Chapter 24: He Doesn’t Like Women?

It had been a week since the incident and Skyfire Planet had returned to a state of calm. Interstellar news had reported nothing further about the bride snatching. Everything was back to normal.

Lan Jue returned to his normal life, operating his jewelry store.

Recently business had been slow, with few customers to speak of. Luckily for the shop, it didn’t needs very many to stay afloat.

Ding ding ding. The bell above the door chimed as a man in a leisure suit found his way inside.

Xiuxiu smiled and gave a slight curtsey to the man in greeting, welcoming him inside. Ke’er had already dutifully prepared a cup of warm water which she held in both hands.

“What do you need? Speak – no discounts.” Lan Jue lazily leaned against the back of his chair as he spoke to the newcomer.

The Gourmet took the glass offered by Ke’er and sat beside Lan Jue. He grumbled, “So stingy. You never paid for the whiskey you drank at the winey, either.”

“Oh, really? I don’t recall,” Lan Jue responded his eyes large.

“Nobles never keep their word,” the Gourmet responded disdainfully.

Lan Jue scowled. “What do you want.”

The Gourmet responded by lifting his brows. “Do I need a reason to come see you?”

Lan Jue laughed. “With your cool demeanor? You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have a reason. You sit in your little shop all day refusing to leave.”

The Gourmet sighed. “Well, I guess you aren’t too fond of me.”

Lan Jue drummed his fingers, grinning at him. “No one likes a debt collector.”

He huffed. “You don’t owe me money. I just came to let you know I have a whole bluefin tuna coming in in a few days. I wanted to see if anyone was interested in a bite.”

“A whole one?” Lan Jue’s voice raised an octave, his eyes lighting up.

Of course he knew finding a whole bluefin tuna was exceedingly rare. It certainly wasn’t a natural product of Skyfire, it must have come from someone’s fish farm.

The Gourmet stood. “Fine, I’m leaving. After they catch it it’ll be three days before it arrives, and another two after before it can be eaten. We’ll meet in five days. At the winery, it’s large and we’ll put the space to good use.”

“Good, good.”

The Gourmet made his way outside, lead by Xiuxiu. As he did he said over his shoulder, “It’s a big fish. Bring a friend.”

“Boss, bring me!” Ke’er looked peeved, laying atop the counter before Lan Jue with her lower stuck out.

“Ke’er,” Xiuxiu said in rebuke.

Ke’er stuck out her tongue, shuffling towards her. “We wont’ make the boss lose face, what’s wrong with going with him?”

Xiuxiu took her arm, speaking in quiet tones. “He hasn’t been in a good mood, lately.”

Beep beep beep! Lan Jue dropped his head to look at his interstellar communicator. An unfamiliar number flashed on it’s screen.

He answered.

“Thirty-Seven Huayin Street, Luo Yun teahouse.” A pleasing but indifferent voice came wafting through the communicator.

At first he listened apathetically, but his features could not help but shift once he realized who the voice belonged to. “I’ll be there soon.”

As he spoke he rose quickly and exited the shop.

Watching his back as he hurried away, Ke’er gave him a suspicious look. “The boss doesn’t seem quite right.”

Xiuxiu, on the other hand, looked anxious. “He’s seemed like his normal self the last few days, but I can feel he’s been pretty depressed. Something must have happened.”

“With the boss’ abilities what sort of thing could make him so unhappy,” Ke’er wondered aloud. “You should ask him Xiuxiu. He likes you best.”

Xiuxiu’s face grew red. “Stop talking nonsense.”

Ke’er snickered, speaking quietly. “Don’t tell me you don’t like him. Every time you look at him I see it in your face. You got eyes for that goofy guy and no one else.”

Xiuxiu laughed bitterly. “You give him too little credit. If you can see it, so can he. He ignores it on purpose.”

Ke’er blinked in confusion. “Why? You’re so pretty and sweet!”

Xiuxiu shook her head. “I don’t know either, but.. do you remember? When the boss had first opened the store he was awfully depressed every day. Like he’d had his heart broken.”

“Hey, do you think he’s… you know?” Ke’er said cryptically, her voice softer still.

“What,” Xiuxiu responded, confused.

“You know, us two beautiful girls, strutting in front of him day in and day out, but no reaction. Only way to explain it, he doesn’t like women!”

“Ah?” Xiuxiu looked at her dumbly, the color draining from her face.

ζ

“Atchoo!” Lan Jue rubbed his nose and muttered to himself. “Who’s talking trash about me.”1

ζ

Huayin Street was located in the Western section of Skyfire City, a significant distance from Skyfire Avenue in the city’s downtown district.

Lan Jue sat upon one of the public lev-buses, unaware of his scrunched brows.

His tolerance exceeded that of the average person, and even then it took three years to free himself from the pain he’d experienced. It had been a week since his actions at the wedding, and his mood had gradually returned to normal. But that call, the voice on the other end of his communicator, brought back that night in his memory.

The sorry had already been pressed down, hidden away, but the trouble from that night was far from resolved.

But once he’d heard that voice, his heart beat grew rapid.

He couldn’t help it. Not because she and he had been as close as a man and woman could, but because of what that voice resembled.

And so, almost unconsciously, he lept from the bus disregarding all of his normal grace and poise.

The Luo Yun teahouse wasn’t large, but quite fine. It bore a classical Chinese style construction from the former era, located on a building with letters written over it.

He was met at the door by a woman in a cream qipao. She lead him inside to a tasteful private room.2

As he entered, he stopped in his tracks. The cream-clad woman behind him had already left and shut the door.

The room was small, only capable of seating two.

She wore the same dress as the night she left, long and white. Her long hair was brushed in to a pony tail, revealing the fair skin of her forehead. She didn’t look up, instead staring quietly at the boccaro before her.

The enameled teapot wasn’t large, the top set with a raised relief of plum blossoms. The surface was a deep red, and stood out.

The slightly golden, deep red tea water was poured out and the faint scent of it filled the silent room. The brief sound and smell only added to the quietude.

Lan Jue just stood, staring at the elegant women seated before him. Though he could only see those long eye lashes, he felt his heart sink. Just like the first time he’d met her.

1 In China, it is said a sneeze is caused when someone is talking bad about you.
2 A qipao is a traditional Chinese woman’s dress, often made of silk. In modern times it sees the vast majority of use in restaurants, worn by waitresses.

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