Edited by DancingDolphinsYo
Ning Lan seemed to not have heard him properly. On his own initiative, he opened the tube of ointment, squeezing out a little and smearing it on Sui Yi’s wound. After that, he deftly tore open the packaging of a bandaid, wrapping it around the first knuckle of his middle finger.
Sui Yi wanted to pull his hand back.
“Don’t move.” Ning Lan gripped his hand.
Sui Yi stopped moving. Ning Lan’s fingers were long and slender, his fingernails kept clean and rounded. His fingers were tipped with a little pink, but the pulps of his fingers gripping him were full of wrinkles, and even some small scars. It completely did not match the image of him living in a comfortable lifestyle.
Sui Yi found it strange. Wasn’t he very clever, wasn’t he very good at swindling money and deceiving others? Why did he always make himself look so miserable?
“It’s done.” Done with dressing the wound, Ning Lan blew on his finger. “It doesn’t hurt anymore, right?”
The part of his skin where Ning Lan blew on prickled. Sui Yi pulled his hand back, tightening his fist. He pressed the tips of his fingers into his palm, trying to get rid of that strange feeling.
Ning Lan realised that his action just now had been too intimate, and rubbed his nose. “Please excuse me, it’s a habit… I heard that blowing on a wound would cause it to not hurt anymore.”
Sui Yi opened his mouth, but the question never came. Finally, he only politely thanked him.
The first signing tour of AOW around the country ended in early summer. When Ning Lan received his third monthly pay from the company, he was a little lost. Only then did he realise that he had already joined this group for over two months.
This time, the profits from their EP had also been included in their pay. After removing the company’s cut, the remaining profit was divided amongst the seven people, and there was nothing much left. However, for Ning Lan, it was still quite a large sum. He divided a portion for his living expenses next month, then another portion to transfer it to his aunt. The balance was kept in his card, untouched.
He wanted to accumulate the money to a five-digit sum before returning it to Sui Yi. Repaying the money to him in dribs and drabs was really too rude.
Before returning to the dormitory, he went to the supermarket. Other than some instant food, he even picked up a few bottles of imported drinks and some groceries. When paying the bill, these items were a bulk of the cost, and it made his heart ache for quite some time.
There was no one in the dormitory. Ning Lan sent the group members a text, saying that he would treat them to dinner that night. He then placed the drinks on each and everyone’s table, and headed to the shower.
Hot water pattered down gently onto his face, and Ning Lan shut his eyes. Having drifted around outside for over a month, returning to the dormitory gave him a sort of ease that he had not felt in a while, as though he had returned home.
Thinking about this, he froze for a moment. When did he have a home?
Before his father died, there were people knocking on the door to collect their debts every other day. Ning Lan remembered that there was one morning when he was going to school, he had opened the door only to be splashed by stinking filth, and was nearly even beaten up. As for his father who should have borne this responsibility, he was hiding in his room for the past few days, not daring to show his face.
After that, they moved around often. They lived in micro-apartments, private housing for the poor, shared rental flats, and even in temporary sheds for workers and underground tunnels. When he was growing up and able to get a proper meal, there were even times when he stole his classmates’ money. The sums were very small, and only enough to purchase a packet of instant noodles. He thought that once he had money, he would secretly return it to them, but he was soon caught. The teacher had called his mother over, and in front of the entire class, his mother had pushed him around, beating him and crying hysterically. In the end, his only decent, undamaged jacket was torn into a ragged mess.
After that, his father died. He was sent to his uncle and aunt’s home. His uncle partitioned half of his little female cousin’s room, placing a spring mattress within, and that was his room. He really treasured this room that did not come easy, trying his best to appeal to his uncle and aunt, as well as being nice to his cousin. Every school break, he would go out and work, and the money he earned would all be given up for the household expenditures. Whatever that was left, he would buy some tasty snacks for his cousin, as well as various accessories for her.
However, people would change. Slowly, delicious food and fun things could no longer appeal to his cousin, and his aunt’s original courteous behavior and concern turned into irritation and disdain. One day, when standing outside the door of the kitchen, he heard his aunt speaking to his uncle, “When are you going to send that kid away? Don’t tell me he’s going to stay here until he’s married and has a baby?”
Ning Lan’s memory was very good, but he could no longer remember how he had felt back then. He probably was rather sad. He might have been a little sadder than that time when filth was thrown at him, yet his father did not even come out to look at him.
After graduating from high school and starting work, Ning Lan worked desperately to earn money. He aimed to earn enough in the next eight to ten years to buy a reasonably-sized house in his hometown, a house that belonged to him. He would not need to be poised over a knife’s edge, having to move around, and he would not need to fear that he would be chased away. Each day he would be able to leave the house in the light, and return home when dark, he wouldn’t need to hide all over the place, and live subservient to others.
Originally, he was nearly done saving a sum of money. The property prices of his hometown were low and stable, and saving up for the capital was not difficult. If not for that trouble…
Ning Lan wiped away the water on his face. Ignoring the fact that he no longer had any money, now he was even in debt. The amount he owed Liu-laoban, together with the amount he owed Sui Yi, he would never be able to clear the sum before he turned thirty.
Unless he got a windfall.
Done with his shower, Ning Lan spent two dollars online to buy a sports lottery ticket, then headed into the kitchen.
Previously, when working in the capital, and when he was not that hard up on cash, he would also buy some groceries home to cook, improving his meals occasionally. Today, he had bought some pork ribs, fish, pork belly, chicken wings, prawns, and even quite a lot of vegetables. Even if Lu Xiaochuan and Fang Yu dropped by, there should be enough for them.
When preparing the cola chicken wings, Ning Lan specially left a few wings out. After marinating them, he coated them with an egg mixture and flour, then placed them by the side to make fried chicken wings. Although he had not shared a meal with the rest for a very long time already, he always remembered that Sui Yi liked eating fried food.
After a busy two hours, nearly all the dishes were done. The vegetables were also chopped up, and placed on the chopping board, awaiting the moment when the group members returned, so that they could be thrown into the wok and stir-fried. Ning Lan washed his hands and picked up his phone, seeing Wang Bingyang’s reply that had been sent ten minutes ago.
“We’re outside, and won’t be coming home to eat tonight. Lan-ge, go ahead and eat!”
He guessed that the “we” Wang Bingyang was talking about most likely included the four other people in the dormitory except him.
Lu Xiaochuan and Fang Yu both individually replied that they were eating at home, and were not coming.
Ning Lan sat down in the living room, his head in the clouds. He then took out the little cake that he had bought at the supermarket from its box. Before shoving it into his mouth, in a very impious manner, he made a wish, wishing that he would win the lottery that he had just bet on.
Today was his birthday, and the November stated on his identity card was something his mother had decided by herself when changing his age, saying that the later his birthday month was, the younger he would seem. Xie Tianhao liked extremely youthful boys, and Ning Lan’s appearance was very boyish. Reducing his age by five years was completely not suspicious at all.
Originally, he had never celebrated his birthday whatsoever. When he was withdrawing money from the ATM, the date shown on the screen had given him a reminder. He happened to be free this afternoon, and long ago, he had said that he would give everyone a treat. Eating outside was both expensive and unhygienic, so while walking about the supermarket, he came across the fresh food section. Thinking that since he happened to be free today, he would just hold the dinner today.
Actually, in his subconscious, he still had a tiny, unrealistic thought. Today was his birthday, and didn’t people say that the person celebrating his birthday was king? For all he knew, the heavens might help him, and allow him to pass this day smoothly?
As expected, he was thinking too much.
When he finished eating the cake, Ning Lan was no longer hungry. He covered the already cooled dishes with cling wrap and stored them in the refrigerator. With nothing left to do, he walked a few rounds around the house before grabbing his keys and leaving, deciding to go to the company and practice his dancing to kill some time.
He found an empty studio in the company. Just when he finished stretching his muscles, and practiced his dancing for a bit, Ning Lan received a call from his mother.
Recently, his mother was calling him periodically, and most of the time, he had ignored the calls. In any case, if there was something urgent, she would desperately call non-stop, or spam his phone with messages. If that did not work, she would call him with someone else’s phone, until she forced him to answer.
As for today’s phone call, Ning Lan had a slight urge to answer it.
Silently, he counted to ten, then answered.
Ning Lan wiped away the sweat on his forehead. “Mn, Ma.”
A pause occurred. “You brat, how long have you not called me Ma already?”
Ning Lan leaned against the wall, sitting down. He did not know what to say, and made a very nasal sound in response.
“I saw you on television. So it turns out your new job is to be a star? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Ning Lan scratched the itchy scar on his knee. “It’s nothing much. I’m only just singing and dancing, I’m not a star.”
“Superstars also started like this. My son is so good-looking, sooner or later, you’re going to be very popular.”
Ning Lan laughed shortly. This indomitable character of his was probably inherited from his mother, the only thing was, he was not as heartless as her.
He wanted to ask his mother if she still remembered what day it was today, but what she said next made what little warmth that had welled up in him all shatter into pieces.
“I now don’t even have the money to eat, and when I call you, you don’t answer. The previous time, my nose had even been hit out of shape by Xie Tianhao, and I want to do plastic surgery… Even though you’re not popular, you should have earned quite a bit, right? I saw that you could pull out two hundred thousand in one go the last time…”
His smile slowly fading from his face, Ning Lan tightened his lips. “I don’t have any money left.”
“Can’t you borrow some from your company? I heard that your company is very rich, and the clothes they let you wear are all so pretty…” Not hearing a response from Ning Lan, his mother continued, “If not, just borrow some from your group members. I’ve seen the gossip online, and they say that many of your group members are from rich families…”
“I’m not going to borrow anything,” Ning Lan cut her off. After saying that, he found himself laughable. He already owed his group member two hundred thousand, why was he acting stubborn and unbending now?
“Alright, don’t borrow, don’t borrow.” His mother immediately changed her tune. “However, Lanlan, you should at least get some money so that your mother can eat. I’m now very pitiful, and I can’t get a proper meal, and I don’t have anywhere to go. My nose is still bent…”
Sobs could be heard in her voice, and if she wasn’t stopped, she would definitely wail out loud on the spot.
Ning Lan did not want to listen anymore. He hung up savagely, then transferred the last sum of money in his bank account to his mother.
A while later, his mother sent a text.
”Son, I’ve received it! In the future, don’t send any money to Jing Feng, that horrible woman. I’ll help you save up for your marriage.”
Marriage? Could selling him to someone else be considered a marriage?
Ning Lan looked at the words on his phone, a bitter laugh spilling from his throat.
By the time he dragged his weary body, stumbling to the building of his dormitory, the sky was completely dark.
The early summer night’s wind was very cool, and stars glittered in the night sky. Ning Lan sat down by the flower bed downstairs, looking up and counting. Only when the clouds drifted over, concealing the pricks of light, did he then wrap his clothes tightly around himself, pulling the hood of his jacket over his head. Rubbing his cold hands together, he went upstairs.
Opening the door, the lights in the living room were turned on. Vaguely, he could hear sounds coming from the kitchen.
Ning Lan was exhausted. He felt that he was unable to put on a smile for anyone today, and so he walked around the dining table that was covered in shopping bags, wanting to head straight into his room. Near the kitchen, he heard the conversation between Gu Chenkai and Gao Ming.
“What are all these? Who cooked them?”
“It’s probably Ning Lan. He was in the dorm during the afternoon.”
“How irritating. The refrigerator is already so small, and with all these plates in the way, where can I put my drinks and yogurt?”
“Tsk… Preparing so much food, he really thinks that we’ll come back to eat them? Take them out, they’re only taking up space.”
“Even if we take them out there’s nowhere to put them… We’ll just throw them away.”
Ning Lan did not want to listen to them any longer. He had reached his fill of unpalatable words today, and if he were to continue listening, he would not be able to breathe. As though escaping, he quickly returned to his room, and upon entering, he saw two drinks lying in the trash can by the door.
Sui Yi was changing his clothes. He had just removed his t-shirt, and turned around to see Ning Lan who had just entered.
Ning Lan’s complexion did not look very good, his lips slightly purple. It looked as though he was very cold. Looking downwards, he greeted Sui Yi, then went to his bed and lay on his side, facing the wall.
Sui Yi wanted to ask him what was wrong, but felt that he seemed fine. Thinking about it, he put his clothes down, turning around to take out a rectangular box from the shopping bag on the table and walked over to Ning Lan’s bed. “I didn’t manage to buy the same medicinal ointment, but the salesman said that this is equally as effective.”
Ning Lan moved, turning his head and glancing at that ointment. Reaching out, he accepted it. “Thank you.”
This thanks is baffling, Sui Yi thought. I was clearly the one who used his ointment first.
Ning Lan immediately turned away after taking the box. His shoulders were hunched over, and the bones of his spine protruded sharply. He was so thin that he looked rather pitiful.
Just now, he did not smile, and his dimples could not be seen.
Sui Yi stood there for a moment. He bent down, helping Ning Lan shake out the blanket by his feet, and covering him with it.
Ning Lan trembled, and again curled his body up.
Sui Yi was just about to ask him if he was not feeling well, but the door to their room was pushed open from outside. Gu Chenkai and Gao Ming walked in, laughing and joking. Gao Ming was very good at dancing, and often guided Gu Chenkai. Recently, they had been quite close to each other.
Sui Yi was still in the position of covering Ning Lan with his blanket. Gu Chenkai was suddenly faced with this situation, and his laughter came to a halt. “Ge, what are you doing?”
Sui Yi straightened, facing him. “Have you tidied away the things? Sleep early tonight, we still have training tomorrow.”
Gu Chenkai’s eyes had widened into circles. Walking forward in disbelief, he glanced at the person lying on the bed. Suddenly flames of anger burst out within him, and he raised his foot to kick Ning Lan’s back. “I asked you not to seduce my cousin, you think I was joking with you?”
He wanted to kick Ning Lan again. Sui Yi had not expected that Gu Chenkai would hit Ning Lan, and hurriedly stopped him. “Xiaokai, what are you doing?”
Pulled away, Gu Chenkai did not manage to kick Ning Lan. He still continued flailing his limbs at Ning Lan. “Quick, get up! Explain everything! You think my cousin is a fool, rich and easy to bully? You actually deceived him into transferring money to you, didn’t you? You scum, going around to swindle people, poo, shameless!”
Sui Yi was stunned. He looked at Gu Chenkai. “Where did you hear this from?”
Ning Lan sat up slowly, his face still expressionless. While he got off the bed, wearing his shoes, Wang Bingyang next door too came over due to the shouts over here. Muddle-headed, he asked what was going on.
Spilling the beans, Gu Chenkai told them how Ning Lan had seduced his cousin, how he had cheated his cousin of his money. He even added quite a bit of his own conjectures and his imaginations, adding a dramatic flair to the story, and making it sound very believable.
Sui Yi wanted to interrupt a few times, but was unable to do so. Gu Chenkai was still furious, and he could not be stopped, and Sui Yi too could not hit him.
Listening to him, Ning Lan himself was almost convinced. His chest was vibrating violently, as though it would explode any moment. He did not want to stay a second more in this place. Opening the cupboard, he swiftly packed up his luggage, and after taking a couple of steps away, he was stopped by Sui Yi.
“Where are you going?” Sui Yi frowned.
The hood of Ning Lan’s jacket was still pulled over his head. He raised his chin, meeting Sui Yi’s eyes. “Don’t worry, I won’t run away. I’ll return the money to you as well.”
Seeing Ning Lan’s reddened eyes, Sui Yi froze. With the lapse in attention, Ning Lan managed to squeeze past him.
“Yangyang, has the top bunk in your room been repaired?” Sui Yi heard Ning Lan ask Wang Bingyang. He was close by, and could hear the tiny trembling in Ning Lan’s voice.
“Huh? Ah… it’s repaired.”
Gu Chenkai raised his voice. “You’re thinking about staying next door?”
Gao Ming followed. “I don’t agree, don’t move over.”
Wang Bingyang walked over to tug at Gao Ming’s sleeve, lowering his voice, “Ge, don’t be like this… Lan-ge was originally supposed to live with us.”
Gu Chenkai folded his arms, mockingly reminding the two next door, “Gao Ming-ge, Yangyang, you must be careful. Not only does he steal things, he’ll even…”
“Even seduce people?” Standing by the door, Ning Lan turned around, continuing Gu Chenkai’s words himself.