Qi Zhu stared.
This guy really was incorrigible. Jiang Ying was a leopard who couldn't change his spots.
The camera crew also stared.
As did the bodyguards who finally caught up to them.
All the bystanders simultaneously thought the exact same thing—
Qi-laoshi is way too impressive.
Jiang Ying's actions were thoroughly baffling to the crew. An ordinary person who happened upon an argument in the street would surely avert their gaze and quickly walk away. But Jiang Ying had settled in to watch. He'd even found a stool from somewhere and turned himself into a proper spectator.
"What… is he watching?" the director asked cautiously.
"Want a snack?" Qi Zhu offered, maliciously. He had meant this as a taunt, but when he offered Jiang Ying a pack of crab-flavored sunflower seeds that Jiang Ying had stuffed into his pocket yesterday…
"Thanks." Jiang #2 reached out and took the packet like it was the most natural thing in the world. He was completely oblivious to the fact that Qi Zhu was standing right behind him. His attention was still wholly devoted to the fight unfolding in front of him.
These two aunties weren't very skilled debaters. As Jiang Ying listened, his brow began to furrow. He was clearly getting worked up, and soon even started commentating while gesticulating wildly at the two combatants—
"Oi, the auntie in the red. That's right, you." Jiang Ying couldn't hold back any longer. "You're getting sidetracked. You're supposed to be arguing that this other lady overcharged you for her produce, but you've let her distract you. Take a minute to think through the logic of your arguments before you speak."
Jiang Ying turned, pointing at the other woman now. "As for this other auntie—yeah, you. No offense, but do you even know how to hold a conversation? The problem here is your produce prices. You've been avoiding that subject the whole time. Is that any way to have a fight?"
Qi Zhu was speechless.
As if spectating wasn't already bad enough, this little imp had started giving unsolicited feedback.
The two aunties fell silent. They seemed to ponder something for a long moment before a foreboding aura began to rise from them both. Qi Zhu hastily reached out and grabbed Jiang Ying's collar.
Jiang Ying squawked.
"Pardon us," Qi Zhu said, nodding an apology to the two aunties and bodily dragging Jiang Ying away.
Qi Zhu was popular, and he'd starred in many films and dramas. Viewers of all ages had seen his works. As he walked over to Jiang Ying, various villagers had recognized him. Several of them had even called out the name of a character he'd played.
It was only then that Jiang Ying remembered… he had been shooting a variety show, hadn't he?
"Just cut this part out," he called out to the crew.
"You've impressed me. You can get lost even when we're filming a show," Qi Zhu remarked dryly. "What kind of hobby is this?"
"I didn't just develop this hobby a day or two ago. It's not like you didn't know about it," Jiang Ying argued. He hadn't gotten a chance to witness the end of that fight, and he was feeling unfulfilled. "Alright, alright. I'll focus on work. No more nonsense. What am I supposed to be doing?"
Qi Zhu discreetly put away the money he had planned on giving Jiang Ying for edamame. "Let's go together. We just need to pick up some groceries."
Jiang Ying had left the house on roller skates. Once they moved away from the alleyway, the streets were smoothly paved. Since Qi Zhu had said they would go together, Jiang Ying naturally grabbed hold of Qi Zhu's sleeve and allowed himself to be pulled along. He drifted down the street freely, without having to move a muscle.
Qi Zhu suddenly stopped and pushed Jiang Ying to the side. "Walk on your own."
"Dunno how," Jiang Ying claimed. He was absolutely shameless, clinging tight to Qi Zhu's sleeve and refusing to let go.
He was like a cumbersome wad of gum. Impossible to detach.
Since he hadn't finished watching the fight earlier, Jiang Ying felt an itch rising in his heart. He was determined to have a row with Qi Zhu. But Qi Zhu refused to answer his provocations or engage him in a fight.
The director, who had followed them this whole time, finally spoke up: "Qi Zhu, it looks like Jiang Ying doesn't know how to roller skate. For safety's sake, how about you help him out?"
Jiang Ying was an esteemed guest, after all. The director had to consider the repercussions here. If Jiang Ying fell and hurt himself, the show would surely suffer the consequences.
Qi Zhu opened his mouth, as though to say something. But he decided against it in the end and silently started to move again, leading a certain roller-skate wearing imp along.
Jiang Ying rarely got such a golden opportunity to take advantage of Qi Zhu. He drifted along gleefully, chattering nonstop about this or that.
"Qi Zhu, ah… your expression right now is super unflattering," Jiang Ying said. "Or is that just the unlovable face you were born with?"
"Shut up. No one will have an opinion if you just keep your mouth shut."
"Nonsense," Jiang Ying countered. "Everyone says I'm the perfect idol when I don't talk."
"Give that some thought," Qi Zhu said. "Do you think that's a compliment?"
Jiang Ying fell silent.
As the two of them made their way through the town, some passersby recognized them. And, hearing their conversation, those passersby all had to lift a hand to hide a laugh.
With some useless baggage in tow, Qi Zhu followed the director's instructions and bought what they needed. Jiang Ying wasn't completely useless in the end. Every time Qi Zhu got ready to pay for something, Jiang Ying cut in and started aggressively haggling with the shopkeeper.
Jiang Ying couldn't even name all the vegetables they bought, but he was an expert haggler. No shopkeeper could out-talk him. After going around in circles a few times, Jiang Ying always won. The guests had only been given enough funds to buy what they needed, but with Jiang Ying's efforts, he and Qi Zhu wound up with quite a lot of cash left over.
"Jiang #2, you really don't need to worry about saving money for our show," the director called out from the side, as a friendly reminder.
"Don't mind him," Qi Zhu said, pausing again as he spoke. "He just likes the process of haggling."
"Oh, you think you know everything. Would it kill you to say a little less or… ouch." Jiang Ying hadn't expected Qi Zhu to stop so suddenly. Unable to stop his skates in time, he promptly face-planted against Qi Zhu's back. "…tsk, do you know how to walk or not?"
He was just about to lecture Qi Zhu a little more when he lifted his head and caught sight of a figure over Qi Zhu's shoulder.
That figure was a bit familiar.
Jiang Ying suddenly remembered. He'd seen that face during his last audition, and he'd seen that face during the cast dinner—
It was Miao Ye, from T.ATW's agency.
At the audition, Miao Ye had been the one to provoke Jiang Ying. But he'd crumpled like a paper bag when Jiang Ying fired back. He didn't seem to have a knack for psychological warfare, and in fact seemed quite weak-willed. This was the sort of guy who couldn't take an insult. He could start shit, but he couldn't follow through. Jiang Ying knew picking a fight with him would be meaningless.
"Director." Jiang Ying pointed to that familiar figure who idled not far away. "Look over there. That's our fifth guest, isn't it?"
"Hey, yeah! You're right. There were a lot of scheduling conflicts with guests this time, so Miao Ye was also a replacement like you."
Before the director even finished speaking, Miao Ye spotted them.
"Qi-laoshi! I'm looking forward to working with you again," Miao Ye greeted, waving enthusiastically. He hadn't spotted Jiang Ying yet. "I heard through the grapevine that you would be participating in this show."
"Did you also hear… that I'm on this show too?!" Jiang Ying announced as he slid out from behind Qi Zhu and held a hand out to Miao Ye. "Give us the goods."
Miao Ye still had some lingering trauma from his first meeting with Jiang Ying. He jumped and yelped, without any care for whether or not they were filming, "Fuck! Why is it you?!"
"Why can't it be me?" Jiang Ying shot back. "Come on, come on. Give us whatever you're supposed to give us for completing this task. What are you shaking for? You think I'm gonna eat you? Boo!"
Miao Ye instantly grabbed the bag on the table next to him, turned, and bolted.
Qi Zhu stared.
"Don't start thinking you can run," Jiang Ying called out. He took off after Miao Ye with a fierce kick of his skates, zooming down the street with practiced ease.
The director was dumbfounded. He stammered as he turned to Qi Zhu. "He… he…"
Qi Zhu remained as calm and indifferent as ever. He only held a hint of sympathy in his eyes as he turned to the director and said, "Back in school, he was in the roller-skating club."
The director fell silent.
"It's fine," Qi Zhu said. "This is just a little scene."