The aquarium contained half-full seawater, and white sands were laid at the bottom. Colorful gemstones could vaguely be seen among the white sands and clusters of colorful corals.
A two-adult-fist-sized pearl-white conch lay between the clusters of corals. Many brilliant gemstones and pearls were embedded between patterned red and yellow dotted lines on the conch surface, making this conch a work of art.
Bending down and gently knocking on the glass, Jiang Lan said in a soft voice.” Little Nine? The fifth brother is here to see you.”
After this, the conch shook slightly, and a pair of little dragon horns appeared, followed by a pair of dark eyes. With only half of his head appearing, Jiao Tu said shyly in an excited and soft voice.” Fifth brother!”
Jiang Lan touched his horn.”Why are you so shy? There is no stranger around.”
Hearing this, Jiao Tu mustered up the courage to lean out of his conch. He looked like a miniature white dragon with a round body. The little Dragon rubbed his head against Jiang Lan’s hands and withdrew to his conch again, feeling a little shy. Only his tail remained outside, painted with a little pinkish color by the setting sun.
Jiang Lan thought his little brother was adorable. He couldn’t help pinching his small tail and said in a soft voice.” This aquarium is too big for my office. Can I take you there without it?”
He lowered his voice to a whisper, taking care not to scare him.
Among the nine brothers, Jiao Tu was the most harmless and gentle. He was easily scared and didn’t have much attacking power. Most of the time, he just hid in his conch and slept. When he first came back to the Dragon Palace with his big brother, Jiang Lan remembered that Jiao Tu was so scared that he chose to hide. All the monsters in the Dragon Palace took half a month to ferret him out from among dozens of shells.
It took a lot of effort from the big brother to calm him down, convincing him that the fierce-looking Tao Tie was his newly-returned fifth brother, not a monster out to eat him.
Jiang Lan still remembered what happened that day. Despite being scared witless, with his little horn trembling, Jiao Tu tried to hold in his fear and leaned out of his conch to greet him in a soft voice.” Fifth Brother.”
This”Fifth brother” aroused in him a sense of belonging to the Dragon Palace. He chose to stay there after that.
To ease Jiao Tu’s fear of him and make him grow close to him, Jiang Lan went to great lengths to collect as many beautiful gemstones and pearls as possible and kept a daily routine of sending one stone as a gift to his little brother. After several years of indulging like this, Jiao Tu no longer feared him.
The white conch was Jiao Tu’s most cherished treasure. He thoroughly cleans it the first thing he wakes up in the morning, then chooses gemstones that catch his fancy from his collections and carefully imbed them on the conch.
This time, after waking up, Jiao Tu had selected a new set of decorative gemstones for his conch before his trip to Jiang City. Jiang Lan praised his taste in a sincere voice and held his shy brother in his arms.
“Let’s put the aquarium in the home. My office was too small.”
Jiang Lan said to Uncle Gui.” With Little Eight as a companion, Little Nine is perfectly all right staying on land.”
Jiao Tu was very timid and never left his conch. He never felt secure being alone on the land, so he rarely left the ocean. It took a great deal of courage to decide to come to see Jiang Lan.
Uncle Gui didn’t object, but his mind was never at ease unless he could make sure the Dragon’s sons were comfortable.” I have your flat cleaned, and the new clothing I brought here is in the closet, remember to try them on after you get home. The food I brought is in the fridge; eat as much as possible while they are fresh.”
Uncle Gui rambled on, and Jiang Lan was all patience. He respectfully listened and saw him off.
After the car left their sight, Jiang Lan went back to his office holding his little brother.
Turning to walk back, he immediately saw Xiao Xiaoyu standing behind him, watching the departing car with mouth agape, obviously in shock.
His heart skipped a beat, and before he had time to find an explanation, Xiao Xiaoyu marveled at the car with brightened eyes.” Rolls-Royce Phantom! Your family is wealthy!”
Before Jiang Lan left the office, he said his family came to deliver something to him.
Jiang Lan was a little relieved. It was lucky the car attracted all her attention.
But he soon felt a little nervous because he heard ordinary people tend to reject rich people from their circle. He was worried that Xiao Xiaoyu would never feel comfortable hanging out with him, knowing he was rich.
But Xiao Xiaoyu appeared not to mind. Instead, she began to mock Xue Meng in a gleeful voice.” If Xue Meng saw this, he might agree to anything if he was allowed to touch the steering wheel.”
Xue Meng was a car enthusiast, and Rolls-Royce Phantom was his dream car.
Jiang Lan laughed and blinked at her.”Then let’s keep him from knowing about the car.”
He and Xiao Xiaoyu exchanged a knowing smile.
Sitting down, Jiang Lan placed Jiao Tu on the inner corner of his desk.
The conch was just like a decorative artwork with Jiao Tu hiding inside motionless.
Jiang Lan leaned close to him.” Don’t be afraid. I am always here with you.”
Jiao Tu shook his dragon horn slightly in acknowledgment.
At this moment, Suan Ni jumped onto the desk with his favorite dried fish between his teeth. He circled around the conch and raised his paws to knock it gently. Then he pushed the dried fish inside the conch and meowed in greeting.
Hearing this, Jiao Tu extended his claws to briefly touch Suan Ni’s paw as a reply and retract it quickly.
After a while, an empty dried fish seal bag was pushed out. Suan Ni was pleased and pushed another dried fish inside the conch.
In this way, the three of them had a very happy afternoon.
When it was time to go home, Suan Ni pointed his head against the conch, wanting to push the conch inside the backpack. Seeing this, Jiang Lan picked up Jiao Tu and poked Suan Ni’s head.” It was Little Nine’s first time here. Let us show him the way home.”
Suan Ni agreed with a meow and crawled inside the bag.
With the backpack on his back and Jiao Tu in his arms, Jiang Lan and his brothers set out home.
Since he planned to show his little brother the way home, Jiang Lan would walk back. But the moment he walked out of the office, Uncle Zhou waved to him with smiles on his face.” Jiang Lan, your brother, is here waiting for you.”
Jiang Lan was surprised to see Ying Qiao walk out from behind Uncle Zhou. Jiang Lan’s view was momentarily blocked on his way out, so he didn’t see Ying Qiao.
A thought suddenly struck him, and he tried to hide Jiao Tu almost as a reflex action. But he was too late. Ying Qiao’s eyes were already on Jiao Tu with a slightly puzzled look on his face.
Jiang Lan had no choice but to walk over to greet him.”How come you are here?”
Ying Qiao’s eyes were now glued to the conch. If he was not mistaken, the gemstones embedded on the conch were……….genuine.
“What is it……?” His voice was calm, but obviously, he was expecting an explanation.
But he didn’t think the Little Monster would deceive him.
Jiang Lan touched the conch without thinking. With a sense of guilt, he widened his eyes, which ironically gave him a look of innocence. He raised Jiao Tu to show him and try to sound natural.” This is my cousin; he is here to stay with us for a while.”
Oh, a cousin……..The doubt in Ying Qiao’s eyes vanished. Looking back and forth between the Little Monster’s plain clothing and the gemstones on the conch, Ying Qiao thought life was hard on the Little Monster.
After remaining silent for a while, Ying Qiao couldn’t help asking.” Your cousin’s family looks rich. Why are your…..this poor?”
He knew the Little Monster lived with his little brother alone. He recalled that Jiang Lan mentioned he had eight brothers to feed on their date, which he always dismissed as mere exaggerating. Now the sudden appearance of this rich cousin made him uncertain whether Jiang Lan was exaggerating after all.
Running full throttle, his wild imagination began to fill the gaps in this complicated story. In this story, the Little Monster was forced to leave home with his little brother to scrape a living among humans.
Jiang Lan’s muscles tightened, and his heart was racing.
How do I explain this?
He lowered his head with a guilty heart, racking his brains for an explanation. His anxiety took over him, and with a clenched jaw, he bit his lips almost raw.
So this is it?
Today is the day the friendship boat is going to capsize.
But I am not ready for a confession!
While he was anxious for his brain to produce an explanation, Ying Qiao signed deeply and stroked his hair gently.” If you don’t want to tell me, don’t force yourself.”
Jiang Lan raised his head in surprise: Yi?
The red-rimmed eyes and the trace of teeth on his lips further confirmed Ying Qiao’s speculation. He thought the Little Monster must have a strained relationship with his family. Otherwise, how could he explain that when the Little Monster was practically a kid, he left home with a tiny cub to make a living in human society?
The Monster race had a hard time continuing its bloodline. If any monster family had a cub this cute and well-behaved, they would indulge him as if he was the most precious thing in the world and would never let him risk an adventurous and hard life.
The conch in Jiang Lan’s arms would serve as a perfect reference point for how the monster race indulges their cubs.
Before, Ying Qiao used to consider the Little Monster capable and independent. Now, in this gemstone embedded cousin’s presence, Ying Qiao couldn’t help feeling bad for him.
The more capable the cub was, the more compassion he felt for him.
For a brief moment, he almost yelled out to Jiang Lan: Don’t feel bad, I will give you everything. I have countless gemstones in my house. From now on, they are all yours.
But his remaining sense stopped him.
Taking a deep breath, Ying Qiao’s eyes grew soft when he looked at Jiang Lan. He gave Jiang Lan a band card and didn’t press on him further with more questions.” The bonus had been granted. I came to give it to you.”
At first, he wanted to ask Cheng Hua to wire transfer the amount to Jiang Lan. But on second thought, he thought it better to keep Cheng Hua’s contact with Jiang Lan to a minimum.
The painted skin monster was famed for his seducing power.
I had to keep an eye on my cub in case he was seduced.
Why the sudden change of topic?
Jiang Lan gave him a cautious look. Seeing that Ying Qiao didn’t press further, he was greatly relieved.
How come I get off the hook this easy?
He was so surprised that he forgot to pick up the bank card Ying Qiao offered him for a few seconds.
Seeing he was unresponsive, Ying Qiao just shoved the bank card into his hands and wrapped his hand around his shoulder to lead him away while telling him.” My boss invited his business partner over for dinner but was stood up. The restaurant reservation couldn’t be canceled, and we couldn’t get a refund for the prepaid meal. So it falls to us to make sure it wasn’t a waste.”
While he was making up an excuse to invite him to an expensive restaurant, he was thinking he must make up for what he had missed out on.
He had to make sure the Little Monster was as much indulged as other cubs.