One cigarette later, Ji Ran pulled another one out. He didn’t want to return yet, firstly because he couldn’t be bothered to deal with his low-IQ aunt, and secondly… his heartbeat had yet to calm down.
He hadn’t intended to join in on their meal. He didn’t expect Ji Guo Zheng to drag out the thing he wanted to announce until now.
Just as he lit it, a familiar voice came from behind.
“Why aren’t you going in?”
The small flame on his lighter went out as he bit down a little forcefully. He turned back and replied, “I’m full. What did you come out for?”
Qin Man shut the door behind him and replied honestly, “They asked me too many questions. I had no choice but to come out.”
Towards the end, they even began asking about his ‘girlfriend’s’ name and family.
Qin Man lazily thought to himself… it wasn’t that he didn’t want to share, he was afraid that they’d receive a shock if he really told them.
Speaking of this, Ji Ran was silent for a second as the cigarette in his mouth swayed. “Didn’t I say you should go and be an actor? Any movie you choose will definitely be popular. With your talent, anything else you do is a waste.”
Qin Man smiled. “Will you be my backer?”
“I can’t afford to.” Ji Ran exhaled a mouthful of smoke and casually said, “Humans need to be realistic and take one step at a time. Do you understand this logic?”
“I really don’t.” Qin Man laughed shamelessly. “I just prefer to take shortcuts, otherwise, how could I end up with you?”
Ji Ran flicked away the ashes.
Fine. He couldn’t refute this statement.
“How did you know I was acting earlier?” Qin Man suddenly spoke. “What if I meant it?”
The smoke was flung into Ji Ran’s face, causing him to choke. He cut a sorry figure. “…What?”
Qin Man met his gaze with amusement, but did not say a word.
Ji Ran took a long time before he reacted and extinguished the strange thought that had arisen. Had he become too immersed in this act? It was already a great benevolence for Qin Man to not curse him in private.
“We had an agreement. You aren’t allowed to give laozi a green hat. If it’s true…” Ji Ran thought for a moment. “I’ll send ten wreaths to your wedding, each with a black and white picture. I’ll see who would dare marry you.”
“You’ll even send flowers?” Qin Man was amused. “You’re too good to me.”
Ji Ran bit the cigarette and glared at him.
Qin Man knew when to stop. “Alright… I was kidding.”
The sky gradually darkened as the lights began to flicker on.
The Ji Family’s old villa was situated in a prime location. Though it wasn’t tall, it overlooked a beautiful night view when evening fell.
Ji Ran propped his elbows on the stone slab and looked at the city ablaze with lights in front of him. He suddenly remembered staying a night at the Ji Family’s house before.
Back then, he had stood on the balcony, just like now. Tugging at the hem of his clothes, he watched Ji Wei and the other children play house.
But they didn’t allow him to join.
In the end, a chubby boy came forward and asked if he wanted to play.
Ji Ran’s eyes brightened as he agreed excitedly.
The boy said, “In that case, you can act as our dog!”
The children roared with laughter.
He clenched his fist silently as the children pointed at and scolded him with dirty words they learnt from adults.
“Back then, I was fighting with others.” The tranquility between them was a stark contrast to the laughter happening inside. Ji Ran suddenly spoke up, breaking the silence.
Qin Man nodded. “Did you win?”
“Bullshit. How could I lose?” Ji Ran put out the cigarette and turned to stare at him. “Why didn’t you ask why I was fighting?”
“The end is the most important.” Qin Man grinned before asking, “Why?”
Ji Ran naturally refused to tell him. “There’s no reason. I didn’t like them, so I beat them up.”
At that time, the caretaker had chalked it up to a minor brawl between children until Chubby’s face was given a bloody scratch. It was only then that she realised the severity of the situation.
Ji Ran was born with maxed out stats in fighting. Not to mention Chubby, even after he was surrounded by other children, he wasn’t at a disadvantage.
After it ended, Zhao Qing Tong seized him by the shoulder and bowed as she repeatedly apologised to Chubby’s parents.
The next day, they were kicked out.
At first, he felt guilty because he thought they were kicked out for fighting. Later on, he realised… no matter if he was in the right or wrong, if he did anything or not, their outcome wouldn’t have changed.
Ji Ran was lost in his thoughts until Qin Man reminded him. “Smoke.”
He lowered his head and flicked the ashes into the ashtray.
“Can I have one?”
“There’s no more.” Saying so, Ji Ran put the cigarette back into his mouth and inhaled. Then, he put it out.
He didn’t rush to release the smoke. With narrowed eyes, no one knew what he was thinking, but his gaze shook with every movement.
Qin Man stared at his side-profile. The light from above shone onto Ji Ran’s face, illuminating the distinct contours and warmth. His harsh temperament from before was completely gone.
His heart skipped and he suddenly spoke. “In that case, let me have a taste.”
Ji Ran looked at him in doubt.
Before he could ask, Qin Man had already lowered his head and pressed their lips together.
Qin Man used his tongue to pry his lips apart and delved right in.
Rigidly standing there, Ji Ran only came back to his senses when he felt a tongue lick his. He abruptly pushed the other man away.
“Are you crazy…” His ears had turned red and appeared extremely obvious under the light. “Are you so desperate for second-hand smoke?!”
His breath quickened as he jabbed a finger into Qin Man’s chest while warning, “Let me make this clear. We’re not dating, don’t get so close to me for no reason!”
Qin Man glanced from his peripheral vision and frowned. “Why? Am I bad at kissing?”
… What kind of strange reasoning was this?
“It’s not that,” Ji Ran paused, “moreover, don’t you know where this is? What if someone sees us?!”
Just in time, another voice came from the side, scaring Ji Ran into silence. The words he had planned to admonish Qin Man with were swallowed back down.
And how much did they hear?
He abruptly turned and saw Ji Wei standing by the door.
Ji Wei had gotten rid of his blazer, leaving only a white collared shirt. With an expression no different from normal, his tone carried a little reluctance. “…Dad wants you to go to the study.”
Ji Ran let out a breath. Judging from the other’s appearance, he shouldn’t have heard anything.
He sent a look of warning to Qin Man. “Wait here for me. We’ll go back after I’m done… I’ll send you back.”
Ji Ran picked up the ashtray and went in, brushing shoulders with Ji Wei as he passed. Not a single glance was spared.
Ji Wei inwardly sighed with relief. He gave a nod of acknowledgement to Qin Man and prepared to return.
“Wait.” Qin Man turned around, leaning against the balcony rails with a lazy smile. “Let’s talk.”
Ji Wei turned around with a forced smile. “Talk about what?”
“Just pretend you didn’t hear those words earlier, hmm?” Qin Man asked calmly.
Ji Wei took a deep breath.
Sure enough, Qin Man had noticed.
He had been standing behind the door for some time. He heard and witnessed everything, including their kiss.
After a moment of surprise, he realised… Qin Man should be the one flustered!
“You two…” A complicated expression clouded his face. “When did this begin?”
“Ji Ran said you two weren’t dating. What’s your relationship?”
Qin Man raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think I need to report to you.”
That’s right. This was more like Qin Man.
Who the hell was this guy, who looked infatuated with his first love at the table earlier?
Ji Wei’s brows furrowed. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll expose you?”
“I am.” Qin Man said, “Isn’t that why I’m planning to make a deal with you?”
“Help me keep this a secret.” Qin Man laughed, “In exchange… I will not leak the matter about you and Xu Lin.”
Ji Wei’s last shred of composure completely crumbled.
His head shot to the side to ensure no one else was around before releasing a breath.
How did Qin Man know about him and Xu Lin?
Qin Man straightened his back. “Don’t be nervous. I’ll help you keep this secret as long as you don’t mention it, and stop making things difficult for Ji Ran.”
Ji Wei continued to stand on the spot, not daring to make any careless remarks.
Xu Lin and he… only crossed each other once. Afterwards, their relationship was purely a relationship between a boss and his subordinate. At most, there was only some tension and ambiguity. Later on, Xu Lin was transferred away and they hardly saw each other, let alone do anything else.
Did Qin Man know something, or was he here to test him?
“Last Christmas.” Qin Man slowly interrupted his train of thoughts.
Ji Wei’s last bit of wishful thinking was completely dashed.
It was last Christmas when he and Xu Lin crossed boundaries.
His expression sank. “… Got it.”
Qin Man nodded in satisfaction and intended to leave.
Ji Wei suddenly asked, “What are you planning?”
Qin Man’s footsteps halted. “What?”
“What are you planning to do by staying beside Ji Ran?” Ji Wei frowned. “Although his surname is also Ji, he has no power in our family. If you intend to use him to get into our company to…”
Qin Man laughed. “Don’t think too much. I have no interest in your company.”
“If so, why…” Ji Wei couldn’t understand him at all. “He often messed with you back in school, didn’t he? Are you planning to get revenge?”
“If I said yes, would you advise me to stop?”
Ji Wei was silent for a moment. “Know when to stop. Ji Ran doesn’t have a good temper. If you really provoked him… he might really do something.”
“He won’t.” Qin Man interrupted him, “He’s much better than you think.”
Ji Wei: “…”
Qin Man took a step forward and gave his shoulders a pat. “In reality, there are many things that are the adults’ fault. No one should suffer on their behalf. Only cowards do things like taking their anger out on others.”
“Of course, I’m just casually saying this.” His voice turned faint. “Remember our promise. Don’t give him trouble.”
“Brother!” Ji Tang ran over and opened the balcony door. “They’re telling you to go in…”
Her gaze flitted over to Qin Man and her voice unconsciously became softer. “Ah, Brother Qin Man is also here. Just in time, let’s go in together?”
Before Ji Tang could finish, Ji Wei had already grasped her hand.
“I’m going. Let’s go.”
Ji Tang took a step and turned back to see Qin Man with a faint smile. She was somewhat reluctant. “But…”
She was still dragged away.
“Brother, what’s with you? I- I wanted to talk with Qin Man. And there was no one else on the balcony…” She said angrily.
Ji Wei put a stop to her thoughts. “In the future, don’t think of Qin Man any more.”
Ji Tang’s eyes widened. “But why…”
“No reason.” Ji Wei drank some water, feeling vexed. “In any case, stop bothering with him.”
At first, he thought Qin Man’s personality had changed due to his family’s circumstances.
However, he later realised this person was still the same as before. Cold and black-bellied with a heart full of schemes. Anyone who got close to him would be cleanly eaten. In some cases, they would even season themselves first.
For people like him, it was best to stay as far away from them as possible.