Zhang Shi Lan looked at the person that he had loved for ten years in a daze. Was this really happening? He could hardly believe it. Ten years of unrequited love were suddenly supposed to turn into a beautiful story where they would find out that they had both longed for each other in the same way?
Ah, but even if that was the case, there were still other things to consider. Qian Mu Qing had said it: There was still their reputation involved, their families. Even if their feelings were mutual, there was no way to live them in reality.
He gave a sad smile and shook his head. “I don’t understand what General Yu is talking about.” His heart squeezed painfully but he had to say this sentence. It was better if he pretended not to understand as if he confessed his own feelings only for them to realize that this would lead nowhere.
Yu Huang Rong’s eyes widened. He wanted to slap his own mouth. Just what had he said just now?! Did he really just confess his feelings like that?! Ah well, at the very least, he hadn’t said I love you. He had to make something up on the spot or their relationship might really take a turn for the worse. He cleared his throat and picked up his teacup, taking a sip. “I’m sorry. What I said just now … It probably sounded very strange.”
Zhang Shi Lan lowered his gaze, his fingers tightening around the fabric of his robe. Strange … Yes, it sounded like something straight out of a dream. Wasn’t that strange?
“Actually, what I meant was that when we met four days ago, I had the feeling that we were getting along rather well. So when the invitation for today arrived I couldn’t help but think of you again and I thought that I could count myself lucky.
“You also know that I haven’t been to the capital very much in the last ten years. I’m not familiar with anyone and well, some people are easier to get along with than others. The Emperor’s cousin has such a lofty status so even though my own status is good, I’d rather not want to get mixed up with him. That Young Master Feng is rather disagreeable so I was also happy that it wasn’t him.”
Zhang Shi Lan looked up, a faint trace of hurt flashing through his eyes. Ah, so it had been like this. Of course. He had thought too much. How could it be that General Yu would feel for him in the way he did? Certainly, there would be no romantic feelings involved from the General’s side.
Qian Mu Qing had thought wrong and because of those words, he himself had also assumed the wrong thing. It really was true. If there was no hope, then it was bearable. But as soon as he saw a faint silver lining at the horizon, he couldn’t help but be disappointed when he found out that this wasn’t actually the day getting closer but instead just an illusion brought by the endless cold.
Yu Huang Rong wasn’t looking at him for fear of embarrassing himself even more and happily continued on. “That Qian Mu Qing seemed like he had something against me. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have been happy if we had been paired up together. As for that guy from the Academy, I guess he’s better but from what I gathered, he was only into music. I guess we wouldn’t have too much we could talk about. And the others didn’t say much so I don’t know anything about them. With you, it was different. So I couldn’t help but think that it really was such a lucky coincidence.” He gave a soft laugh and looked up.
By now, Zhang Shi Lan had already schooled his expression. He gave a small smile and nodded. “Thank you for your praise, General Yu. I was also very happy that you were the one Madam Yan invited me together with. It’s not that I’m in a situation like the General where I don’t really know the others as Min Ru Shui and I both went to the Academy. So we already knew each other. As for Qian Mu Qing, since we arrived shortly after each other, I had the opportunity to talk a while with him and I had a good impression of him. Although I also wouldn’t have dared to even think of being paired with His Highness or Young Master Feng. My father’s status isn’t that high so …” He stopped and also picked up his teacup.
Both men hid behind their cups and looked away from each other, the situation immediately turning awkward.
Yu Huang Rong couldn’t help but hope that Madam Yan might be listening from outside and barge in which whatever excuse to dispel this atmosphere. Unfortunately, he also knew that she wouldn’t be this brazen today. She left them to themselves so they could cultivate the feelings. Why would she come back?
Ah, who could have known that things would turn out this way? They had been on the right track but he had been too hasty. Just thinking of it, he wanted to slap his mouth again. Madam Yan told him the other day that he couldn’t rush things but he still behaved like this! Now, it was as if they had taken a step back.
He glanced at the guqin and wondered if he would be able to make Zhang Shi Lan forget about this episode if he asked him to continue with the practice. Unfortunately, he didn’t know how to bring it up. Ah, this issue was really troublesome.
In the end, it was Zhang Shi Lan who couldn’t take it anymore. He lightly cleared his throat and motioned at the instrument. “Well, it’s good that we’re getting along so well. Actually, I feel that we’ve already made a lot of progress with the performance too. But how about I play the song again? Then General Yu can get a better grasp on it and think of how to perform. Then after that, we can try with the dance again.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded and almost gave a relieved sigh. He held back at the last moment though and just gave Zhang Shi Lan a smile. “That sounds like a really good idea.” He coughed and looked away again, still not feeling that the atmosphere was right. Now, most likely, it would take a while longer for them to return to how they had been before.
Zhang Shi Lan just nodded and went back to playing the instrument. Somehow, the melody didn’t sound the same though. The slow parts seemed even more melancholic than before and even that fast part in the middle didn’t have the same vigor anymore.
Yu Huang Rong narrowed his eyes. Had what he said been that wrong? But this was strange though. Why did the song seem so melancholic? He pondered, not paying too much attention to the tune anymore. It was hard to guess these matters with how little he knew about Zhang Shi Lan. The only thing he was sure about was that Zhang Shi Lan liked him.
Yu Huang Rong’s eyes widened. That wouldn’t be it, would it? Zhang Shi Lan was actually sad because of what he had said before? He gulped and tried to make sense of it. At first, he had casually said that he had thought of him. Zhang Shi Lan had seemed surprised but other than that he hadn’t been able to see too much.
But now that he thought back to it … Maybe there had been a short hint of happiness? Ah, it actually made sense. If Zhang Shi Lan really loved him, then naturally he would be happy when he indicated that he might like him too. But then, he had actually backed off and given another explanation. It must have felt as if he dumped a bucket of cold water on Zhang Shi Lan’s head. He was such an idiot! How could he have done that?!
Yu Huang Rong really wanted to tell him that he hadn’t meant it that way. He wanted to explain but he also felt that this wasn’t the right moment. Time had already passed and it probably wouldn’t be too long anymore before they would need to go and see those women. Then it would be time for the performance. And after that … Who knew what Madam Yan had still planned?
No, now wasn’t the moment to bring it up. No, he needed a better time for it. He needed … He needed a time and place when nobody would bother them. A moment where the two of them were alone and could slowly talk things through. But how to get such a moment? After all, they weren’t that close.
Yu Huang Rong’s eyes suddenly lit up. They hadn’t been close but that wasn’t a problem, was it? After all, with his little white lie just now, he had basically said that he felt drawn to him and that they harmonized quite well. Why shouldn’t he use it? And Zhang Shi Lan wasn’t the type of person to reject a polite offer. Just look at how he had accompanied that Qian Mu Qing home yesterday! Obviously, he was bad at refusing requests.
While Yu Huang Rong still thought about this matter, Zhang Shi Lan already finished playing the song. He looked up, waiting for Yu Huang Rong’s opinion. Nothing happened though. In fact, General Yu didn’t seem as if he had even listened.
Zhang Shi Lan couldn’t help but feel dejected. Despite the things General Yu had just said, it seemed he was at least not thinking very well about his musical talent. Well, he couldn’t resent him for it. He really hadn’t done too well just now. His emotions had still been all over the place. Actually, even calling it the same song was difficult.
He gave a light sigh and spoke up. “I’m sorry, I didn’t do too well. Let me try again.” He already started playing before Yu Huang Rong could say anything. This time, his focus was already better, making the song sound more like what he had originally played. Thankfully, this wasn’t a cheerful song. His current mood … It fit quite well, especially in the first part. The third part was a little troublesome though. He just couldn’t feel any hope. No, he felt as if there was no hope anymore to be had.
Ah, how foolish. Hadn’t he known that long ago already?
The melody came to an end and Zhang Shi Lan looked up without much hope. This time, he met with General Yu’s gaze though. It seemed the General had paid attention again? His lips parted, intending to ask what the General thought. Before he could speak up Yu Huang Rong already spoke though.
“This may be sudden but … I’d like to go and take a look at the capital in the next two days. I mean a long time has already passed and there’s certainly things I’m not too familiar with. Could you imagine accompanying me? We could already go and see some things today after the event has ended. If that isn’t too much trouble for you.”
Zhang Shi Lan looked at him in stunned silence. General Yu … wanted him to go and look at the capital? Why him though? Did he really cherish his thoughts? It was hard to imagine but just the feeling that it might be true made his heart thump and that flickering light of hope return.
Ah, what could he do? He just was that kind of hopeless fool.
He nodded and then motioned at the instrument again. “Then we should make sure that we are sufficiently prepared for the event. Afterward, we can leave immediately.” Of course, he wouldn’t reject an opportunity to spend more time with this man.