Granny Zeng spent half of her lifetime engaging in fierce business wars and had made quite a few enemies. Of course, she had also made some intimate friends, among whom were real estate developers, industrialists and financiers. They were all similar in age to Granny Zeng and the majority of them had likewise taken a back seat, handing their businesses to the next generation.
Some time after their retirement, they made it a thing to get together every six months, taking turns to host the gatherings. These old friends would take the opportunity to chat over tea as well as exchange some inside information.
After several years, this alliance became well-known among the various cliques and could even influence the trends of certain industries. This summer, it happened to be the Zeng family’s turn to be the host.
The siblings were well aware of the coming event and realized from Granny Zeng’s expression that she was going to show the incense at the Summer Tea Party. The two were immediately growing covetous, for all families had plans for their future generations and one of the goals behind the gathering was to provide an opportunity for the junior members to built their own network.
However, the old lady had not given the green light to them since they started working in the family enterprise and they had not attended any of these gatherings yet.
Gu Yu obviously had no idea of these arrangements. He simply made the incense as required by the customers and gave little thought to everything else, considering what they would do with it their own business. However, once the old lady had made up her mind, she became all childish and started beating around the bush. "Xiao Gu, are you going to make burning incense or perfumed sachets?"
"Burning incense sticks?"
"No, I’m making incense pills to burn in censers."
"So, so this incense…"
He had no choice but replied, "Granny Zeng, you’re an expert yourself. An incense should be appraised at the scene. If I tell you in advance, what’s the point of savoring the actual thing?"
"Right, right. I ask too much."
The old lady realized she was being impatient and poured some wine for Gu Yu herself. "Here, I’ll toast you. Thank you in advance for the incense."
"You flatter me! I do not deserve the honor!"
He stood up hastily and clinked Granny Zeng’s glass with a bow.
Just then, Zeng Yuewei’s phone vibrated. Her countenance changed slightly after glancing at the number. She then stood up and said, "Excuse me, I have to take this call."
With that, she walked out of the dining hall and ran to a corner of the living room.
The other two at the table did not pay much attention, but Gu Yu’s chopsticks froze in midair. He had been working hard on the method of consuming essences, which had significantly enhanced his senses and mental faculties. As a result, he was picking up Zeng Yuewei’s intermittent voice from the other room.
"Hello, Brother Tian… I’m having dinner with my granny…"
"Haha, stop making fun of me, Brother Tian. How could I possibly…"
"He Tian! I’m trying to do business with you, not selling myself to you!"
A few lines into the conversation, her voice became high-pitched all of a sudden, taking Gu Yu by surprise. By the sound of it, some undisguised sexual harassment was going on over the phone. If someone went over now, they would discover Zeng Yuewei scarlet with rage, trying hard to fight back the anger in her voice.
The man on the other side of the phone was still bantering in a mocking tone. "That was an outrageous statement, Wei Wei. I would never force a woman. She has to come to me willingly, or it would ruin the mood."
"Then what on earth do you want?" She growled.
"Nothing. I’m just letting you know that I’ve already had the clothes sent to you and I’m picking you up in the morning, the day after tomorrow. Be sure to wear it."
Before she could respond, he went on, "Come to think of it, you’re perfect for the occasion. Isn’t your old granny an incense collector? That friend of mine is really into it these days as well and has gone through the trouble to hold an agarwood exhibition with all sorts of raw materials. You know more than I do in this field and of course I’m picking you as my girl… well, that’s it for now. I’ll see you then."
He Tian hung up the phone.
Zeng Yuewei clenched her fists and puffed. His words implied that, sooner or later, she would willingly crawl onto his bed.
She stifled her emotions and returned to her normal self by the time she returned to the dinner table, all chatty and jolly. Gu Yu would glance her way every now and then, though. He knew the way he pried into her private business was very improper and was feeling apologetic and sympathetic at the same time.
One might appear all glamorous, yet actually, everyone had their difficult moments.
The dinner finished just after 8:00 pm and Gu Yu took his leave, not staying longer. The old lady asked Zeng Yuewei to drive him back again, looking as if she was brooding over some new ideas.
Hence, the two were in that small race car again.
The journey back was a bit dull. Despite her efforts to try to find new topics, the anxiety in her eyes was only growing more prominent, making Gu Yu rather embarrassed. The two did not know each other well enough to let Gu Yu pity her. Yet knowing the position she was in right now, Gu Yu still found it awkward to be around her.
"I’ll drop you off here. Thank you for coming today."
When they got to Phoenix Fair, Zeng Yuewei stayed in the car and gave Gu Yu a slight wave of her hand. He smiled and got off, still seeing that dejection on her face out of the corner of his eye.
He walked a few steps into the alley and turned back all of a sudden, then knocked at the car window. She scrolled it down and leaned out in surprise. "What is it?"
"I just want to ask, are you alright?"
Zeng Yuewei flinched, feeling surprised and confused at the question, as if those eyes had seen through her completely. She paused and smiled, "I’m fine. A bit tired and absent-minded, that’s all."
"Ok, I’m going home then. Bye bye."
Gu Yu also gave her a wave and disappeared slowly into that dim alley.
The moon had risen to the middle of the sky and not a sound could be heard in the yard.
Gu Yu was not consuming essences tonight, but was organizing some of his recent discoveries. The so-called ‘essence of Hangxie’ was the mist found at midnight. Although Phoenix Fair didn’t really have a nightlife, this was still a densely populated area. He could slip by with only a couple of cultivating sessions, but breathing vapor in and out in the yard everyday would almost certainly expose him, sooner or later.
Therefore, he had given up cultivating at this hour for the time being and stuck to the absorption of essences during early morning, midday and evening.
As for now, he was silently uttering the conjuring verse and concentrating the spiritual essence in his body into his right index finger. He then pointed that finger forward.
A subtle fluctuation suddenly emerged, similar to white milk being added to black coffee, carrying along a flow of air in a smooth manner, creating a breeze.
About two meters ahead, white paper on a wooden shelf flapped in the wind unceasingly for quite some time. He then held back his finger and the breeze disappeared immediately. This act had consumed most of the spiritual essence in his body, but he was quite content with the result and nodded to himself involuntarily.
The criteria of mastering the control of spiritual essence was to be able to wield it flexibly and smoothly, without any stagnation, as well as to release and retract it freely.
Speaking of the general basics of cultivation, the hardest part was the awakening of the spirit, which was always a narrow escape from death for the survivors. Once one successfully awakened the spirit, they could start learning the method of consuming essences. Mastering this method depended on talent as well as diligence, either of which could lead to success.
After two days of practice, he had grasped the basics of circulation of spiritual essence and what he needed to do next was to practice more until his skill was perfected and the consumption of essences achieved.
Gu Yu currently had two complete sets of verses, one being the method of consuming six natural essences, which was the basics amongst basics. The other one was the mystical conjuring verse, which he had not studied thoroughly enough to perform.
That was to say, he had no offensive skill at the moment! There was no sadder thing than to aspire to become sword-wielding cultivator yet be bound to end up a healer.
He was certainly aware of the danger this situation represented and would ponder over the issue every now and then. He even bought a book on acupoints and meridians. After numerous experiments, he actually came up with a "move" that did not really feel like a "move". Well, it was better than nothing.
Gu Yu recorded his experience in a notebook and stashed it away before going into the east wing. He had been gathering the essence at sunset and would not return home until very late.
With the high school entrance examinations coming soon, Fang Qing was nowhere to be seen and had not visited him for quite a few days. Gu Yu walked around in the room. Feeling he had nothing better to do, he took out his phone and typed, "What are you doing now?"
A quick note: this type of greeting was only applicable between casual acquaintances of opposite sex who had left good impression on each other. It was saying implicitly that ‘I really want to convey my feelings right now but don’t know what to say, so I’m trying to make a conversation.’
If the other person was willing to talk, they would answer and then throw another question at you, "What about you?"
If they were a passive person, you would only get an answer and you had to keep trying.
If the person on the other end could not be bothered to talk to you, the only response you would get would be, "well, nothing." In this case, you should probably abandon all hope. Don’t try other moves, for you are out, period. Even fallback people have more hope than you.
He was watching TV as he waited for a reply. A few minutes later, the girl messaged back. "I thought it’s about time to get a message from you."
Gu Yu felt like the top and bottom reversed in that instant, for the girl never played by the book. He realized that when they were chatting, he would surrender to her within a few lines with no hope of ever freeing himself.
Gu Yu had acknowledged his fondness for her and abandoned all pretense. He went on directly, "I’ve made some incense cakes, I’ll bring you some another day."
He said "bring" instead of "send".
The girl grasped the key word right away and replied with vexation. "In that way, what am I supposed to thank you with?" Another message came in immediately after that. "By the way, there’s an agarwood exhibition the day after tomorrow. Are you interested? Lunch’s on me."
He pursed his lips and asked, "Don’t you have work to do?"
"The sponsor is a client of ours and we have to help with the media campaign. Just call it exploiting the official authority."
"All right, then. I’ll come in the morning, the day after tomorrow."
"I’m not waiting for you this time. You’ll have to find the place yourself."
Gu Yu did not hear He Tian’s words in that phone call and had no idea Zeng Yuewei was also involved in this event. He was simply rejoicing after making a second appointment.
As a matter of fact, he did not have much experience with girls when growing up—a short-lived puppy love during high school, a girlfriend he had slept with during university, whom he naturally broke up with after his grandfather got sick, and that’s it.
Jiang Xiaozhai was one year older than him. She had graduated from the best university in Shengtian and both of her parents were public servants. She was a top-notch girl, be it in terms of her looks, disposition, education, or family background.
He wasn’t actually thinking about their future or trying to get anywhere with her. It was rare for him to meet someone he could get along with and he couldn’t help but want to be close to her. As for Xiaozhai’s attitude, he found it rather unpredictable.
She talked like an experienced woman who has seen it all, but one could still see her pure inner self. He yearned for that cleanness and purity she possessed.
If the fishbone was a mystery, Xiaozhai was a sin, making him restless and ready for trouble.