Jīn Zixuān trudged through the store, shoulders hunched, eyebrows twisted into a scowl. Lán Wàngjī followed behind, arching an eyebrow any time Jīn Zixuān tossed him a look over his shoulder, but remained otherwise unmoved in their silent squabble. His friend scanned the shelves with a level of desperation Lán Wàngjī found to be supremely entertaining. Every few feet his friend would stop, staring at the object on display, before glancing back up at Lán Wàngjī in silent question. Lán Wàngjī promptly ignored him, in favor of looking at another display, or his phone.
“Wàngjī, I brought you here to help me. Why aren’t you helping,” Jīn Zixuān whined, giving him his best approximation of Mò Xuányǔ’s patented puppy dog eyes. Jīn Zixuān was not nearly as capable and had apparently forgotten that this didn’t work on Lán Wàngjī anyway.
“You still have not given me enough information,” Lán Wàngjī stated in his most bored of tones as they repeated the same argument for the third time today. Jīn Zixuān threw his hands up in exasperation before pointing at him violently.
“I told you, I don’t know. That’s why you’re here! You’re used to buying gifts for the brother-in-law you barely tolerate, and they’re more alike than I’d like to admit. They’re both too smart for their own good, they have similar interests, and they’re both absolute bitches,” He says, holding up a new finger with each count. Lán Wàngjī is fairly certain that Mèng Yáo, who has met Jiāng Yànlí’s ‘gremlin’ of a brother, and who complained viscerally about him for a whole two hours after their first meeting, would be dissatisfied to know that he was being compared. “Come on. Give me your wisdom,” Jīn Zixuān pleads once more.
“Did you just call your brother a bitch?” Lán Wàngjī asks, coughing into his fist to hide his laugh when Jīn Zixuān’s eye twitches. “Surely you have experience in purchasing a gift for your brother.” Lán Wàngjī pauses for effect, already knowing the answer and further rubbing in the point. “If they are so alike, you should be far more qualified than I in this endeavor. After all, you have been building your relationship with Mèng Yáo for three years, and he has only been my brother in law for two.” Jīn Zixuān merely glared at him in return. “Oh, do you mean to tell me that Jiāng Yànlí has purchased every gift for every person in your life for the better part of five years?” He taunted, satisfied with the level of red pooling across his friend’s cheeks while simultaneously opening the camera on his phone and hitting the button to record.
“Okay, fine, you win. Yànlí wins. Everyone but me wins,” He grouses, running his hands through his hair. Lán Wàngjī knew next to nothing about Wèi Wúxiàn. But he did know that Wèi Wúxiàn disliked Jīn Zixuān. Lán Wàngjī was tempted to point out that a video of such a declaration would likely be a gift well-received, but that would put an end to his best friend’s torture, and what was the fun in that?
“Will you be informing Yànlí-jiě of this momentous occasion, or shall I?” He asked, although he was already sending the video to her via text.
“God. You’re a petty bitch too. Shut up. If I don’t come back with a gift for her brother, I’ll owe both Yànlí and Jiāng Chéng five hundred dollars.”
“Mn. Will you pay me five hundred dollars for my assistance? It would only be half of what you would pay otherwise, after all,” He pointed out with calm logic.
“You don’t need five hundred dollars! You’re richer than I am!” Jīn Zixuān wailed, before dropping the theatrics and grumbling in agreement. Jīn Zixuān is correct, he has no need for five hundred dollars. The Láns, in general, did not have more money than the Jīn’s. That would be excessive. But with the inheritance from his parents, his weekly stipend from Uncle, and the fact that he actually had a job, Lán Wàngjī personally had more money than Jīn Zixuān. But it had been ages since his friend was so discomfited, he needed to make the most of it. He’d just put the five hundred dollars towards a gift for Jiāng Yànlí.
“Okay, fine. I admit. I don’t know anything about Wèi Wúxiàn. I don’t know enough to be able to purchase an adequate gift for the man that will likely be my brother in law this time next year if Yànlí decides to say yes.” Jīn Zixuān paused, a faraway look in his eyes, as he palmed the inside pocket of his jacket where he’d been keeping the ring for a better part of four months. It had been in his sock drawer for two months prior. Jiāng Yànlí did his laundry. It was a miracle she hadn’t found it yet.
“So you admit that although you have known this man for six years, you do not know enough about him to be able to purchase a heartfelt gift for the holidays. You also admit that in this time, Yànlí-jiě has purchased every relevant gift and slapped both your names on them, including gifts for your recently discovered half brother, who also happens to be my brother in law?” Lán Wàngjī laid it out, fighting the small smirk that tugged at the corner of his lips.
“Is that what it will take for you to help?” Jīn Zixuān nearly screamed, every nearby person turning to look with barely disguised concern.
“Mmmm. No. You know what it will take.”
“I hate you. Do you know that I hate you? I wish we weren’t friends.”
“But then, you would be left with only Luó Qīngyáng, and let us be honest. She would be far crueler than I.”
“Ugh! Fine. Fine! Yes. Yànlí picks out every gift and has done so since we started dating.” He finished the rest of his sentence in a mumble under his breath, so soft that Lán Wàngjī could just make out the words. He decided to pretend that he could not.
“I cannot hear you.”
“Yes! Fine! The gifts you have most treasured from your best friend over the last four years have been purchased by Yànlí, and not me.” This was something Lán Wàngjī had already known. When you go from receiving gas station trinkets, notebooks, and fruit baskets to thoughtful gifts, you would be an idiot not to realize. In all truth, he felt a bit honored that Jīn Zixuān continued to try to purchase gifts for him for two years instead of just shoving the responsibility at Jiāng Yànlí, as he had for every other person in his life. “There. I gave you what you wanted. Now help.” Lán Wàngjī simply stared with meaning, until Jīn Zixuān groaned once more. “ Really?” Lán Wàngjī nodded once, giving his best friend his best petty bitch face when he pulled out his wallet and handed over five hundred cash.
“You agreed. I am only requesting my due,” Lán Wàngjī says in a bored tone, slipping the money into his slacks. Jīn Zixuān huffed, but Lán Wàngjī ignored him as he pulled open the camera once more. “However, this is not all that I require. You know what is necessary.” Jīn Zixuān glared at him before his face morphed into a pleading look, one that might, possibly, give Mò Xuányǔ a run for his money. But Lán Wàngjī was unmoved.
“Ugh! Alright. I admit it. I am abysmal at gift-giving. Even my own mother hates my gifts. I am unworthy of the goddess that is Jiāng Yànlí. Hánguāng-jūn is so kind, to continue his friendship with this undeserving man. My mother is a saint for putting up with my bullshit for 27 years,” he paused, the flush running down his neck, past the collar of his Gucci polo. Lán Wàngjī gestured for him to continue, biting back a smile when his friend attempted to punch him in the arm and missed. “And Miánmián, uh… I’ll give her the keys to the cabin any time she asks for the next year.” Lán Wàngjī tilted his head, and his friend snorted. “You know she doesn’t like the mushy stuff.” He stopped recording, accepting this answer. Luó Qīngyáng would much rather receive favors or money than kind words.
Lán Wàngjī sends the video to Jiāng Yànlí, Luó Qīngyáng, and Xiao Cai before thumbing his way back over to Twitter. Jīn Zixuān shuffles his way over, looking down at the phone with a note of confusion.
“What are you doing?”
“I am reviewing Wèi Wúxiàn’s social media accounts.”
“You don’t even have social media! Can’t you just help me pick something?”
“Just because I do not utilize social media, does not mean I don’t know how to use it. And helping you pick something out, which would prove beneficial in reducing the level of garishness you generally find appropriate, is not the point. You were tasked with finding a gift that Wèi Wúxiàn would like, based on his ‘gremlin personality.’ Something perhaps not heartfelt, but at the very least cognizant of what he likes in life. Therefore, research is required, since you don’t know. ”
“Well, what would you buy Mèng Yáo?”
“From this location?” Lán Wàngjī asked while scanning the department store. There were rows upon rows of business attire, a tree of silk scarves, displays of fine jewelry. “If I were to purchase a gift for Mèng Yáo, it would not be from this store. I would purchase the latest book in his favorite series, or a record of fine jazz, or even perhaps a finely carved chess set. But if I had to make do with this store, it would likely be one of the hats, or this gold and teal scarf.” Lán Wàngjī gestured at a fine silk frock, one that would go with an outfit he had seen Mèng Yáo wear. “But nothing at this store is suitable for Wèi Wúxiàn.”
To prove his point, Lán Wàngjī pulled up a Tweet from two weeks ago where Wèi Wúxiàn had posted the link to an article on classism, with the hashtag ‘eat the rich.’
“God he’s such a little shit. Fine. You know best. Where do you recommend?”
“I say we stop off at Mortar and Pestle for tea, while I do further investigation.”
“Wàngjī, this was supposed to be a quick trip, an hour tops. It’s already been two,” Jīn Zixuān whined.
“No, you were the one that suggested that we could complete this farce of an errand in under an hour. I told you it would take longer.” His friend sighed before heading towards the exit in defeat. Lán Wàngjī nodded at the cashiers as they left, laughing internally at their relieved expressions.
He sighed as they neared the lurid vision that was Jīn Zixuān’s golden Porsche, sliding into the passenger seat with a defeated huff, missing his Impreza. He’d bet that Wèi Wúxiàn just loved this car. Once he was settled in, seatbelt firmly clasped, he returned to his research, scrolling indolently through Wèi Wúxiàn’s Twitter. It was rife with political commentary, with more instances of ‘eat the rich’ and an ‘ACAB’ here and there. But every twenty posts or so, he shared links of articles Lán Wàngjī found himself mentally marking down to read later. He’d been scrolling for the better part of five minutes when he finally found something of substance, wherein Wèi Wúxiàn had posted a series of beautiful, abstract paintings.
They were chaotic, brimming with emotion. It was a far cry from the more… Structured forms of art Lán Qǐrén had taught them to enjoy. Lán Wàngjī could see what would draw someone like Wèi Wúxiàn to this type of style. Attached to the series of photos is a link to an Etsy shop. Perhaps Jīn Zixuān could come to Jiāng Yànlí with the idea of a meaningful gift in order to get her opinion on what would best fit with Wèi Wúxiàn’s aesthetic. Surely, that would be acceptable within the limitations of her challenge. They’d be pushing it with shipping time, a month for shipping from a private seller during the holidays was, in Lán Wàngjī’s opinion, a risk, but it could work out.
He tapped on the link, the page for a shop called ‘Whatever’ opening. He scoffed at the name before scrolling through bright paintings, sculptures, wood carvings, and the occasional comedic shirt. Not all of the paintings were abstract in nature, there were portraits and landscapes. He paused briefly, looking at the thumbnail for a scroll depicting a misty mountain range in smoky blue ink before continuing on. When he reached the bottom of the page, he paused, thumb over the picture of the shop owner, one Wèi Wúxiàn. Well, that won’t work.
He scrolled back up, clicking on the scroll to see it in better detail. It was subtle, elegant, nothing like the riotous abstracts he’d posted to his Twitter. It would not have been out of place among shūfù’s collection. It would not be out of place in Lán Wàngjī’s apartment, sharing aesthetic properties with his family home.
“You did not tell me he was an artist,” Lán Wàngjī murmured, just loud enough to be heard over BLACKPINK.
“Hmm? Oh, he isn’t, not really. He just plays around with that stuff.” Lán Wàngjī’s eyebrows rose into his hair. 30,000 sales, resulting in a 5-star rating, did not seem to be ‘playing around.’
“Do you know what his degree is in?” He asked, hedging an internal bet that it was art.
“Pfft,” Jīn Zixuān let out a breathy giggle. “Degree? What degree. He never got one!”
“I thought you said he was still attending classes?” Surely, at 24, he would need to be working towards a master's?
“Yeah, he is. He’s switched his major four times. He spent two years in finance with Jiāng Chéng. He was supposed to work at Lotus Pier, be Chéng’s right-hand man. Then it was engineering. Then it was veterinary sciences. Now it’s art.” Jīn Zixuān finished with a dismissive tone. Lán Wàngjī took another look at the scroll before adding it to his cart, leaving the tab open for later perusal, and returned to Twitter.
He spent the remainder of the drive shifting through more of the same, and by the time they made it to Mortar and Pestle, he had thirty tabs open, his mental catalog of articles that sounded interesting overwhelmed.
They found a table towards the back, where the smell of fresh tea leaves was strongest. Jīn Zixuān got an abomination of some holiday latte, and Lán Wàngjī opted for a new blend of oolong. He’d just opened another link to an article on the inherent flaws of capitalism when he determined he needed to switch gears. He opted for Facebook instead of Instagram, hoping for more personal information to help him determine what an appropriate gift would be.
He logged into his rarely used profile, set up by Jīn Zixuān and Lán Xīchén for him years ago. Finding Wèi Wúxiàn was easy, they had 34 friends in common, which seemed inaccurate. Lán Wàngjī didn’t even think he had 34 friends on Facebook. But the rest of Wèi Wúxiàn’s profile was private. Lán Wàngjī sighed before doing what must be done to complete his mission, and tapped the button to add him as a friend. People did that, right? Added friends of friends?
Within moments he received a notification that his request had been accepted. Lán Wàngjī was startled to discover that he, in fact, had fifty friends on Facebook, with the addition of Wèi Wúxiàn. He was beginning to wonder if his brother had accepted requests on his behalf. The last time he’d been paying attention, he’d had six friends: his brother, Jīn Zixuān, Luó Qīngyáng, shūfù, Jiāng Yànlí, and Niè Míngjué. To be fair, that would have been when the account was opened. He began his perusal of Wèi Wúxiàn’s profile, determined to go through his friend's list later and cull it.
“How’s your stalking going?” Jīn Zixuān asked, taking an atrocious slurp of his crime against coffee.
“It is not stalking, it is research, on your behalf, I might add.” His friend gave him a blank look.
“Wàngjī… You’ve been doing this for an hour.” He stifled a wince. He’d started this, although halfheartedly, on the way to the shopping mall. So it was more like three.
“Do you want to impress Yànlí-jiě or not?”
“Ugh, fine. Continue with your research. ”
Unfortunately, Wèi Wúxiàn’s Facebook is very similar to his Twitter, but somehow he has avoided duplicate posts. He has five more tabs open within 10 minutes, and he’s almost finished with his tea. Just as he is ready to admit defeat, he finds a series of posts about Wèi Wúxiàn’s adventures in resuming his lessons on the traditional dizi. Apparently, he’d played throughout middle school, but gave up band before starting high school to become one of the ‘cool kids.’ Lán Wàngjī pursed his lips. He still played in a small, local orchestra, and he was plenty cool, thank you.
But there are multiple posts about his progress, and after listening to a video on very low volume, he determines that he’s actually fairly skilled, but he’s playing on a disgrace to bamboo everywhere, and he honestly wonders if he’s still playing the same starter from his middle school days.
“I have found your gift. Finish up that atrocity, we’re going to Old Man Qiu’s.”
“That’s all the way across town!” Jīn Zixuān groans and flops in his chair. He stops his dramatics after a pointed glare. “... Fine.”
Jīn Zixuān is not holding his breath. He’s not. But he can’t help but feel slightly anxious as Wèi Wúxiàn tears through Lán Wàngjī’s meticulous, elegant wrapping paper. He watches as the gremlin yanks the lid off the box hard enough to rip the cardboard, and then feels a flash of satisfaction as Wèi Wúxiàn’s face morphs from what he refers to as ‘chaotic ghoul’ to blatant confusion.
Jiāng Yànlí is giving him a soft, approving look, and for the first time since this debacle started, it finally feels like it was worth it. (Even if he didn’t do most of the work.) Wèi Wúxiàn lifts out the delicate, finely carved case and gasps dramatically when he opens it to see the lacquered bamboo flute. It was black, the only thing Lán Wàngjī had allowed him to choose, even after he’d made a joke about Wèi Wúxiàn requiring a flute as black as his soul.
His soon to be brother in law (if Jiāng Yànlí says yes, please let her say yes,) lifts the flute up with a level of care Jīn Zixuān hadn’t been aware he was capable of. He can feel his eyebrows twist as he notices the finely braided red tassel with its jade pendant, which absolutely had not been part of his original purchase. He quickly wipes the look away when Jiāng Chéng looks at him as if to say ‘how did you pull this off?’ He was absolutely going to pretend that this was his triumph.
He’s quite pleased, honestly, at the watery thank you he gets from Wèi Wúxiàn, the incredulous, almost proud head nod from Jiāng Chéng, and the affectionate kiss he gets from Jiāng Yànlí when her brothers aren’t looking. This feeling lasts only a few moments, however, because Wèi Wúxiàn is now playing screeching notes on his beautiful, elegant flute while Jiāng Chéng chases after him.