Edited by DancingDolphinsYo
Back in the dorm, the youths all clamoured that they were hungry. With arms around each other’s shoulders, Gu Chenkai and Gao Ming left for a barbecue meal. Wang Bingyang wanted to eat instant noodles, but was afraid of getting fat. When opening the packet, he gritted his teeth, refusing to look at the horrific amount of calories stated on it.
Ning Lan happened to enter the kitchen. Holding Wang Bingyang’s hand down, he said, “I’m going to cook some noodles, I’ll make you a portion too.”
Lu Xiaochuan, who had followed him to the kitchen to forage for food, raised his hand. “Make me a portion too.”
The dried noodles had been something Ning Lan bought a while ago. Stored in a corner of the fridge, it did not take up a lot of space, and so avoided the fate of being tossed away. Once the water boiled, the vegetables were blanched first. On a saucepan, eggs and bacon were frying. Once the vegetables were done, the dried noodles were tossed inside. Three bowls were filled with clear soup and soy sauce, the cooked noodles were then divided amongst them, and then went in the vegetables, eggs and bacon. With a few drops of sesame oil, the noodles were done.
The two people were truly hungry, and with a few bites, they quickly reached the bottom of the bowl. Wang Bingyang could not help complimenting Ning Lan when he was done, praising his skills to be even better than that of the chefs in five star restaurants.
“It’s only some simple noodles, is there a need for this exaggeration?” Ning Lan laughed.
Lu Xiaochuan placed his chopsticks down when he was done, giving a thumbs up. “It really is tasty.”
When Sui Yi came out from his room, Ning Lan was clearing the table.
Ning Lan had yet to think about what sort of attitude he should hold towards Sui Yi. A little nervous, his hands clenched tightly around the bowls as he asked, “Do you want some?”
Sui Yi shook his head, saying that there was no need. He pushed a card towards him, “I’ve made the transfer already. The rest is in this card, the PIN is 990318.”
Ning Lan first glanced around them. Confirming that there was no one around, he put the bowls down and took the card. Lowering his eyes, he started at the numbers on the card, not knowing what he should say.
Sui Yi saw how he was faltering to speak. Misunderstanding, he asked, “Can you remember the PIN? Do you need a paper and pen…”
“I got it,” Ning Lan said quickly, “thank you.”
In this awkward, silent atmosphere, Sui Yi was a little discomfited as well. After telling Ning Lan to rest early, he turned and headed back to his room.
The entire night, Ning Lan tossed and turned, wondering if he should request to return to his previous room. Only the next morning, when he arrived at the company, did he then hear that a photo of Gu Chenkai glaring at him onstage had been posted on Weibo. It had created a storm amongst the fans, and news about it had even spread beyond them, making the group a joke outside the fandom. Criticism about the situation was on two extremes, half of them concerned and sad that Ning Lan was being excluded, and the other half insisting that Ning Lan must have done something bad for Gu Chenkai, the youngest of the group, to be so angry.
In the eyes of the fans, Gu Chenkai was a child who had yet to grow up. He was very much sheltered by his parents, and he had never gone through a tough time before. With his rich upbringing, there would not be any meanness in him, and his innate frankness was not affected in the slightest. The image he gave others was his actual personality, and there seemed to be no deceit or falseness. As such, it was very easy for him to be accepted by everyone, and he was very well-liked. With AOW’s rising popularity, those who said that Gu Chenkai had relied on his family’s backing to get his position slowly faded away, and even more fans had been attracted by his liveliness and cheerfulness, as well as his bright and moving voice while singing.
As such, it was logical that the majority of the fans would support Gu Chenkai and blame Ning Lan for it.
Still, the tiny group of Ning Lan’s fans, along with casual fans, did not accept that – this little young master had such a bad disposition. If he dared roll his eyes at someone older than him in the group under everyone’s eyes, who knew how big a bully he was when in private!
Very quickly, fans dug out AOW’s previous appearances, poring over the details. They discovered that as expected, Gu Chenkai had always been rude towards Ning Lan. There were a number of times when the cameras were focused on Ning Lan, and Gu Chenkai would be standing behind, sneering and looking disdainful. Fans who stanned only Ning Lan pointed these out as evidence that their Bubble Lan was being bullied, while Gu Chenkai’s stans retorted sarcastically, saying that if not for their Lousy Bubble having no capability and still wanting to snatch the cameras’ attention, would their Kaikai have such a reaction?
Ning Lan felt very wronged. He could swear to the gods, that he had never tried to snatch any attention from anyone before.
Opening up Weibo, he saw a long list of notifications tagging him. The comments were all embedded within the comment war on Weibo, and there was all sorts of nonsense on there. Occasionally, some would step up to maintain order, reminding people not to tag the group members, but no one paid attention.
The host of the Super Topic was an administrator of AOW’s fan club. She had to delete so many posts to the point where her hand cramped up, and it took her half a day to somewhat suppress this conflict. Apparently, in the official fan club, the fans were still arguing. Gu Chenkai was so furious that he could not even eat his breakfast. Slamming the door shut, he howled loudly an entire morning. At first, Ning Lan had not been bothered by this issue at all, but once he heard from An Lin that because of this matter, Gu Chenkai had a drop in the number of fans, while his increased, he started becoming anxious.
No matter what, Gu Chenkai was now his sugar daddy’s cousin. Could this be considered… repaying kindness with ingratitude?
Ning Lan stood by the door, about to knock, but Sui Yi just happened to come out. Upon seeing Ning Lan, he first froze, then closed the door behind him. Ning Lan wanted to walk past him and enter, only to be stopped.
“Why are you going in?”
“To apologise,” Ning Lan said succinctly.
Seeing how placid Ning Lan looked, it did not seem as though he was going to seek a quarrel. Thinking for a moment, he then said, “He’s just throwing a tantrum, ignore him.”
This made Ning Lan feel at ease, but he dared not show it. Who asked this kid in front of him to have been promoted to become his sugar daddy? Ning Lan’s decision to change back to his original room was also to make it easier for him to take care of this sugar daddy of his.
With this point alone, even if he was asked to kneel down in front of Gu Chenkai right now, he would bend his knees with no hesitation and cry as he called Gu Chenkai his father.
“Have you paid the money back?” Sui Yi asked.
“Huh? … Yes, I did.” Ning Lan was a little flustered by this sudden show of concern.
Last night, he had transferred the money he received straight to Mr. Liu. In fact, this was the first time he had contacted a creditor on his own accord. However, after paying that debt off, he did not feel relieved at all. Instead, the weight on his shoulders became heavier.
After paying the debt, he still owed money. It was just that the money owed had switched to another creditor, and this person was someone he saw everyday and could never avoid.
He did not know if the choice he made was the correct one. Thinking about the situation then, he still felt that it had been absurd.
However, Sui Yi was the opposite. He was very calm, as though he was not a party involved at all. Nodding, he said, “Mn. Today, the group needs to record some clips. Don’t stray too far away.”
In the evening, An Lin brought the camera right into AOW’s dorm. She said urgently, “Move quickly. Once we’re done here, I still have to go back and edit the clips. They’ll be uploaded tomorrow.”
While tidying up the place, Ning Lan asked, “Hasn’t the episode for this week already been prepared?”
An Lin sighed deeply. “Isn’t it all because of the two of you stirring up trouble onstage? We’ll be replacing this week’s video with one about your daily life in the dorm, and clean up your reputation.”
Sitting on the couch, Gu Chenkai rolled his eyes upon hearing that, his anger swelling up again. “Cleaning up our reputation? It’ll never be clean! Let them say whatever they want!”
Sui Yi frowned, continuing to patiently advise his cousin. Ning Lan was not in the mood to listen. After all, no matter what role he had to play, he would fulfil it to the best of his ability.
15 minutes later, filming started. It started with looking around every room, and the main point of the video was to record their warm, friendly, brotherly interactions. When the camera reached Sui Yi’s room, Ning Lan hugged a strawberry cushion, telling the camera that it was given by the fans, and that it accompanied him to sleep every night. He then picked up the medicinal ointment next to the bed, saying that it was given to him by Sui Yi.
“Don’t look at how his expression is always so frosty, he’s actually an undeniably warm and friendly guy.” Brainlessly praising Sui Yi would never be a mistake.
The camera then turned to Sui Yi, who was on the top bunk. Ning Lan said that he had a unique way of getting out of bed, and so, with a stretch of his long legs, Sui Yi jumped off from his bed. Gu Chenkai too jumped off from his much lower bed, very much showing off playfully. Playing along, Ning Lan applauded the two cousins. At the end, according to An Lin’s instructions, Gu Chenkai gave his roommates a bag of snacks each, including Ning Lan, and the two people even had a casual conversation, before bringing this false pretense to a close.
That night, an episode of a variety show AOW happened to participate in during June was playing on the television. An Lin stayed back a little while longer, recording the seven people watching the episode together.
The TV station was famous for exaggerating in its preview clips, and in one of them, a segment where Lu Xiaochuan and Fang Yu were fighting each other for a piece of clue was played in slow motion, dragged out to an entire minute. In the scene, Lu Xiaochuan was holding Fang Yu down by lying on him, in a very intimate pose. Fang Yu, who had purposely come to the dorm for this recording, had a very dark expression. He turned his head away, refusing to comment.
During the one and a half hour episode, as expected, Ning Lan had made the least amount of appearances, with only a few solo shots of him tapping the rhythm for Lu Xiaochuan’s impromptu rapping.
Once the recording was done, Ning Lan walked with An Lin downstairs. She pulled Ning Lan to one side, saying, “The fans don’t know the truth, but we all know that you can’t be blamed for that matter. Zhang Fan-jie wants me to tell you that Gu Chenkai is just immature, so don’t stoop yourself to his level.”
Ning Lan nodded obediently.
Having passed the message along, An Lin was about to leave with her camera. She thought for a moment, then turned back. She could not help but advise, “In the future, you have to learn how to act on variety shows. Try your best to put yourself on display, but not like Gu Chenkai… Although the recording will be edited, if you’re just standing in the background, you’ll have no chance of appearing at all. Did you forget everything you learnt during the training?”
Ning Lan shook his head. He did not forget, but rather, he had no rights and standing to try to fight for the camera’s attention.
In the past, he did not, and now, he had even fewer rights to do so.
For the days coming up, time went on, and every day was like the previous one.
Now that AOW’s debut single was past its promotional period, there was pretty much no group events in the first half of August. Gao Ming signed on to participate in a dancing variety show, and every week, he needed to travel to various locations for the recording. Ever since the showcase, Lu Xiaochuan was as quiet as a mouse. However, recently, he seemed to be slipping into his old ways, and from his occasional staying out all night, he soon disappeared entirely. Just like Fang Yu, no hide or hair could be seen of them. The little young master Gu Chenkai had found new amusement, bringing his guitar along with him and taking lessons everyday. As for Sui Yi, he was preparing to join the drama production crew and had started studying his script.
After their daily training, Ning Lan would play with his little friend Wang Bingyang. Wang Bingyang had gotten his hands on a game console, and when the two people had nothing to do, they would just camp in the living room and play. Young people were full of endless energy, and they would never find it tiring even if they stayed up all night playing video games. Ning Lan liked to play as well, but unfortunately, his energy levels could not compare to one of a teenager. There were a few times, he almost dozed away on the couch, and yet was still pushed by Wang Bingyang into continuing to play as his eyes struggled to close.
That night, Ning Lan heard someone say quietly, “He’s sleepy, let him go to bed.”
He was sleepy. During the day, he had practised dancing to the point where he felt half dead, and now, he could barely keep his eyes open. Pulled up by someone, he stumbled to his room, his head resting on that person’s shoulder. Absent-mindedly, he only noticed that this person was not Wang Bingyang. That kid was not this tall.
He was placed on his bed. This person even knew to adjust his head, preventing it from sinking down.
Under his eyelids, Ning Lan’s eyes shifted. He seemed to be able to make out a figure, but with another shift of his eyes, he could not see anything again.
Sui Yi covered him with a blanket. Just as he was about to straighten up, one of Ning Lan’s arms suddenly stretched out, grabbing onto his retreating hand.
Sui Yi saw that pair of eyes open. Those black irises met his, and he reflexively held his breath.
Over the past few days, just like usual, Sui Yi had been doing what he had to do, fulfilling his role as AOW’s leader. However, he was aware that he had been hiding. Pretending that he needed some quiet to study his script, he avoided staying in the same room as Ning Lan. He even woke up early everyday, trying his best to avoid seeing Ning Lan alone.
Every time he thought about it, he felt that he must have been crazy that day, to have said something like that.
What was even more terrifying was that he did not regret it in the slightest, even if he knew that his actions were not heroic or gallant at all, and were even very immature.
Sui Yi could actually feel as well that Ning Lan’s attitude towards him had been changing. Like now, in his drowsy state, Ning Lan’s lips were curving up slightly, his thumb sliding up Sui Yi’s ring finger, lightly caressing Sui Yi’s palm. Sui Yi could not help but immediately recall how yesterday, in the studio, he saw Lu Xiaochuan sneakily attack Ning Lan from the back, tickling Ning Lan to the point of giggling.
At that moment, he was inexplicably unhappy, and even after pondering over it for some time, he still could not find the reason for feeling that way. Now, he suddenly saw the light. In his subconscious, he had already tucked Ning Lan under his wing, seeing him as his possession. He wanted Ning Lan’s every action, every smile and delight, to develop according to his own expectations.
This awareness made Sui Yi even more nervous. At the end of the day, he was no different from those who tried to use money to control the lives of others. This was his desire to control, to possess, or some other innate human desire making mischief. With how much he had experienced in life, analysing this was like trying to make sense out of something unknown.
During the seconds when Sui Yi was lost in his thoughts, Ning Lan opened his mouth, giving a tiny, small yawn, tears of sleepiness welling up in his eyes. He released his grip, turning over in his bed, leaving only the view of his back to Sui Yi. He drawled, “Good– night–”
The lights were switched off, and all was quiet and still.
Lying on his side, Ning Lan opened his eyes, before shutting them again. He repeated this cycle many times, but he could not disperse that baffling tension that wrapped around his heart, layer by layer.
If Sui Yi was able to treat him a little worse, perhaps he might be able to feel more relaxed. At least, he would not need to think about how to respond to him, and he did not need to think about what he should repay him with.
A gentleness that came innately was the most soundless and silent sort, and the sort that was irresistible.