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ISTIL Chapter 2

Gift

Qingjiu Alley was an ancient alley in the old city, paved with bluestones, wooden houses and green tiles, with more than 30 family homes, each of which had opened some shops on the first floor, from restaurants and cafes to jewellery stores and small bookstores, all opened by the Qingjiu people themselves.

 

Even though the scale was not too large, the store was very elegant. After several generations of business, it had become a small street with style, and most of the people who visited it all day were locals.

 

Previously, the city made a promotional video of “Impression of a Small Town”, and Qingjiu Alley, with its classical and elegant environment, was also publicized as a small scenic spot. After that, many outsiders came to see the atmosphere and freshness. Soon after, the flow of people had decreased again, but the businesses were still good. They were happy and at leisure with the money they made; everyone was very satisfied with this operating state.

 

The sun was very good, and the weather in November was not cold. When Shi An got up in the morning, he would read a book for a while after washing up. At around eight o’clock, his grandmother knocked on his door and asked him to come out for breakfast.

 

A bowl of longevity noodles was placed on the light-colored checkered tablecloth, and a fried egg with slightly browned edges lay on top of the noodle soup. The dense vapor was like a cloud of mist. Grandma sat at the table, looking at him with a light smile, her eyes were cloudy, and she was a little hazy in the milky heat.

 

Shi An looked at the bowl of noodles, slightly stunned.

 

After eating breakfast, he turned on his phone and looked at the calendar.

 

The nineteenth.

 

His birthday.

 

He remembered the bowl of longevity noodles, and there was a slight flashback.

 

Before moving to Qingjiu Alley, he had never had a birthday because no one remembered. Besides, he didn’t pay much attention to his own birthday, so he forgot it almost every time.

 

He turned off the screen before gently putting the phone back on the table.

 

But Yan Liang remembered.

 

Because Yan Liang remembered, Shi An for no apparent reason had more than one expectation for his own birthday.

 

This kind of expectation was very subtle, washed away lightly and faintly, gently and quietly hidden somewhere in the bottom of his heart, bright and clear, abstract and concrete, it seemed there was a little bit of light.

 

This feeling was a bit like in elementary school when the teacher suddenly said that the school would organize a spring outing next week. In the long waiting time, the initial cheer was slightly washed away, that in the end, some even forgot what they were happy about, but the bottom of the heart was as bright as a mirror, unconsciously happy for their abstract expectations without knowing it.

 

He somewhat deliberately forced himself to forget about it, but his heart just couldn’t be quiet, sometimes inexplicably jumpy, and sometimes seemed to be a little anxious. Within half an hour, he looked up at the wall clock five or six times.

 

This did not seem like something he would do.

 

Shi An sighed slightly. He raised his fingers and rubbed his temples, forcing himself to concentrate.

 

The sun slowly sculpted the time and noon soon arrived. The pace of life in a small town was very slow. At noon there were few pedestrians on the street, most people chose to stay at home and sleep lazily, living a very healthy life.

 

The temperature at noon was much higher than that in the morning. The sun was soft, and the fine dust floated in the silk-like beam. The light spots were deeply and shallowly overlapping. Someone’s clothes were hanging on the balcony, floating in the wind. The shallow shadows were reflected on the pages of the book, and sometimes they swayed slowly.

 

The street was very quiet, and occasionally there were one or two dog barks. The whole town was stuck in the laziness of a winter afternoon.

 

He was a little sleepy and his whole body seemed to melt in the warm sunlight, so he put up a hand to support his forehead and blinked hard.

 

The phone on the table buzzed, waking him up a little. He reached out his hand to hold the phone before raising his eyes to look at it.

 

Yan Liang’s name was lying quietly in the message prompt box.

 

He gently tilted his mouth, put his cell phone back, and got up to go downstairs.

 

He lived with his grandmother who opened a dessert shop on the first floor. The old woman liked to go into the kitchen. Every day, she had fun pouring through the sweet-smelling bottles and jars, so all kinds of strange flavors and styles came out.

 

Some time ago, Qingjiu Alley suddenly became popular, hence, there was more business. The shop invited a young girl to help, named Ling Yue, a female college student with a very peculiar mind, and she got along well with the old woman.

 

Shi An saw a dog’s head cake made by both of them with his own eyes. The yellow dog hooked the corners of its mouth and squinted, looking like he owed someone something.

 

As expected, Yan Liang was already waiting in the shop.

 

Ling Yue sat on a chair near the door with her chin resting on the back of the chair, chatting with Yan Liang casually.

 

Although the temperature in the afternoon was higher than that in the morning, there was still a coolness in the air. Yan Liang only wore a thin shirt with his sleeves rolled up casually, revealing a white and thin wrist.

 

Not knowing what Ling Yue said, Yan Liang seemed to be amused by her. The boy’s smile was so clear and unreserved; the corners of his mouth were raised openly, and two small fangs appeared on the upper lip. The sun gave him a warm golden edge, with dark and shiny eyelids and shallow folds at the end of his eyes.

 

When Shi An walked to the stairs, Yan Liang quickly turned his head to look at him, and then was slightly startled.

 

Shi An’s pale eyes were filled with ambiguity that was rarely seen in the past; the eyes were misty and the tails of his eyes were slightly reddish.

 

“Are you taking a nap? Did I wake you up?” Yan Liang spat out his tongue, “Sorry, I just finished your gift and wanted you to see it, so I came straight over.”

 

Shi An’s heart was instantly sour and soft. His expression was still faint as he shook his head very slightly before walking towards Yan Liang.

 

Yan Liang was holding two things in his hands, and his expression was a little excited, as if it was him who celebrated his birthday. He couldn’t wait to put a paper box in his hand into Shi An’s arms and said, “Look at this first. I made this myself.”

 

As he said, Yan Liang laughed again. His slender fingertips gently clicked on the paper box, stressing it again: “I did it myself, it took a lot of hard work to get it right.”

 

When he finished, he raised his chin slightly, like a child wanting praise.

 

Did it himself.

 

It took a lot of hard work to get it right.

 

Shi An’s knuckles holding the paper box tightened slightly. He lowered his eyes calmly, letting his eyelashes cover his eyes as he opened the lid as Yan Liang said.

 

The box contained a small handmade painted wooden sculpture. It was a white cat, with his head slightly tilted up. His eyes were slightly squinted, and his tail was raised high, drawing a beautiful and elegant arc.

 

Although it was a cat, from the look of the action, it showed a cold and proud attitude.

 

Shi An only glanced at it and recognized it: “This is…Lady, ba.” Yan Liang nodded, “Well, look like it, Lady usually looks like this.”

 

Lady was a cat in Fang Wanqing’s family. Only Fang Wanqing raised animals in the alley, and Lady naturally was very precious. But the only cat in this alley had never been close to people, as if he was unfamiliar with them, and always had a proud and arrogant style.

 

It was a beautiful cat, snow-white all over, with light and clear pupils, and no matter what actions it did, it was full of elegance and grace.

 

When it was a kitten, everyone called it a Young Lady and now it was a little older, everyone started to call it Lady. No one remembered its original name.

 

And this unkind cat was particularly fond of Shi An. You wouldn’t believe it until you see it. As long as Shi An appeared in front of it and bent his eyes a little, it would jump into Shi An’s arms with a soft and obedient look.

 

“I really think you and Lady are especially similar,” Yan Liang slightly tilted his head with a bit of amusement, “Maybe you two were relatives in the previous life.”

 

“Thank you, it’s very nice.” Shi An hugged the wooden sculpture with a small smile. The corners of his mouth didn’t move much, but his eyes curved downward in a beautiful arc, and the delicate eyes narrowed slightly.

 

“I’ll hold it for you,” Yan Liang carried the wooden sculpture over, a thick brick book in his hand was shoved into Shi An’s hand, “Take a look at the book.”

 

He took the brick book and turned it over.

 

This was a very old kraft paper-colored hard leather book with yellow edges and some fine fluff rolled up. The paper had a bit of an old paper smell.

 

He turned the book to the latest pages and began to read it seriously.

 

From the age of five, every year on his birthday, Yan Liang would take this book to find people to write him a blessing. Starting in early November, this book would be passed from one end to the other end of the alley. Everyone wrote them down. Every year, thirty or forty pages were written eloquently. The book was thick enough that it hadn’t been used up after so many years.

 

This book was usually kept by Yan Liang. After Shi An finished reading it, he took the book back and secretly took it out for everyone to pass around to write on his birthday the following year. It had become a habit for so many years.

 

As Shi An finished reading more than 30 pages of new blessings carefully, the corners of his mouth raised unconsciously. He gently closed the book and handed it to Yan Liang, and then took the carved wooden cat back into his arms.

 

Ling Yue sat there, her chin resting on the back of the chair, until Yan Liang finished sending things and went out of the door, her eyes still staring unblinkingly at Shi An.

 

Shi An was a little helpless when he saw her, so he lowered his eyes to look at her. He whispered: “Ling Yue jie, what do you want to say.”

 

Despite the questioning words, his tone was flat, turning the question into a statement, obviously not really curious.

 

Ling Yue raised her eyebrows meaningfully at him.

 

Girls were probably more sensitive to such things.

 

It hadn’t been long since Ling Yue started working in the dessert shop. The first time she saw Yan Liang was only two or three months ago.

 

That day when Yan Liang passed by the entrance of the dessert shop, Shi An was teaching Ling Yue to use the milk tea sealing machine. Yan Liang poked his head into the store and asked, have you eaten lunch? Shi An nodded slightly, answering that he had eaten. It took no more than five seconds before and after, but Ling Yue could see it.

 

He was indeed a little flustered and surprised at that moment, but he soon discovered that Ling Yue was a sister who was comfortable to be with, seemingly careless but actually very attentive, and most importantly, she respected his need for distance.

 

Ling Yue casually tore a note sticker and wrote him a few words of blessing.

 

Her handwriting was not very traditional looking, extremely personal, but also really pretty. Shi An picked up the sticky note, thanked her, and turned around to pin it to the store’s khaki colored message wall with a long pin.

 

Ling Yue straightened up and rested her elbows on the back of the chair. With her palms propped up cheeks and two legs dangled, she suddenly said: “Don’t you feel very hard like this?”

 

Shi An’s hand paused slightly.

 

He slowly tore off some broken notes on the wall before answering, “Maybe I am not greedy.”

 

 


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