Su Chan paced back and forth in the room. Come on... Pick up... Pick up... Pick up...
Master would be back soon, so she didn't have much time left to talk to Yundong. Probably ten minutes give or take.
"The number you have dialed is unavailable. Please leave a message after the—" Grr! Su Chan lowered the phone and bit her lip. Had she pressed the wrong buttons? Maybe she had pressed the wrong buttons. That had to be it. These buttons were way too tiny. Su Chan flipped the phone over and tried again, thumbing each button carefully. Once she was sure she had gotten the sequence correct, she pressed the green button.
The phone trembled slightly when she raised it to her ear. It rang, rang, and rang—
Su Chan's heart soared. Yayyy!!!
"Helloooooooo!!!! Beloved! Guess who is calling?"
Hmm? Maybe he was too surprised to hear her voice that he got tongue-tied? Su Chan giggled into the phone. "Hehehe... Don't tell me you've forgotten my voice already? It's me! Your little cheap monk!"
Then, Su Chan's blood ran cold.
She heard a laugh. A feminine laugh.
Su Chan hands dropped limply to her sides. The phone slipped from her grip and fell to the carpeted floor with thud.
H- He's replaced me... He's found… a n-new lover... He's abandoned me...
Su Chan thought back to the voice she'd heard over the phone. Who was that girl? Zi Yuan? Ruan Hongling? But no, that voice didn't sound like either of them. Besides, why would Zi Yuan or Ruan Hongling have Yundong's phone?
Maybe Yundong left his phone at the motel and someone else had it now? Maybe it was one of those girls with the strange uniforms, the ones pushing those large trolleys around the motel every morning? Maybe—
"Chan'er!! Where are you?"
Uh-oh! Master's back! Master's back! Argh!
Su Chan scrambled for the phone on the floor and then stuffed it under her pillow. Then, she jumped onto the bed and lay down with her back facing the door.
Yundong wouldn't just replace me, would he? No, no, no... Yundong is the nicest... the most loyal... and... and... Su Chan's shoulders began to tremble. B- But... what if he really doesn't want me anymore? What if he got tired of my absence and then... and then he...
A sob escaped Su Chan's lips. She bit her bottom lip to stifle another one.
The door opened. "Chan'er? Are you—" Master paused mid-sentence.
Su Chan bit her lip harder and endured the sting in her eyes. Seconds later, she heard Master's dejected sigh.
"You're thinking about him again, aren't you, Chan'er?"
Su Chan decided to abandon all pretense right then. She turned around on the bed and faced her master, teary face and all. "Can I go see him, Master? Please? Chan'er misses him, Master... Let me go see him..."
"No..." The coldness in Master's voice made Su Chan flinch. "Absolutely not! He will fail the Zhuji phase if you go back now, do you understand? He will fail. And then he will die! Do you really want that?"
Su Chan let her shoulder sag, then shook her head weakly.
Master was already stepping out of the door. "Remember that he only has one chance left, Chan'er. One chance."
The door slammed shut a second later.
The entire apartment screamed "weird vibes" when Li Yundong walked in. He paused at the doorway with bags of groceries hanging from his hands. Ruan Hongling was on the couch, scowling. Zi Yuan was leaning her back against the sliding door with her eyes closed.
"What happened?" Li Yundong asked. He looked from Zi Yuan to Ruan Hongling, then back to Zi Yuan again.
Okay...? This was awkward. Li Yundong cleared his throat loudly and moved from the doorway into the living room.
"Well! So, um… I know we got off on the wrong foot, but you two have been so helpful to me for the past few days. I figured I'd repay you with a meal. Plus, you guys haven't had your lunch yet, so..." He shrugged.
Zi Yuan opened her eyes and smiled at him. "You're too kind."
Li Yundong returned her smile. "Nah. It's no big deal," he said casually. "It doesn't feel right to let you two watch me eat anyway."
Ruan Hongling shot him a skeptical look. "You know how to cook?" Then, her expression turned suspicious. "You're not trying to poison us, are you?"
Li Yundong rolled his eyes. Annoying girl. "I guess you'll see." Li Yundong padded into the kitchen. "Make yourself at home. I won't be long!"
"Need a hand?"
Li Yundong looked up from the chopping board at the sound of Zi Yuan's voice.
Li Yundong smiled. "Nah. It's okay. Girls should avoid the kitchen at all costs."
Zi Yuan gave him an amused look. "Why?"
Li Yundong shrugged. "Well, all the smoke and..." He cleared his throat. "And… you know, the oil... Might ruin your skin..."
Li Yundong dropped the knife and turned away from the counter.
I miss her... God I miss her so much...
F*ck! Why didn't he chop onions instead of... of... Shit, what the heck had he been chopping? He couldn't even remember. Damn it. Should've gone with onions first. At least he could use the onions as an excuse for his tears.
A warm hand touched his shoulder a second later.
"Are you okay?"
Li Yundong turned and saw Zi Yuan's concerned expression.
"I'm fine," he said, then sniffed. "I just..."
"You miss her," Zi Yuan said.
Li Yundong sighed. "Yeah..." Suddenly he smiled. "I told her the same thing I told you earlier." He chuckled. "I mean, about why women shouldn't spend so much time in the kitchen."
And then his princess totally ignored him and ended up blowing up the kitchen. Fun times. Happy times.
"Come on," Zi Yuan said with a warm smile. "The food's not going to prepare itself."
Li Yundong cleared his throat and turned back to the chopping board. When he picked up the knife, he saw Zi Yuan removing a second chopping board from the cabinet.
"You can cook?" Li Yundong asked.
In hindsight, he should've asked in a less skeptical tone.
Zi Yuan didn't seem offended by the question—thank God. Instead, she smiled and lay the chopping board on the counter.
"A little bit, I guess."
There was a loud, haughty snort.
Li Yundong looked up to see Ruan Hongling leaning against the door jamb of the kitchen.
"I'll have you know that Elder Sister Zi Yuan cooks really well. I bet her skills are way better than yours!"
"Really?" Li Yundong's gaze snapped towards Zi Yuan. "Wow. I didn't know."
Truth be told, Li Yundong thought Zi Yuan was the rich, pampered type. At least that was his first impression of her. Then again, he knew close to nothing about Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling's lives. So there was that.
"Ignore her," Zi Yuan said. "I only know how to make a few simple dishes, that's all."
Li Yundong lowered his gaze and studied the way Zi Yuan was slicing a piece of carrot like she'd been doing it for decades.
"Uh-huh..." he said.
Zi Yuan kept slicing and dicing the carrot. She didn't even look up from the chopping board. "No, really. I used to stay alone." She shrugged. "A girl has to eat in order to survive, you know?"
Li Yundong chuckled. "Fine. How about this, then? Why don't I make two of my signature dishes, and you do the same? Deal?"
Zi Yuan stopped her knife work and looked up from the chopping board. She held Li Yundong's gaze for a moment, and then smiled confidently. "Deal."
Ruan Hongling clapped her hands together. "Yes! Woohoo! Looks like I've got a chance to savor Elder Sister Zi Yuan's cooking again!"
"Enough... Hongling. Stop being a nuisance and go outside."
For once, Ruan Hongling didn't talk back to her mentor like a petulant child. She grinned and slipped out of the kitchen. Li Yundong stared after Ruan Hongling in shock. Maybe the girl liked Zi Yuan's cooking a lot.
Twenty minutes later, lunch was served.
Li Yundong went out of his way and prepared three dishes instead of two: braised carp; sweet and sour pork ribs; and finally, tomato and egg soup. True to her word, Zi Yuan prepared two simple dishes: stir-fried lotus; and stir-fried carrot slices.
"Lucky me!" Ruan Hongling said. "It's been so long since I've had home cooking! And it smells heavenly in here!"
"Wait, you guys don't eat home-cooked meals regularly?"
Try as he might, Li Yundong couldn't keep the surprise out of his tone when he asked the question, to which Zi Yuan answered with a cryptic smile.
In the end, it was Ruan Hongling who answered his question. "Elder Sister Zi Yuan's CQ is so high that food is no longer needed for survival. And I... Well... I…"
Was Ruan Hongling blushing? Yep. She totally was.
"I don't know how to cook. So I relied on take-outs…"
Li Yundong laughed but then immediately masked it with a cough. He cleared his throat and picked up his chopsticks.
"Hey... This is good!" Li Yundong said after taking a bite of Zi Yuan's stir-fried lotus. "Holy wow! This tastes amazing!!"
Li Yundong took a few more bites.
Zi Yuan smiled humbly. "It's okay, I guess."
Li Yundong opened his mouth to say something, but then he was cut off by Ruan Hongling's shrill voice.
"Delicious!!!" Ruan Hongling turned to Zi Yuan. "Here, have some of this fish, Elder Sister Zi Yuan!"
Li Yundong watched Ruan Hongling place a piece of the braised carp he'd made into Zi Yuan's bowl. He smirked. Who's trying to poison whom now?
Zi Yuan picked up her chopsticks and took a bite of the fish while Li Yundong waited with bated breath for Zi Yuan's reaction. A tiny smile formed on Zi Yuan's lips. "It's really good."
Li Yundong smirked. Well. He never doubted that for a second. Ruan Hongling's nearly-full bowl—let's not forget his daily "food wars" with Su Chan—pretty much told him everything he needed to know about his culinary skills.
After that, the meal went on in companionable silence, which was quite a surprise considering that they had tried to kill each other not a few days ago.
Perhaps food was the solution to world peace.
Minutes later, Li Yundong could feel Ruan Hongling's eyes on him. He looked up from his bowl and saw Ruan Hongling studying him curiously.
Li Yundong raised a brow, then smirked. "What's the matter? You look like you wanna eat me up."
Ruan Hongling sniggered. "Oh, trust me. I don't wanna eat you up." Then, Ruan Hongling's eyes darted to Zi Yuan. "But somebody does."
Li Yundong glanced towards Zi Yuan, who was now blushing to the tip of her ears.
Some sort of scuffle sounded under the table.
"Ow! Why'd you kick me, Elder Sister Zi Yuan!" Ruan Hongling pouted, reaching down under the table.
Li Yundong shot Zi Yuan another questioning look, but the woman wasn't even looking at him. She was glaring at Ruan Hongling as though she wanted to skin her protégé alive.
"Um, what are you guys—" Li Yundong stopped talking when he heard the sound of a familiar ringtone.
Su Chan. It was Su Chan's ringtone.
He was out of his seat in a second, charging towards the couch like a madman. He grabbed the phone from the couch and hit the answer key almost immediately.
His heart sank to the bottom of his stomach when the first thing he heard was Su Chan's wails.
"How could you!!! How could you abandon me...!!!"
Just like that, Li Yundong felt as though his world had shattered into a million pieces.