OCN C76 A Chat with a Stranger

Li Shui wasn’t the only person from Bright Yellow Water that had a chance meeting. Xiao Ming didn’t quite know where to go after splitting up with the others so finally, he walked into a nearby bookstore.

He knew that the next two weeks would be stressful. Running around outside was definitely something that would be fun every now and then but, to be honest, staying at home would probably be more relaxing. And for him, other than cooking, the best way to achieve that would be to read a nice book. He hadn’t taken many along so he felt it best to stock up on some new ones while he was out.

He started to browse the shelves, looking for some familiar names in the hopes that maybe there would be a new volume to some of his favorite series or maybe something completely new. He didn’t usually keep up with news on his favorite authors so it was usually a fun coincidental discovery if he got his hands on a new one.

Just when he was going to one of the shelves, somebody suddenly called out to him.

“Mister Xiao.”

Xiao Ming raised his head and looked to the side, finding a good-looking and really well-dressed man standing a couple of steps away that might be in his late twenties. He looked vaguely familiar but Xiao Ming wasn’t sure where he had seen him before. He looked at him blankly for a moment, not quite sure should react.

The other person was none other than Si Qi. After sitting in the coffee for a while, he had really done as he had told Si Er and gone to the closest bookstore. After browsing around for a while, he had gone to the next and then the next, and finally, he landed here.

He knew that he was just doing this to run away from his problems. Being surrounded by books had always calmed him down. If he could, he probably would’ve just pulled one out at random and started reading somewhere but that would really be too much even for him.

When he was trying to work up the courage to leave, he had suddenly spotted Xiao Ming. After seeing him so often on the live stream and then also seeing him in person at the casting yesterday, he had no trouble recognizing him. But judging by Xiao Ming’s expression, the other man didn’t quite know where to put him.

Si Qi smiled faintly and then walked closer, shaking his head at himself. “I’m sorry. You are probably busy right now. My name is Shi Ru Qiu. I’m one of the contestants in ‘Golden Spoon’ so we saw each other at the casting yesterday.”

Xiao Ming nodded with some relief when the other person actually told him where they had met, feeling that this was nice. And he had even given him such a good excuse. “So it was Mister Shi. I’m sorry I was lost in thought just now and needed a moment. I was looking for …” He turned to the bookshelf, wanting to point at something when he realized which book he had just wanted to pull out. It was one that had been written by none other than Shi Ru Qiu. The same name he had just heard from the other man.

Xiao Ming stared at it in confusion for a moment before he turned around, wondering if this was just a strange coincidence.

Si Qi hadn’t noticed what book he was currently looking at and was just wondering if maybe he had done the wrong thing by approaching. He hurriedly looked away, rubbing his arm. He couldn’t help but feel that he wasn’t welcome once again. It felt like no matter where or when, he would always be rejected. “I’m sorry for bothering you. Really. I didn’t want anything just to say hello since I recognized you. I should leave now.” He hurriedly inclined his head and turned away.

Xiao Ming realized that he was being impolite. He hurriedly stepped to the side, stopping Si Qi in his steps. “No, it’s me who should be sorry. I just saw the same name on the bookshelf and my mind just wandered off for a moment.”

Si Qi looked over and then couldn’t help but smile. “Oh, that. It’s actually my favorite standalone novel among all of my works.”

Xiao Ming stared in a daze once again, feeling like he had just found out something incredible. “I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t ask this but do you mean to say that you are that Shi Ru Qiu?”

Si Qi looked at him and then smiled. “Oh, I am, yes. But don’t tell anyone. The beauty of using my words instead of my face is that people won’t recognize me when I go out.”

Xiao Ming rubbed his neck, not sure what to say to that. In fact, he couldn’t believe that he was in this situation. Comparing him as somebody who only acted online and just had a channel in a very specific niche, he felt that Shi Ru Qiu should be much more famous than him. But somehow, this famous person had recognized him while he had needed a long time to realize just who he was. That was something that he couldn’t wrap his head around.

Si Qi realized that the situation was awkward but also didn’t know how to deal with it. This was probably the problem when two introverts met. He thought for a bit and then just tried to make small talk. “Are you also having a look around the city?”

Xiao Ming nodded, feeling as if he was saved when he was suddenly asked a normal question. “Yes! The others and I are going to stay in the city for the whole time ‘Golden Spoon’ is being filmed. So we wanted to take a look around and get a bit more familiar. We just split up to do our own thing for a while. I came to get something to read for the time between the episodes. I was looking for some familiar names.” His face turned red at that and he lowered his head. “I actually really like your books.”

Si Qi smiled and nodded. “Thank you.” To him, this was actually the biggest compliment he could get. Even though he had chosen that profession in part because it was beneficial to the Si clan, he also truly enjoyed it. Being able to write was something that genuinely made him happy.

Actually, come to think of it, even if there wouldn’t have been Si Yi and the Si clan, just being able to be an author would’ve been enough for him probably. So maybe even if he wasn’t able to let go of his forbidden feelings and ultimately lost his place amongst the others, maybe he wouldn’t lose everything after all. Maybe at least this part would be left to him.

He smiled faintly and then sighed. “As for the city, I’m the same. I … I didn’t want to take the hassle of traveling around between cities all the time so I found a place to stay here for however long I’ll be able to stay on the show. Today, I was here to look for some cookbooks actually.

“I haven’t been cooking for so long and I felt the need to brush up on knowledge. I didn’t really find anything yet though.” In fact, he had really been looking at cookbooks when he came here. After all, he hadn’t forgotten his task. While he might be focused more on Si Yi than the clan recently — or actually had been for the past few years — that didn’t mean that he was completely ignoring his duties as a ninja of the Si clan. No, he would definitely make sure that he did the things he had to.

Xiao Ming felt that it was quite curious when he heard that. “I’m sorry if this is too intrusive but might I ask why are you taking part in ‘Golden Spoon’ if you only started recently?”

Si Qi smiled and then wandered back to the shelf, pulling out one of the volumes of his most well-known series. “Well, no matter what your own identity is, there are some things that you can’t achieve. It is especially difficult when it comes to other people.”

Xiao Ming followed him over and looked at the volume. He actually remembered this one quite well. And somehow, he had a strange feeling that Shi Ru Qiu was talking about both the novel and his own life. Maybe the things he wrote were actually inspired by his own experiences.

Si Qi leafed through the book, his fingers accurately stopping at a certain page. He glanced at the description there and his lips curved up in a gentle smile. “I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t actually love cooking. It’s more a means to an end. The kind of thing you do when you are really desperate. Taking part in the show is the same for me.”

He fell silent and then glanced back at Xiao Ming, tilting his head a little. “You probably don’t want to hear this so I should stop already. But … to be honest, I don’t have that many people to talk to about these things and I’m a little lost right now. Since you asked, maybe you wouldn’t mind if I told you.”

Xiao Ming had no idea what was going on but there was something in Si Qi’s eyes that made him nod. Looking at him, he seemed … lonely. It definitely wasn’t what he would have expected to see from a famous author. But as it turned out, no matter what you achieved in mind there was — just as he had said just now — always something you couldn’t have and maybe that something was actually more important than fame.

Si Qi’s smile eased when Xiao Ming didn’t refuse him. He also didn’t know why he was doing this. In any case, if Xiao Ming got together with their master and figured out who he had been talking about, it would become incredibly awkward. But then, he wouldn’t dare to tell somebody not related to the clan. After all, they couldn’t leave too many traces. So somebody already in contact with them was the only listened he could ever get and he really, really wanted to talk about this just this once.

In the Si clan itself, there was no way for him to say something. Their master wasn’t the most receptive when it came to feelings and neither was Si Er. Si Yi was out of the question because of obvious reasons and he didn’t want to hear Si Shi Ba analyzing his psyche. He knew he was obsessed with this without a psychologist telling him so.

Well, there were still seventeen other ninjas but, to be honest, he wasn’t that close to them. He knew that some of the others had a genuine, close friendship that went past their regular brotherhood but he had never been able to fit in that way.

He just … wasn’t the type. He got along with everyone just fine but it never went further. Sometimes, he wondered if there was just something wrong with him. Maybe that was why Si Yi didn’t want him. Maybe it had nothing to do with the Si clan and only with him personally. Actually, he didn’t know and he didn’t dare to ask.

He took a deep breath to quell those unbidden thoughts and got back to the subject. “This might sound like the plot of a cliched novel but there’s this person that I’ve liked for the longest time. Unfortunately, the feeling isn’t mutual.

“No matter what I do, that will probably never change. I know that. Deep down, I do. But just like a moth is lured to the flame, I just cannot help myself and try to get closer to him again and again. I know the outcome but still.” He closed the book with a sigh and put it back on the shelf before he turned to Xiao Ming.

“I’m sorry for saying these things even though you said it’s alright. Anyway, I’m just a stranger to you. It’s awkward to have to hear this. It’s just that this is something that has been on my mind a lot lately, especially after the casting. When you do something and have high hopes but then they are dashed in just a moment, it’s difficult to accept.”

Xiao Ming nodded even though he had no idea what to say. “That sounds like a difficult situation. That person … they have to be somebody very special for Mister Shi to think about them so much and be willing to go to such lengths.”

Si Qi’s smile brightened at that and he actually chuckled a little. “If I said that he was the most special man that I ever met in my life, I wouldn’t be exaggerating.”

Xiao Ming’s eyes suddenly widened. “You’re also …” Gay. To be honest, he had felt that there were some undertones in Shi Ru Qiu’s stories — at the very least in his main series — but he had thought that maybe he was just interpreting things differently because they spoke to him. He never would’ve thought that they might speak to him because the author himself held similar feelings.

Si Qi glanced around and then touched his lips, shaking his head. “I guess this isn’t really the right place to talk about these kinds of things. Anyway, if I’m really not bothering you, how about sitting down and having a bite to eat? I’ve been on my feet the whole day and I could really take some good food by now. If you’ve been walking around all day, it’s probably the same for you. So, please feel invited. I really enjoy chatting with you.”

Xiao Ming was a little surprised but then again, it wasn’t that easy to meet other gay guys and even have them admit it so straightforwardly. Also, considering that they had already met each other before even though they weren’t close, maybe this wasn’t too strange. Thus, he nodded. “Sure, why not?”

Si Qi looked at the bookshelf and couldn’t help but point at it. “I’m afraid you still haven’t found something to read yet though. Do you want me to wait for a moment?”

Xiao Ming cleared his throat. “Well, would it be awkward if I bought one of your books? I actually haven’t read that one yet.”

Si Qi just laughed and waved for him to go ahead. “No, I’d be honored if you took it. You know, to me, there is no greater compliment than seeing somebody enjoy one of my stories. They are very dear to me so liking them is a bit like liking myself. Who wouldn’t be happy about that?”

Xiao Ming nodded and pulled out the book that he had been looking at before in a daze, carrying it to check out. Then, he followed Si Qi out of the bookstore and over to a small bistro that still had a free table. He couldn’t help but feel a little strange when he sat down as if right now, he was entering a new world.

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