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Easily Set Aflame (Web Novel) - Chapter 3.1 — Please, as a Friend (1)

Chapter 3.1 — Please, as a Friend (1)

This chapter is updated by Wuxia.Blog

The door of their private room was still open. The woman in the opposite room had stopped her howling of “Even in Death I Will Love” and had begun her next battle, “One Night in Beijing.” In this room of theirs, more than half the chorus had already passed and the karaoke subtitles on the screen were slowly going from white to green, but nobody had sung a single note.

A bucket of popcorn clasped in her left hand, a red microphone in her right, Jia He actually forgot how this song should be sung.

After several seconds, she at last managed to stumblingly hum along with a few lines. The effect, though, was equally matched with the woman in the opposite room. Even if you ignored for now whether the melody was being sung on key, it still took talent to be able to sing the wrong words while staring at the screen…

“Give me the microphone.” Stepping into the room, Yi Wenze suddenly directed this request at Qiao Qiao.

Qiao Qiao stared vacantly for a moment before noticing that the black microphone was by her hand, and hastily she handed it to him.

Although Yi Wenze did not look at the big screen, he still seemed to know exactly where each word and note was to come in. His singing was effortless, the timbre of his voice low, with traces of fatigue in it that was a result of travelling. Jia He dared not make any more mistakes, and carefully and nervously she sang. Their voices harmonized very well, and the effect was surprisingly good.

The door of their private room had not been shut yet. Someone passing by outside saw Yi Wenze and instantly stopped in excitement to listen to the song. More people came, one after the other, until before long a crowd three layers deep had gathered outside. This household-name celebrity was actually in a KTV singing with another woman a duet of his ex-wife’s song, and moreover, he was doing it in full view of everyone. This was a type of gossip that, of course, no one wanted to let slip by.

Not until the song was nearly done did A-Qing catch on that something was amiss with the situation. Hurriedly putting a smile on her face, she closed the door and also leaned her body against it to obstruct the door’s transparent glass window, shutting out the pack of fans and other people trying to spectate the action.

The MV reached its end. In the radiance of the golden sunlight, Tian Chu lifted her face and shouted, “I love you!”

Still hugging that bucket of popcorn, Jia He stared at this ending, her mind blank. Only when the screen had switched over to an advertisement for the KTV did she set the microphone down on the table and carry on, head bowed, eating her popcorn. Who had been the one to request that song, “Sunlight,” was no longer something to be probed into. Of those two people who had sung the duet, one was sitting in the corner of the couch by the door, holding a bucket of popcorn and munching away furiously, while the other was standing by her side and handing his microphone to someone else.

“Teacher Yi, you should honestly release an album. It’ll definitely sell like crazy.” In a buttering-up manner, Qiao Qiao grabbed a bottle of beer and handed it to Yi Wenze. As she spoke, she gave a kick to Jia He as a signal that she should make room for Yi Wenze to sit.

It was not that Jia He did not understand her meaning, but with so many people here, she truly was too embarrassed to blatantly tell Yi Wenze to sit down beside her. However, seeing Yi Wenze standing there holding a bottle of beer, she also felt rather bad. After a back and forth battle within herself, at last, her idol triumphed over everything else. She dragged her feet somewhat but nevertheless squeezed herself closer to Qiao Qiao and then tilted her head up, saying with a smile, “Teacher Yi, have a seat here.”

Yi Wenze stated thank you and then, without any signs whatsoever of wanting to decline her offer, took a seat by Jia He’s side.

Many people had come tonight, and this private room was obviously not large enough. On the couch, everyone was huddled together in a heap. Jia He was actually not a very fussy person. It was not as if this was some sort of feudal age that emphasized that it was improper for men and women to have physical contact. However, the instant Yi Wenze sat down beside her, every part of her began to feel on edge. Her neck remained stiffly in one position as she fixed her eyes on the screen, but she actually did not know what she was watching…

A-Qing had long since slipped over to the song-selection counter. Yi Wenze sat by the door. On the other side of the door, there was still a scattering of people deliberately walking by, likely having heard that Yi Wenzi was inside, and every now and then someone would cast some glances in through the glass. He, however, was unobtrusively drinking beer, and as he was wearing a brimmed cap and also sitting, it was only natural that no one outside of the door could recognize him, so after a few looks, the people outside would give up.

Due to the effects of alcohol and other beverages, from time to time, people would get up and go in and out of the room, either going for a smoke or heading to the bathroom.

Yi Wenze’s particular position was obviously blocking the door slightly, and so he naturally moved in a little closer again to where Jia He was. Instantly, it was as if Jia He had received an electric shock, and she once more squished over in Qiao Qiao’s direction.

“Qiao Qiao, you’re about to sit right onto my lap.” Assistant Director Cheng Hao gave a cough.

Qiao Qiao shot a resentful look at Jia He, and then, deciding to simply stand right up, she remarked in a meaningful tone, “It’s so cramped here. I’m going to go out and stand for a bit.”

Thinking that she was referring to him, Cheng Hao rather sheepishly stood as well. “You sit, you sit. I’ll go out and stand.”

As the two went back and forth over this, each trying to give up the spot on the couch for the other person, neither ended up sitting back down again, and a very large space was opened up for Jia He and Yi Wenze. Due to the awkwardness earlier from the song selection, the remainder of the people all did not dare come over to sit on this side. Thus, an unusual scene formed: On one-third of that long couch, there sat only two people, and moreover, they had extravagantly left an empty space between them that could fit an entire person. On the remaining two-thirds, though, everyone was jammed together like sardines in a can…

“Have you been writing any new dramas?” Staring at the screen, Yi Wenzi unexpectedly asked this.

Jia He replied with an “mm-hmm,” but then suddenly finding that the way she answered was rather pretentious, she hurriedly added, “I’m already doing the overall character outline and descriptions. It’s another ancient period one.”

The corner of one side of Yi Wenze’s lips lifted, his smile very faint. “You really like ancient period dramas?”

Jia He gave a little laugh. “When I was young, I was obsessed with a line from a poem: ‘Feathered fan in hand and hair bound in silk, he conversed leisurely and laughed while the enemy’s fleet went up in smoke and ashes[1].’ Since then I’ve liked dramas set in ancient times.”

Yi Wenze took a drink of his beer. The 330-millilitre bottle was just the right size in his hand. That dark-green Heineken bottle with the light of the karaoke screen shining through it was so clear and sparkling it seemed like liuli[2]. As Jia He quietly watched him, she remembered how, when she was in middle school, she would point her finger at the television and cry “Yi Wenze!” and now for some reason, a blush crept into her cheeks.

Luckily, it was dim in here. No one would be able to tell that she was blushing.

“ ‘My mind revisits these ancient scenes. Surely my sentimentality should be mocked, for my hair has early gone gray. Life is a dream. I shall offer up a drink to the moon over the river.[3]’ ” In a low voice, he uttered the lines that followed the one she had spoken. Shaking his head lightly, he gave a half-self-mocking chuckle. “I recited this poem in a movie that I acted in.”

“Mo Shao’an?” She had watched every film of Yi Wenze’s, so naturally she also knew each role he had acted. The film with the character, Mo Shao’an, was one set in the Republican Era[4]. Amidst the Shanghai Bund’s wanton atmosphere of luxury and dissipation, there was a young man, born of a respected family, who held a dream of being a hero. She could even remember in which scene and its details Yi Wenze had recited that poem.

Yi Wenze turned his head to look at her. Those deep-black eyes were filled with glimmering fragments of light, so beautiful that you could not help staring into them. “Do you like the character of Mo Shao’an?”

“I do. I like characters who have a certain degree of moral purity. Men who have self-restraint tend to be more compelling to people.” Jia He analyzed this in seriousness. “It was this very sense of moral purity that, in that type of greater environment, led to Mo Shao’an’s defeat. The contrast and conflict are very distinct.”

Yi Wenze let out a little chuckle, then unhurriedly clarified, “What I mean is, as a viewer, do you like him?”

It was only with this question of his that Jia He realized that her occupational habits had risen up again. “Sorry about that. I fell into the habit that comes with my profession. As a viewer…” Her gaze collided with his. In her mind, she silently declared, since it was her idol who had acted the role, of course everything was good about it. At the same time, she put on a façade of composure and picked up a glass of red wine, treating that as her way of quenching her thirst and easing her embarrassment. “I really like him, especially in that scene where he boards the ship to leave China.”

It was in that scene that Yi Wenze, garbed in a Zhongshan suit[5], had looked out upon the great ocean and recited Reminiscence of Red Cliff. The deep-felt resentments and hatreds of his country, the romance and love in his heart all died away with that one poem…

That night when they were back in the hotel, Qiao Qiao bummed her way into Jia He’s room to sleep for the night. With the smell of booze on her, she muddleheadedly sprawled on the bed and watched Jia He, who was hard at work typing again. “Your idol is truly high calibre. He treats his fans so well.”

Jia He stared at the screen, not even turning her head. “Of course.”

“My boss doesn’t like hype that’s created from gossip; otherwise, tonight’s little scene would have been a great news story.” Pouting her lips out, her head spinning, Qiao Qiao analyzed, “Just see how, for that Qing-dynasty drama that started airing recently, the whole gossip about the romance between the director and the actress has been so popular.”

Jia He did not reply. The casual conversation with Yi Wenze tonight had given her inspiration for a script. If she did not hurry and jot it down, it would be too late. As Qiao Qiao needed to sleep, she had only turned on the desk lamp. Her eyes remained glued unblinkingly to the screen until, after typing out nearly two thousand words, she could finally be considered done. She did not realize until she at last lifted her head that her neck was already aching terribly.

Giving a big stretch, she glanced at the time. Not even one o’clock yet. It was perfect; she could go get a massage.

This particular production team was quite nice. It had hired three massage therapists to stay on location at the hotel with the cast and crew, and as long as you went to find them before two in the morning, it would be fine. There was filming tomorrow, so most people should be sleeping at this hour already and the massage therapists should be available. Thinking this, Jia He rose and gave a poke to Qiao Qiao, who was wrapped up under the comforter. “I’m going out for a massage. Open the door for me later.”

Qiao Qiao let out a couple of grunts, which could be considered her way of saying that she heard her. Jia He also took Qiao Qiao’s mobile phone and switched it from vibrate mode to the loudest ring volume possible, and then, her mind finally at ease enough, she left the room. Since she was just walking through the hotel anyway, she was not particular about herself and simply wore a jogging suit and slippers, striding swiftly to the massage room and knocking on its door.

Moments later, someone opened the door. The curtains in this room had been drawn open, and as you stood in the room, there was a clear view of the crescent moon with its haloed glow, as well as the large, continuous stretch of white snow against the black night.

It turned out that snow was falling already. It was not until she pulled her gaze back that she discovered that there was actually another person on the innermost massage table, a coat and a brimmed cap tossed beside it.

Hearing the noise, he lifted his head, flashed a slight smile, and signaled to her that she should not say anything.

All three therapists were male, blind massage therapists[6], so other than Jia He, no one saw his gesture. Jia He stared blankly at him for a moment, not really understanding his intent, but nonetheless she cooperatively held her silence.

“I heard the lead actor this time is Yi Wenze.” The person who was going to massage Jia He motioned to her to lie on her stomach on the massage table and then carried on speaking to the man massaging Yi Wenze. “Isn’t he your idol?”

The man beside Yi Wenze laughed and answered, “Not mine, my daughter’s.”

“So, when filming’s done, you can ask the crew to help you get an autograph?”

“Forget it.” With a simple, guileless smile, the man explained in a low voice, “From what I heard from my daughter, her idol is in the middle of a divorce right now. That’s definitely going to affect his mood. We’ll see next time, if there’s the chance.”

Finished with talking about this, the two carried on in quiet with their work.

Oh, so they were discussing him…

Seeing that she comprehended, Yi Wenze laid his head back down and continued resting.

At this time, Jia He’s massage therapist also carefully laid a long towel over her and began quietly inquiring where she required the massage to be focused on. Jia He told him, her neck, and then buried her head down. This feeling was so remarkable. There plainly were many people inside this room, yet the interaction between her and him had occurred as if no others were present, so natural that it was like they were ordinary friends.

A sweet feeling flooded Jia He’s heart as she sighed, So it turns out I’m already friends with my idol.

Amid the waves of soreness that came from being massaged, she hazily felt as if she had returned to that summer night in her teenage years, where, on Beijing’s Dongdan Street, she had held her skateboard under her arm and chatted with a group of friends, accompanied by the cool, gentle late-night breeze. So comfortable and pleasant. Very dimly in her awareness, it seemed that someone patted her on the arm and asked her whether she wanted to go back to her room to sleep. In a lazy tone, she declined. And then, she slipped even deeper into her dreams…

[1] 羽扇纶巾,谈笑间、樯橹灰飞烟灭. This is a line from Su Shi’s poem, 《念奴娇·赤壁怀古》 Reminiscence of Red Cliff (to the tune of Niannujiao)

[2] 琉璃 “liu li.” Liuli, sometimes called liuli glass or liuli crystal, is the ancient Chinese art form, with roots stretching back thousands of years, that creates art similar to colored glass or crystal. However, it is neither and, in general, is more valuable than both.

[3] 故国神游,多情应笑我,早生华发。人生如梦,一尊还酹江月. This is taken from the same poem that Jia He had just been quoting, 《念奴娇·赤壁怀古》 Reminiscence of Red Cliff (to the tune of Niannujiao).

[4] The period of the Republic of China, sometimes referred to as the Minguo period, lasted from 1912 to 1949. It is the era after the fall of the Qing dynasty but prior to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

[5] 中山装. The Zhongshan suit was named such as it was introduced by Sun Yat-Sen, also known as Sun Zhongshan, shortly after the Republic of China was formed. The style of suit is also known by Westerners as the “Mao suit.”

[6] There is a form of Chinese massage therapy called “blind massage.” All therapists are truly blind. It is believed that the blindness gives them a heightened awareness through their sense of touch.

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