TLP Chapter 14: The Elegant Lunatic (4)

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*** = Scene change
***** = Timeskip

What was it like to be alive?

*****

It was Chinese New Year’s Day1.

Qingruo received red envelopes from her parents, but they would hold onto the money for her until she was older. Despite that, the little girl managed to wheedle out a hundred yuan2 by utilizing her childish charms. 

That evening, she bought a vibrant red rose for three yuan3 from a street vendor before meeting up with Xu Nianyang. 

From her little cartoon-printed purse, she produced a small heap of crackers, candy, and the remaining ninety-seven yuan and dumped it all onto his palm. As her head was lowered, the sunlight shone brilliantly on her black hair, and the wind gently caressed her twin braids.

The latter wasn’t so kind to Xu Nianyang. Both of his hands were soon filled to the brim, and he had to close his fingers tightly around the money and treats to prevent the wind from blowing them away. Qingruo continued rummaging in her purse until she found the last piece of candy, then finally, she raised her head. 

Her smile was as bright as the summer sun.

Xu Nianyang was wearing Mr. Xu’s old work clothes. The shirt bore four big pockets, two of which Qingruo filled with the rest of the candy that his hands couldn’t contain.

“Gege, the strawberry-flavored milk candy is super yummy!” she remarked softly, the sound of her small voice nearly drowned out by the rustling of candy wrappers. 

She seemed to have a special fondness for strawberry-flavored things, he realized with sudden guilt. Every week, he would drink up all of her strawberry milk. It was on purpose, of course, but now he regretted it.

Her focus was still on his shirt as she continued to toss candy into his pockets. With some difficulty, he freed up one hand and stopped her. Her hand was cold.

After carefully storing the things in his other hand in a pocket, he took both of her hands into his and rubbed them together. Once her hands were warmed up, he immediately stuffed them into the woollen gloves hanging from her neck.

“Ruoruo, let’s go to the park.”

She looked at him and nodded. “Mhm.” 

Without another word, he began to walk, while Qingruo shifted her position and pulled their clasped hands into one of his lower shirt pockets. There was candy inside, and she took out two to munch on.

The added thickness of her gloves to her fingers made removing the candy’s wrapper difficult. She attempted twice before giving up, glaring and pouting.

Xu Nianyang’s gaze never strayed from her. Giving her head a small pat, he reached out and laid his hand over hers. Gently, he guided her fingers, and once the candy was out, she picked it up and unhesitantly sent it to his lips.

“Gege, aaah~”

However, though she hid it well, Xu Nianyang noticed that she was reluctant. Her throat bobbed almost imperceptibly, and her eyes just barely gave her away. Therefore, instead of opening his mouth, he took the candy onto his palm and leveled it with the bottom curve of her lips. Before she could reject, he said, “I’ll eat the other one.”

AdvertisementImmediately, she ducked her head and opened her mouth. He could feel her warm breath on his skin and the tip of her tongue brush against his palm as it swept down to take the treat.

A smile was present when she raised her head again. Smacking her lips, she looked back down and tackled the wrapper around the other piece of candy as Xu Nianyang lifted his hand and inspected the damp line her tongue had left on his palm.

He vaguely remembered hearing someone say that this line was the lifeline. 

As it was New Year’s, the streets and the trees that lined them were decked in celebratory red decorations. Qingruo, too, was wearing red.

The two had only walked a short distance when she suddenly lifted her head and looked at him.

Sensing that she had something to say, Xu Nianyang pulled her away from the crowd and crossed a red light to somewhere without much people before turning around. “What is it?”

She removed her scarf, her movements made clumsy by her gloves. Xu Nianyang frowned slightly, but before he could say anything, she reached up and wrapped the scarf around his neck. She tried to tie it, but an awkward knot at the front was the best she could do.

He could tell without looking that it made him look strange, but he remained silent, for her eyes were filled with starlight as she inspected her “masterpiece.” She nodded with satisfaction.

“Gege needs to wear a little red too.”

Carefully stowed in the side pocket of her purse was the red rose she had bought for three yuan. She took it out and presented it to him.

“Gege, for you.”

Having gained quite a bit of weight lately, Xu Nianyang no longer resembled a frightening skeleton. His face held an angular edge, and his eyes were icy. He seemed to be surrounded by an aura of gloom, resembling neither a child nor an adult. 

Now he was wrapped clumsily in a red scarf and holding a rose in one hand, his hair in disarray. His long eyelashes cast shadows that hid the emotions in his eyes.

No matter how she looked at him, he looked silly.

Xu Nianyang reached out and tidied her braids before grabbing her hands and stuffing them back into her gloves, then he pulled up her shirt collar to cover her neck.

He snapped off the extra limbs from the rose and slid it vertically inside one of his shirt pockets. Then, taking her hand, he began to walk again. 

‘This new life…’

The amber glow of the festival lit up his face, and his thoughts drifted.

There was nothing he wanted to change about this life, as the three years he had spent in prison—or perhaps sooner, when he turned 18, or even before that—had completely worn out his expectations.

Anyhow, there was no need to overthink it.

What was it like to be alive? Xu Nianyang didn’t know, and nor did he need to know.

Abuse, hunger, and coldness—none of it mattered, because in the end, the world would go to hell. 

In the last moment, he stood on the tallest building in the world, and looked down at the endless ocean of zombies. He sent the last bullet in his gun through the temple of the last human on Earth—himself.

The human world had flourished for thousands and thousands of years, but on that day, it perished. 

Even though he had been reborn, he didn’t feel like anything needed to be changed. The ending would be the same, and it was an ending he was satisfied with. As a matter of fact, it was an ending he liked.

Suddenly, he felt a tickle on his palm. Looking down, he saw that Qingruo was bouncing on the balls of her feet, causing her fluffy gloves to rub against his skin.

Xu Nianyang stared at her and found himself unable to imagine her as a corpse, or a zombie. The thought made him frown, then a chill spread all over him.

Qingruo was staring at a pet shop. When she turned back around, she saw Xu Nianyang’s gloomy expression.

Smiling sweetly, she pulled on his hand. “Gege, look at that cute doggy!”

His gaze trailed along her finger until it landed on a puppy visible through the shop window.

But all he saw was black. In his eyes, the world was a picture of black, with its black buildings, black people, black animals, and black plants. Pitch-black, resembling the dawn of the world… or the end. She was the only exception.

“Mhm, it’s very cute.” He nodded with a gentle smile on his lips, the chill instantly dissipating.

Qingruo hugged his arm and half-leaned on him, softly rambling, “I reeeaaally wanted to raise a little doggy, but Mommy said no, the little doggy will make the house stink-stink. Then the cakes Qingruo like will become stink-stink too.”

“Stink-stink?” He looked at the small animals in the shop. ‘Stinky?

Ruoruo likes cake, but not cakes that stink-stink.’

***

After Xu Nianyang graduated from middle school, the Xu couple made him get a part-time job at a suburban factory. He would not be continuing his education.

He was underaged, so he could not sign a labor contract. Therefore, despite being the same as a full-timer, working the same labor and the same hours, they referred to him as a part-timer. 

As compensation, the factory promised to pay him an extra two hundred yuan4 every month, but with no liability for any injuries, or casualty.

The Xu couple agreed.

There was a dormitory for workers inside the factory, and that was where Xu Nianyang stayed. He was provided with a bed, a cotton quilt, and one pillow, while his own belongings consisted only of some clothes and two pairs of shoes, along with a Hello Kitty insulated water bottle that Qingruo had given him. 

The factory was located in the eastern suburbs, an hour’s walk from the Xu family’s apartment and Qingruo’s residential area. Working hours were from 8 o’clock in the morning to 6 o’clock in the afternoon every day, with an hour-long lunch break in between. Meals were provided three times a day, and the food was always just enough to fill—but not satisfy—his stomach.

Even with their clashing schedules, Xu Nianyang and Qingruo still “met” routinely. Every night, he would embark on the hour-long walk to her residence. Usually, at that time of the day, she would be doing homework at her desk. 

Her time and freedom were very limited now, as her parents wanted her to focus on her studies. She found a little bamboo basket and some yarn and Scotch tape, which she fastened together to make a rope. She couldn’t go down to meet Xu Nianyang, so she would write a message on a slip of paper and put it inside the basket, along with a fruit or piece of candy, before lowering the basket from her window.

And just like this, four years passed.

*****

October.

Xu Nianyang was now a head taller than Qingruo. He was wearing a black knitted sweater under a thin, black lapel coat. Although it was cold in the mornings and evenings, the overall temperature in City K was still relatively warm. He could’ve worn the sweater without the coat, but knowing Qingruo, she would scold him if he did. Therefore, he wore the coat.

She had bought the clothes for him. As he waited for her outside the residential area, his thoughts drifted to the little dormitory he lived in. Everything there, from the indoor slippers to the toothpaste and toothbrush, had either been bought by her or bought together by the two of them. Everything carried her mark.

The girl had just become a middle schooler, and her hair was almost at waist length. She was not allowed to wear her hair down at school, so she always wore it in a ponytail. Currently, it was down, framing her face and her collarbones. 

Willowy eyebrows, rosy lips, and pretty white teeth.

When her figure came into sight, he felt as though he could already see her smile—she was always gracing him with that breathtaking twinkle, it seemed.

“Gege~”

“Mhm.” Xu Nianyang gently nodded and waited for her to reach him before lifting a hand to rub her head. “Did you finish your homework?”

Qingruo’s face instantly fell. She shot him a grumpy glare before slapping his hand away and walking forward without answering.

He strode to her side and took her small hand. “Don’t be mad.”

However, he knew that she wouldn’t get mad at him for something so trivial. She seldom got mad at him, actually, but that was only as long as he kept himself safe and out of harm’s way.

The girl grinned and locked their fingers together. Before he knew it, she had already hooked her arm around his and leaned into him from the side. As they walked, she happily recounted the events of her day.

Xu Nianyang listened intently and would occasionally ask questions when he was curious about something, and Qingruo would either answer him or impatiently move on.

“Ruoruo, my real father came to find me. He wants me to go home with him,” he said when she was done talking. His feet didn’t stop moving, and his tone didn’t change.

Qingruo let out a small exclamation of surprise and remained shocked for a long time as he led her along by their intertwined arms and hands.

Finally, she stopped in her tracks and looked at him.

“Gege, do you have to go?”


In this world,

I only believe in you.

—【Black Box】


VIN: Yep… Transmigrator Qingruo and Reincarnator Xu Nianyang.

RELEASE SCHEDULE: Schedules are impossible for me.


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