Yue quickly clarified. "She's staying in my house and paying me rent. She's studying for her master's degree in Melbourne."

    "Oh," Oscar understood.

    Yue added, "I'm still single."

    The two of them fell into a momentary silence. Suddenly, Yue laughed and said over the phone, "How about we do a video call? I want to see you."

    Oscar switched to the video call on his phone. Yue seemed to have just woken up. He looked more mature than Oscar remembered, wearing pajamas and turning on the lights in his study.

    They looked at each other in silence, only smiling, but Yue's eyes were slightly moist.

    "You look even more handsome than before," Yue joked self-deprecatingly. "I've gotten older and uglier."

    Oscar burst into laughter and said, "No way! You're still handsome, hmm."

    "Who is it?" Kevin asked, appearing in the video. Yue greeted him.

    "He's your..." Yue asked.

    "My good friend," Oscar answered and sat down in front of a lounge chair on the side of the garden.

    Kevin's cold fireworks had finished, and upon hearing Oscar say "good friend", he silently went back inside.

    "It's too freezing outside, be careful not to catch a cold," Kevin said.

    "Okay," Oscar replied.

    "You're just too picky," Yue joked from thousands of miles away, on the other side of the Earth. "That's why you haven't gotten married yet."

    "The one with high standards should be you," Oscar said with a smile.

    Snow started falling, tiny snowflakes drifting through the air, and sporadic firecracker sounds came from the distance.

    They both examined each other, as if trying to find the feelings of the past from each other's faces.

    "Do you now prefer men or women?" Yue asked, laughing.

    "I'm open to both," Oscar chuckled. "How about you?"

    "I'm open to both too," Yue blushed and self-deprecatingly said, "But the result of being open to both is that neither is good."

    They were quiet for a while again, and Oscar asked, "Are you working in Australia?"

    "Yes," Yue said. "I work in a software company as a product manager. How about you?"

    Oscar told him about some things happening on the set, and Yue nodded continuously, saying, "That's great."

    "My expertise is still lagging behind," Oscar said. "I'm planning to further my studies. Ah, this is the consequence of not studying hard back then."

    Yue was stunned, but then he said, "It's okay, many artists don't come from a professional background. But if you're interested, you can come to Australia for further studies."

    "Really?" Oscar said, "Does Melbourne have photography programs?"

    "There are plenty!" Yue said, "Do you want to give it a try? Send me your works, and I'll inquire at the school for you. You don't need to go through an agent."

    "But the language..."

    "There are preparatory courses here for learning the language," Yue continued, "English isn't difficult to learn, and you'll quickly pick it up for daily life."

    "How much money would it cost?" Oscar asked again, "It must be expensive."

    "It's not expensive. If you're serious, you can even apply for scholarships," Yue replied.

    "I'll consider it. After all, there will be significant changes in the living environment," Oscar answered.

    "Okay," Yue nodded and said, "That's indeed a big issue."

    He didn't try to persuade Oscar any further. After all, they were both adults, and if Oscar wanted to study overseas, he would surely contact Yue on his own. Oscar changed the topic and asked, "How is Ann doing lately?"

    "She's still the same. You know what? Ann used to have a crush on you too..."

    "No way!" Oscar exclaimed exaggeratedly, "That's so awkward..."

    "Half of the girls in our class had a crush on you," Yue said again, "There are several of them in Australia. We're even considering organizing a small reunion..."

    On this night, unexpectedly, a phone call awakened many memories from years ago. Each person involved seemed to be immersed in their own reminiscence:

    Geoff held sleeping Maggie, listening to his mother recounting amusing stories from his and his older brother's childhood.

    Kevin returned to his room, changed into a wig, put on makeup, and went online, chatting about many past events with Whiskey, who had finished his New Year's Eve dinner.

    Alex accompanied his sister to set off fireworks on the street and ran into a family of their middle school classmates, reminiscing about their student days.

    Shawn slept deeply, as if he had fallen into a coma... He had been sleeping after last night's dinner. Vincent even thought he might have died and went to check his breathing. On New Year's Eve, they had breakfast together and made love again. Shawn continued sleeping, only waking up in a daze to join the Lunar New Year's Eve dinner, as if he wanted to make up for all the sleep he missed in the past year.

    Vincent talked about his childhood memories of celebrating the Lunar New Year, when his grandparents would take him to the riverbank to set off fireworks. Everyone, bathed in the glow of memories and fireworks, welcomed another cycle of the seasons.

    And in this tranquility, entwined with the thawing river water amidst colliding shards of ice, spring arrived as scheduled.
  2. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 40:

    On the fifth day of the Lunar New Year, Alex's gym opened for business, with a trial operation for this month.

    Based on Alex's experience, the first month of business would generally be slow, but since it was an auspicious day on the fifth day of the Lunar New Year, he decided to take advantage of the momentum and open for business. He didn't want to follow the paths of his competitors, who hired a group of part-time fitness trainers to roam the streets, begging passersby to sign up for memberships. For his new gym, he took Geoff's advice and hired only one female staff member while minimizing expenses such as rent, treating it as a long-term personal studio.

    Of course, even a modest business needed a grand opening ceremony. Alex originally planned to invite his roommates to perform a simple ceremony at the gym entrance and then have a cup of coffee together inside, chatting and catching up. However, he never expected that today...

    So many people showed up!

    The studio was located between a convenience store and a gas station, enjoying plenty of sunshine. The flower baskets celebrating the grand opening were almost blocking the main road. Each roommate brought two flower baskets, and Geoff and Shawn even had their company's name on them to congratulate Alex.

    What shocked Alex even more was the presence of a celebrity at the opening ceremony! Eric Kong, although not considered a big star, was a third-tier artist. When the nanny car stopped outside the store, and he stepped out in a suit, the scene was as if he was walking on a red carpet with background music. And curious onlookers and old clients who came over to congratulate Alex had created a bustling atmosphere.

    "Eric? Eric Kong?" Vincent approached with a gift and was also taken aback, although his surprise was of a different nature from the others.

    "Is that the actor?" Shawn asked.

    "It seems so," Vincent said, "Have you seen any of the dramas he's acted in? He's Oscar's friend."

    "Oscar is also acting?" Shawn asked.

    "He's a photographer for the film crew," Vincent said.

    Vincent signaled Shawn to walk ahead, afraid that Eric might mistakenly call him "Director Zhang" and cause trouble for him. But fortunately, Oscar had obviously given a heads-up in advance. At the moment, Oscar was chatting with Eric, both of them laughing and enjoying the conversation, while Eric wore sunglasses and displayed a graceful demeanor.

    Oscar noticed Vincent's arrival and made a reassuring gesture, to which Vincent nodded in understanding before approaching.

    Alex was running in and out, busy as a bee. Besides friends who came to congratulate him, there were many old customers from before, as well as the gay men he had recently connected with on the dating app where he advertised his gym. In addition, Kevin's livestream helped bring in a wave of traffic. Prior to the Lunar New Year, Kevin exaggeratedly said, "Come and see the handsome guys! There will be a lot of handsome guys attending!"

    As a result, the entrance of the studio was filled with all sorts of people, and the LGBTQ+ community was showing off their fashion and charm as if attending a film festival. The spring sunlight was perfect, and everyone dressed up for the occasion, creating a scene reminiscent of a gay pride parade.

    Geoff and Kevin also arrived. Kevin woke up early to do his makeup and even styled Geoff's hair with some wax. As soon as Geoff appeared, someone exclaimed, "Look, there's a handsome guy!" The two of them, carrying congratulatory flowers, hugged Alex. Alex was also surprised since he didn't return home last night and stayed at the gym to tidy up. He didn't expect Geoff, with his meticulously groomed appearance and physique, to rival Oscar in terms of attractiveness. Geoff was indeed a handsome young man.

    "Geoff! You look sharp today!" Oscar noticed Geoff and began taking pictures of him, asking, "Did Kevin style your hair? Did you draw your eyebrows?"

    Geoff felt extremely embarrassed and whispered, "Keep your voice down... Where's Vincent?"

    "He's over there," Oscar said. "They just arrived."

    Vincent was standing outside the store, sipping a hot drink.

    "Vincent!" As soon as Eric spotted his target, he took off his sunglasses and politely greeted Vincent.

    "Hey!" Vincent smiled and said, "Wow, you're Eric, right? I've seen the dramas you've acted in! Can you please sign an autograph for me?"

    Eric immediately broke into a cold sweat. Oscar had instructed him beforehand, so he didn't dare to nod or bow excessively. It was a difficult situation for him.

    Shawn looked confused, and Oscar hurriedly said, "Shawn, come and take a look at this!"

    Oscar led Shawn away, and Vincent and Eric stood aside and chatted for a few moments. Soon, Eric's agent joined the conversation. Vincent knew that Oscar had managed to invite Eric to support the event today, most likely because Oscar had also informed him of his own attendance. In the entertainment industry, friendships were often intertwined with interests. Just because they had acted in a drama together didn't necessarily mean they were close friends. It was mostly a mixture of friendship and benefits.

    Since it was a friend's gym, Vincent chatted with Eric a bit more. Of course, Eric didn't expect to gain any significant resources just through a few exchanges. He merely wanted to become more familiar in the industry.

    They chatted for about ten minutes, and Eric boldly asked Vincent for his contact information, to which Vincent generously agreed.

    "Let's have the ribbon-cutting ceremony!" Alex said. "It's time."

    So everyone gathered together for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Alex wanted to pull Eric over, but Vincent stopped him.

    "Listen to me," Vincent whispered. "Don't randomly take photos with celebrities for promotion."

    First, Eric was participating today out of friendship and wasn't receiving any appearance fees. Second, in case any scandals of Eric being exposed in the future, Alex wouldn't have to explain anything. And third, Vincent noticed that there were many gay men visiting today, and if Eric's photo was posted and shared, it could potentially complicate matters if it accidentally outed him.

    So, Alex cut the ribbon, and Oscar positioned his camera to capture the moment.

    After the ribbon-cutting, Eric politely bid farewell to Alex, briefly held his hand, and gave him a tight hug.

    "Wishing you a prosperous business," Eric said with a smile.

    Alex was thrilled by the attention and exclaimed, "Thank you! Thank you so much!"

    As Eric left, Vincent felt a sense of relief. At the same time, he overheard some of Alex's clients gossiping about him, implying that he was being financially supported by a sugar daddy. It was evident that they perceived him as gay.

    Oscar was infuriated by the comments, but considering it was his good friend's grand opening, he couldn't just start a fight. Vincent whispered to Oscar, "Do you hear that? This is how it is for celebrities. They appear glamorous in public, but behind their backs, people spread rumors."

    Oscar nodded, and Shawn, who had been exploring the studio, asked, "How do you know him?" pointing to Eric.

    "We published a book about Eric in our publishing house, and I happened to be the editor for that book," Vincent replied.

    "Oh." Shawn was satisfied with this straightforward explanation.

    Finally, Alex had some time to talk to his friends. Everyone began signing their names on the backdrop, and Oscar went around taking pictures of them. They also had stickers with the numbers "1," "0," and "0.5" that they could stick on the wall next to their messages.

    "What's the main target audience for the new gym?" Shawn, who had never encountered so many gay men before, was puzzled when he saw the stickers in the box.

    "I advertised on the gay dating app, targeting the specific community," Alex said. "I want to provide services for this community."

    On the grand opening day, a female trainer was handling consultations and signing up new clients. Along with the discount promotion, they expected good business that day.

    "I saw the message wall," Vincent said. "You also plan to organize offline social events and activities, right?"

    "Yes," Alex replied. He was not very particular about sexual orientations, as long as he can make money. "Occasionally, I'll organize murder mystery games and board games, setting up something like a small-scale club."

    Shawn nodded. People came and went, and many of them intentionally or unintentionally glanced at him. Vincent noticed that Shawn was well-received by the visitors, and in addition to him, Geoff also received a fair share of attention.

    Shawn said, "Everyone is so friendly."

    "Because you seem to be the most straight guy," Vincent said, thinking to himself that they really didn't hide anything at all.

    "Because we have many bottoms here," Alex said. "But don't worry, everyone just looks at you, they won't suddenly come up and grab your little brother, so feel at ease."

    Shawn: "..."

    Meanwhile, Geoff was already being approached by someone, but Kevin held his arm tightly, radiating hostility as if warning the guys not to get too close or try to seduce his brother.

    "Look at the message board," Alex said. "There are currently eight zeros, three ones, and twelve 0.5s."

    "And are there going to be speed dating events here?" Shawn asked. "It's like a math problem, not easy to match."

    "This is a strange mix," Vincent joked but still took a sticker and went to stick it on the wall.

    Shawn took a "1" sticker, and Vincent took a "0.5" sticker. Shawn took out a "0" sticker and raised an eyebrow, gesturing to Vincent to consider changing his sticker. Vincent glared at him, and Shawn burst into laughter.

    Geoff took a "1" sticker, Kevin took a "0" sticker, and Oscar walked over, pondered for a moment, and also took a "1" sticker.

    "Oh?" Vincent made his trademark sound.

    "Oh?" Everyone nodded, and then burst into laughter.

    "Hmm?" Oscar said, "Any objections? Do you want to experience big brother's golden cudgel?"

    "No, no," everyone chimed in quickly.

    Some people began requesting Oscar's contact information, and he reluctantly gave a few out, wanting to escape the situation quickly. Meanwhile, Alex was chatting with Geoff.

    "We should be able to recoup at least 70% of the investment today," Geoff said, handing the contracts to Alex. "I just closed two deals for you."

    "Thank you, thank you," Alex said. "We're short-staffed. I should have invited a few people to help temporarily."

    "It will be better after these few days," Geoff reassured him.

    "You were absolutely right, and I'm glad I listened to your advice," Alex said.

    Geoff, unusually shy, smiled and said, "It's just because I've dealt with many situations."

    Before the grand opening, Alex consulted Geoff every day. It could be said that Geoff was responsible for half of the success of this gym. Geoff reminded him to start small, to hire only one or two employees and make them do the work of several people. He could raise the salaries or even offer shares to the employees but save on rent and utility bills. Priority should be given to providing quality service to each customer and maintaining good relationships with loyal clients. Don't aim too high.

    Alex fully accepted these suggestions, and after scaling down the business, he suddenly felt much lighter.

    "Oh, are you Trevor?" someone recognized Kevin.

    "Yes," Kevin, though unfamiliar with the person, smiled and replied, "You're here too."

    "You..." The person was one of Kevin's gay fans and laughed, "You look exactly the same as on the livestream!"

    Kevin was thrilled that he had finally been recognized. It was great to meet some of his few fans offline as well! He wondered if they would ask him for autographs.

    "Can we take a photo together?" the person asked.

    "Of course!" Kevin, with his good makeup skills, was confident in taking photos and had no problem with it.

    "Alright, let's go," Vincent suggested. "The boss is already overwhelmed."

    "Where are we going?" Geoff asked.

    "How about visiting the flower market? It's still open today, the last day," Oscar suggested.

    Everyone agreed, and Alex watched as his friends left. His mood instantly plummeted, and he said, "I also want to go to the flower market..."

    "Let's hang out together tomorrow," Vincent said. "Are you going home tonight?"

    "It depends," Alex replied. "I'll try to make it back."

    Kevin quickly took photos with the fan and ran off. Today, Shawn was driving, with Vincent in the front passenger seat and Oscar and Geoff in the backseat. Kevin squeezed between them, leaving Alex behind. The seating arrangement was just right, and they set off to the flower market.

    "Which flower market are we going to?" Shawn asked.

    "How about the Dynasty Road?" Vincent said. "I love the hustle and bustle there. It's the last day of the market, so maybe we can find some good deals."

    Geoff asked, "What's wrong? Is there something on my face?"

    Vincent laughed and said, "Geoff, with just a little grooming, you can even compete with Oscar."

    Shawn glanced at Geoff through the rear-view mirror and said, "I didn't recognize you at first."

    Shawn had some straight male tendencies in certain areas, but in others, he treated Vincent as a guy without any hesitation. When everyone was in the car together, if his wife praised another friend for being handsome, Shawn didn't show any signs of jealousy. Perhaps it was because they had spent the past few days intimately together, or maybe he had a strong sense of self-confidence and didn't see Geoff as a competitor... Anyway, he also complimented Geoff a few times.

    Geoff felt a little embarrassed again.

    "What about Maggie?" Vincent asked.

    "She's with my mom," Geoff replied.

    Kevin asked, "Can your mom take care of her alone?"

    "My aunt is also staying with them, so it shouldn't be a problem. We'll go and pick her up after the Lantern Festival," Geoff explained.

    "Well, at least you can finally take a break," Shawn teased.

    "Yeah," Geoff said, "but I'm still a bit unused to it. Sometimes, it's not so much that she needs me, but that I need her."

    Vincent glanced at Shawn and smiled. Shawn understood what Vincent was thinking.

    "Love is about mutual need," Shawn muttered to himself.

    No one said anything, and the car fell into silence. After a moment, both Vincent and Oscar spoke at the same time.

    "Geoff?" Vincent called.

    "Shawn?" Oscar called.

    Geoff and Shawn responded simultaneously. Vincent and Oscar didn't know who to speak first. After a moment, Oscar signaled Vincent to go ahead.

    "Will Alex's business make a profit?" Vincent asked.

    Geoff didn't answer immediately.

    Shawn was also knowledgeable about finances, but he was too busy. Alex didn't feel comfortable asking him for advice, even though Shawn was with Vincent, and Alex was the one who introduced them. It felt like there was still a barrier between them.

    "Do you have a cost breakdown?" Shawn knew that Vincent cared about Alex and wanted him to make money. He said, "I'll know once I see it."

    "Geoff has seen it," Vincent said. "He was mainly involved in the planning before the opening."

    "It's hard to say," Geoff finally answered. "But there's hope. Let's see how he handles the operational details."

    "What about the return on investment?" Vincent looked into the rear-view mirror at Geoff's eyes.

    "The return on investment shouldn't be a problem," Geoff replied. "I'm just worried that once he recovers his investment, he'll start spending recklessly again."

    Vincent nodded without saying anything further. He had considered investing in Alex. After all, several million yuan was just a small amount to him. But in doing so, their relationship would inevitably change. Vincent had always heard the saying that one should never do business with close friends.

    Vincent still hoped that Alex would manage things well.

    "Vincent," Oscar thought for a moment and turned to ask Vincent.

    "Yeah," Vincent said, "what's up?"

    "Have you been abroad?" Oscar asked.

    Shawn chimed in, "Are you thinking of traveling abroad?"

    "I have a friend who mentioned the possibility of further studies," Oscar said, feeling uncertain. "But the process seems quite complicated, and I'm not sure if the tuition fees are also expensive."

    "Tuition fees shouldn't be a problem," Vincent said. "Many students work part-time to earn money for their tuition, and there are scholarships available in schools. Their scholarships are equivalent to financial aid here, so if you meet the requirements, you can apply for them... We've arrived at the flower market, let's get off the car and discuss."

    In the gym, Alex signed several membership contracts and calculated the revenue. With old and new members, even at discounted prices, he had recovered at least sixty to seventy percent of the investment. The next step was to attract more new members and sell classes. Today's situation was much better than he had imagined, thanks to the support of his roommates.

    As the gay visitors gradually dispersed, Alex picked up a "1" and stuck it on the message board.

    Facing the wall full of "0", "1", and "0.5", he suddenly felt a bit melancholic, as if his soul had nowhere to rest while his body had no direction. His experiences, love, family and career, were simply encompassed by a label representing a sexual position, and pinned to the center of his life's billboard for others to observe and appreciate.

    He took down the "1", but after a moment of thought, he put it back up.

    As most of the people dispersed, the female instructor started the training session, and Alex picked up the forms, ready to adjust the classes for his new clients. And it was at this moment that someone else arrived.

    "Welcome, feel free to look around," Alex said.

    The man walked up to Alex and stood in front of the coffee table.

    "What would you like to drink?" Alex asked, looking up, only to realize that it was the elite man!

    He asked Alex to call him "Dong". The two of them had unexpectedly chatted quite a bit on the messaging app, but mostly about places to eat and hang out, both of them tacitly avoiding any discussions about their personal lives. Alex had shared some of this with Geoff, and Geoff referred to him as "Mr Dong".

    After that, Mr Dong invited Alex for three more times, but due to Alex's recent busy schedule, they only managed to meet once. It was during the daytime, and Mr Dong had booked a hotel room. Alex took some time off from the renovations and rode his scooter to meet him. Alex was quite enamored with Mr Dong's physique – fair skin, low body fat, well-defined abs, and long, untrained legs. He believed that someone with such a great body should be a bottom rather than a top. While they were intimate, Alex would playfully tease him, saying things like, "Aren't you the top? Do you enjoy being fucked? Do you like the feeling of being a bottom?"

    Undoubtedly, the second encounter left a lasting impression on Mr Dong. For Alex, conquering someone who identified as a top brought him great satisfaction, especially considering Mr Dong's attractive physique and enthusiastic participation. It reminded him of the feelings he had experienced with his previous partner. After a few intimate encounters, Alex considered the possibility of developing a regular and ongoing casual relationship with Mr Dong to ease his anxiety about being single.

    On the first day of the gym's opening, many gay men who saw Alex were visibly captivated and attempted to get closer to him. Some even discreetly tried to entice him, inquiring about how much money they needed to deposit into the account to receive personal training at their homes. Alex politely declined all such offers, as he did not want to repeat the mistake he made in the past when he hooked up with his client for commissions. That decision had caused him a great deal of trouble, and he realized that every enticing opportunity came with a hefty price tag.

    He would definitely resist the temptation this time.

    Evening approached, and the visitors had all left. The instructor approached Alex and said, "Boss, I'm done for the day."

    "Thank you for your hard work," Alex replied.

    "The gym is not open in the evening?" Dong sat down by the coffee table.

    Alex replied, "The employees would grumble if I asked them to work overtime during the Spring Festival. Are you interested in getting a membership card?"

    Mr Dong replied, "I can get one to support your business."

    "What business? It's just a playful endeavor," Alex responded with a hint of sarcasm. He sometimes felt that Mr Dong looked down on him, despite his polite demeanor and evident refinement, similar to the initial interactions he had with Vincent. However, as Alex got to know Vincent better, he realized that Vincent treated everyone with equality and respect, showing a genuine consideration for friends. Mr Dong's politeness, on the other hand, felt more like a display of manners for the sake of maintaining an image. Mr Dong showed his well-bred manners to everyone, thinking, "It doesn't matter if you're polite or not, but I need to appear polite."

    Alex was busy adjusting the class schedules for his members, which was no easy task. He felt annoyed and did not pay much attention to Mr Dong, who sat nearby watching.

    "Are you being so indifferent?" Mr Dong said. "I came here specifically to support you."

    Alex asked, "Are you interested in getting a membership card?"

    Mr Dong replied, "Yes, I want one. Where's the POS machine? Can you provide personal training at my place?"

    "I don't have time for that. If you get a membership, you'll have to come here for the sessions yourself," Alex responded.

    After some consideration, Mr Dong said, "Alright."

    Alex brought the POS machine and asked, "How much would you like to pay for your membership?"

    Mr Dong replied, "100,000 yuan."

    Alex said, "We don't offer such expensive memberships. Don't tease me."

    "How much do you charge for the highest level membership? Are there any special privileges?" Mr Dong inquired.

    Alex smiled and said, "The Platinum VIP costs 20,000 yuan. It gives you priority for scheduling classes."

    Mr Dong said, "Only 20,000 yuan? Then I'll go for that."

    Alex had intended to mock him, but then decided against it. After all, a client is a client, and he knew this guy must be wealthy, arriving in a luxury car and making such a generous payment. Dong swiped the card for 20,000 yuan and signed the contract, revealing his true name to be "Edmund Dong".

    "When can we start the classes?" Alex asked.

    "Can we start now?" Edmund replied. "Coach, shouldn't you come up with a fitness plan for me?"

    Alex said, "That depends on your goals. Do you want to focus on chest muscles, abs, strength, or cardio?"

    Edmund responded, "Why don't you take a look at my body and decide where I should focus?"

    "Sure, should you take off your clothes for me to assess?" Alex suggested.

    "Completely naked?" Edmund asked.

    "Completely naked." Alex confirmed.

    Edmund then asked, "Should I take off the thong I'm wearing today as well?"

    "You can leave the thong on. What color is it?" Alex inquired.

    Edmund replied, "The color you usually like. Right here?"

    Alex closed the gym's front door, hung the "Closed" sign, locked the door, and led Edmund to the small room where BMI measurements were taken. Edmund began unbuttoning his shirt, revealing his fair chest and well-defined abs. Alex also started undressing. Then, Edmund began touching Alex's body, and Alex removed Edmund's trousers, revealing that he was wearing men's erotic underwear.

    After abstaining from sexual activity for almost a week during the Lunar New Year, Alex's desire was reaching its peak. He fetched some massage oil and the two of them engaged in intimate activities in the gym after closing time.

    The gym was filled with mirrors, and after a moment, Alex felt that it wasn't exciting enough. So he decided to take Edmund from behind, asking him to put one leg on the equipment so that Alex could see how he penetrated his body. And that wasn't enough; Alex also encouraged him to touch the connection point to enhance the sensation. Edmund's face turned red, and he couldn't help but moan. Alex's actions were driving him to the edge of ecstasy.

    After nearly an hour, they took a shower. Edmund straightened his disheveled shirt and regained his composed demeanor.

    "Would you like to grab a meal?" Edmund asked.

    Alex emerged wearing a gym tank top and athletic pants, and Edmund reached out to touch his crotch. Alex allowed him to fondle him and said, "What's wrong? Still want more? Haven't I satisfied you enough?"

    Edmund let go and said coldly, "I know a good restaurant nearby."

    "Sorry, I have something else to attend to. Let's do it another time," Alex replied.

    Edmund would often invite Alex to have a meal together after their encounters, probably hoping to get to know him better. However, Alex felt that they belonged to different worlds and didn't want to get too involved. So, apart from the physical invitations, he declined all other offers.

    "You said the same thing last time," Edmund remarked.

    "I'm genuinely busy," Alex gestured, indicating that Edmund could see it too.

    Edmund had no choice but to say, "You can't refuse next time."

    Alex responded with a noncommittal "Hmm". It was evident that Edmund had strong feelings for him because Alex always appeared cool and reserved in his presence, speaking less and exuding a rebellious vibe during their intimate moments—completely different from the obedient persona he displayed at home.

    Edmund seemed hesitant, but after a moment, he suddenly leaned in and kissed Alex on the face. This gesture touched Alex deeply because a kiss during lovemaking meant nothing. It was just a passionate exchange. But a kiss after the intercourse meant "I like you."

    However, it remained just liking for Alex. After contemplating for a while, he reciprocated the kiss on Edmund's lips.

    Edmund left, and Alex said, "I still have something for you, a gift for the platinum member. Here's a water bottle and a hairdryer..."

    "No need," Edmund replied, "Keep them for yourself."

    Well... Alex set aside the membership gift and watched as Edmund walked away, feeling a mix of emotions in his heart.

    Although it was the last day of the Spring Festival holiday, the flower market remained lively. Everyone began to stroll around. Kevin kept holding Geoff's arm, Vincent answered Oscar's questions, while Shawn was left alone.

    What was visibly apparent was that during the Spring Festival, the wallets of the roommates were now plump, no longer resembling the days when they had to stretch every penny.

    Oscar followed at the back of the group, listening to Vincent's words and nodding occasionally. He understood that language, money, and studying difficulties could all be overcome. The biggest challenge lay in a place he hadn't considered: cultural differences.

    Vincent bought a variety of flowers to decorate their home, while Kevin purchased several small ornaments. At the flower market, he even picked out a small gift—a hanging charm that symbolized "Safe Driving".

    Vincent and Geoff looked at Kevin as he asked the shop owner to wrap the charm. Coincidentally, the exit of the flower market was right in front of the restaurant where Vincent and Shawn had their first lunch date. The place was bustling on the fifth day of the new year, and they squeezed into a corner at a square table, engaging in casual conversation.

    It wasn't until nightfall that Shawn dropped them off at No. 7 Riverbay Road and made plans to have a barbecue at the riverside park the next day. Vincent then pushed open the door and entered their home.

    The lights were on inside, and Alex was wearing an apron, skewering ingredients on bamboo sticks for tomorrow's barbecue.

    "Why are you just coming back so late?" Alex lamented with sorrow.

    Vincent realized what had happened and said, "Have you had dinner?"

    "No!" Alex's heart was filled with tears. "I called you guys, but your phones were either turned off or unanswered! Did you guys do that on purpose?"

    "My phone ran out of battery!" Vincent immediately explained.

    "What about Geoff?" Alex asked.

    "I was carrying a flower pot the whole time and didn't see the messages," Geoff replied.

    "I was taking photos the entire way. I'm sorry," Oscar added.

    "Why didn't you call me?" Kevin asked.

    "I thought you would be back soon," Alex replied.

    "I packed some food for you," Vincent quickly said. "Look, there's fried rice and some braised chicken."

    Reluctantly, Alex accepted the food. Vincent smiled and said, "Eat more tomorrow."

    "Are you alright?" Kevin noticed that Alex seemed down when they returned home. He leaned over the table, looking at him intently.

    "Huh?" Alex responded. "Nothing, just tired."

    Geoff asked, "How was business today?"

    "It was good," Alex replied. "Thanks to all of you and Oscar."

    Everyone observed whether Alex was upset about being left behind. Although Vincent didn't think it was a big deal, Alex did indeed seem troubled, appearing completely different from when they opened the business earlier that day.

    Geoff made a hand gesture towards Vincent, a heart sign, and Vincent immediately understood. But Alex hadn't said anything recently! Geoff could only speculate. During the day, he didn't see Alex's "friend with benefits" that he had mentioned before. Geoff guessed that Alex might have developed feelings for Edmund, but Edmund didn't show up on the opening day.

    Everyone sat down and helped skewer the ingredients, preparing the barbecue grill and charcoal for the next day.

    Alex remained distracted, until they all returned to their rooms to pack their belongings, leaving only Vincent and Alex at the dining table.

    "How are things between you and Shawn?" Alex asked.

    "I waive your rent for a month," Vincent replied as agreed.

    Alex smiled and said, "You don't have to waive the rent. I should pay."

    "I promised," Vincent said. "Then can I give you a gift as an introduction fee?"

    Alex leaned closer to Vincent and whispered, "Can you... lend me the landlord's Bentley?"

    Vincent responded with an "Oh?" and looked at Alex. After a moment of contemplation, Vincent smiled and nodded.
  3. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 41:

    On the sxith day of the Lunar New Year, River East welcomed a warm spring. The Gold Flowing River, covered in a thin layer of ice, had completely melted under the warming climate. The city's temperature had returned to nearly 20 degrees Celsius. Outdoor areas and parks were crowded with people enjoying the sunshine and going for outings, making the most of the last day of the seven-day holiday.

    Everyone started getting up around ten o'clock. The boys living in the No.7 Riverbay Road dormitory always got ready fast in the morning. They each carried their bags and headed to the North Beach Park along the Gold Flowing River to meet up with Shawn, who had already secured a spot. They planned to have a barbecue and engage in outdoor activities by the riverside. As they set out today, everyone subconsciously felt that something was missing. They glanced Geoff, who was only carrying a backpack, suddenly realized that Maggie wasn't there.

    "Don't say it's just you," Vincent chuckled. "We all feel strange without Maggie."

    Geoff replied, "Almost half of her life has been spent with you guys."

    Geoff had started taking care of Maggie when she was only six months old, and she had been living at No. 7 Riverbay Road for almost four months now.

    "Is she adjusting well to living in the countryside?" Vincent asked.

    "To be honest, she's not quite used to it," Geoff said, chatting with Vincent by the side of the bus. "But my mom really wants her to stay. When we left, Maggie kept calling out for me, and it was hard to explain that we were leaving secretly."

    During the Spring Festival when they went home, Maggie had been calling Geoff "Dad", which seemed a bit strange to the visiting relatives. Geoff explained that he and his big brother resembled each other very much.

    "She never calls 'Mom'," Vincent said. "That's also quite strange."

    "Now she only calls out 'Dad' and 'Vincent'," Geoff laughed. "My mom even asked who Vincent was, thinking she was my girlfriend."

    Vincent chuckled and Geoff took the opportunity to ask, "How are things between you and Shawn?"

    "We're together," Vincent answered.

    "Ah," Geoff nodded and said, "That's great."

    Vincent suddenly remembered that Geoff and Shawn's communication had become less frequent since they had all had drinks together on New Year's Day.

    "He said he wants to treat everyone to a meal," Vincent said.

    "That's fine," Geoff replied. "But not today. It should be my treat."

    "Of course," Vincent smiled.

    Geoff didn't ask Vincent about the details of being "together" with Shawn. During this time, he had been gradually realizing his own feelings. He truly liked Vincent, and this liking had transformed into an uncontrollable love that went beyond the mere aspiration for an ideal life. Perhaps because Maggie wasn't around, Geoff's attention, which had been constantly diverted, finally returned to himself. Or maybe it was the trip to the countryside that prompted him to confront his own feelings amidst his mother's urging to settle down. In any case, last night, as he lay alone in bed, he couldn't help but toss and turn, constantly recalling Vincent's words about him being handsome. At times, he felt it was too early and thought about going out to chat with Vincent, but then he feared that his emotions would be noticed.

    He could hear Vincent and Alex's voices, and he wanted to join them. It wasn't until almost eleven o'clock that Geoff couldn't wait any longer and went out in his pajamas, only to find that Vincent had already returned to his room.

    With Maggie not around, he didn't have to play the role of a father anymore and could be himself. However, he had grown accustomed to playing that role, and now that he had the occasional opportunity to break free from that role, he felt somewhat at a loss.

    He made an effort to recall his student days and tried to go back to that time. Today, he carefully selected his clothes, styled his hair, and sat in the living room waiting for Vincent, taking up the heavy bag when it was time to leave with everyone else.

    There weren't many people at the riverside park today, and Shawn was already waiting there. Geoff watched as he helped set up the barbecue, feeling a sense of melancholy. Things had turned out contrary to his wishes. He tried to find signs of their incompatibility, reaffirming to himself once again that they would eventually break up.

    Even if they did break up, do I have the courage to confess?

    Geoff sighed deeply. He had a one-year-old daughter to take care of, and his elderly mother needed his support. In Vincent's eyes, he was even less suitable than Shawn. He was well aware of that.

    "Time for cooking?" Kevin, who was only focused on eating, asked. "I'm already starving!"

    "I'll start grilling now," Oscar said.

    Vincent prepared the fire, Shawn stood by watching, and Alex said to Geoff, "Shall we go archery?"

    There was an archery booth nearby, so Geoff and Alex went to try it out. After a while, Kevin asked them to win him some prizes. Meanwhile, Shawn, Vincent, and Oscar made food and chatted, discussing mainly about studying abroad.

    "So, you've made up your mind?" Vincent asked.

    Oscar replied, "Well, I am about 80% sure."

    Shawn said, "You'll adapt. It's just going abroad to study for a few years, not like you're never coming back."

    Oscar said, "I feel a bit reluctant to leave my current life. It's strange. I've only lived on Riverbay Road for less than half a year, but it feels like much longer."

    Vincent said, "You can go. I'll keep your room and won't rent it out to anyone else."

    "Shawn!" Alex called out to Shawn from a distance. "Why don't you give it a try?"

    Shawn went over to join them. Alex distracted Shawn and taught him how to shoot arrows because he sensed that Geoff was feeling a bit down today. Alex didn't quite understand why, but it seemed like he had a subconscious desire to separate Vincent and Shawn and pair Vincent up with Geoff. Maybe it was because he had a better relationship with Geoff?

    It would be too obvious if Geoff immediately went to find Vincent after Shawn arrived, so they shot another set of twelve arrows before Geoff said, "I'll go over there and take a look."

    Oscar and Vincent stood by the grill, with Vincent watching Oscar flipping the barbecue food.

    "The house on the No. 7 Riverbay Road is mine," Vincent said to Oscar.

    "Okay," Oscar replied. "You're a director, right? After that incident, I watched several of your acclaimed works."

    "Embarrassingly enough, at first, I just wanted..." Vincent started to say.

    "Shh," Oscar interrupted, mysteriously smiling at Vincent, signaling him not to continue.

    Vincent stopped speaking.

    "I think Alex probably has an idea too," Oscar said.

    "I'll confess at an appropriate time," Vincent said.

    "But Geoff and Kevin probably never thought about it. By the way... Vincent, are you very rich? Living in such an expensive house," Oscar asked.

    "Well... kind of," Vincent replied nervously. After all, he had done something wrong by using his roommates as material for his novel, which was very disrespectful. But he swore that he only thought that way at the beginning, and gradually, he no longer had such thoughts.

    "You have tens of millions, right? Let me appreciate that kind of unattainable wealth," Oscar teased.

    Vincent laughed awkwardly. Oscar said, "Maybe I'll become a famous photographer in the future and make a lot of money too."

    "Yeah..." Vincent said. "Actually, I'm not sure exactly how much money I have."

    "You really deserve a good beating for saying that!" Oscar exclaimed.

    "Because I have a financial advisor helping me manage my wealth," Vincent explained.

    "I see. How much is it approximately?" Oscar asked.

    Vincent thought for a moment and said, "Probably several hundred million yuan? About 600 million yuan including the Riverbay Road property. Part of the assets was left by my grandparents, and the other part was earned from film investments. But the actual director's remuneration isn't that much."

    If Vincent had said "30 million yuan", Oscar might have considered it a significant amount and felt envy. However, the number "600 million" completely exceeded Oscar's comprehension, leaving him bewildered. He nodded in a daze and said, "So, you're much wealthier than Shawn."

    "Yeah... I guess," Vincent replied.

    In Vincent's eyes, Shawn's financial situation wasn't much different from Kevin's. He liked Shawn not because of his wealth or success.

    Vincent trusted Oscar. After all, he had kept his secret for so long, and despite Oscar's seemingly outspoken nature, he was surprisingly mature. Vincent also noticed that all his roommates had one common personality—they all needed money but never coveted what didn't belong to them.

    "But I have to remind you of something," Oscar said. "Do you remember the night we went to the hot springs, and Shawn got drunk and apologized to you while hugging you?"

    "I remember," Vincent replied. "He cried when we got back to the room. Maybe he suffers from too much stress at work..."

    At that moment, Geoff arrived and heard Vincent's last sentence.

    "Who suffers from too much stress at work?" Geoff asked.

    "You," Oscar and Vincent said simultaneously.

    "Do I? Grill some more shrimp. Maggie can... Oh, she's not here. Never mind," Geoff said.

    Vincent laughed again and said, "Don't burn them. They contain dioxins."

    Vincent rarely ate barbecue because doctors would considered it very unhealthy.

    "Okay," Geoff took over Oscar's work and told him to rest on the side. Then he asked, "What else?"

    "Benzopyrene, sulfur oxides, and some small tar particles," Vincent said. "But occasionally eating some won't hurt."

    Geoff laughed, and Vincent called out from a distance, "Hey! CEO!"

    Shawn quickly put down the bow and arrow and came over to help, saying, "Young master, what can I do for you?"

    Vincent replied, "You just came to occupy a spot." In other words, he hadn't done anything.

    Shawn said, "I don't know how to cook, and I'm afraid of burning things."

    Shawn had no clue about managing household chores. There was not a single skill in his skill book related to housework, and he didn't want to acquire any. It wasn't because he was afraid of getting his clothes dirty or smelling like oil and smoke; it was just that cooking seemed like a chemical experiment to him as a business major.

    "I'll teach you," Vincent said. "Pay close attention. Proteins denature at high temperatures, but they shouldn't come into direct contact with an open flame... When the shrimp shells turn into a light pearl red color, which corresponds to the RGB color code of 255, 179, 230, with a fluctuation of no more than 3, it means they're cooked, visually."

    Geoff remained silent.

    "And then sprinkle an average of about 0.2 grams of salt on each shrimp and brush them with sauce," Vincent continued.

    Shawn laughed and said, "This is much more understandable than cooking shows."

    Geoff received a phone call and went to the riverside to answer it. Meanwhile, Shawn and Vincent started playing around with a pile of food. Vincent found Shawn's movements clumsy but amusing and couldn't stop laughing. Shawn also felt the heat and took off his jacket, leaving himself in just a shirt. He rolled up his sleeves and began grilling.

    While Shawn focused on the food, Vincent couldn't help but admire Shawn's face and thought he looked more handsome the longer he looked at him.

    After that day, Shawn remained relatively restrained when it came to sex. However, during the honeymoon phase of their relationship, he always wanted to be with Vincent and not be apart. So from the day before the Lunar New Year's Eve to the fifth day of the New Year, except for Vincent going home last night, they were together all the time.

    Shawn desired more, but he cared more about Vincent's feelings so he controlled himself. He only asked for intimacy once every night, and Vincent didn't refuse. Surprisingly, Vincent adapted to it, and what initially started as pain and pleasure turned into both sides exploring and learning each other's bodies. Being with a top was indeed comfortable because both parties' emotions were stable, which was a rare and valuable quality among modern men. They didn't constantly have to guess what the other person was thinking or worry about saying something wrong and causing serious consequences, which effectively reduced the emotional strain during the honeymoon phase.

    "See, you can do it," Vincent commented.

    Shawn asked, "When will you move in?"

    Vincent was taken aback, not understanding why Shawn would bring that up.

    "I want to eat the food you cook," Shawn said, his face flushing slightly. He couldn't look directly into Vincent's eyes as he asked, "Would you be willing to come and live with me?"

    Vincent looked at Shawn suspiciously. Shawn put the grilled meat aside and met his gaze, his eyes showing a hint of nervousness.

    Vincent laughed.

    Shawn said, "I'm serious."

    Vincent asked, "Do you know what that means?"

    "Huh?" Shawn was a bit confused. "Did I say something wrong?"

    Vincent thought for a moment and said, "No, you didn't."

    Shawn said, "Move in. I want to live with you, Vincent."

    Vincent asked, "Why?"

    "Your life is interesting," Shawn said. "Mine is boring. I want to get closer to you and experience some of your interesting life."

    Vincent smiled and said, "I'm just not working in a regular job. Anyone who stays at home would find life interesting."

    Shawn replied, "There are plenty of boring guys who stay at home. Don't be modest. Come and live with me. Stop living in your friend's house. After the Lunar New Year, I'll help you move."

    Vincent said, "You really... Well, haven't you thought it through?"

    Shawn asked, "What?"

    He was quite bewildered, but from Vincent's expression, he felt like he had hit a snag. However, he didn't know the reason, which made him a bit frustrated. He didn't ask further and just said, "Oh," before focusing on grilling the meat, no longer bringing up the topic.

    "Are you angry?" Vincent found it quite amusing.

    "No," Shawn replied seriously.

    Vincent said, "What I mean is, have you really thought it through? Living together?"

    Shawn seemed to see a glimmer of hope and said, "Yes, I don't want to be away from you. I want spend every moment of my life with you. Just like what Geoff used to say, if I could see you at home every day when I finish work, that would be the happiest thing for me. Perhaps that's what I've been pursuing my whole life."

    When Vincent heard these words, he was still very moved. So, he decided to have a serious talk with Shawn, without beating around the bush, even though it wasn't an appropriate setting. But because of Shawn's sincerity, the occasion didn't matter.

    "We shouldn't be discussing this during a barbecue," Vincent said. "But I love you, Shawn."

    "I know, I love you too, Vincent," Shawn said. "Is this like a proposal? I'm sorry. I wasn't being serious..."

    "No, no," Vincent interrupted. "When I asked 'do you know what that means?' I meant, have you thought about the responsibilities we would have in our life together? For example, who will be responsible for household chores and meal preparations? Who will manage the finances? Will we have a joint account, or will one person be in charge of daily expenses? When we have disagreements, who has the final say? Who will be in charge of paying utility bills and maintaining the house? Will the maintenance work be shared? Do we have expectations of each other? What are our expectations for the future? If we have arguments in our daily life, how do we resolve them? And..."

    Vincent reminded Shawn that during the honeymoon phase, everything might seem perfect, and both parties would accommodate each other to the fullest extent. Vincent even compromised on sexual positions, so what couldn't be negotiated?

    However, once they started living together, they would face more than just having meals, buying gifts for each other, and having intimate moments.

    Vincent wanted to say more, like how he didn't like the minimalist style of Shawn's home or living in a high-rise building. But he held back. After all, it was Shawn's house purchased with his savings. Shawn was like a bird building its nest, showcasing the nest it had painstakingly crafted with dry twigs and leaves, singing its mating song to another bird. This kind of sincerity should be respected and not disparaged.

    However, Vincent had no intention of moving out of No. 7 Riverbay Road. He was contemplating when to have a serious conversation with Shawn. He had trapped himself with his own rules - not allowing overnight guests. Although the rules could be changed and his roommates would accept it, it still wasn't ideal.

    "Alright." Shawn agreed, not feeling angry at all and fully accepting Vincent's words. "I think we can do it this way."

    As Shawn turned around, seemingly looking for something, Vincent interjected, "Let's both carefully consider it for a few days, think it through. I also need some time to think."

    Shawn had wanted to make a decision while the topic was brought up. But since Vincent had spoken that way, he reluctantly nodded in agreement. And at that moment, Geoff returned.

    "Dinner's ready!" Vincent exclaimed. "Everything's grilled! You lazy bunch!"

    Oscar, after finishing his coffee, came over and said, "Well done, you two!"

    Everyone hadn't had breakfast, so they started serving the food. However, Geoff put on his jacket and said, "Sorry, I have to leave immediately."

    "What?" Everyone was surprised.

    "Working overtime?" Vincent asked.

    Geoff replied, "Someone from my hometown has come to River East. It's the child of my late brother's friend, bringing some presents to see my brother and sister-in-law."

    "He doesn't know?" Alex asked.

    "No, he doesn't," Geoff replied. "I have to go to the train station to pick him up."

    Shawn asked, "Feel free to use my car."

    Geoff hurriedly said, "No, thanks. I might not come back today."

    "Alright," Vincent said. "Is he here for a vacation?"

    Kevin asked, "How old is he?"

    "Nineteen. He's not here for a vacation," Geoff sighed. "The kid wants to find a tutoring center in River East and attend spring classes to apply for a university here... Anyway, I have to go now."

    "Okay, take care," everyone bid him farewell and reminded him not to rush.

    While eating the barbecue, everyone praised Shawn for his cooking, saying that he also had culinary talent. However, they honestly finished Oscar's food first, then Vincent's, and finally, a small portion of Shawn's masterpiece remained, which Vincent graciously polished off.

    Shawn seemed absent-minded, clearly pondering the questions Vincent had raised.

    【Can I bring him to Riverbay Road for the time being?】Geoff messaged Vincent. 【I don't know where to go this afternoon, and I don't want to sit in the coffee shop all the time.】

    Vincent replied, 【Of course, you can. He's your guest, so it's fine.】

    After a day of barbecue and activities in the park, everyone returned home with laughter and saw a nineteen-year-old young man sitting on the sofa, while Geoff was brewing tea for him.

    The young man was dressed in sportswear and had a physique similar to Geoff's, tall, thin but strong, exuding the aura of an athletic basketball player.

    Vincent said hi to him.

    "Hello, big brothers," the young man stood up and greeted them politely.

    Geoff introduced, "This is Jason Shen."

    Everyone greeted him, and since Geoff referred to him as "that kid" earlier, their first impression of him was that of a "kid". However, Jason stood up and was as tall as Vincent, with a strong physique. He seemed to have mixed heritage, possibly from the Alpine ethnic minority of the mountains. Surprisingly, he had fairer skin than Geoff, which instantly surprised everyone.

    Kevin chuckled, "Your names sound like male leads in a novel."

    Kevin's eyes clearly hinted at the words "little wolf" (referring to a young and manly boyfriend) repeatedly, but Vincent gave him a meaningful glance, and Kevin refrained from teasing Geoff's guest.

    "Let's go cook," Vincent nudged Oscar.

    "Why do we have to eat again?" Oscar returned after a day of hanging out, and now he had to cook for this group of guys. Every time he filled the rice cooker, they devoured it all. With one more person, a pot of rice wouldn't be enough.

    Geoff said, "Just make some noodles for him. I'll make arrangements after dinner. We have some local specialties here, two home-raised and well-prepared chickens, and eggs brought from the countryside."

    Vincent observed Jason and noticed that his eyes were red, indicating that he had cried. Vincent guessed that Geoff had told him the truth.

    Oscar said, "Let's all have noodles. I'm too lazy to stir-fry dishes."

    Of course, though the chef slacked off, his cooking skills were still extraordinary. Oscar made some chicken soup, cooked a large pot of noodles, and fried about ten eggs. His efficiency rivaled that of a canteen. In the end, everything was devoured, especially by Jason, who dug in silently and had altogether four bowls of noodles. Even Geoff was amazed, and everyone couldn't help but marvel at the enormous appetite of a nineteen-year-old young man.

    "Look at you, then look at him," Oscar said to Kevin.

    Kevin couldn't stop laughing, and Jason's face turned slightly red, clearly feeling embarrassed. He then addressed Geoff as "Uncle".

    Geoff said, "don't bother to clean up, I'll do it."

    Jason kept saying thank you, and besides "thank you" and "sorry", he referred to Geoff as "Uncle". Everyone thought he was polite and well-behaved. Each person gave him red envelopes with money for the Chinese New Year, but Jason hesitated to accept them. However, Geoff insisted, saying, "Take it."

    "He called you 'Uncle'," Alex joked. "Just by hearing that, I suddenly feel a lot older."

    Geoff replied, "His father is the friend of my late brother. So he addressed me as uncle."

    After all, Geoff was nine years older than Jason, so being called uncle was normal. Everyone couldn't help but sigh over it. After dinner, the uncle and nephew went to tidy up and wash the dishes, while everyone else returned to their rooms.

    Vincent lay on his bed, turned on the TV and started playing video games. He received another message from Shawn on his phone.


    Vincent casually replied to the message and continued playing the game while considering that if he were to live with Shawn, they could spend the whole evening watching movies or playing games together and Shawn could help him clear the levels that he couldn't pass. It seemed to be what he wanted.

    【I've thought about it a lot, and you're right.】

    Shawn sent another message: 【I want to talk to you about our future. I've come up with several plans. Would you like to hear them?】

    Vincent: 【Now?】

    Shawn: 【Is it okay? Is it too late?】

    Vincent thought to himself, What do you think?

    Shawn probably also felt it was too late and said, 【Let's do it another day, but these days I still want to find time to talk to you about another matter.】

    Vincent: 【I also want to talk to you about another matter.】

    Sometimes Vincent had no idea what was going on in Shawn's mind. Shawn was highly competent in his field of expertise, and his graduate program was one of the most difficult in the Finance and Economics College. He seemed to have a high emotional intelligence, but sometimes, when they were together, he displayed fluctuating moods.

    Perhaps men in love tend to speak without thinking? Vincent noticed that he sometimes did the same, especially since he and Shawn had confirmed their relationship.

    【Aren't you fishing lately?】 Vincent saw that Shawn was typing for a while.

    Shawn: 【After getting to know you, I find fishing less interesting than being with you. Do you want to eat fish?】

    Vincent: 【Hmm, a little bit.】

    Shawn: 【Will you accompany me? Tomorrow is still a day off.】

    Vincent: 【As you wish.】

    Vincent was about to start a boss battle, but to ensure that Shawn didn't feel neglected, he took a screenshot of the game screen and sent it to him. Shawn, being considerate, remained silent.

    However, halfway through the game, there was a knock on the door, and Geoff was outside, saying, "Vincent?"

    Vincent had to put down the controller and said, "Please come in, boss. What can I do for you?"

    "What are you doing? Did I disturb you?" Geoff entered the room and saw the game screen.

    Vincent replied, "No, is your nephew doing okay?"

    Geoff sat on the edge of the bed and said, "I'll take him to the hotel later."

    Vincent asked, "How long is he planning to stay in River East?"

    Geoff answered, "For a long time. His parents got divorced, and he was living with his mother. After he failed the college entrance examination, his mother couldn't come up with a plan, so he thought of coming to me for help."

    Vincent remarked, "The frequency of playboys among you Alpine ethic group is quite high."

    Geoff blushed slightly, and Vincent said, "Is that a compliment?! Why are you blushing?!" and playfully hit him with a pillow.

    Geoff swiftly caught the pillow and pretended to throw it back at Vincent, who tried to dodge. Geoff held the pillow but hesitated to tease him further, gently putting it down.

    "He's going to rent an apartment in River East," Geoff said. "Then he'll attend a cram school and prepare for the entrance exam for the Mechanical Engineering program at Jianghan University."

    "The required score is quite high," Vincent commented.

    "Yeah," Geoff replied, "but he has always been interested in mechanics since he was a little boy."

    Vincent asked, "You used to be close, right?"

    Geoff said, "He grew up under my watch. He was already 1.8 meters tall at the age of twelve, and he's still 1.8 meters now. His father helped my brother a lot back then and was like an older brother to both me and my brother."

    Vincent smiled, knowing that Alpine guys are accustomed to calling each other brothers. This kind of friendship lasts from childhood to adulthood, and even old age. They support and guide each other through various risks in life, and provide each other with wholehearted assistance in marriage and career.

    "Let him stay here," Vincent said. "Don't go to a hotel."

    Geoff hesitated, "No, no..."

    "It's okay. Is he gay?" Vincent asked.

    "I don't know, but I don't think so. Do you think he is? He doesn't seem to have had a girlfriend. Now that you mention it..."

    Geoff suddenly appeared a bit nervous, even though he himself was gay, he worried about others being gay.

    Vincent said, "It really doesn't matter. Just let others know and it'll be fine. It's more convenient for him to stay at home for now. If he comes to seek shelter with you and stays alone in a hotel, it must be lonely, right?"

    Geoff remained silent for a moment and then said, "Alright, you can boss him around whenever you need."

    Vincent suddenly realized that there was no spare room. Should he let him sleep on the living room couch? He asked, "But what about sleeping..."

    "He can share a bed with me," Geoff said. "It won't be a problem. I'll take him to look for an apartment tomorrow and rent one as soon as possible. It doesn't have to be a fancy place, as long as it's close to the cram school. Young people can endure a bit of hardship."

    Vincent laughed and said, "Let him sleep in Maggie's crib."

    Geoff was amused by the suggestion and after a moment, he looked at Vincent, unable to take his eyes off him.

    Vincent asked, "?"

    Geoff sighed and said, "I hope he can pass the exam. Looking back now, I should have studied hard and earned a bachelor's degree."

    Vincent smiled and said, "It's not worth regretting the past. "

    Geoff said, "But I will take Maggie's education seriously. Hopefully she could get into a university."

    "But instead of demanding things from others, it's better to start by doing it yourself. You can go back and pursue further studies too, right?" Vincent said.

    "Huh?" Geoff had never thought about it, but Vincent's words made sense.

    After a while of silence, Vincent continued playing the game while Geoff watched him play silently in the bedroom.

    "Vincent?" Oscar came over, and Vincent's room door was wide open.

    "What's up?" Vincent asked.

    "I missed you," Oscar lay down on the bed and smiled, saying, "I wanted to talk to you. Haven't seen you for over a week."

    Geoff shifted a bit and reached out to Oscar. After a while, Alex also arrived. Vincent knew he wanted to talk about using the car, but as soon as Alex saw the scene, he exclaimed, "Wow, what are you guys doing? I want to join too!"

    Alex squeezed in as well, and everyone ended up crowding onto Vincent's bed to watch him play the game. After a while, Kevin came upstairs to find Oscar for today's photos and realized the room was empty, so he joined as well.

    "What are you all doing here?" Kevin hopped onto the bed.

    "Why did everyone end up in my room?!" Vincent chuckled helplessly, and they all started a pillow fight, with pillows flying everywhere. They played and had fun until nearly midnight before returning to their rooms to sleep.
  4. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 42:

    Kevin had been very nervous these past few days because he was about to meet Whiskey in person. According to incomplete statistics, Kevin had received over 38,000 yuan in live stream donations from Whiskey, as well as gifts worth over 6,000 yuan. Whiskey wanted to give him a new phone, but Kevin declined.

    Initially, Whiskey's help provided some relief to Kevin's urgent financial situation. However, as the amount of money given to him continued to increase, Kevin couldn't help but feel panicked, fearing that he might receive a court summons accusing him of fraud. Besides, he stayed at home every day and had nowhere to spend the money. After spending over 10,000 yuan, he decided to deposit the remaining money into a joint love fund account.

    As planned, Whiskey would come over on the seventh day of the Lunar New Year to meet Kevin, have a chat, and have a meal together before returning the next day. Kevin chose the seventh day because he knew that many businesses would resume on the eighth day, so even if Whiskey insisted on staying longer, there would be no way.

    "Hey, you have plans today?" Oscar asked.

    Kevin was sitting at the table drinking coffee as if caught red-handed. Except for group activities, Kevin never woke up before two in the afternoon.

    "Yeah," Kevin said, "I made plans with a friend."

    Oscar said, "Shall I fry an egg for you?"

    "No, don't bother," Kevin immediately sat up straight and replied.

    "Vincent also needs to eat," Oscar said, "He's going fishing today."

    Early in the morning, Geoff took his nephew to rent an apartment, and Alex went to the gym. Although Vincent had changed his clothes and appeared sleepy, he was rummaging through the refrigerator with Oscar, trying to figure out what to have for breakfast.

    Since working on the set for nearly a month, Oscar's daily routine had become more regular. He no longer went to nightclubs and realized that when he woke up early, the day seemed much longer, leaving him with nothing to do. In the past few days, he had been at home, browsing information about studying abroad on Vincent's computer.

    "Are you going out?" Vincent asked.

    Kevin didn't want to tell them about meeting someone from the internet, so he simply replied with an "Mm" and said, "Going out with a few friends."

    Vincent said, "Shawn will come to pick me up later. He can give you a ride. Where are you going?"

    Kevin replied, "The train station. Is that convenient?"

    "Of course," Vincent said.

    Kevin initially wanted to decline because he hadn't done his makeup or changed into high heels yet, not to mention all the props like wigs and breast pads that he needed to add. But he realized that even if he got dressed up, he still had to walk out of his room, and it would be easy for Oscar to bump into him since he clearly had no intention of going out today.

    It would be better to go to the train station, find a restroom, and slowly get ready there. Kevin thought that having Shawn give him a ride would allow him to arrive earlier and have more time.

    "Well, I'm off," Vincent said.

    "Have fun, bye," Oscar bid them farewell.

    Shawn honked the car horn outside, and Kevin quickly applied a simple makeup base before following Vincent and getting in the car.

    "Let's drop him off at the train station first," Vincent said, but as soon as he sat in the passenger seat in the front, Shawn kissed him.

    Shawn glanced at Kevin through the rear-view mirror, and it was obvious that Kevin was nervous. Since early in the morning, Whiskey had been sending him messages non-stop, from waking up to brushing his teeth, getting dressed and taking selfies, and then leaving the house and arriving at the train station, as if conducting a live broadcast in sync with his actions.

    Kevin said to him, "I'm going to the train station to pick you up now." Then he played the voice message sent by Whiskey, who said, "Okay, darling, I love you."

    Both Vincent and Shawn heard it, but neither of them said anything.

    Kevin's palms were sweating, and he lowered his head to check if he had everything in his bag.

    Shawn asked, "Did you sleep well last night?"

    Kevin looked up and said, "Huh?"

    Vincent laughed and said, "I couldn't sleep because I was so nervous that Big Brother is taking me fishing today."

    Shawn smiled and said, "I saw a friend of mine achieve a trophy in the game last night, so I guess he was up late playing?"

    Shawn and Vincent had added each other as friends in the game, so Vincent started chatting with him about yesterday's game. After a while, they arrived at the train station. Kevin was heavy-hearted and got out of the car without saying a word. Only then did he remember to thank Shawn.

    Vincent rolled down the car window and said, "Do you need me to pick you up this afternoon?"

    "No, thanks," Kevin said, "You guys have fun, no need."

    Shawn said, "Shall we all hang out together?"

    Kevin hurriedly said, "No, thanks. My friend has been to River East before. We... um... Oscar gave me some buffet vouchers, so we'll probably go for a buffet lunch."

    "Alright, take care of yourself then," Vincent said.

    "Mhm, mhm!" Kevin smiled and quickly walked towards the high-speed rail station.

    "Is everything alright?" Shawn looked in the direction Kevin had left and said to Vincent.

    "I don't know," Vincent said, "Is he meeting someone from the internet?"

    "Seems like it," Shawn replied.

    Kevin had little social experience, and his thoughts were written all over his face. On the contrary, Vincent and Shawn were sophisticated, and they could easily see Kevin through. Vincent was concerned about Kevin's safety, after all, he was meeting a stranger, but considering that he is a guy, it should be fine.

    "Should we let Oscar know?" Shawn asked.

    "Kevin is a guy after all, he should be okay," Vincent said, but he still messaged Oscar, asking if he had given Kevin the buffet vouchers earlier. Oscar had no idea about the meeting and was quite surprised.

    【Meeting someone from the internet? I did give him the vouchers. I'll call him to ask later.】 Vincent: 【Alright, leave it to you.】

    In the outskirts of River East today, there were more people outing than yesterday. Among the green mountains and clear waters, Shawn drove the car to the entrance of the campsite where they had played CS war games before.

    Joe's business finally picked up during the public holiday, with couples playing CS everywhere in the mountains and valleys. After Shawn greeted Joe, he naturally held Vincent's hand and walked behind the mountain with him, effortlessly taking fishing gear out of the trunk and carrying it on his back.

    "It looks like we're really going fishing," Vincent said.

    "You thought I would take the opportunity to go to a hotel?" Shawn laughed, "Although I really want to."

    Vincent had actually thought that Shawn might suddenly change his plans and not go fishing, but instead go to a hotel. But Shawn said, "Don't you like outdoor play? I know there's a lake behind here, we can fish and make love at the same time."

    Vincent burst into laughter.

    But Shawn's wish was shattered because there were quite a few people even in the mountain hollow, all sitting by the lake and enjoying their romantic time.

    "It's said that there are sturgeons in this river," Shawn said, "But I've never caught one."

    "Do they exist all year round?" Vincent asked as he watched Shawn skillfully set up the fishing rod, select the fishing hook, bait the fish, and use the reel to pull the line.

    "No, only in summer and winter," Shawn said, "We are now at the end of winter. The fish you can catch throughout the year are different, and sea fishing is different from lake fishing or river fishing..."

    Shawn earnestly introduced fishing to Vincent, and Vincent rarely saw him be so professional. Although he wasn't very interested in fishing, he listened attentively.

    Shawn noticed that he had been talking too much and felt a bit embarrassed. "Is it boring?" he asked.

    "No, not at all," Vincent replied. "I find it very interesting. It's material for writing."

    "How's your book coming along?" Shawn remembered.

    "Busy falling in love with you during the holidays, didn't write a single word," Vincent said.

    Shawn remembered that during the Lunar New Year holiday, they were almost always together until two days ago, so Vincent didn't have time to write.

    Shawn set up two fishing rods under a tree, and Vincent spread out a blanket on the ground. He took out a book, while Shawn leaned against a tree, and Vincent rested his head on Shawn's leg.

    "Hey, is the fishing rod moving?" Vincent said.

    "Ignore it," Shawn replied, his fingers gently stroking Vincent's hair, filled with love.

    "Aren't you going to reel it in?" Vincent asked.

    "Be patient, the fish is just testing you," Shawn said.

    Vincent laughed and said, "Why do I feel like there's more to what you're saying? Are you hinting at something?"

    Shawn laughed too, and finally, he asked, "Vincent, do you want to live with me?"

    "Huh?" Vincent instinctively didn't give a direct answer and asked, "Why are you asking?"

    "Yesterday, when I was making plans, I seriously considered the two of us and took various factors into account," Shawn said.

    "Hmm," Vincent said.

    Shawn said seriously, "Actually, you don't want to step into my life so much, am I right? You prefer to be in a relationship with me while keeping our individual space."

    "No, that's not it," Vincent thought for a moment and replied.

    But he ultimately chose to be honest and explained, "You're right, but that's not the reason. I like you, but I don’t want to give up my current lifestyle. When I think about fully entering someone else's life, there are many things that need to change, so... hmm, I'm indecisive. But I love you. That's for sure."

    Shawn looked into Vincent's eyes. He had always been honest and willing to speak his true thoughts, which was one of the reasons why Shawn loved him.

    "You're obsessed with my big cock," Shawn chuckled, "but you don't want to marry me."

    "It's not just about the cock," Vincent couldn't help but laugh and cry, "Damn, that's so vulgar. How can you be so vulgar? I also enjoy being with you, do you care about that?"

    Shawn replied, "A little."

    "Be more honest," Vincent said.

    "Yes, I care a lot," Shawn admitted honestly.

    Vincent: "But don't worry, because I will overcome it. When you gain something big, you must learn to let go of other things. Hahaha!"

    Shawn was initially disappointed, but Vincent's playful comment quickly changed the atmosphere, leaving Shawn with no particular emotion.

    "Big brother," Vincent leaned close to Shawn's ear and whispered, "Can I have a turn too? Can I penetrate you?"

    Shawn's face turned red instantly, but Vincent found it amusing to tease him. He knew deep down that Shawn was willing, and he himself was probably interested in exploring different roles. It was just a matter of pride. In the midst of their passionate interaction, if Vincent seized the opportunity, and Shawn would be most likely to accepted it.

    "Do we need to prepare anything beforehand?" Shawn looked at Vincent.

    "No need," Vincent replied, "Leave it to me. I promise to make you feel comfortable."

    Shawn nodded and said, "Okay."

    Did he just agree like that? Vincent felt like he had effortlessly obtained what he desired. However, he also realized that Shawn truly loved him.

    At that moment, they felt a tug on their fishing line. They quickly rushed to reel in the catch. Shawn taught Vincent how to handle the fishing rod, and they successfully caught a crucian carp. Vincent realized that the fish was stronger than he had imagined.

    "The crucian carp really puts up a fight," Vincent started to find fishing enjoyable.

    "If it doesn't struggle, it'll end up getting eaten," Shawn joked, "But even if it struggles, the same fate awaits."

    Vincent released the fish back into the water and returned to Shawn's side. This time, Shawn opened his legs and embraced Vincent from behind, allowing him to sit between his legs. They shared kisses and caresses near each other's ears, reveling in the intimacy.

    "I'm planning to resign," Shawn suddenly said, "If you think it's okay, I'll submit my resignation letter tomorrow."

    "Ah?" Vincent thought for a moment and replied, "Of course, it's not a problem. You've finally made up your mind to resign."

    Shawn asked, "Do you really think it's not a problem?"

    Vincent affirmed, "Yes! Congratulations!"

    Vincent and Shawn separated for a moment, sitting face to face. Vincent said, "You can take a break now."

    "Hmm," Shawn avoided Vincent's gaze, contemplating, and said, "I want to pursue a certification or maybe enroll in an MBA program at my alma mater. In any case, I'll take some time off to regroup and then decide whether to find a new job or start a new business."

    "Hmm, that sounds good for you," Vincent said, "Your current job is really exhausting, and you need to relieve the pressure."

    Even on New Year's Eve, Shawn was constantly receiving work-related messages. If it were Vincent, he would definitely assassinate his boss.

    Shawn: "But if that's the case, I won't have any income. If you're willing to... well, in any case, our quality of life will decrease significantly."

    Vincent understood what Shawn was about to say: if they formed a family, Shawn's biggest advantage, or rather his pride, would be gone—the high income he used to have.

    Vincent: "Do you have any savings?"

    "Yeah, a little over 70,000 yuan," Shawn replied.

    Vincent was puzzled. With Shawn's annual pre-tax income of over a million yuan, after taxes, he would still have over 600,000 yuan in hand. In addition, he had received stock dividends in previous years. He had been the CTO of the company for five years. How did he manage to save only 70,000 yuan? Was he such a big spender? Even if he had loans to repay, it seemed unlikely that he would have such a small amount of savings.

    But Vincent didn't ask, "Where did all your money go?" Instead, he said, "That's enough. I have a salary too."

    Shawn seemed to sense something and his eyes filled with hope. Vincent continued, "You can rent out the house to offset some of the mortgage."

    "Should I move in here?" Shawn asked incredulously.

    Vincent was still unsure about what to do in the end. He gestured for Shawn to wait, feeling a bit conflicted.

    "Maybe you can rent another place that's slightly cheaper," Vincent suggested.

    "Hmm," Shawn calmed down.

    Vincent: "Because, you know, No. 7 Riverbay Road was originally... well, you know."

    "I understand," Shawn replied.

    Vincent's hesitation stemmed from the fact that he had set the rule of not allowing partners to live or have a sleep over in the house. Now, breaking that rule would require the consent of the other roommates. They would probably understand and allow Shawn to move in, but what if they also had partners? Would they be allowed to live together too? If that happened, there would be ten people living in the apartment on Riverbay Road, which would be too crowded and chaotic.

    After thinking it through, Vincent only had one solution: to find a new place to rent. But why should he move out of his own home?

    "Are you angry?" Vincent observed in just a moment that Shawn's expression went from happy to gloomy.

    "No," Shawn replied, as he went to check the fishing rod.

    "I think we should tell each other our true thoughts," Vincent responded. He looked at Shawn and felt sorry for him. Shawn loved him so wholeheartedly, but Vincent always avoided direct discussions on crucial issues. "Let me start first."

    "No," Shawn said. "You don't have to force yourself. I mean it... Vincent, after you finished talking yesterday, I spent the entire night thinking, and I even made a detailed list."

    Shawn took an envelope out of his bag and said, "These are the questions you asked me yesterday, and I added some more, including how we can manage our lives together. You can make changes on it, and I don't think I'll have any objections. But I know you might also be disappointed in me because of my decision to resign at this point. It will make it difficult for you to decide whether to continue..."

    "What?" Vincent didn't understand the last sentence. "Resign? That has nothing to do with it."

    "Yes, it does. I won't have any income anymore, and I may not be able to provide what you want. Standard of living matters. Do you need to reconsider? I can wait for you," Shawn explained.

    "Reconsider what?" Vincent held the envelope and said, "Reconsider living together?"

    "Reconsider me, consider whether you want to be with me," Shawn said. "In the coming months, we might not be able to dine in expensive restaurants, and we'll have to be mindful of our expenses. I won't be able to buy you gifts like before. We might argue over financial issues, and eventually, you might gradually wear down your love for me. I don't want us to become like that. Can you accept me in this way?"

    "What are you talking about?" Vincent couldn't believe it. "Do you think the reason I want to be with you is because you have money?"

    Shawn remained silent.

    Vincent suddenly found it absurd. "Is this what you think of me?"

    Another fish was hooked, causing the lake to splash and make a loud noise, but neither of them went to check.

    "So, this is what you think? You believe that I'm only with you for your money?" Vincent said.

    Shawn realized that Vincent was angry. It was the first time since they got together that Vincent showed such clear anger. Shawn tried to explain, "That's not what I meant... I just wanted to say that we are happy together, right? But all of this is based on material foundation because you don't have to worry about those expenses. It's always me who takes care of them..."

    Vincent interrupted, "What gifts have you given me? Have we dined in expensive restaurants? Mr Huo, do you want me to list how much money we've spent during our dating period? Let me help you calculate. Oh, we did spend quite a lot, didn't we? Tens of thousands, I suppose?"

    "You're angry, and I can't communicate with you like this," Shawn said.

    "So, you think that now my love for you is based on your high salary, and once you resign, I will start despising you, is that it?" Vincent questioned.

    "You're already despising me now," Shawn couldn't hold back any longer. He continued, "I know you have higher expectations of me. Even though you don't say it, you truly think that way. Do you know how I feel it? There are certain things that I find hard to get a response from you. At specific moments, you act like you're performing, like an actor. Whenever I take you out for dinner, prepare gifts for you, or when we go on vacation, you act like you enjoy it, but I can tell that you don't genuinely like it. You think I can do better, don't you?"

    Vincent was suddenly struck by his hidden thoughts. Although his intention was not exactly as Shawn guessed, his behavior indeed resembled that. The term "actor" was used because Vincent had been exposed to high consumption and had minimal interest in material possessions. To him, whether they went to the park or Disneyland made little difference.

    The lake continued to make a splashing sound, and the water splashes grew larger.

    "I think I need some time to think quietly. I want to go back," Vincent said.

    Shawn began silently packing his things. Vincent added, "No, you don't have to accompany me. Otherwise, we'll continue arguing in the car."

    Shawn looked at Vincent, who carried his bag, and said, "I'll contact you once I calm down. Goodbye."

    Vincent put the envelope into his bag and left the lake. He headed outside to take a bus home.

    Shawn stayed quiet for a while and began regretting why he said such thoughtless words. He took out his phone to call Vincent, but Vincent had forgotten to take his phone with him. The phone buzzed loudly with the caller's name flashing on the screen: "The Fisherman (Heart)," with the note "Family" appended to it.

    Shawn hurriedly ran towards the exit of the valley but saw the bus just leaving. He had no choice but to return and pack up the fishing gear. One of the fishing rods was particularly heavy. As he reeled it in, he unexpectedly caught a fish. The fish began thrashing about wildly. Shawn didn't want to waste any more time, so he started pulling the fishing line forcefully. Both the people on the shore and the fish in the water were equally furious. In the end, Shawn emerged victorious, catching a sturgeon nearly half a meter long. However, he also incurred the sturgeon's retaliation.

    During its struggle out of the water, the sturgeon raised its tail and delivered a harsh blow to Shawn's cheek, leaving a distinct fish tail imprint. Shawn was dazed and disoriented from the impact. It took him a while to recover before he forcefully closed the safe and stuffed the fish inside. He quickly headed to his car.
  5. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 43:

    Kevin arrived at the train station and hurriedly ran towards the restroom. He entered one of the stalls and put on thermal leggings, changed into a loose skirt, wore a padded bra, and used a high-collared blouse to hide any visible Adam's apple. He adjusted the positioning of the padding in the crotch area while opening his legs.

    When he put on the wig and pushed open the stall door, he found that there was already a long line outside the women's restroom. He then opened his makeup bag and added finishing touches to his morning makeup, intensifying the eyeliner, applying eyeshadow, attaching false eyelashes, and putting on lipstick. He was busy and preoccupied, all while keeping an eye on the messages constantly coming in from Whiskey on his phone. He was almost too preoccupied to feel nervous about the upcoming meeting and focused all his attention on his appearance. He also felt relieved that it wasn't summer, so he didn't have to worry about shaving his legs in advance.

    "Ding dong." A message from Whiskey arrived: 【I've arrived. I'm getting off the train now.】

    Kevin took a deep breath, packed up his makeup bag, and put it back into his purse. He changed into high-heeled shoes.

    Okay... it's just dinner with him. I'll send him off tomorrow morning, and that's it. Kevin kept reminding himself that everything would be fine.

    He had already informed Whiskey in advance that he had contracted influenza A and had a hoarse voice. They couldn't get too close to each other to avoid infecting Whiskey. The reason he didn't refuse the meeting was because Kevin himself was looking forward to it... This touched Whiskey deeply, who was willing to take the risk of being infected just to see "her" in person.

    "I'll be waiting for you at the exit gate." Kevin used his fake voice, deliberately sounding hoarse, and sent a voice message.

    "Okay, okay." Whiskey's voice came through, full of anticipation. "Your voice is really hoarse. Are you okay?"

    Kevin put on his mask and took another deep breath to calm his nerves.

    A large crowd of people surged out of the exit gate. Kevin hugged himself and scanned the crowd, many of whom had returned to River East after the Spring Festival holiday. There were also couples waiting to meet their partners, witnessing many long-awaited reunions in front of this small, old station.

    Still not here? Kevin stood tall, starting to feel a bit puzzled.

    "My darling, I'm under the red billboard. Where are you? Where are you?" Whiskey sent another message.

    Then, he saw another man wearing a mask.

    No way!! Kevin's mood instantly plummeted to the bottom. How could he be like this? Damn it!

    At the exit of the train station, a plain and mask-wearing guy stood there, with a maximum of five points in terms of appearance, and that was after giving him credit for wearing a mask... He wore a brown jacket and gray trousers, carried a laptop bag, and dragged a dirty suitcase behind him.

    But Kevin still raised his hand and waved at him, disappointment evident on his face. It was indeed Whiskey, and he saw "her". His eyes narrowed into a smile, revealing crow's feet at the corners, as he walked briskly towards "her".

    "Darling!" Whiskey exclaimed, oblivious to the people around them. Many heads turned to look at Kevin, who just wanted to escape.

    Sigh... Kevin forgot that Whiskey always used beauty filters in their video calls or photos. In his effort to gain Whiskey's trust, he had sent him quite a few makeup-free selfies. Little did he expect that after using fake pictures for so long, he would eventually be deceived himself, encountering a disastrous scene in their online relationship.

    Whiskey approached, and Kevin forced a smile, lightly hugging him, being careful to avoid any contact with his sensitive areas.

    "Did you wait for a long time?" Whiskey asked with a smile.

    Kevin thought, is he really 5'10"? Why does he look even shorter than me?

    He nodded, pretending to be very uncomfortable, and replied, "Not too long... My friend dropped me off."

    Kevin's voice was hoarse, but he was used to speaking in a soft tone. Now, he sounded like a voiceless young girl, which felt awkward. However, Whiskey fell for the deception.

    Accompanied by Kevin taking out a throat lozenge from his bag and popping it into his mouth, the details added a touch of authenticity, leaving Whiskey without any doubts.

    Whiskey: "Where should we go now? Shall we head to the hotel where I'm staying?"

    Kevin nodded, and they left the train station together. His expression remained calm, his eyes focused straight ahead, while Whiskey occasionally glanced at his face and chest. Kevin kept reassuring himself that it was just a meal and he wouldn't have to deal with him afterward... Everything would be fine.

    Once they got into a taxi, Whiskey unabashedly took off his mask. His features matched the pictures, but when combined on his face, something seemed off. Kevin rested his hand on his forehead, his emotions in turmoil. If he had initially found Whiskey somewhat attractive, now his dreams of love were shattered.

    Yes, that's the kind of person I am, finding myself unattractive and yet still judging others' appearances—another lament echoed in his heart.

    Whiskey told the driver their destination, and then he noticed Kevin staring at him. He smiled at "her," and Kevin quickly averted his gaze.

    "Have you had breakfast?" Whiskey asked.

    Kevin shook his head and replied, "Just coffee."

    Whiskey nodded, understanding that "she" had only had a cup of coffee. He expressed concern and said, "Drinking coffee on an empty stomach in the morning can upset your stomach. I'll take you to eat something later."

    Whiskey simply thought that his wife was shy. After all, she had mentioned before that she rarely spoke in real life and suffered from depression. The fact that she came out to meet him took a lot of courage.

    In the taxi, Whiskey muttered a few words to himself and then placed his hand on Kevin's thigh. Kevin moved his hand away, but Whiskey proceeded to put his arm around Kevin's shoulder and touch his waist. Kevin hinted several times for him to stop, a hint of anger in his eyes. Whiskey just smiled and gave up.

    Upon arriving at the hotel, Whiskey went to check-in. As expected, he wanted Kevin to come up to the room with him, but Kevin flatly refused.

    "No," Kevin was irritated. "We agreed on this."

    Whiskey could sense Kevin's reluctance and didn't insist. He simply said, "Okay, I'll change my clothes and come back quickly."

    Kevin waited in the hotel lobby's coffee shop, contemplating whether he should find a friend to help him escape the situation. But he had very few friends, apart from his roommates, and he definitely didn't want his roommates to find out about his cross-dressing.

    Oscar called, and Kevin quickly answered.

    Oscar: "Where are you? What are you doing?"

    Kevin glanced at the elevator: "I... I'm meeting up with a childhood classmate. Why?"

    Oscar: "How about having a meal together?"

    Kevin: "He's leaving soon, just staying in River East for a few hours."

    Oscar was a bit puzzled and asked, "Oh? Everything alright?"

    "Yes," Kevin said, "I'll have dinner at home later. I'll go buy groceries soon."

    Oscar didn't pry further, as it was easy to give away Vincent if he said too much. He simply said, "Okay, let me know if you need anything."

    After hanging up the phone, Kevin started to entertain the thought of leaving: the contrast was just too much to handle! But then he realized that he had already spent a lot of money given by Whiskey... Oh, speaking of money, Kevin finally realized the crucial issue and began to feel anxious. What should he do if he rejected Whiskey's advances? Should he return the money and gifts? But he had already spent quite a bit, and according to the platform's rules, there was no reason for users to request refunds for tips given to streamers... After all, they were purchasing live streaming services.

    Sigh... How did things end up like this? Kevin regretted it now. He should have known better than to meet him in person. It would have been better to keep this beautiful connection online. Why did he become so infatuated?

    Soon, Whiskey came down, only changing his jacket.

    "This is a gift I brought for you," Whiskey seemed to have adjusted his mood in these short ten minutes, understanding that chasing a girl required patience. He took out a music box from his bag and said, "I assembled this myself in the factory. You said not to give you expensive things, as long as they are meaningful. Well, this is meaningful, right?"

    Kevin opened the music box, and the melody of "Eternal Love" tinkled from the red crystal heart-shaped box. The power of the music touched him.

    Kevin also took out a wrapped gift from his bag. It was a pendant that said "Safe Travels" that he bought for Whiskey at the flower market. He handed it to Whiskey with both hands.

    "I prepared this for you," Kevin said. "I prayed for it at the temple."

    Whiskey glanced at it but didn't unwrap it. He casually put it in his pocket. At this moment, all he could think about was fucking "her". He couldn't stop rubbing his hands like a fly, looking at Kevin and smiling again.

    "Are you hungry?" Whiskey asked. "Let's go eat. I haven't had breakfast and I'm starving."

    Kevin smiled and nodded. He led Whiskey out of the hotel and they went to a restaurant he had booked, using the meal voucher Oscar gave him. They sat down and finally took off their masks. Now Whiskey could see the lower half of Kevin's face clearly, and he was instantly captivated by "her."

    Kevin didn't have visible facial hair, so as long as he passed the voice test, it would be difficult to reveal his true identity in other aspects. He tried his best to behave like a girl, and Whiskey seemed quite satisfied with "her" appearance and figure. He eagerly served Kevin, fetching food for him.

    "You're quite tall," Whiskey smiled and said.

    "I only started growing taller after the age of sixteen," Kevin replied.

    Whiskey asked, "Do you have any pictures of yourself when you were younger? I'd like to see."

    Kevin scrolled through his phone and sent Whiskey some prepared photos. They included childhood pictures when it was difficult to discern his gender and playful photos from his elementary school days, where his sisters dressed him up as a girl. It was meant to solidify Whiskey's perception. Whiskey happily looked at the photos, his gaze fixed on Kevin, unable to look away. He was clearly displaying signs of being smitten.

    Meanwhile, Kevin ate slowly. He was hungry, but he had to control himself and eat like a girl, not to overindulge and scare off Whiskey. Moreover, he gradually realized that, after taking a few more glances, this guy didn't look as unattractive as he did at first. After all, the emotional bond they had built every day during their online relationship played a significant role at this moment. Kevin felt a bit reluctant to leave him alone after lunch.

    "I still don't know your name," Whiskey kept calling him "darling".

    "I'm Kathy Zheng," Kevin randomly came up with a name and said, "What about you?"

    "My surname is Yang, Spencer Yang," Whiskey replied. "Where do you live?"

    Kevin answered, but soon he realized that there wasn't much to talk about between him and Whiskey. Whether it was fabricated or real personal information, they had already discussed it extensively online. Both of them were wracking their brains trying to find topics, and Kevin felt even more uneasy. He had to be cautious about his hoarse voice and not say too much to arouse Whiskey's suspicion.

    "After eating, what should we do? Are you full with just this little?" Whiskey asked again.

    "Mhm," Kevin nodded and raised an eyebrow, asking, "Where do you want to go?"

    "Let's go wherever you usually like to go. I've been to River East several times, so we don't have to do anything specific," Whiskey said.

    Kevin fell into contemplation. He appeared to be searching for places to take Whiskey in his thoughts, but in reality, he was thinking about when to make his exit. After all, Whiskey came specifically to see him, and it would be inappropriate to leave him behind... Kevin was truly caught in a difficult situation.

    "Shall we go shopping in the mall?" Whiskey said, "Do you need anything? I can buy you some clothes. Would you like a purse or some jewelries?"

    Kevin waved his hands but was touched by his words. Whiskey had won back his heart step by step which made Kevin more indecisive.

    "How about a stroll in the park?" Kevin suggested.

    "Sure," Whiskey agreed.

    On this particular day, the sunlight was perfect. In the afternoon, Kevin took Whiskey for a walk along the riverbank. He wasn't used to wearing high heels, so walking was uncomfortable and his feet ached. Not only that, blisters were forming on his heels, and he hadn't brought any band-aids. After enduring the pain for a few hundred meters, he decided to find a place nearby.

    It was clear that there were still many differences between cross-dressing as a man and being a real girl when it came to the details of daily life. At the junction of River North and River South was Riverbay Road, and there was a large square by the riverside. Next to it was a sunny municipal park, where many children were flying kites. Kevin chose a spot in the park and sat down, taking off his high heels.

    The park was filled with couples, and Whiskey wanted Kevin to rest his head on his lap, but Kevin hesitated and opted to lean to the side instead. Whiskey reached out and stroked Kevin's hair. It was a warm scene, but Kevin was constantly on edge, afraid that Whiskey would accidentally pull off his wig.

    "How's your business going?" Kevin asked.

    "It's alright," Whiskey replied. "Just average, not making big money, but enough to support you."

    Kevin had a strange illusion. They seemed like a real heterosexual couple who had been dating for a while but had to be in a long-distance relationship due to work reasons. Now they were savoring this hard-earned time together.

    "When are you coming to my place? My mom really wants to meet you," Whiskey asked again.

    Kevin didn't answer, and Whiskey continued, "I know it's difficult for you."

    "If you know it's difficult for me, why do you bring it up?" Kevin retorted.

    "But recently, I've been thinking about it all the time, uncontrollably," Whiskey said. "I want to marry you. Be my wife. After we get married, you can move to my place, or if you prefer to stay in River East, my mom said she'll buy me a house there when I get married. Then I can expand my business here. You won't have to do anything, and you can stop live streaming. It's not because I'm jealous..."

    Whiskey was now caught up in his typical straight male thinking, constantly moving himself with his own words, envisioning their future together. In this aspect, there were similarities with Shawn.

    Kevin didn't respond, but he was moved and listened wholeheartedly.

    "... I worry about you staying up late all the time, and your health isn't good," Whiskey said. "Look, as soon as the flu hits, you get infected. You need to take care of your health, and give me a few kids..."

    As Whiskey spoke, he rubbed Kevin's back and several times his hand grazed past his waist, intending to touch his chest, but Kevin defended himself and stopped his advances. Whiskey then resorted to playing with the back clasp of Kevin's bra. Kevin was both touched and nervous, so he gently opened Whiskey's hand.

    "Stop it!" Kevin got a little angry. "Can't you speak properly?"

    "Are you listening?" Whiskey was taken aback and continued speaking.

    The earlier exclamation of "Stop it!" had a somewhat masculine tone, but Whiskey quickly dismissed it as a misconception.

    "Yes, I'm listening," Kevin replied, lying back slightly.

    Whiskey asked, "Are you willing?"

    Kevin still didn't say anything. He reached behind and adjusted the loosened bra strap, and Whiskey tried to help, but Kevin didn't let him touch it no matter what. Suddenly, he felt nervous because his fake breasts had shifted and were now resting on his stomach due to his sideways position.

    Kevin hesitated to respond.

    "What's wrong?" Whiskey asked.

    "Nothing... it's nothing," Kevin replied.

    Kevin reached into his clothes to adjust the position and added, "No peeking!"

    "Alright," Whiskey smiled and closed his eyes, thinking that Kevin might kiss him. But he didn't. Kevin quickly adjusted the position of the fake breasts, and his anxious mood relaxed slightly.

    "You won't have to do anything," Whiskey said. "I'll hire someone for household chores. You just need to take care of the children. I want a boy and a girl. We will raise them well. It would be perfect if they all looked like you. You're good-looking and tall..."

    Kevin didn't know why, but he thought of his own parents. Wasn't it the same when they were dating? When he first moved to Riverbay Road, this was the kind of life he had hoped for. And Whiskey would like to give him everything he wanted. The future was beckoning to him.

    At four o'clock in the afternoon, Kevin felt that he had to leave no matter what. If they kept talking, he would start crying.

    "You're leaving?" Whiskey asked.

    "Yeah, I'm not feeling well," Kevin said. "My throat is still not better, and I might have a slight fever."

    Whiskey said, "I'll take care of you. How can you be left alone when you're sick?"

    After much persuasion from Kevin, promising that he would take care of himself, he convinced Whiskey to return to the hotel and wait for him. He assured Whiskey that he would come to see him tomorrow. As for tomorrow, who knew? He would come up with an excuse when the time came. A new day meant new excuses, and there was always a way to find one.

    Whiskey was torn between having dinner with "her" and buying a packed meal. Kevin's mind was in turmoil at this moment, and his emotions were like a roller coaster, listening to Whiskey's caring words, he felt like Whiskey was his beloved. But the slipping fake breasts constantly reminded him that it was impossible between them. He walked a distance and decided to take off his high heels because they were hurting him too much. He walked on the road wearing black thick pantyhose, which was an irresistible temptation for Whiskey, a straight man. He kept following Kevin, but Kevin just wanted to quickly get rid of him.

    They stood on the roadside, and Kevin wanted to hail a taxi for Whiskey to return to the hotel while he walked back along Riverbay Road. However, Whiskey said, "Kathy, my wife."

    Kevin turned his head abruptly, standing under the afternoon sun.

    Suddenly, Whiskey grabbed his hand and kissed him.

    Kevin: "!!!"

    Kevin was caught off guard and pushed him away.

    "You don't like me, do you?" Whiskey's eyes were filled with disappointment.

    "No, it's just... I'm a little scared. You're too... too direct..." Kevin replied.

    "Do you like me? I'm asking you seriously," Whiskey said, looking into his eyes.

    Kevin looked into his eyes, and in that moment, he completely forgot about everything else. It had been a long time since he felt loved by someone, and here, on this spring night, in front of a straight man, he rediscovered the feeling of being loved.

    Kevin looked into his eyes for a moment, and Whiskey suddenly understood— he had a chance!

    Without hesitation, Whiskey wrapped his arm around Kevin's waist and kissed him again. This time, Kevin didn't push him away. He immersed himself in the role and held onto Whiskey's neck.

    This was the first time in Kevin's life that he kissed someone in a serious and formal way in a romantic relationship. Yes, he had never encountered a mutual attraction scenario from childhood to adulthood. He was twenty years old and had never truly been loved by anyone he loved. His unrequited love always ended in disappointment, and his sexual encounters relied on casual flings. Even if someone gave him a kiss, it was just an Oscar-like encouragement from a scumbag. The kisses he got from casual encounters were all acts, and everyone went their separate ways afterwards.

    But Whiskey's kiss, this kiss was truly filled with "I love you." Kevin felt it, and tears welled up in his eyes. Even if the other person didn't match his ideal, he developed feelings at this moment.

    But immediately, Whiskey's face was filled with astonishment.

    "What is this?" Whiskey asked.

    Kevin remained silent, unsure of how to respond. At first, Whiskey had embraced Kevin, their bodies pressed closely together as they kissed unabashedly. But soon Whiskey felt something pressing against him. It was because Kevin had also become aroused.

    "Fuck," Whiskey muttered as he reached out to touch, his expression shifting from confusion to understanding, and then to shock, all within half a second. Kevin, realizing his mistake, quickly pulled away from Whiskey. It dawned on Whiskey that he had been deceived and had just kissed a man, or perhaps a woman with a penis.

    "Fuck! You're a man? Fuck!" Whiskey's eyes widened in disbelief. Kevin stared back at him, while Whiskey reached out as if to confirm, but Kevin recoiled and began to cry, trying to evade his grasp.

    "Fuck you!" Whiskey's sanity snapped, and he shouted in anger, "Fuck you! Why did you lie to me?"

    "It's not like that... Please, listen to me, I didn't want to lie to you..." Kevin pleaded, tears streaming down his face.

    Whiskey rushed forward, grabbing hold of Kevin. Kevin tried to turn and run, but Whiskey grabbed his purse, causing its contents to scatter all over the ground. As Kevin turned to pick up his belongings, he pleaded, "Stop it! We're in public! Let me find a place to explain..."

    "Fuck you!" Whiskey couldn't contain his rage any longer and started to physically assault Kevin, throwing punches and kicks. Kevin, disoriented and in pain, attempted to gather his things, but Whiskey landed a kick, followed by a punch that made Kevin's head spin.

    "Hey! Stop it!" a voice boomed, interrupting the chaos.

    Kevin recognized the familiar voice. They were at the back entrance of the park, a place seldom frequented by vehicles. Just a turn away was Riverbay Road, and at that moment, a Mercedes Benz stopped by the roadside. A man wearing off-road attire emerged from the driver's seat.

    "What the hell are you doing?" the voice thundered. Surprisingly, it was Shawn.

    Kevin, with blood streaming from his nose and his eyes bloodshot, saw Shawn rushing towards them. Shawn pushed Whiskey aside and reached out to pull Kevin away, asking, "Are you okay?"

    Shawn didn't recognize Kevin in his current state. He had just come to deliver the phone to Vincent on Riverbay Road and happened to pass by the park. Witnessing a man violently assaulting another person, regardless of their relationship, Shawn couldn't tolerate it and impulsively intervened, unknowingly saving Kevin from further harm.

    "Fuck!" Whiskey yelled, "Mind your own fucking business! Is it a badger game?"

    Whiskey charged forward, intending to grab Kevin, who was hiding behind Shawn. However, Shawn suddenly assumed a defensive stance, swiftly lunging forward and executing a waist-level front bear hug throw, slamming Whiskey forcefully onto the ground. The move was incredibly impressive, effectively separating Whiskey from his shoes and leaving Kevin stunned.

    Whiskey quickly regained his composure, limping as he retrieved his shoes and put them on. He looked at Shawn with a mixture of fear and astonishment but didn't say a word. Then, he turned around and ran away.

    Shawn's anger subsided slightly. He had been extremely frustrated and almost described as "irritable" earlier in the day, and Whiskey had the misfortune of running into him at that moment. Nevertheless, Shawn had shown restraint in his actions, refraining from punching Whiskey in the head.

    The tinkling sound of a music box, playing the song "Eternal Love", filled the air intermittently. Kevin's purse had spilled its contents onto the ground—eyebrow pencils, lipstick, foundation—all scattered around. The music box, now broken, continued to play the fragmented melody.

    "Hey, do you need me to take you to the hospital?" Shawn asked.

    Kevin shook his head. It was only now that Shawn truly saw Kevin's face, and he couldn't believe his eyes. "Kevin? Is that really you?" he exclaimed in disbelief.
  6. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 44:

    Vincent had only been in the car for a short while when he realized he had forgotten to bring his phone home. However, he knew that Shawn would surely deliver it to him, so he wasn't in a hurry. What if he had forgotten or hadn't noticed it? Well, then he could simply blame Shawn and make him buy a new phone for him.

    During the time without his phone, Vincent calmly pondered and reflected on many issues. He was well aware of his own shortcomings. A person's flaws and strengths always complement each other. For instance, his strengths included being relatively rational and emotionally stable, but the flip side was his cold attitude and indifference towards others, giving off an aura of aloofness. In a different scenario, Vincent would never date someone like himself, thinking, "What's with the arrogance?"

    Speaking of emotional stability, his own emotions were not always stable. Most of the time, Vincent rarely got angry, but there were certain triggers that would inexplicably set him off, leading to fits of rage. For example, the incident with Oscar's producer the other day and today's encounter with Shawn. Furthermore, he was selfish in love. He was unwilling to change his lifestyle and only expected the other person to accommodate him. This was especially evident in his previous relationship, and even now with Shawn, he remained the same. He didn't want to change his existing habits; he only wanted to treat Shawn as a readily available and free sex toy, and the sex toy in turn showered him with money and love. Ultimately, these were the vices of the affluent or the pseudo-arrogance of those who believed they were rich. It was acceptable for others to accommodate him, but he couldn't tolerate even the slightest inconvenience when it came to accommodating others. If he was late for a date, it was an unfortunate circumstance, but if the other person was late, even if he didn't say it out loud, he would perceive them as lacking punctuality.

    There were many other flaws of this nature, and even Vincent, in the midst of his introspection, couldn't enumerate them all. He only knew that the seed of arrogance had been planted deep within him long ago, and over the years, it had grown into a towering tree with countless branches. The remaining flaws were nothing more than the lush, countless leaves on this massive tree. One day, when he realized this was not good, he found himself unable to swing an axe and cut it down. He could only let it be, what else could he do? Well, that's just the way it is.

    In addition, he was lazy. Despite doing well as a director, he lacked ambition. After making two films, he wanted to bask in the glory and indulge himself, spending his days creating literary trash or playing games at home. Did he feel jealous? Vincent believed he wasn't easily prone to jealousy, but what if Shawn was stronger and more successful than him? Would he be discontented? Or perhaps he would outright reject him. Vincent confronted his own criteria for choosing a partner and realized that he had always adhered to the principle of finding someone inferior to himself.

    It was easier to control the other person this way.

    Vincent's strong self-confidence undoubtedly stemmed in large part from the fact that he was wealthier than Shawn and lived a more comfortable and carefree life. The same applied to his roommates. He greedily absorbed their trust and friendship, demanded Shawn's love, and took as much as everyone gave him without ever revealing the truth.

    Initially, Vincent had disguised himself out of a sense of caution, but even after deception had become a routine, he continued to enjoy it. He took pleasure in seeing their misery, accidentally savoring a sense of satisfaction. He generously treated them to meals and pretended to bestow small favors to attain a sense of superiority. It was akin to how some wealthy lords and ladies engaged in charity, subconsciously wanting to witness how difficult life was for others, thereby highlighting how easy their own lives were.

    But who was I to criticize Shawn? Vincent thought as he opened the door to his home. Didn't I also feel that others were after my money? Otherwise, why would I keep it a secret from him all this time?

    These thoughts left Vincent feeling frustrated. He embodied almost all of the seven deadly sins of humanity. He had to admit that while he had many material advantages, he didn't measure up to Shawn on a spiritual level.

    Shawn was genuine, responsible, and willing to invest in their relationship, while Vincent was hypocritical and unwilling to make sacrifices in love. Apart from their physical intimacy, Vincent couldn't think of any other way he accommodated Shawn.

    But physical intimacy is important too! A voice inside Vincent's mind argued, and didn't Shawn have any flaws himself?

    On the flip side of being responsible was a strong desire for control. Chauvinism! Let me see what he wrote in his letters...

    Vincent returned home, changed his shoes with a solemn expression, made himself a cup of coffee, and sat at the dining table. He opened the envelope Shawn had given him, which contained his hopes for their future.

    Inside was a detailed spreadsheet, accompanied by two bank cards and a credit card. Vincent glanced at the beginning and thought about calling him. He had calmed down now and wanted to apologize to Shawn for getting angry earlier.

    The spreadsheet listed various aspects of their future life, with columns for "Shawn" and "Vincent." Shawn had checked off certain items, and he had also checked some off for Vincent. Attached to the side were white adhesive stickers that Vincent could use to cover and redefine the check boxes.

    The first column was about managing household finances and expenses. Vincent was checked off, indicating that he would handle it. The notes stated that Shawn would hand over all income and use the supplementary credit card, and Vincent would repay the credit card each month, indicating that Shawn had to ask Vincent for pocket money.

    The second column was about work, moving, and other related matters. Shawn had checked both their names, indicating that major changes in their lives required joint decisions. Vincent thought for a moment, tore off a sticker, and placed it under his own name, indicating that Shawn could make decisions on his own.

    The third column was about home decoration and arrangements that didn't affect their living location. Shawn only checked off Vincent's name.

    There were similar items for taking care of pets, attending friends' gatherings, celebrating the Lunar New Year, and going on vacations, among others.

    Vincent read through the spreadsheet line by line and made some additions. When he flipped to the second page, he noticed an item about "real estate".

    In the final column, both their names were checked off, with a note saying "current property with added name". Vincent was touched by this gesture. Although the house required joint mortgage payments, at least Shawn had paid a down payment of several million yuan and added Vincent's name, indicating trust and sincerely offering him at least five hundred thousand yuan.

    Moved by Shawn's sincerity, Vincent decided to withdraw a negligible amount of 1.2 million yuan from his six hundred million yuan fortune and use it to prepay Shawn's mortgage. However, Vincent still hadn't truly changed his views—based on the principle of reciprocity, if Shawn was willing to add his name to the property, Vincent should also add his name to No. 7 Riverbay Road.

    But... Vincent pondered. No. 7 Riverbay Road is valued at 120 million yuan! It's a hundred times more than the 1.2 million yuan! He thought of it for quite a while but couldn't make up his mind.

    "In four years, if we can stay together," Vincent set a deadline in his mind, "I'll add Shawn's name."

    "When did you come back?" Oscar, who had just woken up from a nap, yawned and came downstairs.

    Vincent replied, "I just got back."

    He neatly put away the bank cards and folded the spreadsheet, placing it back into the envelope. At the same time, he wondered why Shawn hadn't arrived yet.

    "Where's the fish?" Oscar asked.

    Vincent and Oscar exchanged glances. Vincent had completely forgotten about the fish and said, "Shawn will bring it over later."

    But in his heart, Vincent thought that Shawn probably wouldn't be in the mood for fishing if he had left. It would be better to invite everyone out for dinner in the evening.

    At this moment, Shawn stood at the entrance of the villa complex on Riverbay Road, unaware that in four years, he would receive at least sixty million yuan from Vincent's fortune. His face still bore the marks left by the sturgeon, and half of his handsome face throbbed with pain.

    "Don't tell them..." Kevin didn't want his roommates to know about his embarrassing incident.

    "How can we not tell them?" Shawn said. "You've been beaten up like this, Kevin. You have to tell us what happened so that we can help you figure out a solution. What if he comes looking for you when we're not around? Do you know how dangerous it was today?"

    Shawn could guess that Kevin had been bullied by someone he met online, but he couldn't piece together the details and understand the cause and effect since Kevin hadn't been cross-dressing when he went to the train station. He mistakenly thought Kevin was engaging in some kind of role-play. In Shawn's perception, although Kevin was Vincent's roommate, he was a "bottom" and acted more like a girl. Therefore, Shawn was very conscious of gender differences and refrained from physically pulling him into the house.

    "You must tell them," Shawn insisted seriously. "Otherwise, they will also ask you about it."

    Kevin wiped away his nosebleed, unable to hold back his tears. Finally, he nodded and allowed Shawn to lead him into the house.

    Meanwhile, Vincent and Oscar were talking when they saw Shawn's bruised face and Kevin's swollen and battered appearance as they entered together. Both of them froze in shock.

    "What happened?" Oscar exclaimed, unable to believe his eyes.

    Kevin burst into tears again upon seeing Oscar. Shawn, who wore a frustrated expression, looked at Vincent.

    "Your phone," Shawn said.

    "What happened to your face?" Vincent asked.

    "Got slapped by a fish tail," Shawn replied.

    Vincent gestured towards Kevin. "What about Kevin?"

    Shawn shrugged, indicating that he didn't know.

    Vincent: "..."

    The two of them locked eyes. Vincent went to fetch the first-aid kit while Shawn walked out again. Vincent asked, "Where are you going now?"

    "To get the fish!" Shawn answered.

    Shawn brought in a sealed container and placed it in the kitchen. Vincent first carefully applied medicine to Kevin, who continued to cry uncontrollably. He then asked Oscar to comfort him.

    After that, Vincent had Shawn sit at the dining table, and he started applying medicine to Shawn's injured cheek. Shawn looked at Vincent, his gaze repeatedly focusing on his lips.

    "Does it hurt?" Vincent asked.

    "A lot," Shawn replied.

    "I'm sorry," Vincent said softly.

    "Sorry for what?" Shawn whispered.

    "I shouldn't have gotten angry at you earlier," Vincent said.

    "It's my fault," Shawn also spoke softly. "Since you've calmed down, can I kiss you?"

    This time, Vincent took the initiative, but with others present, he leaned forward and earnestly kissed Shawn's lips, though it wasn't a deep kiss.

    On the other side, Kevin cried even louder, burying his face in Oscar's embrace. Oscar rubbed his back and asked, "What happened? Did you get into a fight with someone?"

    Kevin clearly didn't want to talk about it. He just wanted to release his sadness. Suddenly, Vincent realized something and asked loudly, "Kevin, did that online acquaintance of yours hit you?"

    "Um..." Kevin nodded tearfully.

    Vincent felt like his lungs had exploded twice today. Now, he felt like he might need some fast-acting heart medication. He shouted, "Why? Where is he?"

    "It's my fault..." Kevin was afraid the situation would escalate. If the police were called because of the Whiskey incident, things would get even uglier. "I shouldn't have pretended to be a girl to deceive him..."

    Oscar also understood and said, "Damn it, where is that guy?"

    At five in the afternoon, Geoff and Alex also returned together. Everyone stared at Kevin in astonishment. After crying for nearly forty minutes, Kevin finally explained the situation briefly. Everyone was furious.

    "Which hotel is he staying at?" Geoff was the first to ask. "Kevin, don't be afraid. I won't hit him. I just want to have a chat with him."

    "No, please..." Kevin pleaded. "I shouldn't have been greedy for his money. It's over now. He's gone, and we won't have any more contact."

    "How can we just let it go like that?" Alex said. "We have to clarify everything!"

    Oscar asked, "How much money did you take from him?"

    Everyone sat around Kevin, making him even more nervous.

    "I... I don't know," Kevin said. "Several tens of thousands, I guess. I met him in a livestream, and he gave me tips..."

    Vincent asked Shawn, "Did you beat that guy up?"

    "I didn't go too hard on him," Shawn said. "I just threw him down to make him back off. Because at first, I didn't recognize it was Kevin. If I had known, I would have beaten him to a pulp."

    Vincent thought to himself that Shawn was quite capable since it's difficult to hold back in a fight. Holding back required one party to have an absolute advantage in strength and skills.

    "Where did you learn to throw someone down like that?" Vincent's attention was diverted, wondering who would win if he and Shawn fought each other.

    "I was on the school rugby team in high school," Shawn replied. "But don't worry, I swear I'll never lay a hand on you, even if we argue. I'm afraid of karma. Just after arguing with you today, I got beaten up."

    Vincent found it amusing when Shawn mentioned "karma", but Kevin was still feeling down, and the emotions were too complex for Vincent.

    Vincent was the first to get angry, but his anger subsided quickly. After hearing the whole story, he understood that Kevin also had a responsibility. Most likely, Kevin developed feelings for that straight guy and ended up spending his money.

    "But regardless, we must resolve this matter," Vincent said.

    "Yes," Geoff agreed.

    Vincent continued, "Let's do it tomorrow. Let's go together to find him tomorrow."

    "No, please don't," Kevin pleaded, holding onto Geoff. He whispered, "It's okay, please, I don't want to see him again..."

    Vincent stood up and went to the kitchen, opening the box. He saw a huge sturgeon, like a prehistoric monster, still struggling despite being frozen for hours. Vincent narrowly avoided getting hit by it.

    "Be careful," Shawn entered the kitchen to help and almost got hit on the head for the second time.

    "Forget it, let's order takeout tonight," Vincent made a quick decision and put the whole sturgeon in the freezer for Oscar to handle.

    "Go out for dinner?" Shawn asked.

    "How can we go out like this?" Vincent said.

    Shawn took out his phone and ordered takeout, but Vincent didn't let him pay. Shawn asked, "Did you finish reviewing the forms?"

    "Yes, I did," Vincent replied. "They're on the table. I made some revisions."

    "Okay," Shawn nodded. Vincent continued, "I was thinking, we can rent a house and live together. My salary can cover the rent. We can cook simple meals at home..."

    Vincent had just started speaking, but Shawn received the biggest surprise of his life. He burst into laughter, unable to contain his happiness. He focused on Vincent and said, "Are you serious?"

    "Yeah," Vincent had thought about it earlier. He had considered moving back to the southern part of the city. Although the northern area had a good environment, it lacked a bit of local flavor. During his childhood, he lived in the upstairs of his maternal grandfather's clinic in the southern area, where there was a bustling market during the day and various night stalls in the evening.

    Renting a small house in a residential area, living there with Shawn, and experiencing the vibrant life would be quite nice.
  7. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 45:

    The next day, everyone gathered in black suits. Although each person had their own style, they still looked like a group of mobsters, especially with Kevin wearing casual clothes.

    Shawn, Vincent, Alex, Geoff, and Oscar, the five big guys, entered the hotel lobby and sat in the coffee bar. Kevin remained silent for a long time but eventually made the call to Whiskey.

    Vincent insisted that this matter must be resolved. Everyone agreed unanimously. They had experienced more ups and downs in life than Kevin so they all knew that if this matter wasn't brought to a conclusion, it would become a lingering obstacle in his hearts for many years, an insurmountable hurdle.

    However, they didn't explain much to Kevin. They wore cold expressions and forced him to bring them to the hotel to meet Whiskey. No matter how much Kevin begged, they remained unmoved.

    When the elevator "dinged", Whiskey came down. As soon as he walked out of the elevator and saw so many tall men in suits, he instinctively flinched and wanted to turn back. But it was too late. Everyone saw him, and he saw Kevin as well.

    Oscar sat in the center of the sofa, with the pitiful Kevin next to him. "Is that him?" Oscar asked.

    Kevin nodded, and Oscar waved at Whiskey, saying, "Hello."

    Whiskey reluctantly approached, glancing at the others but mostly focusing on Oscar. After all, they were in the hotel's coffee bar, in broad daylight. It was unlikely that this group of people would suddenly attack him.

    Even so, Whiskey couldn't help but feel a bit nervous under the oppressive atmosphere. Oscar took off his sunglasses and stood up politely. "Hello," he said, extending his hand.

    Oscar and Whiskey shook hands. Whiskey looked around at everyone with a mix of fear and suspicion, then his gaze settled on Oscar and glanced at Kevin. Kevin still had bruises on his face from being beaten by him the day before, but he avoided looking at Whiskey.

    Before coming, everyone had already agreed that Oscar would be the one to speak, while the others remained silent, exerting invisible pressure, pretending to be Oscar's henchmen, without communicating with each other.

    Shawn wore a black mask, towering in stature, and Whiskey had already recognized him, knowing that today wouldn't end well.

    "Hello," Whiskey cautiously sat down and observed the sofa's position, preparing to rush out of the door if they started causing trouble.

    "Kevin is my younger brother, and this younger brother of mine..." Oscar's tone was surprisingly calm. "He has some peculiar hobbies, but most of the time, it's harmless. I rarely interfere with his choice of friends. However, I heard that there was a little unpleasantness between you yesterday. So, I wanted to bring him here to talk to you face-to-face, so that we can resolve it. It's better that no one holds a grudge."

    Kevin's eyes were red, and everyone looked at Oscar, seemingly waiting for his command.

    Whiskey nervously said, "It was me... it was my fault. Yes, it was my fault. I'm sorry... I'm sorry!"

    Whiskey was quite adaptable. After all, this was another city. Even if he called for backup now, it would take others four hours to drive on the highway. It wasn't worth taking such a loss right now.

    Kevin turned his face away, refusing to make eye contact with Whiskey.

    The others assessed Whiskey behind their sunglasses. Shawn clenched his fists a few times, still feeling unsatisfied from yesterday. It seemed like something was missing.

    "Don't you have anything to say?" Oscar turned to Kevin. "He apologized to you."

    Whiskey looked around and finally knelt down in front of Kevin, holding onto the coffee table. This cross-dressing trap who liked deceiving straight guys... was he possibly the son of some gangster? If only he had known, he definitely wouldn't have laid a hand on him yesterday. But usually, he wasn't a violent person. It was just that he was so shocked yesterday that he acted instinctively.

    "Forget it," Kevin finally glanced at him.

    Whiskey, kneeling across the coffee table, hurriedly explained, "Last night, I was too impulsive. I shouldn't have done that. You can beat me up, or I can compensate you..."

    "Who needs your money?" Vincent chuckled in exasperation. "Do you think he's after your money?"

    Vincent's words had a hint of insinuation, and Shawn felt insulted. But he couldn't say anything to his wife. He was about to stand up and intimidate Whiskey again, but Vincent pulled his sleeve, motioning for him to sit down.

    Whiskey immediately raised his hand and slapped himself twice, with great sincerity. His face immediately swelled up from the crisp sound. The service staff and customers in the coffee bar looked on, but no one dared to approach.

    In a situation like this, Whiskey couldn't care less about his dignity. After all, no one in this city knew him.

    "I... I mean, forget it," Kevin finally looked at him. The sorrow and hardship that had been building up for days were on the verge of collapse, and he almost shed tears. But this time, when he wanted to cry, he felt like he had lost his mind. How could he like him?

    Oscar asked again, "I heard you gave my little brother quite a generous tip?"

    "No! No!" Whiskey just wanted to escape, where would he dare to ask for money? He quickly said, "No, it was just a regular gift."

    "Hmm," Oscar pondered and said, "I remember he also received a gift from you."

    "Keep it as a memento," Whiskey said again, "Keep it..."

    "Who wants a memento?" Geoff suddenly spoke up loudly, "What's there to commemorate? Commemorate getting beaten up by you?"

    Whiskey trembled in fear, and Kevin immediately felt sorry for him. Then Oscar said, "Get up. Here's what we'll do. You've given him tips in his livestream, right? I'll transfer you the money, including money for the gifts as well."

    "No, no, there's no need," Whiskey was sweating profusely.

    Oscar asked again, "How much in total?"

    Whiskey replied, "I really don't need it. I'm more than happy to be friends with him..."

    Oscar repeated for the third time, "How much in total?"

    The others made a move to stand up, and Alex came over and sat on the sofa next to Whiskey. Whiskey instantly said, "It's over 30,000 yuan! Yes, over 30,000 yuan... I don't know the exact amount..."

    Oscar said, "You calculate it now, try to calculate it accurately."

    Whiskey was on the verge of tears, looking around and saying, "I really can't remember, it's... probably around 30,000 yuan."

    Oscar said, "Okay, do you have a QR code for receiving payments? Show it to me."

    Whiskey opened his phone, and Oscar said, "After all, you've known each other for so long. I can't let you come here for nothing." As he spoke, he transferred the money to Whiskey without hesitation. Kevin was shocked and wanted to say something, but Oscar's gaze became serious, gesturing for him to keep quiet.

    "Okay... it's done," Whiskey received the money. But based on his understanding of the underworld, the next step would definitely be getting beaten up while being trapped in a sack. However, he didn't think he deserved to die, and with so many people watching here, he wouldn't be beaten to death or dragged away to drown in the river... It was just inevitable that he would get severely beaten up.

    "So, is the debt cleared now?" Oscar turned to Kevin again. "Do you have anything else to say?"

    "No, but I still want to return this to him," Kevin took out a broken music box, which was the gift Whiskey had personally made for him, and placed it on the coffee table.

    "So, you guys won't have any relationship from now on," Oscar said.

    "Yes... yes," Whiskey's sweat had completely soaked his T-shirt and jacket. He looked like he had just been pulled out of water, and he was still trembling on his knees.

    "Let's go then," Oscar said finally.

    Everyone stood up and left the hotel. Oscar held Kevin's hand as they got into the car. Alex went to drive the Bentley, Geoff opened the car doors for the two of them, and then he sat in the passenger seat in the front. Vincent got into Shawn's Mercedes, and Shawn drove, following the Bentley as they left the hotel parking lot.

    Whiskey couldn't even believe that he had such a narrow escape. He stretched his neck and looked as they drove away in their luxury cars. He collapsed on the ground, feeling utterly weak.

    Once they were in the car, everyone burst into laughter. Kevin felt both touched and embarrassed and immediately asked Oscar, "Why did you give him the money back?"

    Oscar just casually rubbed the back of Kevin's head, didn't say anything, and smiled.

    "I'll give it back to you!" Kevin said. "I haven't spent it all. There's still a little over 20,000 yuan left."

    Oscar glanced at Kevin, and when Kevin insisted on him accepting the payment, Oscar took it and said, "Keep some for living expenses and meals."

    "Damn, you really played the part well, like a young mafia prince," Alex said casually.

    "Hahaha," Oscar finally laughed out loud.

    Geoff said, "For a moment, I almost thought it was real. I even considered having Vincent play the role today."

    "Vincent has the strongest presence," Alex commented. "But I didn't expect Oscar to act so well."

    Geoff turned his head and saw the Mercedes following them. Slowly, they returned to Riverbay Road. After everyone entered their respective homes, the laughter and teasing continued.

    "Your acting skills have improved from working on the set!" Vincent laughed and said, "Shawn was even mentioning it in the car just now."

    "Oh, come on," Oscar said. "I really wanted to play the role of a young mafia prince. Thanks to all of you for giving me this opportunity. Hahaha!"

    A group of guys scattered around the chaos, each lying on the sofa, making coffee, and opening cans of cola. Today, June returned to work. Oscar finally had his hands free and didn't have to cook three meals a day for this large group of people.

    "What is this?!" June was startled by the prehistoric monster in the refrigerator.

    "It's the fish Shawn caught," Vincent said. "Help us clean it up. Oscar will make a three-course meal with it tonight."

    June then began to handle the fish and quickly finished. The weather was sunny today, so everyone took their blankets and went outside to sunbathe. Except for Geoff, the other rooms' housekeepers were not responsible for cleaning, so everyone voluntarily started the spring cleaning. Vincent played a song, and the roommates went crazy while cleaning, jumping and running around.

    "I'm going to find a job," Kevin said as he packed his wardrobe, looking at Oscar. "I'll slowly repay you the remaining money."

    "Okay," Oscar replied, holding a camera and taking photos. He smiled and said, "No rush."

    Kevin carefully organized his wig, dress, and prosthetic breasts. Oscar commented, "You look beautiful as a girl, actually."

    Kevin smiled with a hint of sadness. Oscar sat on the edge of the table and continued, "Have you joined any communities online where you can connect with like-minded people?"

    "I'm not sure if I classify as a crossdresser or transgender. Maybe I'll figure it out in the future," Kevin pondered.

    Oscar reassured him, saying, "Many guys would appreciate you for being yourself."

    Kevin knew that Oscar was encouraging him. Whether as his female-presenting self or after transitioning, as long as he approached relationships with sincerity, he could find true love.

    Although he didn't say it, Kevin constantly thought along the way that he wanted to say thank you to everyone. However, he felt that those two words were too light. He didn't know how to repay them, but he believed they didn't expect anything in return.

    "Hey?" Oscar noticed the items in a box and asked, "Can I try them on?"

    Kevin became happy again and said, "Go ahead and try."

    Oscar put on the wig and took a couple of selfies. He then went outside to show their roommates, triggering a burst of laughter. Geoff also joined in and said, "Is there more? Let me try too."

    Kevin found another wig for Geoff, and the laughter escalated. Vincent came in and suggested, "Guys, let's dress up Shawn."

    "Oh my goodness!" Oscar exclaimed when he saw Alex wearing the wig. Alex even tried the prosthetic breasts. With his strong physique and muscles, his transformation into a girl was a complete subversion of collective aesthetic standards. Shawn's unshaved beard, slight bruise on his face, and masculine appearance left people at a loss for words.

    Unexpectedly, Geoff looked quite good in women's clothing! He resembled a cold and classical beauty.

    "Oscar looks the most beautiful!" Kevin said. "Vincent looks great too!"

    Vincent noticed that fair skin could cover up many flaws. Both he and Oscar had fair complexions, making it easier for them to pass as women, except for their height. They could still manage to blend in. On the other hand, Geoff's slightly darker skin made him appear more androgynous.

    "Come on," Oscar said. "Let's take a group photo!"

    So, everyone at No. 7 Riverbay Road changed into women's clothing and posed together for a group picture. Kevin stood in the middle and gave a thumbs-up.

    The sound of the camera shutter finally opened the tightly closed door— they joined forces to push open the door in Kevin's heart that had been closed for so long.
  8. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 46:

    The Spring Festival holiday came to an end, and Vincent started dealing with his manuscripts again.

    New year, new beginning—Vincent had said this to himself after New Year's Day, hoping that this time he could smoothly finish his work. After the Spring Festival, Vincent developed a procrastination habit, trying his best to avoid provoking the editor, as if by delaying one more day, he could avoid one more day of humiliation.

    However, an ugly daughter-in-law must meet her in-laws, and garbage must be incinerated. Today, he couldn't delay any longer because tomorrow was another holiday.

    On the other hand, in the past few days, Shawn, with a bruised face from being slapped, resigned from the company. Although he casually mentioned it with a few words, Vincent knew that Shawn's partner must have been shocked. Perhaps, for the first time, his partner cared about his life. When Shawn reported the matter, he used the word "relief".

    His partner sensitively asked, "Are you in a relationship?"

    Shawn didn't discuss much about Vincent's situation. After resigning, he still needed to do some handover work, which lasted about a week. After all, he was the company's second-in-command. He needed to accompany colleagues to visit clients and pass on their contact information. The new person taking over was a competent career woman in her thirties. Vincent had seen her photo and thought she was pretty good.

    During this period, Shawn got drunk with clients twice. Vincent had to pick him up and send him back home. He realized how hard Shawn was working to earn this money, while he himself had been disconnected from society for too long, not valuing the million-dollar pre-tax salary.

    In these days, Vincent wanted to focus on revising his manuscript and didn't disturb Shawn. Regardless, Shawn's resignation could finally be done before the Lantern Festival. Today was Tuesday again, and Vincent started printing his manuscript, preparing to take it to the publishing house. He had already sent the editor an electronic copy yesterday. At this moment, Alex came out of the room, whistling melodiously, and sat at the dining table with his electric scooter helmet.

    "He agreed?" Vincent didn't even turn his head. He could tell from the whistling that Alex was feeling satisfied.

    Alex grinned, snapped his fingers, and said, "Baby, make me a cup of coffee. What are you doing? Are you going to work today?"

    "Yes," Vincent replied. "What did Mr Dong say?"

    Alex looked at his phone and answered, "Today, he took the initiative and said he wanted to meet me. I said I was busy, then he said, 'How about having dinner together the day after tomorrow?'"

    "I must remind you that the day after tomorrow is the Lantern Festival," Vincent said.

    "Yeah!" Alex's face was full of smiles. "He probably thinks I will still be the same as before and won't agree. But unexpectedly, I said yes. Hahaha!"

    Vincent remained silent, listening with great interest. What did the Lantern Festival invitation mean? "On the willow tree, a person invites another after dusk." The Lantern Festival is considered the Eastern Valentine's Day, and a date on the Lantern Festival typically means... the person has no other dates. It may sound trivial, but it is important as it represents each person's position in the other person's heart. The fact that they can put aside other matters to meet tonight indicates the high possibility of being together. It means a lot, even if it is only one night together.

    Shawn had already reserved a table at the Corridor Restaurant before the Spring Festival. He would be busy until noon on the Lantern Festival day and would only have a chance to meet Vincent in the evening. Then they would start discussing their life together.

    "I want to remind you once again," Vincent said. "The day after tomorrow is the Lantern Festival, and um... you might not be able to book a table at the restaurant."

    Alex's smile froze on his face. He had never thought about this aspect because the appearance of Mr Dong had always been associated with sexual encounters. All the arrangements were made for that purpose, so he never considered the matter of having a meal.

    "Oh, right," Alex murmured to himself. "What should we do?"

    "Maybe you can have a home-cooked meal?" Vincent suggested. "Let Oscar be the chef, Kevin can dress up as a waiter, and Geoff can be the butler. Pay them some money. But that won't have the desired effect of intimidating Mr Dong. No, it might even double the intimidation effect."

    Alex remained silent.

    Alex had never admitted that he liked this masochistic elite man named Dong. Most of the emotions he shared with Vincent were centered around "I can't stand him." In order to crush Mr Dong's arrogance, Alex planned to present himself as a wealthy heir, with the fitness studio being just a temporary, boring interest. In reality, he was the heir to a certain family business.

    If it were someone else, Vincent would consider this plan extremely foolish. However, Alex's naive and foolish desires, coupled with a mischievous spirit, made people unable to resist joining him in his pranks. So Vincent and Geoff joined forces to advise Alex on the details of his relationship. Geoff was responsible for analyzing Mr Dong's psychology, while Vincent planned to repackage Alex and see if they could deceive the real wealthy person and make him fall for Alex's acting skills.

    Vincent agreed to lend Alex the luxury car, while Shawn offered to lend him a designer suit. Geoff searched for a lot of information on "daily life of wealthy people" so that Alex could familiarize himself in advance. They all had a great time, and there were many exaggerated details that even Vincent found excessive, but it didn't matter. They transformed Alex's appearance and were ready to send him out to play pranks.

    "I'll try to get you a seat," Vincent said, grabbing his phone and making a call. "Hello, this is Vincent. I would like to make a reservation for the Lantern Festival night. Is it still possible?"

    Alex looked uncertain, contemplating whether to message Mr Dong and come up with an excuse to reschedule. But Vincent gestured for him not to worry, as he had already made a reservation.

    "Yes, yes," Vincent said into the phone. "My friend... um, I have already made a reservation for myself. Are there any more available? Okay, thank you, thank you so much... Oh? Really? That's fantastic! Alright, we will be there on time tomorrow night."

    Vincent hung up the phone and said, "Reservation secured. It's at a restaurant owned by an acquaintance from the past, the Sky Corridor."

    "That must be expensive!" Alex exclaimed.

    "Uh..." Vincent hadn't considered that aspect. Alex quickly added, "It's okay! Yes, it should be there!"

    "Alright," Vincent said. "They still have some available tables, so I booked another one for Oscar and the others to join us."

    "Oh?" Alex caught on to something.

    Vincent explained, "You should wear Bluetooth earphones and keep your phone connected. Geoff will provide you with prompts through the earphones."

    "Hahaha!" Alex burst into laughter. "That's great!"

    Vincent went upstairs for a moment and returned with a watch, saying, "You can use this one for now. It belonged to my late grandfather. The advantage is that it's very durable, not delicate, and very low-key."

    According to Vincent and Geoff's plan, on the day of the operation, Alex would pick up Mr Dong in a Bentley and then go to the upscale restaurant to have dinner, leaving Mr Dong astounded. The only regret was that they couldn't witness the whole process firsthand, but since now Mr Dong chose to have a date on the Lantern Festival night and Vincent managed to secure a reservation at the restaurant, everything was perfect. They could pretend to be guests at another table and eavesdrop on Alex's conversation with Mr Dong. It would surely be very, very interesting!

    However, after everyone had planned the "handsome, rich, and successful" operation, no one had thought about how to wrap it up.

    "Do you think he will be very angry if he finds out?" Vincent asked. "If we get exposed."

    "I'll expose myself voluntarily. I just want him to know, you see? If I have the same status and wealth as you, then you will change your attitude. But I'm still me. I have always been this person. Is there a difference?" Alex replied.

    "Alright," Vincent said. "Since it's a restaurant owned by an acquaintance, I can have the head chef come out and greet you, making you appear like a regular customer. Do you want that?"

    "No, no, that's too much. I won't be able to handle it. This is enough. I have to hurry and go now," Alex snapped out of his fantasies about being rich, put on his helmet, and returned to reality to clean his gym equipment.

    Vincent, holding his manuscript, took the subway. He found the scene very interesting and thought he could write about it in his book. In the meantime, Shawn managed to find some time amidst his busy schedule and asked about the situation. Vincent sent him a picture of the subway.

    Shawn was on a business trip to another city today, but after completing the handover there, he would return to River East tomorrow afternoon and finally be free. Vincent shared some details about Alex with him, and Shawn was also very interested. Tomorrow, he would go to the Sky Corridor early and wait to watch the show.

    Half of the publishing house was empty, and Vincent entered the deputy chief editor's office with his manuscript.

    "Ah, you're here," the editor said. "I was wondering when you would come. Let's have a cup of coffee."

    "Sure, sure," Vincent nervously sat down, with just a small edge of his buttocks on the chair.

    He noticed the printed manuscript on the editor's desk. Today, his manuscript had no traces of red pen corrections. What did that mean? Did it pass the review? Or was only the first page clean, while the rest was filled with comments?

    Before discussing the manuscript, they usually exchanged a few pleasantries. The editor made instant coffee at the water dispenser and said, "How was your Chinese New Year?"

    "It was good," Vincent smiled. "Did the colleagues outside all leave early for the Lantern Festival holiday?"

    The editor came over with two cups of coffee and handed one to Vincent. Today, he rarely mentioned the manuscript and just said, "I remember this author who has a long-standing partnership with us recommended you to me."

    "Yes," Vincent smiled.

    The author was a screenwriter that Vincent had collaborated with. He had published several books, and Vincent sometimes couldn't understand why it was so easy for some people to publish novels one after another, while it was so difficult for himself.

    "As for your book," the editor said with a meaningful tone, "personally, I think it is actually quite good. You didn't come from a literary background, yet you don't have the typical flaws of a literary background. Your story-lines are better than many other authors, and your understanding of characters is unique..."

    "Oh, really?" Vincent was at a loss for words, receiving such a grand compliment for the first time since he knew the editor.

    "But," the editor continued.

    A thud, Vincent knew it was over again today.

    "...your book is not suitable for this era. It is both outdated and ahead of its time. It is outdated because its core spirit is still stuck in your understanding of the past era. It is ahead of its time because you are also dissatisfied with the past era and always try to look at it with a different perspective, deconstruct it, and attempt to build something new on this ruins. But now it's not that era anymore. Other people have built a world completely different from what you expected, and your blueprint becomes awkward..."

    Vincent listened somewhat bewildered.

    "Do you know? Now, no one writes books like you, no one, not a single one." The editor's expression became serious as he said, "Let's talk about the story itself, leaving aside the original intention of creation. Look at the books sold in the market, where do you think yours can fit in? Can't you find a place to squeeze it in? Book classifications are like labels for a person. You don't have the self-awareness of genre writing. Readers have preferences, salty, spicy, sweet, or sour. They look for restaurants according to their taste, just like choosing partners based on labels. You can be tall and handsome, but you can't be both handsome and ugly. You're either a man or a woman, not both, and definitely not neither..."

    Vincent looked at the editor, feeling somewhat confused. He felt that something was off about the editor today, but couldn't quite put his finger on it.

    "...Yes, you must be thinking that I can only write this kind of book," the editor sympathized and helplessly said, "Honestly, it was the same for the writers in the past. Look at works like Waiting for Godot and Legends of Guatemala. Can you categorize them? Of course, I'm not comparing your book to those literary masterpieces. I just want to tell you that the world has changed! Your biggest problem lies here. Do you feel frustrated and painful because you can't get your manuscripts through?"

    Vincent: "It's not like that..."

    "There's no end to revising the manuscript... because you don't want to satisfy readers or make money. You just want to create freely, to write stories that have significant personal meaning to you but are nothing more than crap in the eyes of others. You hope that someone can resonate with you, enter your inner depths, but you have no idea that this kind of expectation is no different from begging on the street for attention! The audience comes and goes, they will ignore you or look down on you. That's already being polite; more often, they mock you. They don't care about what you're thinking, they just want to see what they want to see. Look at all the authors here, they are all trying to understand readers' preferences, jumping up and down like clowns, performing for them. If the audience likes acrobatics, the authors will perform fire hoops; if the audience likes tragedies, the authors will kneel on stage and howl. Readers don't hesitate to criticize authors, just because you write about an abandoned woman, they say, 'The author must have been abandoned too,' or if you write about a criminal, they assume, 'The author must have a dark mind.' Isn't writing just selling out? Absolutely correct! The writers expose themselves shamelessly, and the readers generously peep and comment on the color and features of those reproductive organs..."

    Vincent: "..."

    "...We have a signed author who was a full-time housewife. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't write anything remarkable. Later, she got divorced and became a single mother because her husband cheated on her. Now she's struggling to make a living, taking care of her four-year-old daughter. She had an epiphany and wrote a new book. The protagonist in the book is her alter ego, a collective expression of her accusation against life and fate. Readers then started a carnival of frenzy. They gathered around her and said, 'The author must be just like this!' 'How tragic!' 'A pitiful person must have some faults!' She begged them for money and fame, and in return, she displayed her scars for everyone to tear apart, allowing them to pick at her purplish-black rotting flesh! Guess what happened next? Overnight, she became famous! When she was a full-time mother, she was a talented woman who wanted to write some literature."

    "What is literature?" the editor pushed his glasses up again and asked, "Tell me, what is literature?"

    Vincent: "To be honest, I haven't thought about it that much. I just feel that I have stories I want to write..."

    "Literature? When I read her manuscripts, there's no trace of literature there." The editor continued as if he hadn't heard Vincent's words, "Where can you find literature nowadays? Literature has long been dead! It has been pulled down from its pedestal and repeatedly defiled, violated! Whether it's authors or readers, everyone has contributed their share, and I think literature quite enjoys it! And so, rape slowly turned into consensual intercourse, giving birth to a bunch of grotesque and monstrous creatures. These creatures, after careful grooming, bare their fangs and claws, attacking and preying on their victims. People curiously indulge their business. These... these... and these... Look at the books on the shelves, the ones we publish, they are part of that group of monsters! They are devouring the souls of humanity! Everyone sells their souls in exchange for the satisfaction and pleasure. Yes, reading for pleasure! It's a joke that has become a universal truth? Like making a deal with the devil, allowing them to defecate in your thoughts in exchange for a momentary spiritual delight! And if you happen to like one of them, it's even more terrifying. Just imagine a devil permanently occupying your soul, guiding your entire life!"

    "The true records of life, stories told by people themselves, discussing meaning... are either ignored or forcefully suppressed by those who rape literature, forcing them not to come out, but to stay confined in the womb..."

    Vincent: "......"

    "...Ah, look at these books, you see, do you know how many manuscripts we reject every year? Because of moral censorship? In the moral censorship of the masses, as long as you are in the minority, you are not allowed. If they don't like it, if it doesn't suit their tastes, let them disappear from the world! Instead, whatever is pleasing to the majority is allowed! Illegal pedophilia is even permitted if it's packaged as a brother-sister relationship, and underage lolitas are suddenly not a problem? The author remains silent and the readers tacitly understand. It's utterly disgusting! Sexual fetishes, they are everywhere! Pay attention! They emphasize that even sexual fetishes have hierarchies, just like within the LGBT community where they discriminate against each other. Even though they are already discriminated by the general public, they still attack and criticize one another within their own groups. They proudly display their sexual fetishes, categorizing them into different levels of quality. What's considered 'magnetic voice' and 'broad shoulders' are naturally modest and superior fetishes, while being urinated on is considered the most shameful fetish. Saying 'I like black stockings' at a gathering is harmless, but if someone says 'I like being urinated on'..."

    Vincent: "Is anyone there? The deputy chief editor has gone mad!" Vincent couldn't bear it any longer. While most normal people are somewhat similar, each madman has their own way of madness, bizarre and diverse. He stood up and shouted outside the office, while also considering how to calm down the editor. He wondered what had suddenly triggered him today and contemplated introducing him to a psychiatrist specializing in mental illness.

    "Don't bother shouting," the editor said with a solemn tone. "Do you think I'm insane? Is that it? Let me tell you, Mr Zhang, there won't be anyone outside. Our publishing house has already gone out of business! We'll shut down after tomorrow, bankrupt! Your manuscript is quite good, and I'm willing to read it, but that's solely based on my personal interest..."

    Vincent stood there, dumbfounded.

    "...That's how it is," the editor continued. "Go write some bestselling novels, join the crowd and compromise! This is a piece of advice before we part ways. Stop talking to yourself. We're all talking to ourselves. You think I'm a lunatic, but aren't you one too? The only difference is that I'm crazy in my words, and you're crazy in your writing..."

    Vincent glanced outside and saw more editors and proofreaders packing up their things, carrying boxes as they left.

    "How... how did this happen?" Vincent asked. "You're closing down just like that?"

    "Yes," the editor replied, seemingly back to normal. "Poor management, a broken financial chain, outstanding accounts receivable. No one is investing in us anymore. Isn't it normal for a publishing company to go bankrupt?"

    Vincent said, "But... you've been around for forty years! When I was a child, my grandfather used to take me to your bookstore..."

    "That bookstore closed down a long time ago," the editor said. "How many people are still reading novels these days? Forty years, is that really impressive? Many dynasties and empires lasted for hundreds of years, but in the end, they all perished. As a writer, why would you care about such trivial matters? That's right, you see, your articles won't pass the review."

    Vincent was completely bewildered. After a moment, he asked, "Is the financial problem that severe?"

    "The company owes a staggering twelve million yuan," the editor said. "With my meager and pitiful salary, it would take me eighty-three years without eating or drinking to repay it. It was dragged from the year before last to last year and now to this year. We can't continue anymore. The employees haven't been paid their salaries for over three months. Haven't you noticed that each time you come here, there are fewer employees? You should leave now, Mr Zhang. It was nice to meet you. Take your manuscript with you. I'm sure the printing paper and ink cost a lot of money. Keep them for folding paper airplanes for your children."

    Vincent remained speechless.

    Vincent left the publishing house, clutching his manuscript.

    In the evening, Vincent sat by the riverside and watched as the schoolchildren played in the park. With mixed feelings, he decided not to call his friends to ask for introductions to other publishing houses. He needed some time to calm down and reflect on his life, just like Shawn did when he resigned.

    Perhaps he truly wasn't suited for writing.

    Furthermore, the editor's crazy words had shaken him even more. He knew that there were many crazy people in the world, maybe around ten percent? A much higher proportion than most people would think, though still fewer than what crazy people themselves believed. The difference between crazy people among the sane and those in mental institutions was that the former could hide themselves well, appearing no different from ordinary people. They would either go crazy in reality or go crazy on the internet. Interestingly, these two types of crazies would establish distinct territories, completely unrelated to each other. And now, he had the fortunate opportunity to encounter this real-life lunatic's ramblings.

    What was even more frightening was that Vincent actually felt that some of what he said made sense. Perhaps it meant that he, too, might be a lunatic.

    He dared not dwell on this thought. Taking out one sheet from the stack of his manuscript, he folded it into a paper airplane and threw it towards the children. The group of kids giggled and ran over, asking him for more paper. Vincent generously took out all his manuscripts and folded numerous paper airplanes for them, sending them flying through the sky.

    "Hey!" the park administrator noticed him and sternly said, "Don't create litter in the park!"

    "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Vincent quickly got up, scattered around to retrieve his magnum opus. It took him a full twenty minutes to collect all the litter, and finally, he stuffed them all into the trash bin. Then he left the park.
  9. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 47:

    "You okay?" Alex noticed that Vincent had been acting restless these past few days.

    "Ah." Vincent snapped out of his thoughts. Ever since he returned from the publishing house, he had suddenly lost the drive in his life. He began reflecting on his life, his goals, and what he truly wanted. Was it about success, fame, and leaving a mark in history or was it about living a peaceful and smooth life?

    Was there a fundamental difference between the two?

    "It's nothing," Vincent said. "Come on, let's change clothes."

    On the day of the Lantern Festival, Alex was filled with anticipation. He was getting ready to meet his booty call Mr Dong who had always been in the upper hand and settle the scores with him. He wanted to vent out his accumulated frustrations.

    Geoff reminded him, "When driving, make sure to have one hand on the steering wheel and never look straight ahead. If you drive with both hands on the helm, you would look like a chauffeur. Don't appear too nervous."

    "Got it," Alex said. "Just like how Vincent drives, casual and relaxed."

    "Exactly," everyone nodded in agreement.

    Geoff added, "You should appear confident, as if you don't care even if you hit a pole. You can just leave it by the roadside and buy a new one."

    Vincent said, "The owner had the car insurance. there's no need to worry. Perfect!"

    Alex wore a casual suit from Shawn, which unexpectedly fit him well and instantly elevated his style. He wore a pair of pants from Vincent, looking very polished. Vincent never expected their fusion of love to manifest in such a way on a fitness trainer. Kevin styled his hair, lightly drew his eyebrows, and gave him a subtle male makeup look. With the effect of the makeover, Alex transformed into a refined and handsome gentleman.

    "So handsome!" Kevin exclaimed dramatically.

    "So handsome!" everyone echoed.

    "People with broad shoulders look good in clothes naturally," Vincent said. "Go on now, Mr Dong will definitely be smitten with you."

    Alex grinned, grabbed his car keys, glanced at his phone, and headed out.

    "Let's meet at the Sky Corridor later!" Alex put on his earphones. Geoff also left and got into the car, asking Alex to drop him off at his office since he had something to take care of today.

    The roommates blew air kisses at him and went back to their rooms to change clothes.

    "This restaurant is quite expensive," Kevin said, filled with anticipation.

    "Yes," Vincent chuckled. "But Shawn did say he would treat us to dinner."

    Oscar whistled as he went to change his clothes. Today, Shawn made it clear that he would treat all of Vincent's roommates to dinner, and Vincent was lucky enough to secure a reservation at the Sky Corridor. Although it was pricey, they considered it a celebration of their confirmed relationship and Shawn's departure from his job.

    Apart from that, the Whiskey incident had left Kevin with some psychological scars. Oscar was planning to take him out and have some fun to help him recover. Recently, although Kevin hadn't said anything, his lifestyle had undergone significant changes. He no longer stayed up late for livestreaming and returned to a regular schedule. He would also go out for a while every morning.

    Vincent changed his clothes and walked with them to the subway station. The entire Riverbay Road was adorned with lights for the Lantern Festival. The trees and green spaces were waiting for nightfall when the dazzling lights would illuminate the surroundings.

    Meanwhile, Shawn was on his way back to River East.

    【It's a bit congested on the road. Don't wait for me.】 Shawn messaged Vincent.

    Vincent knew that it was a special day for Shawn, as he was about to start a new life. Vincent walked ahead and exchanged messages with Shawn, while Oscar and Kevin followed slightly behind, chatting occasionally.

    The subway was empty today as everyone had left work early to celebrate the festival. The three of them stood in a corner of the train and chatted.

    "When are you going abroad?" Kevin suddenly asked.

    Caught off guard by the question, Oscar thought for a moment and said, "After this month, I suppose? Once my visa is approved, I can leave anytime."

    "So soon?" Vincent was also surprised.

    Oscar replied, "I had Owen help me enroll in a preparatory course. I'll study for a year and then pursue a two-year bachelor's degree in photography."

    Kevin asked, "Where will you stay? Have you found a place?"

    "I'll stay at Owen's place," Oscar said with a smile. "I'll clean and cook for him as a form of rent for a while. Once I settle down, I'll find a new place or stay in the school dorms after enrolling."

    They roughly knew who Owen was, but Oscar didn't tell Kevin about their past relationship. He only mentioned that they were good friends from high school and Owen had talked with the guys through video-calls.

    Vincent felt a sense of loss, but he was also happy for Oscar. At least he had found his future direction.

    "That's great," Vincent said. "I'm sure everything will go smoothly for you."

    "Thank you," Oscar said earnestly.

    They both understood the underlying meaning of their conversation. If it weren't for Vincent introducing Oscar to the job on the set, perhaps he wouldn't have made such a significant decision to change his life so quickly.

    "I'm going to miss you so much," Kevin said.

    Kevin was feeling very down. His emotions had settled now, and after that incident, he saw Oscar as a very good friend and nothing more.

    Oscar smiled and pinched Kevin's cheek. He said, "I'll come back, it's just three years."

    "Mhm," Kevin said. "Vincent, I might also move out."

    "Huh?" Vincent exclaimed in surprise. "Why? I can waive your rent... just pay when you're more financially stable."

    "Really?!" Kevin was shocked.

    "Uh..." Vincent hesitated. The reason he hesitated wasn't that he care about money but because he thought it might be improper to say something like this.

    "Thank you," Kevin said. "I'm really touched, but I've been looking for a job recently. I've checked out a few positions, and there's one that I might be suitable for. They provide meals and accommodation, but I need to undergo free training first. I'll work in River South, and in that case, Riverbay Road is too far for commuting."

    "Oh?" Vincent asked. "What kind of work is it?"

    Kevin showed them that these past few days, he had been going out for interviews. Among the options, the most suitable one he found so far was a sales position at a cosmetics company. He would receive a commission based on the sales, and the overall monthly salary would be around 8,000 yuan. They also provided employee dormitories.

    "Is this the job you want to do?" Oscar asked.

    "It's alright," Kevin said. "This way, I can save some money, whether it's for further training or going back to school..."

    Vincent added, "Are there other job options? You can keep looking."

    Oscar also said, "Vincent said he won't charge you rent, so you don't have to worry at all."

    Kevin sighed and said, "Here's another option. Take a look. The only problem is the low salary."

    Kevin showed them another job opportunity, an apprenticeship at a fashion design studio.

    "Oh, I know this place," Vincent said. "It's run by two partners who are also gay. They have a fashion store at the front and a design studio in the back of the store."

    For this job, the monthly salary was only a little over 5,000 yuan, but it also included meals and accommodation. The working hours were long, close to ten hours, and Kevin would also have to help with selling clothes in the store.

    "Actually, I would prefer to work at the fashion design studio because I've always loved design since I was a child, but the salary is just too low," Kevin said.

    Vincent and Oscar remained silent, looking at the pictures on Kevin's phone.

    Kevin then said, "I'll think about it."

    "Alright," Vincent replied. "Let's get off the subway!"

    Today, the entire River East was decorated for the Lantern Festival. The city was ready to provide all the romance it could for couples in love while delivering a crushing blow of disdain to all the single individuals.

    The Sky Corridor was fully booked, with every table reserved. Shawn was waiting outside the restaurant, holding Vincent's hand.

    "Alex hasn't arrived yet," Shawn said.

    "No worries," Vincent smiled and held Shawn's hand as they entered the restaurant. They sat at the same couple's seat by the floor-to-ceiling window as last time, while Oscar and Kevin sat at a small four-person table, leaving a seat for Geoff who would arrive later.

    "Thank you, President Huo, for treating us to this meal," Vincent smiled.

    "You're welcome," Shawn replied politely. "It's my way of thanking the matchmaker. You're just my companion."

    Alex was full of confidence when he left home today, but he couldn't help but tremble when driving. With Geoff's encouragement, he regained some confidence. However, as soon as Geoff got out of the car, he became nervous again.

    Just a scratch on this car would cost as much as his two gyms... Alex always couldn't help but have such thoughts. But when he drove to pick up Edmund, he found it to be okay because the cars on the road kept a distance from him, and no one forcefully cut in front of him.

    Don't keep staring straight ahead... Alex remembered Geoff's reminder.

    He drove to the designated location and messaged Edmund.

    【I've arrived.】

    Edmund replied, 【Wait for me downstairs for five minutes. Did you drive here? This meeting will be over soon.】

    Alex didn't reply and parked the Bentley by the roadside. The security guard of the office building came over and respectfully said, "Sir, you can park inside."

    Then, the security guard removed the road barrier in front of the office building and found a dedicated parking spot for Alex.

    At this moment, Alex once again felt the difference... If it were in the past, the security guard would have told him to get lost on his little electric scooter and not block the way for the wealthy people.

    Sigh... Alex adjusted the position of his wristwatch and put his phone back in Vincent's branded bag in the passenger seat.

    Soon, Edmund came downstairs. He exchanged a few words with his colleagues, and then they left while Edmund put on his shoulder bag and walked towards the parking lot.

    Alex honked the horn, startling him.

    Then, Edmund looked up towards the parking lot in front of the office building, his expression becoming extremely complicated.

    He's here! This is the moment Alex has been waiting for! He had already prepared his phone and captured the moment with a click.

    He rolled down the car window and said to Edmund, "What are you looking at?"

    Edmund: "............"

    This was the first time Alex had seen Edmund lose his composure since they met.

    Edmund's face first showed an expression of disbelief, then he smiled. Even though he didn't recognize Alex, he looked at him as if he was seeing him for the first time, and slowly walked towards him.

    Then, he curiously looked at the passenger seat, confirming that there was no one there. Alex was indeed there to pick him up.

    "What were you looking at? Get in the car," Alex behaved as usual, with a tone full of impatience, but he was ecstatic inside.

    Edmund remained silent, opened the passenger door, and got in.

    With one hand on the steering wheel, Alex left the parking lot and merged into the traffic.

    Edmund hadn't come to himself yet and kept looking at Alex.

    "Is it fun?" Edmund suddenly said.

    "What?" Alex asked, confused. "What's fun?"

    Edmund: "Are you teasing me?"

    Alex: "Teasing you? Why would I tease you?"

    Inside, Alex was laughing hysterically. He had used all his skills to maintain the stability of his facial muscles, but the slightly upturned corner of his mouth gave him away.

    "What do you do for a living?" Edmund asked again.

    "I run a gym. Didn't you see?" Alex had noticed that today, Edmund was surprisingly a bit flustered?! Since the moment they met, his arrogance had disappeared in an instant!

    Edmund said, "Is the gym just something you play with?"

    He actually helped him with those words. Alex began to feel even more delighted.

    "Didn't I tell you?" Alex replied, "I said from the beginning that it's just for fun."

    Edmund: "Where do you live? Can you tell me now?"

    "Why? Are you going to visit my parents?" Alex asked.

    Edmund: "..."

    Alex didn't realize that by presenting himself in this way today, he was actually implying another kind of expectation for their relationship. In Edmund's eyes, the current Alex was showing his true self, which meant that he was starting to pursue him. However, Alex thought it was just a prank.

    "I live on Riverbay Road," Alex said.

    "Oh," Edmund replied.

    After a moment, Edmund added, "Hmm."

    While waiting at a red light, Alex looked at Edmund and wondered if he had prepared to go to a hotel with him today. What was he wearing beneath his suit... Edmund met his gaze and suddenly said, "So, you've been lying to me all along."

    "What did I lie about?" Alex laughed as well.

    He hadn't really lied about anything, but Alex had been beating around the bush all this time. Today, he had complete control and understood the temperament of these rich second-generations, which made it impossible for Edmund to make a move.

    Edmund laughed again, accepting it, and even found it amusing. Then he reached out and touched Alex's thigh, saying, "Let me feel it. It's been a few days?"

    "About a week," Alex had been abstaining for almost a week, and as soon as Edmund's hand touched him, he became hard.

    "Hey, not like this," Alex warned again.

    "There's a traffic jam," Edmund said.

    "What if I come!" Alex impatiently said, "My pants would be all wet."

    Edmund started pulling down Alex's zipper, trying to turn around and get closer, but Alex grabbed his wrist and stepped on the gas, continuing to drive.

    "I'll make you satisfied tonight," Alex said, "How about calling me 'hubby'?"

    Edmund: "..."

    Edmund only called Alex "hubby" during sex, but as soon as he was satisfied, he reverted back to his cold demeanor. Today, Alex wanted to try and see.

    Edmund fell silent and didn't say "get lost" as he usually did.

    While waiting at the second red light, Alex reached over and pinched Edmund's nipple through his thin white shirt. Edmund quickly grabbed his hand and said, "Hubby! Stop groping me."

    Alex was about to fly high with pleasure. In the end, he had to thank Vincent for providing him with the service of a wealthy man's one-day adventure.

    "What do you want to eat tonight?" Edmund asked again.

    "I made a random reservation. It was too late, and there were no available seats anywhere," Alex said.

    Clearly, this was something he was trained to say. Until now, Edmund hadn't shown any suspicion. He had fully accepted Alex's persona as a wealthy second-generation entrepreneur in training.

    "Is this car yours or your dad's?" Edmund suddenly asked.

    Although it deviated from the script, Alex knew exactly how to answer.

    "It was given to me by a friend as collateral for a debt," Alex replied. "I rarely drive it."

    Edmund: "Oh, why?"

    "I would look like a chauffeur," Alex said. "Don't you think so?"

    Edmund smiled helplessly.

    Alex added, "Your Porsche looks really nice."

    "That's my brother-in-law's," Edmund replied.

    Alex remained silent, his aura completely overpowering Edmund. He now understood the immense strength Edmund usually displayed, thinking it was because he believed himself to be wealthier. But now, Alex had the control as the dominant partner, and with his shortcomings compensated for, Edmund was completely at his mercy.

    "How's the gym business?" Edmund unusually asked.

    Wow, you're quite talkative today... Alex thought. He rarely saw Edmund ask these kinds of questions.

    "It's going okay," Alex always played it cool. In the past, he was unwilling to be suppressed, but now he needed to maintain his image. He drove the car into the underground parking lot of the Sky Corridor. As soon as he turned off the engine, Edmund wrapped his arms around him, and Alex began kissing him. They sat in the driver's and passenger's seats, engaging in a passionate kiss, while Alex eagerly caressed his body.

    "Let's go to the back seat," Edmund gasped, "Do you want to see what I'm wearing today?"

    Suddenly, Alex snapped back to reality. Although his relationship with Vincent didn't matter much, it wasn't appropriate to engage in car sex in a friend's car.

    "Let's eat first," Alex said, "I skipped lunch, and I'm starving."

    Edmund obediently nodded and followed Alex out of the car.

    He's so submissive today! Alex could hardly believe it. Normally, Edmund would have insisted on being hungry as well and would have taken off his pants without hesitation.

    Alex walked ahead, and Edmund followed behind. They searched for an elevator but only found a door to a secure passage. Alex said, "Forget it, let's take the stairs."

    Edmund tugged on Alex's hand a few times, and once they entered the secure passage, he groped his crotch. Alex couldn't take it anymore, he turned around, pressed him against the wall, and began kissing him. Edmund clearly enjoyed it immensely. This was the moment he desired. Alex stopped talking about being hungry and after a while, Edmund pulled down Alex's pants zipper, giving him a blow job in the secure passage. After a few minutes, Alex asked him to stand up and removed his pants, leaving him only in his underwear, revealing his buttocks. Alex grabbed the lubricant and began thrusting. Edmund's thong looked incredibly sexy, with his shirt partially covering his body. One foot rested on a step, allowing Alex to penetrate deeply. In the secure passage, only Edmund's suppressed moans and Alex's heavy breathing could be heard. They were constantly on alert for any sounds coming from above, occasional door opening and footsteps in the lobby on the ground floor, adding to the excitement. Under this stimulation, Alex could only hold on for twenty minutes before climaxing.

    "You came fast today," Edmund gasped.

    "Fast?" Alex touched Edmund, "If we go on for too long, you won't be able to close up."

    Edmund: "Will we continue later?"

    "Yes," Alex continued to touch him, saying, "We'll continue once you've recovered."

    This was just the appetizer for today, but it was enough to leave them satisfied for a while.

    The two of them straightened their clothes, and Edmund helped button up Alex's shirt before giving him a lingering deep kiss. They went up to the next floor and entered the elevator. Alex pressed the button for the top floor.

    Edmund asked, "The Sky Corridor?"

    Alex replied, "Yeah, why? Don't you like it? Should we go somewhere else?"

    "It's fine," Edmund said, "Let's go to that place. It doesn't matter what we eat."

    Alex guessed that Edmund, with his usual style, wouldn't be concerned about the price at this place.

    "You just want to eat a big cock," Alex mocked mercilessly.

    Edmund remained silent.

    At that moment, someone else entered the elevator, and Edmund suddenly asked Alex, "What did you say?"

    Alex put his hand on Edmund's shoulder, with a mischievous smile, and whispered in his ear, "You just want to eat your husband's big cock."

    Edmund remained unfazed. They arrived at the Sky Corridor, and Alex led him inside. They took their seats.

    Behind Edmund's table, not far away, were Vincent and Shawn. Oscar and Kevin were sitting diagonally behind them. The roommates noticed their arrival and curiously glanced at Edmund.

    "I'll see what to eat today. President Huo will have to spend a lot of money," Vincent joked.

    Today, Shawn was treating two tables of guests, while Alex's table was his own expense.

    Shawn said, "Anyway, after today, I'll be relying on you. It's no big deal."

    The server said, "Sir, today we have a set menu available."

    Vincent found it both funny and annoying, realizing that he had just been informed about the dishes, and it cost 888 yuan per person.

    "How's the manuscript?" Shawn didn't hear Vincent's usual complaints today, thinking that this time they had finally passed the editorial process smoothly.

    Vincent replied, "The editor has gone crazy."

    "Crazy?" Shawn asked.

    "Yes, and the publishing company went bankrupt," Vincent said.

    Shawn was extremely confused. Meanwhile, Vincent was multitasking, observing the table next to them where Alex and Edmund were seated.

    Oscar and Kevin were waiting for their food.

    "It's so expensive," Kevin said. "We'll be spending over a thousand yuan for this meal. When you go abroad, you'll definitely be eating Western food more often."

    Oscar nodded, and Kevin continued, "You're going to have a really good life, I had a feeling from the moment I first saw you."

    "Thank you," Oscar smiled with a tinge of sadness.

    "I'm sorry," Kevin said. "I always make assumptions. I've caused you so much trouble again..."

    "It's not a problem," Oscar quickly interjected. "We're friends, after all."

    Kevin laughed, and Oscar explained further, "I've always treated you like a little brother. Everyone really likes you, and you're a kind-hearted kid."

    "If I had met you earlier, maybe things wouldn't be the way they are now," Kevin said.

    Oscar gestured for Kevin to stop. His eyes were getting red. Kevin kept apologizing, but Oscar understood deep down that he was the one who should say sorry, always teasing him.

    "I think working at a fashion design studio would suit you," Oscar thought for a moment and said earnestly, "Although the salary may not be high, you can learn a lot of things that you're interested in."

    "I've been thinking the same thing," Kevin said. "But I'm worried. I'm afraid I won't be able to handle the job and they'll look down on me. That studio is very private, with only two bosses..."

    "That won't happen," Oscar said. "You have to believe in yourself."

    Kevin hadn't had any contact with the outside world for almost half a year, and he did struggle with social anxiety. His previous job was a reluctant choice to make a living.

    Oscar smiled and said, "And what if a handsome gay comes to buy clothes and falls for you?"

    "Then I won't hold onto the idea of depending on him," Kevin answered seriously. "I want to rely on myself."

    "That's great," Oscar said. "Really, I was like you. I believe you will succeed."

    Independence is a journey that everyone must go through, and Oscar understood this better than anyone. He gradually became his true self, and this path was just one of the seemingly ordinary tests in life, but it held great significance.

    Alex casually leaned back in his chair, waiting for the food. Edmund said, "I'll go to the restroom for a moment."

    "Do you want me to come with you?" Alex said.

    "No," Edmund's expression seemed a bit evasive as he quickly left. Alex took the opportunity to greet his roommates and made a gesture, and they all responded with an "OK" sign.

    Vincent made an inquisitive expression, gesturing if Alex needed to make a phone call. Alex waved his hand, indicating that he was fully capable of handling it now.

    Soon, Edmund returned, and at that moment, the waiter brought soup and bread and placed them in front of Alex.

    "Why is it only mine?" Alex said.

    "Aren't you hungry?" Edmund said. "You can start eating."

    Tonight, Edmund unexpectedly transformed into a considerate and gentle man, breaking Alex's preconceptions.

    "What kind of work do you do?" Alex asked casually. He was genuinely curious.

    "I help out at the company my sister and brother-in-law run," Edmund replied. "It's in the entertainment industry, and my sister and brother-in-law call the shots."

    "Oh, I see," Alex nodded.

    Then Edmund asked, "What about you?"

    "I own a gym," Alex replied.

    Edmund smiled and looked at him, saying, "Can't you be more sincere?"

    More sincere? Alex thought, you wanted me to be sincere?

    "This is probably the first time we've had a conversation like this since we met," Alex intended to say "an equal conversation", but he didn't utter the words.

    "I've always wanted to know more about you," Edmund said. "It's just that you never gave me a chance. You always put on your pants and run away."

    Alex thought to himself, "Are you really interested in me? Impossible. If it weren't for the way I acted differently today, would you be having these conversations with me?"

    But Alex said, "I really do own a gym. I borrowed the car and the watch from a friend just to make you happy and have a meal with you."

    Edmund laughed again. Today, he laughed more than all the laughter combined since they met.

    "Are you an only child?" Edmund asked again.

    "I have a younger sister," Alex replied. "She's with our parents."

    Edmund nodded and sighed.

    Alex asked, "Do your parents want you to get married?"

    "No," Edmund snapped back to reality immediately and said, "No, they hardly care about me. It's my sister who takes care of me."

    Alex thought for a moment and could roughly guess why Edmund had sighed earlier. He said, "Working at the family company must be tiring."

    "Yes, it is," Edmund said. "But I'm used to it, so it's okay."

    Alex said, "You haven't come to my class yet."

    Edmund smirked slightly and said, "I haven't bought clothes yet. I don't know what to wear for class."

    "You can wear whatever you want, or even nothing at all," Alex replied.

    Edmund smirked and asked, "What about you? Will you be wearing anything?"

    "I can buy you an outfit specifically for fitness classes," Alex said, raising an eyebrow at Edmund. Edmund's expression made it clear that he wanted to have sex again.

    Vincent and Shawn couldn't hear what they were saying as Edmund purposely lowered his voice, but judging by the atmosphere, they could tell that the two of them were most likely flirting.

    "Alex is in a relationship too," Shawn said.

    "Are you surprised?" Vincent replied. "Everyone has the right to love and be loved."

    Shawn chuckled and said, "I'm just worried about him... um..."

    "Can it last?" Vincent actually shared the same concern. Alex was unique; his love started from sex. It remained to be seen if sex could dilute all the conflicts in life.

    "But perhaps other people think the same way about us," Shawn shrugged. "Will you come to my place tonight?"

    Vincent thought for a moment and said, "Okay."

    Shawn said, "I really, really, really miss you. I almost couldn't control myself this morning, thinking about having some fun with you. But knowing that I would invite you to spend the night together, I had to endure..."

    Vincent couldn't stop laughing. Shawn always managed to say something unserious in a serious tone that tickled his funny bone, and yet his words were vividly imaginative.

    "Tomorrow, let's go look at houses together," Vincent suggested.

    "Are you really going to rent a place to live?" Shawn asked. "Have you made up your mind?"

    "Yeah," Vincent wanted to try moving out of No. 7 Riverbay Road. "There are a few places I really like."

    Rather than saying he liked the places, it was more about wanting to experience the memories of his childhood again—the little details of living with his grandparents in the River South.

    Just at that moment, a woman walked over and stood in front of their table. She had long hair and was wearing a black dress with high heels. She appeared silently and out of nowhere.

    "Shawn?" She interrupted their conversation.

    Vincent glanced at her and then looked at Shawn, whose expression immediately changed.

    "What are you doing here?" Shawn said.

    "That's what I should be asking you, Shawn. You have money to dine in upscale restaurants but no money to repay your debts?" The woman retorted.

    "You... Don't make a scene here. Get out!" Shawn stood up immediately, and Vincent's mind went blank for a moment.

    "Shawn!" the woman said. "When will you pay the alimony? I've been waiting for you here for almost two months, and you're afraid of making a scene?!"

    "You..." Shawn said. "You're crazy! Get out!"

    Shawn reached out to grab her, but she pushed him away. He didn't dare to use force in the restaurant. The woman continued, "Are you afraid of others knowing? You, scum of a man! If you dare to do it, don't be afraid of others finding out! You owe debts and yet you come here to spend money? Whenever I call you, you never answer..."

    "Yuki, calm down!"

    She was quite agitated, and Vincent was completely stunned. This scene was like a melodramatic TV series where the wife caught the mistress. He never imagined that all of this would happen to him.

    The entire restaurant was now drawn to the sharp voice of this woman named Yuki. Everyone looked at her with astonishment.

    Shawn didn't know whether to let her stay or force her to leave. He had a rather miserable expression.

    "Do you still want to touch me?" Yuki said. "I will accuse you of rape!" At this point, all the guests in the restaurant put down their utensils. Alex looked at the woman in disbelief.

    "Who is she?" Vincent finally asked Shawn.

    "I'm his wife!" she said. "Can you make him repay me quickly? Stop avoiding my calls..."

    Shawn interrupted her, "Enough. Let's go outside and talk."

    "You still care about losing face?" Yuki said. "You are shameless. Now you're worried about losing face? Do you know? He's a fraudulent gay. You better stay away from him and don't let him infect you with HIV. And, he swindled my dowry! He's a complete liar! His character is rotten to the core, simply..."

    Shawn took a deep breath and grabbed her wrist.

    At first, Alex was just observing, but when Vincent asked, "Who is she?", he couldn't sit still anymore and decided to get up and help. Oscar and Kevin were still hesitating. However, the focus of the confrontation remained on Shawn, and everyone who knew him was shocked.

    Alex stood up, feeling the need to intervene. After all, Vincent and Shawn were introduced by him.

    "What's going on?" Edmund noticed Alex's intention and asked, "A friend?"

    "Yes," Alex stood up, thinking about how to persuade her to leave. Shawn had already grabbed her wrist to take her away, but she continued to speak non-stop in front of Vincent.

    "Which one?" Edmund glanced over.

    Alex initially wanted to say, "Both of them," but changed his words and said, "The taller one."

    "Let me handle it," Edmund said, putting down his napkin and standing up. Alex followed him.

    "He swindled my dowry, and now he doesn't answer my calls or messages..." the woman was explaining to Vincent when Edmund and Alex approached.

    "Wow, Yuki!" Edmund exclaimed. "It's you! What are you doing here?"

    Everyone was once again filled with confusion, including Yuki herself. She turned her head and looked at Edmund, saying, "Who are you? What are you doing? Don't touch me..."

    Immediately, Edmund took action, locking her wrist and dragging her closer. The restaurant staff quickly understood the situation and came over to help. Edmund said, "You mischievous girl... Come with me, stop causing a scene!"

    Shawn finally breathed a sigh of relief, his forehead covered in sweat. When he turned to look at Vincent, he noticed that Vincent's face had turned dark.

    "Aren't you going to check on her?" Vincent asked.

    On the other side, Yuki was dragged screaming into the restaurant, and Shawn, fearing any further trouble, followed along.

    Edmund's speed was even faster. As soon as he left the restaurant and reached the kitchen, he suddenly grabbed the woman by the throat, pinning her against the wall.

    "Listen, beautiful lady," Edmund calmly and deliberately said, "I don't care who you are. Let's forget about today. But please, don't cause a scene or act out in my restaurant. Otherwise, I'll have people deal with you. I'll make your life a living hell. There are ways to ensure you suffer."

    Choked tightly, Yuki could not make a sound and stared at him in terror.

    "Now," Edmund continued, "I want you to take the freight elevator and leave. If I ever see you here again in my lifetime, I will use a knife to peel off your face. I mean what I say. If you don't believe me, you can go out and ask who Edmund is."

    All the employees stood obediently behind Edmund in a semicircle, their hands hanging down.

    Then, Edmund released her, and she instantly fell to her knees, coughing loudly and looking at him with fear in her eyes. The freight elevator arrived with a ding, and Edmund grabbed her again, shoving her inside. A restaurant security guard quickly understood the situation and joined them in the elevator.

    Shawn rushed in and saw her being taken into the employee exit through the freight elevator.

    Edmund gestured for him to go back, and Shawn turned to look inside the restaurant. He said, "Thank you," and Edmund nodded at him. Alex and Shawn exchanged a glance, urging him to quickly explain to Vincent.

    "I'm sorry," Edmund returned to the restaurant and said, "She's my friend. She's been acting a little crazy because she misses her ex-husband. She often comes here and randomly selects someone as her lucky person and makes a big scene. Today, I'll offer each of you a complimentary dessert. Sorry, I apologize."

    The customers no longer showed gossiping expressions. They treated it as a small incident, understanding that one can never truly empathize with others' joy and sorrow. They simply found it noisy.

    But what about Shawn?

    Returning to his table, he realized that Vincent had already left. He grabbed his clothes and car keys, quickly walked out, and pressed the elevator button. Ding! The sound of two elevators arriving simultaneously, Shawn went downstairs while Geoff arrived upstairs.

    "Shawn?" Geoff caught sight of Shawn's back.

    Shawn was exhausted, unable to muster the energy to greet him.

    That day, Shawn was completely defeated.
  10. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 48:

    No. 7 Riverbay Road.

    Vincent lay on the bed, the white light from his phone illuminating his face. He scrolled through the messages he and Shawn had exchanged since they met, reminiscing about the little moments they shared. It had only been six months, 180 days, enough time for two hearts to go from strangers to acquaintances, to understanding each other, to igniting passionate sparks, and finally settling into silence. Time could be long sometimes, long enough that one might not truly know a person even in a lifetime. Yet sometimes, it felt short, and all the beautiful memories were like a fleeting shadow and shimmering light on the Gold Flowing River for a few minutes, when the setting sun was at just the right angle.

    Vincent sighed and put down his phone. As he left the Sky Corridor, his only thought was, "Damn, how did I end up like this, being screwed over by life!" He could have had a new boyfriend every week, switching between roles as a top or bottom without any consideration for the other person's preferences. If he wanted to enter a stable relationship with someone, that person would also show great enthusiasm. But did they truly like the real him?

    Vincent had always been contemplating this. Perhaps love, for him, was mostly false, packaged and presented. He found it easy to obtain love, without much effort. However, he couldn't be certain of the authenticity of these feelings. Rather than being deceived, he preferred not to touch it at all.

    The only two instances where he felt the love was genuine were his ex-boyfriend, back when they had nothing. It was clear that his ex didn't love Vincent for his money. Perhaps the saying "A wife who shared her husband's hard lot must never be cast aside." held some truth. The second instance was with Shawn who knew nothing about Vincent, and yet Shawn naively believed that Vincent would be disappointed if he didn't want to go through tough times together.

    Vincent was currently in agony. The accusations from Shawn's ex-wife didn't make his love for him disappear. On the contrary, it made him even more aware of his own feelings—yes, he liked him. Otherwise, he wouldn't feel so frustrated right now. He thought he didn't love him that much, but tonight he realized that his love for Shawn was significant. It was far from how he portrayed himself when they were together, or else he wouldn't be so furious.

    Did Shawn already know, but pretended to play along with me? Vincent pondered and rejected this speculation after recalling their past. Shawn's attitude had always been consistent. The confidence and demeanor he displayed when they were together proved that he had no knowledge of Vincent's true self.

    What did she actually say today? Vincent was completely confused by the second half of her words. His mind went blank, and he only remembered key words like ex-wife, money scam, and debt. But he couldn't believe that Shawn would be involved in any money scam. He had a legitimate job. Vincent had seen the chat records of his company group and even visited the building where his office was located. He was indeed a vice president of a company. He had no questionable hobbies, lived a frugal lifestyle, and showed no signs of materialistic desires. How could he be in debt?

    Being previously married didn't matter to Vincent either. It shouldn't deprive Shawn of the right to love and be loved. Vincent started to justify Shawn in his innermost thoughts. Everyone would accept the explanations they wanted to believe, even someone as rational as Vincent couldn't avoid it. In this regard, he wasn't much different from Kevin, who fell in love with a straight man against all odds.

    Was the issue about being previously married and divorced? Vincent pondered. The real issue was the deception. Shawn hadn't told him the truth.

    But what about myself? After circling around, he returned to the root of the problem. They both had things they kept hidden from each other, and that was agreed upon from the beginning. Vincent allowed for secrecy as long as it wasn't a fundamental betrayal like cheating. He didn't care about the other details... and in fact, his attitude towards love was the same. Both parties were allowed to have reservations.

    Compared to someone whose relationship had truly fallen apart, Vincent was particularly tormented. It would have been easier if he could be certain that he no longer loved Shawn. He could just play games and drink for a few days and forget about it, just like with his ex. When they broke up, Vincent watched him leave, and suddenly all the love disappeared. Once that halo disappeared, the other person became a stranger.

    But unfortunately, he still loved Shawn, and that made things difficult.

    For now, there was only one solution: give him a chance to explain and forgive him. Perhaps one day, Vincent would suddenly stop loving him, and at that time, he could settle both new and old grudges and give him a kick. But at least for now, Vincent couldn't let go.

    On this night, the lanterns in the entire River East city were lit up, creating a magical scene along both sides of the Gold Flowing River, from the south to the north. The shimmering lights reflected on the river, resembling a realm of enchanting palaces.

    Shawn arrived, parking his car outside No. 7 Riverbay Road. He hesitated like a child being punished, standing outside the door.

    At this moment, the others were in Geoff's room, talking quietly and nervously. Life is often filled with torment. Vincent was tormented on his bed, Shawn was tormented outside the door, and Geoff was tormented downstairs.

    "Is he asleep?" Geoff asked anxiously.

    "No," Oscar replied. "I checked the room, and the door is slightly ajar."

    "Go and talk to him," Alex pushed Geoff and said, "Go and comfort him."

    Geoff had a general idea of what had happened from his roommates. But at this moment, he couldn't gather the courage to comfort Vincent. Anxiously, Geoff said, "He probably wants to be alone for a while."

    "You should go!" Oscar said. "Now is the best opportunity. Go!"

    "Maybe not," Kevin said.

    With Oscar, the experienced one, urging him, Geoff was about to go and accompany Vincent. But when he heard Kevin's words, his moral compass started to interfere, and he became very hesitant. Alex thought for a moment and said, "Why don't you just knock on the door and ask?"

    Among the roommates, Oscar was on Geoff's side. He had witnessed the scene where Shawn held Vincent and cried that night at the hot springs. As a smooth-talking playboy, his intuition told him that Shawn must be deceiving Vincent. Today, he discovered that he was right. He was the one who was least familiar with Shawn, but he and Geoff were good friends so he firmly stood on his side. He believed that they were a good match.

    Kevin, on the other hand, sided with Shawn. Because Shawn had saved him last time, otherwise he would have been beaten up by a straight guy in Riverbay Park. At least for now, he was grateful to Shawn and didn't want to see him being sent to the guillotine without a clear understanding of the situation, ending things so quickly with Vincent.

    And what about Alex? He was the most indecisive one. Initially, he supported Geoff and even thought that Geoff should make a move and win Vincent over. He believed that he and Vincent were a better match, and Shawn wouldn't last. However, after today, he felt that Shawn was more pitiable and developed some sympathy for this brother. Perhaps he was a "Saint Mother" type, weighing whose situation was more miserable, and his heart inclined toward that person. He carefully weighed the friendship between Geoff and Shawn: Shawn paid for a membership in his gym and lent him a suit jacket for a date, and treated him to two meals... But getting the membership was an exchange for his fitness classes, which could be considered an equal trade.

    Geoff, on the other hand, had been advising Alex in his love life, helping him design the operation model for the gym, treating him to meals, coffee, and barbecue, and they even shared a bed...

    "Ding Dong," the doorbell rang.

    Everyone fell silent.

    "Vincent," Shawn's voice came from outside the door. "Give me a chance to explain. I'll leave after I'm done."

    Oscar said, "Don't open the door yet."

    Geoff's expression was quite complicated.

    "How can we do this?" Kevin said, looking at Oscar with reproach. But out of consideration for Geoff, he didn't say much.

    Alex was now quite troubled. Geoff sighed, but he felt that the story his roommates had relayed to him today was too absurd and outrageous, like a plot from a TV drama, the most vulgar and cliché kind that few screenwriters would use.

    The doorbell rang again, but Vincent didn't come down to open it.

    Oscar said, "Let Vincent decide for himself."

    "If Vincent is willing to listen to an explanation," Alex's scale slowly tilted towards Geoff, and he said, "He will come down and open the door himself, right?"

    Once again, everyone fell silent, listening to Shawn ringing the doorbell several times, until it became quiet again.

    "He has left," Oscar said. "Geoff, you should go. You don't need to say anything, just sit next to him..."

    "No, he hasn't left," Geoff walked to the window overlooking the garden and said, "His car is still here, he's waiting outside."

    Kevin couldn't take it anymore and opened the door, going outside to let Shawn in.

    Shawn was sitting on the steps outside No. 7 Riverbay Road, holding a document folder. When he heard the door opening, he immediately stood up. Upon seeing Kevin, he simply nodded and said, "Thank you, sorry for the drama today."

    "It's not my concern," Kevin said. "You don't need to apologize to me. You should apologize to Vincent."

    Shawn took off his shoes and hurriedly went upstairs, taking three steps at a time.

    "He's in a miserable state," Kevin returned to Geoff's room and said to them, "He was supposed to treat us to dinner today, but instead, he's apologizing to me."

    Oscar said, "That's typical of Vincent. If his credit card maxes out, he'll still ask Vincent for help to pay it off. And today, the bill was paid by Geoff!"

    Kevin, lacking social experience, was oblivious to the dangers of human nature. After being pointed out by Oscar, he suddenly realized that it makes sense. Shawn, who was supposed to treat them, left early, and in the end, it was Geoff who hastily paid the bill, totaling six thousand yuan including the service fee and Alex's bill.

    Geoff didn't even get to eat anything and ended up losing six thousand yuan. Now, with an empty stomach, he wanted to make a move to Vincent, whom he had secretly admired for a long time, but he himself became an obstacle, carelessly letting his love rival enter... Kevin started feeling guilty.

    "I'm sorry," Kevin almost cried, feeling like everything he did was wrong.

    "It's okay," Geoff replied. "You did the right thing. I didn't want it to turn out like this either."

    Oscar opened the door slightly, intending to listen to what was being said upstairs, but the distance was too far and he couldn't hear anything.

    Vincent was lying on his side in bed, and Shawn entered the room, sitting on the chair next to the bed.

    Vincent only turned on a desk lamp, leaving most of the bedroom in darkness. However, outside the floor-to-ceiling window, all the colorful lights on Riverbay Road were flickering.

    Shawn remained silent for a long time before letting out a long sigh.

    "I'm sorry," Shawn said. "But I want to explain. I just want to beg you for a chance to explain."

    Vincent had his back turned to Shawn and didn't respond.

    Unable to wait for Vincent's response, Shawn opened the document bag and tremblingly pulled out a stack of papers, handing them to Vincent.

    "These are my divorce settlement agreements," Shawn said. "They provide a detailed account of the situation in my previous marriage, along with court stamps, a breakdown of my debts, and the reasons for the divorce. You can find the court judgment online; it's all public. I should have come earlier, but I had to go home to get it, and there was some traffic on the way."

    Vincent turned his head and glanced at Shawn before returning to playing with his phone.

    "Let me be honest about my situation," Shawn said calmly. "I swear that from now on, every word I say will be true. I won't deceive you anymore."

    "Go ahead," Vincent replied. "I believe you now."

    Shawn nodded and said, "Ever since I was young, I wasn't favored by my parents. I don't know if you've had that experience..."

    "No," Vincent answered. "I'm an only child, and I wasn't raised by my parents." At the same time, he thought, "Are you going to start playing the victim now?"

    Shawn continued, "In families with two sons, parents always tend to show favoritism towards one of them uncontrollably. In my family, it was my older brother. He was more outstanding and smarter than me. The affection converged towards him, just as it's written in the Gospel of Matthew: 'For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them...'"

    "...I'm not saying these things to seek sympathy. I'm just telling you why I made some of my choices. Just like you told me, when you write a novel, each character's past, background, and experiences collectively determine their choices in significant events... My brother's name is Steven. He got into Pennsylvania State University, while I got my undergraduate degree in California. My parents wanted me to go to Wall Street, but I couldn't do it. I wasn't as excellent as my brother, so I decided to come back and develop myself. I pursued my master's degree in River East, and during my second year, I attended a classmate gathering where I decided to start a business in partnership with my elementary school classmate, Patrick Wu. We used his family's resources to start an import-export company."

    Shawn paused after saying that, and Vincent responded, "I'm listening."

    Shawn continued his story.

    "I have some shares, and initially, I hoped to take the company public, achieve financial freedom. Many people think of me as a handsome and wealthy guy, but only I know deep down that I'm a nerd. I don't have many life goals, and I don't know where I should go in the future. River East is a relatively familiar environment for me, at least here I can live more comfortably. I never had thoughts about love or family. During middle school and high school, I had crushes on girls, all of them Chinese. They were tomboyish, lively, and outgoing. I never thought that one day I would be attracted to the same sex. Those relationships were also short-lived."

    "After entering another phase of life, I gained another identity," Shawn thought for a moment and added, "I worked at other companies for a while, and eventually, at Patrick's insistence, I joined this company as the vice president to handle the business for him. Although we didn't get along well, we managed to move forward through ups and downs. He thought maybe we could have a closer relationship, so he introduced me to a girl, Yuki, who appeared tonight."

    "Uh," Vincent responded.

    "When Yuki appeared, she did bring me a lot of tenderness and happiness," Shawn said. "She has a close friend, and Patrick started dating her friend. I and Yuki officially became a couple. But Patrick broke up with her friend shortly afterward, while I continued with my relationship with Yuki. You often say I'm very straight and it's true. I never had the intention to just play around. When I determine whether a person is suitable, it takes time and careful consideration. Once I make up my mind, I hold onto the vision of spending a lifetime together. Perhaps this is related to my profession. You know, in trading, you need to make cautious and prudent decisions. Once you make up your mind, you don't turn back..."

    "Our relationship lasted for nearly eight months. Although we had many conflicts, we could usually ease them through coaxing and buying things. I'm sorry, it was my fault. I didn't take care of your feelings and brought habits from my previous relationship into our life together."

    "Go on," Vincent said. "What happened next?"

    "And then we got married," Shawn said. "She moved into my house, but after marriage, I realized her demand for materialistic lifestyle was too high. She wanted to go to high-end restaurants, go on vacations to the Maldives... With my salary, it was even a bit difficult for me. She would buy a lot of things every month, and I tried to talk to her, to change her attitude towards life. That's when we had a severe crisis."

    Vincent interjected, "When she married you, she thought you were wealthy, but later found out that you weren't as rich as she imagined."

    "Yes," Shawn admitted readily, "I'm not her ideal partner."

    "Mm," Vincent responded.

    "Afterward, I reduced the family expenses. After all, I have a mortgage to pay, and I have to consider our future life..." Shawn explained.

    "Does she have a job?" Vincent asked.

    "She has a part-time job at a friend's company," Shawn said. "She earns four thousand yuan per month."

    They fell silent for a moment, and Shawn continued, "Then, perhaps out of spite, she started borrowing money to spend. She believed that I would definitely help her repay because we're married. She planned to use this as a way to retaliate against me, saying, 'You're stingy, right? I'll make you pay the bills anyway.' Not only did she indulge in luxury purchases for herself, but she also treated her friends to afternoon tea, portraying herself as a wealthy lady. If it were only that, the situation could still be managed. But she was too naive. One time, during a vacation in Macau with her friends, she got hooked on gambling with the introduction of a casino employee..."

    "Mm," Vincent acknowledged.

    "Here is the information about her debts," Shawn handed the legal documents to Vincent. Vincent finally sat up and casually flipped through them. It was indeed a collection of debt notes from lending companies, with Yuki's name signed below, and the description in the judgment document was accurate.

    "She initially won quite a bit from gambling. That's how gamblers are. She innocently thought she could earn money this way and stopped caring about me. She kept gambling more and more, chasing losses until she fell into a big hole of debt."

    Vincent looked through the documents and said, "And then you finally decided to divorce."

    "I never expected it to be such an astronomical figure. It was like a bolt from the blue when I found out. I still have a mortgage to pay. She incurred debt during the marriage, and I couldn't prove that I was unaware of it at the time. This became our joint debt..."

    "You only need to repay half of it," Vincent remarked casually. "It hasn't reached a hopeless situation yet."

    "Yes," Shawn replied. "I thought about refusing to pay. Why should I be the one to repay it? What does it have to do with me? The pressure on me is already immense, and on top of that, I have to pay her three thousand yuan per month as alimony until she finds a job. I feel that fate has been extremely unfair to me..."

    Vincent remarked, "But complaints aside, you eventually started repaying the debts slowly."

    "Yes," Shawn said, "If the company successfully goes public, I'll have a chance to turn things around. But soon, the economy entered a downturn, and the company's business deteriorated. Unexpectedly, during a conversation with Patrick while he was a bit drunk, he accidentally revealed his true thoughts... He knew from the beginning that Yuki wouldn't last long with me because she and her friend both pursued pleasure and sought wealthy men to live a lavish lifestyle. They were hunting targets within the elite circle. I asked Patrick why he didn't tell me earlier, and he expressed some regret because he didn't expect Yuki to borrow money at such high interest rates. If she had only been seeking enjoyment, I could barely afford it with my salary..."

    "He thought that by being my matchmaker, maybe he could have kept me more tightly bound to the company. But because of this incident, a serious rift grew between us. We argued incessantly, and in the end, I gave up on the company..."

    Suddenly, Vincent remembered something and asked, "That day at the Elephant Gorge, I recall you receiving a phone call. I initially thought it was your girlfriend. Who was it?"

    "Who?" Shawn clearly didn't remember. He gestured for Vincent to wait a moment, trying to recall, and Vincent said, "The person wanted to go to your house, and you said there was no one there."

    "It was Patrick," Shawn checked the call records from a few months ago and said, "Normally, I would go fishing every week, and afterward, I would have drinks with him."

    Vincent understood.

    "Yuki shifted the blame for her own mistakes onto me. She believed that during our relationship, she had bought me many things, so tonight, she made a big scene and accused me of deceiving her about her dowry. Fortunately, during the divorce, I settled as much as possible with the unnecessary assets and allocate 20,000 yuan per month to repay the debts. I keep 8,000 yuan for my living expenses. With the interest, I'll have to repay for at least 20 more years..."

    Vincent said, "When you finish repaying, you'll be around 55 to 60 years old."

    Shawn fell silent.

    "But you resigned, and it won't be easy to find a job that earns a net income of over 500,000 yuan per year," Vincent continued.

    "Even if I hadn't resigned," Shawn said, "Due to various issues in the company, I would have to voluntarily take a 50% pay cut."

    "In that case, the duration to repay the debt will double," Vincent understood the rule that both sides of the equation must be doubled simultaneously in multiplication calculations to maintain the equality of the equation. "Now it will be 50 years. The day you repay the debt, you'll be 80 years old."

    The pressure was indeed immense.

    "So, specifically, how much do you owe?" Vincent looked at the overwhelming list of debts below and it was truly dizzying, with loans taken from several high-interest loan companies.

    Shawn replied, "As per the court judgment and negotiation, I can repay only a portion of the interest along with the entire principal. Once the judgment takes effect, the interest will no longer increase. Yuki is responsible for her portion..."

    "The total amount," Vincent asked.

    Shawn said, "The joint debt is 11.2 million yuan, and I need to repay 5.6 million yuan, plus a 1.2 million yuan mortgage, totaling 6.8 million yuan."

    "Hmm," Vincent continued to bury himself in reading the court judgment. Surprisingly, it also included Yuki's allegations about Shawn's impotence, which must have been one of the conditions for the divorce, in an attempt to obtain more compensation. He could imagine how extremely embarrassed Shawn was during the divorce lawsuit. Being subjected to such an attack was truly devastating.

    Shawn didn't say anything further.

    Shawn said, "I know..."

    "No, you don't know," Vincent put the documents aside, picked up the controller, turned on the TV, and started playing a game. "You don't know anything. You think our problem lies in you deceiving me. It has always been a landmine between us, ready to blow you to pieces at any time, isn't that right?"

    "Yes, I admit that I had ill intentions in this relationship. My actions were despicable. I wanted to establish a committed relationship with you first, and once we were in love and had lived together for some time, slowly reveal the truth to you, or let you discover it yourself. By then, maybe you would have considered the bond we had in our years together and not easily separate... or... or..."

    Vincent said, "Or by then, you would have loved and moved on, without any regrets."

    Shawn said, "I wanted to cultivate love between us first and then use it to blackmail you. That was my most despicable move. Yuki was a nightmare for me, but she saved you and gave me a harsh slap, reminding me that I am indeed a despicable person."

    "You see," Vincent said, "That's where you misunderstand. Of course, it's not easy to openly admit one's own despicable actions."

    Shawn was puzzled, looking at Vincent.

    "You think the reason you're about to be dumped is because of these things, right?" Vincent glanced at the judgment on the table and said, "That's precisely not it. Just like that day when you thought I was after your money, now you think the reason you're about to be dumped is because you're a pauper who owes over six hundred... over how many million?"

    "6.8 million," Shawn said.

    "Hmm, it doesn't matter how much it is. I don't care," Vincent didn't look at Shawn, he just opened the game and continued where he had been stuck before, casually saying, "You keep going around in circles with this matter..."

    "I haven't," Shawn was a bit angry, but he knew he had no right to argue with Vincent. He explained, "I deceived you, the focus is on the deception."

    "Then how did you think I would care about this deception?" Vincent quickly replied, "Pulling out a bank card with six million and letting me swipe it randomly is a surprise, giving me a promissory note of six million is a shock. What is a white lie and what is a malicious deception?"

    Shawn's expression was puzzled.

    "Perhaps after you snapped out of it, you would say that deception causes losses and harm, while surprises bring happiness and joy. But a lie is still a lie, is there really a fundamental difference between the two?" Vincent said, "However, I must remind you, Shawn, our conflict doesn't lie in these trivialities at all. The problem is, how do you truly perceive our relationship?"

    Vincent said up to this point, the game finished loading the level, so he turned his head and glanced at Shawn, looking him up and down.

    He's still handsome... Vincent thought to himself, if he were to take off his clothes now and ask for a one-night stand, he might actually agree.

    But Shawn seemed a bit incoherent and clumsily explained his true feelings, "I want to be with you, and I value your opinion..."

    "No, no," the game continued, and Vincent's attention returned to the TV screen. He said, "During our time together, you always saw me as a 'manly woman'."

    Shawn: "..."

    Vincent: "Yes, a woman, that's how you view the other half in a marriage. Note that I said 'woman' does not refer to the gender but rather a social and life function. You think of yourself as the 'man' and your partner has to be a 'woman', just like how you saw Yuki. You viewed her as a 'womanly' woman, setting aside the messed-up things she did. One of the reasons you chose her was that she was very 'womanly', meeting your expectations of a partner. Based on this, I can tell that your family must be very traditional. Family influence can create fixed thinking patterns, but your upbringing cannot absolve you. You have read so many books, yet your values have not undergone any revisions."

    Vincent took the rare opportunity to confront Shawn face-to-face. As he busily fought the boss in the game, he also didn't miss the chance to confront Shawn in real life. Shawn looked at Vincent's profile and found his thoughts somewhat unable to keep up. At this moment, his only thought was not the meaning behind Vincent's words but rather, "Humanity created the Tower of Babel, only to be destroyed by the gods, resulting in the lack of mutual understanding among languages."

    "One is not born a woman," Vincent quoted Simone de Beauvoir's famous saying, "but becomes one. The reason I say 'womanly' woman and 'manly' woman is because it's not about their biological sex; it's about them having to play the role you want them to be. Your views are deeply ingrained, and you apply them to our relationship."

    Shawn said, "It's unfair to say that. It's a division of labor."

    "Ah, yes," Vincent said. "Ignore a person's profession and their inherent self-worth, liberate the role with the highest labor value in the family, and let them wholeheartedly earn money to build the family. It sounds reasonable. But let me ask you presumptuously, let's say when I met you, you had already resigned and had zero income, while I earned more than you and had more savings. Does that mean I can just fuck you as I please?"

    "You can fuck me as you please," Shawn said. "I want to be used by you. Will that make you satisfied?"

    Vincent asked, "Are you speaking the truth or just saying it out of anger?"

    Shawn was reminded that he had promised Vincent at the beginning of this conversation to truly express his inner thoughts.

    "To be honest, I can't fully accept it," Shawn changed his tone and said, "but I'm willing to try, as long as it makes you happy."

    "You see?" Vincent said. "This is still the way you think. Being used in bed just to please your wife is considered taking care of her. It's still a manifestation of an egoistic top. Because your value is higher and mine is lower, you are the man, and I am the woman, regardless of my actual gender. You can do household chores, cook, and take care of the family, but all in the role of a man, even if you have no income, it's just temporary, just like Ang Lee to Jane Lin. And according to your logic, you should willingly and consciously become the 'woman'. That's it, the above statements are all I wanted to say."

    Vincent continued to fiercely battle the boss in the game while Shawn sat in silence. After a moment, Shawn glanced at the game screen.

    "Need help?" Shawn asked.

    "No, thanks," Vincent replied.

    "This game doesn't have difficulty settings," Shawn said. "You can only challenge it step by step and hone your skills. I had to reload multiple times to pass it."

    Vincent didn't respond, so Shawn continued, "Sometimes I think, wouldn't it be great if life had a save and load button? Unfortunately, it doesn't. I can't avoid those wrong choices anymore. Just a small mistake can lead to a series of disasters and ultimate destruction."

    "I don't like to save and load," Vincent said. "When I used to play games on the computer, I would use game trainers. Modify money, stats, and just power through. But you can't use game trainers in console games."

    "And you can't use game trainers in life," Shawn replied.

    Then, silence enveloped them again.

    Finally, Shawn said, "I have no expectations today. I know you're thoroughly disappointed in me. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain."

    Vincent still didn't answer.

    "I left the folder here," Shawn said earnestly, even though Vincent wasn't looking at him. He continued, "Please put my bank card in the folder. Maybe you still want to look at it, or maybe you've lost interest. After you finish, just leave it on the table. I'll come to pick it up in a few days, and I'll let you know before I come."

    Shawn seemed convinced that Vincent no longer wanted to see him. The opportunity for him to explain tonight was already a great act of kindness.

    He waited a while longer, but Vincent was still fiercely battling the boss and didn't give any response.

    "Well, that's it," Shawn stood up and said, "Thank you again, Vincent. I wish you eternal happiness."

    "Don't block the TV!" Vincent impatiently said.

    Shawn remained silent for another three seconds, then turned and left Vincent's bedroom, went downstairs, put on his shoes, opened the door, and left.

    At the same time, the roommates finally reached a consensus.


    "Just go!"

    "They broke up," Oscar concluded. "They definitely broke up! Otherwise, he wouldn't leave."

    Everyone urged Geoff, and he said, "This is too strange! He just broke up, and now he's confessing his feelings!"

    "Even if you don't confess, you still have to go!" Alex began pushing Geoff, urging him not to hesitate anymore.

    Geoff took a deep breath and nervously fixed his hair in front of the mirror.

    "Don't bother styling your hair at a time like this!" Kevin said.

    Vincent lay on his bed, after struggling for a while, he was mercilessly defeated by the boss. In the past, he would have angrily opened the game trainer, boosted the protagonist's power to 9999999, and swiftly killed the boss, making it taste the bitterness of despair.

    But alas, console games couldn't be manipulated with cheats.

    Shawn said, "You can't use cheats in life."

    But Vincent actually could.

    "Shawn!" Vincent, feeling unhappy, shouted loudly.

    Shawn had already left, and Vincent flipped off the bed, thinking that Shawn didn't even linger in the living room for a while.

    "Shawn!" Vincent angrily shouted, "Come back! Defeat this boss for me before you leave!"

    He ran downstairs barefoot, chasing after Shawn's car as it drove away from No. 7 Riverbay Road.

    Shawn didn't look in the rear-view mirror; he just silently stared ahead.

    "Go! Hey!"

    Everyone urged Geoff, and finally, Geoff made up his mind. He opened the door and followed Vincent out of the garden.

    Vincent stood under the dazzling lanterns on the Lantern Festival night. The lights of River South were like a mirage, colorful and dream-like, making the long night feel like a fantasy. Shawn had already left, leaving Vincent to face this grand and ethereal dream alone.

    "Vincent?" Geoff whispered from behind.

    "Hmm," Vincent responded.

    "It'll be okay," Geoff said again.

    "I know," Vincent replied.

    Vincent turned around and looked at Geoff.

    Geoff's hands were trembling. He wanted to hug him but lacked the courage to act.

    "And there... are many suitable people out there," Geoff thought for a moment and could only say, "You will meet someone better. The future is still long, and there are plenty of opportunities."

    "It's okay," Vincent replied, sighed, and walked past Geoff, returning to No. 7 Riverbay Road.
  11. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 49:

    Shawn drove along the brightly lit Riverside Road, and the night lights on both sides illuminated his soul, making everything feel like a long dream.

    He parked outside Riverbay Park, not wanting to return to that empty home. He walked towards the riverside square and wearily sat down on a bench. He rubbed his temples and looked around. Tonight, the square was filled with couples who had come out to enjoy the lantern festival. They walked hand in hand, immersed in the lights of the Lantern Festival, their eyes filled with anticipation, as if the lanterns depicted a dream-like future.

    A full moon hung high in the night sky, casting its silver radiance onto the earth.

    Shawn had seen the same moon in countless places, but tonight it felt particularly unreal, just like everything that had happened to him.

    When did I start to become like this, step by step? Shawn gazed at the Gold Flowing River water. He had been regretting, regretting the many decisions he had made, starting from when he returned to the country. Every decision seemed to be destined to be wrong. It all started on a certain night when he was still in graduate school, receiving a phone call from Patrick Wu. From that moment, everything went on an irreversible path.

    He still remembered that period of time when he attended a gathering of elementary school classmates who were working hard in River East. When they found out he was also in River East, they invited him. Shawn couldn't even remember their names, and during the gathering, he even had a bizarre thought—were they really his elementary school classmates?

    But what if they weren't? He had no choice but to accept it. That night, they had a great time talking and laughing. It was through this gathering that Shawn discovered his own loneliness. He had rejected socializing and gatherings abroad, considering them a waste of time. But after returning to the country, he found them acceptable and even more interesting.

    Afterwards, he started to have more contact with Patrick. Patrick was running an import-export company and needed some of Shawn's professional advice. They grew closer and slowly rebuilt the friendship that had been completely forgotten for nearly twenty years. After graduation, with the recommendation of his advisor, Shawn found a job that paid well and was easy and comfortable. It allowed him to save enough money for a down payment on his first house and a car. But when life went too smoothly, people tended to become restless. Shawn began to feel that life needed more challenges and possibilities. So, when Patrick repeatedly invited him to join the company, Shawn finally accepted.

    They were both dazzling young talent back then, with a future full of infinite possibilities. The stage for Shawn to showcase his abilities had already been meticulously prepared, even though the seeds of conflicts had been planted in their interactions, Shawn chose to turn a blind eye to them. His parents, intellectuals rather than businessmen, had never instilled in him the truth that one should avoid partnering with friends in business if there was a choice. This company was like a tree planted by Patrick, and Shawn was the one who watered and nurtured it. They had high hopes for it, believing that with enough effort, one day it would go public, bestowing upon them the glory of ringing the bell in the secondary market.

    However, things took a direction that Shawn couldn't control, and they rushed relentlessly in that direction. Numerous trivial matters left him frustrated and overwhelmed, as he tirelessly dealt with various messes day after day. Meanwhile, his partner, Patrick, behaved like someone with bipolar disorder, sometimes acting like a detached boss who didn't care, and other times anxious enough to want to strangle the entire company's employees.

    Fortunately, Shawn's character was extremely resilient. He had experienced the hardships of studying and theoretically, there was nothing that could scare him away. He struggled to single-handedly lead the entire company, training key employees and making plans for future development. He played both an external and internal role and was buried in work. Patrick gradually realized that Shawn was truly invaluable, and that merely offering shares and painting a rosy picture were no longer enough to reward his contributions. Although Shawn continued to shoulder the burden without complaint, there would come a day when he would suddenly realize it.

    That was when Patrick introduced Shawn to Yuki, with the intention of simply having him engage in a casual romantic relationship, akin to providing an executive privilege. Little did he expect that, despite being influenced by foreign culture for many years, Shawn was much more conservative at heart than most people. After dating for a while, he expressed a desire to start a family.

    From childhood to adulthood, Shawn's experience with love was close to zero. His understanding of marriage was derived solely from what he saw in his own family - intellectual parents who led a modest and reserved life, devoid of passionate displays of affection, emphasizing self-restraint and decorum. This was the typical life pattern for most Chinese Americans. His elder brother married an Asian classmate, while Shawn himself was treated as a nerd at school, viewed by classmates as an unromantic bookworm. He neither indulged in marijuana nor participated in wild parties, and he had never been truly intoxicated. If he had any interests, they were of the bookish kind. He admired the world described in "Walden", longing to peacefully fish in that world.

    He had fantasies about the sensuality of women, but they remained only in his imagination. Shawn had a height, physical fitness, and appearance that met the standards. Although he was Asian, he could barely measure up to a Caucasian girlfriend. If he was willing to improve himself, many people would probably like to date him. However, it was just dating, like collecting cards, having an Asian boyfriend. Marriage required careful consideration.

    Shawn was very self-aware and knew that others didn't find him appealing. In the end, he chose to return to his home country. It wasn't to diminish himself, but rather because he felt that he didn't have a place in Los Angeles. He would much rather live in a familiar language and cultural environment.

    When he started his graduate studies, many classmates began pursuing him. They all believed that Shawn was a rare gem, and through speculation, they added layers of buffs to him, along with many attributes and characterizations that didn't belong to him. Shawn found it both amusing and ridiculous, but he didn't mention a word about his past failures.

    He was tall and handsome, and his family had some wealth. He excelled in his studies, but he didn't find any female classmates at his school attractive. He instinctively resisted the life patterns of his elder brother, thus resisting all the norms. Dating and marrying a classmate would be no different from imitating Steven, a shadow of his growth from childhood to adulthood, which suffocated him when he thought about it.

    However, one advantage was that his self-confidence had greatly improved. He followed his previous way of life, focusing on fitness and reading, occasionally playing video games. From enrollment to graduation, and then into the workforce, everyone who got to know him gave him kind labels, praising him as a polite and humorous gentleman. Even his gaming skills were admired, and he was considered intelligent. In the words of most people, Shawn acquired a shining halo. His previous shortcomings were transformed into advantages, making him live as a completely different person.

    When he met Yuki, his confidence reached its peak. Later, he discovered that Yuki and her group of friends had a lifelong goal of marrying rich. They would wait at Nora's doorstep and quickly rush into her home once she left. But at that time, Shawn was completely infatuated with Yuki. She meticulously packaged herself, portraying herself as a once prosperous but now fallen young lady. She made every effort to cater to Shawn's preferences, like an interview with a fake resume. She bought him expensive gifts, played musical instruments she had worked hard to learn, and accompanied him while fishing. While he fished, she would read Kafka's "The Castle" aloud to him.

    She had a great taste, and it was evident that she made efforts to maintain her lifestyle even if her father went bankrupt. She worked hard to pursue independence, and she was also independent herself. Sometimes she would engage in clever debates with him, pretending to lose and then showering him with praise. How could Shawn not love such a person? He was more than willing to spend money on her since he didn't have anywhere else to spend it.

    Her best friend had long been deceived and abandoned by Patrick, and she couldn't help but feel jealous of Yuki, who had successfully hooked a wealthy and naive person like Shawn. She made several indirect hints to Shawn, but he completely failed to understand. He had no knowledge of the harsh realities, despite his polished appearance as a successful person. Deep down, he was still the untested and innocent bookworm.

    When he entered into a relationship with her, it was the first time in his more than twenty years of single life that he experienced the pleasure of intimacy. Yuki used this as leverage to make him take responsibility for her. Without thinking, Shawn agreed, leaving Yuki surprised that her tricks, such as getting pregnant to force a marriage, became unnecessary.

    Even Patrick was surprised. He tried to persuade Shawn but couldn't reveal his true intentions from the past. However, Shawn had already made up his mind and he felt happy when he was with her. The only theory about life and family that his parents taught him was a pitiful saying: "Marriage is like drinking water, only you know the warmth or coldness. As long as you're happy in your own life, that's enough."

    Shawn didn't realize that "happiness" had its limits. It was easy for someone to obtain happiness in a particular moment, but it was difficult to achieve long-lasting and continuous happiness.

    So, he married Yuki, and soon his life took a 180-degree turn. In this world, most things find their own balance without the need for deliberate arrangements from a higher power. Just as the happiness during their courtship was profound, the married life became equally painful. Yuki didn't do any housework or take care of him; she didn't even bother. Her attitude underwent a significant transformation, and the praises and admiration she once showered on him abruptly ended after marriage. It was like a scene in a play where the actor abruptly turns and exits the stage without even bowing after reaching the climax, leaving Shawn standing on the stage, his lines falling into emptiness, feeling incredibly awkward.

    He tried to communicate with her, telling her that it was fine if she didn't do housework; he could hire someone to help. He asked her what kind of life she wanted. He made an effort to arrange his schedule to spend time with her, going out to eat, drink, and have fun. However, he gradually realized that what she cared about wasn't his attitude but rather her perception of being deceived.

    Because Shawn, it turned out, wasn't as wealthy as he appeared during their romantic phase. She was deceived by the generosity Shawn displayed during their infatuation, and she magnified her own imagination of his wealth by several folds. In order to maintain her image of not being materialistic, she never inquired about his exact financial situation and even bought him many gifts.

    At first, Shawn found it interesting. He helped her pay off her credit card debts from before their marriage and reminded her to save a bit. He gave her a supplementary credit card, allowing her a monthly allowance of 20,000 yuan, while he kept around 4,500 yuan for socializing. He even arranged a comfortable job for her at one of his client's companies, hoping that she could save some money for their future children.

    When she received the card, she was shocked by Shawn's poverty. She discovered that he barely made 500,000 to 600,000 yuan per year. She had completely misjudged him!

    But of course, she couldn't start a big argument with Shawn because it would be too ugly, and she might even lose the 20,000 yuan allowance. So, she could only ride on this diligent donkey – Shawn and search for a rich and handsome stallion outside. Unfortunately, she had already been married once, and her friends had spread gossip about her to eliminate competition. Getting divorced and remarried at this point would undoubtedly lead to a drastic decline in the quality of the new husband. Moreover, marriage was like a life count in a game; once resurrected, there would always be a period of weakness. During this cooldown period, Yuki had to reluctantly live with Shawn in their marriage, filled with disdain.

    She felt resentful, and her attitude towards him became much harsher. She started nitpicking his mistakes, no matter how small. If he changed out of his suit and played games at home, he lacked ambition. Reading books was deemed less important than working overtime. She refused to sleep with him, claiming that he hurt her and even lied about being traumatized by Shawn to avoid intimacy. This caused Shawn to go from being cautious and careful around her to eventually giving in at the first sign of her frowning.

    Shawn became impotent, and Yuki finally felt relieved as she had a new excuse to despise him. After some time, she planned to divorce him while she was still young and beautiful, not wanting to waste time finding a new partner. However, before the divorce, she intended to squeeze as much as possible from him. Encouraged by her friends, Yuki decided to borrow some money and let Shawn take care of the repayment himself.

    Eventually, she got involved in gambling, and the situation spiraled out of control.

    When the truth exploded, Shawn couldn't believe his ears. When he received a bill of tens of millions yuan, he sat alone by the Gold Flowing River, just like tonight, reflecting on his life and what went wrong.

    Now he believed that Vincent was right. All the problems in his life stemmed from his immaturity and ignorance.

    He simply didn't understand what love was and what marriage meant...

    Shawn looked at the lights of the Lantern Festival, the people around him had already dispersed, and the bustling sounds of the market had faded away. All that remained was emptiness and desolation scattered on the ground. Only the full moon continued to hang high in the night sky, illuminating the countless lonely wanderers on Earth.

    He naively believed that love and marriage were just a way of life, an eternal and fixed way of life, like the moon in the sky, unchanging for thousands of years, at most going through phases within a limited range. Two people would fall in love and naturally form a family, with the wife gracefully managing the household and raising children while the husband succeeded in his career. They would have one or more children and then educate them to repeat their own path...

    He also didn't understand the meaning of his own existence.

    Shawn stood up and walked slowly to the railing, gazing at the river.

    Yes, it was meaningless. Looking back now, most of his relatively short life had been filled with confusion. He was confused when he was studying in the United States; he was confused after returning to China due to his career; and he lived with confusion after getting married. He always wondered what he was living for, but countless philosophers had already pondered that question, and with their collective failures, Shawn's limited abilities naturally couldn't find the answer.

    Life itself was inherently meaningless. Everyone's life was meaningless, but some lives appeared to have even less reason to exist, like Shawn's own. With debts of tens of millions yuan, even if he repaid half, he would have to work until he was fifty or sixty years old.

    After receiving the divorce decree, he didn't appeal again because his lawyer told him the result would be the same. When he received the decree and sat by the river, he even wondered if he should end his life.

    The Gold Flowing River, with its gentle embrace, had welcomed numerous individuals seeking liberation. Every year, around a hundred or at least eighty people would come to find solace. The Lantern Festival was still at an early time of the year, and there were still plenty of slots available for those considering suicide. Shawn could easily be accommodated in this regard.

    However, Shawn had another thought: the river's water was too cold, and inhaling it would cause intense pain. This indicated that he didn't truly desire death. Rather, he saw death as a grand and beautiful release, a complete resolution to all his hardships. He would willingly accept any price for this foolproof trade-off, even enduring a few minutes of suffocating pain. To someone who genuinely yearned for death, this pain was insignificant when compared to the eternal liberation it offered.

    Since Shawn refused to succumb to suffocation, it signified that he still had a longing for life.

    He reminisced about the fleeting moments of happiness he had experienced. He realized that the only meaningful moments were those in which Vincent was present in his life. Vincent possessed a powerful and soothing aura that comforted not only Shawn but also his roommates. It felt as if there was a protective shield surrounding him, safeguarding them from the torment of existential questions.

    Within this sanctuary, time seemed to come to a halt. Shawn no longer needed to ponder death, poverty, or any of the anxieties that plagued him. Vincent shielded them all from these concerns, creating a space where they could escape from reality and enter a realm of blissful utopia.

    The first time Shawn laid eyes on Vincent, he sensed that he was different, truly special.

    He was aware of homosexuality, and he harbored no prejudice against it. However, he had never imagined that his own sexual orientation could change. He held conservative values in certain aspects of his life, while also displaying an open-mindedness in others. Perhaps this was influenced by the incessant bombardment of Western media during his formative years, with its overwhelming support for the LGBT community. It made him believe that it was acceptable for men to explore relationships with other men. The previous failed marriage and the legacy it left behind had made him feel estranged from women. Sometimes he attributed this failure to a lack of mutual understanding, while at other times he saw it as a result of the inherent difficulties between the sexes. Although most of these difficulties could be traced back to a lack of understanding, he rarely considered the need to empathize and view things from a different perspective. In any case, he had started seeking support from men who shared his sexual orientation. He found that other men could better understand his pain, as they all experienced similar struggles within society, albeit to varying degrees.

    That day, as Shawn saw Vincent from across the lake, an inexplicable urge compelled him to approach and strike up a conversation, to get to know him.

    Looking back now, Shawn realized that perhaps he had known Vincent since childhood, buried deep within his subconscious. Those memories that lingered in his mind drove him closer to Vincent.

    During a game of CS, Vincent protected him. Shawn held a gun, his heart pounding, as he hid behind cover and watched Vincent lift a sniper rifle, scanning the area for targets with a focused expression. That level of concentration completely moved him.

    In that moment, Shawn felt like a child. He, too, needed someone to protect him. In the vastness of life, sometimes all he needed was a few minutes of protection, and his health bar would quickly replenish. He could then face the bruising challenges of life once again.

    He speculated that Alex and his friends were likely gay, so Vincent was probably gay as well. But that wasn't Shawn's primary objective. Regardless of Vincent's sexual orientation, the desire to approach him had already taken root the moment he laid eyes on him.

    Even if Vincent wasn't gay, Shawn wanted to be friends with him, to spend more time together, maybe even live closer. He desperately needed someone to accompany him. The urgency of whether their relationship would develop into a romantic one didn't seem so pressing. After all, he still had erectile dysfunction.

    After that day, he couldn't help but constantly seek out conversations with Vincent, who always responded generously. Shawn once again experienced the tenderness of men, a tenderness that was firm and reliable. It was different from the tenderness of women, which was like a spark igniting a sense of meaning, kindling a new hope from within. The tenderness of men was like sunlight, revitalizing Shawn's already frozen body with renewed vigor.

    They began to understand each other gradually. Vincent didn't flatter him in any way, but Shawn could sense the curiosity in Vincent's eyes. Vincent wanted to get to know him further. They shared the same thoughts and were cautious, like two snails on a branch, extending their antennae and tentatively exploring.

    Shawn half-expected to interact with Vincent as a friend, to confide his loneliness to him. At the same time, he hoped for further development between them. The more Shawn learned about Vincent, the more he wanted to be with him. Even if they did nothing, just being together would calm Shawn down. Although Vincent seemed indifferent to many things, he always responded to Shawn in just the right way, never leaving his emotional efforts in vain.

    It wasn't until the day he was invited to climb the Elephant Gorge with Vincent that Shawn suddenly felt a certain desire awakening within him as he saw Vincent's fair abdominal muscles. Prior to this, he had ambiguously regarded Vincent as a friend, hoping for a close confidant with whom he could share everything. They could share a bed, travel together, or sit on the couch playing games on weekends. However, when he realized that he could also be intimately honest with this good friend, undress their bodies, and engage in passionate lovemaking, a forbidden flame was ignited in his heart. And then, this flame began to burn spontaneously without anyone adding fuel, growing stronger and causing him to feel disoriented.

    That night, he discovered that his impotence had miraculously been cured!

    Shawn felt a moment of panic. He didn't know how to proceed with Vincent anymore. He even contemplated avoiding meeting him. But soon, he regained his usual self and calmly pondered his past life. He realized that he could indeed have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex because his family couldn't control him. His parents would have some objections, but eventually, they would accept it. Besides, he could take Vincent to the United States for marriage...

    As Shawn stood by the riverside, he couldn't help but agree with Vincent's words. He had been talking to himself all along, like a blind chauvinist. No, scratch that, he was a blind chauvinist. Once he developed feelings for someone, he would unilaterally arrange their lives without considering whether the other person wanted to marry him. Under the premise of not meeting any of the conditions, he often appeared foolish in love, unable to determine anything. The only thing certain was that his emotions of "love" came from the heart. He was genuinely attracted to Vincent and realized that he liked him.

    For many years, this was the first time Shawn truly understood that he had fallen in love with someone, not merely becoming a machine driven by hormones, chemicals, and fleeting sexual desires, executing the tasks imposed upon his body.

    As a free soul, he had fallen in love with another person.

    Shawn made a joke with Alex and told him his intention. He started pursuing Vincent but also experienced the aftermath. He began subconsciously avoiding confessing his own life to Vincent. On one hand, he held unrealistic fantasies, thinking that maybe their relationship would be strong enough, and even if Vincent got angry in the end, he would tolerate and compromise because he couldn't be without Shawn. This thought was despicable, and Shawn himself didn't dare to dwell on it too much.

    On the other hand, he believed that he would work harder. Maybe one day a miracle would happen, the company would go public, and he could completely break free from this bondage. He packaged and tossed these two thoughts back and forth, moving them from one box to another. Sometimes he couldn't resist putting them together, frantically searching for places to hide them where they wouldn't be discovered, hastily throwing them under the bed, and heading towards the alluring new life.

    Vincent had given him genuine inspiration. His life was filled with details that made Shawn feel that life wasn't just about making money and working. There were many joyful expectations unrelated to money. Even having a meal could lead to laughter and banter. Vincent seemed to have no worries at all. His monthly salary was only 6,000, but he knew how to be content. He was immune to all kinds of anxiety and believed that everything would find its way. He lived his life calmly, like Sisyphus, but always let go of the stone halfway up the mountain to find a place to bask in the sun...

    He had a fatal attraction to Shawn. He was tolerant of everyone's opinions. When he disagreed with Shawn's views, a mischievous smile would appear in his eyes. He could understand Shawn's silly jokes and even take them a step further, surprising Shawn with unexpected punchlines.

    They continued to draw closer to each other and developed a strong bond. Although Shawn would often say, "You love me less than I love you," he was deeply moved by Vincent's responses. Especially during their first time going out and making love, Shawn experienced a spiritual leap. The long-awaited orgasm and ejaculation were a compensation for the lack of true love in his life. His mind suddenly went blank, as if it had crashed, and he felt dizzy in the face of the sudden happiness.

    He only wanted to give everything for Vincent. He tried every possible way to please him and make him happy. He eagerly searched for Vincent's sensitive spots in bed and rejoiced in his responses. The pleasure of sex drove him into a wild obsession. His mind was filled with thoughts of making love to Vincent, and reason was completely thrown out the window. During those days, he couldn't bear to be apart from Vincent even for a second. He only wanted to repeatedly express his love to Vincent, why they had agreed to meet each other again since they were children, but it took so many years for Vincent to come into his life. Did Vincent know how much he had suffered waiting for him?

    This was a gradual and enduring love, even though Shawn fell in love with Vincent at first sight. He enjoyed the process and understood that this was what love truly meant. However, he struggled with his lack of dating skills. His previous impulsive marriage had not brought any progress but only left him with debt. He made efforts to learn from the male protagonists in movies and sought romance novels on his phone. He even observed how others dated while driving. Such was the life of a bookworm, always needing a manual even for love.

    Driven by instincts and the desire to learn, he gradually returned to his original style. It is said that old habits die hard. He unconsciously played the role of the "husband" and saw Vincent as his beloved wife, with the only difference being that he had a penis. But Shawn also began to realize that this was not quite appropriate. So he constantly reminded himself to see Vincent as both a good friend and a lover, which sometimes made him feel conflicted.

    It wasn't until Vincent mercilessly criticized him today that Shawn finally began to understand a little. What he cared about had nothing to do with deception or debts. The only thing that bothered him was their way of getting along. Yes, that was in line with Shawn's understanding of Vincent. He was someone who didn't care much about material possessions.

    Did this mean there was still hope for them?

    Shawn thought about it and decided to head back. However, it was already 5:30 in the morning. In his long and tedious reflection on life, the moon had sunk to the end of the river, and the horizon revealed a faint light. Early morning belonged to the elderly, who rose early. The lights of the previous night seemed unrelated to them. There were old ladies dragging carts to the market to buy groceries by the riverside, and old men walking their dogs in the park.

    Shawn sat on a bench, having spent the entire night without sleep. He felt like he had become part of their group. He often fantasized about his life in old age, which probably wouldn't be much of a life. Loneliness until old age initially scared him, but after his divorce, he felt it might be for the best. By that time, at least his debts would have been paid off.

    He suddenly noticed a paper airplane in the shrubs beside the bench and picked it up. It turned out to be a printed page with some text on it:

    【...Ian gave up everything he once had—his lover, family, wealth—and came to this place alone, thinking he could rediscover the feelings of his past and fully possess himself again.】

    【But what awaited him was an endless sea of wolves, surging from the horizon and swallowing the last glimmer of starlight in the darkness. 】

    【In the wilderness where the wolves surrounded him, he set fire to the grass beneath him, and that flame would destroy everything he had. When the sun rose, he would be reduced to ashes, and if he was unlucky, he might not even see the sunrise of a new day.】

    【But it was still worth it, because in that moment, he finally found himself, no longer the passive man he used to be.】

    【—The end—】

    "I am also someone who passively accepts life," Shawn summarized himself. He sighed as he watched the sun gradually rise, its light shining on the Gold Flowing River. He got up, found his car, and drove away. Next, he went to the designated pawnshop to deliver and inspect his car. By using his beloved car to pay off about a year's worth of debts, the creditor promised not to bother him for this year. Before last night, Shawn's plan was to use this car to secure a year or so of freedom, to love Vincent and himself wholeheartedly during this time, and then start anew.

    But wishes turned into illusions, and the car still had to be pawned because he had quit his job.

    From now on, Shawn had to navigate many paths in life on his own, like an empty shell stripped of its soul. As he walked, he blindly returned to Riverbay Road.
  12. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 50:

    Vincent was still asleep when he first dreamt of himself and Shawn pulling at each other, money scattered all over the floor. Then he dreamt of a person named Yuki sobbing and accusing Shawn of being heartless. The crying voice echoed in his ears, and Vincent kept saying, "Stop crying," but she wouldn't listen. Shawn was anxiously shouting, "Vincent, Vincent!" in the background. Irritated in his dream, Vincent shouted and sat up.

    "Vincent!" Oscar, wearing pajamas, had entered his bedroom. "Can you get up? What time did you go to sleep last night?"

    The crying continued, coming from the living room, but it sounded somewhat aged and accompanied by hysterical sobs. Vincent jolted awake.

    "What's wrong?" Vincent asked.

    "Geoff's mother is here!" Oscar said. "I don't know how she found this place, and there are others..."

    Vincent realized the seriousness of the situation. This was Geoff's worst fear. He quickly got dressed and jumped out of bed, running to the living room. Alex and Kevin were already awake, comforting an elderly woman. At that moment, Geoff's mother was sitting on the sofa, crying uncontrollably as if no one else was there. Maggie was being held by Kevin, walking back and forth while crying loudly, clearly frightened.

    Apart from the grandmother and grandson, Geoff's nephew, the sporty young man named Jason, was also there. Sitting beside him was another woman in her forties, presumably Jason's mother, Mrs Shen, who was also crying.

    "Where is Geoff?" Vincent understood the situation at a glance, too rushed to offer comfort, immediately going to find medicine.

    "I called him," Oscar said. "He said he'll be back in five minutes."

    "What about Aunt June?!" Vincent shouted. "Where are the heart-protecting pills and the Ginseng tablets?"

    June quickly came out of the kitchen and opened the top drawer to help Vincent find the medicine.

    Vincent swiftly opened the medicine bottle just as Geoff opened the front door and walked in. Seeing the scene, without a word, Geoff immediately approached and slapped Jason hard, causing a commotion and chaos to erupt.

    "My son!" Geoff's mother cried incessantly.

    "This is bad!" Alex yelled. "Quick, Vincent, where is your medicine?"

    Having encountered many elderly people before, Alex knew that the mother's crying was causing her heart to strain, so he immediately began patting her back.

    Vincent motioned for Geoff to come over, and Geoff took the medicine. June went to fetch water, and Vincent said, "Make her take it no matter what." He then found the Ginseng tablets.

    "Mum!" Geoff began crying too.

    The living room became a scene of four people crying at once. Geoff's mother said, "How long has your brother been dead? Why didn't you say anything? Oh my god! How could this happen? My son! My Dylan... How could you leave your mother like this? You have no heart... I raised you all these years..."

    The others quietly retreated to their rooms. Geoff knelt in front of his mother, burying his face in her lap and also crying. Maggie, seeing this, cried even louder. She reached out for Geoff to hold her, but Geoff was unable to take care of her anymore. Vincent quickly took over and picked up Maggie, and she cried out, "Vincent, Vincent."

    Vincent couldn't understand the emotions of parents and children parting because he didn't have children himself, nor could he experience the intense pain of losing a child. Nevertheless, he couldn't help but shed tears.

    Mrs Shen was also crying, as if her own past sorrows had been stirred up. Geoff's sobbing, his mother's broken voice, Mrs Shen's mournful cries, along with Maggie's sobbing, filled the living room with an atmosphere of sadness. Vincent's eyes also turned red, unable to hold back his tears.

    The doorbell rang.

    Vincent carried Maggie and went to answer the door, remembering that his childhood friend Peter had made plans to come over today. He was about to ask Peter to wait outside when he saw Shawn standing in front of him.

    Shawn hadn't slept all night and looked exhausted.

    Vincent hadn't heard the sound of a car parking. Usually, Shawn's car was parked outside the gate, so he asked, "Where's your car?"

    Shawn replied anxiously, "It's gone. I pawned it to settle a debt. I came to get my bank card and I'll leave immediately."

    Vincent gestured for him to come inside. Shawn braced himself for confrontation, but he only wanted to catch a glimpse of Vincent. He thought Vincent would be sleeping at this time, so he was taken aback to see him in this situation, making him appear somewhat dazed.

    In the living room, they were still crying, which startled Shawn. He didn't know what had happened.

    "Go upstairs," Vincent signaled to Shawn.

    Shawn walked past Geoff from behind, quietly went upstairs, and had a bewildered expression on his face.

    Vincent carried Maggie and followed him, pointing to his own bed.

    "You stay here," Vincent said. "I need to handle something, and I'll talk to you later."

    Shawn nodded numbly and sat on the edge of the bed.

    Downstairs, the second round of painful crying began, and Vincent felt a splitting headache. His head was buzzing, and Maggie was having a hard time sleeping, starting to cry again after a moment. Vincent felt like his heart was going to explode.

    He comforted Maggie once again, placing her in the baby crib in the room. He heard Geoff's mother crying outside, saying, "My child... I want to go see you, where are you?"

    "You go to school!" Geoff angrily shouted at his nephew, grabbing him and dragging him roughly to the hallway, kicking him repeatedly to make him leave quickly.

    "Shh!" Vincent signaled to Geoff not to lose control. Maggie had fallen asleep.

    Geoff finally regained his composure and came back, his eyes red. He nodded in gratitude to Vincent.

    Vincent glanced outside. Geoff's mother had survived the first wave of emotions and was now sitting on the couch in a dazed state, while the neighboring lady was tearfully comforting her.

    "I told her to come and pick up Maggie after the Lantern Festival," Geoff said. "She may have sensed something and insisted on bringing Maggie on the train to River East. The other person is Jason's mother. They took the overnight bus and arrived at Jason's place..."

    "I understand," Vincent whispered. "Your nephew brought them here. We can't blame him; he had no other choice."

    Jason was neither the mastermind nor experienced enough. He inadvertently revealed the truth to his mother with just a few words. However, when he came to River East seeking refuge with Geoff, this moment became inevitable.

    Geoff said, "I'll take my mother somewhere else to stay and figure things out slowly."

    "Stay here," Vincent reminded him. "Others can help take care of her. Don't move her anymore. Her health is not good. I'll call the hospital later, and it would be best for you to take her for a check-up tomorrow."

    Geoff let out a long sigh and started crying again after a moment. Vincent hugged him and patted his back, motioning for him to look at Maggie and then outside. He had to shoulder the responsibility at this moment.

    Geoff nodded in understanding, and Vincent said, "With Maggie here, your mother will definitely pull through."

    At that moment, the doorbell rang again.

    "Hey," Peter greeted Vincent while playing with his car keys in his hand.

    "Don't come in," Vincent said. "Wait for me outside for a moment."

    Peter looked curious and peered inside No. 7 Riverbay Road, but Vincent closed the door on him.

    Peter: "???"

    Vincent returned to the living room and finally had the opportunity to greet Geoff's mother and Mrs Shen. He approached them and knelt on one knee by the side of the sofa, just like Geoff did. He listened to the heartbeat of Geoff's mother, who seemed unaware, and she instinctively touched his head, then his ears and nose.

    "Who are you?" Geoff's mother asked.

    "My name is Vincent," Vincent replied. "I'm Geoff's good friend. Auntie, please have a seat. Let me get you something to drink."

    The other lady, Mrs Shen, said, "So you're Vincent. I've been hearing Maggie calling 'Vincent, Vincent' all the time."

    Vincent nodded and signaled to Geoff that it should be fine for now, asking him to stay with his mother. Vincent then went into the kitchen. June and another housekeeper were sitting there, waiting. Vincent said, "Aunt June, please arrange for a doctor to come this afternoon, just to check if there are any problems."

    "Okay," June said. "What are you looking for?"

    "Ginseng tea," Vincent said.

    "Here it is." June brewed the ginseng tea and brought it out to Geoff's mother. Vincent added, "For the whole day today, put everything else aside. You're in charge of taking care of her. If anything happens, call an ambulance or perform emergency first aid."

    June understood that something must have happened and nodded. Vincent then found the heart-protecting pills and took some himself.

    "Give me some too," Geoff said. He had been unable to sleep well last night and felt his heart was about to stop today.

    "It's all yours," Vincent said. "There's more in the top drawer. I have an appointment today and might not be back until noon even if things go smoothly."

    "Okay," Geoff nodded. "Go and take care of it."

    Vincent took a few steps and went upstairs. He pushed open the bedroom door and saw that Shawn was already asleep on his bed.

    Vincent: "..."

    Vincent didn't wake him up and covered him with a blanket, changed his clothes, and then went out directly to find Peter.

    "What happened at your house?" Peter had question marks all over his mind.

    "Don't ask." Vincent's head was spinning with everything that happened today. "Where's the lawyer?"

    "I'm on my way to pick up the lawyer now," Peter drove the car out of Riverbay Road. He asked, "Have you made up your mind?"

    "Yeah," Vincent unlocked his phone. Today, he planned to use the "game trainer" and make some bold changes to his life.

    Peter picked up the lawyer and the lawyer's assistant, who had been waiting for a long time. He explained the situation again in the car and parked the car downstairs of the publishing house.

    Vincent entered the publishing house and shook hands with the chief editor and the owner of the publisher. At 2 a.m. last night, he had arranged a meeting with several executives and the general manager of the publishing house. However, as he sat down in the conference room, he felt a bit drowsy.

    "Here's the thing," Vincent said. "Please forgive me for having a lot on my plate today. My mind is a bit scattered."

    The deputy chief editor looked at Vincent with a strange gaze. The chief editor and the general manager listened attentively, neither of them saying anything.

    "Let me keep it simple," Vincent thought for a moment and replied, "Although my education level is not high, I also hope to contribute a little to the development of human civilization... "

    The chief editor interrupted, "I remember you seem familiar..."

    The general manager chimed in, "Director Zhang! You are really too modest!"

    Once the general manager spoke, the chief editor immediately fell silent.

    Vincent continued, "So I'm prepared to invest in your company and support this publishing house with a 40-year history. I heard a rough estimate of the current financial shortfall from the deputy chief editor of your company. I have a studio under my name, and I can invest by acquiring shares. I believe I can bear this part of the shortfall..."

    The deputy chief editor's mouth remained open for a while before regaining her composure.

    "...After the investment, I won't interfere with the operation of your company," Vincent added. "It should remain as it is. I believe that things like books... books, they cannot be solely measured by their commercial value. For me, they bring more than just economic benefits. So, they are definitely worth investing in."

    Everyone wanted to speak, but Vincent quickly wrapped up his opening statement, "This is my good friend Peter. He will make decisions on my behalf. And this is Lawyer Lin and her team. They have my full authority to handle the entire investment process."

    Peter came over and shook hands with them, followed by the lawyer.

    Vincent said, "Well, I have to leave now. I don't know why, but today is particularly busy for me. Please forgive me."

    The general manager immediately went to make coffee himself. He knew that as the behind-the-scenes boss, Vincent, like many wealthy people, usually didn't appear in person. They had discussed for a long time last night, but no one knew why this "Director Zhang" suddenly requested a meeting with the top management of the publishing house. Happiness came so suddenly that everyone was still digesting it and needed some time.

    "The specific schedule and memos will be handed over to you," Peter said to the lawyer.

    "No problem," the lawyer replied. "Once the steps are drafted, I will send them to you and Mr Zhang."

    Vincent quickly finished his instant coffee, shook hands and said goodbye to everyone. And just like that, he used the game trainer to to make some changes in life and straightforwardly acquired the publishing house that had rejected countless manuscripts from him.

    "What on earth happened to you?" Peter asked as he got in the car. "Why did you suddenly decide to acquire it? Are you planning to switch to the publishing industry?"

    "No," Vincent replied. "I still want to be a writer, I want to publish books. This publishing house was going to shut down due to poor management."

    "So?" Peter questioned. "Can't you submit your work to another publishing house? Oh, but I guess since you bought it, you can just publish your own books."

    "I want to be a writer, not just publish books," Vincent explained. "What's the point of forcing them to publish my books? Master."

    "So, tell me, what's the meaning behind acquiring them?" Peter inquired. "Are you really feeling sentimental because this publishing house has been in operation for forty years?"

    "It's a bit of everything," Vincent said. He remembered when he was very young, his family had many books translated and published by this publishing house, including his grandfather's professional books and his beloved "The Three Musketeers".

    "What about you and your husband?" Peter asked again.

    "It's my wife," Vincent corrected him. "It's just okay. His pride is too strong, not easy to handle."

    Peter burst into laughter. "Men are like that. They all have their pride. Maybe you're just too dominant?"

    "I'm dominant?" Vincent retorted. "I'm the dominant one? I always go along with him in everything, except for dressing up in women's clothes for him!"

    "That's how straight men are. You can't help but like straight men," Peter chuckled.

    "I don't like straight men either. I just happened to meet him. Can't help it. We've arrived, so get out of the car," Vincent said.

    "Why are we suddenly at the Mercedes dealership again?" Peter asked.

    Vincent entered the store and went straight to the latest model released this year. He asked, "Do you have this model in stock? I don't have any specific requirements for the configuration."

    Salesperson: "..."

    Peter said, "Master, this is your first time buying a car, you might not be familiar with the process. Let me explain..."

    "I know, I can add more money," Vincent interrupted.

    "Now that's a line straight out of a nouveau riche, I love it," Peter laughed.

    Salesperson: "Please wait a moment. This is really difficult, but I will inquire for you."

    Peter: "Do you really have to drive home with a brand new car today? It's a 2.2 million car, don't make it difficult for the salesperson."

    Vincent: "I just want to buy it today."

    Peter: "It won't make much difference to wait a few days."

    Vincent: "Then what car will my wife drive?"

    "He can drive your Bentley," Peter suggested.

    "He doesn't like Bentley," Vincent replied. "He only likes Mercedes."

    After the salesperson made the phone call, they said, "We have a car in stock, but even we try our best to fast-forward the process, you'll have to wait a week, sir. Please wait for me to bring the configuration sheet for you to have a look..."

    "In that case, I'll make the deposite," Vincent said, taking the configuration sheet and glancing at it casually. "I don't understand, but I trust that your dealership won't deceive me."

    He took out his card, indicating that he was ready to make the payment. The salesperson had encountered many grand occasions in their life, and while making the phone call, they had already switched to "Dubai mode" for Vincent. They knew that the most important things for them were: 1) having the car in stock, and 2) being concise. Buying a car was similar to buying groceries; customers were often busy and had to leave once the purchase was made.

    So the salesperson quickly prepared the contract. Vincent provided Shawn's identification for the record, completed the payment with his card, and took two bottles of water from Peter. They left, leaving behind a group of salespeople setting off firecrackers at the entrance to celebrate.

    "How much did you spend today?" Peter asked again.

    "More than ten million," Vincent pondered. He had spent around ten million for acquiring the publishing house, two million for the car. Peter also took him to the bank where he had an appointment with the assistant branch manager. Vincent handed over Shawn's card to him and, after cross-checking the debt records, urged the manager to transfer the funds quickly.

    The assistant branch manager personally handled the transaction and escorted Vincent out after it was completed.

    At the same time, Shawn was still sleeping, and the messages from the bank kept popping up on his phone. Twelve consecutive transactions of one million each were being transferred into his account.

    Vincent arrived back at No. 7 Riverbay Road at noon and bid farewell to Peter with a smile. When he entered the house, only Mrs Shen was sitting on the couch.

    "Where is everyone?" Vincent looked puzzled.

    Mrs Shen whispered, "Geoff's mother is resting in the bedroom; she should be asleep. Maggie is also sleeping. She didn't get a good night's sleep after taking the night shift bus last night."

    Vincent nodded hurriedly, and Mrs Shen continued, "Geoff is also in the bedroom. Kevin and Oscar are in their respective rooms, and Alex said he went to the store. He asked you to wait for him for lunch; he wants to eat with you."

    Mrs Shen had been in the house for less than four hours but had already investigated the names of Vincent's roommates. Now, she was trying to gather information about their marital and family status.

    "Alright, got it," Vincent wiped his sweat and sat down at the dining table. He made himself a cup of coffee, looked up, and thought that Shawn hadn't woken up yet, probably because he didn't sleep well last night.

    June asked in a low voice, "How many people are eating?"

    Vincent's mind was in a mess, and he said, "Let's order takeout. Don't worry about it."

    June said, "Then I'll cook some rice. The elderly lady is fine. Dr Wang came this morning and checked on her. Her blood pressure and heart rate are stable, but her cataracts are a serious problem. We need to schedule a surgery for her as soon as possible."

    Geoff said, "My mom doesn't want to have the surgery. There are still risks with cataract surgery, and it's difficult to persuade her."

    June opened the rice cooker and rinsed the rice. She said, "Your grandfather had a student who was an eye specialist. He's retiring next year, and he performs surgeries very well. With him personally operating, there shouldn't be any issues."

    "Oh, Dr Li," Vincent remembered. He didn't realize that his grandfather's student was already this old.

    Geoff came out and overheard Vincent and June's conversation. Vincent turned back and said, "Geoff?"

    Geoff looked at Vincent with an indescribable expression in his eyes.

    "Did you hear me?" Vincent waited by the coffee machine.

    "Yes," Geoff replied. "I was thinking the same thing. After a few days, when she calms down, I'll take her for an examination and then arrange for her surgery in River East."

    Vincent said, "You'll need to take some time off to care for her."

    "Yes," Geoff whispered. "I plan to move to River South first, to make it easier to take care of them. It's a three-bedroom apartment there. Maggie and I will share one room, my mom will have another, and Jason can sleep in the living room. His mother won't be leaving anytime soon."

    The food delivery arrived, and Vincent went around calling everyone to come out and have lunch. June set the table and served the food. Shawn, still half asleep, was pulled up by Vincent, who said, "It's time to eat."

    Geoff had just sat down when Maggie woke up again, so he had to go in and comfort her. After being apart for about ten days, Maggie seemed upset and clung to Geoff, unwilling to let go.

    Mrs Shen naturally took a seat, and everyone began to eat. Alex hurriedly returned and saw that his roommates had already started eating. He said, "Damn, didn't I ask you to wait for me?"

    "It's not too late for you to join us now," Vincent said. "What's the matter? Is there something important?"

    Alex wanted to talk to Vincent about Shawn's situation and also discuss Edmund's matter. However, with the whole table full of people, including Shawn and an unfamiliar lady, he couldn't say anything.

    "Nothing important," Alex reluctantly sat across from Shawn.

    Today, there was an additional guest, plus the incident between Vincent and Shawn from yesterday. The people involved were casually sitting and eating, while everyone else felt their scalps tingling, unsure of what to say, so they maintained silence.

    "Eat some of this fish," Vincent said as he served Kevin a portion.

    Kevin replied, "I love eating fish. Thanks."

    Oscar chimed in, "The fish last night was good too, although I didn't eat it seriously."

    Alex said, "I finished the fish. Vincent probably hadn't taken a single bite."

    Vincent finally remembered and gave Shawn a stern look, saying, "Did you leave early? Then who paid the bill in the end?"

    Alex replied, "Geoff did, but he didn't pay for himself because he didn't eat."

    "Oh, alright," Vincent thought to himself.

    Shawn said, "I’ll transfer the money to him."

    "No need," everyone said in unison.

    "In fact, that restaurant is owned by Edmund's family," Vincent said to Alex. "We were fortunate to have him last night; otherwise, it would have been very embarrassing."

    Alex raised an eyebrow at Vincent, indicating that he knew everything, and Vincent responded with a mischievous smile.

    "Uh," Oscar said, "Is Mr Dong really that rich?"

    Vincent replied, "His sister is the boss of a media company, and the role Eric played, Leon Gu, the male supporting character, was inspired by Edmund."

    Oscar was speechless.

    Mrs Shen, listening to their conversation, spoke up after a moment and said, "Vincent."

    Vincent, though not accustomed to dining with strangers, responded politely and warmly since Mrs Shen was Geoff's friend.

    Shawn remained silent, eating quietly and occasionally taking sips of water.

    "You come from a family of doctors, right?" Mrs Shen asked. "I see many medical books here."

    "My grandfather was a doctor, and my grandmother was a pharmacist," Vincent replied.

    "I see," Mrs Shen said. "That's impressive. What do you do?"

    "I work in book publishing," Vincent said. He could now proudly say that his main occupation was in publishing since he had recently purchased a publishing house.

    "Ah, a family of intellectuals!" Mrs Shen exclaimed.

    Everyone, even Shawn, had the same thought in their minds, expecting Mrs Shen to ask the next question: "Are you married?" But she surprised them with a different question.

    "So, you must be acquainted with psychiatrists, right?" Mrs Shen said. "Can you help me with something? I want to know how to cure homosexuality."

    Upon hearing that, everyone was taken aback and wore complex expressions. They all controlled themselves and avoided looking directly at Mrs Shen.

    "What... what?" Vincent didn't understand. The topic had changed so abruptly that he was confused.

    "Well," Mrs Shen continued with concern, "it's not embarrassing or anything. Let me tell you. You see, my son, Jason, he... he got involved with another boy last year. When the teacher told me about it, I was stunned!"

    Everyone remained silent, not knowing how to respond.

    "I immediately said it couldn't be true! How could a man be involved with another man? The teacher said it was homosexuality, but I insisted that my son couldn't be homosexual. Oh my goodness, they were on the rooftop..."

    The expressions of everyone at the table, including Shawn, were varied. Shawn had just taken a sip of water and nearly choked upon hearing Mrs Shen's words.

    "Ah, so it's homosexuality," Vincent nodded and said, "Well, actually, there isn't any special cure for it now."

    "How about trying electroshock therapy?" Kevin suggested.

    Everyone looked at Kevin.

    "My dad mentioned that as a treatment," Kevin added quickly.

    Vincent sighed and massaged his temples. Then Mrs Shen said, "You also know about homosexuality, right?"

    "I know, I know... Geoff! Come out and have your meal!"

    Vincent couldn't bear it anymore and wanted Geoff to handle the situation himself.

    Geoff finally arrived, and Mrs Shen said, "I come here this time to help Jason with this condition."

    "What?" Geoff was startled. "What condition?"

    Geoff was like a startled bird, and then Mrs Shen said, "He's gay! We need to find a doctor to cure him."

    Geoff remained silent.

    The table of people lowered their heads and quickly finished their meal. As they dispersed, it was visibly clear that they all breathed a sigh of relief. Shawn cleaned up the dishes, and Geoff said, "I'll do it."

    "I'll do it," Shawn said. "You go take care of your mother."

    "Are you not going to work today?" Geoff asked.

    "I quit my job," Shawn replied.

    "Congratulations," Geoff said.

    June cooked a porridge for Geoff's mother, and Geoff took it in to feed her. Then he turned and walked out. Vincent helped clean up the cups and plates, putting them in the sink. June hurriedly said, "I'll do it."

    "It's okay, I'll do it," Shawn said.

    June insisted, but Shawn quickly rinsed them and put the dishes in the dishwasher.

    "You should let him do it," Vincent said. "That way, he can stay a bit longer."

    June couldn't stop laughing, while Shawn, upon hearing this, put down the dishes and said, "Then I'll head back now."

    "No, no, no, you stay," June laughed. "You're all good kids."

    Shawn apologized for the disturbance politely, and after leaving the kitchen, Vincent followed him upstairs to see his reaction. Shawn obviously hadn't noticed the 12 million yuan that had been added to his account. After being reminded, he threw his phone on the bedside table and didn't care about it.

    "You're leaving already?" Vincent said.

    Shawn turned around, looking at Vincent in disbelief.

    "Don't you want your phone?" Vincent continued, handing the phone that Shawn had thrown on the bedside table to him. Shawn snapped back to reality and stuffed it into his pocket, put on his coat, and said, "Can I have my bank card and the court ruling back?"

    "Of course, you want them now?" Vincent handed him the document bag.

    "Thank you," Shawn said.

    He went downstairs, and Vincent followed him outside. Shawn turned and said, "You don't have to see me off."

    "I'm not seeing you off," Vincent said. "I'm going out too."

    Shawn realized he was being overly sentimental and pushed the door open to leave. He walked on Riverbay Road, slowly strolling in the spring breeze. Vincent followed not too far behind, determined to witness Shawn's reaction upon discovering the 12 million yuan in his account.

    But Shawn was stubborn. He didn't even think about his phone today and had no interest in checking it. After all, as long as he was with Vincent, his whole being was focused on him.

    Vincent followed him, walking for a full ten minutes, but Shawn still didn't fulfill his wish.

    "Are you angry?" Vincent suddenly said.

    "No, I'm not," Shawn turned around, stopped, and looked at Vincent.

    Vincent also stopped walking.

    "Yes," Shawn corrected himself, "I'm angry at myself. I feel terrible right now, I'm extremely upset."

    Vincent looked at Shawn and smiled.

    "I don't know how I ended up like this." Shawn's voice became heavy, his eyes began to turn red. In this moment, the emotions he had been holding in for so long finally burst out in front of Vincent. His sobbing and choked words made his trembling voice, and his handsome face became distorted as tears streamed down. Even the most beautiful child, when faced with true sadness, can be somewhat ridiculous when they cry.

    In his pain, Shawn said, "I thought about it all night... I'm sorry, Vincent. I love you, and I don't know what I'll do without you... I finally found you, but because of the mistakes I made, my foolishness... I've ruined everything... I don't know who to turn to, I... I don't want to give up, but I... Can you please not ignore me? I can accept being just friends with you... as long as you don't push me away..."

    Vincent slowly walked up to him and embraced him. Shawn buried his face in Vincent's shoulder and cried in the spring breeze.

    "Let's go have a cup of coffee," Vincent felt a twinge of guilt. Shawn was so desperate and in such pain, all he wanted was to have a few words with him or see him again, but Vincent had followed behind, almost gloating, as if it had nothing to do with him.

    Shawn nodded, and Vincent said, "I have something to say to you."

    Vincent led Shawn back to Riverbay Road, but this time, they arrived at No. 6 Riverbay Road. Shawn gradually calmed down, as long as he was by Vincent's side, he felt enveloped by this barrier, shielded from his pain.

    Vincent sat down at the outdoor terrace of the café at No. 6, and Shawn went to buy drinks. Vincent curiously watched his figure.

    Shawn ordered the drinks at the counter, took out his phone, and prepared to pay. He glanced at the text messages on the screen and then froze.

    He couldn't believe it as he scrolled down, then his eyes wandered around in confusion, as if he were dreaming.

    "Sir?" the cashier asked. "The total is 79 yuan."

    Shawn didn't respond, he turned back and looked at Vincent.

    He noticed it! He noticed it! Vincent laughed so hard that he was hunched over the table, like a mischievous child who had succeeded in his prank.

    Shawn: "Vincent? Can you see what's going on here? I don't know if it's a banking system error..."

    "Hahahaha!" Vincent couldn't hold it in any longer and started laughing uncontrollably.

    Shawn was full of question marks and then anxiously said, "What's happening? Why are you laughing? There's inexplicably over ten million in my account..."

    "I used a game trainer this morning to change your life," Vincent said seriously and then burst into laughter again on the sunny couch.

    Shawn didn't understand. "What?"

    Vincent said to the cashier, "Sorry! Let me pay."

    "Oh, it's you, Director Zhang!" The cashier recognized Vincent and smiled. "It's been a while since you last came! I'll make the coffee for you first, and you can pay later."

    "Ah, because I have someone at home who knows how to make coffee, so I come here less often. Thank you!" Vincent replied.

    Then, Vincent turned to Shawn and smiled at him. Shawn looked at his phone, then at Vincent. Vincent sat down next to him and said, "You can repay me now. I'm sorry, I've been deceiving you too. Shawn, I sincerely apologize with all my heart, but I know that you will also forgive me, just as I forgave you."
  13. feitianyexiang

    feitianyexiang Member

    Aug 20, 2023
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    Chapter 51:

    Shawn's perception of the world received a thorough shock on this morning, but everything had been foreshadowed. No. 7 Riverbay Road was the undeniable evidence. However, in matters of love, Shawn's intelligence was halved, and his rationality took a leave of absence. He didn't have the slightest doubt.

    "I'm really not afraid that you're after my money," Vincent explained seriously. But at this moment, he realized that no matter how he explained it, no matter how sincere his words were, it all seemed very insincere.

    "It's not because I have an addiction to pretending to be poor or have a performative personality. It's because... I like you, simply like you, without any other ulterior motives."

    "Yes...yes," Shawn held his phone, feeling a bit overwhelmed, as if there were 12 million yuan in cash pressing down on it. The development of the situation had exceeded his naive understanding of this materialistic society. There was a moment when he really thought Vincent was a programmer behind the scenes of the world.

    "That feeling, you should have experienced it," Vincent said.

    "Yes," Shawn could only repeat, "Yes."

    He looked at Vincent, and Vincent explained why he initially rented out No. 7 Riverbay Road and where his money came from. Shawn nodded, saying, "It makes sense."

    "I think you might need some time to process all of this," Vincent said. "So why don't I go home first, and you can come over whenever you're ready. Oh, by the way, I bought you a car, but it won't be here today. If you don't want to drive my car, we can walk."

    "No, no." Shawn immediately grabbed Vincent's hand, afraid that if he left now, he would never come back. He put down his phone with his other hand and said, "So, you forgive me?"

    "Of course, I forgive you," Vincent said. "Because I also hid things from you. I had planned to tell you slowly after we got together, just like you planned to tell me gradually. We needed the right opportunity, and I didn't know if you would get angry or find it difficult to accept, feel defeated."

    "It's different," Shawn said, but now his mind was only filled with the fact that Vincent was no longer angry and they could be together again. The issue of money suddenly seemed unimportant, or rather, it couldn't occupy Shawn's CPU anymore. Now, everything had to make way for a kiss.

    He kissed Vincent, interrupting his words, and Vincent kissed him back, holding the back of his neck. They sat on the sunny couch like that, kissing each other as if no one else existed.

    As they parted ways, Shawn felt like he had returned to reality. One hand held onto Vincent's, while the other picked up the phone once again and glanced at Vincent before speaking.

    "You gave me so much money?" Shawn asked.

    "Yeah," Vincent replied. "Didn't you also give me your salary card?"

    Shawn remained silent for a moment and then nodded. Vincent continued, "You can transfer the amount to the debt collection agency, and then you'll be even."

    Shawn put down his phone again, his emotions mixed as he looked at Vincent. Finally, he understood the true meaning behind Vincent's previous words.

    "However," Vincent said, "in doing so, you'll owe me."

    "I'm willing to spend my whole life repaying you," Shawn said, "as long as you're willing to accept it."

    Vincent initially wanted to laugh and say, "In that case, you really got the better deal." But he quickly corrected his thoughts and adjusted his attitude. After all, he loved Shawn. While Shawn appeared to need him more in their relationship, Vincent knew deep down that he needed Shawn just as much.

    "Okay," Vincent said. "You can still fuck me with your big dick, just let me fuck you once in a while."

    Shawn remained silent.

    His breathing became rapid as the desire to be intimate with Vincent, to explore both roles, overwhelmed him. However, they couldn't just indulge in their desires in broad daylight. Shawn finally started using his brain, and Vincent could tell by his expression that he understood the situation.

    "We can go to your place," Vincent suggested.

    Shawn grabbed Vincent's hand and immediately stood up, ready to leave.

    Meanwhile, Alex was at the gym, busy organizing schedules for his clients. He had planned to go home for lunch and ask Vincent's opinion, but the events of the day took an unexpected turn. He barely had time for a quick lunch before returning to the gym to continue his work.

    His clients were gradually becoming more stable, and most of them had signed up for gym memberships, ensuring some financial stability for a while. However, Alex knew he couldn't afford to be complacent.

    Three o'clock in the afternoon was the quietest time at the gym, with people starting to arrive in at around seven and staying until around ten in the evening to pass the time.

    Unexpectedly, Edmund arrived, catching Alex's attention.

    "You didn't schedule a session," Alex said. "You can't get the training today."

    "I'm not here for a workout," Edmund replied.

    "Your hubby is busy today," Alex said, assuming Edmund was looking for him.

    Edmund responded, "I'm not here for that either. How about going out for a cup of coffee?"

    Alex decided to take a break from his work at the gym and brought his schedule with him to a nearby coffee shop. Edmund ordered a coffee, and they sat down together. Edmund observed as Alex worked on his schedule, occasionally asking a few questions about aerobic exercises, diet, and training.

    Once Alex finished, he took a photo of the schedule and shared it in their group chat.

    "You know Vincent," Edmund said.

    "Yes," Alex replied. "I'm renting his house. I'm actually not well-off; I'm just an ordinary fitness trainer who happened to rent his place."

    Edmund chuckled.

    "I told you last night," Alex said.

    "Sky Corridor is owned by my family," Edmund revealed.

    "I know," Alex said. "Vincent told me."

    Edmund seemed quite interested in this legendary young director and said, "He actually rents out the house he lives in? And he's not short of money." He heard that Vincent is a young director last night when he parted ways with Alex.

    "Yeah," Alex didn't want to gossip about Vincent since he was his good friend. "I don't know the specifics either. You'll have to ask him yourself."

    Alex preemptively shut down the conversation, but Edmund didn't pursue further and said, "That sounds like something he would do. They say he's a carefree person, or rather, quite romantic."

    Alex replied, "Unlike me, I'm boring."

    Edmund responded, "You're not boring."

    Alex chuckled, "Other than my dick, you probably don't have any interest in anything else."

    "No, no, no," Edmund said, "Honestly, my family doesn't have much money either. It might look respectable, but we owe more than we earn."

    "I believe that," Alex said. "So, what's the deal? Do you have a task at hand and want Vincent to help with filming?"

    "No," Edmund said. "I don't care about their affairs."

    "Then why are you here?" Alex asked. "You've been talking in circles for a while."

    Edmund replied mysteriously, "Just doing nothing. I missed you, so I came to see you."

    "I don't believe you, huh!" Alex said. "Do you want to date me or something?"

    Edmund said, "I won't have sex with you anymore. I'm serious. I'll date you instead."

    "That works," Alex said. "A celibacy competition? I have no objections. Let's see who can resist the longest, who breaks the vow first?"

    Edmund responded, "You're seriously sick."

    "Yes," Alex said. "I am sick."

    Edmund asked, "Why are you so domineering? Always trying to assert dominance over others."

    "That's just who I am," Alex replied. "If you want to tame me and make me your dog, you'll have to prove yourself."

    Edmund looked Alex up and down, and Alex smiled and said, "Did you fall in love with me? It's awkward, right? Falling in love with a booty call. What should we do? Ah, it's complicated."

    Edmund replied earnestly, "Yes."

    Alex thought he misheard and looked at Edmund.

    "Yes," Edmund said. "I fell in love with you, but you're probably not interested in me. You just want to fuck me."

    Edmund then took out something from a paper bag and said, "This is for you."

    Alex asked, "?"

    Then, Edmund walked away.

    "Hey! I don't just want to... fuck you," Alex said. "What is this?"

    Alex opened the paper bag and found two poorly crafted handmade rings inside. He spoke softly and caught up with Edmund, asking, "What's this?"

    Edmund replied, "A few days ago, I took my nephew to a handicraft workshop, and I made these for you. Your initials are engraved on the inner band."

    Alex tried to hold Edmund's hand, and Edmund instinctively tried to pull away. But in the end, he turned around and held onto Alex's hand.

    Alex said, "Then... let's give it a try."

    Edmund took a deep breath, his expression seemingly saying, "Damn, why am I the one confessing first? Are you shameless?" But when he turned to face Alex, Alex's smile didn't allow him to feel angry.

    "Give it a try? Try what?" Edmund raised an eyebrow and leaned closer to him. They were very close, and Alex immediately felt a reaction.

    "Do you think we won't last?" Edmund squinted and said.

    Alex had indeed thought about it, but even if it was for a moment of happiness, it was still worth a try.

    "What do you like?" Edmund licked his lips and said, "I'm willing to try anything."

    Alex now just wanted to kiss him.

    "Forget it," Edmund replied.

    "I'll tell you slowly later. I'm going back to teach my class," Alex said.

    Alex turned and walked away. He felt embarrassed, but fortunately, there was no one outside the café at that moment. He adjusted his pants, but Edmund suddenly caught up with him and said, "Tell me, what other games do you have in mind?"

    Alex blushed at the thought of his kinks, while Edmund continued to ask incessantly. Alex took refuge in the gym, as his clients had already arrived. Edmund stopped asking questions as well.

    However, he didn't leave but sat behind the front desk, opened his laptop, and randomly clicked a few times. Alex started teaching, but his attention was focused on Edmund.

    "What are you doing?" Alex was puzzled.

    "I'm looking at your financial statements," Edmund said. "And your fixed monthly expenses."

    Alex didn't bother to hide anything from him. In Edmund's eyes, it was all small money, probably not even enough for his usual expenses.

    In the evening, after Alex finished his class, Edmund was surprisingly tapping away on the keyboard, creating spreadsheets.

    "What are you doing now?" Alex asked.

    "I'm making a budget for you," Edmund said. "Has someone advised you? Your financial situation is pretty good. I'm thinking of investing in your gym."

    Alex: "..."

    Alex looked at Edmund, and Edmund said, "Will you accept?"

    "I need to think about it," Alex assessed Edmund, contemplating whether partnering with a booty call was realistic. After today, were they considered lovers?

    "Where are you going later?" Edmund asked.

    Alex replied, "I'm going to have dinner and then go to a client's house for a lesson."

    Edmund said, "Let's go together."

    Alex asked, "Are you driving?"

    "No," Edmund said a bit impatiently. "I told you, that's my brother-in-law's car."

    Alex said, "Do you have a car?"

    Edmund answered, "I am still saving money for it."

    Alex thought to himself, "You should have said that earlier," and handed the helmet to Edmund. He rode the electric scooter and took him to have dinner. After dinner, Alex went for his class while Edmund went to a nearby cinema to watch a movie, waiting for him. When Alex finished his class and came out, he brought Edmund back to the gym.

    "Are we doing it today?" Alex asked him.

    "I already said..." Edmund hadn't finished speaking when Alex carried him into the storage room of the gym.

    "I surrender, okay!" Alex placed a bed in the storage room, and while making love in the small space, Alex had a feeling.

    Alex took their favorite position, with Edmund underneath him, and whispered in his ear.

    "I was born to fuck you."

    Consider this their declaration of love as they officially entered into a romantic relationship.

    Spring has arrived, and the spring breeze scatters blossoms in the night, causing a million flowers to bloom throughout the city of River East. It is a rare warm spring, where everything seems to have signs of renewal after lingering in the harsh winter.

    Inside 7 No. Riverbay Road, life goes on as usual, and the front and back gardens are now filled with blooming flowers. The roommates living here have also become unusually busy, as the mild weather has awakened not only dormant plants but also their spirits.

    Vincent didn't move out of No. 7 Riverbay Road as planned. Instead, his roommates were bidding their farewells one by one, and Shawn would be moving in soon. Yes, it was a long farewell, but it was destined to come. Vincent's life is filled with various farewells: bidding farewell to loved ones, to the colleagues he hastily gathered for film projects, to friends, and even bidding farewell to himself... Dispersal was the norm in his life, and only reunions were fleeting. But should people always be sorry for anything that is fleeting and only cherish enduring relationships?

    Of course not, he took farewells lightly because he hoped that everyone would have better days ahead.

    Oscar's study application had been successfully approved, and he already purchased his plane ticket. He decided to leave at the end of the month to go to Australia to pursue his studies. The person he once loved was anxiously waiting for him on the other side of the ocean. They may reconnect, or maybe not. No one could say for sure, and this brought a lot of nervousness to Oscar.

    Kevin found a new job as an apprentice in a clothing studio. The two bosses treated him well, and they also had a great chemistry together, making him feel that the new bosses were like Vincent and Shawn. He lived at the studio, and he also took care of sales. He moved out of the No. 7 Riverbay Road to save more money. He was diligently studying clothing design. He continued to do live broadcasts and tried on both men's and women's clothing, which surprisingly brought good results and helped attract a lot of customers to the store.

    Alex finally accepted Edmund's investment and put on the ring he had specially made for him. The ring for the top was slightly bigger, but it fit Alex's ring finger perfectly, which surprised him. He didn't know when Edmund secretly took his measurements. Edmund's answer was purely based on intuition. Perhaps this also proved that they were indeed suitable for each other. Under Edmund's persistent questioning, Alex finally reluctantly confessed his sexual preferences. It was strange how he felt no shame when bragging about it to his roommates, but he always had a hesitant look in front of the person he liked. After Edmund found out, his eyes lit up immediately, clearly showing an expression of "Finally, it's my turn to control you," but he restrained himself. Alex terminated the lease of No. 7 Riverbay Road and instead rented a single room on the upper floor of the gym, which was closer to the workplace. He no longer needed to shuttle back and forth on the electric scooter and could be with Edmund at any time.

    As for Geoff, he made an appointment for his mother's surgery at the hospital, and thanks to Vincent's connections, they quickly obtained a schedule. The surgery was very successful, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Geoff arranged for his mother to live in River South District. The rented house now accommodated four adults and a baby, but it was still quite spacious. The current rent was completely affordable with his salary.

    His mother had to settle down in River East after learning the truth. Meanwhile, Jason's divorced mother also hoped to live with her only homosexual son. Two mothers, two sons, and a baby formed a strange family-like arrangement. Mrs Shen took care of Geoff's mother and Maggie, and Geoff was responsible for encouraging his nephew to study hard and work towards his dream university.

    Geoff also terminated the lease of No. 7 Riverbay Road. After all, his mother needed him, and he had to take responsibility for taking care of her and keeping her company. He couldn't let her live alone in the countryside anymore. That day, he packed up the rented house in River South and did a thorough cleaning. He sorted out old items sent from his hometown and saw a photo of him and his parents on vacation at a hot spring hotel. His older brother was there, and his father was there too. He was only seven years old, and his mother was still young and beautiful, but now she had aged with white hair.

    "Uncle." Jason accidentally saw it and asked, "Who is this?"

    Geoff didn't answer and put away the photo.

    As the final notes of departure sounded, the guys proposed to gather one more time.

    This time, it was to celebrate Vincent's birthday. Vincent is a Pisces, the last sign of the zodiac, embodying all the strengths and weaknesses of the twelve signs. Although he would hardly admit it.

    "How's the company?" Vincent asked.

    Shawn drove the new Mercedes his wife bought for him, cleared his debts, and became the ultimate freeloader. He focused on the road ahead and asked, "Everything goes well."

    Previously, Vincent was most worried about hurting Shawn's self-esteem. He thought that once Shawn knew how much money he had, his attitude towards him would subtly change. He had prepared various plans to "correct" both of their perceptions, similar to Mrs Shen's attempts to "correct" homosexuality. Of course, the main focus was on "correcting" Shawn's perception.

    But he never expected that it wasn't the case at all—Shawn's perception developed at an astonishing speed, and he accepted it without any psychological burden. Moreover, Shawn consciously made adjustments. He seamlessly transitioned from playing the role of a "husband" to a "knight". One day, after they made love in bed, he said to Vincent, "You are my prince, Vincent, and I will always protect you."

    Vincent suddenly remembered that Shawn had mentioned his sexual preference was to be a "protective knight". He had accidentally overlooked such a two-dimensional fetish back then!

    Sometimes Shawn would also say, "I admire you, my wife. You are not only professional but also lucky."

    Vincent felt extremely satisfied hearing those words. It felt completely different to be admired by a submissive partner compared to being admired by a dominant partner.

    But Shawn also believed that life was not a role-playing game. There was no need to pretend to be someone or play a certain role. After all, compared to losing Vincent and repaying a debt until the age of sixty, anything else would be not a problem at all.

    "The preparations for the new company are going smoothly. I have already taken over most of Patrick's clients," Shawn said as he pressed the elevator button, speaking to Vincent.

    Vincent had planned to acquire the shares of another shareholder in the original company, allowing Shawn to have more than 51% ownership. Although it wouldn't push out Patrick, it would make him feel disgusted. If things got bad enough, Patrick would resign in a fit of rage. But Shawn didn't think it was necessary. He valued his time and would rather register a completely new company. He was prepared to sell the house he had already paid off in a few months and use the money as startup capital to open a new company. Once he resolved the issues of funding and shares, he would have no more worries and would be confident about the future.

    Shawn kissed Vincent again and said, "Little Prince, happy birthday. Message me when the party is over." Vincent kissed him back and then turned to enter the restaurant.

    It was a very famous hot pot restaurant. Whenever a guest celebrated their birthday, the staff would come rushing with light-up signs, singing and dancing vigorously, despite their tired bodies after a day of work. It was quite embarrassing. Vincent had mentally prepared himself to be teased when he heard that they would be eating at this hot pot restaurant.

    His roommates had all arrived. When they saw Vincent approaching, they all greeted him with a cheerful "Hey!" Oscar was ordering the food, and Alex said, "You didn't come back last night again! Tell us! Where did you go! Confess!"

    "Wait, you didn't come back either, and you're accusing me?" Vincent immediately retorted.

    "But how did you know?" Vincent said, "You went back to Riverbay Road last night?"

    Geoff, Alex, and Kevin hadn't spent the night at home either, and Oscar raised his hand with a smile.

    "What about Shawn?" Geoff asked.

    "He's eating downstairs," Vincent replied. "He said he couldn't come up."

    Geoff nodded and asked, "He should be planning a separate birthday celebration for you."

    Vincent smiled and said, "I don't know."

    Nobody asked Vincent about the argument between him and Shawn, but they all knew that Vincent had forgiven Shawn. It was also because of that argument that Geoff realized their relationship wasn't just a casual fling as he had thought. They were truly in love.

    Fortunately, that day Geoff didn't listen to others' instigation to confess his feelings recklessly.

    "Have you finished moving your stuff?" Vincent asked Kevin.

    "Yep, all done," Kevin replied. "Oscar is going back to get some boxes later, and I'll accompany him."

    "I'm going back to my hometown for a while," Oscar said. "I'll leave tonight, taking the overnight bus and then a flight from Longsea. Don't bother coming to see me off."

    "No one was planning to see you off," Geoff laughed. "Don't be so presumptuous."

    Everyone laughed along, and Oscar ordered a lot of food. After all, five grown men had quite an appetite. Alex also ordered some alcohol, and they clinked glasses and made a ruckus, but no one mentioned their impending separation.

    Vincent had a lot of things he wanted to say, but every time he brought up a certain topic, they would do their best to change the subject forcefully.

    "I've kept all the rooms at No. 7 Riverbay Road..." Vincent began.

    "Actually, I'm really curious," Geoff interrupted before Vincent could finish. "What's in that room that's always locked?"

    "Don't tell me it's a horror story!" Kevin's face immediately changed.

    "No, it's not!" Vincent, slightly tipsy, desperately explained, "Listen to me, everyone."

    "What's in there are the memorial photos of my grandparents," Vincent said. "No. 7 Riverbay Road is the inheritance they left me..."

    "I knew it!" Alex exclaimed. "Let's drink! Cheers!"

    "Let me finish..." Vincent said. "I'm getting upset! It's my birthday today, shouldn't you all listen to me?"

    Everyone fell silent. Vincent took a deep breath and said, "Actually... this house is mine. I need to apologize! I've been lying to all of you for a long time, and I'm truly sorry."

    "It's okay!" everyone said, laughing one after another.

    "I should be thanking you!" Kevin said. "If it wasn't for you, I would've ended up sleeping under a bridge..."

    "Let's drink!" Oscar laughed.

    "Let me finish!" Vincent said loudly, feeling sad.

    The atmosphere at the table quieted down again.

    "At first," Vincent said, "I did something stupid. I can't write novels, so I wanted to find a few people who would be willing to rent my house so I could observe them and use them as material. I never told you all about it. I was despicable."

    "What are you talking about?!" Geoff couldn't help but laugh. "Do you even know what you're saying?"

    Everyone laughed uncontrollably. Oscar said, "Isn't observing people as material necessary for creating? Even if you don't observe us, you would still observe others. What's the problem with that?"

    "Will you write me into your book?" Kevin, on the other hand, was concerned about something else. "Wow! Oh my god! Will I become a character prototype? Will it be made into a drama?"

    Vincent felt helpless and said, "I... I'm still trying to write, hoping that one day I can produce good literary works."

    "You definitely can!" Alex said.

    "Yes," Geoff said, "You will definitely succeed, Vincent. You are the best."

    "When you write about embarrassing things, give me a pseudonym or blur my identity," Kevin said.

    "I won't write like that. What should I say? It's all your fault for causing so much trouble! Now I've forgotten everything!" Vincent replied.

    "After it's published, you have to give each of us a copy, and it has to be signed," Alex said.

    "Okay, okay," Vincent, no longer irritated, replied, "I promise. And you can come back anytime, whenever you want to stay. You can also bring anyone to spend the night. No. 7 Riverbay Road will always be your, no, it will always be our home."

    After saying these words, the atmosphere suddenly quieted down again.

    No one said anything. Oscar poured a drink for Alex, his hand trembling uncontrollably. Alex coughed a couple of times and rubbed his eyes forcefully. Kevin held his cup against his forehead, remaining silent.

    Geoff's eyes instantly turned red. He looked at Vincent, then got up and left the private room, heading somewhere unknown.

    After Alex's melancholic mood passed, he said, "I won't drink anymore after finishing this bottle!"

    Just as Vincent was about to say "okay," Geoff entered the room again, holding a towel. It was clear that he had gone to wipe his face. He sat down, then immediately stood up and casually turned off the lights. In the pitch darkness, the birthday cake entered, carried by the staff, with candles lit.

    Vincent exclaimed, "Oh my god! How embarrassing! Help me!"

    The light boards were in position, and the rhythmic birthday song began. The staff didn't waste any time and placed a hat on Vincent's head, signaling "three, two, one" with their hands.

    It was Vincent's first time celebrating his birthday here, while the others quickly took out their phones to start recording, determined to capture the moment Vincent was socially overwhelmed.

    "It's your birthday today! Sending you my blessings! On this special day! With a brilliant smile!"

    "Sing a birthday song! We love each other! Wishing you health and safety!"

    The climax of the song arrived.

    "Say goodbye to all the troubles—"

    "Say hi to all the joys!"

    Vincent: "............"

    Everyone enjoyed the spectacle and joined in singing together, "Dear! Dear! Happy birthday! Every day is wonderful!"

    "Do we have to finish the whole song?" Vincent said, "Why is this song so long?"

    Finally, the long birthday song came to an end. Vincent let out a sigh of relief and started making a wish.

    On this birthday, his wish was that everyone here, including Shawn who wasn't present, would gather again at No. 7 Riverbay Road someday and that when that time comes, each person would bring their own stories.

    Vincent blew out the candles, and Geoff turned on the lights again. The sudden brightness made everyone squint, and there were still traces of tears on the faces of each roommate.

    Shawn parked the car outside the mall and waited, then he came to pick up Vincent and greeted the others. He knew that everyone would get drunk tonight, and as expected, they did.

    Vincent hugged each of them one last time. After tonight, although they would still be in River East, they wouldn't see each other every day anymore. Oscar would also be going overseas, and Vincent held onto him the longest, finally releasing each other slowly.

    "Take care of yourself out there," Vincent whispered. "If you run out of money, just give me a call."

    Oscar said, "Of course!"

    Everyone burst into laughter again, and Vincent asked, "How are you guys getting back?"

    "Kevin and I will take the subway," said Oscar, standing beside him.

    "I'll take a taxi," Geoff replied.

    "I'll ride my scooter," Alex said, putting on his helmet. "Vincent, Shawn, you go ahead."

    Vincent turned around, facing away from them, and walked towards Shawn. One step, two steps. After a short distance, he opened the passenger door of the Mercedes-Benz and got in.

    "We're leaving," Shawn said. "All good things must come to an end. Take care, everyone."

    Alex asked, "Aren't you coming back to Riverbay Road tonight?"

    Shawn shook his head and said, "No, I'm taking him to my place. Tomorrow happens to be moving day. He said he couldn't handle going back home, too sentimental."

    One by one, they patted Shawn on the back and said their goodbyes. Shawn also got into the car and fastened his seat-belt. Vincent sat silently in the passenger seat.

    Shawn looked back, and Alex, Geoff, Kevin, and Oscar were still standing by the roadside, watching them leave.

    Shawn rolled down the car window, and the night breeze blew in as he slowly drove the car away. The others urged Geoff, gesturing for him not to wait any longer.

    Geoff finally ran forward and stood still, shouting, "Vincent!"

    Vincent couldn't help but look back, and in that moment, he could no longer suppress the sadness in his heart. Tears flowed like a burst dam.

    "Be happy!" Geoff shouted. "I wish you eternal happiness, Vincent!"

    Alex, riding his electric bike, caught up first and shouted, "Thank you, Vincent! Be happy!"

    Kevin also started crying and shouted, "Vincent! Be happy!"

    Oscar exclaimed, "Thank you, Vincent! I wish you happiness and joy. You will definitely be happy!"

    Vincent pressed his fist against his nose, crying. He had coached many crying scenes before, but none of them felt as real as tonight. The furrowed brow, trembling lips... all lost their meaning. When true sadness arrived, he cried uncontrollably.

    Shawn stopped the car again and asked, "Do you want to get off?"

    "No, no, don't stop the car," Vincent choked. "Let's keep going."

    Vincent repeatedly looked back, his tears flowing messily. Shawn reached out and placed his hand on Vincent's hand, gradually calming him down.

    Parting, even though it is a normal part of life, always comes with a powerful force fighting against it. They formed a new family and were granted an exemption from the finality of parting. As long as they don't abandon each other, this force will protect them until the last moment of their lives. Even death cannot separate them.

    Shawn drove the car onto Riverbay Road, and the colorful lights illuminated their faces. Dreams flickered like fleeting lights, flying over the Gold Flowing River, carrying the fantasies and hopes of countless people in the city, spreading their wings towards the other side of the stars.

    - The End -
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2023 at 4:53 PM