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 Waters Rise, (FF mostly concerning Ariel and Hu Ge)
starlitscribe
Posted: Jul 9 2007, 10:56 AM


Newbie
*

Group: Members
Posts: 14
Member No.: 1,066
Joined: 14-June 07



Waters Rise

(Posted Image)
Amazing banner credit to didar@AIFC

Genre: Drama/Romance/Comedy

Rating: PG-13, to be safe, for content and language

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the series or characters/people in this fanfic. The story is the only thing that's mine. :-)

Warnings: Please don't copy and/or post this anywhere else without my express permission. It's copyright me, aka starlit, so please don't steal. :)

Reminder: This is *fiction,* meaning "not true." At certain points I may have blended in relevant facts, but overall this story is just a figment of my imagination. So don't come after me with pitchforks or lawsuits lol!

Author's Note: I won't give any plot spoilers yet, but Ariel and Hu Ge are definitely the main characters.

And without further ado, Chapter One...

---------

Chapter One: Smiles and Hippopotamuses


The room is dark, illuminated only by the indistinct glimmer of city lights through a long window. One heavy curtain is pulled halfway across the glass pane, and the faint luminosity struggles to brush the edge of a neatly arranged coverlet, spread over a small bed on the left side of the room. Beyond it is a shadowed and moderately cluttered desk, upon which rests a slim laptop. The computer’s processor whirs lightly. Its glowing monitor reflects an ethereal blue back on the face of its user.

The young woman in question lets out a slow sigh. She props her chin on her hand, and taps one finger against her cheek. Abruptly she brings her wrist up to glance again at her watch: 11:13 PM. Frustrated, she slumps forward onto the desk, resting her head on folded arms.
Gradually, her dark, disappointed eyes begin to slip closed. Her long black hair slides forward to veil her face.

Into the silence, a quiet chime sounds, and her eyes snap open. Life returns to her expression. She smiles happily with relief, and quickly clicks a window open on the screen.

*JingGeGe!* she types quickly. *Where have you been?? You told me to be online at exactly nine! And what time is it now??*

*Dui bu qi, Xiao Qi!* he replies. Ariel’s smile widens as she imagines his repentant expression. *It wasn’t my fault, really. The interview went overtime and then the car broke down. Had to wait an hour or so.* There is a pause in typing, and then he continues. *I seem to have bad luck with accidents…don’t I?*

Ariel’s smile vanishes as she senses the bitter undercurrent through his offhanded comment. She looks down, her eyes saddened and reflective. He’s been getting better, but the hurt isn’t all gone. It won’t ever be. Like mine…

Ariel’s fingers slip slowly from the keyboard as, unbidden, the memories seep back into her mind. Every misfortune, every accident, back then, had combined into one chaotic miasma of sadness, under the surface. I don’t want to remember…but I can never forget.

When the accident had happened, Ariel had been terrified for her friend. She’d called him as soon as she could, praying that he was all right somehow, and her fears had only been marginally allayed when she’d heard his voice. The fear and pain that he’d tried so hard to conceal had been betrayed in the shaking, weakened quality of his tone.

“I-I’m all right, I’m fine, Yi Chen. But...my friends…they said they’re fine, too, but I don’t know if I can believe them, even if I want to…”

Her heart jerked. Oh, God...he’s not all right, he’s not. Please, please, let him and his friends... She swallowed. But I have to be strong for him. Say something to help, Yi Chen!

“They must be fine. I know they must be. Just stay calm and do what the doctors tell you, OK?” Her voice almost broke, and she paused to recover. “Be brave, hao la? And remember, if you need me at all, I’m…I’m here.”

“Xie…xie…Yi Chen. I--” He broke off. She listened with wide eyes, waiting, but the next word was uttered by a female voice.

“Hello? Bu hao yi si. Excuse me, but we need to administer treatment to your friend. Calls will be too tiring for him for a while. Dui bu qi.”

“Oh…mei guan shi. That’s all right. Just try to help him, as much as you can…please?”

“Shi. Of course, miss. We will do our best. Goodbye.” The clipped, professional voice was soon replaced by a cold dial tone. Ariel closed the phone slowly, concentrating on breathing, and not permitting the tears in her eyes to slip down her cheeks.

She had done some of the promotions without him, then. She’d had to smile brightly for his sake; thinking of him always made her remember her responsibility, as his friend, to do her best for him until he could come back. It was especially hard when they asked how he was doing, because it reminded her of her own helplessness, but she’d always managed to reply with a smile.

Then he’d begun to speak to her again, hesitantly, with undercurrents of emotion that were deeper than any she’d seen from him before. She didn’t know what to do to dull his bitterness, or comfort his sadness. So she simply listened, trying always to fulfill her promise and be with him, if only in spirit. Many times his voice, threading through her cell phone, was desperate. He told her wanted to run, to hide, just leave all the things he loved. Those times, she did her best to calm him and return him to his senses--even when she herself would have preferred to run away.

All the while, she tried to live her own life, as well. When she spoke to Hu Ge, she concealed any negative emotion, not wishing to upset him any more than he already was. Her frustration at the distance between them was kept to herself. It was the only uncrossable barrier between them. If she could only be there beside him, speak to him in person… For that time, however, it was not to be, and through her encouragement she supported him from hundreds of miles away.

Gradually the darkness in his voice faded. His underlying self-deprecation and slight cynicism didn’t wholly vanish, but he recovered himself enough to be able to reflect on his experiences and to be thankful for what he had.

“There must be a reason I’m alive…dui bu dui?” he asked her slowly one day. “I must have survived for a purpose…although I don’t know what it is yet.”

“Of course. You were lucky--no, blessed--to get through all of that. Ge, you’re…you’re a blessed survivor.” She smiled quietly.

“‘Blessed survivor’…maybe.” She could hear his smile in return. “Xie xie, Yi Chen, for everything. If I’m the survivor, I guess you’re my guardian angel.”

“Tian shi? Angel? No. Just a friend doing her job.”

“Whichever you are, I’m very grateful to you. I promise I’ll return the favor someday,” he told her solemnly.

He had fulfilled that promise just a few months later.

Ariel shakes her head suddenly, bringing herself back to the present. This isn’t the time to reminisce.
She places fingers to keys again and types a careful response.

*Not bad luck. Some things just happen…for a reason.* Then she deftly changes the subject. *“Blessed Survivor” has been a huge success, you know. You’ll raise lots of money for a good cause, Ge. Gong xi! Congratulations!*

She knows that he won’t press to continue the downward trend of the conversation. He never does; he wants to avoid the shadows of the past few months as much as she does.

*Shenme? What? You’re congratulating me? I hardly did any of the work, you know. You talked me through writing three fourths of it, and you wouldn’t even let me salvage a bit of my pride by letting me choose a title I thought of myself!*

*Oh, fei hua! Ridiculous! You’ll never get anywhere in life if you’re so modest, Di Gua!* Now Ariel relaxes into their usual stream of banter, happy that the danger is past for now.

*Hypocrite.*
*Ehh?? I resent that! Hmph. You know, actually, you’ll probably become a famous author and charm all your editors…and then when they invite you over for dinner, you’ll frighten them off with your hippopotamus-style eating.*
*Hippo...?! You…! Xiao Qi, I am speechless.*
*Speechless. Exactly. Hippopotamuses do not speak.* Ariel stifles a laugh.

*How do you know? Maybe you just don’t understand them. And besides, hippopotamuses are very peaceful and healthy creatures. Plant-eaters. They only eat a lot because they need to.*
*Er…*
*Am I right?*

She regroups quickly.

*Maybe so. However, unlike you, they do not eat more than their body weight in snacks and value food above all else.*
*I don’t “value food above all else,” really…*
*Shi ma?*
*All I said was, “there is nothing without food,” and it’s true, dui bu dui? You couldn’t live without it.*
*You couldn’t live without friends, either, but you choose to mention food instead. I am offended.*
*Offended? Haha, you remind me of a cat, Yi Chen.*
*Cat? Cat??? First I’m slighted for food, then I’m called a cat?*
*Isn’t it better than a hippo?*
*No. I think I’d rather be a hippo.*
*Contrariness. Definitely cat-like.* Ariel glares mock-angrily at the screen.

*Ge Ge…!*
*All right, back to the point. We were talking about eating habits, weren’t we?*
*Your habits, specifically.*
*But your habits in relation to food are worse than mine.*
*Oh really?*
*Yes. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. After you starred in Tokyo Juliet, didn’t your costar, Wu Zun, give you a scale?*
*EHH! That’s not fair! He was just being nice.*
*All right, I concur. That really wasn’t quite fair. Still, just watch yourself at mealtimes. We first met while eating, didn’t we?*
*Hah! But you were eating first, dui bu dui?*
Pause.
*Am I right?*
No answer.
*Coward!*

Finally, a response appears on the screen.

*You know, my dear Yi Chen, you look lovely as Xiang Qin in the latest promotion photos.*

*Escaping the argument, hm?* she accuses. Then she relents, pretending to be flattered. *But thank you, all the same. I did think I looked particularly lovely with her fashion style…*

*Oh, certainly.*

Ariel laughs quietly to herself and then continues.

*I do love Xiang Qin (and her outfits). I want to dedicate at least as much to Huang Rong, after ISWAK is finished. If, that is, they don’t fire me and hire a Huang Rong who isn’t half as busy. Hah.* She types the last sentence without thinking, then freezes. Aaah! Yi Cheeenn! Everything was fine until you started talking about serious business again!

*Lin Yi Chen!!*
*Er…yes?* she types tentatively.
*How many times have we been over this?!?*

*Eh…um…ah…er…did I mention that you look particularly shuai with that new haircut? All your female fans are going crazy over you. Really cute, that mature look.*
*Thank you. Don’t try to change the subject.*
*But you just used the same method five seconds ago.*
*Yes, but that was then.*
*Injustice!*
*Quite.*
*You…!!*

He ignores her exaggerated frustration and continues remonstrating.

*Hey, Yi Chen. The point is, as I’ve told you ten thousand times before: You. Will. Not. Be. Fired. You are Huang Rong already, and they can’t replace you. Stop worrying.*
*Of course they can replace me. They have a budget and they have hundreds of more easily available actresses.*
*No actresses like you.*
*You don’t know that. Besides, even the directors are saying I might have to give up on LOCH.*
*They were just laying out possibilities.*
*”Possibilities.” Exactly. That means that it is possible that they may fire me.*
*No, it’s not.*
*I’m still worried. Maybe--*
*Stop for a second and listen, OK?*

She is shocked into momentary silence.

*Yi Chen, please trust me on this. There is no Legend of the Condor Heroes without you. They can’t replace you without serious setbacks and losses. They can’t find a actress exactly like you. And besides…* he seems to hesitate a moment, *I wouldn’t let them.*
Ariel raises her eyebrows. Ehhh?
*If you aren’t Huang Rong, I’m not Guo Jing either. Do you hear me?*
Her eyes widen. He would be willing to leave LOCH…if I was fired? But…he…
She shakes her head furiously to clear her thoughts. He’s truly a good friend. Then she recovers in time to type a mischievous response.
*Well, I can’t hear you, per se. We’re instant-messaging.*
*Xiao Qi!!!! Are you serious??*
*Of course not.* She relents, then, smiling. *Really, though, JingGeGe, thank you. You’re a true friend to me.*
*Even if I’m a hippopotamus?*
*Especially if you are, my dear lao gong.*
*Oh, I feel much better now.*
*Hahaha. Good night, hippopotamus hubby.*
*Good night, Xiao Qi.*

Ariel signs off with a smile. She stretches and glances at the clock, wincing as she notices how late---early---it is. She has a busy schedule for tomorrow, and it will be one very long day. Still, she considers as she slips under her covers, I’m really glad I talked to him. The quiet, happy smile returns to her face, lingering on her lips even as she falls asleep…

And, hundreds of miles away in Shanghai, an identical smile remains on the face of a young man, sleeping just as peacefully.


--------------


Hope you enjoyed it...although I'm afraid it might have been a bit too cheesy/boring. ^_^

If you have any comments or suggestions, please PM me!! Feedback is great! Don't post in the actual thread, though.

(Double-posted at AIFC and here.)[SIZE=1]
starlitscribe
Posted: Oct 6 2007, 07:27 PM


Newbie
*

Group: Members
Posts: 14
Member No.: 1,066
Joined: 14-June 07



Oops! Lol, sorry to anyone who was reading. I completely forgot that I was posting this FF in here as well as in AIFC. >.< I'll post the latest chapters now.

Chapter Two: Jinshatan! (Or Just Bad Luck)

A large, lithe mountain lion stands in the middle of the road, surrounded by parched yellow wheat. The wind blows across the plain with a greenish dust swirling in its wake. Abruptly, the creature begins to speak in an unintelligible tongue…definitely not Chinese. Maybe Latin? No, probably Arabic. The thing keeps switching languages, making it extremely difficult to follow. It wears a gold-banded watch on its forepaw.

Wait…it shouldn’t have a watch. It shouldn’t have any electronics whatsoever. It’s a cat, after all. Strange. Very strange. Oh, well.

Suddenly, Arctic wolves with cameras around their necks surround it and snap at its side. No…they shouldn’t be there. Why would Arctic wolves be on a plain? With cameras? It makes absolutely—


“RINGGGG!”

“…no sense,” finishes Hu Ge aloud, muttering groggily into the pillow. For a moment, he remains still, eyes closed. Some say dreams reflect one’s state of mind…so what have I been thinking to get this one? He shakes his head to clear it of the bewildering dream and reaches over to his bedside table, groping for the alarm. The one currently blasting his eardrums should be the one closest to the wall: Alarm One, set for 8:00 AM. He quickly flicks the shut-off switch.

The loud, obnoxious sound continues.

Hu Ge is sorely tempted to shove his head under the pillow and ignore it, but he knows from prior experience that it won’t work. When fully awake, he had purposely selected three alarm clocks that would be able to pierce his deep sleep with their sheer annoyingness. His practical side knows that this is logical for a deep sleeper, but the side that is losing sleep at the moment sincerely dislikes the former side.

Unwillingly, Hu Ge cracks one eye open, then the other, and peers at the neat line of clocks on his table. The second two read six past eight, but the first digital screen is completely blank. He writes a brief mental note to himself: Alarm One…broken. Buy new. Then he deftly switches the correct device off (Alarm Two, set for 8:05), and rolls over to sleep for five more minutes…

…whereupon his cell phone immediately trills out a cheery tune, as if to mock him by once again depriving him of sleep.

He gives a quiet groan. I’m not a fortunate person today. Grudgingly he reaches back to grasp his cell phone, snaps it open, and places it to his ear.

“Wei..?” he says, attempting unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.
“Hey, shuai ge! What are you doing still in bed?” calls an energetic, bantering male voice.

Hu Ge quickly resigns himself to sacrificing that last five minutes of sleep, but not as reluctantly as he would have if the caller had been a less welcome one. Yuan Hong is his many-time costar and one of his good friends, and they do their best to keep in contact, amidst their busy schedules. As celebrities, they never know when they’ll see each other next, so they take every opportunity they can. Hu Ge may keep sleep and food in high esteem--but he values his friends infinitely more.

He smiles, and then replies lightly.

“What am I doing still in bed? Only sleeping, Yuan Hong. What are you doing up so early, you insane person?”

“Insane person??” He gives a melodramatic sigh. “Oh, I see. Now that the infamous Shuai Ge is back, he has no time for his old friends anymore. He prefers to label all his acquaintances as crazy, and sleep during the extra time.”

“Don’t, please,” interjects Hu Ge wearily. “If you consider me your friend at all, then don’t, don’t call me ‘shuai ge.’ I’ve had enough from the media about that particular nickname.”

“Oh, all right. I guess you’ve been needled enough. How about ‘Di Tu Nan?’” he inquires. Hu Ge can hear the grin in his voice.

“You heard about that?” he asks with some surprise. The nickname “Di Tu Nan,” or “Map Boy,” originated from his manager, who dubbed him as such because of the surgery scars on his eyelid. Lately, more than one news article has noted this.

“Of course! I’m your friend, you know. I follow up on your news.”

“Thanks,” he says, somewhat surprised.

“Meiyou wenti. No problem,” his friend replies breezily. He gives a small laugh, and then falls into silence. There is a pause on the line, filled only by tinny background noise from Yuan Hong’s end. Hu Ge, propped up on one elbow resting on his pillow, shifts to sit on the edge of the bed, pushing the covers to one side; he waits awkwardly as the quiet stretches on, wondering if he should start a new topic.

Finally, Yuan Hong begins to speak again, this time seriously.

“Really, though…how are you?”

“I’m perfectly fine. I’m happy to wait for Legend of the Condor Heroes to begin filming again,” he replies readily.

“That’s a media answer, not a friend answer,” he says flatly. “Look, it’s not like I’m not going to run to the press and spill everything I know about you.”

“Sorry. I’m too used to it.” Hu Ge fingers the wooden edge of his bedside table.

“Are you sure you’re all right? We were worried for a while in there…”

“Honestly, I’m…mostly fine now. I have a lot of help, too. From all of my friends.”

“Like your Lin Yi Chen, eh?” he asks perceptively.

“Don’t say ‘your.’ People aren’t possessions.”

“Hah! There goes your celebrity training again. Avoid the question, give as little information as possible. You’ve got the tricks of the trade down flat, you know.”

Hu Ge sighs. It’s true enough that he’s incorporated his training with reporters into his everyday life. He does his best to guard his words when important matters are concerned---others may pounce on any hint and mold it into something else entirely. So sometimes his wariness is for the best. At least there’s less chance of slipping up and courting disaster for myself…or worse, for the people I care about.

“I’m sorry. It’s instinctive. And to answer your question, yes, Yi Chen does assist me on occasion.” He tries to reply as a friend speaking openly, but, to his frustration, finds himself tiptoeing around the point anyway. He feels somewhat guilty that he can’t tell Yuan Hong the entire truth, but he doesn’t want his and Ariel’s friendship to be misinterpreted.

“I thought so.” His smile is heard in the light yet straightforward tone of his voice. “When I first met her, my impression was of an intelligent, humble, and very dedicated young woman. You two seemed very close back then, too. If she’s responsible, even partially, for the progress you’ve made since the accident, then I have no doubt that I was right about her.”

“Yes. She’s…a very good friend to me.” For some reason, he feels a bit uncomfortable on this topic, and resolves to change the direction of the conversation to lighter matters. Before he can do so, however, Yuan Hong speaks quickly.

“Just a friend?”

“Don’t go there,” Hu Ge warns.

“Why not?”

“You told me not to treat you like a reporter, so don’t act like one.”

“The difference is that I’m asking because I want to help you, not because I want to fill out next month’s tabloid spreads.”

“It doesn’t matter. Just stay away from that subject.”

“Why?”

“Because Yi Chen and I have always been friends, are currently friends, and will always be only friends.”

“Why?”

“Because nothing else is possible,” he retorts shortly. Then he immediately regrets speaking so sharply.

“Why?”

This time, he takes a deep breath and remains calm. He gives a reasonable answer.

“That would ruin our friendship and allow the tabloids to tear each of us apart. It would only hurt the two of us. Besides, we could never reach that stage. The distance between our respective countries precludes a relationship. Also, Yi Chen has no such feelings toward me.”

“You said that Yi Chen has no feelings for you, but you haven’t said what you feel toward her. Do you--”

“No! Of course not! Definitely not! No! We are friends and friends only.” Hu Ge abruptly realizes that he’s twisting the edge of his pillow so hard that the stuffing is beginning to show. Hastily he releases it, consciously slowing his breathing. I’m perfectly calm. Talking about this doesn’t embarrass me at all. Serenely and deliberately he changes the subject.

“So, how have you been lately?”

Yuan Hong accepts defeat--for now. The pressing, questioning undertone to his voice disappears, and the cheerful overlay returns as he responds.

“As well as I can expect, though that’s not particularly good. I’ve been looking into some advertisements and dramas for when Sh Diāo Yīng Xing Zhun (Legend of the Condor Heroes) has finished up…the negotiations seem to go well for a while, but inevitably something goes wrong in the end. Case in point: Xiang Xin Wo (Believe in Me), one of the latest and best scripts they showed me. It was the perfect drama for me, honestly, and it offered a great deal of opportunity to widen my acting horizons.” He sighs. “But just before we signed the contract, the director took off to Guam after a financial disaster and completely dropped the project. As if to ensure that nothing could continue, the female lead also dropped out when she was sued for lyrical plagiarism.”

“That’s terrible…” remarks Hu Ge sympathetically. “But I’m sure there are other excellent dramas. None exactly like that one, but others. Every actor or actress has incidents like this, and they always find something in the end.”

“This is different. The plans have collapsed into chaos, and it’s happened at least three times already. I think the Curse of Jinshatan is still following me.”

Hu Ge laughs good-naturedly.

“Come on, Yuan Hong. Every bit of bad luck doesn’t mean Jinshatan.”

“Jinshatan” is the name of a certain battle scene that was filmed for Shao Nian Yang Jia Jiang (Young Warriors of the Yang Clan), the drama Hu Ge and Yuan Hong acted in before Legend of the Condor Heroes. Every time the cast and crew attempted to shoot the scene, something went wrong. The first time, one of the central cameras malfunctioned. The next few times, rain ruined the preparations, and early in the year, it snowed. Eventually the battle was filmed successfully, but by that time everyone in the group had labeled the Battle of Jinshatan as utterly unfortunate. Now they use the term to designate anything particularly unlucky.

“You’d be surprised,” Yuan Hong informs him in an exaggeratedly hushed voice.

“If you say so.” He smiles. In the short pause, he glances at his alarm clock again, and his eyes widen in mild surprise at how much time has passed. “I don’t have a schedule until this afternoon, but I’d better go anyhow. My morning meeting with my manager was cancelled, and I have to reschedule that… Oh, and I have to check in with that store---my watch broke, the other day, and it’s such an old model I’m not sure if they can repair it. And I have to get around to calling the plumber too, to fix my sink---it keeps leaking and spraying water everywhere whenever I turn it on,” he adds wryly.

“Your meeting was cancelled? And your watch broke? And your sink’s leaking?” his friend breaks in, immediately pouncing on the information.

“Yes,” he replies warily, “but it’s not what you---”

“Jinshatan!” cries Yuan Hong in a mock-spooky wail.

Laughter rises in Hu Ge’s throat, and he stifles it with difficulty.

“I doubt it, but thanks anyway.”

“No problem, Di Tu Nan,” he returns happily, back to his normal demeanor. “Well, I’ll see you later this month. Our esteemed Director Guo Li is waiting patiently for Guo Jing and Huang Rong.” He hesitates, and then adds mischievously, “Whether you’re ‘zhi pengyou’ (‘just friends’) or not.”

He hangs up, leaving Hu Ge staring in exasperation at the phone. He shakes his head. Yuan Hong…he thinks too much. Me and Yi Chen? Ridiculous. Quickly he moves on to thinking about the tasks on his list.

First…managerial call. Easy enough. At most it’ll take five minutes. Then the watch store… Maybe three minutes. The new alarm clock? Two minutes, if I hurry. He smiles. There’s still plenty of time for him to go out for breakfast and maybe catch up on some reading.

He stands, turns, and leans over to spread his bedcovers quickly. He straightens and stretches, yawning. Abruptly a thought occurs to him.

“I hope Yi Chen was able to get to work on time.” He’d kept her up so late last night talking; he didn’t have work until lunchtime, but she, of course, had E Zuo Ju Zhi Wen 2 (ISWAK 2) early in the morning. So selfish! he berates himself mentally. As he walks into his bathroom, he reminds himself to call her later in the day.

The problem is, he muses, that there aren’t many opportunities for contact other than nighttime. Both of them have celebrity schedules, hundreds of miles apart, and can’t spare time during work for an in-depth discussion with a foreign friend. Perhaps if they designated certain times for calling each other…

He bends his head down to the sink to wash his face and turns the handle, still considering various possibilities.

The thin stream of water hits him directly in the eye, fountaining upward with smaller threads that spritz over his hair and collar. He winces and jerks back, instinctively putting out a hand to block the water.This only succeeds in redirecting the spray onto his shirt. Quickly he fumbles for the handle and turns the defective appliance off, but not before his head and torso are quite wet.

Eventually, he sags against the counter, shaking his head. Bad luck. Bad memory. What an idiot I am. That’s what I get for thinking of Yi Chen---or anyone---when I should be concentrating on work first. He glares at himself in the plain mirror and resolves resolves to concentrate on current matters, at least until the evening.

He swipes at his face and ruffles his hair with a towel, tossing it back onto a disordered rack on the back wall. He steps purposefully out of the bathroom and opens the door of his apartment to grab the complimentary newspaper the manager offers. He bends down to pick up the paper quickly…and straightens just in time to see an crouching figure eagerly snap a photograph of him.

“Wei---!” Before he can say anything more, the spy sprints back down the hall as if hellhounds are snapping at his tail. Actually, not hellhounds, corrects Hu Ge furiously, standing frozen at the doorway in wet dark blue pajamas, with a newspaper in hand. More like fellow demons trying to steal his pitchfork.

He immediately retreats back inside and closes the door tightly, resisting the urge to slam it. Slowly, he lowers his head to rest on its cool surface.

“Damn!” he expostulates. Why is this morning so catastrophic? Why is my life so catastrophic? What is wrong with me?!? He turns around and allows himself to slide to the floor beside the smooth wall. He sits there for a moment, banging the back of his head lightly against the door, and stares at the grey carpet. Accidents, mistakes, disasters, and paparazzi. All irreversibly part of his life, more so in the past months than ever before.

Yi Chen’s words of the previous night echo back to him. *Some things just happen…for a reason.* For a reason...? You could say that. Or you could say it’s just horrible luck, he thought bitterly.

“No,” he mutters to himself, tempted to laugh illogically at the irony. “Not just bad luck. Jinshatan!”

And he buries his head in his hands.

-------

Author’s Notes: So…there’s chapter two at last. Lol, yes, I know it’s not much for making you wait this long, but I’m also partway through chapter-three-which-was-going-to-be-chapter-two. Sorry to the people whom I told that Joe was coming into this chapter…he’s in the next, I promise. :) The next chapter is in Ariel’s POV, and she’s not having a great morning either.

My next apology goes to the people who actually know Yuan Hong…because, well, I don’t. Lol. I researched him and used “Young Warriors of the Yang Clan” (which is, btw, a great drama so far) to see if I could pick up some of his mannerisms, even if he’s the evil guy in there…but still, I know extremely little about him. I have no idea what his personality is like, so I invented one.

In case anyone’s wondering, they really did have weather-related problems with the Jinshatan scene…but the camera-breaking part didn’t happen, as far as I know. Also, the “Xiang Xin Wo” drama Yuan Hong talks about is entirely fictional.

Um…sorry if Hu Ge, too, is a little bit OOC. I noticed that when I was reading back through.

And finally…as I’ve said many times, please PM me if you have any constructive criticism, or just if you hate/like it. Definitely, definitely tell me if it’s getting too boring, please, and I’ll speed up the plotline a bit. Haha. Ttyl! (It’s 3:30 AM here and I’m a bit tired…)

:P:
starlitscribe
Posted: Oct 6 2007, 07:28 PM


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Chapter 3: Panda Eyes are All the Fashion

“Wei! WEI!! Lin Yi Chen!!”

“WAH!” Ariel wakes with a start, bumping her head on the head of the person leaning over her, losing her balance, and almost tumbling off the bed. She grabs the wooden bedpost just in time to catch herself, and gazes blearily up at the person who called her. Her expression transforms from shocked dazedness to recognition.

“Zhou Mei Yu!” she says with relief, voice slightly hoarse. “What are you doing here?”

Ariel’s manager, Mei Yu, gives her a mildly sardonic look. A young woman in her late twenties, she appears as a model of perfect organization and composure. Her hair is bound back in a neat, loose braid, which is coiled elegantly at the base of her neck. Bangs brushed neatly to one side of her forehead frame clear light brown eyes and graceful features, while a black pants suit serves to fit the professional image.

“You haven’t checked the time, have you?” she asks dryly. “I’m guessing you turned off your alarm.”

“No…” replies Ariel, bewildered. “I--wait…” As her mind shakes off the haze of sleep, she vaguely recalls a loud beeping…and fumbling on her bedside table for the source…and poking random buttons until the blasted noise stopped. She places a hand over her mouth guiltily.

“Tien na. Oh dear. I did. Er. Haha. Didn’t quite realize that.” She takes a quick glance at her clock and shakes her head, preoccupied with scolding herself. Even though her action was subconscious, it’s still discouraging that…

Then she freezes. Her eyes widen, and her head whips back to the digital display.

“NOOOO!!!” She grabs the device, incredulous, staring in abject horror at the three numbers displayed: 8:09.

“Mei Yu!!! Zen me ban??? What am I going to do?? I was supposed to be ready for filming by 7:30!! I’m so late!!”

She throws off her covers and scrambles out of bed, stumbling around the room berating herself and searching for her purse. While Mei Yu looks on, head tilted thoughtfully, she eventually finds the item in question and holds it up triumphantly.

“Mei Yu! Please, can I get a ride with you? My car has been having trouble lately.”

Her manager gives a small smile and gestures at her clothing.

“I know Xiang Qin is absentminded, but this isn’t like you, Yi Chen.”

Ariel looks down at her garb: pale green cotton pajamas with blue polka dots. Oh, yes, excellent work attire. She sighs in frustration and collapses onto the bed.

“Aiyo…” she moans.

Mei Yu finally relents.

“Oh, calm down. I already called Winnie to tell him that you’ve been delayed. They’re not expecting you for about twenty minutes.”

Ariel sits up suddenly, hopeful, dark hair mussed.

“Zhende ma? Really? But…this will delay the filming even more!! We need to use all the time we have! They’ll be angry!” She lies back again, despondent.

“Of course they won’t. Your costars have had to leave early for appointments multiple times, and they weren’t mobbed, so I’m relatively certain you’ll be fine.”

Ariel goes on as if there had been no interruption. “And it could put more delays on Sh Diāo Yīng Xing Zhun (LOCH). I have to finish Prank 2 on time, or...” she trails off. “I hope he won’t think badly of me, too…”

Mei Yu glances over with vague curiosity.

“Who?”

“Oh, ah, no one.” She feels an odd reluctance to speak too much about Hu Ge around her manager. Probably just habit after years of evading the media’s prying. Besides, he’s done his share of protecting me from public exposure when he can, so I have to at least return an equal favor. Silently Ariel resolves again to be as careful as he is when replying to questions, and to guard her friends just as loyally.

“All right. I won’t ask. Even idols have to have some secrets, don’t you?” She shrugs nonchalantly. “You’d go insane if you couldn’t.”

“Thank you,” replies Ariel gratefully.

“About you being late, though…nobody’s going to blame you. First of all, it’s just an hour or so of lost time. Second, they know you’re exhausted…whether or not you’re staying up late to participate in activities unknown, like you were last night.” She surveys her charge through narrowed eyes.

“Eh? How did you know?”

“Take a look in the mirror.”

“I probably don’t want to know what I look like right now. Please, just tell me.”

“Nothing big. Those dark circles just make you look like you got punched in a gang fight, that’s all.”

Ariel winces, and then shrugs resignedly. “At least I’ll look tough,” she jokes.

“Get ready, though, or they really will pitchfork you,” Mei Yu warns amusedly, rising and walking to the door. “I’ll be waiting in the front.”

“Right. I’ll be there in a sec.” Ariel dresses as quickly as she can and shoots out the door. Whereupon, a minute later later, she screeches to a halt and dashes back for her script copy. “Aiyo,” she gasps as she leans momentarily against her room door, “I really did need more sleep.”

She gazes breathlessly up at the ceiling and whispers wryly, “I hope he got to work on time, even if I didn’t.”

Then she shakes her head, turns, and sprints for the car.

----------------

Joe fiddles idly with a prop---specifically, a light pink potholder---on the table. He’s slouched in the kitchen of the house that the Prank 2 crew has chosen for filming, and he’s bored half out of his wits. Normally he’d be able to entertain himself with the rest of the cast, but they, of course, received the delaying call in time, and thus are still happily at home.

He twists the end of the cloth holder morosely. He lives farther away, so he needs to leave earlier to reach the site on time. How did they expect him to get the message before he left? Highly unfair.

The lanky young man is so occupied with mentally bemoaning his misfortune that he doesn’t notice the gradual arrival of cast and crew. He glares determinedly at the wood grains.

Finally, he’s jerked from his thoughts by a familiar call.

“Zheng Yuan Chang!”

He looks up immediately and gives the speaker a dirty look as she enters the kitchen.

“Exhaustion, my foot. Why do you get to sleep in while I’m left all alone here, reduced to staring at potholders?” he asks plaintively.

“Oh, hubby, I’m special.” Ariel replies mock-flirtatiously, and laughs. “And why are you sulking in here, anyway?”

“What makes you think I’m sulking?”

“My eyes do. It’s obvious.”

“You should try it sometime. Great way to kill time…if you’re not busy snoring like some people.”

“I don’t snore!”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t.”

“Hah.” He tilts his head to look up at her face, and smirks. “Xiang Qin has beautiful panda eyes today.”

She grins ruefully in reply. “No worse than yours, party boy.”

His eyes fly wide in surprise, and his hand jerks reflexively to his face. Then he immediately lowers his hand and retorts defensively.

“I was working last night!”

“Then why are you blushing?”

“I’m not!” he cries, folding his arms tightly across his chest. Ariel stifles a laugh as his face grows ever redder and his gaze begins to shift nervously.

“Oh, what’s this? My hubby is having an affair?” she teases.

“Quit it! I was up late for a completely innocent purpose.”

“Which is…?”

“Talking to someone. On the phone,” he emphasizes.

“This person being…?”

“No one.”

“Denial makes it even more interesting,” she remarks with a mischievous smile. “So---”

“Yi Chen! Xiao Zong! You ready?” Winnie strides cheerfully into the kitchen, oblivious to the interrogation going on before him. “Today we’ll probably just concentrate on some lighter scenes.”
“Saved by the director,” Ariel whispers to Joe out of the corner of her mouth, shooting him a glance that promises quite clearly, I’ll get you later. Then she stands, smiles at Winnie, and bows politely.

“Dui bu qi, director. I’m sorry. I overslept and caused the filming to be delayed.”

He waves away her apology.

“Oh, don’t worry. There’s no need for formalities. I’m just glad you’re with us now,” he says kindly.

Ariel straightens and she nods, smiling. “I’ll do my best.”

Winnie now addresses both of them and begins to outline the filming plans. Ariel sits back down.

“Xiao Zong, you’ll be happy to hear that there are no awkward kissing scenes for you. And so, Yi Chen, there’s no need for you to stand on another stepstool,” comments Winnie, grinning. The actor and actress wince. They both remember their kisses in ISWAK, where the difference in their height had caused many problems. Joe rubs his back ruefully, apparently remembering all the times he’d had to bend down uncomfortably to reach Ariel’s lips.

“Not funny,” he mutters.

Winnie chuckles good-naturedly. “Sorry. Sometimes I can’t resist teasing you about that.”

Then he becomes serious, transitioning easily between joking friend to efficient director. “To business, though: today we’ll film the pregnancy scare. Do you remember the context?”

“Perhaps…I think I might,” Ariel answers thoughtfully.

“Maybe…I’m pretty sure,” Joe says, pondering.

In another moment, both of them have their noses buried in their scripts. Their eyes scan the text quickly, and they unconsciously mouth their lines. Winnie waits patiently.

“Oh!” they say simultaneously. Ariel continues alone. “That scene. Yes. I definitely remember now.”

“Me too.” Joe scratches his head uncomfortably. Ariel twists her finger in her lap. Both seem a bit embarrassed at completely forgetting the part; they’ve rarely needed to reference their scripts to recall context before. Probably, they each think guiltily, because I didn’t get nearly enough sleep last night…

“Good. Well, you’d better get over to the make-up and wardrobe trailer. We should start as soon as possible.” He moves to leave, and then turns back, adding as an afterthought, “And both of you, get more sleep tomorrow night. Xiang Qin and Zhi Shu shouldn’t have panda eyes.” He winks at the two and leaves.

Ariel and Joe glance at each other ruefully. They study the each other’s faces for a moment…and then begin to laugh. They see the obvious smudges around their eyes and realize that it’s just as obvious as everyone has been telling them.

Once they curtail their mirth, Joe finally rises, still grinning, and grabs Ariel’s hand to pull her out of her seat.

“Let’s go, Xiang Qin. They won’t forgive you if you delay any more.”

“Hao la, hao la,” she laughs, and stands up quickly. Joe pulls her toward the door, and she follows, reluctantly but amusedly. Typical Xiao Zong. She’s glad for his company, and even for his baiting comments---she always teases him right back.

Suddenly, Ariel becomes conscious that he hasn’t released her hand. Her mind flashes a warning flag. But he couldn’t be interested in me. Definitely not. She knows that he would never fall for her. It would be impossible, especially since they’re celebrity costars. Joe could never do that, unlike---

Her eyes snap shut for a moment as she counts to three, suppressing memories of a Certain Media Circus relating to a Certain Drama and, more importantly, a Certain Male Actor. She opens her eyes again and looks at Joe. She can’t allow history to repeat itself. In any case, she decides that the situation is uncomfortable, and tries to think quickly of an un-hurtful way to detach his hand from hers.

Her mind is immediately taken away from that problem when they hear a crash and a surprised cry from outside, followed by a loud curse. Instinctively Joe drops her hand, to her relief.

“What was…?!”

They glance at each other, and rush out the kitchen door.


---------------------


Sorry, no Ariel/Hu Ge interaction in this chapter, but it’s coming. :) Actually, this chapter goes out to any ArJoe fans reading, haha.

Ttyl, and thanks for all the encouragement!




starlitscribe
Posted: Oct 6 2007, 08:38 PM


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Chapter Four: The Logical Side Always Loses

Many miles away from the temporary Jiang house, Hu Ge is finally venturing out of his room, with a decided grimace on his face. This time, luckily, he’s in jeans and a T-shirt, not pajamas, with a baseball cap and sunglasses for extra disguise. He furtively checks the corridor for any lingering demon-paparazzi before slipping out, locking his door, and heading for the stairs.

It’s not the first time he’s had encounters with ambitious media spies, but this is one of the few times it’s bothered him so much; too many things have snowballed lately, and the paparazzi are just the tip of the iceberg. He ducks his head as he passes someone else on the stairs, footsteps echoing against the concrete walls. To his relief, he isn’t recognized. At least some things are working out, he thinks tiredly. After he’d calmed down following this morning’s incident, he’d made the call about the watch (unfixable), the meeting with his manager (which he was currently traveling to), and the sink repair (not scheduled for another three days, by which time he might have drenched himself seven times over). He supposed that was life…or Jinshatan.

Five minutes later, he’s knocking on a pale green door. He glances around again, then returns his gaze to the doorknocker: brass vines, twining in a graceful oval.

Quickly, it is opened by a young woman wearing jeans and a blouse, with damp, curly hair and scissors held in one hand.

“Ah! Come in, come in!” she welcomes cheerfully, gesturing inside with the slim tool.

Hu Ge forces a small smile, distantly wondering at the arbitrary appearance of the scissors. He steps inside and closes the door. Upon her energetic motioning, he sits on a beanbag chair, and scans the room cursorily. It looks like a photo advertisement for the perfect apartment, complete with spread bed, demurely curtained windows with a sky view, a grey, organized desk with computer, and a lucid floorlength mirror. His smile turns rueful.

“Cai Yi Nong, with all due respect to my esteemed manager, you are a neat freak.”

She grins, settling herself across from him on the edge of her bed. Careful as a pilot preparing for a complicated maneuver, she positions herself over a petite azure trash can and proceeds in trimming her hair.

Oh. That explains the scissors. He isn’t surprised, for some reason. Yi Nong has many talents, both hidden and not-so-hidden. Evidently hairstyling is one of them.

She responds to his comment while keeping her eyes on her reflection in a smaller mirror on the bureau.

“Of course I am. How else would I be able to organize both my own life and the life of a certain irresponsible Di Tu Nan?” The mirror reflects an amused gaze.

He winces. Irresponsible. Yes, a responsible person would not allow himself to be drenched by his own broken sink and photographed by a random paparazzi. Yi Nong either senses his discomfort or hears his quiet sigh--her eyes flick up to examine him consideringly. She closes the mirror, places the scissors neatly beside it on the bureau top, and tilts her head inquiringly.

“What’s up? Your attitude’s as friendly as a dog who got his tail stepped on. You just got back into the entertainment world after a long absence--could be a bit more cheerful, hm?”

“Easy for the optimist to say.”

“What happened? Did your nu pengyou (girlfriend) break up with you?” she asks slyly.

“Yi Nong! You know perfectly well I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“Of course not, sweetheart. You can lie if you want to. Now, of course, there *have* been rumors…” she continues, a spark of pure mischief in her eyes.

Hu Ge rolls his eyes as she begins to recite.

“Let’s see…so far, you’ve been paired with Liu Yi Fei (Crystal Liu), An Yi Xuan (Ady An)…oh, and Lin Yi Chen…and I’m sure there’s more…”

“Yi Nong, as much as I know you enjoy tormenting me, we have work to discuss, don’t we?”

“Naturally, after you tell me what happened.”

“What if I refuse?”

“I’m your manager, and I hereby command you to tell me precisely what is bothering you. Ni shuo! Speak! Now!”

He shoots her a disbelieving look.

“Breach of contract…” she mock-threatens.

He rolls his eyes again, but reluctantly fills her in on the morning’s events.

She gives a quiet whistle when he’s finished, and sums it up in one word.

“Painful.”
He shrugs.

“There’s been worse.”

“Yes, but not at a time like now…” she stops herself and rallies her smile. “Too bad you didn’t find out who the idiot was working for. We could’ve sued them for all they were worth. Harassment, you know.”

“Wouldn’t have worked. If methods like that ever succeeded, idols would have a much easier life.”

“Yeah, I know. I was just trying to cheer you up,” she replies diffidently.

“You’re not supposed to tell me that.”

“Sorry.”

As she had intended, a small smile appeared on Hu Ge’s face. Good, she thinks. There’s been few enough smiles from the poor guy, these days.

He raises his head and inquires, “So…work?”

She sends one more glance his way, ascertaining that he is truly all right. Looks as good as he can in these circumstances. He passes the examination, for now.

She then nods quickly, transitioning quickly from friend to business partner. “Your schedule is relatively loose for the next few weeks, to our current knowledge. As you know, Sh Diāo Yīng Xing Zhun (LOCH) will be delayed to a later date to accommodate your surgery in Korea and the final scenes of Yi Chen’s drama.”

“Of course.”

“There are a few events, still, for you to attend. A promotion or two, a few charity events, and some formal gatherings. Oh, and there is also an optional party being held for the cast and crew of LOCH.” She hands him a clipboard with a neatly typed schedule on top. “Like usual, be prepared to change plans at the last minute.”

He glances over it. There are a few upcoming free days… He idly wonders what he’ll do to occupy the time. Could read…or more likely, scuttle around trying to avoid the media-demons. Suddenly, out of his hazy thoughts, a single idea coalesces. It floats temptingly just out of reach. No. That’s completely crazy. Crazy! It would be completely impractical…and besides, it wouldn’t be fair to drop in uninvited...

Against his better judgment, he realizes that he’s adjusting to the idea more and more. Finally, his logical side concedes defeat.

He blurts it out impulsively.

“Could I take a trip away from Shanghai? For a few days?”

She quirks an eyebrow.

“Where?”

Yi Nong can almost see him squirming. She resists the urge to laugh. Finally, he gives in and mutters it as quickly as he can, as if it’s a poison he’s trying to spit from his mouth.

“Taipei.”

“Taipei? Why…?” She thinks quickly. What’s in Taiwan? Couldn’t just be sightseeing, could it? The only attachment he has there is…is…oh. Oh!

She dissolves into a fit of laughter. Between peals, she manages, “Oh…hahaha…can’t breathe…you’re cute, you know.” She pauses for a moment, face almost glowing with the effort of holding in her merriment. “Of course…Yi Chen! Knew you had a girlfriend, Gege!”

Hu Ge closes his eyes, tightening his lips. Yi Nong takes one look at his fiery red complexion…and bursts into convulsive laughter again.

All the while, he huddles in his chair, embarrassed. I shouldn’t have said it. I shouldn’t have said it!

I must be insane.



---------------------------------------------------


Sorry for the long delay in updates, and sorry that this is such a short chapter. Honestly, a plot will form soon! XD It’s just taking a while to introduce the situation and main characters. Please, bear with me. Zai jian, and thanks for reading!
starlitscribe
Posted: Oct 6 2007, 08:41 PM


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Chapter Five: Shanghaied*

Yi Nong locks her apartment door and turns back to Hu Ge, a smirk firmly planted on her face. Her companion’s expression, on the other hand, is closer to a grimace. She eyes him speculatively as she tucks the key into her pocket. Then, slowly, she begins to saunter down the carpeted hallway, half-turned to keep her eye on him.

“You know I was joking, right?” she inquires, pausing for him to catch up. He follows grudgingly, but his only response is a baleful glare.

“…”

She sighs. “All right, I’m sorry. I’ll stop needling you---even if it *is* highly entertaining.” Although she doesn’t look back at him, she can sense the heat of his glare jumping up a few notches. “I’m not a kebab, so you can stop trying to skewer me with your eyes. OK?”

“…”

“Sorry! I really will stop now. Here---Yi Chen is just a very good friend, and you’re visiting her to keep up the friendly connection. Happy?”

“…”

Amid the silence, the skewer-glare relents slightly. Only slightly.

“…”

“Lord, my client has turned into a rock. What am I going to tell the boss?”

Finally, he gives a heavy sigh. “Fine, I’ll forgive you if you stop talking.”

“Joy! The stone speaks!”

“What did you just promise…?” he hints pointedly.

“Oh, right. No needling. Dui bu qi,” she apologizes, quite insincerely.

She shoots him a glance to gauge his reaction, and is happy to find that he seems exasperated. Good. He’s back to normal.

“But Yi Nong?”

“Mhmm?”

“Please, don’t tell anyone about this.”

“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t spill if they trussed me up and threatened to de-alphabetize my filing cabinet.”

“Now that is a formidable vow, Yi Nong.”

“All for you, Di Tu Nan,” she tosses back jokingly.

He waves off her facetiousness and continues, but this time with a slightly lightened demeanor. Although she gave her word in such bantering terms, he knows that it’s her own form of sincerity.

They reach the end of the hallway. Yi Nong pushes open a heavy door and, with exaggerated magnanimity, holds it for Hu Ge. Emerging into the bright sunlight, on the edge of a small parking lot, they are hailed by a high but distinctly masculine voice.

“Wei, jie! Wait up!”

Hu Ge squints against the glare. Yi Nong shades her eyes, and recognizing the caller, responds in kind.

“Ah Shui! Xiu Yu! What are you doing here?” she hollers.

A boy waves and jogs over from the opposite side of the macadam, despite a taller girl’s attempts to restrain him. She gives up and follows at a more measured pace as her companion halts, with a bounce, in front of Yi Nong.

“Thought we’d come to visit,” he remarks, with a mischievous smile that is strikingly reminiscent of the manager’s. (Must run in the family, muses Hu Ge.) “Sorry, Gege. We didn’t know you two had a meeting scheduled.”

“It’s fine, Shui.”

The boy looks to be about eleven, with a slim, short stature and full brown hair, cut close to his head. His features are rounded with youth---a snub nose, large eyes, and plump cheeks---and as Hu Ge knows from meeting him on previous occasions with his manager, he has lately developed a predilection for wearing suits. Yi Nong has confided, amusedly, that her didi (younger brother) thinks it makes him look older.

Presently, Xiu Yu catches up with her brother and bows politely.

“Hao jiu bu jian, Hu xiansheng. It’s been a long time since we last met, Mr. Hu.”

Her smile is friendly but, unlike Shui’s, distant. She is in her first year of college, with a scholarship to one of the most elite universities in Taiwan, and although she’s generally gracious, she’s also extremely conscious of social protocol. This may gain her good standing among teachers, but it also prevents her from becoming close with her more open friends. She has lighter colored hair than her brother, and a sturdier build; she’s wearing a brightly colored sundress with a full skirt that extends down to her ankles.

They’ve given up convincing her to drop the formalities, and respond as normally as they can.

“Likewise, Xiu Yu. How are the preparations for university?”

“Very well, thank you.”

As she finishes speaking, Ah Shui ruins the refined atmosphere by poking her. She recoils, and gives him a reproachful glare.

“Jiee-e,” he complains. “You’re like an old lady. What’s this ‘Hu xiansheng,’ anyway? He’s our Gege, not the president.”

“It’s called politeness. Gentility. I guess you’ve never heard of it,” she retorts, teeth gritted. He makes a rude face at her.

Hu Ge, attempting hurriedly to play the peacemaker, interjects with the first question he can think of.

“So, what do you think of your academic programs?”

“They’re fine,” Xiu Yu answers happily, just as Ah Shui remarks, “They’re horrible, thanks.”

It looks as if they’re trying to glare each other down.

“What? You’re thinking the same thing. You’re just not honest.”

Yi Nong now takes up the white flag and cuts in.

“What did you want to visit me for?”

“Oh, Xiu Yu just wanted to ask you something.”

She clears her throat, throwing one last withering glance at her brother before turning back to Hu Ge and her sister.

“Jiejie…I was wondering if you were free sometime next week? I’d like to have lunch with you, and this horrible child,” she says, gesturing to her brother, “to tell you something. Oh, and Hu xiansheng” (Shui makes a retching noise, which she ignores.) “I’d like you to come, as well, if you’re not too busy.”

“I’m free, but I’m afraid…” she glances at Hu Ge, unsure how much to tell.

He wavers for a moment. Better safe than sorry.

“I can’t come. Dui bu qi. I have…an appointment.”

“Appointment?” she inquires.

“What kind?” Shui asks, blunt as always.

“Personal.” He quickly invents an excuse to avoid elaborating. “Oh, I’m sorry. I have a meeting in a few minutes. Please excuse me.”

“Oh, then we should be leaving. Thank you anyway. And jie, I’ll call you later about the details, all right?”

“Hao la. Sure.”

“Zai jian, then.”

Xiu Yu bows, and her eyes meet Hu Ge’s for a moment. She smiles in a fleeting motion---but this time, it’s different. Unlike the vague expressions she’s been giving all throughout the exchange, it seems to be genuine, and almost childlike in its brightness; as if, for a short instant, all self-consciousness drops away. Before anyone can comment, however, the smile fades back into blankness, and she walks away. Yi Nong watches her sharply.

Oblivious, her brother rolls his eyes in her direction and grins, bowing over-exaggeratedly, first to Yi Nong and then to Hu Ge. He moves as if to leave…then puts in a last question as an afterthought.

“We’ll see each other again soon, right, Gege?” His eyes are playful, but this time, there is a plaintive undertone.

Hu Ge looks sideways at Yi Nong for help. She, however, is already gazing at him expectantly.

“I think so. Maybe. Probably.”

“Promise?”

“Ah…I…” He is saved from answering by Xiu Yu’s call.

“Ah Shui! Get over here! Now!” she yells. Obviously, her politeness does not extend to her brother.

“Hao la! I’m coming!” he shouts back, then whispers conspiratorially to Hu Ge. “She’s a tyrant, isn’t she? See you later, Ge!” He jogs over to Xiu Yu, who is waiting beside her staid gray car.

Yi Nong narrows her eyes to observe as they drive away. Shui waves jauntily from the back seat, eliciting a small smile from his eldest sister.

Once they are out of hearing, Hu Ge voices a question.

“How have they been doing?” he asks quietly.

“All right. Probably. Mostly. Somewhat.” She stops and sighs, ducking her head down for a moment. Her final answer is slow in coming.

“Honestly…? ...I don’t know.”

The car turns out of the lot, onto the street, and coasts slowly down the road. Finally, it disappears behind an office building, trailing a stream of colored vehicles like a school of Caribbean fish.

--------

Yi Nong and Hu Ge are walking down a quiet street nearby. The former, of course, has his hat and sunglasses firmly in place, and so far he’s been lucky to go unrecognized.

“What did you mean by ‘I don’t know’?” questions Hu Ge, at length.

She sighs again, swinging her arms slowly as she walks. “I don’t. They visit me, yes. But I have the feeling they never quite tell me everything that’s going on. You know they’re in a foster home, yes?”

He nods. “You told me.”

“Lots of background there, but I’ll try to make a long story short.” She went on in a matter-of-fact voice.

“It all happened before I became your manager, of course…after I had moved out of the household and had started to make my own way in the world. First, our mother died. Didn’t surprise us much; she was a hopeless drunk and a compulsive smoker. She killed herself, supposedly accidentally, through an alcohol overdose. My father had left a long time ago, so Shui and Xiu Yu were pretty much alone. I tried to take care of them, but I couldn’t juggle work and kids. Xiu Yu was especially difficult…she was a young teenager, then, and she argued like a lawyer. I was too immature to prevent myself from arguing right back. I loved them…but I was only twenty-three at the time, and there was no way I could provide for them, emotionally or physically. So I found them foster parents.

“Still,” she continues, with a sigh, “it took them a long time to get used to it, and to speak to me again. I got my life on track, later, and they eventually said they understood, but I’m not sure they completely forgave me. Both of them changed…became more guarded…and they still don’t confide in me as much as they do in each other. It’s frustrating sometimes. I’m the elder sister, and I’m supposed to take care of them, but I can’t. Not a good feeling, you know?”

“Yes. I know.”

He does know. He knows exactly what it feels, because that same guilt has been stabbing him ever since the accident. If he’d been more careful…if he hadn’t been there, hadn’t gone, hadn’t let it happen…maybe everything would have been different. It’s one of the worst parts of the memory that’s been playing over and over and over again in his head---unchanging and unchangeable. If he could alter everything, maybe Zhang Min---no. He closes his eyes for a moment. It’s still hard, no, impossible, to accept…

“Wei. If you’re going to faint, you’d better tell me. I don’t want to have to catch you.”

His eyes snap open. Yi Nong is scrutinizing him, for at least the tenth time that day.

“I’m fine. Is there anything I can do for Shui and Xiu Yi?” he fills in, speaking as normally as he can.

She lets it pass, to his relief, reverting to the subject of her siblings. He’s too busy trying to focus on the matter at hand to notice how purposefully she ignores his slip, and how false her following heartiness is.

“Hey, you’ve already done more good for them than I ever did. You’re their adopted Gege. They sure interact better with you than they do with me.”

She stops, cocking her head.

“Shi shenme? What’s that?”

Hu Ge pulls free of the memories gripping his mind and looks around. There appears to be nothing abnormal.

“What?”

She waves her finger vaguely in the air. “Listen.”

They can now hear shouts, loud but indistinct, mingling in chaotic counterpoint to the rushing cars. The source, whatever it is, seems to be beyond the nearby corner.

“Sounds almost as loud as a paparazzi swarm,” comments Hu Ge, slightly unsteadily. He had been aiming for humor, but Yi Nong nods grimly.

They round the corner and spot the cause immediately. A crowd of black, white, and gray, sprinkled with metallic silver where myriad cameras glitter against the sun. They inundate the sidewalk, spilling into the street as cars honk and swerve past…surrounding two figures, attempting to wade through, with hands raised futilely against the attackers.

Two familiar figures.

Yi Nong swears under her breath, then asks, without looking at him,

“Recognize them?”

Hu Ge nervously peers at the opposite side of the street. One male, one female…a glimpse of one face…

He jerks up in surprise.

“What are they doing here?! They should have known better than to have been caught in a swarm.”

“Sometimes there’s no choice.”

He winces, bites his lip. They had to get those two out of there. Leaving them would be like throwing siblings into a lake full of piranhas.

“Sorry to ask you, but can you wing it again?”

She sizes them up. “Sure. I’ve handled worse, I guess. Let’s hope they’re gullible.”

“We’d better hurry.”

“OK la.”

Hu Ge begins to walk quickly down the street, trying to accelerate without drawing attention. Luckily, most pedestrians are ogling the other side of the street, gossiping about who and what might be there.

Yi Nong watches him leave, and then taps her foot and pivots back to scan the crowd.

“Have to love the drama,” she mutters to herself, smirking slightly.

She taps the nearest person on the shoulder---a tourist, with an “I Love NYC” cap, casual wear, and a furiously clicking disposable.

“May I borrow this?” she asks in lightly accented English.

--------------------------

Jiang Fu Hua presses against the people in front of her, raising her camera above her head and squinting at the viewfinder to get the best shot of the beleaguered couple. Her lips are curved in a grim smile.

Click. Mediocre. Lighting’s off. As she readjusts the device’s position, headlines flit through her mind, and she absentmindedly categorizes them: bad, OK, catchy. Something about a secret date should be a good enough eye-catcher. Her grin widens vindictively as she fantasizes about her boss’ reaction when she slams the photographs down on his grime-encrusted desk. That’ll teach the old cheapskate to lower my pay. These two are seasoned idols, so they’re experts at avoiding unwanted media attention, and articles on them are rare. A special feature will be a lucrative catch.

Maybe, she considers, I could get my paycheck early this week. Then maybe she and Jesse and Lyddie could actually afford to go out somewhere. It’s Lyddie’s fifth birthday this week, and she’s been dying to see the new Italian restaurant on the next street over. Her smile drops off as she brings herself back to reality. Can’t hope for that much. The boss is a tight-fisted witch. She snaps another photo quickly. As soon as I can get enough money for a better job, I’m out of this trashy tabloid.

It surprises her that these two were caught out together. They should have been able to avoid photographers easily. But who would’ve known that all the gossip magazines would have gotten an anonymous tip-off? Guess those kids have some serious enemies.

Suddenly, there is a commotion at the front of the crowd. One person pushes past everyone else, moving in front to block the view of their prey, and forcing them back. It’s a woman, with an “I Love NYC” baseball cap and a camera slung around her neck. She steps up onto a bench in the center. There are shouts of outrage at her audacity.

“Ni bu ke yi…photograph,” she shouts, calling the first words in nasal Mandarin with an American accent, and the last in perfect English.

Who is this twit? And “you can’t” what?” Fu Hua can only understand a few words of English. All she knows is that this person is obstructing her job.

“Shei ah?” she yells. “Who are you?” Others echo her.

“Ni bu ke yi, ah, take picture!” she repeats loudly. She gestures to the reporters before her. “Zhige…this…bu hao (not good). Contract…America company.” She waves a piece of paper, and continues her explanation in mangled Mandarin and English.

The reporters in front tire of the infuriating woman and shout for her to move. Still, she persists, becoming angrier with each passing moment, stumbling in and out of Mandarin and English. Finally, she puts a hand on her hip and cries out something in English. Fu Hua has no idea what it is, but she hears other multilingual paparazzi muttering “su song” ---lawsuit.

“Feng neu ren,” Fu Hua hisses angrily, grinding the heel of her shoe against the pavement. “Crazy woman.”

The woman suddenly produces a cell phone from her jeans pocket. She glances at the front, then shoves it back and turns to the crowd.

“Sorry. Nice meeting you.” She bows, head tilted, with a charming smile. “Bye bye.”

Then she turns, vaults over the back of the bench, and disappears into the park greenery. The reporters breathe a sigh of relief, until they notice, with a shock, that she is not the only one who has departed. The area behind the bench is empty. Their prey is gone.

A male paparazzi beside Fu Hua utters a vehement curse. Everyone lowers their cameras, some grinding their teeth, others already leaving disappointedly.

“Anyone get quality shots? Name your price and I’ll buy them.”

“Nobody did, idiot. We would have, if the insane waiguoren (foreigner) hadn’t shown up.”

“They’re underestimating us. Idol brats. Think they know everything.”

“It’s always been that way.”

A young reporter with brownish-blonde hair zips up his camera case, shakes his bangs out of his eyes, and speaks up coldly.

“They have no idea what we could do to them.”



----------------------------------



And there is the long-awaited chapter. Sorry for the wait. And I hope I got the right word for “lawsuit”…I’m just using an online translator.

You’ll find out who they are…soon…and Hu Ge will visit Ariel…soon…lol. I spend too much time on minor characters. Dui bu qi.
Off to watch more drama! I’m loving Coffee Prince and First Kiss right now, among many others.

* “Shanghaied” is a pun because they’re currently in Shanghai city, and “shanghai” also means to “put by trickery into an undesirable situation” (Merriam-Webster).
starlitscribe
Posted: Feb 23 2008, 07:10 PM


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I'm sorry to people who have been reading this...lol, I kind of forgot I was still posting it in here xD. Thank swimfishyswim dear for reminding me.^^ I'll try to keep up from now on, and if I don't, maybe swim will forgive my laziness/forgetfulness and post it for me, ahahaha.

To warn you all, WR is going to be very behind-time and very AU from now on. I can’t keep up with their real-life personalities/activities…hopefully it will still be interesting. ^_~ Enjoy!

---------------

Chapter Six: The News and the Narcissist

Joe bursts through the house door, followed closely by Ariel. After the crash, Ariel is expecting something huge---a row of broken cameras, a misplaced elephant---but at first, as she looks around confusedly, she sees nothing out of the ordinary. Crew members are hurrying past, setting up equipment and calling out questions, as they do each morning.

Then both of them hear a low groan. They hesitantly look down over the edge of the porch.

“Wang Dong Cheng!” Ariel sighs, and crouches down beside him. Jiro is sprawled on the ground, gingerly touching the crown of his head. A rotund plastic figure lies next to him, as well as a broken terra-cotta pot with greenery and soil spilling from its rim. She reaches down to smack him lightly on the shoulder. “Ni xia si wo! You scared me to death! What in the world are you doing?”

“Meiyou. Nothing,” he mumbles. “I was just minding my own business, walking in, and then that useless plastic lump of a statue tripped me. So I tried to grab the plant and it...well, fell,” he finishes lamely, and then adds, “on my head.”

“Aiya…sa gua,” Ariel winces ; Joe, in turn, makes a face of sympathy. Still kneeling, Ariel shifts her feet closer to the porch edge to reach out and touch the lump on Jiro’s temple lightly. She pulls back, biting her lip, when he gives a quiet hiss of breath, and her eyes widen when she glimpses the faint smear of blood on her index finger. “Wei! You should get that taken care of.”

Glancing up at his friends’ expressions, Jiro feels a twinge of guilt. He quickly gives his trademark pout and points out a small cut on the left side of his forehead.

“Worse…it ruined my perfect skin! My complexion will never be the same! Tien na…” He sighs melodramatically.

Joe looks relieved. “If you’re worried about your skin, Da Dong, it can’t have been that bad,” he grins. “Once a narcissist, always a narcissist.”

A small smile appears on Ariel’s lips, but even so, she accuses, “You liar.” She drapes her arms across her knees and leans in, eyes narrowed suspiciously. “You’re trying to placate us, dui bu dui?”

“I hope not. By now he should know the dangers of Yi Chen, otherwise known as the golden time bomb,” interjects Joe. Ariel gives him a dirty look. Before Jiro can respond, however, a voice is heard from behind him.

“Our resident narcissist is injured?” calls Danson. Yi Zhen and Tiffany are following him, with Figaro walking more slowly behind. They’re each in their character’s persona already, with fitting garb and coiffed hair, except for Tiffany. Jiro, craning his neck around to watch them, can’t help but notice that she looks particularly lovely in jeans and a deep purple polo ; she doesn’t have a part in the scenes today, but she still comes for backup and support. With her enthusiasm for offering help, the crew members have adopted her as their protg (except for a skittish sound technician whose sound system she almost broke accidentally). Winnie sometimes jokes that she could take over the set if they let her.

Now, something gold slips from her hand: a ring. Tiffany exclaims, and drops to her knees to comb the grass for the lost piece. Yi Zhen bends to help her, but she waves her on with a good-natured smile. Her hair slips out from behind her ear, and she tucks it back quickly as she peers at the grass. Finally, she plucks the ring up, and---

A hand is waved in front of Jiro’s gaping expression.

“He’s obviously not too wounded to ogle Wei Ning,” comments Figaro with quiet but obvious dryness, as Jiro jerks to attention and Yi Zhen removes her hand pointedly from his line of view. Danson stifles a laugh, exchanging amused glances with Joe, and calls Tiffany over. Jiro, meanwhile, has a mysterious coughing fit.

“Ni mei shi ba?” she inquires upon arrival, bending down to look at his reddened complexion. He’s still attempting to cover up by coughing rather unconvincingly. Tiffany, however, is completely oblivious of this, and of the others giggling behind their hands. “You know, there’s been a cough going around...it’s quite contagious, though, so we should probably…”

“No! No! I’m fine,” he interrupts immediately, almost stuttering in his haste.

“Wei Ning, Da Dong here has a bit of a scratch. Would you mind bandaging it up for him?” slips in Yi Zhen slyly.

“Oh--” she begins.

“Ah, no, thank you, I’m perfectly all right, fine, thanks. Eh…Yi Chen, could you come here for a minute?” He scrambles to his feet and pulls Ariel away before she can say a word. Turning her head over her shoulder, she rolls her eyes back at the others and then follows along. Before they move out of range, Joe hears Ariel tease, "Why, are you all right? Just a moment ago, you seemed perfectly content to sit and stare."

With a pained look, Jiro pleads in a whisper, "Bai tuo, please, stop!!" His companion relents and gives him a gentle smile, which Joe can't help but notice. Her eyes have that happy light... He feels a slight twinge of worry, which he shrugs off. He rationalizes quickly that it’s very unlikely that they’d ever consider falling for each other, mentally tabulating the reasons against it. Meanwhile, the pair disappears around the side of the house, heading for a trailer farther up the hill. Joe tries his best not to look after them.

Suddenly, an unfamiliar voice speaks---feminine and low. “Is our poor Xiao Zong jealous?” The tone is flat, with a touch of condescension.

“Excuse me??” Joe whirls around to find a tall, sturdy woman standing behind him. Yi Zhen, Danson, Tiffany, and Figaro are standing to the side, looking her over with universal confusion. Blonde highlights streak her hair, which just brushes the shoulder of her gray T-shirt. Her expression is a mask of indifference.

Joe’s heart jolts. All humor, all petty concern, vanishes from his mind. He takes a slow breath to calm himself, but it doesn’t help much. Unbidden, a memory floats to the surface of his mind; the last time he saw this woman, she had a gun pressed to a man’s head. “What are you doing here?”

“I can’t visit my sweet little cuz to see how her career is going? She’s the great Ariel Lin, after all,” she drawls, smirking slightly. “Hell, it was easy enough to get in here...snagged a pass from some audio tech kid and I was in.”

“You know I don’t---”

“Of course. You know I don’t either. Where’s Yi Chen?”

“Weren’t you in jail?”

“Not ’nymore...parents bailed, happily for me.”

“I don’t think she wants to see you.”

“Too bad...” she sighs, rocking back on one foot. Then she tilts her head and the sardonic smile returns. “Don’t worry, though. I’ll find her.”

“Xiao Zong...who is she?” Yi Zhen asks, bristling. She doesn’t understand the situation, but she senses the hostility in the air, and she can see that this woman is not an ally.

“I can see your hackles rising. No need for hate, Yi Zhen...Wei Ning...Shao Zong...Yu Zhe.” Her gaze shifts from person to person as she speaks. She seems to be enjoying the looks of surprise on their faces as she addresses them individually. “I’m leaving. Just tell Arie I was here. Or not. That might make it easier.” She takes a few lazy steps backward, and flicks her hand outward in a kind of wave. “Hasta la vista, mi amigos.”

And she is gone, leaving the air crackling with tension and unanswered questions.

---


Ariel and Jiro return from the trailer as Xiang Qin and Ah Jin, to see the group arguing quietly.

“Shenme la? What’s up?” she inquires bemusedly. They turn around quickly, clamming up, and stand with pale faces. No one will meet her eyes. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Yi Chen...there’s something we need to tell you...” begins Figaro. Just then, Ariel’s cell phone buzzes, announcing the arrival of a text message. She holds up a hand to forestall his explanation, and fishes it out of her pocket.

Yi Chen,
Hu Ge will be coming to visit Taiwan in a few days. Care to meet up?
Best regards,
Yi Nong





---------------------
starlitscribe
Posted: Feb 23 2008, 07:17 PM


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Member No.: 1,066
Joined: 14-June 07



Chapter Seven: Jihui (Opportunity) - Part I

Yi Nong snaps her cell phone shut, satisfied. She’s certain that Ariel is as eager to see Ge as he is to see her...maybe the message will cheer her up. Ariel, she’s heard, has been extremely busy, what with grueling diet programs and crazy film schedules; besides, she’s had her share of trouble. More than her share. Yi Nong remembers vividly when Hu Ge rushed off from a birthday party to speak to a distraught friend in Taiwan, after the events of earlier this year. She hadn’t know at the time exactly what happened, but she’d gathered that Ariel was in a bad state...as bad as where Ge had been when the accident happened. After his surgery, Yi Nong recalls, it seemed that Ariel was on the phone or on instant messenger every time she checked in her charge. It was like Miss Lin was some sort of lifeline for him.

And that, she concludes, is why I have to protect them. She begins to walk faster, heading to the place she and Ge had designated previously as the meeting spot while planning the rescue. Their friendship is unbreakable. And I will never, ever let anyone change that.

As she walks, she snatches fleeting glances at the people milling about her on the sidewalk; all different lives, all walking to different locations, stepping to the rhythm of mixed heartbeats. How poetic. She smiles at her own thoughts, indulging in imagery, as she ducks between a couple arguing in Japanese. Personification of a city...a tangle of threads from a million lives... The skyscrapers loom on each side of the street, as vehicles honk and maneuver through cramped thoroughfares. And then there’s pollution, overcrowding, sanitation problems, poverty, and violence. What can you do? Her smile is resigned.

Above the bobbing heads before her, she spots her destination: a small grocery store compressed incongruously between a bank and a gleaming new business building, like a scruffy kitten huddled between two panthers. She slips expertly from the stream of people, pulls the door open, and disappears inside.

The interior is dim, but not unpleasantly so. The air smells faintly clean, with an undercurrent whiff of fresh fruit. The young cashier, looking about thirty years old, glances up, smiles cheerfully, and nods to her—she’s known him since childhood. He’s a good friend, and doesn’t mind that Yi Nong still uses his shop as a rendezvous. (His only conditions are that Yi Nong promises to buy a fruit and give him news every time she visits.)

“Wei! You made it!” a familiar voice calls. Yi Nong looks before her, and then to the right, and grins as she spots the owner. Hu Ge, Xie Na, and Peter Ho stand to the side. Xie Na has a mischievous grin on her face. “We were afraid the hyenas got you.”

“I was worrying the same thing about you two.” She knows both from Hu Ge’s friendship with them. That connection was one of the reasons why she agreed so readily to the trick—although she’d have done it for anyone. She walks over to them quickly and puts her hands on her hips. Now, however, her smile has disappeared in favor of a scolding mien. “What were you thinking, getting into a swarm like that? And together?? The tabloids will have a field day!”

Peter winces. Xie Na coughs.

“We didn’t try it,” Peter offers tentatively. “We were just explaining...”

“Yes?” she prompts.

Peter’s powers of explication fail him under her stare. Ge steps in for the rescue.

“They came to visit me.”

“Zhende ma? Really? Together?” she presses.

“No,” Ge continues, refusing to be cowed. “They happened to run into each other and were just chatting when the swarm came out of nowhere.”

“There is no nowhere. Everything comes out of somewhere.” Yi Nong is suspicious, but she lets them off the hook anyway. “Well, at least you’re all right.”

In the relieved silence, her cell phone rings, a short trill of notes. She flips it open and reads the text message. A grin dances on her lips. Quickly she texts a short message back, and puts it away, chuckling quietly to herself.

“Yi Nong?” She looks up at Ge, who’s eying her warily. “You look like a cat that just got into the cream.”

She laughs mischievously. “That was a certain friend of yours. She says...” She pauses to build suspense. “...she’d love to see you. In fact, she asked for your itinerary so she can pick you up at the airport.”

“Ehh? You told her already? Are you serious?” he gapes. Xie Na and Peter exchange puzzled expressions.

“Shi shei? Who is it?” asks Xie Na, the blunter of the two. Peter elbows her lightly and gives her a reprimanding look. “What?” she whispers at him defensively. He shrugs, uneasy. Yi Nong almost laughs. They haven’t known each other for a very long time, but their personalities are such that they can interact comfortably—like brother and sister. For a moment, it reminds her of Ah Shui and Xiu Yu and herself, in better times. She mentally stamps on the sad thought before it ruins her entire mood.

“Ge? Will you tell them, or keep them in suspense?” she inquires wryly. This way, she leaves an option open for him to keep his visit to Yi Chen secret, if he really wishes to.

“Just..just a distant relative. So she wants to see me...” He’s still slightly shocked, but a rather silly smile is inching its way onto his face. Xie Na and Peter both seem skeptical. Xie Na opens her mouth to ask another question, but Peter steps on her foot pointedly. She glances up at him in surprise, sees his warning look, and sighs. She stays silent.

Yi Nong sighs mentally. Ge’s caution is still up to the maximum. He won’t even tell his friends... Oh well. At least he tells me some things...certain other people zip their lips and force a smile at me. Like they have to push themselves just to make conversation. When did that happen to us, anyway? Ah Shui is getting far too expert at pretending...and Xiu Yu, at being distantly polite. Damn. And I don’t even have time to patch our relationship... Abruptly, she bites her lip, hard. And I was doing so well, not thinking about them... She concentrates pointedly on an image of Hu Ge and Ariel reuniting in Taipei. Focus. Focus.

“Yes.” She smiles. “But you all should get back before a swarm finds us here. Hurry.”

“Won’t you be coming with us?” inquires Peter politely.

Yi Nong glances over at the shop owner, who is carefully not paying attention to them.

“No, not right now. Maybe I’ll see you later, all right?”

Ge nods, understanding. “Meeting postponed?”

She smiles wryly. “Yeah. Thanks, Di Tu Nan.”

“Nice to see you again, anyway,” says Xie Na happily.

“You too. Take care and avoid the hyenas, hao bu hao?”

Xie Na nods enthusiastically. She pulls Ge and Peter behind her, toward the door, waving to Yi Nong as she goes. As they exit, Peter and Xie Na are facing forward, but Ge looks back once. Yi Nong grins, and puts her hand by her ear with extended pinky and thumb. Call Yi Chen. He turns back, and is gone.

Finally, Yi Nong walks back to the counter, with a sigh. “Hey, Isaac.”

“Hao jiu bu jian, Karen. Long time no see.” He’s looking at her directly, but this time there’s no bright smile for the sake of the others. His expression is worried, solemn. It’s a look which doesn’t seem to fit his youthful appearance, Yi Nong muses for the endth time. He’s just a few years her senior. Then again, he’s always been quiet and far too serious for his years.

“You look like the Grim Reaper. Your name means ‘he laughs,’ you know. You could try to fulfill it a little,” she teases, trying to cheer him. He gives a tiny smile, but lapses back again once he speaks.

“You let them go, then?”

“Who?” she inquires, picking up a mango from a nearby basket. She sniffs it appreciatively.

“Ah Shui. Xiu Yu.”

“What? Let them go where?” she replies, distracted.

His eyes widen. “Karen.”

“Mm?” She’s still not fully paying attention.

“Karen!”

“Yes?” She finally gives her full attention.

“Did you see them today?”

“Yes. And they were as distant as always,” she sighs.

“Dammit!” he expostulates. “She swore she would tell you.”

“Tell me what??” She can see that he’s upset, and it’s beginning to worry her, as well.

“Ah Shui pulled out of school a few days ago. Xiu Yu came to me and asked me to keep it secret from you. She said they’d be moving—she took a side job to pay for their expenses. Said she couldn’t stand you and Hu Ge having to check up on them when you were obviously too busy for it. I tried to reason with her, but she wouldn’t hear it, and she promised she’d let one of you know once it was too late to stop them.”

“What??!” Yi Nong’s eyes are wide. She strides over to the counter and stares at Isaac. “You didn’t think to tell me? I’m their sister! They’re my responsibility! They’re nowhere near old enough to be on their own!”

“They were practically on their own for a long time anyway, Karen." He's trying to be reasonable, but it's obvious his own temper is rising. "You’ve hardly contacted them. Do you even know where they’ve been? What they’ve been doing??”

“I asked! They wouldn’t tell me anything!”

“Because they thought you didn’t have time for them! Of course they’d pretend!”

“I gave all the time I had! And you can’t excuse yourself by saying that! You’re an adult! You should have stopped them!”

Before he can respond, she turns and storms out the door, pulling out her cell phone as she goes. The store is left in silence. Isaac closes his eyes for a moment. His anger has subsided, and he's left feeling guilty and empty.

“I’m s orry,” he whispers into the air. He bends down to pick up the mango Yi Nong dropped, and holds it for a moment in the palm of his hand. “Dui bu qi.”

----------

Hu Ge is sitting in a cab with Xie Na and Peter (the driver is one of Peter’s employees, so there’s no danger in terms of eavesdropping). It’s an easy atmosphere. Peter has just been telling them about his role in an upcoming Japanese drama.

“It’s called Shanghai Typhoon, and my character is really—”

At that moment, Ge’s cell phone rings. He glances at the caller: unknown. It could be anyone. He picks up, warily.

“Wei?”

“Dui bu qi,” breathes a female voice.

“Shi shei? Who is this?”

“Tell Yi Nong we’ve left. We can’t tell you where we are now. I’m Sorry.”

“Xiu Yu?” He recognizes the voice and is immediately concerned. “Ni mei shi ba? Are you all right? What do you mean?”

“We won’t see you for a while. But we’re safe. I promise.”

“Xiu Yu, what are you talking about?” Beside him, Xie Na and Peter are listening, with worried expressions. They don’t know what’s going on, but it doesn’t sound good.

“Zai jian, Gege.”

“Xiu Yu! Deng yi sha! Wait a second!” The next thing Ge hears is a dial tone. Furiously he redials. No answer. He’s truly upset now. Xiu Yu and Ah Shui are like younger siblings to him. He scrolls quickly through his contact list and finds Yi Nong. Just as he’s preparing to call her, the phone rings again. He picks up immediately, not bothering to look at the caller ID.

“Wei? Xiu Yu?”

“Ah...no...actually, it’s Yi Chen. Ha, well, I should probably say Rong er,” Ariel says happily. “I heard you’re coming to Taiwan, Gege?”

Disappointment and happiness conflict within him. Why is it the worst possible timing? But...but...he has a responsibility to Ah Shui and Xiu Yu.

“Sorry, I can’t talk right now,” he says quickly, before he loses his willpower. He wants so much to talk to her... No. Can’t. I can’t. He gives a fast goodbye. “Zai jian.” He forces his finger to press “end call.”

On the other end of the line, Ariel hears a dial tone. Wei shenme? Why? She is left staring at the phone in her hand, with a puzzled, slightly hurt expression on her face.



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