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    Jing Mian carried Jing Luo out of the restaurant.

    Jing Luo had already fallen asleep. His small hands clutched tightly to Jing Mian’s clothes, his head turned to rest against the young man’s nape as he slept soundly and peacefully.

    Jing Mian looked at the little dumpling’s red cheeks as he slept, then couldn’t help but lean down and press a kiss to Jing Luo’s forehead.

    He turned his head and noticed that Mr. Ren’s gaze had somehow shifted to look at them in the darkness of the night.

    He had just happened to catch this scene.

    Jing Mian: “…”

    For some reason, he suddenly recalled what Ren Xingwan had said earlier: that after they held hands, they would become more familiar with each other than Jing Luo and him.

    So did this mean that their progress was…falling behind again?

    Jing Mian felt a strange numbness at the back of his neck.

    Thankfully, Mr. Ren had always been cold and reserved. He probably wouldn’t want to catch up to this kind of progress.

    Their marriage was a business arrangement… Perhaps Mr. Ren hadn’t said it, but Jing Mian could understand his feelings.

    This was a literal business marriage. Their childhood friendship made this marriage seem reasonable, but it couldn’t change the fact that the two of them were destined to not be able to get to know each other normally, fall in love, get married, and have children like most lovers.

    Everything between them could only be described as the fulfillment of marital duties and obligations.

    Jing Mian wasn’t sure if it was his imagination, but ever since he returned from the restroom, Ren Xingwan’s expression seemed… somewhat different from usual?

    But Jing Mian couldn’t quite put his finger on what was different. It was as if Ren Xingwan was enduring something, yet also amused. Mr. Ren never spoke much, but in the second half of the meal, the man seemed… to have become even more silent than usual?

    Jing Mian thought that perhaps Ren Xingwan hadn’t eaten enough, or that he hadn’t had time to eat because he had to deal with Father Jing and his stepmother, so he was in a bad mood?

    So, in order to compensate Ren Xingwan, Jing Mian gave the man a large chicken drumstick, and also filled a bowl of soup, and placed it next to the drumstick.

    In order to make up for it, Jing Mian placed a large drumstick on Ren Xingwan’s plate and poured a bowl of soup next to it.

    After saying their goodbyes, Jing Mian sat in the back seat with Jing Luo in his arms. The autumn air filled the car window, and when the young man breathed, a faint mist would form and then dissipate.

    The warm air gradually filled the car, but Jing Mian’s tense figure didn’t relax.

    “I’ve already set the date for your engagement ceremony with Ren Xingwan with the Ren family.”

    As the car drove, Jing Guozhen suddenly said this in a deep voice.

    Jing Mian’s thoughts froze.

    He had never told Jing’s father and stepmother that he and Mr. Ren had secretly obtained the marriage certificates, so in the eyes of those two people, he and Ren Xingwan were just strangers who had met once.

    Jing Mian also mentioned at that time that he and Mr. Ren… probably wouldn’t have a future.

    These obvious signs of resistance were too insignificant to be taken seriously, so they were all ignored.

    Even so, because the Ren family’s parents were “very satisfied” with him, this marriage was a good match for both families’ business interests. So Jing Mian was suddenly married off, and he was even informed of the upcoming engagement party without being asked for his own opinion.

    It was like he’d been treated as a product or a chip in a trade.

    Jing Mian fell silent.

    The chill that had just dissipated lingered around him, seeping into his fingertips like an insidious poison. The chill and bitterness mixed together, and Jing Mian couldn’t say what he felt.

    After all, he had formed the habit of being obedient in the long run. By the time he realized it, many years had passed in a haze.

    For some reason, Jing Mian asked, “What if…I don’t like Mr. Ren?”

    Jing Guozhen was stunned as if he had heard some absurd question. He frowned and scolded, “You think the son of the Ren family isn’t good enough for you? You’ve always been so proud and arrogant. Are you saying I should find you an immortal to marry? What’s with all this nonsense about ‘like’ or ‘dislike’? You’re already twenty years old, but you still speak like a child.”

    These words were clearly heavy and lowered the temperature inside the car to freezing point.

    Jing Mian suddenly recalled that Mr. Ren had also said something similar to him before. Now it seemed like he had heard it more than once.

    Li Qiao sighed and leaned out from the passenger seat, then smiled gently. “Xiao Mian, is it because the young master of the Ren family looks too scary that you’re scared?”

    “Don’t worry, Mr. Ren is someone who looks cold but is warm on the inside. Once you get used to him, he’ll naturally be nice to you.” Li Qiao said, “Our Mianmian is so pretty, just like your mother. How could anyone not like Mianmian with such high standards?”

    As expected, when Li Qiao mentioned “mother,” her expression changed obviously when she saw the fair-skinned and beautiful boy in the back seat.

    ……

    Jing Luo woke up from his sleep.

    Because he felt a little strange in his dreamland.

    He opened his eyes and found himself in his brother’s arms.

    From this angle, he could see Jing Mian’s eyes. They seemed to have been dyed red by the mist of embers as if he was unable to control himself. Within those eyes were memories that were too painful to touch, surging and trembling.

    Jing Luo has never seen his brother so fragile, as if his scars were being opened.

    The hand holding him was trembling unnoticeably.

    When Jing Guozhen heard this, he seemed to ponder for a moment but did not speak again.

    “Okay.”

    After a long while, that gentle and difficult voice paused for a few seconds before continuing.

    “I will marry Mr. Ren.”

    The next day.

    Jing Mian returned to the school in a private car. The air was especially cold, and Jing Mian couldn’t help but shiver as the thin material of his sleeves pressed against his skin.

    “Young master, please wear this.”

    Old Chen, the driver, took a dark coat from the back seat and asked Jing Mian to put it on: “You left it in the back seat that day when you went home and forgot to take it with you. It’s a little too big for you, so I thought it wasn’t yours at first, but it’s quite youthful for your father…”

    Jing Mian was startled and looked at the familiar coat.

    Jing Mian was taken aback as he looked at that familiar coat. Only then did he remember that Mr. Ren had draped it over him during the cross-server match the other day. He had been in such a rush yesterday that he’d forgotten to return it.

    Jing Mian was afraid that Uncle Chen would really guess Mr. Ren’s identity next, so he quickly took the coat and said awkwardly, “Thanks, Uncle Chen… It’s mine.”

    After putting it on, the coldness that was originally unbearable was driven away bit by bit.

    Jing Mian vaguely smelled something familiar.

    Mr. Ren had changed a lot since his youth… No, it was more like everything had turned upside down. His cold and aloof demeanor made him a powerful and intimidating presence, someone who even ordinary people would avoid at all costs. He was both helpless and unable to fight back against him.

    But the scent on his body… seemed to have remained the same. 

    Jing Mian could vaguely see those distant memories of his childhood through this.

    Jing Mian happened to have no class during the second period. He wanted to return to his dormitory, but a student from the same year as him from the student council asked him to go to the first-year students’ classroom before lunch to give their juniors an orientation on school matters.

    And although Jing Mian was not in this position… he was simply dragged along to support the occasion.

    After all, the first time they had met the new students, among the sharp and capable seniors, Jing Mian had been especially gentle. When he introduced himself, he was even teased by the juniors and didn’t know what to do, pretty and obedient.

    What a rare treasure!

    The eyes of the girls below all lit up.

    “Mianmian is a piece of meat.”

    One of the second-year students next to them couldn’t help but whisper.

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” someone asked, confused.

    “Humans are carnivores.” He analyzed eloquently: “It is human nature to covet beautiful prey. Besides, the prey is well-behaved, soft, and polite to you. Who can handle this?”

    “Mianmian was pursued by seniors when he entered university in his first year, and then by the department flower in his second year…” He raised his chin and said, “Look, don’t the eyes of these juniors look familiar?”

    “Damn.” The person next to him cursed secretly: “Can’t they just keep it in house? And they’re even trying to steal our prey?”

    “You just need to stop dragging Mianmian around next time.”

    “That won’t work. We can’t let these new students think that we don’t have a campus hunk in our second year…”

    After the meeting ended.

    Jing Mian’s roommates Li Dong and Jiang Chen were waiting at the door of the classroom with Song Yuhang, who was from the local area, to wait for Jing Mian to come out for dinner.

    Jing Mian came out with a stack of papers, tilted his head, and said to them, “You guys go ahead. I’ll go after delivering them. You can go back to the dormitory and order takeout.”

    “Just let us bring you food, Mianmian. What do you want today? Dad’s going to tell the auntie not to be so stingy and give you more meat.” Li Dong said.

    Jing Mian thought for a moment, then was suddenly stopped by a large hand on the bottom of the stack of forms.

    “Jing Mian, let me help you carry it,” a tall boy said quietly.

    The person’s eyes were slightly turned toward Jing Mian as he spoke, lips close to the latter’s ear.

    Jing Mian was startled. Before he could react, the stack of forms in his arms had already been taken. “Is it the office of the faculty advisor? I don’t have anything else to do right now. Jing, you can go eat with your seniors first.”

    Jing Mian’s expression froze slightly. He was about to refuse when Song Yuhang wrapped an arm around his shoulders and dragged him away without a word. He waved, “Then I’ll trouble junior fellow student to take care of Mianmian’s task.”

    “Senior, I added you on WeChat last time. I actually wanted to inquire about scholarship issues, but you haven’t accepted it yet…”

    Jing Mian suddenly remembered that this seemed to be the freshman classmate he had met last time and asked for WeChat with him.

    Li Dong chuckled: “We’ll go back and supervise him to accept. Junior brother, you go ahead and relax.”

    Jing Mian: “…”

    The two sides parted ways.

    “That He Zhiyang,” Jiang Chen said. “He’s always different from everyone else. He refuses to call him senior most of the time and only calls Jing Mian by name.”

    Li Dong touched his chin and nodded, then analyzed: “When he added WeChat, he deliberately changed his title to senior, making it look like official business, so Mianmian had no reason to refuse… He’s playing this trick really well.”

    “If we hadn’t been keeping an eye on him, do you think our Mianmian would’ve already been caught in his trap?”

    Jing Mian’s pupils trembled slightly, and he pressed his lips together. “He wouldn’t have caught me.”

    He was married after all.

    His small objection was immediately ignored by his roommates, who clearly didn’t find it believable.

    “This little junior is tall and handsome. He’s at least 185 cm, right?” Li Dong clicked his tongue and sighed. “He’s so shy and pure that he never dares to look Mianmian in the eye when he speaks to him.”

    The three of them were chatting animatedly.

    Song Yuhang, who was still holding Jing Mian around the neck, suddenly looked up. After a few moments of silence, he asked, “Hm?”

    “Is that… Ren Congmian?”

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