"B- but sir . . . This is a fine-dining restaurant . . . "
The waiter looked so much like a kicked puppy that Li Yundong almost took pity on the guy . Almost . He shared a glance with Zhou Qin . The teasing glint in Zhou Qin's eyes brightened just a tad . Li Yundong suppressed a laugh . Who knew Zhou Qin had such a playful side hidden beneath that Ice Queen exterior? Pulling a prank at a fine-dining restaurant? Boy . This was going to make his day .
Zhou Qin schooled her features and turned to the waiter who was practically squirming at that point . Everyone in the restaurant was now watching their table, but Zhou Qin didn't seem to care . Zhou Qin regarded the waiter for a moment, her eyes regal and unyielding . "Do I need to repeat myself?" Zhou Qin arched an eyebrow . "Three pairs of chopsticks . I know you have them . "
Poor dude might need to file a claim for his health insurance after all if that grimace on his face was anything to go by . The guy might even need plastic surgery to undo the severe contortions that he had done to his own face .
"My God… You're full of surprises, Zhou Qin . . . " Li Yundong said after the waiter left .
Zhou Qin’s only response was a smirk .
Minutes later, the waiter returned with, guess what, three pairs of chopsticks .
"Fine dining with chopsticks," Li Yundong said, lifting his wine glass . "All the food connoisseurs out there are going to have a field day . "
Zhou Qin smirked and lifted her own glass . "To a new era of Fusion cuisine . "
Li Yundong chuckled and clinked his glass against Zhou Qin's .
Yeah . This was going to be an interesting meal .
The meal went on without any further mishaps, thank heavens . While he ate, Li Yundong found himself constantly scanning every corner of the restaurant for potential threats . He had no clue where this newfound need for heightened vigilance and situational awareness came from, but he figured it was better to be safe than sorry . He supposed being forced to dodge bullets could do that to a guy . Not that there were actual threats in the restaurant . He did notice quite a few stares directed at their table, but none of them seemed malicious . A few condescending looks were tossed his way, no doubt because of the chopsticks, but that was it as far as malicious went . The rest of the stares were aimed at Su Chan and Zhou Qin, which, truth be told, held more admiration than malice . Funny how these clever folks had completely missed the fact that the two ladies were using chopsticks too .
Su Chan seemed awfully subdued after that moral lesson he had given her earlier . It wasn't his intention to make her feel bad or anything, but he had to at least try to rein in her tendency to say the wrong things during social situations . It did, however, made him wonder just what kind of things her master had been teaching her all these years? Was Cultivation the only thing she'd been taught back in the mountains? And why wouldn't she tell him who she was and where she came from? It wasn't like he was asking her to tell him about the drug or anything . If she didn’t want to tell him about the drug, then fine, he could live with that . For now .
He just wanted to know at least something about her past . Maybe her parents? Her village, hometown, or wherever it was that she stayed at back in the mountains . Was she ashamed of who she was? Was that why she refused to tell him about herself? Did she lead a deplorable past?
Li Yundong stole a glance at Su Chan . Well, as far as he could tell, Su Chan had a good heart . She could've killed those goons who'd ambushed them the other night, but she didn't . She also seemed pretty concerned about Ding Nan and Zhou Qin's well-being yesterday . Hell, if she could see value and worth in the fat loser that was his past self, then she couldn't have been a bad person . Could a terrible person see past someone's hideous appearance to reach the goodness underneath?
Li Yundong shook his head slightly . No . He didn't think so .
Su Chan wasn't a bad person . She made a lot of mistakes and faux pas because she didn't know enough about the world outside of the mountains, not because she was inherently bad .
Come to think of it . . .
How did she get here? How did she end up in Tiannan City?
Even now, she was still so clueless about the world, so it was obvious that she hadn’t spent a lot of time outside the mountains before they met .
Did she only get here the day she met him?
The waiter's serving cart stopped beside their table . The waiter removed a plate of something from the cart, then placed it at the center of their table . The dish looked like a large piece of ham with brown sauce drizzled all over it . Although Li Yundong would bet his entire bank account (and overdraft) that it wasn't ham he was staring at .
Zhou Qin grabbed her chopsticks, then picked up a slice of the meat . Much to his surprise, she placed the slice on his plate instead of her own .
"Try it," Zhou Qin said, smiling at him . This is called foie gras, one of French cuisine's signature dishes . "
Li Yundong nodded and picked up his chopsticks . He didn't even try to pronounce the name of the dish lest he embarrass himself .
One mishap was more than enough, thank you very much .
Li Yundong picked up the slice and bit into half of it . The meat tasted surprisingly like beef, though, again, Li Yundong doubted that it was actually beef . If it were beef, they would've called it steak or something instead of some gobbledygook . The meat’s texture was soft and buttery . Smooth, too, as though the meat was melting the moment it touched his mouth .
"It's actually goose liver," Zhou Qin explained, sipping her wine . Li Yundong glanced up, then gave Zhou Qin a nod .
Li Yundong brought his chopsticks to Su Chan's lips . "Wanna try?"
Su Chan didn't even hesitate . She bit off the remaining half of the slice and chewed . Her face lit up instantly . "Not bad . . . " she said . "But I still prefer Yundong's cooking . "
Zhou Qin lowered her flute . "You cook?"
Li Yundong smiled . "Yeah . " He shrugged . "Nothing too fancy though . Just a couple of Chinese dishes and that's it . I'm totally clueless when it comes to French cuisine . But I guess that's pretty obvious by now . "
Zhou Qin seemed impressed . "Wow . . . I mean, I know a lot of things, but cooking is . . . " Zhou Qin chuckled . "It's not something I'd put on my resume any time soon . "
Li Yundong was pretty sure that she didn't need a resume . Her name should do the trick just fine .
Li Yundong bit into a piece of shellfish . "That might not be such a bad thing, you know," he said after swallowing . "All that smoke would take a toll on your skin if you ladies spend too much time inside the kitchen . And also . . . "
Li Yundong shot Su Chan a pointed look .
Su Chan had the decency to blush, no doubt remembering the time where their entire kitchen got blown to kingdom come when Su Chan tried to "cook . "
"What? What is it?"
Li Yundong turned away from Su Chan and saw Zhou Qin studying him curiously . Li Yundong chuckled and leaned against his chair . "Well, let's just say that my kitchen had seen better days before"—Li Yundong jabbed a finger at a blushing Su Chan—"this one stepped into it . "
Su Chan giggled .
Then, she stuck out her tongue at him and went back to her food .
"Sounds like there's a story there," Zhou Qin remarked .
Li Yundong smirked . "Oh, you have no idea . . . " he said, then went back to his meal .
Zhou Qin took the hint and didn't ask again .
The meal went on quietly for a while until they were interrupted by the waiter's approach . The waiter stopped beside Zhou Qin and spoke to her in a subdued tone . "I'm sorry, miss, but a customer has already pre-ordered the last of our Beluga caviar today . "
"Please let me speak to your manager," Zhou Qin said .
"Zhou Qin . . . Is that really necessary?" Li Yundong asked when the waiter left to get the manager .
Zhou Qin smiled at him . "Yes, it is . "
"You know we can just switch to another dish, right? I'm sure the other dishes taste just as good . "
"But they won't be the best," Zhou Qin stated firmly . "You saved my life yesterday . It's only right that I repay you with the best . "
So this was how the rich and wealthy do things, putting a price tag on literally everything . Somehow, he wasn't even surprised .
What did surprise him though, was the fact that the manager was local .
The manager stopped beside their table, then bowed at Zhou Qin .
"How may I serve you, miss?"
Li Yundong lowered his chopsticks and watched the exchange .
"According to your staff, the last of your Beluga caviar has been pre-ordered . "
The manager smiled . "Yes indeed, miss . I'm terribly sorry about that . Beluga roe is highly rare, and we only have a limited supply of it every month . Most of our regular customers know this, so they pre-ordered it . Would you like to switch your order to some of our other dishes, miss?"
Instead of answering, Zhou Qin regarded the manager steadily .
The poor guy was sweating bullets at this point .
Li Yundong decided that it was time for him to step in .
"Zhou Qin, it's really no big deal . We can just—"
"Cancel the previous order . " Zhou Qin took out a gold card from her purse and handed it to the manager .
The manager blanched the moment he saw the gold card .
"Very well, miss . I'll make the necessary arrangements," said the manager, taking the gold card with both hands, and with reverence .
"Also, please purchase a knee-length dress from the mall beside the restaurant," Zhou Qin said . "Your staff spilled wine onto my clothes earlier . "
The manager apologized to Zhou Qin profusely before leaving their table .
If Li Yundong did a facepalm right now, he would probably break his neck or punch a hole through his face . He honestly didn't know what to make of that power play . It was lost on him how the rich operate .
Li Yundong chuckled . "Is that what you rich folks do all the time? Flash a card, and people will scramble around to do your bidding?"
Hell . I think I might need a break from all this . . . Li Yundong glanced around for the bathroom .
"The rich . The poor . We all have our own set of problems . . . "
The loneliness he detected from Zhou Qin's voice made him do a double-take .
"I, for one, envy you two . " Zhou Qin studied him and Su Chan with her gaze . "I hope you'll both stay with each other forever . "
Su Chan chose that moment to insert herself into the conversation . "You bet! We're meant to be together, Yundong and I!"
Li Yundong felt a tug in his arm . When he looked to the side, Su Chan was clinging on to him .
Li Yundong smiled and pinched Su Chan's face . "Hey, hey . . . Let me go . "
Su Chan pulled back suddenly and gave him a hurt look . "Are you tired of me already?"
Li Yundong laughed . "No, silly . I'm just gonna head to the men's room for a bit . " He raised a brow . "Don't tell me you wanna tag along too?"
"Eww . . . " Su Chan made a face at him . "Go on then . Shoo . Shoo . "
Li Yundong shook his head in amusement . Then, he turned to Zhou Qin and gave her a nod . "Excuse me . I won’t be long . "
Li Yundong stood up and left their table .
He wondered what he would see in the men's room . Gold-plated urinals?
The alarm bells sounded in Li Yundong's mind when he returned to their table a while later . Su Chan and Zhou Qin were both staring blankly at each other, not to mention the strange air surrounding them . Oh shit . . . Don't tell me they got into a fight while I was away . . .
Li Yundong sat down warily and eyed the two women for a moment . Then, he snapped his fingers a few times . "Hey . Hey . What's the matter with you two?"
Zhou Qin sighed and shook her head slightly . "Oh . . . It's nothing . I just . . . " Zhou Qin sipped her wine . "I just realized that sometimes… Sometimes the things that you've missed out on tend to be the most precious ones . "
What the heck was that supposed to mean?
He turned and shot Su Chan a glare . "Hey . Did you say something silly again, hmm?"
Su Chan looked utterly affronted . "You're so mean!" She smacked Li Yundong's arm . "Do I look like someone who says silly things?"
Seriously? Was she f*cking kidding him right now?
Li Yundong nodded . "Yes . Yes you do . "
The huge pout on Su Chan's lips made him want to reach out and pinch it . Or kiss it .
Su Chan smacked his arm again . "Meanie!"
"Don't be too hard on her," Zhou Qin said . "She just told me some of the experiences you shared together . You're . . . " Zhou Qin trailed off .
Li Yundong regarded Zhou Qin steadily and noted the faraway look in her eyes . Seconds later, Zhou Qin shook her head and cleared her throat . Then, she held Li Yundong's gaze . "I mean, you treat her really well . "
Li Yundong smiled at Zhou Qin, then turned to Su Chan .
Realizing that it was a losing battle, Li Yundong reached out and pinched Su Chan's pouted lips, which earned him another smack on the hand . He made a few more attempts to tickle Su Chan, which ended up with Su Chan twisting around in her seat and giggling like a schoolgirl . Li Yundong released a wistful sigh and looked at Zhou Qin again .
"How could I not?"
For a brief moment, their table was silent except for the tapping of Su Chan's chopsticks against her plate .
Glad to see that at least one of them was in a mood to feast .
Zhou Qin was still staring at him, no doubt waiting for him to elaborate .
Li Yundong gave Zhou Qin a meaningful look .
"Before I was like this," he said, gesturing at his face . "Everyone only saw me as a fat loser . "
Zhou Qin opened her mouth to protest, but Li Yundong silenced her with a raise of his finger .
"Don't bother denying it . " Li Yundong smirked . "I'm not stupid . I know what everyone has been saying behind my back . And fat is definitely one of the kindest compared to all the other stuff they said about me . " Li Yundong glanced at Su Chan . "She was the only person who thought of me as someone worth a damn . The only person . " Li Yundong turned back to Zhou Qin . "So yeah . I'll be damned if I don't treat her like a princess . "
"Boo! You’re all talk and no action . You’re always so mean to me!" Su Chan grumbled .
"Tsk! Stop talking back to me . "
Li Yundong and Su Chan teased each other for a while until he noticed the tension in Zhou Qin body language . She looked a little pale too .
"Hey, Zhou Qin . Are you alright?"
Before Zhou Qin could answer, a waiter came over and handed Zhou Qin a new dress . Zhou Qin took the dress and smiled at Li Yundong . Her smile seemed forced .
"Excuse me," she said, standing up from her chair . "I'm gonna go get changed . "
Li Yundong glanced at Zhou Qin's ruined skirt, then nodded . "Sure . But you better make it quick . Or else that glutton over there"—Li Yundong pointed at Su Chan—"will gobble up all the food and leave nothing for you . "
Then, Li Yundong winked at Su Chan . "Twenty bowls of rice, remember?"
Su Chan smacked and clawed at Li Yundong's arms repeatedly . "I hate you! I hate you! Why do you always make fun of me!"
Li Yundong chuckled . By the time he raised his head, Zhou Qin was already gone .
A while later, Li Yundong and Su Chan were staring at the twelve dishes that the waiter had just brought to their table . Zhou Qin was still nowhere to be seen .
"Um… Yundong . . . " Su Chan whispered beside him . "These look kinda expensive . "
Li Yundong stared at Su Chan in mild disbelief . Yeah? You only realize this now? That should've been obvious from the moment they walked into this place .
"How much do you think all this cost?" Su Chan whispered again .
He honestly wasn't even sure he wanted to know .
Li Yundong cleared his throat, then studied the dishes on the table for a while . "Several thousand at least?"
He heard a snort coming from the table beside theirs . He turned and saw a waiter rolling his eyes at him .
Li Yundong's cheek heated up .
Su Chan tugged his sleeve . "Um . . . Yundong . . . What if . . . "
Li Yundong turned and saw Su Chan glancing around the restaurant as though she was looking for someone .
"What?" Li Yundong nudged her .
Su Chan leaned towards him and said, "What if Zhou Qin decided to leave us here?"
Li Yundong jumped slightly as though someone had shoved a porcupine up his ass . He glanced at the washroom . Still no signs of Zhou Qin .
Li Yundong forced a smile . "Nah . . . She wouldn't just leave us . . . " He hoped his voice at least sounded a little bit reassuring .
Su Chan shot him a worried look . Okay . Maybe not .
"But what if she did?" Su Chan asked . "What if we couldn't afford anything here?"
Li Yundong smacked Su Chan's forehead . "Then I'll leave you here to wash dishes!"
Su Chan looked at him like a hurt puppy . "H- ho- how could you?"
Li Yundong chuckled and ruffled her hair . "No, silly . I wouldn't do that . Zhou Qin wouldn't do that either . . . "
She damn well better not . I saved her life yesterday, for f*ck's sake . She wouldn't do that to me, right?
"I'm worried Yundong . . . I don't want you to get into trouble again . . . "
"Nah . . . Don't worry about—"
"Yo, yo, yo! Look who we have here?"
Li Yundong turned around at the familiar voice .
Great . . . Just when I thought this day couldn't get any worse . . .
Staring back at them was a good-looking man who had tried to "buy" his seat the other day — the noveau riche, Liu Chuan .