Chapter 146 – Unexpected Guest

Having already left the Wei family with Chen Li, Wei Chen was naturally unaware of the conversation that took place between Patriarch Wei and Patriarch Chen, Chen Shihuai, after he left. At this moment, he was driving towards the city center, on his way to do whatever he pleased.

It was still within the realm of the second day of the Lunar New Year, and today the sky was drizzling with light rain, enveloping the entire world in a curtain of rain, creating a hazy beauty.

By the time they reached the shopping mall, the rain had conveniently stopped.

Although it was the second day of the Lunar New Year, several shops had already started opening one after another. There were a few people strolling inside the mall, including families and groups of friends. They were dressed in new clothes, and combined with the New Year songs playing in the mall, a strong festive atmosphere pervaded the air.

Wei Chen and Chen Li had a clear purpose in mind; they went straight to Free Spirit.

The Free Spirit art supplies store was already open. Just like the last time they visited, only the store manager was present. A few shoppers who had come to the mall were drawn in by the store’s unique decoration and had entered to take a look. The store manager was attending to these customers. When he saw Chen Li and Wei Chen enter, he nodded in acknowledgement from a distance but didn’t approach them.

Having been to Free Spirit several times before, Wei Chen and Chen Li were familiar with the layout and didn’t need the store manager or staff to guide them. They knew exactly where to find what they wanted.

Today, Chen Li was in the mood and led Wei Chen to the store’s art section, where they laid out rice paper on a table, ready to start painting traditional Chinese paintings.

Brushes and ink were readily available, and they were of high quality. As Chen Li held the brush in his hand, his whole demeanor changed. If before he seemed somewhat dull and timid, now he appeared composed and confident when holding the brush.

In fact, regardless of the type of brush in Chen Li’s hand, he exhibited this transformation in demeanor. It wasn’t very evident at the beginning, but ever since the Dream Cup auction where Chen Li’s value had been recognized by many, a unique aura that belonged solely to Chen Li emerged whenever he held a brush. He seemed like an entirely different person compared to Chen Li without a brush in his hand.

Wei Chen, on the other hand, still couldn’t grasp painting. Despite spending so much time with Chen Li, this aspect simply eluded him. The phrase “be unconsciously influenced by what one frequently hears and sees” didn’t apply to Wei Chen in the slightest.

However, despite this, Wei Chen still enjoyed watching Chen Li paint. Although he didn’t understand anything about it, he could stand by Chen Li’s side, observing every stroke from the beginning to the end of Chen Li’s brushwork, immersing himself in the process.

Today was no exception. Chen Li took charge of painting, and Wei Chen stood by, his gaze tender and his heart and eyes filled with the image of Chen Li’s brush strokes.

Wei Chen noticed that compared to when Chen Li painted oil and watercolor paintings, there was an added touch of elegance and charm when Chen Li painted traditional Chinese paintings. This only served to deepen Wei Chen’s fascination.

The few people in the store who noticed someone painting were drawn by curiosity and came over to watch. Perhaps it was due to the store’s unique decoration and ambiance. When these people approached, they did so without causing a commotion. They stood at a distance to observe Chen Li’s painting. Store manager Wu Zailin had a moment to spare and followed suit. He didn’t watch the painting itself, but rather studied Chen Li from head to toe. By comparing the current image before him with the memory of the first time Chen Li had painted in Free Spirit, Wu Zailin immediately spotted the differences.

“He has improved a lot,” Wu Zailin quietly remarked to Wei Chen by his side. This improvement wasn’t about artistic skill, but rather in terms of Chen Li’s health condition. Wu Zailin could sense that compared to the last time, Chen Li appeared more at ease, not constantly tensing up.

Wei Chen nodded, his gaze never leaving Chen Li.

From then on, Wu Zailin didn’t say anything more. He earnestly attended to the customers while stealing glances at Chen Li’s vigorous brushwork.

Chen Li spent an entire hour on this painting. Impatient individuals had walked away, and new customers had entered the store and approached the scene. People came and went around Chen Li as he painted. After welcoming the customers, Wu Zailin returned and found Wei Chen still standing motionless, his gaze fixed on Chen Li the entire time without wavering.

As Chen Li placed the final stroke, the ink on the rice paper spread into the shape of a plum blossom, completing the artwork. Chen Li looked up, searching for Wei Chen’s figure. Seeing Wei Chen right by his side, Chen Li’s bright eyes curved into a charming arc, and a subtle smile appeared on his lips.

Wei Chen stepped forward, using a damp tissue to wipe away the ink that had accidentally splattered onto Chen Li’s face. He began with the most genuine praise, “Li Li, you’re amazing!”

Chen Li smiled lightly and let Wei Chen wipe the ink off his face.

The onlookers finally saw the complete painting. Astonishment appeared on their faces because this artwork had struck a chord within them. It depicted a plum blossom in deep winter, a symbol of indomitable life.

“Hello.” At this moment, a person stepped out from the crowd and amiably said to Chen Li, “I’m a lover of calligraphy and painting. I really like this painting of yours. May I ask how much money it would take for you to part with it and sell it to me?”

This person might have been somewhat excited, as they approached Chen Li quite closely. Chen Li’s emotions immediately tensed unconsciously. He took a step back in the direction of Wei Chen, gripping Wei Chen’s hand and staring at his own feet.

Wei Chen gently touched Chen Li’s back, silently soothing him, and then looked at the person who had just stepped forward, saying, “It’s not for sale.”

“I genuinely like this painting. No matter the price, I’m willing to buy it,” the person said eagerly, seeming to truly admire the artwork.

However, Wei Chen paid no more attention to this person. He had detected a hint of greed in the person’s eyes – what he desired was probably not just the painting itself, but the artist behind it.

Unaware that Wei Chen had seen through him with a single glance, the person continued to try to persuade Chen Li to sell the painting to him.

Wu Zailin approached immediately. Now positioned between Wei Chen and the person, he kindly said, “Sir, I apologize. Any paintings created in our store are considered the store’s property by default. The store has the right to decide whether or not to sell a particular artwork.”

The person furrowed their brows, clearly reluctant to engage with the store manager any further. Just as they were about to bypass the manager and continue talking to Chen Li, Wei Chen interjected, “I’ve already called the police.”

Upon hearing the words “called the police,” the person’s reaction was akin to someone stepping on their tail. They almost jumped and had an instinctive urge to escape. While they managed to restrain the impulse to flee, Wei Chen had already caught onto it. This person was definitely suspicious. Wei Chen had drawn his conclusion.

Wu Zailin also sensed that something was off about this person. He narrowed his eyes, smiled, and said, “Sir, you can take a look at our other paintings. If you’re satisfied, we can discuss the price. However, as for this particular painting, our store won’t sell it. We hope you understand.”

The person seemed to sense that something was amiss, found an excuse, and quickly slipped away. Nonetheless, Wu Zailin had remembered the person’s appearance. When he had some spare time, he would probably look into the person’s background.

This was just a minor incident that everyone soon forgot about. It wasn’t something anyone dwelled upon.

Chen Li’s painting ultimately stayed at Free Spirit. He didn’t take it with him. Inside the store, there was a complete set of framing tools, and Wu Zailin’s framing skills were highly proficient. After just a little over ten minutes, the painting Chen Li had just completed today was meticulously framed by Wu Zailin, without a single crease.

Afterward, Chen Li selected a few painting tools from Free Spirit. When they went to the cashier to settle the bill, this time Wu Zailin accepted their payment.

However, at this point, Wu Zailin gave Chen Li an additional gesture of goodwill, one that Wei Chen happened to need. It was an invitation to a birthday banquet. When Wei Chen looked at the names on the invitation, his pupils involuntarily contracted.

“This…” Wei Chen looked up at Wu Zailin, somewhat puzzled.

“Didn’t I mention last time that I wanted to make it up to my junior with a little gesture? After some thought, I figured this birthday banquet invitation would be just right,” Wu Zailin explained with a smile.

Chen Li took the invitation, scanned it briefly, not recognizing whose it was. However, he could sense Wei Chen’s attentiveness and seriousness, so he accepted it with respect. He turned to Wu Zailin and said, “Thank you.”

Wu Zailin waved his hand. “No need to thank me. This is the gesture of a senior brother to his junior brother. Though Wei Chen is the one benefiting, I believe this is what you would like to see. So, I chose this gift, hoping that my junior brother will like it.”

Chen Li glanced at Wei Chen, then at Wu Zailin, and nodded. “I like it.”

Wu Zailin smiled. Now he understood why the master liked his junior brother so much; it was because the junior brother was genuinely endearing.

“Thank you,” Wei Chen also expressed his gratitude to Wu Zailin. This gift had truly touched his heart, like someone handing him a pillow just as he was about to doze off.

“Thanks for what?” Wu Zailin laughed heartily. “If you’re really grateful, take good care of my junior.”

“Of course.”

“Alright, it’s getting dark. You two should head back. I’m also about to close up,” Wu Zailin started bidding farewell, but there was no ill intent in his tone. He even sounded cheerful.

“Then, we’ll take our leave,” Wei Chen said.

Chen Li obediently waved goodbye to Wu Zailin.

Just as Wei Chen reached the doorway, Wu Zailin suddenly spoke up, “I forgot to tell you something. That elderly man from last time participated in the Dream Cup auction. Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to acquire the painting of the gold prize winner. He was quite disappointed.”

Wu Zailin didn’t explicitly state his message, but he believed Wei Chen would understand the implication.

Wei Chen wasn’t sure if he had heard it, but he continued walking forward while holding Chen Li’s hand.

Watching their figures as they left, Wu Zailin’s lips curled into a smile before he closed the shop door.

Wei Chen and Chen Li left Free Spirit and headed straight back to the Wei family. Little did they know, there were a few unexpected guests waiting for them there.

Upon their return to the Wei family, when Wei Chen saw the Chen family members waiting in the living room, he wasn’t surprised at all.

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