Su Pei woke up in the middle of the night feeling thirsty. He reached out a hand to grope blindly in the darkness, soon grabbing hold of a bottle of mineral water.
Su Pei found himself much more awake after downing half the bottle’s contents, and he discovered that he was lying on an unfamiliar sofa. It was surprisingly comfortable, and someone had even covered him with a blanket. He had sort of expected to find himself lying on the floor after waking up from his drunken stupor. This was much better.
He sat up slowly, taking in his surroundings. The hotel room he was in was definitely not his own. It was far too luxurious.
“You’re awake.” A voice came from his side.
Su Pei slowly turned his head, only to catch sight of He Yiming. The man was sitting in an armchair located in the corner of the room. He had a notebook on his leg.
Su Pei still felt dizzy, as if he were on a boat in turbulent waters. He was not even sure whether he was truly awake, or still dreaming.
Su Pei rubbed his face with a hand, groaning weakly.
“I…” He paused. Then, uncertainly, he asked, “What am I doing here?”
He Yiming said, “You grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, saying you wanted to talk with me and whatnot. I had no choice but to take you to my room.”
Despite himself, Su Pei smiled. That sounded just like him. He should have seen it coming.
Su Pei shifted onto his side so that he could see He Yiming’s face more comfortably. The setting was familiar. It was as if they had been transported back to college; the drama club’s rehearsal would end late, so they would crash in the rehearsal room for the night and chat until dawn.
Back then, he and He Yiming had not needed to be careful around each other. They had not had to avoid discussing any topics. They had talked to each other about anything and everything, happily chatting through the night in hushed tones.
“I saw that private museum you started recently on the Internet. The remote virtual experience system is great,” Su Pei said. His words spilled out unfiltered because he was still somewhat drunk.
“I didn’t develop it,” He Yiming said. “I just paid for it.”
Su Pei frowned. “Well, you were right to sponsor it.”
“I have a very clear assessment of my work,” He Yiming said with a smile. “What about you?”
Su Pei carefully pulled the blanket onto his body. “Well, I’m still just working with the cast and crew. We estimate that there are still over two months left before we can wrap the shoot. This drama has a good cast, and there’s a large investment in it…”
He Yiming’s brows furrowed.
Su Pei added, “To tell you the truth, Fang Ziling may look difficult to work with, but the actor playing the male lead is far more troublesome. If there are more than thirty words in a line, his brain will crash. We’ve been re-shooting all day because of that. Honestly, Fang Ziling is actually good at acting. I’ve also learned a lot from this show. I’ll have an easier time if I decide to write an espionage movie in the future.”
He Yiming had no interest in his screenwriting experience.
“How’s your novel going?” He asked.
Su Pei’s voice suddenly faltered. “I’m working on it,” he deflected.
“I don’t believe you,” He Yiming said frankly. “Two years ago, you told me that you were writing a novel about the medical system and the complexity of doctor-patient relationships, with a doctor as the main character. Haven’t you finished it yet?”
Su Pei stressed again, “I’m working on it.”
He Yiming’s tone was icy when he next spoke. “How much have you written then? Have you finished the first draft? Wrote a hundred thousand words? Fifty thousand words? You’ve been wasting your time writing a script with that garbage crew. Do you still have the energy to write novels?”
Su Pei’s pale face flushed. He could even feel his shoulders trembling slightly. The last time he and He Yiming had quarreled, it had been over his screenwriting career. He had thought that He Yiming would change his attitude this time, but he was still trying to pick a fight over it.
“Your good friend Bai Wenchen invested in this show.” Su Pei’s tone had also turned remarkably cooler by this point. “How can you still have the guts to say that it has a garbage crew?”
He Yiming shut his mouth, pursing his lips.
However, Su Pei could hear He Yiming’s voice in his head as if he were still talking out loud. He Yiming’s aura was so strong that it was like a physical presence. On top of that, his falcon-like eyes framed by his thick eyebrows, were far too expressive. They conveyed exactly what He Yiming was thinking even if he did not say a word.
Su Pei often felt that He Yiming possessed more natural charisma than most actors.
Finally, he snapped. Raising his voice, he said, “This is my job! You don’t know how much pressure I’m under!”
He Yiming retorted, “What’s the point? Is the play you are writing now your own? These days, all you do is write for others. How is that different from ghostwriting? You don’t even want to read it again once you’re done with it.”
He kept his volume low, but it was the dead of night, and his voice rang out clearly in the quiet room. Every word hammered into Su Pei’s ears.
Su Pei felt a burst of sadness as more memories flooded into his mind. Every word they threw at each other was almost the same as their last quarrel. They always came back to this. The feeling of running around in circles was as exhausting as it was heart-breaking.
“Maybe I don’t deserve to be your friend anymore,” he murmured.
He slowly got up from the sofa.
Caught off-guard, He Yiming asked, “What are you doing?”
Su Pei said, “I’ll go back.”
The way He Yiming had looked at him just now had been unbearable. Su Pei could not stand it for another second. There was no reason why he had to remain here and put up with the other’s disappointed and judgemental looks.
However, the alcohol hindered his actions. He still felt dizzy, and getting up was a struggle for him. To make matters worse, his fingers were trembling from the intensity of his emotions. To top it all off, he had no idea where his shoes were. He kicked aside the hotel slippers with a frustrated grunt.
He Yiming hurried to his side. He looked down at him. “You’re drunk, Su Pei!”
Su Pei shook his head and mumbled, “I’m not drunk… He Yiming, you have no idea what’s been going on with me for a few years now. You have no right to say that my work is meaningless… meaningless…”
He was still woozy, and did not realize that he had repeated that last word. Though he wanted nothing more than to get out, he did not have the strength to stand up and leave. He felt like he was trapped in a cruel dream.
As Su Pei stood in front of him, He Yiming ran his eyes over him. His lips were pale, almost bloodless. He had a slender build, and his shoulders were rail-thin. He looked like a ghost wandering at night. He was still shaking slightly, though He Yiming could not tell if it was due to his anger or the alcohol.
He Yiming would only need one hand. He could press Su Pei down on the couch…
But what was the point? Su Pei was drunk and confused. His voice was barely a whisper.
This was exactly why the devil on He Yiming’s shoulder dared to shout rather than whisper its evil thoughts. Su Pei’s vulnerable state and delicate looks were like a siren song to He Yiming.
Su Pei was still playing hide and seek with his shoes. He Yiming finally could not stand to watch any longer. He stepped forward and pushed at Su Pei until he stumbled back down onto the sofa.
“You’re drunk. Don’t go anywhere, just sleep here.”
His tone left no room for argument.
However, Su Pei suddenly pushed He Yiming away, before squeezing his hand.
He Yiming yanked his hand back like he had received an electric shock. The suddenness of the contact stunned him into silence. He dared not touch Su Pei again.
It seemed like the dam had finally broken. The words began pouring from Su Pei’s mouth. “I have a mortgage on my back, but my home isn’t in a school district1School district houses are houses within a school district in China that allow students free admission to the nearest school. Students who take advantage of school district houses can enter the nearest school without exams. (source) A school district is a special-purpose district that operates local public primary and secondary schools in various nations. (source), so Little Cookie couldn’t get into a good public school. My divorce with Shen Lan caused her performance in the entrance exams to suffer, so I had no choice but to send her to a private school. Every month, I have to pay for the mortgage and Little Cookie’s school. How am I supposed to afford all the extracurricular activities? Dance classes and swimming lessons are the most basic ones. My mom also helps me take care of Little Cookie, so I have to give her some money every month, right? I wish that all these problems would just disappear, but it’s just not that simple…”
Tears slipped down his face, but he did not feel them. He was so distraught that he seemed to have forgotten that He Yiming was still standing in front of him.
Finally, He Yiming broke the silence. His voice was soft. “Okay, I won’t criticize your work anymore. Keep on being a screenwriter and work with whatever crew you want. I won’t say anything.”
He brushed Su Pei’s cheeks with the back of his hand, gently wiping away his tears. He guided Su Pei into a lying position again. “… Sleep now. Have a good rest.”
After getting all his worries off his chest, the storm raging inside Su Pei had finally subsided. He closed his eyes and murmured, “Don’t… mock me…”
In a low voice, He Yiming coaxed, “I never have.”
Su Pei closed his eyes, rolling over on the sofa. He let out a groan. “He Yiming…”
He Yiming immediately straightened and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Su Pei murmured, “The sofa’s too soft… I can’t sleep well… It makes my back hurt…”
For a moment, He Yiming was quiet once more. He had almost forgotten how picky Su Pei could be about the environment he was in. They used to travel together back then, and Su Pei had always had to buy a Soft Sleeper ticket even if it was just a five-hour train ride2In China, some trains have Soft Sleeper class. The compartment is more spacious, the berth is wider and longer, and the compartment has a door that separates it from the aisle and provides a quiet and private room for the passengers inside. (source).
Such a person was now suffering in the Secrets of Rongcheng crew.
The next morning, Su Pei woke up with a headache. He was not a good drinker in the slightest. Although he had just woken up, his body felt like it was made of lead. He noticed that he was in a double bed, and that prompted him to try and slowly work through his memories from the previous evening. His memory had become kind of spotty midway through dinner.
He was still thinking hard when He Yiming emerged from the bathroom.
He Yiming glanced at him and said, “Finally awake? I’ve already been to the gym.”
He toweled himself off and changed into his clothes.
Su Pei could not help but peek at He Yiming’s body. He felt that He Yiming’s muscles were even more impressive than when they had been in college. The visual impact of a man who had grown older looking even more fit than in his youthful years made Su Pei sober up in an instant.
However, Su Pei did not have long to dwell on it, because he suddenly remembered that he was supposed to go to the set that day. He launched himself out of bed and began getting ready to leave. He asked He Yiming, “When are you leaving?”
He Yiming said, “My plane’s in two hours.”
Su Pei felt a pang of regret. “Then, let’s meet again next time.”
He was in a better mood now. Yao Zhicheng had been right after all. Su Pei had blown the estrangement between him and He Yiming out of proportion. As long as they talked it through face-to-face, there was no obstacle they could not overcome.
He Yiming offered him a wry smile. “Aren’t you worried that I’ll say more things that you don’t want to hear?”
Su Pei said, “Didn’t we waste last night? Let’s catch up properly next time.”
He had the feeling that he and He Yiming had discussed something last night. However, Su Pei was not too worried about it, because he knew that he had the tendency to run his mouth when he was drunk, so he wasn’t too worried. It had probably just been some inane drunk talk.
He Yiming had already put on his shirt and trousers, and was now fastening his belt. Hearing Su Pei say this, he suddenly felt slightly at a loss. He had simply helped Su Pei into bed the previous night.
“Okay,” He Yiming said eventually. “Let’s meet again next time. Don’t leave it too long, though.”
Once they made the agreement, a sense of ease washed over them.
A while later, Su Pei arrived at the filming site. He quickly noticed that the director’s attitude toward him had changed somewhat. In addition, he found more than one person coming up to him to ask, “Mr. Su, why didn’t you say that He Yiming was your junior?”
Unfortunately, this light-hearted mood did not last long. The whole crew soon grew busy again. This was because their heroine, Fang Ziling, had suddenly caught a “fever”. As a result, they had to delay filming for three days, causing further disruptions to the shooting schedule. They decided to focus on filming other people’s scenes while she recovered. The male protagonist also took the opportunity to ask for another script revision.
In actuality, everyone in the crew knew that the “fever” was just an excuse. Fang Ziling had not actually fallen sick, and her driver had even been spotted taking her out of her hotel earlier that morning. She had taken three days off because she was actually going on a trip with Bai Wenchen.
As soon as Su Pei arrived on set, he was dragged into an emergency meeting. After they revised a few scenes, Su Pei went to take a rest.
Xiao Yan brought him lunch and immediately began gossiping, “Fang Ziling doesn’t have a fever at all. She’s in good health!”
Su Pei remembered how Fang Ziling and Bai Wenchen had been all over each other the previous evening. He was not very surprised by this development. What took him by surprise was Fang Ziling’s behavior. He had originally thought that she would be more professional.
Xiao Yan continued gossiping. This time, however, the topic involved Su Pei himself. “Mr. Su, you never mentioned that you and He Yiming went to college together! You’ve even been good friends all along!”
Su Pei did not want others to think that he had deliberately grown close to He Yiming for personal benefit. He shrugged. “We got along when we were in school, but we talked a lot less after graduation.”
Xiao Yan smiled slyly. “But you looked very familiar with each other. Yesterday, you went out for drinks to catch up. He even helped you with Fang Ziling.”
Su Pei was startled. “How did you know that?”
He remembered that Xiao Yan had not been at their table during dinner.
The author has something to say:
Today is the natural lure of Mr. Su.
And Mr. He, who struggles against evil thoughts!