Illusions, Lies, Truth Volume 2: Human Doll Contract Part Two
Original novel in Chinese by: 御 我 (Yu Wo)
Chapter 3: Hidden in the Dark… Part 2—The Neighbors Across—translated by lucathia (proofread by Trespasserby)
When Jiang Qibing returned home, he even held in his hands a small, pretty cardboard box with two exquisite cakes inside.
Neither he nor Jiang Ziya liked sweets, so he had only bought two small cakes for his wife and his daughter. Merely thinking about the sweet smiles they would show while eating them lifted his mood.
The moment he walked in, he couldn’t wait to shout, “I’m home.”
The entire place was filled with the aroma of food and the familiar sound of stir-frying vegetables from the kitchen. Jiang Qibing’s heart was immediately filled to the brim with warmth.
As she was in the middle of stir-frying the vegetables, Jiang Yu obviously couldn’t step aside, but she didn’t forget to shout, “Jiang Jiang, Xiao Xue, go welcome your bàbi!”
Jiang Qibing froze.
Two little girls rushed out from their room, practically pouncing on Jiang Qibing at the same time. One grabbed his left hand and the other grabbed his right. The two little faces on both sides were exactly the same and couldn’t be told apart at all.
Jiang Qibing looked at his pair of daughters, a bit stunned.
“Bàba, what’s this?” One of the girls lowered her head to look at the little box in Jiang Qibing’s hands.
“Smells so good!” The other girl cried out, “Is it candy?”
“It’s a small cake.” Jiang Qibing smiled as he said, “I bought cakes for you, one per person. But you can’t eat it right now. You have to wait until after dinner, or your mother will scold you.”
Both little girls’ eyes shone, making the girls appear super cute.
“They’ll be full after dinner. How will they eat cake then?” Jiang Yu brought out the fish, an exasperated but fond smile on her face.
Jiang Qibing was a bit embarrassed as he said, “How about letting them share a slice? You should eat a slice, too.”
Right. That should have been his original plan, or else why would he have only bought two cakes? Jiang Yu also liked sweets. How could he have skipped buying his wife’s share?
Jiang Yu deliberately shook her head and sighed, saying, “Sooner or later, you’ll turn us into three fatties from feeding us so much. It’s not good to eat sweets at night. Let’s save it for later. Tomorrow, we can have it for afternoon tea.”
Then, I won’t be able to witness the cute sight of my wife and daughters eating dessert! Jiang Qibing was full of reluctance.
Maybe I should skip work tomorrow. In any case, he had already been planning on not accepting jobs for awhile. He could conveniently stay home to watch his wife play with their daughters. He might as well stay home and manage the tools auctioned online. The sales seemed to be doing well lately and could be considered a rather good source of side income.
With that in consideration, Jiang Qibing said, “Tomorrow, the boss will go overseas for a period of time. I can work from home for now.”
Hearing that, Jiang Yu said rather happily, “Really? That’s great. You can help me watch Jiang Jiang and Xiao Xue. In the meantime, I can focus on stewing soup for Ziya to recover his strength.”
Jiang Qibing agreed with a smile, but then he asked doubtfully, “Where’s Ziya? Hasn’t he returned from the hospital?”
“He just called and said he needs to head over to Jiu Ge.”
With his plan to return home and talk with Ziya dashed, he couldn’t help muttering, “Why is he running about while injured?”
Jiang Yu also complained along with him, “I also told him that. He’s only just gotten injured by a stray bullet. It’s such a frightening thing to happen. Why isn’t he scared? Shouldn’t he at least hide away at home for awhile?”
“Boys shouldn’t be that scared of things.” Hearing Jiang Yu say that, Jiang Qibing couldn’t help dissuading her, “If he hid at home like that, afraid to go out, it’d be my turn to nag at him.”
Hearing that, Jiang Yu rolled her eyes at her husband. “I’m going to finish stir-frying the remaining dishes. Go put the cakes in the fridge and help me carry out the soup while you’re at it.”
“Yes, dear wife.” Jiang Qibing smiled as he followed his wife into the kitchen. He didn’t forget to turn and tell the two girls, “Wait in the living room for dinner. Don’t play around!”
The two little girls obediently nodded in agreement, yet when Jiang Qibing lowered his head and saw the twins, a sliver of doubt flashed across his mind. He felt like something wasn’t quite right…
“Hubby?” Jiang Yu poked her head out of the kitchen in puzzlement.
Jiang Qibing abruptly returned to himself. He smiled and rubbed the heads of the two girls and simultaneously called out, “Coming” to his wife. Then, he quickly walked into the kitchen.
The two girls stood silently in the living room. One of them lowered her voice and asked worriedly, “Jiang Jiang, Bàba looked weird just now. Has he figured out that something’s strange?”
Jiang Jiang nodded. “But at least Bàbi is a lot easier to trick than Gēge. We can’t trick Gēge at all.”
Xiao Xue pouted and said, “In the beginning, you clearly said that everyone would be tricked, yet in the end, we could only trick Māma.”
Could only trick… Jiang Yu, huh?
Jiang Jiang hesitated but decided not to think too deeply about that question, or else it’d get worse the more she thought about it.
“It’s your fault since you’re not a lie yet. Even the illusion of the neighbor across from us has already turned into a lie!” Jiang Jiang complained, “Why are you so slow at it? If you’re only an illusion, it’s really easy to get discovered. I don’t know how long we can keep it from Bàbi.”
“Go ask Ziya-gēge!” Xiao Xue said in discontentment, “He already turned the butler across from us into a lie, yet he can’t turn me into a lie as well.”
Jiang Jiang frowned, but she didn’t have a good solution either. She could only say, “From now on, you’re going to use a substitute body at home. At all other times, go stay by Gēge’s side. Gēge is really powerful. He’ll definitely be able to turn you into a lie! Besides, if you don’t hurry and become a lie, you might not be able to keep it from Bàbi for much longer.”
Hearing that, Xiao Xue could only nod.
Worried, Jiang Jiang said, “Also, I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you anymore in the future.”
“Why not?” Xiao Xue was stunned, deeply afraid that Jiang Jiang didn’t want to help her anymore. If so, what could a mere illusion like her do?
“I feel like I’ve been forgetting more and more things lately…”
At this time, the husband and wife in the kitchen were chattering as they walked into the living room. Jiang Jiang could only shut her mouth and stop discussing their problem.
Forgetting was the best. Jiang Jiang knew that, yet she also felt that she couldn’t forget everything just yet to focus on being a little girl. There still seemed to be something that wouldn’t allow her to do so; however, she had already forgotten the reason.
What’s more was how she had Xiao Xue to consider now, too.
Eh? Can it be that that “reason” isn’t Xiao Xue then? Jiang Jiang frowned, trying to remember, but she gained nothing from it.
“Looks like Ziya really isn’t returning home for dinner.” Jiang Yu worried, “I wonder if running about like this will affect his injuries. When he returns home tonight, I’m going to nag at him.”
“He still needs to go to class. It’s not like he can stay home.”
Actually, Jiang Qibing was a bit worried, too. He had returned earlier exactly because he wanted to talk with Jiang Ziya. He was somewhat disappointed he hadn’t accomplished what he wanted, but hearing that Jiang Yu wanted to “nag” at Ziya, as the brother-in-law, he felt he shouldn’t add insult to injury.
That’s true… Jiang Yu began feeling that maybe she was worrying too much. It was just that she and her brother had only had each other for so long. She really couldn’t help worrying about him. She believed that if she had been the one hurt, Jiang Ziya would definitely be an even bigger worrywart than her.
Jiang Yu lifted Xiao Xue onto a chair and watched Jiang Qibing lift Jiang Jiang onto the other chair. The two of them looked at their pair of twin daughters with a smile, and then they smiled at each other before they sat down to eat.
“Hubby, after we eat, why don’t we head over to the neighbors a bit?”
Jiang Yu had never followed the rule of “not conversing while eating.” Jiang Qibing was usually busy with his work and had very little time to chat. If they couldn’t even talk during meals, then their family would grow apart.
“Over where? You mean the neighbors across from us?” Jiang Qibing looked curiously at his young wife. It was rare to hear about her interacting with others. This was also what made his heart ache the most for his wife.
Jiang Yu nodded. Speaking of today. “An author and her boyfriend live across from us. Oh, and her boyfriend’s little brother was also here today. Both brothers are foreigners! Both of them have good manners. They even went out of their way to come over today to give their regards! We should go over and return the goodwill.”
…Foreigners? Jiang Qibing nodded, a bit surprised that two foreigners were actually living across from them. He recalled that there seemed to be a woman living there, but when he tried to think about it more, he actually couldn’t recall the appearance of the neighbor at all.
“Māma, I don’t want to go!” Xiao Xue immediately pouted and complained.
Jiang Yu was taken aback and asked in confusion, “Why not? It’s those two big brothers who came over to visit us. Don’t you want to play with them?”
“Those two big brothers are so tall. They’re so scary!” Xiao Xue made up. In any case, she was just a kid. There didn’t need to be much of a reason for her to like or dislike something.
Jiang Jiang immediately followed up with, “Yeah! Both Bàbi and Ziya-gēge aren’t that tall!”
Jiang Qibing mourned silently. He was allegedly one hundred seventy five centimeters. That can’t be considered short, okay? But since Jiang Yu said the two neighbors were foreigners, it wasn’t strange for his height to lose to theirs.
Their words confused Jiang Yu. The two foreigners were indeed quite tall, and her husband was indeed not that tall, but Jiang Ziya was quite the tall one. In terms of height, he probably didn’t lose to them. How was it that Jiang Jiang and Xiao Xue would be afraid of people who were too tall?
Jiang Qibing understandingly said, “In a bit, I’ll help them wash up. In the meantime, you can go over to the neighbors to chat with them. Since they’re right across from us, it’s not a bad idea to interact with them more. A close neighbor is much more valuable than a faraway relative.”
“But aren’t you tired from working all day?” Jiang Yu really couldn’t bear that her husband, who had worked so hard all day, still had to take care of their daughters after returning home.
“I’m tired.” Jiang Qibing smiled and said, “So I want to bathe with my cute daughters and relax. Otherwise, after they grow up, I’ll be an old father by then. I wouldn’t have such a great health benefit then.”
Jiang Yu smiled and didn’t protest further.
After eating her fill, washing up the dishes, and accompanying her husband and children to watch TV, she couldn’t wait to grab the return gift she had baked—cookies—and visit the neighbors.
“Looks like your mommy really likes the neighbors across from us.”
Jiang Qibing felt it was rather amusing, but he was very happy that Jiang Yu had finally found someone she could chat with.
He touched the two little girls’ heads and said, “You need to get along with them. Don’t dislike them just because they’re tall!”
Jiang Jiang and Xiao Xue could only nod and agree. It was just that when Jiang Qibing turned around to head to the bathroom to fill the tub, both of them glanced at each other, finding a distressed expression on each other’s face.
They could never go to the neighbors across from them!
Yu Shu’s home was exactly the place where Jiang Jiang was least confident of being able to protect Xiao Xue. Last time when Jiang Ziya had taken her there, she had been chased out by Yu Shu’s shout, demonstrating that that home was basically a strong barrier dimension. Yu Shu was the king of that place! If they stepped foot inside, their lives would be in Yu Shu’s grasp.
It was too dangerous. They definitely could not go inside that barrier dimension!
“What are you thinking about?”
Both girls jumped in shock and turned to look. Jiang Qibing was smiling gently at them. Seeing how his words had given them a big scare, he immediately burst into laughter.
“Really, what’s up? I’ve been calling you for a long while, yet you haven’t come over to bathe.”
Of course, Jiang Jiang and Xiao Xue didn’t dare to explain. They obediently went to the bathroom to bathe. They were on tenterhooks while bathing, afraid that the absence of Xiao Xue’s clothes to conceal her would allow Jiang Qibing to see her ball shaped joints.
Luckily, Jiang Qibing didn’t discover anything. They survived their bath time with no mishaps.
“Jiang Jiang, can you dry your own hair for a bit? I’m going to blow dry Xiao Xue’s hair first. I’ll do yours after.”
With two daughters, Jiang Qibing suddenly felt that two hands weren’t enough. He had already felt overwhelmed while bathing. He didn’t know how Jiang Yu was able to take care of two little girls normally. However, this kind of panic actually made his lips twitch upward involuntarily.
Jiang Jiang nodded, rubbing her hair while thinking. She thought it was strange. Jiang Qibing clearly wasn’t a normal person who didn’t know anything, so why was it that he couldn’t see through Xiao Xue, who was still an illusion?
She had the feeling that she was missing a huge chunk of her memories.
She hoped that there wasn’t anything too important among what she had forgotten.
How long would she be able to remember the cause of Xiao Xue’s birth?
“Jiěfū, you’re back. No overtime today?”
Jiang Qibing raised his head and glanced at the door. Who else was standing there but Jiang Ziya?
“Yeah, there’s something I want to talk about with you, so I came home earlier. I didn’t think you’d come home later than me.”
Jiang Ziya smiled in embarrassment and apologized, “I was held up.”
“Are you free now? I have something to ask you.”
Jiang Qibing couldn’t decide if he should take the opportunity to talk about the matter from yesterday with Jiang Ziya while Jiang Yu wasn’t around, or if he should wait for Jiang Yu to return and take care of the girls. They could then talk to the side.
However, when he lowered his head to look, he saw that both his girls were still so small. Whatever he spoke about with Jiang Ziya, they wouldn’t understand. Besides, their home wasn’t large. He couldn’t guarantee that Jiang Yu wouldn’t come over to listen to their conversation. Therefore, quickly finishing the discussion while she wasn’t around would be easier.
“Okay.” Jiang Ziya nodded and said, “Let them play here. We can go to the living room to talk.”
Jiang Qibing hesitated for a moment. He turned his head to look at the two girls and said, “Play here for a bit. Bàba and Gēge are going to talk in the living room. If you get bored, you can come over to find us, okay?”
Sigh! It should be Jiùjiu! Why was he following along and saying “Gēge” too? Jiang Qibing was rather vexed. The family hierarchy was truly a mess.
Xiao Xue nodded obediently, yet Jiang Jiang gave a cry of, “No!” and grabbed her dad’s hand tightly. Her actions surprised Xiao Xue. She sensed something was wrong and hurriedly copied Jiang Jiang, grabbing tightly onto Jiang Qibing’s hand, too.
Jiang Qibing could only helplessly say, “Oh well, let’s have them come to the living room, too.”
However, Jiang Ziya showed a troubled expression and said, “Jiěfū, I do not believe that is a sound idea. What we need to say is not suitable for children this young to hear. They should stay in their room.”
Jiang Qibing began to feel that something was off. Since when does Ziya talk in such a… genteel way?
With his suspicions raised, Jiang Qibing began to recall even more suspicious areas. Did I hear the door open just now? I don’t think I heard anything. Jiang Ziya was suddenly standing there at the door without a sound.
Jiang Qibing gripped the two little girls’ hands back. He tried his best to relax his posture and said, “Okay, wait in the living room for me. I’ll console them first before I head over.”
Hearing that, Jiang Ziya remained standing at the door. He was silent for a long while before he nodded in agreement. “Understood. Then, I shall head there and wait for you.”
Understood? Shall? Jiang Qibing tried hard not to let his expression twist too much. He didn’t know his wife’s brother spoke in such a, such a… How was he to describe this? Should he call it polite or outdated?
Seeing Jiang Ziya’s posture as he turned to leave, Jiang Qibing was even more speechless. He still found it very wrong.
He lowered his head to look at his cute daughters. He forced a smile and said, “Bàba is going to the living room to take a look. Stay inside this room obediently, all right?”
“No!” Jiang Jiang refused to let go of his hand. She stubbornly said, “Let’s go to the living room together. Me and Xiao Xue don’t want to stay here by ourselves. It’s so scary!”
Hearing that, Jiang Qibing wavered. It was true that leaving the two kids here by themselves wasn’t necessarily safer. It was better to keep them by his side. Besides, he had to head over quickly. There was no time to think further. He didn’t know if Jiang Yu had returned yet, either.
He hoped that it was all just his imagination.
He took a deep breath and entered the living room with his two daughters in tow. However, where was there even a trace of Jiang Ziya?
He stayed silent and walked over to look at the shoe cabinet. As he expected, the sneakers that Jiang Ziya normally wore weren’t there.
Jiang Qibing broke into a cold sweat.
“Where did Gēge go?” Jiang Jiang deliberately said, “Should we call him?”
Only then did Jiang Qibing remember there was such a method to solve his problem. He hurriedly picked up the phone and dialed, sincerely hoping that the ringing would come from the room, that everything was just his imagination, that Jiang Ziya was just particularly polite today, that he had merely gone inside his room to get something, so he just wasn’t in the living room.
The dial tone sounded in the receiver, but no ringtone sounded in his surroundings.
The number that you have dialed cannot be reached. Please leave a message after the “beep”…
No one picked up? Jiang Qibing frowned. Even though he wanted to tell himself that it wasn’t something strange—after all, Jiang Ziya often missed picking up the phone, and nine out of ten times would have to return the call after he realized it—but he just couldn’t not worry.
“Ziya, why haven’t you returned home even though it’s so late already?”
Actually, it wasn’t very late yet, but something so strange had happened just now, and the call wouldn’t connect either, so Jiang Qibing felt it was too late!
“When you hear my message, call me back right away!”
He was at his wit’s end.
Don’t tell me something happened on Ziya’s end, too?