Edited by DancingDolphinsYo
After the filming of the MV was done, there was only slightly more than a week left to their debut show. The members of AOW trained and practised fervently.
The two songs and dances seemed to be played on constant repeat. From their training studio to their dormitory, it felt as though only these two songs existed in the world.
Ning Lan’s foundation was weak, and in the MV, he could get through with edits of the video. However, it was not good enough to stand live on stage. Other than the training with the entire group, Zhang Fan even arranged for him to attend solo practices with the dance teacher Xu Rui. Every day, Ning Lan was exhausted, feeling wrung out. Crawling back to the dorm, he did not want to move again once he was lying on his bed. There were many times when he was awakened by the person sleeping on the bunk above him.
“It’s time to change the medication. Turn around.” Sui Yi nudged him.
Groaning and moaning, Ning Lan did not want to move. Sui Yi had no choice. With one knee on the bed, he flipped Ning Lan over such that his back was facing up. After pushing his clothes away and revealing the waist, Sui Yi slowly removed the old medicated plaster with practised ease and replaced it with a new one.
“It’s the fifth piece already, do you feel better?”
Ning Lan nodded slightly, speaking in a feeble tone. “I do feel much better… Lead, you’re my benefactor. If not for you, I might just die here.”
Lying on the bed next to them, Gu Chenkai snorted, slamming his book onto the table.
Ning Lan continued sprawling on the bed for a while. Unable to withstand his hunger anymore, he struggled up from the bed to go and cook some instant noodles.
After slamming the book down, Gu Chenkai started playing the piano, using it to express his displeasure. Banging and pressing randomly on the keys, he was still unable to vent his feelings, and so, he stood up and walked over to Ning Lan who was currently tearing open the sachet of seasoning. “Hey.”
Sui Yi was currently not around. Ning Lan guessed that Gu Chenkai was calling him, and so looked up. “Huh?”
“Don’t think about seducing my brother.”
The fork in Ning Lan’s mouth nearly fell out. “What?”
Gu Chenkai’s cheeks puffed in anger. “My brother isn’t blind, so don’t even dream about it.” He then turned and walked away, only to walk back again after a couple of steps. With disdain, he spoke. “Eat your food outside, it smells.”
The little young master could not be provoked. Ning Lan left with his instant noodles, eating and thinking, turns out this little child is so against me because of this?
What injustice, how was the leader someone whom he could seduce as and when he liked?
Sui Yi was brought up extremely well; he was very refined, cultured and responsible at such a young age. With his self-discipline, his mind was clearer than most people. Although Ning Lan still could not understand why he would want to join the group and debut in the entertainment industry, a person like Sui Yi would never allow himself to be implicated in any trouble in this area.
Furthermore, he should be straight.
Despite the country allowing homosexual marriages to occur, it could not get rid of the prejudices against homosexuals. This was especially the case for Sui Yi, who had been hurt by his family.
Ning Lan sighed lightly. The medicated plaster on the back of his waist was still giving off heat, but his heart was cold.
He swiftly finished up his noodles. The little boy in the room was still playing his piano, and he really did not feel like going back in. Now that he was full, he started to feel sleepy. Holding onto his bowl, Ning Lan started nodding off. He only woke up when his face fell into the bowl, so he quickly went to the bathroom to wash his face.
Someone was inside, showering.
The bathroom was not locked. There was only one shower enclosure that had been simply separated by a clear, glass participation. Whoever was showering could be identified with a glance.
A tall body, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist. It was Sui Yi.
With his fringe still dripping oil, Ning Lan stood there, rooted to the spot. The people living in the dorm had previously verbally agreed that they would knock on the door before entering the bathroom in the evening, so as to prevent walking in to someone showering. In his hurry, Ning Lan had forgotten.
To go out now would make him look even more guilty. Ning Lan silently spun around, turning on the tap and rinsing his hair furiously.
After turning the tap off, he still did not dare to look back. He heard the running water sounding a little quieter than before, and with a dry throat, he spoke. “Excuse me, I dirtied my face just now, so I came in without knocking.”
“It’s fine.” Sui Yi’s muffled voice came through the glass.
Ning Lan scurried away.
That blurred figure was imprinted in Ning Lan’s head. Sui Yi returned to the room after his shower. As Sui Yi walked about the room, Ning Lan did not dare to make even a single move.
He did know that Sui Yi had a very nice body. In the training studio, everyone wore a t-shirt and sweatpants. Only Sui Yi’s pecs could be seen, nicely defined through the t-shirt. He was the only one, when his sweat rolled down from his face and down his neck, who could give off the beauty of strength and a flood of pheromones.
Ning Lan was even a little envious of Gu Chenkai for being able to look at Sui Yi openly, and taking his care and consideration for granted.
Not only was he good-looking, he was also gentle and reliable.
Ning Lan brought his finger to his mouth, biting it harshly. The pain cleared his head, and got rid of the nonsensical thoughts in his mind.
He was grateful that everyone else in the dorm was straight, and so, his orientation was not easily exposed.
Ning Lan woke up late the next day. The reason was that he had been having wet dreams the entire night. In his dreams, there was a naked male with a very good physique.
Grabbing a clean pair of underwear, he hurried into the bathroom. Just as he was about to hold the door shut with his foot, someone pushed the door open and entered. Ning Lan looked up, and his heart skipped a beat — he was the naked male who was now wearing clothes.
Sui Yi had just returned from a run. He washed his face with cold water, and greeted Ning Lan, panting. “Good morning.”
Ning Lan did not dare to look at him directly. He seemed to have gain an additional x-ray ability. The sexy panting only made things worse, and this was basically an audiovisual feast with 3D effect and surround sound.
Wiping his sweaty palms on his pants, Ning Lan turned and pulled the towel away from the rack. “Good morning.”
Sui Yi took a towel as well, then called out to him. “Ning Lan.”
“Huh?” Ning Lan was rarely addressed directly by Sui Yi with his name. Startled, he was nearly choked by the wet towel on his face.
“You took the wrong towel.”
… No wonder the towel had a scent that made his adrenaline soar.
Ning Lan pulled the towel off his face, rinsing it over and over again with soap. “Sorry, the two towels looked identical. In a hurry, I took the wrong one.”
Sui Yi seemed to have gotten used to his clumsiness. With a smile, he said, “It’s fine.”
Ning Lan immediately bought a new towel to replace it the next day. He could not bear to toss the old one away, and after washing and drying it, he kept it.
Into the third month of the lunar calendar, the weather gradually became warmer. As the countdown to the debut show started, all seven members of AOW were in the training studio almost the whole time, singing, dancing, running the whole performance through with each other.
The company had given each of them a rough personality to follow. They advised them that they could display their own uniqueness, as long as they did not deviate from their assigned personality. Not everyone was able to handle the intricate requirements of being a lovable villain.
Ning Lan was to be the boy next door. What he had to do was smile often. This was not difficult for him. Working in the service industry, he also had to smile all the time. Now, his targets had only switched from the customers to the fans, and he was well aware of how he should appeal to others.
Sui Yi and Fang Yu were the two visuals of the group. Apparently, fans on Weibo had already named their ship Soaring Flower, as one was tall, and the other was as pretty as a flower.
Lu Xiaochuan frothed in anger hearing that. He asked Wang Bingyang, “Then what about me? I don’t have a CP?”
Wang Bingyang scrolled further down. “Yes yes, you do. You’re with Xiao Kai, and your ship is called ChuanKai.”
Having been on a talent show before, Gu Chenkai was familiar with such methods of forming ships to try increasing their popularity. Unconcerned, he had his earphones on, still listening to his songs.
Lu Xiaochuan was still unhappy. “Why is it not Ning Lan and me together? Also, this name is too casual. One look and you know not much thought had been placed into it.”
Ning Lan was not shipped with anyone. Even Gao Ming and Wang Bingyang were “MingYang” because of their good relationship during the talent show. Amongst the seven people, he was the only one alone.
It seemed like he was the only outsider in the group.
A day before their debut show, the families of Wang Bingyang and Gu Chenkai both came. A large group of people squeezed into their tiny dorm, preparing hot pot. The parents were very proud of their own child, coming all the way to watch their child’s debut show. Even though Ning Lan had never experienced such familial intimacy before, he could not help but be affected by the warm atmosphere.
Halfway through eating, Ning Lan silently retreated, leaving the space for the families while he ran to sit in the stairway. Sitting there for a bit, he started to feel cold, and so stood up and started practising his dance steps.
A creak, and the safety exit to the stairway opened. Sui Yi shone a torch onto Ning Lan. “What are you doing here?”
Squinting in the light, Ning Lan rotated his overworked, aching shoulders. “I’m full, so I decided to come out and work it off.”
Sui Yi held out a mango. “Here’s dessert, you want some?”
The two people sat on a step, sharing the mango.
Hanging with Sui Yi’s keys was an exquisite charm, and after opening it, it turned out to be a small blade. Deftly, he cut the mango into two, removing the seed of the mango. Making a few horizontal and vertical slices into the flesh, he handed one half to Ning Lan.
Ning Lan sniffed at it under the dim light.
“How is it?”
“It’s really fragrant.”
“Gao Ming’s parents brought them. He’s from a coastal city in the south.”
“Oh.” Ning Lan again started thinking about what he should give to Gao Ming in return, as he could not take things for free. He asked casually, “So where are you from?”
“Right here,” Sui Yi replied.
Ning Lan recalled his Maybach with a local number plate. He realised that he had asked a silly question. “I don’t hear a rhotic accent in your words, so I thought you aren’t from the capital.”
“My mother is from Jiangnan.”
“Oh, that’s a nice place.” Ning Lan did not know how to respond. Out of the seven people, only the two of them did not have any family to come visit them. Now knowing that Sui Yi was from this city, saying anything now would feel like he was poking at his sore spot.
Sui Yi spoke up. “What about your family? Will they be coming to watch the show? The company will arrange for front seats for family members.”
Ning Lan shook his head. “They’re not coming.” Maybe it was much easier to be honest in a place with dim lighting. He suddenly had a desire to pour his heart out. “My dad had passed away a long time ago, and I have no idea where my mother is fooling around now.”
“Yup, fooling around. It means she’s playing around outside, playing like crazy, and not caring about anything,” Ning Lan explained.
“Lan, that means waves, right?” Sui Yi asked.
Ning Lan paused. He had never thought about why he was called Lan.1
“Maybe…” Ning Lan spoke uncertainly. “My dad was the one who named me. He died early, and I did not have time to ask him.”
Sui Yi did not respond.
“Sorry, it’s a good day, but I keep talking about death.” Ning Lan felt that he was being unlucky, and slapped himself lightly on the mouth.
“No,” Sui Yi spoke. “Although my father is still alive, he might as well be dead.”
Ning Lan’s eyelid twitched. He had a good memory, and he could still remember clearly the contents of the phone conversation that day. If he recalled correctly, today was Sui Yi’s father’s birthday?”
To lay such a harsh curse on this day, it was either that the child was extremely foolish, or the father had truly done something utterly devoid of conscience.
Ning Lan was more inclined to believe the latter.
The serious topic dampened the atmosphere, and so, Ning Lan raised the mango in his hand. “Let’s not talk about these unhappy matters. Come, cheers!”
Sui Yi was taken aback by his sudden action. Without thinking, he raised his hand as well, and they bumped their mango halves together.
“For freedom, for tomorrow!”
Ning Lan’s voice was amplified in the small, cramped space. The voice-activated lights outside the stairway all lit up. The door was not shut fully, and the lights shone into their area.
Ning Lan was alarmed at first. He thought someone had come in. Then, thinking about them sitting here secretly eating the mango, he found the humour in it. Laughing, he fell. His hand shook, and the mango landed onto his new shoes. The pair of white shoes was now stained with the yellow of the mango.
He stopped laughing. Looking at his dumbfounded look, Sui Yi burst out laughing instead. A youthful laughter that had traces of a matured man sounded low and pleasant, with a husky magnetism.
Copying Ning Lan, he raised his mango. “For tomorrow, cheers.”
“No more, no more, I’ve already dropped it.” With drooping eyes, Ning Lan waved him away dejectedly.
Sui Yi held his own mango to Ning Lan’s mouth. “I haven’t eaten it yet, you can eat it first.”
Ning Lan hesitated for a moment before leaning over and taking a bite. His teeth bumped into Sui Yi’s finger accidentally.
Sui Yi seemed to be unaware of it. After Ning Lan’s bite, he bit into the mango from the other side, critiquing, “It’s really sweet.”
Before falling asleep, Ning Lan’s ears still felt a little warm.
Using his phone, he transferred what little money he had left to his aunt, then sent her a message, asking her to use this money to buy clothes of Ning Xuan. He remembered that when he went home during the New Year, the girl had been very unhappy that her family could not afford to buy her new clothes.
He suddenly was a little hopeful about his future, and he started to earnestly anticipate the arrival of the next day.
Times would always get better. Just like today.