“I’m a real boy!”
--Pinocchio


Chapter Forty One – Argue

When Huang Ming went to receive his guests, he saw that they were Zhang Ping, the stout Ma Jun and the fresh-faced Min Guang. All three had contrasting emotions: Zhang Ping was resolute, Ma Jun was jovial while Min Guang was somewhat nervous. An entourage of servants followed in their wake, carrying boxes of various sizes, baskets and bouquets of flowers.


“I want to meet Zhao Hongqi,” Zhang Ping said immediately, dispensing with the usual greetings.


“Well, nice to see you too,” Huang Ming replied dryly.


The muscle-bound stonemason shrugged before gesturing at the parade of presents behind him. “As you suggested, I want to give her some gifts,” he said.


Huang Ming took a peek at the gifts. “Some? Are you sure that’s enough?” he asked jokingly.


To his surprise, Zhang Ping actually nodded. “I had much more prepared, but Ma Jun said it’s too much. I can call my servants to bring the rest.”


“Don’t!” Huang Ming said and laughed. “This is indeed too much. Besides, it would be better to send a little everyday, it gives you the excuse to meet her constantly.”


Zhang Ping brightened. “I did not think of that,” he said with a smile.


‘I have created a monster,’ Huang Ming thought as he saw the ill-fitting giddy expression on his friend’s face. Finding it unsettling, he hastily turned to Yu-er to call for Zhao Hongqi.


While they waited, he asked Ma Jun and Min Guang, “And what brings you two here?”


“Hah! We heard about what had happened from He Ding and Lei Yan. They were concerned and asked us to look up on you. We met Zhang Ping on the way here,” the cheerful man replied.


“I’m touched. Why didn’t they come?” Huang Ming said sarcastically.


“They are suffering from cramps after running around the whole night,” Ma Jun guffawed, causing Huang Ming to shake his head.


“They told us quite a tale. Are you alright?” Min Guang asked anxiously, looking at him from head to toe.


“I’m fine, thanks for asking, Min Guang,” Huang Ming smiled kindly at his young friend.


The so-called White Jade beamed with relief, and Huang Ming could see why sister-like figures would have the urge to hug him or pinch his face. He felt that Min Guang had a case of hero worship, apparently the original had made a strong impression on him for some reason or another. Huang Ming had scanned the original’s memories, but couldn’t pinpoint anything in particular to have sparked such feelings from Min Guang.


Soon, Zhao Hongqi arrived together with Sunli. The immature girl was still sleepy, but her eyes became as wide as saucers when she saw the pile of gifts. On the other hand, Sunli put on her best impression of a block of stone and ignored Huang Ming. She was still smarting over what had happened earlier.


“Ms. Zhao, I brought you some gifts,” Zhang Ping said. He nodded at his servants and one of them stepped forward with a bouquet of flowers which was presented to the wahaha girl.


“Is this all for me?” she asked in astonishment.


“Yes, it’s all for you,” Zhang Ping reiterated.


Zhao Hongqi’s face lit up with a huge smile. “Wahaha! So much stuff!” she cheered and smiled smugly at her guardwoman. One could see that the younger girl had a sense of self-satisfaction and couldn’t resist lording it over Sunli. The guardwoman frowned but said nothing. Huang Ming noted the subtle exchange with some curiosity. It seemed that the relationship between Hongqi and Sunli was not as clear-cut as he was told.


It was then that Zhao Hongqi noticed the presence of Min Guang.


“Who are you?” she asked while advancing towards him, causing Zhang Ping to stiffen.


“Me? I’m… I’m Min Guang.”


“Hmmm…” Zhao Hongqi hummed as she circled around him. “Are you a boy? You look like a girl but you’re dressed like a boy,” she commented guilelessly.


Min Guang’s pale face flushed with a mixture of anger and embarrassment. “Oh yeah? What about you? Are you really a girl?” he asked. To his disappointment, his barb merely bounced off Zhao Hongqi as she did not detect the ire underneath his voice.


“Wahaha! Of course I’m a girl!” she folded her arms and laughed even as Min Guang steamed.


“Well, you don’t look like one!” he retorted.


Zhao Hongqi’s good mood evaporated as she narrowed her eyes. “What did you say? How dare you!” she snarled.


Min Guang inadvertently took a step back, but steeled his nerves. “I said you don’t look like a girl! Why are you pretending to be a soldier?” he asked.


“I’m not pretending!” Zhao Hongqi said fiercely.


Huang Ming was amused, it was like watching two combative, childish relatives having a row. The fact that Min Guang was girlish-looking while Zhao Hongqi was a tomboy made it all the more entertaining. What compounded matters was Zhang Ping, he stood nearby with a hollow expression as the two went back-and-forth in an escalating contest. Huang Ming could understand his dismay, Min Guang had stolen Zhao Hongqi’s attention from him despite the expensive gifts. Still, Huang Ming couldn’t help but snicker at Zhang Ping’s misfortune.


Ma Jun elbowed him conspiratorially. “Spare a thought for poor Zhang Ping. You’re enjoying this too much,” he whispered.


“Hey, it has nothing to do with me,” Huang Ming said defensively.


“Oh, really?” the barrel-chested man smirked. Then in a louder voice, he said, “I say brother Huang Ming, who is this charming little lady? Is she your fiancée that Lei Yan and He Ding talked about?”


Ma Jun’s question caused Min Guang to halt in mid-argument.


“This is your fiancée?” he demanded, pointing a finger at Zhao Hongqi in disbelief.


Huang Ming glared at Ma Jun who was chortling by himself. But before he could say anything, Zhao Hongqi spoke up.


“Yeah! I’m his fiancée, so of course I’m a girl!” she announced triumphantly.


“I don’t believe it!” Min Guang shot back.


“Why not?” Zhao Hongqi yelled in return.


“You must have pulled a nasty trick! There’s no way Brother Huang Ming would ever like a tomboy like you!”


Zhao Hongqi was furious. She whirled towards Sunli. “Bring my halberd! I’m going to teach this brat a lesson!”


“Who you calling brat, you brat!” Min Guang shouted.


Huang Ming clutched his forehead as he felt an ache coming. ‘Why is this happening to me!’ he screamed internally.


Just as things seemed to get out of hand, a sharp voice cut through the atmosphere.


“What is going on here?” Madam Li demanded.
 

All sorts of disguises,
None the wiser.​