Edited by DancingDolphinsYo
Sui Yi too felt that his actions were not very mature, but ever since he was a child, he was used to being conceited and arrogant. He had yet to learn how to put on a hypocritical face like the adults did, and was unable to pretend that he had not seen anything.
Ning Lan’s appearance was the simple and innocent sort, and it was easy for him to leave a good impression on others when meeting for the first time. Sui Yi understood why Zhang Fan had arranged for him to join AOW, as the group was currently lacking in a member who could fulfil this role.
Still, after their interactions over the past few days, he observed that Ning Lan’s behaviour and actions completely did not match his face. He was in debt, a liar, and was always flattering and fawning on him and the other members. Sui Yi even suspected that before Zhang Fan had arranged for Ning Lan to join the group, she had not investigated his character thoroughly enough.
In the evening, before Sui Yi’s information was publicly announced, Zhang Fan gave him a call. She told him to inform all the members to gather in the meeting room next Monday morning.
Sui Yi casually asked her where Ning Lan came from, and Zhang Fan half-jokingly said that she had picked him up from the roadside. Sui Yi only believed part of it. “Has he been vaccinated?”
Zhang Fan laughed for quite some time. “I’ll hand over this task to you then. I believe you’ll be able to tame him.”
Sui Yi returned to his room after hanging up. Under the book of <Basic Music Theory>, Ning Lan was napping. The sound of the door closing jolted him, and the book slid down his face. He was biting on a pencil, and he was almost drooling.
Seeing that he was deep in sleep, Sui Yi bent over and removed the pencil. He closed the book and placed it next to his pillow before climbing up onto his own bunk.
The next morning, all the five people in the dorm woke up early. Squatting by the locked meeting room, they were eating their breakfast. Everyone had a Tianjin pancake in their hands for which Wang Bingyang had woken up even earlier to go downstairs and queue for.
Gu Chenkai had a scornful look on his face. Pursing his lips, he picked out the onions from the pancake, one by one. Gao Ming nudged at Wang Bingyang. “Don’t you know that Xiao Chen doesn’t eat onions, garlic and coriander?”
Wang Bingyang smiled foolishly. “I was too sleepy and I forgot. I just ordered five identical ones from the boss.”
Although Ning Lan was not from the North, he had been living in the capital since he was 18. He was used to this flavour and finished the pancake with a few bites. With his cheeks bulging, he patted Wang Bingyang. “It’s delicious. When we go back, I’ll treat everyone to stuffed Chinese pancakes, with two sausages inside.”
In Gu Chenkai’s hand, there was a pile of onions. His competitive spirit raised, he spoke, “Tomorrow I’ll treat everyone to breakfast at the Hong Kong-style cafe below the office.”
Gao Ming and Wang Bingyang clapped their hands in support. Ning Lan smiled cheerily, thinking that this foolish child could really be easily roused.
Zhang Fan arrived on the dot, opening the door for everyone. Just as she was about to make her announcement, she saw that one of them was still missing. “Where’s Fang Yu?”
Sui Yi responded, “I’ve informed him yesterday, he should be here soon.”
With his arms folded, Lu Xiaochuan laughed. “He’s in the parking lot, and he’s unable to reverse park his car. I bet he’s still having trouble.”
Zhang Fan asked him, “Could you not have just helped park his car?”
“Why should I help him?”
Lu Xiaochuan was a rich kid and was even worse than Gu Chenkai at hiding his feelings. His disgust was very apparent.
Now, Ning Lan was even more curious about this group member that he had never seen before. From the photo released last night, he felt that Fang Yu was extremely pretty. His beauty was of the sort that would dazzle and enchant people, and he was the undeniable visual of the group.
Logically speaking, Lu Xiaochuan, this hooligan who went after both males and females, should be very interested in people like Fang Yu. Just now, when he arrived at the meeting room and saw that Zhang Fan was not there yet, he immediately turned and left for the training studio downstairs to flirt with the girls there. When he returned, his face was full of joy, and he again smelled like a combination of many perfumes.
They waited for another ten minutes. Only then did Fang Yu knock on the door, and quietly apologised before sitting next to Sui Yi.
Zhang Fan did not reproach him. Ning Lan felt that it was probably because she could not bear to scold a beauty like him. With his rosy lips, pretty white teeth, and his big attractive eyes, if he were to look at someone, that person would definitely be brought to high heavens.
Everyone was now present. Zhang Fan announced that they would be taking the group’s promotional photos tomorrow. As the new member, Ning Lan’s solo shots will be taken as well.
Currently, the only member of AOW who had yet to be announced was Ning Lan. The public all thought that Starlight Entertainment was hiding an ace up their sleeves to whet their appetite. Also, as it was someone who would be replacing Feng Qiu, everyone’s eyes were on him.
They did not know that the reason why the announcement had been delayed was because the seventh member did not even have a decent photo to be released.
Taking promotional photos as a group, as well as shooting the cover for their single, meant that they would soon be filming the official music video as well. Everyone was very excited, and even Lu Xiaochuan, who never cared for anything but flirting, brightened up. He said that he would treat everyone to lunch as a celebration. Zhang Fan then told him to go and practise dancing with Ning Lan later, and he immediately withered, moaning and groaning as he sprawled across the table.
After the meeting, Zhang Fan called Ning Lan out for a private talk. She asked him if he had gotten used to the ongoings in the past couple of days, and whether it was tiring or not. Ning Lan felt that it was pretty ok. Previously, as a waiter, he had often worked two shifts in a row, and working for more than 12 hours a day was something he was used to. In comparison, singing and dancing only required half the amount of energy.
Zhang Fan encouraged him to learn everything well. Not much time was left, and they would be filming the outdoors shots for the music video a week later. From tomorrow onwards, he would be attending training to get used to being in front of the cameras.
Finally, Zhang Fan took out an envelope from her bag. “This is your wages for two months. The company is giving it to you in advance.”
Ning Lan was taken aback. “I’ve only been here for a week.”
Zhang Fan smiled. “It’s fine. Our company is humane. Young people tend to have more difficulties getting a headstart. If we don’t help you now, who else would? When you get back, text me your account number. In the future, your wages will be deposited directly into your account.”
Ning Lan nodded. He accepted the envelope a little awkwardly. “Thank you…” To receive his wages after working for only about a week, this was unprecedented.
“There’s no need to thank me. It’s your group leader who told me that you seem to have some difficulties. I have many artistes under me, so I’m bound to miss things, and I’m not able to take care of everyone. In the future, you can just call me directly about such matters. Our company wants to not only train all of you, but also take good care of you. After all, you’re all still teenagers, and back home, you’re all your parents’ little darlings.”
Manager Zhang, did you forget that I’m already 23?
At ten in the morning, all seven members of AOW gathered together for the first time in the training studio. The dance teacher, Xu Rui, gave them their positions.
The positions of the members when they attended any official activities were all pre-determined. The tall ones were usually standing in the center, and the height would decrease accordingly towards the ends. They also had to consider the visual impact. Most people’s attention would be attracted towards the center first before looking towards the sides. As such, the people standing closer to the center had to be more eye-catching.
With a face that was attractive to both males and females, as well as his domineering height, the center position was for no one else other than Sui Yi. Looking from the front, on his right was first Fang Yu, Wang BingYang, then Gao Ming. On his left was Lu Xiaochuan, Gu Chenkai, then Ning Lan.
Just as the positions were about to be confirmed, Gao Ming raised his hand. “This arrangement doesn’t seem too logical. Ning Lan is very good-looking, and his appearance doesn’t lose to Wang Bingyang and Gu Chenkai. But why is he placed at the end?”
Ning Lan’s brows lifted. Fuck, even just standing there, I can get shot like this?
He soon understood what was going on. As the member with the most experience on stage, Gao Ming was naturally unhappy with his position. However, he could not directly say that he wanted to stand in the center, and so, he used Ning Lan, who was also standing right at the edge, as an excuse to highlight the unfairness of the arrangement.
Ning Lan too knew that his position was not good. The members were spread out at a distance of about 4 to 5 metres. In case of the cameraman’s skills not being good enough, he would easily be cut out of the lens. If he could choose, he also wanted to stand in the center. However, he knew that with his current qualifications, he had no right to say anything. Now that Gao Ming had spoken, even if Ning Lan did not have such considerations, Gao Ming had already implied that he did.
Ning Lan glanced at Gao Ming from the corner of his eye. This child was really not that simple.
The positions naturally could not be changed, and so, Xu Rui separated the group into two rows. The few in the center now stood at the back, while Gao Ming, Gu Chenkai and Ning Lan stood in the front. Only then did Gao Ming’s expression improve.
During lunch, Lu Xiaochuan invited everyone to the Sichuan restaurant downstairs. Not only was Fang Yu beautiful, he was very refined as well. When eating the fish with pickled cabbage, he would dip it into a bowl of water before eating it. Ning Lan was curious, and asked him why he did so. Fang Yu smiled slightly, “I can’t take spicy food, my skin will break out.”
Lu Xiaochuan snorted heavily. It seemed like he could not stand how pampered Fang Yu was. Halfway through his meal, he tossed his chopsticks aside and told everyone else to take their time, before settling the bill and leaving. He even remembered to throw Ning Lan a flying kiss, his eyes impassioned, as though he was saying, “Once I’m done I’ll come visit you again.”
The group was used to this. No one batted an eyelid, and they all continued eating.
Lu Xiaochuan did not attend the music class in the afternoon. Zhao-laoshi asked Sui Yi to give him a call, but his calls were rejected three times, and no one picked up the next two times. Zhao-laoshi nearly broke the pointer in her hand.
After class, Ning Lan slowly packed his belongings. The lift took too long to arrive, so he decided to just take the stairs. It was dark and quiet in the stairwell, and only the muffled pounding of his footsteps could be heard.
As he walked, he took out the photo he had kept in the book. It was a polaroid shot that had been taken by Xu Rui in the morning when they were standing in their positions. She said that it was to commemorate AOW for finally becoming a group, and let everyone have a copy. She even joked that they could show it off to their family members.
Ning Lan saw some of the members taking their phones out on the spot to tell their families the good news while he stood by watching. It was probably because he had only spent such a short time training, and so, he could not feel the joy of his results.
However, everyone had a little vainness in them. He too did wish to share this news with someone.
He took out his phone and dialled a very familiar number. A slow and long beep rang out, signalling that the call had connected.
Half a minute later, his call was finally answered. “Hello? Who’s this?”
Ning Lan cleared his throat. “It’s me, Ning Lan.”
A moment of silence. “Oh, Xiao Lan? Why did you change your number?”
Ning Lan grabbed at a random excuse. “My phone was spoilt, so I decided to just change it. Auntie, you can save this new number.”
“Has Xiao Xuan started school yet? After changing her school, is she used to it?”
“She’s doing pretty well.”
The other person clearly had no intentions of wanting to continue the conversation.
Ever since Ning Lan had been caught and locked in that basement, he had never contacted his family, nor did he dare to go back. Now, facing these new, unfamiliar faces everyday, no matter how unfriendly his family was, he was reluctant to hang up.
“That’s good. I’ve got a new job, in the future, I might even be on TV…”
“Ah, the water’s boiling. I won’t chat with you anymore, I’m hanging up, ok?”
The other person hung up hurriedly, as though she was avoiding some pestilence.
Ning Lan listened to the busy tone and gave a self-mocking grin. He was the pestilence, after all, his father died, he was a burden to his mother, and caused his originally already not well-off auntie and uncle to have to support him as well.
If not for the fact that he had given his auntie a sum of money during the new year, so that his cousin Ning Xuan could transfer to a good school in the city, his aunt might have just hung up on him after hearing his voice.
So what if he was going to appear on TV? Who would want to watch him?
Ning Lan did not return straight to the dorm. He took the bus to a private hospital in the south of the city and entered just before they closed.
The somewhat unorthodox little hospital only had a doctor and a nurse present. Seeing how shabby he looked, the doctor did not give him any of his attention. “All surgeries have to be booked in advance. Look at the pricelist on the table.”
“Isn’t there anything that can be done today?” Ning Lan asked.
The doctor pushed at his glasses, nearly rolling his eyes. “No, even a botox jab has to be booked.”
Ning Lan pointed towards the bottom corner of his left eye. “How much time is required to add a mole here?”
The clock slowly ticked past ten. Sui Yi closed his book, turned off the table lamp, and was ready to head to bed. While removing his jacket, he glanced at the empty bunk below his, and took out his phone, scrolling through his contacts.
Although he had not intended on becoming the group leader, since joining the group two months ago, the responsibility he had cultivated since young had invisibly guided him into becoming a passable leader. Now that a member was staying out without any reason, he of course had to look into it.
As he was about to dial the number, he heard the door opening outside. That person changed his shoes, then knocked on the door of the next room. The sound-proofing was not good, and Sui Yi could hear Ning Lan and Gao Ming talking, something about “returning money” and “treating”.
This little fellow really liked signing blank cheques, he thought. He had been here for less than a week, and he owed almost everyone a meal already.
Sui Yi put his phone back, and hung his jacket on the clothes stand.
The voices next door stopped, and the door to this room opened. Seeing that the room was dark, Ning Lan used his phone as a flashlight. When the light hit Sui Yi who was standing near the clothes stand, Ning Lan gasped in fright.
“Oh my heavens. Lead, you scared me to death standing there silently.” Ning Lan patted his own chest.
Sui Yi had never left the capital ever in his life, and he did not know what dialect Ning Lan had just been using.
“Where did you go?”
Ning Lan removed his coat. Seeing that the clothes stand was full, he turned and casually hung it on the back of the chair by the desk. “I just went out to play… Can I leave my coat here?”
Sui Yi glanced over. “Mn.” He grabbed the ladder, thinking over it before he spoke, “Next time, come back earlier. It wouldn’t be good if someone captures a photo of you before we debut.”
Ning Lan first froze. Only when he recalled how he and Sui Yi met the first time did he then understand that this fellow probably had a bad impression of him since that moment, afraid that he would cause trouble for the group.
Ning Lan was glum. Why was it that wherever he went, no one liked him?
Giving a superficial smile, he said, “Yes, my lord.” Then he took the coat that he had just hung on the chair, and prepared to throw it onto his bed.
Turning around, he did not pay attention to where he was stepping in the dark. His toes hit something, and losing his balance, he fell forward.
Things happened too fast, so fast that he did not even have the time to extend his arms. Accepting it, he shut his eyes, but the pain that he was prepared for, did not hit him. Someone had swiftly caught his arm and pulled him forward.
Sui Yi’s voice had never been so close to him before. Ning Lan’s head jerked up, and their eyes met.
Only when the deeply asleep Gu Chenkai muttered something and turned over, did the two slowly took a step back.
Ning Lan quietly thanked him, then tossed his phone with its flashlight function still switched on onto his bed. Groping about, he grabbed a pair of clean underwear from under his pillow.
Sui Yi who had once again stood upright did not climb onto his bunk. Ning Lan felt that he should say something. Touching the corner of his left eye, he felt his new mole. “Zhang Fan-jie gave me my wages today. Thank you, I’ll definitely treat you to a good meal next time.”
Sui Yi was standing with his back against the light. Ning Lan did not know where he was looking at. Hearing him acknowledge him, Ning Lan then quietly went to take a shower.
Sui Yi climbed onto his bunk and shut his eyes. The only thing he could see was that bright pair of eyes under the swaying light.
Ning Lan’s features could not be considered outstanding after studying them carefully, but they came together very well. He had a high nose bridge, his lips were full and plump, and so it was the lower part of his face that was more attractive.
However, just now his eyes had been completely drawn to the upper half of Ning Lan’s face. When Ning Lan turned away from him, he even had the impulse to chase after him to continue staring. He did not want to let that pair of bright, black eyes leave his sight.
He clearly had a simple and innocent appearance, but inexplicably, there were now additional traces of vividness and charm.
Sui Yi turned over, facing the white wall. He stared at it for two or three minutes, then closed his eyes again. That seemingly familiar feeling finally dissipated a little.