Su Pei had underestimated the speed at which gossip spread. The crew could not keep their mouths shut at all.
The moment one person who had been at the table the previous evening mentioned what had happened, it did not take long for the rest of the crew to find out. Su Pei could hear them whispering amongst themselves, accusing He Yiming of having called Fang Ziling illiterate and how she had been mocked as not having read a single book in her life.
Now that Su Pei was sober, he began to think that the situation had not been as amusing as he had thought.
Xiao Yan said, “I still think it’s funny. Didn’t Fang Ziling boast about her love for reading before, claiming that she was knowledgeable about literature? Turns out she could not even name three Chinese writers when she ended up on a game reality show some time ago. She set herself up for a fall a long time ago. He Yiming just called her bluff in front of everyone, which is great for you.”
Su Pei privately thought that he did not need He Yiming to look after him. However, he could not say this to Xiao Yan.
He just warned her, “Don’t post about this online; you’ll get in trouble.”
He knew that Xiao Yan had a personal account where she posted about fashion topics, shared memes, and made vague comments related to the crew. She was very dedicated to her social media presence. Her content was fresh and fun, and she had recently begun to attract a greater following.
Xiao Yan hurriedly assured him, “Mr. Su, I still have a sense of propriety. You worry too much.”
She also tried to prod him for more details about his relationship with He Yiming. However, Su Pei, was reluctant to reminisce in front of a young woman and risk sounding like an old man missing the good old times. He merely gave her a vague answer and moved on to other topics.
The truth was that there were some coincidences he could not talk about without sounding boastful. As a result, Su Pei hardly ever brought up certain things about his past.
He also knew the truth within that truth—back in college, Su Pei had been the first one to believe beyond doubt that He Yiming would accomplish something wonderful and become someone of great eminence. Su Pei had seen him for his incredible potential, even before anyone else had.
Back then, He Yiming’s father had gone bankrupt, his mother had taken ill, and his relationship with his parents had been tense. He had been on the verge of dropping out, and spent his waking hours wandering around campus. He would idle away time in the drama club, reeling girls in with a gentlemanly veneer only to drive them away the next second.
At that time, everyone—teachers, classmates, and members of the drama club—had regarded He Yiming as nothing more than a cynical freak. No one had been optimistic about him, yet Su Pei alone had insisted that He Yiming was the smartest and most talented person he had ever met.
He remembered that He Yiming had been quiet, more a shadow than a person when he had first attended the drama club. He had sat in a corner from beginning to end, just watching their rehearsal in silence. However, the first time they had talked, which had been after their rehearsal had ended, Su Pei had immediately realized that every one of He Yiming’s suggestions had been accurate.
Sometimes, Su Pei would feel that he cared so much about his friendship with He Yiming that he saw no way of letting go. One of the reasons was that he had been the first to see He Yiming’s true worth. He was the first to have discovered the diamond in the rough.
Su Pei kept his mouth shut and did not mention his past with He Yiming. He was rarely strict with Xiao Yan, but this time his tone was stern as he told her, “Focus on writing a good script, and stop focusing on gossip.”
At the same time, on the highway leading to the airport, He Yiming was in his car. The chauffeur drove smoothly, making the trip a comfortable experience. The early winter scenery flew by outside the car window. The ground had already grown dry, and the tree branches brittle, as if they were just waiting for the first snow.
As he watched the cold landscape flashing past, He Yiming remembered something from a long time ago. During the winter of The Other Side of Time’s publication, he had gone on a road trip with Su Pei for the first time. They had driven to a remote place where, contrary to expectations, there had been no quaint village entrance or charming hidden shops in sight. Needless to say, they had ended up arguing on the side of the road.
Anger had eventually given way to hunger, and so they had sat on the grass for a makeshift picnic, opposite a large wheat field that had been harvested. The outlines of the distant mountains had gradually blurred into the deepening twilight.
They had packed roast chicken, bread, and apples to eat. The magic of a full stomach had convinced them to stop bickering, and they had had a good chat.
All of a sudden, Su Pei had said, “I’m getting married.”
He Yiming had blurted out, “What? Why?”
Su Pei had smiled at him. “Do you need to ask why?”
He Yiming repressed the thought. He did not want to remember anything more. He had thought that, as time passed, the memory would fade away and, eventually, there would be no trace of it left in him. Unfortunately, he had been wrong. Even right now, the memory of that place and Su Pei’s voice at that time was still so fresh. It was like a wound that had never stopped bleeding.
Every time he sunk back into the memory, he could only try to crawl out of it.
At this thought, He Yiming turned on his phone and sent a message to Yao Zhicheng. [I went to see Su Pei. He’s lost some weight but is in good spirits. Everyone in the crew likes him.]
Three days later, Fang Ziling returned after recovering from her so-called fever.
She was carrying several large boxes full of coats, trench coats, skirts, jackets, boots, and high heels; along with all kinds of dazzling accessories such as scarves, hats, and sunglasses. There were also many small souvenirs. It took her assistant a while to move everything into her hotel room.
While this loot had been expected, Fang Ziling had brought one more thing that caught everyone off-guard: a book.
It was clear that Fang Ziling had taken He Yiming’s mockery to heart. She had asked her assistant to fill her vintage Louis Vuitton suitcase with a boxload of books and leave it in her trailer car.
Upon her return, Fang Ziling always kept a book at hand whenever she was in between scenes, and this would usually be a novel by Keigo Higashino1Keigo Higashino is a prolific and successful Japanese author chiefly known for his mystery novels, many of which have won prizes and been turned into films and TV series. Some of his notable works are: Naoko, The Devotion of Suspect X, and Miracles of the Namiya General Store. (source). However, she would just flip through the novel for five minutes before asking her assistant to take a few pictures of her. Afterwards, the book would quickly turn into a phone pad.
Thanks to this strategy, no one dared to say anything in front of Fang Ziling. In addition, Fang Ziling had distributed little gifts among the staff members. Even Xiao Yan had stopped gossiping for a few days after accepting one. She had gone as far as to post a photo on her social media with the description, [Ms. Ziling gave our crew a small gift. She’s so sweet. Much love!]
On top of everything else, Fang Ziling’s attitude toward Su Pei was much better than before. Su Pei did not know what Bai Wenchen had said to her, but she no longer interfered with Su Pei’s work.
Su Pei knew all too well that this was because of He Yiming’s influence.
It was not just Fang Ziling who had changed. The director had also become polite to Su Pei.
On this particular day of filming, they were supposed to shoot a dance party. In it, there would be a scene where the heroine became drunk. Fang Ziling drank a small glass of white wine before filming so that the slight tingling in her limbs would help her performance be more realistic. In the early winter evening, a soft blush bloomed on her cheeks.
During break time, Fang Ziling and Su Pei had the opportunity to chat. It was the first time they had talked one-on-one since the day of the dinner party.
“How do you think I just acted?” Fang Ziling asked with a smile. She was wrapped in a down jacket, revealing only the hem of her gorgeous dress.
Su Pei said truthfully, “You were great. You acted just the way I intended Ms. Wen Li to be.”
Fang Ziling chuckled and said, “I hope that you don’t think I’m arrogant. I just can act much better than him!” She was referring to the male protagonist with no acting skills, but plenty of powerful sponsors.
A short distance away, the assistant director was waving his arms and gesturing at said male protagonist.
Su Pei said, “I think the director would agree with you.”
Fang Ziling opened a delicate metal cigarette box and handed a stick to Su Pei. They smoked together.
She asked casually, “You and He Yiming have known each other for so long. Have you ever thought about working with him?”
Su Pei was not surprised when the topic turned to He Yiming. Still, he continued to practice tai chi.2Tai chi is an internal (spiritual/mental) Chinese martial art which focuses on self-defense. When it comes to movement, tai chi is the practice of appropriate change in response to outside forces, of yielding to and redirecting an attack rather than meeting it with opposing force. (source) So, in other words, Su Pei is deflecting here. Smiling neutrally, he said, “He and I are in different leagues.”
He had been a screenwriter for three years, but he knew better than to brag.
Fang Ziling felt that he was merely acting humble. She beamed at him and said, “Maybe he will invest in film and television? I’ve recently heard that there’s been talk of making a biopic of him.”
It was Su Pei’s first time hearing about this. He Yiming had not even turned thirty years old yet, but he was already slated to have a biopic made of him. Su Pei would have never expected such a turn of events.
Thinking about Fang Ziling’s other comment, Su Pei remembered that He Yiming had mentioned something of the sort. He had said that Bai Wenchen had been trying to get him to invest in movies.
He joked, “If they made a biopic of He Yiming, what role would you like to play?”
The question put Fang Ziling in a difficult position. This was because He Yiming’s story did not have a heroine. Although he had had many entanglements throughout the years, no one could say he had ever found his true love.
Fang Ziling asked, “Well, didn’t He Yiming have a first love that broke his heart when he was in college?”
Su Pei said, “No. He was the one always breaking girls’ hearts instead.”
He took one final puff of his cigarette. Fang Ziling handed him another one. It was a slender, feminine cigarette that would usually look misplaced in a man’s hand, but it did not look out-of-place in the slightest when Su Pei held it between his fingers. The smoke he exhaled swirled up and became tinted gold by the light above them, turning into a sort of halo that framed his face. He looked softer like this, less haggard.
Fang Ziling suddenly realized that it was her first time standing so close to him. She looked at the screenwriter’s face carefully. His complexion was snow-white, and he looked pristine. Her previous impression of him had been one of frailty, but she could see now that the shape of his eyebrows evoked a gentle sort of fortitude.
Maybe he was also a storyteller.3In this context, being a storyteller (a novelist) would be more prestigious than being a screenwriter. I think the connotation is “someone who tells the stories they want” vs “someone who tells the stories they’re told”. Fang Ziling got lost in thought for a moment.
Su Pei looked at her and said, “Maybe you can play an original character.”
He was still joking, and his tone was light and casual.
Fang Ziling averted her eyes for a moment. Her lips curved up. “Really? But He Yiming definitely won’t like it if I play his love interest, right?”
Su Pei chuckled.
Fang Ziling suddenly said, “I really didn’t know that The Other Side of Time was written by you, Mr. Su. I didn’t realize that the author called Su Pei was you.”
Su Pei had not expected Fang Ziling to mention that. Moreover, her tone seemed to be insinuating something else.
“Have you heard of the novel before?”
Fang Ziling said, “I have, actually! I was rooming with a friend back then, and she gave me this novel one day. She told me that the heroine was a lot like me: beautiful, proud, and very independent… I finished it in a week. Afterwards, I kept wondering if the author knew me…” She trailed off and smiled.
Su Pei just continued smoking slowly. Fang Ziling scrutinized him. His calm expression remained unchanged, and he did not seem to be flattered by the compliment. Although he was smiling, his eyes were still filled with tired indifference.
She held back her laughter and asked, “When you were in college, did you also often make girls sad like He Yiming?”
Su Pei gave a rueful smile and said, “No. I’m different from He Yiming.”
“I don’t believe it. You guys are the same. I can tell.”
“Is that so? How?”
“You’re handsome and talented. Many people used to like you in college, right?”
Su Pei said, “I only had one girlfriend in college, and we got married after graduation.”
Fang Ziling’s eyes widened in surprise.
Su Pei hurried to clarify, “We’ve already divorced.”
“Why?” Fang Ziling blurted out.
Su Pei said, “We were too young when we got married. There were too many things in our future that we didn’t take into consideration back then.”
He sank into brief contemplation about his and Shen Lan’s problems.
In the end, it could only be summed up in that one sentence.
After finishing her cigarette, Fang Ziling fixed her make-up and declared that she was ready to continue shooting. She took off her down jacket, revealing her elegant dress.
“Mr. Su, it would’ve been nice if we had chatted earlier.”
Fang Ziling turned her head and smiled at Su Pei.
The author has something to say:
He Yiming: Su Pei! You are the heroine of my biopic!