“Do you know why I made you stay?” Old Master Lian asked pleasingly.
Ning Ning’s heart was as clear as a mirror, but she showed a doubtful face and shook her head.
“My eldest son had known that the dish had problems, yet he put it in front of you and watched as you ate it.” Old Master Lian sighed again. “What about my third daughter? She could have stopped Old Chen, why did she wait till the dinner table? Wasn’t it so that she could perform for me? But she couldn’t even act, you saw it too, after crying for so long, not a single tear was shed…”
His expression suddenly became empty and desolate. He reached out to Ning Ning with both withered hands and said, “Come, come to grandpa’s side.”
Ning Ning walked towards him. Old Master Lian hugged Ning Ning as if she was a barbie doll, his aged fingers caressed her hair as he murmured, “Good thing I still have you, there was at least one who has a conscience… Lian Lian, you are the only one left for Grandpa.”
“Lies.” Ning Ning said in her heart.
If there was one person in this family who had been poisoned, it would be Old Master Lian himself.
He had been afflicted with a poison named ‘distrust’.
Starting from now up until twenty years later, he would indulge in tests of human nature on his family members. The shorter ones would last a few months, the longer ones would last a year. He would collude with outsiders to come up with methods to test the morals of his own family members, then he would issue a new will.
The new will would overwrite the old will, the new inheritor would overwrite the old inheritor, he would never be bored of it. Like a despot actor who was unwilling to leave the stage once he had gotten on, forcing everyone to accommodate him and act out this show titled <<Poison>>…forever and ever.
Maybe only death would stop him.
“Alright, let’s eat, it’s getting cold.” Old Master Lian dried the tears in the corners of his eyes and loosened his hug. “Are the dishes on the dining table enough for you? You can get Uncle Chen to make more if it’s not enough.”
“It’s enough.” Ning Ning said.
The meal today was made for six people, it had a total of ten dishes.There were main dishes and side dishes, they included sweet, salty, sour and spicy dishes. Old Master Lian didn’t eat much, he put his chopsticks down after he took two bites. He urged Ning Ning to eat, but she was troubled, how could she have any appetite?
It was a good thing that Old Master Lian had a habit of taking afternoon naps, he started to feel sleepy at around 12 noon. He yawned and told Ning Ning, “You can go home for now. Pack your stuff up, I will get a driver to help you move in here. You should stop living outside, a family should live together.”
“Tomorrow?” Ning Ning hesitated instead. “Isn’t that too much of a rush?”
“How is that a rush, don’t you have one day to pack up?” Old Master Lian laughed, but his words had a sense of tyranny, he would love to have everything arranged for her regardless of her wishes.
Ning Ning could only agree for now. She thought that she should have a discussion with Pei Xuan on how to deal with this later.
Ning Ning wheeled Old Master Lian out, leaving the old chef behind to clean up the leftovers.
They immediately saw a person waiting outside once they were out.
“Why are you still here?” Old Master Lian’s belly was filled with rage the moment he laid his eyes on her, as he asked her with a discourteous expression.
But Lian Yuan Yuan chose to ignore him. She fixed her gaze on Ning Ning—a gaze that was full of shock, confusion and huge disappointment.
Ning Ning did not know why she had such a weird expression, but Ning Ning knew that Lian Yuan Yuan was not a good actor, her face would show whatever she was thinking, this was definitely her true feelings, but why?
Ning Ning escorted Old Master Lian upstairs. When she came back down, she saw that Lian Yuan Yuan was still waiting for her, in her hands was a plate, a plate of half-eaten braised chicken with mushroom.
“I heard from Old Chen that you had more than half of this?” Lian Yuan Yuan inquired.
“That’s right.” Ning Ning did not understand why she would ask such a question.
Lian Yuan Yuan did not bother with the chopsticks, she poked a mushroom directly with her pinky and put it in her mouth.
“That has already gone cold.” Ning Ning told her out of kindness, “If you are hungry, there’s a warm one in the kitchen.”
“There’s no need.” Lian Yuan Yuan licked her finger, then ferociously smashed the plate on the ground. Just as it hit the ground, she turned around and left out of the entrance briskly.
As she walked out of the door, the doors of the cars parked outside opened as well. Quite a number of people had come out from these cars to ask her about the situation. These people include the brain trust she had hired along with relatives and friends who had ulterior motives, there were even reporters who had come after they heard of what was happening. She ignored all of them while she pushed everyone away. She scanned the surroundings and found the figure of a certain person.
Ning Ning came out a step later than Lian Yuan Yuan. As everyone was surrounding Lian Yuan Yuan, there was no one at Ning Ning’s side. A black car drove up to her as silently as a ghost.
“Get on.” Pei Xuan winded down the window.
Ning Ning pulled the door open and entered the car.
Not far away, Lian Yuan Yuan had already seen this car. She mustered all her strength in an attempt to get out of the crowd, but they blocked her path. She could only watch as the car left. She could not help but shout, “Pei Xuan!”
The doors of the car blocked the wind and snow from the outside, it also blocked her voice.
As the two of them sat in the car, Ning Ning was about to tell him about the weird incident with Lian Yuan Yuan, but his mobile phone rang at this moment.
“Hello.” Pei Xuan picked up the phone and answered the call for a while before handing it over to her. “It’s for you.”
For me? Ning Ning answered the phone with a face full of doubt.
Mu Gua’s voice rang out from the other side, “Sis?”
“…” Ning Ning did not know whether to answer him. She was mindful of the fact that she was currently Lian Lian, not Mu Er.
“Hello, hello?” Mu Gua shouted a few times, then sighed, “I have known that you were pretending to be a young lady from the Lian family long ago, you can talk to me.”
“Oh, you’ve known long ago.” Ning Ning let out a breath, but she felt that something was off. He had known long ago? How long ago was that?
Before she could ask that question, Mu Gua had already started speaking, “Sis, I have something to tell you.”
“What a coincidence.” Ning Ning said, “I have something to tell you too.”
Mu Gua, “You first.”
“…I just left the Lian Estate.” Ning Ning weighed her words. “Old Master Lian wants me to pack up and move into his house.”
Mu Gua fell silent for a moment before he asked, “Does he treat you well?”
“He treats me pretty well.” Ning Ning said insincerely.
He might treat her well now, it might not be the same in the future. But even if it did get worse, it wouldn’t be as bad as what she was going through now. “Lian Lian” could do most of what “Mu Er” could not do. She could go to school if she wanted, she could go to the doctor if she wanted, she could provide a certain someone with financial support if she wanted—with a snap of her fingers, she could change a person’s fate, a family’s fate.
“…Are you leaving today?” Mu Gua asked.
“No,” Ning Ning said, “I’ll leave tomorrow.”
“That’s good, you should go home for today, I…” Mu Gua laughed after a pause. “I bought a gift for you.”
Ning Ning felt that something was off. “Why did you buy a gift for me all of a sudden?”
“I was always making you mad.” Mu Gua said gently, “Today, I did something that will anger you again, Sis, forgive me.”
“What did you do?” Ning Ning could not help but ask. For some reason, she had a bad feeling about this.
But Mu Gua did not answer, he quickly changed the topic. “I am at a train station now. I will get on a train soon to work in another state. I won’t be able to make a lot of money when I first start working, I won’t be able to send money back home for you and mom. Taking care of mom alone would take a toll on you, I have left all the money I previously earned behind, do you know where I put it…”
“Get back here!” Ning Ning interrupted him, “Sis will have money very soon, I don’t need you to work in another state. You get back here!”
“No, Sis.” Mu Gua said, “Pass Pei Xuan the phone.”
Ning Ning tried every possible way to persuade him, but he would not listen at all. Ning Ning had no choice but to pass the phone over to Pei Xuan, “Help me persuade him.”
Pei Xuan put the phone to his ear, “Hello.”
Snowy winds swept across the street, a small car travelled on the snowy ground, leaving behind two black lines, like a train track, heading for an unknown destination.
Pei Xuan’s driver, gardener and butler were all in the small car. Two of them were in the backseat sandwiching Mu Gua in, one of them was holding a mobile phone, pressing it on Mu Gua’s ear.
There was a bruise in the corner of Mu Gua’s mouth, his hands were bound with scotch tape. He told Pei Xuan, “I didn’t tell her anything.”
A chuckle rang out from the other side.
“My sister doesn’t know anything.” Mu Gua said, “Let go of her.”
Mu Gua had won. Pei Xuan had really sent every person he had to look for him, so much so that he did not have time for the things that were happening at the Lian Estate, so all his plans had failed. But Mu Gua had also lost. He had saved his sister but failed to save himself. Yet, if he could not convince Pei Xuan right now, he would not even be able to save his sister.
“She is not a smart person, she probably still thinks that you are a good guy.” Mu Gua let out a bitter laugh. “My mother and I would always scold and beat her, but as long as we treat her a little better later on, she would commit herself to us again. As…as long as you treat her slightly better, treat her slightly better than I did, she would listen to everything you say.”
“Can you bear to part with such a good sister?” Pei Xuan asked.
“…” Mu Gua remained silent, tears began welling up in his eyes.
“If you cannot bear to do so, I can send her to you.” Pei Xuan’s gentle voice had just droned out when Ning Ning shouted, “Send me to him!”
His lips trembled, a single tear fell from his eyes, Mu Gua lowered his head and choked, “I can bear to do so.”
Ning Ning had already grabbed the mobile phone by then, she shouted in a threatening manner, “Stop right there, I will come to the train station right now!”
Mu Gua continued looking down, tears were streaming down from his eyes, but he had to act casual and laugh, “Alright, I won’t go…not! Catch me if you can!”
As the traffic lights switched at a cross junction, the car with the sister and the car with the brother brushed past each other. One of them was busy using the phone, the other was looking down—in this last opportunity, neither of them had noticed that the two cars were going in the opposite direction.
At the train station, Ning Ning frantically got off the car. She shouted as she looked for Mu Gua, not stopping until it was midnight. She knelt in front of the platform, exhausted. A train sped past her, kicking up a gust of snowy winds, sweeping up her long hair. She could not help but hug herself tightly, a coat plopped on her from behind.
Pei Xuan stood behind her, wrapping her with the coat that had his body temperature and lowered his head as he said, “It’s late, we’ll look for him tomorrow.”
“…Tomorrow?” Ning Ning looked at the platform in front of her, confused, as if she was someone who had alighted at the wrong station and didn’t know which train she should take from here or what she should do tomorrow.
“Get a hold of yourself. You have to report to Old Master Lian tomorrow. You have almost made it, don’t trip up at the last step.” Pei Xuan told her, “Moreover, even if your brother has left, your mom is still here. Has she eaten today? Has her diaper been changed? Do you want to go back and take a look at her?”
…She did not have anywhere else to go, so Ning Ning returned home for the time being.
She could smell urine the moment she opened the door. Ning Ning sighed again. She went over and changed the diaper and fed her before she sat at the side in a daze.
She used to resent the fact that this apartment was too small, so small it was suffocating. But today she felt that this apartment was too big, so big it made her shudder.
“That’s right, the gift.” Ning Ning said suddenly.
She got up and looked through the place. She finally found the gift Mu Gua had mentioned in the kitchen.
A box of cake and a gift box.
Ning Ning had not had dinner, she cut a slice of cake and ate it as she opened the gift.
In the box was a pile of toys, a toy train, a bamboo-copter, a robot…on top of them was a letter.
She opened up the letter, the first sentence read: “Sis, I’m sorry.”
“I am a very selfish person. I had seen that you were so popular in school, there was even a boy who would send you home, so I wanted to make things hard for him, like charging him fifty dollars for a bowl of rice.”
Even now I have not overcome this problem. The boss of a video tape store had asked me about you. I wanted to ignore him, but I was afraid that he would go to you directly, so I lied to him. I told him that you like toy trains, bamboo-copters and robots… Haha, he actually believed me. Everything in the box was what he bought for you. He would give me one every few days, it has already been a few months since this first started.”
“…I was only afraid that once you found someone, you would ditch me. Sis, I cannot bear to lose you.”
“I will stop doing that from now on. Your life is yours, you don’t live for me… Finish the cake to commemorate how I’ve turned over a new leaf, let us both have a fresh start!”
Ning Ning’s lips had white cream on it. She started to smile when she got to this part of the letter, but her smile suddenly froze.
She looked up and looked at her surroundings.
Before she could notice, the light bulb in her room had stopped making sizzling noises, the couple next door had stopped shouting at each other, even the sounds of the streets had disappeared from the window.
She turned over and took a look, she was stunned. She suddenly reached out and opened the window.
The cold wind that should have funneled in did not, the world outside was in dead silence, the winds did not blow, the snow had frozen in the air as she easily caught one in her palm.
Ning Ning had already seen and experienced similar things to this.
“Mu Gua.” She murmured, “You’re…dead?”
A lead character’s death meant the end of the movie.
The world would turn into a quiet stage, darkness would close in from the sides like a curtain. Ning Ning stood in the center of the stage. Behind her was a candle she did not have the time to light, a cake she did not have the time to finish eating, a letter she did not have the time to finish reading.
—A pair of siblings who did not have the time to have a fresh start.
Ning Ning slowly opened her eyes in the audience seat.
A movie was screening in front of her, a young boy was singing deeply and helplessly.
“My angel talked to me today, she said I am as fat as a watermelon.”
“My angel smiled at me. She laughed at my singing, saying that it sounded like a duck.”
“For the sake of making her laugh, I quack, quack, quack…”