156. She’s Dead
Fang Yi pursed his lips as he chuckled, “You’re strange, YiHan. People are always second-guessing themselves right before the wedding. The closer it was to the wedding, the stronger the pre-wedding jitters. I’d never heard of anyone who was as impatient as you. Say, since you’re both so anxious, why didn’t you set the wedding date closer to now?”
“There’s no helping it,” YiHan sighed. “I’m afraid of the cold. I never like to leave the house in winter. I have a habit of never planning anything major in the winter. Of course, JingYuan knew of it. He said he didn’t want us to have any regrets about our wedding. Spring is warm but extremely windy. So we settled for summer.”
Fang Yi’s shoulders shook as he chuckled, “You two are so funny. By the same logic, it’s hot in the summer. It’s windy in autumn too. Then, it’s back to the freezing winter. What will you do then? Who cares about when you have the wedding? You’ll be getting registered next month. You’ll be spouses in the eyes of the law. The wedding is just a ceremony to announce it to the world.”
“That’s what JingYuan said too,” YiHan said with a smile.
Fang Yi looked up in the air for a moment, then said, “Right, I just remembered I have something to do. I have to go. Are you going to stay a while longer?”
YiHan nodded. “Oh, then go attend to it. I’ll be staying here. JingYuan said he’ll be dropping by to fetch me later. Also, please reconsider the issue with Qin Feng.”
Fang Yi hummed in reply and nodded to him in farewell before leaving the cafe.
YiHan slouched down, boredom visible in his posture. Head perched on one hand, he added a cube of sugar to his cup of coffee, then another, and another. Suddenly, a low-pitched voice rang out from beside his ear.
“You’ve ruined a perfectly fine cup of coffee,” said the voice.
That voice was so deeply familiar to YiHan that it felt like it’d been carved into his bones. And yet, he’d feel a tingle run down his spine every time he heard it.
“You’re here,” said YiHan, dodging away from where the voice came from and rubbed at the ear it had spoken into. “Do you want a cup of coffee?”
JingYuan sat down in a chair beside YiHan. He glanced at the cup of coffee, filled with a tiny mountain of cubed sugars, and let out a low chuckle.
“I’ve been here for a while,” said JingYuan. “What a shame a certain someone didn’t notice me.”
“Huh?” YiHan was surprised. “When did you arrive?”
JingYuan ran a hand through YiHan’s hair. His gaze was gentle and warm as he softly replied, “When you said you were also eager to get married.”
A red flush slowly crept up YiHan’s ears as he muttered, “It was a slip of the tongue.”
The smile on JingYuan’s face didn’t falter. “Okay. My HanHan can say whatever he likes. Oh, right. I’ve something to tell you. Tao Qi is dead.”
YiHan stared at him, stunned. “How did she die? When?”
“Today,” said JingYuan. “I’d just received a call telling me Wei Quan snuck out of his room, navigated his way around the nurses and into Tao Qi’s room. He wanted to have sex with her but she refused. The man was angry with her in the first place. He thinks he’s only locked up in a psychiatric hospital because of Tao Qi. To him, it was considered quite a big compromise for him to go to her for sex. He didn’t think she’d be so fervently against it. In Wei Quan’s eyes, that is betrayal. In a fit of rage, he strangled her to death.”
YiHan was so shocked that he needed a few moments to regain his composure. “How will Wei Quan be punished?”
“Well, he was a dangerous individual when he was admitted,” said JingYuan. “Losing control and killing Tao Qi ignited the fury in him. He ended up hurting two of the aides who tried to restrain him. He’s now sedated and sent to a special ward where he’ll likely be living the rest of his life tied to a bed.”
YiHan went silent. Then, he asked, “Did Wei Quan…succeed? I mean, with Tao Qi.”
JingYuan hugged YiHan across the shoulders as he replied, “Yes, he did. No matter how cunning Tao Qi was, her physical strength is still that of a girl’s. How can she fight against Wei Quan? My man told me Tao Qi died in an…extremely horrible manner. Her eyes were wide open, almost popping out of the sockets. Disbelief, rage, upset; those were written all over her face.”
“HanHan,” continued JingYuan, “you’re not sympathising with her, are you? Day after day, all Tao Qi thought about was how you and TianYang should die.”
“I’m not,” YiHan replied. “I just think that it’s way too simple for someone to die. Then, once someone is dead, all grudges and hatred would come to an end. She was also just a girl, a young woman. The way she died…” He sighed.
“This is an accident. Not only is Wei Quan insane, but he’s also a trashy human being. Tao Qi herself is to blame for this too. How did she have the guts to offend someone like that? Did she really think she’s the protagonist? Did she think she can control anyone in the world if she wished to?”
YiHan nodded. “True. We must all be responsible for our own actions. The gods don’t care about your gender. What goes around, comes around. It’s karma. When I talked to her privately, I’ve told her only one of us may live. I was only bluffing. I didn’t think those words would come true.”
JingYuan tightened his embrace around YiHan. “Little one, you really dare to say anything that comes into your mind, huh? Only one of you may live? How can she be compared to you? She’s just a pretty snake, someone with an evil and toxic mind. She has no respect for the lives of others. All she thinks about is how to kill other people. She’s delusional, thinking the whole world spins around her. She didn’t die innocent. Let’s not think about it. Let’s not ruin our mood for the day. Come, it’s time to head home.”
YiHan nodded. The two then left the cafe, shoulder to shoulder.
There was something else JingYuan had yet to tell YiHan about Tao Qi. Ever since JingYuan’s visit, she has been drowning in self-doubt. Her mind slowly began to crack. Sometimes she’d suspect the whole transmigration experience was just something she made up. No such thing happened. She was always either sobbing or laughing. Her mood swung wildly in an unstable manner. Sometimes, she’d be hysterically crying and shouting. It was as if she’d experienced a mental breakdown. Frankly, death released her from the pain.
On the way back, YiHan remained silent as his mood dipped.
JingYuan repeatedly glanced back at YiHan, so much so that YiHan couldn’t help but speak up, “Why are you looking at me instead of the road?”
With a hand on the steering wheel and another freed to hold YiHan’s hand, JingYuan asked, “Are you still upset over Tao Qi? Don’t think about it. She’s not worth it. Okay?”
YiHan sighed and said, “JingYuan, where do you think the real Tao Qi has gone to?”
JingYuan blanked out. He didn’t think about that before.
YiHan wasn’t expecting an answer out of the other man anyway. He continued, “The original Tao Qi was a great girl. Smart and hardworking, she was one of the best university students in the city. She may be demure and soft on the outside but she was strong on the inside. She’s very kind and sensible. She knew how to support herself. She would never try and blame anyone or anything for a mistake she made. She was truly someone filled to the brim with the right virtues. Who’d have thought a girl like her would suddenly have her soul swapped with another? I thought that she might one day return to her own body and chase this incessantly scheming Tao Qi back to where she belonged. However, now that Tao Qi’s dead, that girl will never return.”
JingYuan gathered his thoughts before speaking, “HanHan, I know you feel like you owe the original Tao Qi something but what happened to her is none of your fault. No one could’ve known or wanted this to happen. Put it out of your mind, please?”
YiHan nodded. “Back then, I agreed to date her because I wanted to hide from you. But she was serious about it. When we broke up, I apologised to her. I came clean to her, saying I prefer men. She joked about how her mind can rest easy then as it was not a question of her charm. She was merely born the wrong sex. She’s such an open-minded person. It’s such a pity this happened.”
JingYuan chuckled. “HanHan, you’ve already done your best by her. I know you’ve been financially supporting her parents for a while now. If her soul is still around, she’d thank you.”
“You knew?” YiHan turned to look at JingYuan in surprise. “Yes, it was after I found out her soul had been replaced with another’s. I pitied her. The original Tao Qi was a dutiful daughter, yet this Tao Qi wouldn’t even give her parents a single cent. Her father couldn’t work after his accident and her mother had always been a housewife. Let’s not even talk about her younger brother. It’s good enough that he hadn’t caused any major trouble. There wasn’t a single source of income in that family. If the original Tao Qi were still around, she’d take up the burden of supporting her family. However, she’s gone. She must’ve been very anxious about her family when she left. Heh. Actually, Tao Qi’s parents are truly senseless. If I give them too much in one go, they’d give it all to the brother so he can splurge on himself. I can only give them bit by bit. I don’t even dare give them much, just enough for them to live a normal life. I have enough money. It’s just to help out poor Tao Qi.”
YiHan paused. Then, he continued, “I’m truly so superficial in my kindness. I only helped her after she’s gone. The fake Tao Qi told me that in the story, the original Tao Qi was my rival for you! Hmph!”
“HanHan, what’s with the jealousy?” JingYuan asked, stuck between crying and laughing. “This accusation fell out of thin air, okay? This Tao Qi was hysterical and delusional. Whatever she said has no chance of happening. Can’t you forget about it?”
“How can I?” YiHan asked with a mean little smile. “I’ll remember it well. Once in a while, I’ll have to go through what you’ve done.”
“Aha, so that’s the trap waiting for me,” JingYuan sighed. “I won’t ever again bring up what you’ve done in the past, okay?”
“It’s fine,” YiHan said. “You can bring it up. We can compare and – What was it again? Oh, yes. – hurt each other.”
“Don’t,” JingYuan laughed. “HanHan, Your Majesty, have mercy! I would never dare to go against my superiors.”
“Alright then,” YiHan said, holding back his smile. “We’ll spare you. This time.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty!” JingYuan said, playing along.
The two men had just returned to the Mu family home when YiHan’s phone rang. YiHan dug it out as JingYuan craned his neck to look at the screen. The caller was Yan Pei.
“Her again,” JingYuan pouted. “What does she want this time?”
YiHan chuckled at JingYuan’s words as he answered the call, “Pei-Pei, what is it?”
“YiHan, do you remember about Zhang-ge’s bookshop being renovated? Its expansion?” Yan Pei cheerfully asked. “The renovations are all done now. They’re reopening tomorrow. Are you coming?”
“Is it tomorrow?” YiHan said, lightly smacking himself in the head. “Why did I think it’s the day after tomorrow?”
“Hahaha,” Pei laughed. “I knew your memory’s not that good. You’re getting married now so your memory’s even worse. Well? Aren’t I a good friend? I even called and reminded you.”
“Thank you so much, Queen Pei-Pei,” YiHan chuckled. “I did remember the wrong date. If not for you, I would’ve missed out on the reopening.”
“No need to thank me,” came the proud reply. “See you tomorrow then.”
Tao Qi is to blame for this too: Reminder here that victim-blaming should never be done, especially when it’s a systemic issue. It might seem okay here because we only think of Tao Qi as an “evil character” but no one deserves to be raped or murdered.