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After he finished beating up the guy in the back alley of the bar, Li Luo wiped the soles of his shoes on the carpet at the entrance. A patch of the dark red fabric was stained, but there was no trace of any other color on it.
Next, he went to the restroom to tidy his hair, which had gotten a little messy from the earlier action. The strands were now tucked behind his ears obediently. The length could neither be considered long nor short, hanging right at his neck — it sometimes felt ticklish when he tilted his head, which was quite annoying. He really wanted to cut it short.
But he made a bet with his buddy Jiang Liushen a few months ago when he was bored. If he grew his hair to his shoulders, enough to be tied into a small ponytail, Jiang Liushen would post on his Weibo account which had millions of fans — “Luo-ge is fucking awesome!”
Jiang Liushen was certain Li Luo had no such patience or tenacity. It was true; Li Luo didn’t have much patience. He was quite stubborn, however, so no matter how slowly his hair grew, he still kept it until now.
Who would’ve thought it could finally come into use?
The undyed hair of the youth inside the mirror looked smooth and soft. He really seemed to be a meek student who never got into any trouble.
After Li Luo made sure the sharpness in his eyes dissipated, he returned to the bar’s counter and sat, prim and proper, on the highchair. Ordering a glass of 100% juice, he stirred it in between each sip as his gaze tracked the busy waiter hurrying around the room.
He could still continue with his pretense at first, but he gradually grew impatient. When the waiter stopped there for the fifth time to collect the new orders, Li Luo finally asked, “How much longer until your shift ends?”
The waiter glanced at him with eyes that seemed to have gotten colder, “After twelve.”
Li Luo looked at his watch. There was still more than an hour left to go.
“Then, you…” When he looked up, he found that the person standing before him had disappeared once more. He turned around. The waiter had merged into the crowd and gone off to serve drinks again.
Fuck, did the guy not understand that he was trying to hit on him?
This was the first time Young Master Li waited for anyone for so long, much less receiving such a cold shoulder in return. Immediately, he thought about leaving.
But when he remembered the martini just now… Never mind. He could wait a little longer.
In the end, he waited all the way until one in the morning.
Li Luo was so tired he could barely prop his head on his arm any longer when he suddenly heard the words, “My shift ended,” come from aside.
His head dropped, knocking on the table with a bang. Hissing in pain, he finally woke up. He spun around with a hand covering his forehead, only to pause in surprise.
After changing out of his uniform and into casual clothes, the waiter looked a lot more different, with a student-like air to him. However, the pilling cotton T-shirt and washed-out pants erased every trace of his brooding, aristocratic air from before. A hint of pride remained only in his cold features.
This guy was poor. Li Luo knew immediately.
“Where do you live?” Li Luo tilted his head. “I drove here. I can drop you off.”
“It’s fine. I can get to where I live on foot.” It seemed as if the waiter didn’t intend to chat for too long. He was direct in his words, “If you want to pay me back, you can do so now. It’s alright if you don’t. I’m in a hurry to get back.”
“I will, of course I will.” Right away, Li Luo took out his phone and scanned the waiter’s mobile banking account. Unavoidably, he saw a part of the other’s real name.
“Duan… Yang?” He looked up from his phone screen, asking, “What’s the character in the middle?”
The waiter didn’t answer, putting his phone back.
Li Luo realized that his question came out of nowhere. He immediately decided to introduce himself first, “My last name is Li. Li from liming, dawn. My first name is just the character Luo. Luo as in Luoyang. How about you?”
“Which character is Ming?”
Duan Mingyang looked at Li Luo. Reflected in Duan Mingyang dark eyes was a dim yet warm light that came from the bar counter. Like a sun rising over an ocean, it chased away some of the ice between his brows.
“Ming as in liming.”
His voice was deep, almost like a cello’s reverberation.
For some reason, Li Luo felt his heart skip a beat.
“… Oh, I see.” Li Luo was suddenly a little flustered. Getting off the highchair, he saw the backpack behind Duan Mingyang and tried to make small talk, “Are you a college student?”
“Yeah,” Duan Mingyang replied concisely, “if there’s nothing else, I’ll head back first.”
When he finished, he really began walking toward the entrance, as though he didn’t want to continue the conversation a second longer.
Perhaps because he still hadn’t completely woken up, Li Luo chased uncharacteristically after Duan Mingyang, despite the cold shoulder.
Outside of the bar’s door, the night was dark. Few people remained on the streets. Most of the shops had closed already. Only groups of drunken customers still surrounded the bar, chatting, laughing, and smoking. The smoke suffused the area, emitting a suffocating odor.
When Li Luo caught up, he happened to see Duan Mingyang frown slightly, as if the latter didn’t like the smell of smoke. Just as he was about to say something, he was stopped by an arm that stretched out from the side. A drunk man flirted roguishly in English—
“Hey, pretty one, I-”
Li Luo swept his leg across. Taken out of balance, the drunk man crashed to the ground. Blurry-eyed and unable to get up, he stayed lying on the ground, groaning in agony.
Walking ahead, Duan Mingyang turned around upon hearing the noise. At once, Li Luo darted over and clung to Duan Mingyang’s arm, his tone frightened, “Ge, that guy grabbed me and wanted to kiss me. Good thing he was drunk and tripped on his own… I’ll go with you for now. It’s so scary here.”
Duan Mingyang responded with apathy, “Weren’t you the one who chose to come here?”
“I-I just wanted to see what it’s like. It’s my first time at a gay bar…” Li Luo bit his lip so hard that it grew pale. “Couldn’t you go through with helping me?”
Duan Mingyang stared at him for a few seconds. In the end, Duan Mingyang didn’t say anything, letting Li Luo hold his arm as he led Li Luo to the parking lot.
“Is it alright if I leave you here? You can drive back.”
As if he finally remembered, Li Luo smacked himself on the forehead, “Oh, I forgot. I drank. I can’t drive.”
“…” Duan Mingyang took out his phone. “I’ll call you a cab.”
“I live on campus. The doors to the dorm are probably locked already.”
This statement was half a truth and half a lie. Even though he paid the residence fee that was seven grand per year, he felt that the double room in the dormitory building wasn’t spacious enough and rented a luxurious single apartment near campus, less than a mile from the bar.
Duan Mingyang put down his phone and looked at Li Luo without any expression. He seemed to be asking, “Just what on Earth do you want?”
Li Luo put a hand to his forehead and furrowed his brows, “Ge, my head feels so dizzy. I think I might be drunk… Could I spend the night at your place? I can pay the expenses…”
“I only have one bed.”
“I can sleep on the sofa—”
“There is no sofa.” Duan Mingyang interrupted, “If you’re willing to sleep on the ground with no mattress or cover, you can come with me.”
Li Luo gritted his teeth secretly.
You motherfucker. I don’t believe you’re that poor.
“It’s fine. As long as I have somewhere to get some rest…” He smiled weakly at Duan Mingyang.
Twenty minutes later.
Li Luo stared at the room somewhere between thirty and sixty square feet in size as he understood a truth to life.
Being wealthy deprived one of imagination.
Let alone get any rest, Li Luo wanted to kick this bastard right now. Duan Mingyang must’ve done it on purpose.
“Have you sobered up?” Duan Mingyang tossed his bag on the ground and walked toward the bathroom. “You can sleep anywhere except on the bed.”
Where the fuck was there any space left to sleep? It felt crowded even when two full-grown men were standing in this room.
The splashing of water came from within the bathroom. It was clear from the sound that it was a standing shower. There wasn’t even a bathtub.
Li Luo plopped onto the bed in defeat, letting out a deep sigh.
Curiosity led people to their graves.
He was indeed somewhat interested in Duan Mingyang, but the interest wasn’t enough to make him spend a night in such a shabby place.
Never mind. He’d find an obedient puppy instead. This one didn’t seem like the kind that’d listen to him and comply, no matter how he looked at it.
Li Luo scratched his head and decided to leave without notice. From the looks of it, Duan Mingyang couldn’t wait for him to get out of here either.
He stood up and took a few steps. Only when he was almost at the door did he notice that on the small table inside the room was a piece of paper spread out. He took a casual glance. It was a scholarship award. And the name of the college on it…
Was the one he attended.
Li Luo turned and walked to the table, holding up the award in disbelief. He read it carefully. The award was fifteen hundred.
And the annual tuition of their college was almost thirty grand.
Was working part-time at a gay bar so lucrative?
But right now, what Li Luo cared about more was something else.
He went back immediately and knocked on the bathroom door, yelling, “Duan Mingyang! I found out that we go to the same college! And I’m a year above you!”
A voice travelled through the splashes of water, “Oh.”
Oh my ass. Li Luo could only remind him of the key point to take away, “You should call me ge, then!”
The sound of water inside the bathroom suddenly stopped.
Half a minute later, the door opened. Duan Mingyang was only wearing a loose pair of lounge pants. Drops of water were scattered across his naked upper body, spilling down the firm, muscular lines from his pecs to the dip between his abs, only to merge with the droplets that had rolled down his waist, before trickling further downward…
Duan Mingyang dried his lean waist and abdomen with a towel. Li Luo felt like Duan Mingyang was polishing a Greek statue.
“Call you ge?”
Duan Mingyang hung the towel around his neck, looking down slightly. Through the wet hair at his forehead, his dark eyes gazed at the person in front of him, almost mockingly.
Li Luo swallowed. His cheeks were heated up by the steam surrounding the body that just came out of the shower.
“I’m a year above you. Even if you don’t call me xuezhang you should still call me ge, shouldn’t you?”
“I don’t like calling people ‘Ge.’” Duan Mingyang walked around him and got onto his bed. “I’m going to sleep. Do as you please.”
Li Luo refused to submit. “But I called you ‘Ge’ twice earlier on. We’re not even yet. You have to make it up to me, don’t you?”
“I wasn’t the one who made you say it. You said it yourself.”
“It’s not my fault you look so mature…” Li Luo mumbled. He suddenly got an idea, joking, “If not, you can also call me Dad.”
Yet, Duan Mingyang was immediately angered.
Rage almost instantly suffused his already-solemn features. His tone darkened, “Make another joke like that, and get the fuck out.”
Li Luo paused in surprise. When he recovered, he immediately fumed.
The hell was this? Growing up, nobody dared to tell him to “get the fuck out.” It was only a joke. Did he have to phrase it like that?
But just as he was about to shake off his act and curse back, Duan Mingyang suddenly apologized.
“I’m sorry. It wasn’t directed at you personally.” He pursed his lips. “But because of personal reasons, I really hate this word. Please don’t make jokes about it.”
At once, Li Luo’s anger was doused by the words.
“You… hate your dad too?” All of a sudden, he felt a sense of resonance. “What a coincidence. Me too. I’m not trying to act relatable or anything, really. The reason I went to the bar today was because of my dad.”
Duan Mingyang asked, “Why?”
“Because…” Li Luo thought about it, omitting what he couldn’t say. “Because he drove my mom away. I got mad at him, so I went out to drink. What about you? What did your dad do to make you hate him so much?”
Duan Mingyang was silent for a while. His voice was deep, “He had a family, but he still toyed with my mom’s feelings. He had abandoned us for years, but now he wants to take me back. My mom said yes. I said no.”
Li Luo felt a rare sense of sympathy. “You have it even worse than me. Don’t go back with him. Come to me if you have any troubles. I’ll help you.”
“You?” Obvious doubt pervaded Duan Mingyang’s eyes. “Today was the first time we met. Why would you help me?”
“All encounters are destined to be, am I right?” Li Luo revealed an innocuous grin, sitting down at the edge of the bed. “And our experiences are so similar too. It’s only natural that we help each other out.”
“I don’t need pity.” Unwavering, Duan Mingyang lay down and got in bed. “I have class tomorrow morning, so I’m going to sleep. If you find the floor too hard, go to the bathroom and get a towel to lie on.”
Li Luo, “…”
Fuck. His rare sharing of true feelings was wasted on this guy.
But after this, he didn’t bother to leave anymore. From his background story to his financial situation, Duan Mingyang had it worse than he did. If such an unfortunate soul could fall soundly asleep in this shabby room, Young Master Li couldn’t admit defeat so easily either.
Li Luo got himself together and searched around the room, looking for anything else that could serve as a mattress or a blanket.
The unfortunate thing was that he found neither.
He couldn’t search around someone’s closet without permission, but he didn’t want to sleep on the cold, hard floor either. He could only move the plastic chair to the wall, intending to spend the night leaning against the wall, over the table.
He even made sure to ask before turning off the lights, “May I turn off the lights?”
Duan Mingyang didn’t reply. He seemed as if he fell asleep already.
Li Luo could only turn off the switch with a click. Feeling the table, he found his way to the chair and sat down. He used his arms as a pillow and fell asleep.
He couldn’t sleep well in this position at all. He slept for bits at a time, changing his posture again and again, but in the cramped corner, his long legs felt uncomfortable no matter how he positioned them. Drowsy, he didn’t know for how long he’d slept.
During a light period of sleep, he felt his body becoming weightless, as though somebody had picked him up. Right after that, his back relaxed against a mattress that couldn’t really be described as soft. The rough cotton blanket was pulled up to his neck, bringing along with it the comforting temperature of someone’s body.
Li Luo was so tired that he couldn’t even peel his eyes open. He didn’t have the brain capacity to think about what was going on, instinctively inching toward where the heat came from. Only when he bumped into a warm, firm wall did he drift off in satisfaction.
Many years later, whenever he recalls the night, he always feels that there must’ve been some honesty in what Duan Mingyang did then.
But their encounter wasn’t destined to be like he had said — it was misfortune instead.
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- AD Chapter 22 - September 5, 2021
- AD Chapter 21 - August 29, 2021
- AD Chapter 20 - August 23, 2021