Throughout their conversations, Jiang Ying had deployed a large arsenal of reaction memes. It took Qi Zhu a long time just to save them all. As he scrolled through their chat logs to collect the memes, he skimmed through the text of their conversations as well. There was never much of a break between messages. At some point, it had simply become a habit for them to talk to each other every day.
Near the top of the chat interface, next to the big ship, was the nickname Qi Zhu had given Jiang Ying—
He had set that nickname back in middle school.
Jiang Ying had yet to hit his last few growth spurts back then, but his natural good looks were already starting to shine. Whenever girls from other classes passed under their classroom window, they would crane their necks up to try to peek inside.
But at that time, Jiang Ying had already gained a reputation as their school's most fighty imp.
The fighty imp had two qualities. One, he loved to fight. Two, he loved to watch people fight.
Wherever there was a fight, there was sure to be Jiang Ying as well.
The Jiang family had gone out of their way to meet with Jiang Ying's homeroom teacher about this matter. They'd relayed an important message: For the health and psychological stability of all other students, it would be best to have Jiang Ying sit with Qi Zhu.
Qi Zhu didn't usually talk much, so it was only natural that he wouldn't get into disputes with others very often. If Jiang Ying sat with him, Jiang Ying wouldn't be able to start fights with him and he wouldn't be able to watch Qi Zhu fight.
That was the same as torture for Jiang Ying. He constantly complained that Qi Zhu was boring and uninteresting, and those complaints had been going on for years.
Qi Zhu's walk down memory lane was interrupted when his cell phone buzzed. A certain imp who had claimed he was going to bed half an hour ago suddenly started to message him.
[Fighty Imp]: [poke poke]
[Fighty Imp]: Class Monitor, your light is too bright. It's affecting the quality of my sleep.
[Fighty Imp]: Spits.jpg
[Fighty Imp]: I bet you've already memorized that script of yours. You've done enough. Hurry up and go to sleep.
[Fighty Imp]: How old are you, huh? You're all grown up and still pulling all-nighters? You're really something else.
Qi Zhu glanced at the dim light next to him, then looked over at the door to Jiang Ying's room. Then he got up and turned off the lamp.
In his heart, he thought, Good night.
As promised, the variety show resumed filming early the next morning. Qi Zhu heard the crew knock on his door at 5:30. His room was tidy, and he was ready to face the cameras.
Qi Zhu took his work very seriously. As netizens had previously said, he could always adjust his demeanor and expression to perfectly suit the requirements of his role.
"Do you have a task for us?" Qi Zhu asked the crew member.
"Yes, right here. Pick a card, then go wake up the person whose name is on the card," said the crew member, holding out two cards.
After choosing, Qi Zhu asked, "Are you sure you want me to wake him up?"
"Can you?" The crew member had heard about their bad relationship. With Qi Zhu asking a question like that, the crew member felt himself getting nervous. "If it's no good, we can have you switch."
"It's fine." Qi Zhu nodded. "I'll do it. If it's anyone else… they might not be able to get him up."
When Qi Zhu stepped out of his room, he found that T.ATW's leader Fu Zhi was already awake. Fu Zhi, wearing a pair of spectacles, was sitting in the living room and reading the morning paper. He looked up and greeted Qi Zhu with a nod.
Qi Zhu crossed the hall and knocked on Jiang Ying's door. As expected, there was no answer.
"Do you have the key?"
The crew member handed it over, and Qi Zhu unlocked the door.
As soon as they stepped inside, Qi Zhu and the accompanying crew members all fell silent.
Jiang Ying hadn't gotten under the covers. He was still wrapped up in the blanket Qi Zhu had put around him last night. He was sprawled out horizontally across the bed, and he'd kicked his pajama pants off at some point. They lay on the floor while the blanket only half-covered Jiang Ying's crab-print underpants.
"Cut this part out," Qi Zhu deadpanned. His tone betrayed no hint of what he was feeling.
The crew member was a little awed. Qi-laoshi really was a person who had experience with inconceivable scenes. Without panicking or even reacting at all, he'd simply asked for this unseemly footage to be cut.
"Jiang Little Ying, get up. It's ten already," Qi Zhu lied. He adjusted the blanket to cover Jiang Ying properly, shook him twice, then swiftly dodged out of the way.
The camera crew watched, thoroughly baffled.
Jiang #2 slowly opened his eyes, took a deep breath, and sat up. Then, in a petulant voice full of rage and resentment, he bellowed, "What do you mean get up?! It's the middle of the night, and you're telling me to get up?! And you're lying about the time! You're literally just like my mother! Are the chickens even awake yet?!"
As he spoke, he grabbed a pillow and chucked it in Qi Zhu's general direction.
Qi Zhu lifted one hand and calmly caught the pillow.
"See," Qi Zhu said to the cameras. His expression remained blank and emotionless. "The legendary wake-up tantrum."
The crew members all shivered in unison. Qi-laoshi truly knew everything.
"The chickens woke up a long time ago. If you don't get up, you won't get a ride," Qi Zhu said, ignoring Jiang Ying's complaints. He continued, coldly, "It's fine if you stay here when we go into town. You're clumsy and incapable of doing physical labor, so you'll be useless to us anyway."
Out in the hall, the director was starting to worry that these two would start fighting right then and there. But, unexpectedly, Qi Zhu's taunts seemed to be rather effective—
"Oh, shut up. You're the one who can't do physical labor. Qi-laoshi is such a precious natural treasure. What can you do?"
Jiang Ying was finally awake. He scrambled out of bed and started getting into his clothes. "We're going into town? Is there anything fun to do in town?"
As a city boy, born and raised, Jiang Ying was pretty interested in these rural places.
After getting dressed and combing his hair, Jiang #2 stepped out of his room with an air of confidence around him. He greeted everyone, starting with the crew. "Yo, director. You're up early, sir."
Qi Zhu, behind him, paused for a moment before clearing his throat, as though to remind Jiang Ying of something.
Jiang Ying looked back at him and asked, "You didn't get enough sleep, did you? You're acting weird already."
Qi Zhu ignored Jiang Ying's words and stood in place for a while with a thoughtful expression on his face.
The task the four guests received that morning was to go into town, pick up supplies, and find the fifth guest who was hidden somewhere in town. Each guest's means of getting into town would be determined by the method of transportation they drew from a random lottery. Guests were prohibited from sharing each other's 'vehicles'.
Fu Zhi drew a compact electric car, and he'd already taken off in it. Chi Yunkai got stuck with a little wooden raft, leaving him with no choice but to slowly paddle his way down the nearby waterway. Qi Zhu and Jiang Ying were left behind, both staring blankly at the strip of paper they'd drawn.
Jiang Ying had drawn a bicycle. And for Qi Zhu, roller skates.
"Director," Qi Zhu said. "I… don't think I'll make it in time?"
He could skate all morning and he still wouldn't reach the town.
"Lunch will be served at noon. Anyone who doesn't make it in time won't get to eat," the director answered mercilessly.
"Hey, uh…" Jiang Ying very casually slung an arm around the director's shoulders. "Let me talk to you about something. I don't know how to ride a bike."
The director had no answer for that.
"How about we switch?" Qi Zhu suggested, smoothly reaching out and pulling Jiang Ying away from the director.
"Under the rules, if you're the one suggesting a trade, you have to fulfill one of Jiang Ying's wishes," the director said, deciding to make a rare exception for these two.
Jiang Ying instantly perked up. "You hear that? Fulfill my wish, or I'll push this bike all the way to town."
"Alright," Qi Zhu answered without even taking a second to think. "Give it some thought. What do you want?"
They were recording a variety show here; this wasn't some idle promise made as a joke. The director hadn't expected Qi Zhu to agree so readily. Qi Zhu's promise to fulfill a wish, caught on camera, carried an unexpected weight.
"Then," Jiang Ying said, "give me a vote in the popularity polls and say something super nice about me."
Qi Zhu was silent. Was that all?
The director also fell silent and asked himself the exact same question.
As it turned out, Jiang #2 was extremely serious about celebrity rankings. He only agreed to hand over his scrap of paper after Qi Zhu promised to cast a vote for him after they got home.
"Go ahead, I'll watch the house," Jiang Ying said. He'd put on the roller skates and started gliding around while waving goodbye to Qi Zhu.
Just seeing Jiang Ying's carefree attitude was enough to get Qi Zhu a bit riled up. "Go get a stick of bamboo," he snapped. "I'll take you with me."
Jiang Ying cocked his head, confused.
Ten minutes later, a bizarre sight appeared on the road leading into the nearby town. Popular actor Qi Zhu rode a bicycle with a bar of bamboo attached to the back. And attached to that bamboo stick was a certain internet idol, gliding along on roller skates.
Even at his age, Jiang Ying had never experienced anything like this before. He was thoroughly thrilled, and he even felt some goodwill towards Qi Zhu.
"Are you tired?" Jiang Ying shouted, moving his feet to skate a little closer.
"I'm fine," Qi Zhu said. "We're almost there."
The town wasn't extraordinarily far from where they were staying. After half an hour, the two guests successfully arrived at their destination. The town was extremely remote; not many people recognized them. Plus, the director had given the villagers a heads up that they would be filming there, so the guests and crew weren't subjected to a lot of curious looks when they arrived.
"Come," Jiang Ying beckoned, fishing out a crumpled tissue from his pocket. "Qi-laoshi worked hard. I'll wipe your sweat for you."
"Hn. Here, take ten yuan. Go buy some edamame." Qi Zhu accepted the crumpled up tissue and took out the funds the director had prepared for them. As he counted out a few bills, he added, "Do you know what edamame looks like?"
Qi Zhu looked up.
"Ogre Jiang?" he called out.
"Jiang Ying?" he tried again.
In the few seconds it had taken Qi Zhu to count out some money, Jiang Ying had vanished.
"Where did he go?" Qi Zhu asked the camera crew.
The cameramen and crew members all shook their heads helplessly, indicating they had no clue.
"Did any of you see anyone fighting on our way over here?" Qi Zhu asked.
The crew following them seemed to think about that for a moment. Finally, one of them pointed Qi Zhu in a certain direction.
An early March rain had just passed through the town. The air was damp and carried a faint floral scent. The crevices of the crooked bluestone paths were still wet with the lingering signs of rain, and droplets of water still hung on the petals of the flowers lining the road. Crisscrossing footsteps from passing villagers stained the streets.
Outside a fruit stall at the end of the alley, two aunties had gotten into an argument over something or the other. They were standing outside the stall, sniping back and forth at each other. Each one was louder than the other, and it seemed there would be no end to their dispute. Neither of them was willing to give an inch.
And Jiang #2, who had wandered away from the camera crew, had mysteriously managed to find a stool somewhere. He'd plopped himself down in that stool to watch the fight, utterly captivated.