“Dear passengers, the plane has landed successfully. The ground temperature is…”
At the international arrivals, travellers flying home from various countries are walking soundly when they suddenly hear a commotion behind them. Turning around, they can see a crowd of young women in their early twenties, jogging about and taking photos of someone. Some are holding phones, while the more professional ones carry SLRs larger than their faces. The snaps of camera shutters sound ceaselessly.
In fear of being pushed to the ground, the passersby all make way by clearing out a path right through the middle. Only when the girls approach do they realize that they’re surrounding a single person.
The person stands quite a bit taller than the people around him. He’s wearing a long trench coat, black and bold, with two glinting rows of studs lining its collar. Above the slim neck that extends from his clothes is a delicate chin and lips pursed into a straight line.
One notices his beautiful features despite having just half of his face exposed—he stands out starkly amidst the crowd. Yet because he’s wearing an extra-large pair of sunglasses that covers a larger portion of his face, it’s difficult to tell who he is.
“Which celebrity is this? He’s got so many fans?”
“With the long hair, could it be…”
Before the passersby even have the chance to take out their phones to snap a few rare shots of a celebrity, the group has already progressed far into the distance.
“What’s the hurry for? Celebrities nowadays…”
With a pair of long legs, Li Luo takes wide strides forward.
As he passes a slowly moving travellator, a few strands of his shoulder-length hair flutter in the wind.
The fans follow closely behind him, holding cameras and panting for air. Only then are they able to catch up and take a few shots of him from the front.
Those who are left behind start shouting.
“Luo-ge! Can you walk a little slower?”
“Luo-ge, what’s going on today? Why are you in such a hurry?”
“Luo-ge, give us a smile, won’t you? We came from so far away.”
“We even have presents…”
The assistant Deng Liang’s pace is slower. Having been left behind momentarily, he’s immediately buried by the crowd. He hurries to receive the fans’ presents in place of his boss.
Hand-written confessions, custom-made merch, cheering banners… After going around once, he’s now holding about eight bags in his hands and a half dozen banners around his neck. He can’t help but rejoice in the fact that Li Luo has openly stated that he doesn’t take anything but handmade gifts. Or else, Deng Liang would be crushed by presents right now.
“Don’t crowd him, everyone. Luo-ge has something urgent today; we need to be at the company as soon as possible. Please excuse us, you guys. Let’s keep the paths clear and try not to disturb the airport’s order.”
As he watches the distance between him and his boss grow farther and farther, Deng Liang’s forehead sweats from hurry despite the winter day, his fleshy cheeks glowing ruddily. Finally, he can only yell, “Luo-ge! Wait for me—”
But his voice is drowned out by the fans’ clamor.
Some fans had specially returned from Paris with him in the first-class cabin—the tickets cost thousands of dollars. They couldn’t take photos or disturb him in the cabin, so they waited to be able to talk to him, give their presents, and take a few frontline shots on the short journey between getting off the airplane and arriving at the exit. Or else, outside of customs, all the fans who came to welcome him would all rush over. How else would they ever get the chance to make contact with him?
“Xiao-Dengzi*, come here.”
*TN: This is a nickname for Deng Liang, which sounds similar to the word for “little stool” or “little chair.”
Luckily, Li Luo finally remembers his assistant who has disappeared. He slows down slightly, turns around and reaches out, grabbing Deng Liang from within the crowd of fans behind him and pulling Deng Liang towards him.
“Luo-ge, you’re so nice to Xiao-Dengzi!” A fan jokes.
“Be nice to us too, Luo-ge!” A group of fans shout.
Hearing this, Li Luo puts his fair fingers on the rim of his large sunglasses, pushing it down slightly. The sunglasses stop at the tip of his nose, revealing a pair of long, coquettish eyes. It has a sort of fusion between sharpness and beauty.
“Be good, you guys.” He finally flashes a smile, “I really have something urgent today. Please forgive me.”
He adds a wink, eliciting screams from the fans. The fan club leaders at the frontline quickly record every movement. A batch of photos that will be reposted tens of thousands of times must’ve been created again.
Li Luo said he was busy, but he still doesn’t choose the VIP exit, making sure that the fans who came to welcome him outside don’t leave empty-handed. With the airport security ahead of him, he pushes through the ocean of people and successfully gets in the car.
As the door is shut, the clamor is all left outside. He loosens his collar and lets out a long breath of relief.
Sitting in the front, Deng Liang shivers from the sudden shock. He turns around, “Hey, Ge, you’ve been mad the entire day. It’s not worth it. Don’t let the anger get to your health. You’ve already been pulling all-nighters these past few days, and you drank so much yesterday. I’m really worried that the anger’s gonna get to you and…”
“Scared that I’ll get a heart attack? Don’t worry. Even if I were to die, I’d kill that ungrateful Luo fellow first.” Li Luo’s threatening voice is the exact opposite of his delicate features. “I’m gonna tear him apart from limb to limb.”
“It’s true that what Mr. Luo did wasn’t so nice… But maybe he has his own troubles too? I’ve been with you ever since you debuted—I can tell that Mr. Luo appreciates you a lot. Is there a single time when there were good opportunities available and he didn’t think of you first? Why would he switch you out so suddenly this time…”
The more Deng Liang tried to comfort him, the more confused he himself became.
Li Luo’s trip to Paris this time for the G brand’s show was planned a month in advance. As the first male celebrity from the country to step onto the runway of this blue-chip brand, he had everyone’s full attention. The company had long since begun to advertise this. As long as he didn’t make a mistake, at least three days’ worth of headlines as well as the endorsement opportunity were bound to be his.
Yet, despite the fact that no mistakes were made on his part, the company stirred up trouble instead.
“Mr. Li, we feel that your image suits our brand’s style very well. Unfortunately, your company has said that due to certain reasons, you won’t be collaborating with us anymore. In the future, we’ll be selecting another suitable candidate. We can’t do anything about it from our end either, but we’ll try our best to negotiate with your company some more.”
After the brand’s representative communicated this, Li Luo didn’t express any disrespect on the spot. The first thing he did after he returned to the hotel was to make an international call, scolding his immediate supervisor without holding anything back.
“Are you crazy? Huh? Why’d they send for me if they don’t want me to keep working with them? Is there anyone more suitable than me in the company? What do you think?”
Luo Peng, who has always followed along with Li Luo’s intentions, only sighs. “We’ll wait until you get back.”
Li Luo booked the earliest flight back the day he heard the news.
“You think I’m mad about being switched out? I’m mad that he wasted my time and energy.”
Right now, Li Luo has taken off his sunglasses. Without any concealer, around his eyes are two soft circles of gray, betraying his sleep-deprived fatigue.
“In order to get this show right, I spent a whole week learning from the supermodels. Back in Paris, was there a single day when I wasn’t discussing details with the designer late into the night? He switched me out without telling me a thing—does he even care about what I think?”
In the whole of the company Shuoxing, Li Luo is the only one who dares to argue so arrogantly with the boss, Luo Peng.
Luo Peng has a good temper, but even he can’t stand Li Luo sometimes. Unfortunately, Li Luo is the pillar and main source of profit for the entire company— an actor, idol, fashion icon… He’s popular in every way. Back then, he single-handedly revived Shuoxing when it was on the verge of bankruptcy, lifting it to its current fame. Even now, when the company is training new members, a portion of the funds come from Li Luo’s income.
Even if Luo Peng didn’t want to favor Li Luo, he would still have to, let alone the fact that Li Luo truly deserves to be favored. Right after he graduated from university and signed his contract, he rose into fame with his first performance, receiving endless offers ever since. Even though the range of characters that he can portray is somewhat limited by his refusal to cut his long hair, leading him to mainly perform in period dramas, his hair has become his most memorable icon, allowing him to escalate in fame. Receiving the name of “Top Beauty in the Show-biz” just two years after his debut, until now, nobody has been able to shake this status.
A movie critic once commented, “It’s a little cliche to describe Li Luo as a rose with thorns; it’s not the most accurate either. Li Luo is more like a sword. On the surface it appears to be carved with intricate, ornate patterns, almost as if it’s a decorative sword that is pleasant to the eye, but it’s ultimately useless. However, when the sword is tilted and its blade revealed, you realize that even this breathtakingly beautiful sword is capable of taking one’s life.”
Li Luo wants to take someone’s life, right now.
“I was nice to him and he really thought he could push me around. Let’s watch him kneel and call me daddy later.”
Deng Lun thinks, When have you ever been nice to him? But he still has to try and persuade Li Luo, “Don’t be so mad, Ge. We’ll have a good talk once we get back to the company. Remember what the brand said? They’re still gonna try, which means this whole thing isn’t finalized yet. Talk to Mr. Luo properly. I’m sure he’ll change his mind.”
“He’ll have to even if he doesn’t want to. My contract is only five years long, and it’s almost expiring. If all else fails, I’ll just quit and go somewhere else so that I can talk to the brand directly. We’ll see if his choice is more suitable than I am.”
Li Luo stretches out his legs, but there’s only so much room in the back seat. He can only stop midway and make do with having his legs half-bent. Annoyed, he brushes away his bangs that were covering his eyes, looking out the car window. Silhouettes of the streets flash before his amber irises.
He had been so close to getting it. How can he give up right here?
The car parks below Shuoxing Entertainment’s office building. The silver glass reflects the sun’s rays.
Li Luo squints and walks right into the elevator, heading directly for the president’s office. When they see his expression, everyone who walks past him self-consciously keeps out of his way. Deng Liang doesn’t even have the time to take the gifts out from the trunk as he hurries after Li Luo.
“Lao-Luo! Explain to me—”
Inside of the president’s office, the young man talking to Luo Peng jumps from the sudden roar. Innocent eyes opened wide, he looks over, stuffing Li Luo’s curses back down his throat.
Luo Peng says, “Lin Cheng, you can go first. I’ll talk to you later.”
Lin Cheng nods. Looking like an obedient sheep, when he arrives at the office’s door, he tells Li Luo softly, “Luo-ge, I’m sorry…”
Sorry for what?
Only when Lin Cheng closes the door does he finally realize.
“Fuck, you switched me out for him?”
With a headache, Luo Peng massages his temples, denying nothing.
“Are you mad? It’s only been a year since Lin Cheng debuted. He doesn’t even have a tenth of the popularity I have. How much could he do for the company? Could he really swallow such a big slice of cake? Aren’t you worried my fans will rip him apart?” Li Luo’s questions fall one after another. “And isn’t he the cute type? At least find one whose style is similar to mine. Using him to switch me out of the endorsement position—excuse me? Even if I don’t take your life, the brand will be the first to do it.”
“My God, please shut up.” Luo Peng’s head is about to burst. “Not a single person in the entire entertainment industry has a style as great as yours, all right?”
Li Luo sits on the sofa, crossing his legs, “Hah, I’m glad you know. It’s been less than two minutes since he left. You still have time to recall your decision.”
“There is no time. The decision was made a week ago.”
Li Luo’s swaying leg halts.
“You really fuckin’… want to end this?” He slams the table. “What have you got against me? You’re really gonna do me like this? Even if you ate the wrong meds and suddenly started liking men, no matter face or body, I should be your main wife, shouldn’t I? What, you think I’m an old hag now? Good for you, Xiao-Luo—you like ‘em young?”
Even with such an awkward atmosphere, Deng Liang still can’t help but to laugh.
Luo Peng doesn’t know whether or not to laugh either, “God, can’t you talk decently?”
“How am I not talking decently? You, on the other hand—do you hear what you’re saying? I worked so hard for so long, and in the end, everything falls into someone else’s hands. Would you be happy if it were you?”
Deng Liang agrees. “Mr. Luo, Li Luo worked really, really hard to endorse this brand. I’ve really never seen him care so much about his work before!”
“Don’t speak up if you don’t know how.” Li Luo gestures towards the door. “This way, please.”
Pitifully, Deng Liang is chased out the door. Turning the lock, Li Luo puts on a serious expression. “Lao-Luo, what exactly is going on? Tell me properly. I don’t believe that you’re the kind to bite the hand that feeds you.”
“Of course I’m not!” Luo Peng’s expression looks troubled. “Oh, fine, I’m not supposed to be telling you this, but now that you found out, I can’t keep it from you any longer. Our company is actually… getting taken over.”
Li Luo’s surprised, “When did this happen? Why didn’t I know?”
“A month ago. We’re signing the contract next week.”
“Next week? And you’re telling me today?” Li Luo chides, although his anger is dissipating. “Never mind. I get it. The new boss favors Lin Cheng, doesn’t he? Sure. I guess I’m just unlucky, then. No problem. Where are you going after this? I’ll go with you. I know I can land this endorsement.”
“I… I’m not going. I’m still the president.” Feeling guilty, Luo Peng’s tone is obviously apprehensive. Sweat even forms at his forehead out of anxiety.
“But… our new big boss has requested that you leave.”
“And… all other entertainment companies have been informed not to accept you. Which means…”
“Li Luo, you’re being forced out of the industry.”