Qi Yanbai once again couldn’t produce anything on his canvas.
But unlike the frustration he felt before, similar to a trapped animal, Qi Yanbai now sat in front of the blank sheet of paper with an oddly calm mindset.
He pressed the edges of the pencil against his lips, staring at the empty canvas, and his thoughts began to wander limitlessly.
As he daydreamed, everything in his mind seemed to gradually fade away.
All the images lost their colors, leaving only the clear and vivid images of Lu Ye standing there, layer upon layer, at the end.
There was the way he looked when he first knocked on the door, the way they walked side by side along the riverbank in the moonlight, and the way he had just kissed him goodnight.
That kiss seemed like some kind of anchor, easily pulling Qi Yanbai’s scattered thoughts back together.
His gaze flickered, and he couldn’t help but reach out and gently touch the spot on his forehead where Lu Ye had kissed him.
The gentle sensation seemed to linger deep in his soul.
Qi Yanbai’s fingertips slid down his cheek, finally resting on his lips as if savoring the memory.
Not satisfied, Qi Yanbai thought, not nearly enough.
The satisfaction from intimate contact seemed to have a limited duration.
It quickly faded away into the night along with Lu Ye’s departure.
Qi Yanbai opened his mouth and bit down on his fingertip, feeling a new appetite emerging, feeling that his appetite was not satisfied but rather igniting new desires..
Sometimes, Qi Yanbai felt like an insatiable abyss, with endless desires.
The bouquet of irises that Lu Ye had given him had been placed in a tall vase nearby.
Qi Yanbai reached out and gently brushed the moist petals, suddenly feeling a bit regretful.
“I shouldn’t have hesitated earlier,” Qi Yanbai thought.
“I should have just let Lu Ye stay.
It doesn’t matter what we would do afterward, as long as we’re not separated by this wall like we are now.”
Once this thought arose, it spread through Qi Yanbai’s mind like a virus.
He tried to restrain himself for a while, wanting to maintain a somewhat reserved image in front of Lu Ye.
However, he only managed to hold out for three to five minutes.
The two conflicting voices in his head were engaged in a fierce battle, urging him to give in to his desires and stop struggling.
Qi Yanbai was torn between his thoughts when suddenly, his phone, which was placed next to the easel, lit up, displaying a new video call notification from a social app.
Qi Yanbai initially thought it might be Lu Ye trying to contact him again, but when he looked at the caller’s name, he furrowed his brows with disinterest and reluctantly answered the call.
Ashley’s delicate and pretty face quickly appeared on the screen.
Qi Yanbai tossed his paintbrush into the pen holder and asked, “What’s up?”
“Are you disappointed to see it’s me?” Ashley noticed his impatience and raised an eyebrow, teasingly asking, “So, are you waiting for someone else’s call?”
Qi Yanbai: “…”
Qi Yanbai was struck by her directness and felt somewhat nervous, his eyelashes quivered, and he instinctively avoided Ashley’s scrutinizing gaze.
He changed the subject with a harsh tone, asking, “Did you wake up early today just to inquire about my personal life?”
“Not really,” Ashley replied, shrugging.
She leaned back, revealing a cigarette box next to her, took out a slender ladylike cigarette, and lit it.
“I’m here to bring you some good news.”
She looked like she had just woken up, with messy hair, no makeup, and wearing only a thin and silky nightgown that accentuated her graceful figure.
Qi Yanbai took a moment to glance at her through the screen.
She was reclining on a plush fabric sofa.
There were vivid red marks on her fair skin, like lush hibiscus flowers.
“Congratulations,” Qi Yanbai replied, already guessing what she was going to say.
He assumed she was here to flaunt her favor from someone.
“I’m not talking about that,” Ashley replied, lighting her cigarette and exhaling a pure white smoke ring.
She blinked playfully through the smoke, smiling as she said, “Do you remember the painting you gave your father all those years ago?”
Qi Yanbai had given many artworks to Qi Zhe over the years, but the one Ashley mentioned was the last one.
“I remember,” Qi Yanbai said.
“What about it?”
“Some time ago, your father held an art exhibition, and one of the auxiliary exhibition halls in China needed an additional piece of art.
Since no one asked him about it, they found your painting in the gallery’s warehouse and included it,” Ashley explained.
“However, during the exhibition, it seems that a certain art critic became interested in that painting and called to inquire about its price.”
Qi Yanbai now understood.
He had wondered why Qi Zhe, who had such a discerning eye, would tolerate an unsatisfactory piece in the exhibition.
It turned out it was because of this.
“It seems that because someone inquired, your father retrieved the painting last week,” Ashley continued.
“He spent several days looking at it in the studio and then suddenly called me to ask about your recent situation.”
Qi Zhe never had the concept of father-son affection; if he wanted to remember someone, there must be a reason.
Sure enough, a hint of joy appeared in Ashley’s eyes.
She flicked the cigarette ash, looking pleased as she said, “He asked me to inquire if you have nothing important going on recently, could you come back home for a meal and meet some of his friends in the art world?”
Perhaps all children who had been suppressed by their parents during their youth had fantasized about someday gaining power and retaliating against their parents for their past neglect and indifference.
When Qi Yanbai left home a few years ago, he would occasionally have unrealistic dreams, trying to soothe the self-loathing he had struggled with.
At that time, Qi Yanbai had hoped that Qi Zhe would one day realize his mistake, that he had underestimated his abilities.
He had thought about it day and night, almost turning Qi Zhe’s decisive evaluation into an obsession.
But as time passed, when Qi Zhe finally loosened his stance and began to reevaluate that painting, Qi Yanbai had already stopped caring so much.
At this moment, he didn’t feel the exhilaration of breaking free from his inner demons that had plagued him for years.
Instead, he thought of the rainy day at the exhibition and the transparent umbrella that Lu Ye had intentionally leaned toward him in the dimly lit corridor.
Qi Yanbai wiped the blank paper in front of him with his hand, suddenly recalling that day when Lu Ye had glanced at the painting, noticing something Qi Zhe had overlooked for so many years.
The image of Qi Zhe as an unassailable figure in his heart seemed to be gradually crumbling.
Qi Yanbai let out a long sigh and said, “I won’t be going back.”
Ashley seemed to have detected something amiss.
She tilted her head, crushed the cigarette’s ash, and leaned closer to the camera, as if trying to examine Qi Yanbai’s expression more closely.
“Why?” she asked.
“Nothing, I just don’t want to paint for him anymore,” Qi Yanbai replied.
He had lost interest in his father’s art world long ago.
Ashley seemed a bit puzzled.
“Last time, it was understandable that you didn’t want to return, but this time your father reached out to you.
Plus, he’s deposited a considerable amount of money into the foundation these past few years, nearly doubling it from before.”
Qi Zhe was wealthy, very wealthy, and he spared no expense in the fields that interested him.
He had a dedicated “family foundation” for the arts, with an enormous endowment and substantial annual returns.
Qi Yanbai had known the rules from a young age.
In their family, the artist who produced the best work received the largest share of the foundation’s income.
Money could work wonders.
In their world, whoever produced the best work received the lion’s share of the foundation’s income.
Having money could make things happen, especially in the art world.
Over the years, Qi Yanbai had fought with others to obtain that money.
At one point, he thought it was his ultimate goal in life.
But at this moment, he seemed to have lost his desire for that foundation.
Even if Qi Zhe personally extended an olive branch to him, Qi Yanbai showed no signs of wavering.
His monthly salary at the training institution was only 6,500 yuan.
Compared to the substantial rewards from the foundation, it was a drop in the bucket.
However, he had grown used to it, and it no longer held the same appeal.
“I don’t care anymore,” Qi Yanbai said.
“I wasn’t planning on painting for him again anyway.”
“He’s more important than Qi Zhe,” Qi Yanbai confessed openly.
“I can find so many wonderful things in him—freshness, satisfaction, and many other things.”
Qi Yanbai’s upbringing in a dysfunctional family had not provided him with a solid emotional foundation, but it had also left him without any sense of belonging.
So when he said those words, he did so confidently, without a trace of hesitation.
For a brief moment, Ashley’s expression changed.
She narrowed her eyes, looking like she had discerned some truth in the span of half a second.
Qi Yanbai blinked, feeling her gaze freeze for a moment, almost giving off a sense of “dignity.”
But that feeling was fleeting, disappearing before anyone could grasp it.
Ashley’s face regained a casual smile, as if she wasn’t surprised by Qi Yanbai’s response.
“I see,” Ashley said cheerfully.
“Alright, I’ll convey the message to your father.
But I don’t know if he’ll give up.”
“But that doesn’t matter,” she continued.
With a sly twist, she casually said, “By the way, speaking of Lu Ye, you two are already together?”
Ashley was something of an emotional expert, and Qi Yanbai’s experience was nothing to her.
So, he didn’t bother concealing it and simply nodded.
“We officially became a couple today,” Qi Yanbai said.
“Hmm?” Ashley widened her eyes in surprise, and her gaze naturally swept over Qi Yanbai’s surroundings as if looking for someone.
She asked, “Then why didn’t you take the opportunity to keep him here?”
Qi Yanbai: “…”
Qi Yanbai was caught off guard by her direct question and wore an expression of mild embarrassment.
He clicked his tongue and reluctantly recounted the events of the evening.
“…Maybe I presented myself too honestly in front of him,” Qi Yanbai concluded.
“He thought I was too thin-skinned, so when I hesitated, he took the initiative to leave.”
“Ah, he’s quite the gentleman,” Ashley clapped her hands and said excitedly.
“Don’t make fun of him,” Qi Yanbai said through gritted teeth.
“Oh, I won’t tease him.
I’ll tease you,” Ashley replied with a mischievous smile.
She said, “So, you regret not making a move, don’t you?”
“But it’s not your fault,” she continued, seemingly indifferent.
“He’s still a virgin, after all.
They tend to be a bit clumsy.”
Qi Yanbai: “…”
Ashley’s thought process was a bit off-kilter.
She seemed to be unaware of the word “shame” and never avoided discussing sensitive topics.
Qi Yanbai couldn’t keep his face straight, afraid that she would say something outrageous.
He quickly interrupted her, claiming he had something to do soon, and rushed to hang up the call.
“Don’t be in such a hurry.”
Ashley noticed his panicked demeanor and playfully stopped him just as he was about to hang up.
She smiled as she said, “How about this, if you don’t understand how to handle him, do you want me to teach you?”
Qi Yanbai: “…”
Qi Yanbai was stunned by her unexpectedly audacious suggestion.
His hand trembled, and he decisively pressed the red “end call” button, disconnecting the call.
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