Green Plum Island Ch5

It must be said: The Yan house is a lot more comfortable than Grandpa’s place. It’s air-conditioned, there are games, and countless piles of interesting books.

When I walked in the door, I noticed the lack of a wind chime hanging on the eaves of the house; it’s unclear whether Yan Kongshan forgot to hang it back up after the woman in the white dress came.

Yan Wanqiu is visibly more at ease here. She goes to the fridge and grabs two bottles of yoghurt, hands me one, then plants herself in front of the television and removes her prosthetic leg.

I don’t stare out of politeness, but internally, I wonder how she became as she is. Still, it’s hard not to think about it from her perspective: If someone I barely knew asked me about my accident and subsequent brain damage, even if I were fully recovered, I wouldn’t be too ecstatic about it.

 

 

Not to mention, I keep entertaining impure thoughts about her dad.

Mario is a time sucker; we’re unstoppable as a team, and before I know it, we’ve beat three or four stages and an entire afternoon has gone by.

“Geez, I can’t beat this one. I can’t get through it,” Yan Wanqiu says exasperatedly, her eyes reddening with frustration.

 

The game is half over and we’re about to enter a new stage, but she can’t manoeuvre this part and we’re struggling to beat the boss. Just when I’m about to tell her that maybe we should take a break and try again tomorrow, a key turns in a lock outside the room. A second later, Yan Kongshan enters the house, stopping in confusion when he sees me.

The sparrow in my heart starts to beat its wings again. I hold it down, telling it to stop, that otherwise the man will take me for some kind of pervert and put up his guard around me.

“Playing a game?” Yan Kongshan hangs his keys in the entryway and comes to join us.

 

My hands tighten around the game controller. “Sorry for intruding,” I say quietly, afraid to look him in the face.

“Ah Shan, I can’t beat this, help me!” Yan Wanqiu pleads.

“Why are you always playing games?” is what he responds, but nevertheless, he accepts the controller she hands over to him.

“I’m a little kid, all little kids are like this,” Yan Wanqiu retorts easily. “We’re all gaming addicts.”

Yan Kongshan grins, maneuvering her character to join mine on the screen. “I was wondering why you didn’t want to go into the city with me today, but turns out you just wanted to manipulate this little gege here into playing games with you.”

Instinct makes me want to correct him, but at the same time, I have no idea what Yan Wanqiu is supposed to call me besides gege.

Uncle?

That doesn’t sound right.

“It’s your fault for not playing with me,” Yan Wanqiu says, smoothly acknowledging her scheming, “it’s more fun when there are two players.”

The air conditioner in their house is blasting on full power, a million times more effective than the old electric fan in my room, but one round against the boss leaves my entire back soaked in sweat.

It’s difficult to sit at ease next to someone you’re crushing on. The desire to look my best in every possible moment in order to leave a good impression has me hyperaware of myself, all senses alert.

I don’t speak while we play. From the side, Yan Wanqiu chatters away, and every once in a while Yan Kongshan replies, but for the most part he is silent as well.

Sweat accumulates in my palms, causing my controller to slip frequently. When the boss is finally beaten, I put it down and let out a long exhale as I wipe the sweat off my forehead with the back of my hands.

Yan Kongshan puts down his controller as well, amidst Yan Wanqiu’s triumphant hollering.

 

“I can finally go pee! I’ve been holding it for so long.” The girl puts on her prosthetic, then walks briskly towards the bathroom.

With just me and Yan Kongshan left in the living room, silence descends, and it’s pleasant, but I start searching for things to say to prevent the atmosphere from getting awkward.

 

I pick at the nail of my thumb. It starts to feel hot again. “Sounds interesting.”

His mood value wasn’t very high when he came in, and it only rose a tad while we were gaming. Now, while talking about the city, it drops. I suspect that he experienced something unpleasant while he was on his trip.

“You seem to be really bothered by the heat,” he says, his gaze landing on my forehead. Right as he speaks, a drop of sweat plops down from a strand of my hair.

“Too much yang, I guess,” I answer, letting out an embarrassed laugh and wiping the sweat off my face.

But no, it’s not that. Rather, it’s the hot-blooded virility of youth. I know without even looking into a mirror that my mood index is a blinding yellow right now.

Yan Kongshan gets up and goes to the fridge to grab an iced Coke for me.

“Thanks.” I try to open the bottle, but my hands are too wet and keep slipping on the cap.

I’m still pondering whether to try opening it with my shirt when a large hand reaches over from the side and takes the Coke from my hands, twists it open, then hands it back to me.

I cradle the bottle in my hands dazedly. Yan Kongshan’s knack for demonstrating what amazing boyfriend material he is at the most opportune moments makes my head spin; he’s a pro. I thank him again and raise my head to gulp down a large mouthful of Coke. All the while, I wrack my brains searching for a new topic to talk about.

“You have a lot of books…” I glimpse a mountain of books nearby and an idea strikes me: “Can I take a look?”

The other man’s gaze sweeps across the chaotic state of his house. “If you’re interested, you can borrow what you like,” he says easily.

“Really?” I’m ecstatic, and blurt out another request in succession, “Can I… read over here? We have no air-con at home, it’s too hot.”

Love, by nature, tends to be a gamble. Different choices lead to different outcomes; each choice plays a part in determining whether you take a step forward or back. I don’t know whether my relationship with Yan Kongshan will benefit from my forwardness at this moment, but at the very least, I’ve caught an opportunity to interact with him more.

Clearly, my unexpected request takes Yan Kongshan by surprise, because for a moment he doesn’t respond.

“If not then…” I lower my eyes.

“I’m only home at night, would 8 p.m. or later work?”

 

Poor gamblers are all unskilled in their own ways; successful gamblers are, at the very least, all bold. I’m shaken, so overjoyed that I could jump up and break into jubilant dancing this very second, but I get a hold of my emotions so as not to appear overly enthusiastic.

“Of course!” But as the impromptu excitement fades, I raise my head, suddenly hesitant. “I won’t bother you, will I?”

The Coke bottle is ice cold in my hands. Icy droplets of condensation trail down my fingers and fall onto my legs, making my toes curl instinctively.

“Hmm?” The man lets out a low, nasal hum of inquiry.

“I mean…” I cough, then mutter, “The wind chime.” I regret the words as soon as they come out of my mouth. I shouldn’t have brought it up, it was an invasion of privacy. We aren’t even remotely close acquaintances, my not-so-subtle reminder was out of line.

As anticipated, Yan Kongshan’s mood index value falls slightly and its colour shifts slowly from white to red, informing me of his displeasure at having had his privacy violated.

A half-smile lingers around his lips. “Don’t worry, I’m not in the mood lately. I won’t be hanging it up.” After a moment, he adds, “You seem privy to a lot.”

I curl my toes even tighter, so much so that my feet are on the verge of spasming. Goodness, I’d managed to step on a landmine, front and centre.

Why is it that there is no refresh tool in life? That way, I could pounce on the man before me, eat him up, then click refresh. It’d be considered my life’s first “winner winner, chicken dinner” moment.

Then my eyes sweep across Yan Kongshan’s muscular arms and I sigh internally because his figure is no joke. As soon as my claws landed on his buttocks, he’d be able to send me flying into the last file save within a second.

The man looks easy to get close to and he always seems to exude charisma in all manner of ways, but his tendency to keep himself at a distance, friendly but aloof, makes it hard to interact with him. Politeness is an essential façade in society, after all. A smiling face isn’t indicative of someone truly likes you. I should know this, yet nevertheless, I sink into the trap that is Yan Kongshan’s façade, giving it free rein over my state of being.

In the midst of my internal distress, Yan Wanqiu comes back from the bathroom, prompting me to leap up from my seat and bid the Yans a hasty farewell. “My grandpa should be home now, so I should go.”

“Huh? Already?” Yan Wanqiu asks, disappointed.

Gripping the Coke bottle in my hand, I smile and tell her, “I have to go home and eat too.”

Food is an important matter, leaving the little girl no choice but to forfeit and make a raincheck to game together some other time.

Yan Kongshan is silent as he escorts me out the door. I keep my head down. The sparrow in my heart is sobbing with its head burrowed in its wings.

It turns out that courting a person is difficult; I wonder briefly whether I should ask Sun Rui for advice. Although she breaks up easily, she falls into relationships quickly too.

“Goodbye.” I bid farewell to Yan Kongshan quietly, then start walking out with my head lowered, my spirits even lower. I’ve only taken a few steps when my neighbour’s voice rings out behind me.

“See you tonight.”

I start, my feet freeze mid-step. After a few beats, I turn around.

 

Tonight? He wants me to come back tonight?!

When I turn back to look, the numbers above Yan Kongshan’s head are no longer red, but a clear white.

So he was just angry for a bit and now he’s forgiven me? This person… He may not be so difficult to interact with after all.

I give him a wave, the sparrow in my heart coming back to life. “See you tonight!”

When I get home, Grandpa is already there. He doesn’t say anything about me spending the entire afternoon playing games, but the second his eyes land on the bottle of Coke I’m holding, he scurries over and leans in conspiratorially.

“Mian Mian, boys shouldn’t drink that stuff.”

I have no idea what he’s going on about. Why not? Because it’s fattening? Grandpa is avoiding my eyes and all of a sudden, I recall that there was a rumour out in the streets that Coke was damaging to a man’s virility or something ridiculous like that.

“Grandpa, it’s fine…”

He goes on, “I’m old, so it doesn’t matter anymore. Let me drink the rest of that, alright? You stop drinking it.”

Words fail me. Is it necessary for him to go to such lengths simply because he’s craving soda?

I hand him the Coke. “Don’t drink too much, you won’t have an appetite for dinner then,” I say wryly.

Grandpa doesn’t hear me at all. He takes the Coke from me, twists open the cap and takes a gulp of the beverage. His eyes nearly shut in pleasure. “The most glorious taste in the world!”

It’s just a bottle of Coke, I think. Nothing to be so dramatic about.

At dinner, I eat with tornado-like speed, then rush to take a shower and brush my teeth. It’s not until I’m satisfied that everything is perfect that I ring Yan Kongshan’s doorbell.

In the few hours that have passed, his mood index has recovered to a stable 76. A safe number, not too low and not too high.

I entertain Yan Wanqiu with a few games first while Yan Kongshan sits behind us, staring at his phone. When it’s the little girl’s bedtime, he ignores all her pleas to play a little longer and carries her into her bedroom.

There’s a pile of books next to the couch, so I browse through the titles until I land on a book titled Unsolved Mysteries of the World and settle into the plush three-person couch to read.

It doesn’t take Yan Kongshan long to put Yan Wanqiu to sleep, and he’s back after a short interlude. I expect him to sit for a while watching TV or to go off and attend to his own matters, but he simply grabs a book, goes to sit in a loveseat nearby, and starts reading.

I scrutinise the book cover, it’s a translated literary fiction hardcover.

The ambience and temperature of the room make for a perfect night of reading, but I don’t have the attention span in me to read right now. No unsolved mystery in the world is as enticing as the man before me; even the secret of the Bermuda triangle is inferior.

 

I keep my eye on him inconspicuously, unconsciously swallowing after a while. Dinner had made me full, yet hunger invades me once again. I lick my lips, then broach a safe topic: “Hey um… Brother, that employee of yours. What kind of girl does he like?”

It’s not as if I really came here just to read. I have to at least make some conversation.

Yan Kongshan raises his head from his book. “Employee?” he asks in confusion.

“I’m asking for my friend,” I explain.

Comprehension dawns on him as he recalls our conversation in his bookstore. “Oh, Wen Ying. What kind of girl does he like? I honestly don’t know, I’ll ask for you tomorrow.”

Our short exchange ends and he buries his head back into his book. I peer at his mood value, it’s still 76. I need to come up with something.

“Is your shop short on hands? Can I go help out there?” Anxiously, I add: “You let me read for free, I’ll work for you for free. Plus I never have anything to do and my grandpa hates when I laze around at home. It’s two birds with one stone.”

Yan Kongshan pauses in the middle of flipping a page. This time he raises his head all the way and knits his brows. “…You want to help out at my store?”

The early bird gets the worm; helping out at the store is just a front for courting you.

“Can I?” I put on an innocent puppy face. Usually, when I do this, Grandpa gives in.

Yan Kongshan watches me for a moment. He must find my expression amusing, because his mood value rises by two points, although he persists, “Can you maintain the habit of leaving the house at 8 a.m. every morning?”

I nod vigorously. “Yes!”

“Do you know how to organise stock and how to take care of customers?”

“I can learn!”

“Can you accept working without pay and without being able to take leave whenever you’re tired?”

“Yes!”

He nods. “Then you can start tomorrow.”

I’m overjoyed, and a bit shocked at how unexpectedly smooth our conversation went.

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