It was the morning of the second day of the Lunar New Year.
Yue Dingtang woke up early and first went to school to drop off his graded assignments at the office before heading to the hospital.
He thought Ling Shu would already be dressed and waiting for him, but when he pushed open the door to the room, he saw Ling Shu still lying in bed with their two sisters, Ling Yao and Yue Chunxiao, on either side.
"Quick, get up and eat something. How can you go out on an empty stomach?" Yue Chunxiao said.
"I brought you some freshly fried dough sticks and soy milk. The dough sticks are still crispy, but if you wait any longer, they'll get soft and won't taste as good. And I also brought soy sauce. You love dipping your dough sticks in soy sauce, right? I've got it all ready for you," Ling Yao continued.
"I also have some tofu pudding here. If you don't like these things, you can drink some chicken soup that I've been simmering since last night. I didn't even let Yue Dingtang have any because I knew you would want it."
Standing by the door, Yue Dingtang watched as two old ladies coaxed a child incessantly. The problem was that the "old ladies'' weren't actually old, and the "child" wasn't really a child anymore.
Yue Chunxiao, his third sister whom he knew well, didn't seem like a patient person either. Perhaps it was because she had two older brothers and a younger one, all independent and with their own careers, so she never had to worry about them growing up.
But when she saw Ling Shu, with her fair and pretty appearance, both her motherly love and sisterly affection overflowed instantly. In short, it was all about looks.
Yue Dingtang had to admit that Ling Shu could be quite deceiving when he wasn't speaking and wasn't acting nonchalant. Many women, from young to old, fell for this trick.
The two young women didn't know Yue Dingtang's inner thoughts and continued to persuade and coax Ling Shu with all their might. Just getting Ling Shu out of bed and sitting him up, and then seeing him willing to nibble on an oil cake, was enough to give the two women a great sense of accomplishment.
"Have some more, have some more."
"Eat slower, eat slower."
The two women sang in opposition, standing on either side, yet maintaining a subtle harmony.
All because of this person in the middle.
But he still managed to take advantage and act cute.
"Sis, Sister Chunxiao, I want to eat bean skin."
"What's that?" Yue Chunxiao was puzzled, "Made of tofu?"
Ling Shu: "It's said to be a snack from Hubei. Someone was selling it on the street last time, and I tried it once. It's bean skin wrapped in glutinous rice and mushrooms, fried in a pan, and it's especially fragrant." Yue Chunxiao smiled and said, "That's easy. My family's chef is from Wuhan. I'll have him make one for you and send it over at noon. Should I also make some soup for you? Do you prefer pork rib soup or fresh shrimp and tofu soup?"
Ling Yao's face darkened slightly. "You don't have to trouble yourself. I already made some at home and just forgot to bring it with me this morning."
Yue Chunxiao sneered, "Look at you. You're doing this again. If you really made soup, would I be able to take the credit today? Pork ribs are so expensive now. You guys should eat less and not be so stubborn. Don't let Ling Shu starve himself just to save face!"
"Yue Chunxiao, this is my brother. It's none of your business. Don't pretend to be a good person and try to sow discord between us siblings."
"He saved Dingtang. How is that not my business? I have a soft heart and can't bear to see Ling Shu suffer for you and sacrifice himself!" Ling Shu sipped his soy milk and ate his tofu pudding in silence, trying to lower his presence.
Yue Dingtang almost burst out laughing. He coughed to bring their attention back to the matter at hand.
"Sis, Sister Yao, I have some important business to discuss with him. You two can go first."
Yue Chunxiao finally remembered that her little brother was there.
"Did you have breakfast? I saved you a portion at home," she asked.
Ling Yao also chimed in, "If you haven't eaten, I brought an extra portion. It's in the food box on the table, unopened. I don't know if you prefer sweet or salty, so I bought both."
Yue Chunxiao sneered at her, "Now you want to be a good person? Just a moment ago, you said your brother didn't need my concern."
Ling Yao coldly laughed, "I like Dingtang's maturity and responsibility. What does that have to do with you?"
Yue Dingtang finally couldn't take it anymore and kicked them all out. As he turned around, Ling Shu saw Yue Dingtang smiling at him.
"So they were arguing over you, and you seem to be enjoying it?" Yue Dingtang raised an eyebrow.
Ling Shu looked innocent. "My sisters are good to me, of course I know that."
The words sounded like there was a hint of schadenfreude in them.
Yue Dingtang thought to himself that this person could talk to anyone and say anything, even someone as difficult to please as Yue Chunxiao was easily charmed by him. If Ling Shu's father were still alive and allowed him to enter the officialdom, he might have risen up the ranks in just a few years.
But now, as a police officer, Ling Shu seemed to fit in perfectly with his slippery and cunning nature. It was no wonder he was reluctant to give up this job.
"I have two pieces of news," he said, lighting a cigarette and walking to the window. "The woman who claimed to be Yuan Lingbo cannot be traced. All we know is that after leaving the patrol room, she called a yellow cab and headed towards the train station. We will continue to search, but it is unlikely that we will find any results."
This was expected news.
Ling Shu nodded and finished the last bite of his tofu pudding.
"Another piece of news is about the maid, Ah Lan?"
"Ah Lan was a child bride sold to a family surnamed Shen when she was seven years old. Her husband died just two months after their marriage when she was fifteen. She fell ill and her husband's family considered her a burden since she couldn't work and needed to eat. They kicked her out, but Du Mianqing brought her back. Do you know Du Mianqing?"
Ling Shu replied, "She is Du Yunning's younger sister. I have met her once, but we are not familiar." Yue Dingtang nodded, "Within two years, Du Mianqing got married and moved to Wuxi, leaving Ah Lan behind at the Du family. Mrs. Du saw that she was hardworking and didn't gossip, so she let her serve Du Yunning. Later, she followed Du Yunning to live at the Yuan family."
These were just experiences, and nothing useful could be found from them.
Ling Shu said, "So should we go to the Yuan family now?"
Yue Dingtang checked his watch, "I have a cocktail party tonight hosted by the American Consulate. We can go now and come back in the afternoon to change clothes. Our old classmate, Lin Dingkang, is now a translator at the consulate and he should be there. You can catch up with him."
Ling Shu stretched lazily, "I think I'll pass."
Compared to the cocktail party, he would rather go home and sleep. Yue Dingtang seemed to have anticipated his answer and sighed.
"Well, I'm afraid you won't get your wish. First of all, your sister asked me to introduce you to potential career opportunities, and I already mentioned tonight’s party to her. If you don't go, you won't have a peaceful homecoming. Second, although you have temporarily cleared half of the suspicion, you still cannot prove that Du Yunning's killer is someone else. Although the patrol room agreed to bail you out, Smith also instructed that you cannot leave my sight for too long."
Ling Shu said, "I don't understand social etiquette."
Yue Dingtang replied, "I'll teach you."
Ling Shu said, "I don't have formal attire."
Yue Dingtang said, "I'll lend you some."
Ling Shu said, "I'm afraid of offending people with my words. You'll have to take the blame."
Yue Dingtang said, "Then you can eat more and talk less." Ling Shu said, "I'm afraid my face will cause a frenzy among the ladies present and make other men uncomfortable."
"It's okay," Yue Dingtang replied confidently. "I believe my charm is enough to dispel your concerns."
Ling Shu remained silent.
Yue Dingtang continued, "As your old classmate and at the request of Sister Ling, I sincerely advise you to go. This banquet is not just about marriage prospects, even your immediate boss may not have the qualifications to receive an invitation. And your boss's boss, the chief of the city police, will be proud to attend. If you can be there, how will your boss see you? And how will it help your career? You're a smart person, I don't need to say more, do I?"
Ling Shu rubbed his nose, looking hopeless.
The two of them dragged their feet and didn't leave until noon. It wasn't that Ling Shu was dragging his feet, but rather that the doctor came to check on him and originally didn't agree to let him leave the hospital. Ling Shu did ten push-ups in front of the doctor, shocking him on the spot. The doctor reluctantly agreed to let them leave for half a day, but still required Ling Shu to return to the hospital that night before signing the consent form.
Along the way, Yue Dingtang kept glancing at Ling Shu.
Ling Shu was puzzled: "Did I not wash my face? Are my buttons not done up properly?"
Yue Dingtang said, "When you were in school, if your hand was pricked by a thorn, you would hold a handkerchief and wipe it for half a day. Now you can even do push-ups after getting stitches on your head. I just want to see if this Ling Shu now is not an imposter." Ling Shu rubbed the wound on the back of his head and said, "If I don't do this, how will the doctor agree to let me leave the hospital? If I sneak out and my sister comes to the hospital and sees me gone, she'll cry again. I can't stand to see a woman's tears."
Yue Dingtang smiled and said, "With your personality, French women should like you, right?"
Ling Shu felt that there was some deep meaning behind his words, but he had just been jostled around in the car and his head was still a little dizzy, so he didn't delve into it.
"Well, before I went abroad, my sister specifically told me not to find a foreign woman, at least not to bring her back to China. Otherwise, I would have to worry about which one to bring back. What about you? Have you ever thought about marrying a foreign wife?"
Yue Dingtang said casually, "I have a Chinese stomach. I don't eat foreign food often, and even if I do, I won't be able to eat it every day. Don't be fooled by the fact that my third sister and your sister don't get along. They actually have similar views on this."
He didn't continue the topic and instead rolled down the car window to look outside.
"It's going to snow soon."
The sky was gloomy, not like it was midday, but more like evening.
Without the sun, pedestrians hurried along, and the festive atmosphere of the second day of the Lunar New Year could only be seen from the decorations and clothing.
Ling Yao brought a new set of clothes for Ling Shu to wear out for the New Year, but Ling Shu ended up in the hospital and only now was able to wear them.
The dark clouds loomed over the city, as if ready to crush it.
The Yuan Manor was almost bending under the weight. The old white walls looked even more eerie, even in broad daylight, making people feel very uncomfortable.
Ling Shu looked up at the balcony on the second floor.
That was Du Yunning's room, and also the place where the flowerpot had fallen last time.
Since the flowerpot incident, the patrol responsible for guarding had removed all the flowerpots from the balcony. Now it was bare, with nothing there.
But the thin curtains by the window fluttered in the wind, visible from downstairs, always giving people the illusion that someone was standing behind them.
The author has something to say: Congratulations to Ling Shu for winning the title of "Little Cutie" that is loved by women everywhere.
Yue Dingtang: ...
Ling Shu: The ellipsis fully reflects the jealousy of someone with the surname Yue.