When Qi Zhu spoke, his body still carried the clean scent of a fresh shower. He watched Jiang Ying unblinkingly. The solemn expression he'd worn while confessing gradually melted away, leaving a crafty sort of smile in his eyes.
Jiang Ying blinked, several times. He was thoroughly baffled. His pulse quickened, bit by bit.
Okay. Good. Gege likes me. Gege confessed to me.
Jiang Ying tried to be happy about that.
Ogre Jiang was furious.
This… this is it?
In order to devise a plan that would allow him to strike first, Jiang Ying had plotted and conspired all week. He'd drafted out a whole speech he wanted to make. He'd even taken notes in his diary and edited himself three times.
But those plans all fell apart in the face of reality. Before those words could make it out of Jiang Ying's mouth, Qi Zhu had cut him off.
When had this person learned to be so rude? Who taught him how to interrupt someone when they were speaking?
Only a paper-thin barrier had remained between them. It didn't really matter which one of them struck first. But the heart of a fighter and the heart of a lover were beating simultaneously within Jiang Ying. He was a little charmed, and he was a little pissed.
He had to fight back.
Jiang Ying bit him.
"You haven't changed at all, have you? When you can't win an argument against me, you bite." Qi Zhu pulled back his hand. A faint bite mark could be seen on his middle finger. He took a step back and gestured for Jiang Ying to speak. "Your turn."
Qi Zhu had struck first, and now it was Jiang Ying's turn. Fair enough.
"In your dreams," Jiang Ying snapped. He haughtily plopped himself down on Qi Zhu's bed, creasing the neatly spread sheets. "Impromptu interview question for the oh-so-popular actor—how did you know what I came here for?"
Qi Zhu leaned against the dresser. The belt of his bathrobe was only loosely knotted; the collar was slightly open. He learned forward just a little and threw the question back at Jiang Ying:
"Why do you think I left the door open for you?"
Jiang Ying fell silent.
That was true. When he barged in, he'd been a little thrilled that Qi Zhu had left his door slightly open.
"In that case, it should be your loss," Jiang Ying argued. He pointed to the piece of paper that Qi Zhu had placed on the nightstand. "I confessed first. I gave you that note."
"In that case, it should be your loss," Qi Zhu parroted. "I've confessed to you plenty of times already."
Jiang Ying was baffled. Again.
When had Qi Zhu developed such a strong desire for victory?
"Reading that comment doesn't count, that was a rainbow fart from some netizen. That was from my fan. You just happened to read it," Jiang Ying said. "You can't claim it as yours."
"I'm not talking about that. That was just to tease you for fun, I never intended to count it." Qi Zhu started drying his hair again as he spoke. "Besides that, there have been plenty of times."
With a slight hint of sympathy in his tone, Qi Zhu added, "Student Jiang, Ogre Jiang, you've lost yourself to me."
If the netizen comment didn't count, then besides that, what other 'times' were there?
"Think about it," Qi Zhu said, refusing to reveal his secrets.
Jiang Ying was so pissed.
But he also liked Qi Zhu so, so much.
What was he supposed to do?
"Qi-gege," Jiang Ying suddenly said.
Qi Zhu hummed a sound of acknowledgement. Whenever Jiang Ying came up with a devious plan, he would subconsciously bite the tip of his tongue and flash an evil little smile. Qi Zhu realized right away that Jiang Ying was planning something, but he remained calm and collected, and he didn't do anything to stop Jiang Ying.
"Then, now…" Jiang Ying suddenly stood up again. He put his left hand on Qi Zhu's neck, lifted himself up on his tiptoes, and gently pecked Qi Zhu's lips. His right hand—perhaps intentionally, perhaps not—brushed over Qi Zhu's waist and lower abdomen. "…it's your loss."
And then, with that, he fled.
He figured he could more or less consider that a successful execution of his 'flirt and run' plan.
"My loss?" Qi Zhu looked after Jiang Ying's retreating back and lightly swept his tongue over his own lower lip. "Then why are you running?"
Jiang-ge had strictly forbade Miao Ye from setting foot outside his room between the hours of 22:30 and 23:00. Miao Ye obediently stayed indoors. But at 23:30, he wanted to go out for some fresh air.
Just as he opened the door, Miao Ye saw a figure blitz past him, racing down the hall.
Miao Ye blinked.
What was that? What had just flown past him?
He blinked again.
Wasn't that… Jiang-ge?
Miao Ye suddenly wondered if his lack of popularity stemmed from his inability to cause trouble. It was the middle of the night. What kind of ruckus was Jiang-ge kicking up?
Jiang Ying zoomed back into his own room and received a QQ message from Qi Zhu.
[Class Monitor]: [poke poke]
[Class Monitor]: Ran away?
[Class Monitor]: You flirted, then ran?
[Cackling Big-Clawed Crab]: Learned it from you, sir.
[Cackling Big-Clawed Crab]: HonkingLaugh.jpg
[Cackling Big-Clawed Crab]: Impressed?
No response came for a long while. Jiang Ying decided to give Qi Jun a call to report his progress.
"Good lord, do you know what you're acting like right now?" Little Qi-zong lifted a glass of champagne. He was standing on a balcony, looking over the cityscape at night. "You're like a paparazzo, diligently reporting the details of your own love life."
The glittering lights of H City sprawled out beneath Qi Jun's feet. He took another sip from his champagne flute. "Jiang #2, if I'm remembering correctly, you originally wanted to be a reporter, right?"
"Hm? Well, yeah, who hasn't had some unrealized dreams? Just look at who my parents are. I couldn't go against them and become a paparazzo," Jiang Ying said hurriedly. He was anxious to get to the point. "Qi-zong, let's talk about what's really important."
"Alright, alright," Qi Jun said. "Back to the point. How's the battle going?"
"The battle is fierce," Jiang Ying said. He'd just dashed back into his room. When he held up his phone to his ear, he was still breathing a little hard. And his heart was still beating a little too fast.
On the other end of the line, Qi Jun rolled his eyes. "But you still have time to call me?"
"What are you thinking, you filthy adult?" Jiang Ying demanded.
Qi Jun hastily apologized. "Sorry."
Over the next thirty minutes, Jiang Ying spun a beautiful tale of what had just transpired. He told Qi Jun all about the battle, and exactly why it was fierce—
"I feel like Class Monitor has really spoiled like a bad apple," Jiang Ying concluded. "Who taught him to interrupt me? I could barely breathe when I had to hold back what I wanted to say! It felt worse than being cut off in a fight.
"There's tons that I still want to say. I have to let it all out."
"Then are you going back to say the rest? Now?" Qi Jun suggested.
"Can't," Jiang Ying rejected outright. "I just did a little something. If I go back now, I would lose face. Do you think I want to lose my face?"
"It's true what they say. A cracked pot comes with a cracked potlid. You two are both cracked in the head." The corners of Qi Jun's mouth twitched. "Other people desire each other when they're in love. You two just desire victory. Why do I have classmates like you?
"I'm telling you, victory isn't important. Feeling good is what's important. If you really want to win something, go fight for your victory in bed."
"What are you saying?! What pot?!" Jiang Ying only listened to the first half of what Qi Jun had said. "Qi Jun, you're an idiot. You're a guapi!"
Little Qi-zong of Guapi Media suddenly sobered up. "Sorry, sorry."
He was a bit tipsy, and he'd accidentally spoken from the heart.
"He said he confessed to me a bunch of times," Jiang Ying continued, ignoring Qi Jun's nonsense. "How come I never noticed?"
"Well, to any ordinary person, you confess and then you seal the deal in bed. What are you two doing? I think you have a pretty big problem. Class Monitor isn't as aggressive as you," Qi Jun continued. "Although, after our class reunion a while ago, we did all talk about it. You and Qi Zhu. One incurable troll, one high and mighty actor. Everyone thought you two were destined to be bachelors for life.
"But hey, you know what? They never imagined you two could really make a good match for each other."
After a moment, Qi Jun lifted his champagne glass to the sky and earnestly continued, "Seriously, congratulations and best wishes to the two of you. Thank you for your contribution to the harmony of our world. Thank you, Class Monitor, for taking in Jiang Ying. That brings us one step closer to world peace."
Then, after making that emotional toast, Qi Jun recalled Jiang Ying's earlier question and asked, "Has Class Monitor given you anything lately? Or has he told you anything?"
"Has he given me anything?" Jiang Ying glanced over at Gossip Buddy. "He gave me a smart speaker."
"Let me check it out," Qi Jun said.
"Little Buddy," Jiang Ying called out.
"Mhm?" Gossip Buddy answered, roused from its sleeping state. "Want to hear a song? I can recommend one…"
"It's this thing. It'll sing 'Good Luck Comes' for me at the drop of a hat." Jiang Ying switched their call into a video call and pointed the camera at Gossip Buddy to let Qi Jun take a look. "He told me he got it as a gift from a charity dinner we went to."
"I remember that dinner, I was there too. Why didn't I get one?" Qi Jun mused. "I don't think this is a domestic smart speaker. Let me see the manufacturer."
Jiang Ying found the label on Gossip Buddy's base. The speaker had been modified, and the signature on the label looked incredibly familiar. After a moment, Jiang Ying remembered—
It was the English name of the foreign friend who'd visited the set.
The dark horse who'd barged into the Top 20 of the 'Fight!' app.
Jiang Ying stared.
Wow. He seemed to have discovered something remarkable.
"Little Buddy, Jiang Ying?" he called out, activating the speaker with a prompt of his own name.
A smiling emoticon appeared on smart speaker's screen. "Jiang Ying. Cute."
Then, the speaker started reciting the recent Weibo search terms related to Jiang Ying.
Jiang Ying called out the names of several other celebrities, but Little Buddy didn't call any of them cute.
"Yeah, definitely not a domestic model," Qi Jun said. "The ones I have are all cold and haughty. They would never talk to me unprompted, and they never tell me I'm cute. They definitely wouldn't smile at me."
Jiang Ying nodded. He had always thought that Gossip Buddy was a little too interactive. It was only now that he realized this speaker had been modified.
It was one of a kind.
There was a little compartment that could be opened on the base of the speaker. Jiang Ying had always thought it was where the batteries went, and he'd never touched it, figuring he could mess with it when the speaker needed new batteries.
Jiang Ying opened the little compartment now, and a single picture fell out.
Through the video call, Qi Jun saw the photo. Right then and there, he let out a long sigh. "Class Monitor is too powerful. You can't defeat him."
The photo was a polaroid. It wasn't exceptionally high-quality, and the picture was a bit grainy. But it was clear enough for anyone to make out the people and background in the photo.
The picture must have been taken by one of their classmates. It depicted a sixteen-year-old Jiang Ying, wearing his school uniform, sleeping soundly in the bleachers at the sports competition during their first year of high school.
Above his head was the clear blue sky. He was leaning against the railing of the bleachers, holding a bag of potato chips that he hadn't finished eating. A banner cheering Qi Zhu on was draped over his sleeping form, with Qi Zhu's name exposed.
Qi Zhu, also wearing the same school uniform, had just finished a long-distance running event. He sat next to Jiang Ying and seemed worried about waking him; he was gesturing for the photographer to keep quiet.
That was the composition of the moment that had been caught on camera.
On the back of the photo, one line was written in Qi Zhu's familiar handwriting—
Me and the one I miss.
The message was dated one day before Qi Zhu's return from abroad.