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    “You’re too soft-hearted,” Lu Changting looked at him, somewhat disapproving, but didn’t say anything more.

    Shen Li leaned back on the sofa, his tone tired. “My mom divorced him when I was in the first year of junior high.”

    “My little brother is twelve this year,” Shen Li said softly. “On his first day of elementary school, I secretly went to the school to take a look at him.”

    “He’s just like I was back then.”

    So he didn’t want Shen An to end up like him, forced to grow up too soon.

    He once lived a carefree life as a teenager, then suddenly, everything changed. His father kept a lover outside, and whenever he got drunk, he would hit his mother… That day, Cheng Zhao came to pick him up after school, but instead of taking him home, she took him to their newly rented small apartment and rolled up her sleeves to show him the bruises on her arms.

    He truly felt like his world was falling apart at that moment.

    Cheng Zhao asked him who did it.

    All he could do was cry in his mother’s arms, blaming himself for being too young, for not being able to do anything.

    Now he’s matured, he’s capable, he thinks more about things. If Shen Zhengqing’s company goes bankrupt, what can Shen An do at this age…

    Shen Li didn’t want to continue discussing the heartache of dealing with Shen Zhengqing. He rubbed his forehead and said, “Thank you for helping me out.”

    But he still had other questions in his mind. “What happened that day at Wangjiang Tower that Shen Zhengqing mentioned? Have you met him?”

    Otherwise, why would the first thing he said be “nice to see you again”?

    And why would Shen Zhengqing say that he and Lu Changting were in a relationship…

    “I met him once at the end of last month,” Lu Changting said. “At Wangjiang Tower, Auntie had an argument with him, and I happened to be there and mediated a few words.”

    “No wonder my mom invited you to dinner at home…” Shen Li pursed his lips and said softly, “Can you keep today’s matter secret for me?”

    He could still come up with three million without telling Cheng Zhao, but he couldn’t hide more than that.

    Last time he gave Shen Zhengqing a million yuan, and Cheng Zhao didn’t come home for a month after finding out. She didn’t even answer his calls, stayed mad at him for a whole month. If she finds out he gave Shen Zhengqing three million this time, she’ll definitely be even angrier…

    Lu Changting sighed softly, seeming a bit hesitant. “Auntie will be very angry.”

    Seemingly surprised by his response, Shen Li looked up at him, feeling stunned. “You kept the Wangjiang Tower incident from me.”

    His tone sounded somewhat aggrieved.

    Lu Changting suppressed a smile. “Auntie invited me to dinner, and people have short memories.”

    Shen Li finished his cigarette in silence, rolling the butt back and forth in the ashtray.

    Lu Changting’s words made sense, but it left a bitter taste in his mouth. He thought they were already friends, and it’s normal for friends to help each other out. Yet Lu Changting had the audacity to ask for “hush money.”

    “I was just kidding.” Lu Changting noticed his downcast mood and realized he took it seriously, feeling unsure how to handle the situation for a moment.

    Why did he have to be so teasing?

    Shen Li released the cigarette butt from his grip, no longer finding solace in its pathetic state.

    “I take your words seriously.”

    He added in his mind, So don’t joke around, don’t let him misunderstand, don’t give him hope…

    Lu Changting reached out and ruffled his hair, sighing inwardly. “But I really do want some benefits.”

    Shen Li was caught off guard by his sudden closeness, his heart racing out of control. Instinctively, he wanted to pull away, but he resisted. He reassured himself that it was nothing, Lu Changting probably just casually ruffled his hair, straight guys are usually careless like that. If he overreacted, it would only make him look suspicious.

    His Adam’s apple rolled nervously as he asked in a low voice, “What benefits?”

    “A box of chocolates, or a meal?” Lu Changting’s tone genuinely reflected his dilemma. After all, he wanted both.

    “No benefits, it’s okay.” His voice lowered, tinged with a hint of disappointment. “I won’t tell Auntie, I can’t bear to see you in a difficult position.”

    Shen Li suddenly felt he was being a bit melodramatic.

    Perhaps the whole thing with Lu Changting’s blind date had made him overly anxious, causing him to lose his sense of proportion in dealing with Lu Changting.

    “Let me treat you to a meal.” He said, “When are you free? Do you prefer dining out or at home?”

    It’s really too easy to be soft-hearted.

    Lu Changting looked at him, a faint smile playing on his lips. “I heard from Changxu Ge that you also attended Middle School One, same grade as me, were you in Class Sixteen?”

    Shen Li pinched his palm, trying hard to control his emotions, and gave a muted “Hmm.”

    Lu Changting sighed, “What a coincidence,” he said, “Let’s go to ‘Apo’s Homestyle Cuisine.'”

    He paused and added, “It’s been many years since I last visited the school, I’m not sure if ‘Apo’s Homestyle Cuisine’ near the school is still there.”

    Shen Li’s heart started beating erratically again. He didn’t dare look at Lu Changting, only murmured in response, “It’s still there.”

    Lu Changting said, “Let’s go together this weekend.”

    “Apo’s Homestyle Cuisine” was tucked away in a small alley near the school. The tiny restaurant was run by an elderly couple, with the old lady busy in the kitchen while the old man attended to customers, doing calculations and collecting money. Even after many years, Shen Li still vividly remembered the taste of chilled sweet soup in summer, with softened seaweed and mung beans, the red sugar completely dissolved into the water, filling up a bowl to the brim. The students in line were all wearing white school uniforms, squeezing into the limited space inside the shop or hiding under the eaves in the shade, sipping on sweet soup while chatting with friends.

    Occasionally, there would be vendors pushing fruit stalls through the streets. They would buy a handful of fresh black plums, glistening in the sunlight like beautiful black gemstones. Taking a bite, the mouth would be filled with a sour-sweet flavor, refreshing and quenching.

    But Lu Changting didn’t like sour things. He never bought any. When his friends bought some and asked if he wanted any, he would just shake his head, then smile and go buy a bowl of sweet soup.

    Emerging from his memories, Shen Li responded with a complicated tone, “Okay.”

    Afraid that Lu Changting might bring up high school matters, Shen Li casually changed the subject, “By the way, are you feeling better from the cold?”

    After asking, he remembered the Last Kiss cocktail he made that night, not knowing how much lemon juice he poured into it. He suddenly felt guilty and annoyed at himself.

    Lu Changting also remembered the Last Kiss cocktail, but he deliberately didn’t mention it. Instead, he just said, “Much better, thanks to your medicine.”

    Shen Li touched the red mark on his palm, where the scab from the last time he climbed over the wall had fallen off, leaving only a faint red mark. It would take some more time to disappear completely.

    “That lady from that night was your blind date, right?” he said. “She was very beautiful.”

    “Not anymore,” Lu Changting explained calmly, “I felt it wasn’t right, so we didn’t keep in touch.”

    Shen Li felt a bit happy in his heart, but then he felt he shouldn’t be happy, and he didn’t dare to show it. He just said softly, “…You’ll meet the right person in the future.”

    “Mmm,” Lu Changting added silently to himself, “I already have.”

    The waiter cleared Shen Zhengqing’s glass, wiped the table, and brought another round of drinks.

    Lu Changting asked casually, “I heard from Changxu that Le Yi confessed to you?”

    In fact, Lu Changxu hadn’t said anything, he just sent a misleading photo to make him feel uncertain. Just thinking about how to ask about Shen Li’s relationship with Le Yi gave Lu Changting a headache.

    “Hmm?” Shen Li recalled and realized that Lu Changxu and others were present when Le Yi gave him something that day. Everyone could see Le Yi’s feelings for him, so Lu Changxu must have misunderstood… But he didn’t want Lu Changting to misunderstand.

    “It’s not like that,” Shen Li explained nervously, “He’s still young, I only see him as a younger brother…”

    Lu Changting’s eyebrows lifted slightly, a hint of amusement in his eyes, “You’re not that old yourself.”

    Seeing that Lu Changting didn’t seem to misunderstand, Shen Li finally relaxed. He looked up at Lu Changting, who smiled so gently that he couldn’t help but curve his own lips, “He’s just a bit younger than you.”

    When they left, Shen Li still walked Lu Changting out.

    The wind rose at night, gently lifting the ends of the young man’s hair as he stood by the roadside, revealing a pair of bright black eyes, like a pool of spring water, shimmering in the wind.

    Lu Changting always felt a strange sense of familiarity with Shen Li, which was even stronger now. He always felt like he had seen Shen Li somewhere before.

    During high school, three years together on the same floor, they must have crossed paths.

    But he couldn’t remember.

    He couldn’t help but sigh, thinking it’s better to focus on the present. After all, he hadn’t even pursued the person yet, so why dwell on youthful memories?

    Back home, it was nearing dawn.

    When Lu Changting got home, he sent Shen Li a WeChat message, then took a shower and lay down. Opening the chat box again, he couldn’t find a topic to talk about, so he simply sent a “good night”.

    Because of the upcoming “date” with Shen Li over the weekend, Lu Changting had been in a good mood these days.

    So much so that when his uncles, aunts, siblings, and cousins called to inquire about his affairs with Miss Xiang, he patiently accepted their half-hearted words of comfort and greetings. He even showed a much-improved attitude towards everyone at the company.

    When Lu Changxu came to the company to find him, he happened to be in a meeting. Since Wan Qing wasn’t there, he chatted with the two assistants at the president’s office for a while. When he learned that Lu Changting had been in a good mood these past two days, Lu Changxu even thought the assistants were joking.

    It wasn’t until Lu Changting finished the meeting and returned to the office with Lu Shiyang, chatting and laughing, that Lu Changxu momentarily wondered if his familiar cousin had been possessed by something strange.

    The Lu family was large and prosperous, with some members like him who were indifferent to fame and fortune, and others like Lu Shiyang who always caused trouble for Lu Changting in secret, coveting the family’s wealth.

    Now, these two were chatting happily, which seemed suspicious no matter how you looked at it.

    Although Lu Changxu didn’t like Lu Shiyang, according to seniority, the latter was still an elder. So he respectfully greeted him, “Uncle.”

    Lu Shiyang is the youngest son of the fourth uncle of the Lu family, only thirty-five years old this year. He’s just a few years older than Lu Changxu and Lu Changting, in the prime of his life, so it’s normal for him to be ambitious.

    Moreover, although he may be calculating, he hasn’t done anything harmful or malicious, so Lu Changxu didn’t feel the need to be too antagonistic towards him.

    “Changxu,” Lu Shiyang saw him, his smile even brighter, “it’s been a long time since I last saw you. How come you have time to come to the headquarters today?”

    Lu Changxu responded lightly, “I came to see Changting.”

    “In that case, you two chat.” Lu Shiyang knew he was straightforward and didn’t think his attitude was disrespectful to his elders. Compared to Lu Changting, he actually preferred interacting with people like Lu Changxu, whose emotions were written on their faces. Whether they liked you or not, it was genuine, unlike Lu Changting, who could chat with you amiably while every word was deceitful.

    People are like this, they dislike those similar to themselves.

    “Consider the project I mentioned.” He looked at Lu Changting, “We’ll discuss it when you have time.”

    Once the office door closed, Lu Changxu immediately frowned. “What did he want from you this time?”

    “There’s a piece of land in City B. He wants to develop it into a comprehensive amusement park, but he lacks funds, so he wants the group to invest.” Lu Changting handed him a glass of water. “It’s not as simple as it sounds. The situation in City B is complicated, and whether we can acquire the land is a big question.”

    Lu Changxu took a sip of water, looking displeased. “I knew he wouldn’t be up to anything good by coming to you.”

    “After all, we’re family.” Lu Changting didn’t want to say much about Lu Shiyang. He just had a closer relationship with Lu Changxu, so he advised him, “With your temperament, you should also tone it down a bit.”

    “I tone down what?” Lu Changxu smiled indifferently. “I just can’t stand his hypocritical smile. Anyway, I don’t need to deal with a bunch of hypocritical businessmen like you do.”

    Lu Changting raised an eyebrow and smiled. “But I’m also a hypocritical businessman.”

    “It’s different,” Lu Changxu said, “You know what I mean.”

    Leaning against the desk, Lu Changting drank his water leisurely. “So, tell me, what did he want from me?”

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