Edited by DancingDolphinsYo
It was an entire two weeks of rest before Fang Yu returned to the group, and the seven members of AOW were finally able to have a morning meeting together.
In Zhang Fan’s hands was a thick stack of documents, and she informed them that the first idol drama the company was investing in was starting to look for actors. They would be mainly promoting newbies this time, and both the first and second male leads would come from their own company. Such an opportunity was very rare, and those who were interested should raise their hands.
The information came too suddenly. Everyone shot a look at each other and no one moved.
Gu Chenkai nudged Sui Yi, quietly urging him, “Ge, it’s a great opportunity. Quick, raise your hand.”
Sui Yi ignored him, waiting for Zhang Fan to speak. For a project where the company was able to make decisions about, even if they had yet to specify anyone’s names, they would still have a list of potential candidates. Asking about their interest in it was only a formality.
As expected, after a period of time where no one raised their hands, Zhang Fan straight away tossed the scripts at Sui Yi and Lu Xiaochuan. “The two of you, you can try fighting for the role of the male lead.”
Lu Xiaochuan returned the script. “I don’t want to act, just let Lead go ahead.”
These few days, he had not been very chatty, and it seemed like something was weighing on him. He looked a little listless, and he even stopped flirting with the girls next door.
Zhang Fan did not ask further, taking the script and handing it to Sui Yi as well. “If anyone else wants to try, just get the script from Lead.”
Fang Yu offered to treat everyone to lunch, expressing gratitude for their hard work when he was not around.
An Lin was included in the invitation as well. Gao Ming, Gu Chenkai and she walked ahead, while Ning Lan finished packing up and stood up, only to see Lu Xiaochuan awkwardly joining them.
The restaurant was a five-minutes walk from the company, and there were few people taking the path at the back entrance of the building. Fang Yu deliberately lingered behind, waiting for Ning Lan. He thanked him for his timely aid, replacing him in that dance.
Ning Lan glossed over the issue, saying that there was no need for the thanks. However, Wang Bingyang, who spoke without thinking, had to say, “Lan-ge was trashed so badly online for that dance.”
Fang Yu was the optimistic sort, and he was like an old man who would sleep and wake up early. He had never gone online to look at the comments, and hearing that, he was alarmed. “Why?”
“Because Lead and you are the main CP. They said that Lan-ge snatched your spot, saying that he… ai, I won’t say anymore, they’re quite awful.”
Fang Yu never thought that this would happen. He hurriedly apologised to Ning Lan. Ning Lan did not know if he should laugh or cry, and only told Fang Yu that he could not be blamed for it.
Right from the start, Fang Yu could not be blamed, nor could Sui Yi. Even more so, the company could not be blamed as well. However, the fans were unhappy and they needed to find an outlet to vent. As such, they could only target Ning Lan and fire wildly at him.
The comments that Wang Bingyang said that were “quite awful”, Ning Lan had read them all. Phrases like “neither a male nor a female”, “slutty bitch”, “riding on Lead’s coattail” were already considered polite. Fans of the Sui Yi and Fang Yu CP even gave him a new nickname, calling him Black Bubble, saying that as a shady person who had parachuted into a spot in the group from nowhere, he would never have his name washed clean.
Ning Lan originally had the habit of looking at his private messages, but recently, his inbox had been flooded with curses and mockery. Trying to find a few words of encouragement amongst them was nearly impossible, and so he stopped looking at them again.
Although he had long guessed that this would be the result of everything, seeing such comments would still make him feel upset and suffocated.
If Fang Yu was the one dancing, everyone would anticipate it eagerly. If he was the one dancing, everyone would only criticise and lambast him. Ning Lan felt that perhaps, he was born to be hated by everyone, and it was the same no matter where he was.
On the third day of Fang Yu returning to the group, the list of actors for the idol drama was confirmed by the company. Sui Yi would be playing the male lead, and the youngest member of another boyband in the company would be playing the second male lead. Filming would start next month.
Sui Yi was rather calm about it. It was a small web drama produced by their own company, and not only would it not be able to improve the actor’s acting skills, it was bound to not raise much of a wave in the audience as well. As such, he would take it as an experience. However, Gu Chenkai was very excited about it, bounding about saying that he wanted to host a celebration for him. As such, Sui Yi adhered to the rules within the group, that whoever had an achievement would treat the rest to a meal, and called for everyone to join in the celebration.
When Ning Lan received Sui Yi’s text, he happened to just walk past a training studio in the corner of the corridor. He overheard Gao Ming complaining about the unfairness to Wang Bingyang, saying that he had attended the audition as well, but why did he not manage to even get a role as the third or fourth male lead, while Sui Yi could get the first male lead role with just a screen test.
Holding his phone, Ning Lan sneaked away. He thought, if he was the producer, he would choose Sui Yi too. As a group of inexperienced newbies aged around eighteen or nineteen years old, none of them would have any acting skills to speak of. Even a fool would know to choose the most handsome-looking one, the one that would be able to garner the most attention.
Even someone like him who parachuted into his spot could see clearly that, in the future, Sui Yi would definitely be famous. If he had the time to gossip behind people’s back, he might as well grab the opportunity right now to maintain a good relationship with the man instead.
Ning Lan suddenly recalled what he did the night of the celebratory dinner after the showcase. Could it be considered to be something he did to “maintain a good relationship” with him?
It probably should not count… The things he did that night had come entirely out of his own personal interest, and he was not looking for Sui Yi to think well of him. That fellow, after sobering up, might even be annoyed by it, and Ning Lan was already very thankful that he had not been beaten up.
Taking out his phone, Ning Lan again looked at the text inviting him to a meal, and he quirked his lips in resignation.
Look, he even thinks it’s too disgusting to speak to me face to face.
With no hesitation, Ning Lan swiftly tapped on his screen and refused the invite.
In the days that followed, Ning Lan continued keeping his head down, doing what needed to be done alone. Other than work requirements, he tried his best to shrink his presence in front of his group members.
July in the capital had always been very hot. In the later part of the month, the entire AOW was arranged to attend a charity dinner.
Such an event would usually involve the entire entertainment industry, and there was no disadvantage to walk the red carpet and gain some attention. Right after lunch, the waiting area was quickly filled with a lot of people.
As a new group without any endorsements from any big brands, the members of AOW were all dressed in a low-key manner, in plain coloured shirts and neat little suits. However, with their above-average heights, they still stood out from the crowd, and they had been grabbed a few times by various reporters and journalists to be interviewed.
One of the hosts of a live streaming platform just went ahead and dragged them in front of the camera for an interview. There was air-conditioning in the waiting area, but due to the large number of people crowding the space, any cool air produced had no effect on the high temperature. The members were all annoyed and frustrated, yet they still had to maintain their polite smiles towards the cameras, and it was quite uncomfortable for them.
However, the host was a newbie, without much experience. The questions she asked were awkward and brainless. Seeing that Fang Yu was feeling so warm that he could not bear it, turning away to secretly fan at his face with his hand, she actually asked if he was feeling warm and if he wanted to take his jacket off.
Feeling awkward, Fang Yu cracked a joke. “At times like this, I’m really envious of the female stars. Being in a dress would at least be a lot cooler.”
The host suddenly remembered something, and of all things to ask, she asked, “Eh? One of you wore a dress to dance during one of your performances, right? There were photos and videos all over the internet, was it you guys?”
Ning Lan stood out. “It’s me.”
The host’s words were laden with meaning. “Oh, it’s you… You’re really very pretty. I have quite a few male friends who even praised your beauty, saying that it’s enough to make them want to do something criminal.”
Sui Yi frowned, secretly noting down the name of this live streaming platform.
He turned his head. Ning Lan was still smiling, as though he was not angered by such rude words. Later on, the host said that she wanted to see if he was really as fair as everyone said, and Ning Lan even generously rolled up his sleeve, revealing a fair arm for her.
Finally managing to send off the low EQ host with much difficulty, the seven members of AOW retreated to a hidden corner and sat down. They had already greeted all the seniors whom they should greet, and now they finally had a moment to breathe and rest.
An Lin brought them water, instructing them not to run around recklessly, before going over to the fan club to help them with decorations and providing support. Sui Yi distributed the bottles of water to the members. An Lin might have been too busy today, as there were only six bottles in the bag.
Ning Lan said that he was not thirsty, shoving the last bottle at Sui Yi. The two pushed it at each other, and Wang Bingyang could not bear watching it anymore, saying, “Just share it then, it’s fine as long as you don’t touch the bottle opening.”
He even demonstrated it for them, showing how feasible his suggestion was.
Sui Yi twisted the bottle open, tilting his head back and pouring some water into his mouth, then handed the bottle to Ning Lan.
Ning Lan had never drank water like this before. Afraid of spilling the water on his clothes, he held onto the bottle, hesitating over it.
Sui Yi said, “Just put your lips to the bottle, I don’t need anymore.”
Ning Lan lowered his lids, bringing the bottle to his mouth. In that instant, someone bumped into him, and the water still ended up spilling over his clothes.
There was less than an hour until the start of the dinner, and in a fluster, Ning Lan went to the washroom to tidy up.
At this time, everyone was gathered by the entrance and the washroom was empty. There was a dryer next to the sink, and Ning Lan undid the buttons of his suit, leaning over for the dryer to work on it. Fortunately, there was only a small wet patch on his chest, and it should only take a little while to dry.
For the past few days, he had been a little absent-minded. Other than a certain unforgettable incident when he had lost control, there was also a problem in his life waiting for him to deal with it.
Last week, his cousin had used his aunt’s phone and gave him a call. Once the call was connected, she started crying, saying that because she did not do well during the college entrance examination, her parents wanted her to repeat her studies.
Ning Lan consoled her, saying that it was fine to repeat another year in high school, that he would provide the money for it. His cousin hemmed and hawed, refusing to accept it, saying that studying was too difficult, and she wanted to go to an overseas university instead. She even said that quite a few of her classmates, who did not do well too, had been sent overseas by their parents, and she wanted to go too.
Thinking of this, Ning Lan sighed deeply. How could he not be aware that while his cousin was on the phone with him, his aunt was definitely next to her? Although the young girl was very vain, she would not come up with such schemes and tricks. For all he knew, it was his aunt who taught her to make this phone call.
However, despite knowing that this was a trick, he could not refuse her. He had occupied half his cousin’s room for a long decade, and now, any form of compensation would still not be enough.
Where to get this amount of money was the issue he had been worried about during this period of time.
The dryer continued whirring and his ears were filled with the noise. As Ning Lan was deep in his thoughts, he wanted to laugh. When people said that old debts had yet to be settled, only to be weighed down with new ones, were they not referring to him?
His clothes were pretty much dry. Ning Lan buttoned up his jacket, straightened the lapels in front of the mirror and turned to head out.
A stout man entered, a cigarette in his mouth. Looking up, their eyes met.
Ning Lan froze. The next second, he hurriedly turned around.
The stout man grabbed his hair harshly, tugging at it. Spitting away the cigarette in his mouth, he said, “Run?! You’re still running?! Let’s see where you can run off to this time!”
Ning Lan sucked in a cold breath, forcing a smile on his face. “Dage, it’s you… I’m not running, I’m just going here… Is Liu-laoban here as well? Quick, please bring me to him so that I can greet him properly.”
The stout man sneered, “If I bring you there, you’ll bring along the money as well?”
Ning Lan eyed the surroundings to see if anyone was nearby, trying to drag the time out. “I’m nearly done gathering the amount of money. Liu-laoban is kind and he would definitely give me a few more days of grace.”
The stout man looked at him, smirking suddenly. “Why would he do that? Because of this little eloquent mouth of yours, or… your little pretty face?”
Ning Lan jolted in shock. Gritting his teeth, his face paled.
The stout man snorted a laugh, his eyes trailing across Ning Lan’s face in a disgusting manner. “Why did I never notice that you’re actually quite good looking? What do people say, clothes make the man and a saddle makes the horse, right? Dressed like this, you’re actually quite attractive. No wonder you can muddle your way into becoming a star.”
Ning Lan’s jaw tightened, his hands clenched into fists. However, he continued to show submission with his words, “No no, it’s all thanks to makeup that allows me to look somewhat presentable and deceive little girls everywhere.”
Letting go of Ning Lan’s hair, the stout man clicked his tongue, before grabbing Ning Lan’s chin and forcing his head up. “No need to be so modest. Liu-laoban has said that if you have no money, we can just drag you back and play with you for a couple of days as interest.”
Ning Lan’s eyes widened abruptly. “What?”
The stout man explained, “In the past, he wasn’t attracted to you. But now, you can be considered a star, and your status has risen quite a lot. Naturally, it’s different from before.”
Ning Lan’s chin hurt from his grip. This stout man was open to persuasion and not coercion. The more he fought against him, the more savage and brutal he would be.
His brain churned, and after deliberating over it, Ning Lan blinked, speaking fawningly, “Did Liu-laoban really say that?”
“Oh? You’ve thought things through already?”
With great difficulty, Ning Lan nodded. The stout man’s smarmy breath sprayed across his face and Ning Lan wanted to vomit.
“Alright, then follow me now.” The stout man grabbed his arm.
“Can you give me a bit of time? The event’s about to start. I just have to walk the carpet, and when I’m done, I’ll leave with you.”
The stout man followed his line of sight towards outside, a doubtful expression on his face. “You’ve fooled me so many times already, and you think I’ll still believe you?”
Ning Lan bit his lip, looking as though he was about to cry. “Wasn’t it just because I was afraid of you? You’re always so fierce and yelling at me, saying that you wanted to beat me up and kill me, and I really have no money… This time, it’s different. Since Liu-laoban is interested in me, and he’s not going to chop off my limbs, what would I be scared of? Later, if I can make him happy, he might even forgive my debt…”
“You must be dreaming, you still want Liu-laoban to be your sugar daddy?”
Ning Lan squeezed out a smile. “Why wouldn’t I dare to dream of it? If Liu-laoban does like me, I’m more than willing.”
The stout man observed his expression and did not notice anything out of the ordinary. He then turned towards the place where everyone was gathering and felt that this place did not seem like one where they could leave easily.
This was also his first time in a place like this, and he still wanted to look around. Thinking about it, he gave in. “Then I’ll give you two hours. If you dare run, then the next time, I won’t wait for Liu-laoban’s instructions, I’ll just break your legs on the spot.”
Ning Lan agreed. “Whoever runs is the coward.”