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Other than three new phone numbers in his contact list, the meeting with Granny Zeng did not seem to cause much change in Gu Yu’s daily life, if there was any at all.

The Zeng siblings had work to attend to and returned to Shengtian on the following day. The two of them thought alike, both intending to befriend Gu Yu. However, there was a subtle difference for Zeng Yuewei, who had suffered humiliation from the Fresh Petal Incense and she had been holding some grudge ever since. It turned out she had no one to vent her anger on now, for the old lady thought of Gu Yu highly.

As the saying went, the same food could bring up all sorts of different people. The siblings had both the talent and intelligence to achieve great things, but were at the same time quite narrow-minded. Comparing to Granny Zeng’s generosity and broad vision, they still had a long way to go.



As for Gu Yu, he was greatly impressed by Granny Zeng during their meeting. Now that the old lady was asking for an incense, he would naturally put his heart and soul into it.

The old lady was used to burning expensive incense and now wanted something creative and interesting which would at the same be appropriate for her age. He turned it over in his mind and eventually came up with one. The only problem was that the chief ingredient was hard to come by, at least not within the boundaries of Bai Town.

That same evening, Phoenix Mountain.

Gu Yu put away his stall and said goodbye to the squirrel as usual. Brother Fatty seemed very busy these days and no longer crouched up in the tree to "run scams" with him. It would disappear and reappear now and then, acting in the most mysterious manner.

He was incredibly curious. Unfortunately, the two of them could not communicate, which very much frustrated Gu Yu. He had even come up with ridiculous ideas such as teaching the squirrel to read and write.

"Bye bye, Brother Fatty!"

"Coo, coo!"

The squirrel squeaked and did not dawdle around as usual. It scurried up the tree and disappeared in a few jumps.

"..."

Gu Yu’s mouth twitched and he walked down the mountain, carrying a shoulder pole on his shoulder. He himself was actually in a hurry as well for it had been half a month since he made those Wake-up Incense sticks and they were ready to be taken out of the cellar today. He was eager to get home and examine the product.

The way back home was uneventful and he soon reached Phoenix Fair. It was almost dinner time. Smoke was curling up from kitchen chimneys as pots and pans clanked and jangled in every home. Each family was creating its own aroma of food.

He was still cycling when he suddenly slowed down, for two figures were blocking the way to the alley in front. One of them was Fang Qing, and the other was a guy of her age. The two seemed to be arguing.

Fang Qing had a reluctant look on her face. The boy wanted to grab her hand but was shaken off. Gu Yu frowned and called out, "Qing Qing!"

"Brother!"

The girl looked up and ran to him as if she had discovered her savior. She asked with a smile, "You’re back! How was business today?"

"Who’s that?" He did not answer her question, but pointed at the boy.

"He is, he’s my classmate… Hey, don’t mind him. Let’s go home!"

Fang Qing propped herself up the three-wheeler and sat on the edge of the cargo. She had guilty written all over her face and was obviously hiding something. The boy was unwilling to let go. He even ran after them for a short distance, but was not brave enough to speak up all this time.

After cycling for a short while, Gu Yu asked, "What’s going on between you two?"

"What? Nothing!"

"Qing Qing, does your big brother look like an idiot? What on earth is going on?" He pressed on.

The young girl lowered her head and replied in a timid tone after a long pause. "If, if I tell you, you have to promise me not to tell my mum."

"..."

He wouldn’t even dignify that request with an answer.

Fang Qing pursed her lips and went on. "His name is Lin Junlong and is not doing well at school either. He has a relative in Shengtian and we‘ve agreed to go there together to find job if neither of us gets into high school…"

"That’s bullshit! What job does a fifteen-year-old girl like you can find?"

The idea irritated Gu Yu. He then asked, "What was that all about, then? All the grabbing and struggling?"

"I, I regretted and didn’t want to go any more. He came to look for me…" She lowered her head even further and kept fiddling with her fingers.

"Why did you regret?" He was curious.

"I don’t want to leave my mum," the girl replied.

Whatever!

Gu Yu couldn’t figure out whether he should be angry or amused at the answer. He resigned to persuading her, "Stop thinking about all that stuff. The most important thing for you now is to study. The exams haven’t even started yet and you already think you’ll fail?"

"You’ve seen all my lousy exam papers… I would like to go to high school, if my grades are good enough… My family doesn’t have much money…"

Fang Qing rambled on and they reached her home before long. She jumped down from the cargo swiftly and stressed, "Brother, please don’t tell my mum! Please!"

"Fine, fine. I won’t tell her. Promise!"

He waved her goodbye and cycled away after seeing the girl enter her house.

There was nothing he could do. Other shortcomings might be compensated for with other things, but not grades. The high school entrance examination was only half a month away.

The incident had spoiled Gu Yu’s mood completely. He walked into the yard with languid steps and lifted the trapdoor to the cellar with a clanking sound. In no time, he came up holding two trays in his hands.

He then took them into his workroom and examined carefully under the lamplight.

After cellaring, the color of the sticks faded a bit, turning from dark brown to a lighter shade. The sixty Wake-up Incense sticks were made in two batches. The first was of the same standard as before, while the second was of a striking quality.

The main ingredient of incense sticks was wood powder, therefore the finished product would usually have a texture resembling rough pores. However, it was not the case with this batch, which did not have that dryness, but felt like those Pocky chocolate biscuit sticks with a slightly varnished look.

He couldn’t help but scratch it with his finger. With a single stroke, he found the stick compact and smoothly patterned. There was a wonderful suppleness about it.

"Well, well!"

Looking at these thirty sticks, Gu Yu felt that incense-making had never been so fulfilling. He fought back the impulse of lighting up a cigarette and put all sticks in two separate boxes. He then checked the time. It was twenty past six in the evening.

"I think she should be off duty now…"

He returned to the east wing and slouched on the brick bed. Taking out his cell phone, he started typing right away. "The Wake-up Incense is ready. I’ll have it delivered first thing tomorrow morning…"

After those words, he suddenly paused and deleted the second sentence with a vexed look on his face.

He discovered that incense forum about a year ago and started to get involved. It was also around the same time that the name Xiaozhai began to show up from time to time.

She had some very insightful points on incense-making and the discussion would attract Gu Yu’s attention every now and then. The two gradually became friends.

They weren’t exactly acquaintances and could only be counted as ordinary internet pals. It was not until recently when he asked her for her name and address to send her the Wake-up Incense that they became more "familiar" with each other.

Engage in conversation when needed, remain invisible when nothing happened and send group greeting messages when festivals arrived—that pretty much concluded their contacts.

Xiaozhai did not leave him with much impression, only that the way she typed showed strong personality. He also noticed she was very efficient in handling business. He did not think much of it before, but tomorrow he was going to a market in Shengtian to purchase some materials, so...

Should he meet up with her?

Gu Yu pondered for a few moment and quickly typed on his cell phone. "It just so happens that I’ll be in Shengtian tomorrow. If you are available, I can bring you the incense."

He sent the message and tossed the cell phone aside, waiting in a half-anxious, half-calm state.

It felt like forever before the phone dinged. The reply read, "Was that your pick-up line? (smile)(smile)"

"..."

Gu Yu’s mouth twitched. That girl had the most unpredictable train of thought in the world. He replied at once. "Come on! It’s just that I’m going to the medicine material market tomorrow and can bring you the stuff in passing."

"Fine."

She sent a rabbit emoji with a pity face and added, "I was just thinking what ruse would you use, if you ever have to make up an excuse."

"And?"

"And nothing. Judging from your lack of youthful vigour and the occasional inexplicit showiness, you should put it out directly as, ‘Xiaozhai, since we’ve known each other for so long, let meet in person. Ho ho ho…"

He sniggered.

He broke into a laughter and replied, "Am I really that stupid? Luckily, you don’t have to figure that out now."

"Not necessarily. I still have to come up with a reason to refuse you. Give me three seconds."

What?

Unconsciously, Gu Yu turned to look at the clock as the mechanical second hand ticked once, twice, three times...

Almost instantaneously, a message showed up on his phone:

"I can’t think of any. (sad) (sad) (sad)"

Damn it!

He was being played!

The trick had completely baffled Gu Yu and he did not know how to respond for quite a while. That was an outrage! Stop talking about my "pick-up line". You were so familiar with you own!

Generally speaking, when girls were asked to go out for the first time, they would show some reservation even if they were more than willing to say yes.

Most girls would evade the invitation with a few pleasantries and then accept with some pretended shyness. The intellectual type would remind guys tactfully, saying things such as the weather would be good the day after tomorrow, I would probably need to wash my hair, and white shirts were my favourite. The unsophisticated girls would respond in a carefree way, stressing things like certain restaurant had the best spicy pot. [1]

All the types above were easy to handle. The experienced and sophisticated girls were the most baffling ones. Guys planned to lead the way and posed as someone special, yet they would end up realizing the girls were already way ahead of them.

That was so frustrating! Totally!

Luckily, Gu Yu was not intending to impress Xiaozhai with any trick and only found the girl interesting. Since he did not know what she looked like, he was looking forward to the meeting, being somewhat curious.

They soon decided on the time and place for their meeting and ended the conversation. Gu Yu then packed his stuff and was ready to go to the provincial city the next day.

[1] ED/N: What we put as "intellectual type" referred to girls interested in or working with art and literature, which probably is supposed to give the impression of them being culturally refined… doesn’t make much sense in the West so I went with the closest thing I could think of.

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