First Published on Chaleuria
05 – Hard and Soft Negotiations
Yao Yuan opened his eyes at 6 a.m. in the morning as he always did. His dormitory roommates were still fast asleep. He quietly put on his clothes and was about to leave for his morning exercise when he heard hurried footsteps draw close and stop outside his dorm room door. Immediately, Yao Yuan pulled open the door and made a shushing motion before the person could speak.
“Yuan-ge…” Zhang Chen said in a low voice.
Yao Yuan glanced back at his roommates before shutting the room door and gesturing for Zhang Chen to follow him out. Zhang Chen had always been a little annoyed by how considerate Yao Yuan was: such sensitivity didn’t fit the image of a chief. But whenever he mentioned it, Yao Yuan would rebut him saying, ‘I’m not a chief in the first place,’ which made Zhang Chen gloomy. In his mind he had already acknowledged Yao Yuan as his chief for life.
“chief, yesterday…” They had finally left the dorm building, and Zhang Chen looked over Yao Yuan from head to toe without concern for the noise.
“Do I look like I’m hurt?” Yao Yuan opened his arms wide and smiled, letting Zhang Chen inspect him.
“It’s good that you aren’t.” Zhang Chen sighed in relief. He remembered the rumors he had heard yesterday and wanted to ask, but didn’t dare. He opened his mouth but no sound came out.
Seeing Zhang Chen want to say something then fall silent again, Yao Yuan was impatient and patted him lightly on the shoulder. “When did you get so wishy-washy?”
“That… you and… Su Mu…”
Zhang Chen was still hemming and hawing, but Yao Yuan realized what he was trying to say. He smiled and ruffled Zhang Chen’s short hair, then punched him in the stomach. “Do you think I’m that sort of person?”
“Of course not!” Zhang Chen immediately denied it. How could someone like Yuan-ge be… but the image from yesterday suddenly surfaced in his mind: Su Mu saying with conviction, “I won’t let anything happen to him.” At the time, Zhang Chen had somehow gotten the mistaken impression that his unbeatable chief was cared for and loved by someone.
“Then forget about it. Let’s go, morning exercise!”
Zhang Chen put aside his uncertainty and ran with Yao Yuan to the P.E. court. On the way, he felt that the gazes directed toward his chief were ambiguous, and he was aware of what those gazes meant. Su Mu. He silently repeated the name to himself.
Yao Yuan finished his morning exercises and returned to his dorm room, where his roommates handed him a newspaper. In the sports section, a photo occupied more than half the page: two men, one leaning against a streetlamp and reaching for the other’s sunglasses, their gazes meeting and intermingling with ambiguous intent. Next to it was a shocking caption: Hai Tian Team Captain Lei Che is gay!
Too many Chinese soccer players had bad track records, from brawling to organized fighting to manslaughter to drug use, and Yao Yuan had long become inured to it. But it was different when the co-star of such gossip was a brother of his.
Yao Yuan tossed the newspaper down, pulled out his phone, and dialed. Very quickly, the call connected. Before he could ask, a bright and clear voice explained, “Yao Yuan, it’s a misunderstanding. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”
Yao Yuan frowned at the familiar words. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” He always said that. No matter what he ran into, he always took care of it on his own. Discontent, he said, “Jiang Luo, we’re brothers.”
The person on the other end laughed lightly. “I know. That’s why, of all the people who called me today, yours was the only call I picked up.”
“Jiang Luo!” Yao Yuan’s voice grew harsher.
“Yao Yuan, I promise you. If there’s really trouble, I’ll let you know immediately.”
Yao Yuan could not say anything more. He was always helpless towards Jiang Luo. His efforts felt like punching cotton.
Yao Yuan quietly waited for the follow-up, but he didn’t hear Jiang Luo speak for a long time. So he asked, “What?”
“If you can, don’t get close to Su Mu. He… is dangerous.”
Yao Yuan laughed lightly. “I know he’s not simple. But, Jiang Luo, what are you worried about? That I can’t beat him in a fight?”
It was silent on the other end for a long time.
“Jiang Luo, I’ll promise you something too. I’ll be careful around Su Mu.”
For the whole afternoon after that, Yao Yuan considered Jiang Luo’s words. He had known Jiang Luo for a long time and knew he didn’t exaggerate for effect. Following that thought, he remembered the cruel light in Su Mu’s eyes when they had first met. But Yao Yuan couldn’t figure out at all how Su Mu being a dangerous person would affect him, to the point that Jiang Luo would warn him about it so gravely. What did Yao Yuan have that Su Mu would waste his effort on? Was it really for his sister? In that case, all right. He would try to keep contact between them to a minimum. He didn’t need to think hard to know that Su Mu wouldn’t make a good husband; he would not hand his sister over to such a person.
The afternoon’s elective class was media studies, taught by Professor Ji Zhen, but Yao Yuan noticed that it was Jiang Luo who waited at the classroom entrance. This had happened before: when Professor Ji was away, he handed his lecture over to his prized student. On those occasions, the lecture hall would be packed full, and even the girls who never came to class would hurry over when they heard the news.
“Why, you look terrible. Is the matter difficult to handle?” Yao Yuan smiled and greeted him. He very rarely saw Jiang Luo this pale and haggard.
“You should go to the admin office. Vice Principal Hu wants to see you.”
Yao Yuan had already predicted this would happen, so he was not surprised. He tossed his books to Jiang Luo and spread his hands, saying with regret, “I won’t be able to see how charming you are on the podium.”
On Jiang Luo’s lips surfaced a smile which could overturn crowds, and Jiang Luo punched him lightly. “I’ll wait for you to get back to class. Go, brat. I’ll pray for that old fogey.”
Yao Yuan made a victory sign at him, then strolled to the admin office with both hands stuck in his pockets. He knocked lightly on the door—he paid attention to all the manners he should. His fists were only meant for arrogant people who bullied the weak.
“Come in.” It was Ji Zhen who spoke. Ji Zhen was the dean of the media department, and naturally Vice Principal Hu had gone to him first.
Yao Yuan pushed open the door, entered, and nodded and smiled at Ji Zhen. He ignored the other man who sat stone-faced in the main seat.
Hu Yang wasn’t yet sixty and took good care of himself: there were almost no visible wrinkles on his face and only several scattered strands of white hair at his temples. It was a little unjust for Jiang Luo to have called him an old fogey. When he saw Yao Yuan enter, he snorted coldly and turned his face away, indicating that Ji Zhen—the dean—should settle everything.
Ji Zhen coughed lightly and motioned for Yao Yuan to sit on the sofa to the side, then began, “Yesterday evening…”
“I beat up Hu Lin.” Before Ji Zhen could finish, Yao Yuan directly admitted it.
“Why?” Ji Zhen sighed in his heart. Why was this child so forthright?
“He deserved it.” Yao Yuan’s answer was decisive.
“You struck him first?”
“Yao Yuan, fighting is against school rules.”
“I know.” Yao Yuan’s face showed no fear at all.
“If you know, then why did you hit him?” Ji Zhen was trying to help, but Yao Yuan’s reactions left him helpless to do anything. “Did you have your reasons? Tell me.”
“Dean Ji…” Hu Yang could discern Ji Zhen’s intentions, of course, and snorted coldly again. “Regardless of the reasons, he knew the school rules and yet broke them, and beat his classmate up until he needed to be hospitalized. According to the school rules, he should be expelled. What are you still carrying on with him for?”
“Principal Hu…” Ji Zhen considered his words carefully. He understood Yao Yuan well: the child was still not mature enough in certain aspects, but he was a promising individual, and after some time he would achieve greatness. Ji Zhen did not want to let him leave just like that. Besides, Hu Lin’s poor character was well known to the entire school, and it wasn’t unreasonable that Yao Yuan would have used force to teach him a lesson.
“I can withdraw.” Yao Yuan’s voice was steely and strong, breaking Ji Zhen out of his thoughts.
“Yao Yuan, what nonsense is that?” Ji Zhen put aside the fact that Hu Yang was his superior and spoke to stop him.
Hu Yang had not expected that Ji Zhen would react this way, and looked at him with annoyance. He spoke slowly: “Dean Ji, are you protecting your student? I’ve heard that this student ignores the rules and leads others to fight and brawl. As a dean, you not only let this slide, you are even speaking up for him now? Will you only be satisfied when someone’s life is on the line?”
“Principal Hu, don’t use your position to put pressure on others! I’ve said that I can withdraw, but I’d like to know. What is the reason you will give me for expelling me?” Yao Yuan stood up, eyes bright and fixed on Hu Yang’s face as he advanced towards him.
“Fighting, brawling, and causing injury!” Hu Yang had seen bigger battlefields and was not intimidated by a mere student.
“Is that so?” Yao Yuan suddenly started laughing out loud with derision and scorn. Then the laughter suddenly stopped and he issued a reprimand. “Then, what about someone who beats up someone who was in their way until they had broken two bones? What about someone who tackles a person on a soccer field after that person scored a goal because he was resentful? What if someone makes trouble all over the school, does what he wants and what he likes, and even thinks of molesting women? How will the school handle this? Speaking of covering up for someone, isn’t it even worse if someone pays witnesses off to keep their mouths shut?”
“You…” Hu Yang was so angry he ground his teeth. Of course he knew who Yao Yuan was talking about. All these years, he had run himself ragged for the rascal’s sake.
“Tell me!” Yao Yuan ordered in a low voice, his gaze sharp, indicating clearly that he wanted an answer.
“Insolent. Is that how you speak to your principal?” Hu Yang slapped the desk hard, eyes full of rage as he glared at the young man before him. You’re still too young to overpower me with that manner!
“Principal?” Yao Yuan scornfully raised his eyebrows, picked up the teacup on the table, and ‘very carelessly’ dashed it to the floor in front of Hu Yang. “Are you sure you’re worthy of the title?”
The cup fell to the ground and the liquid inside splashed onto Hu Yang’s trouser cuff. He reflexively took a step backward, the anger in his eyes turning to shock. He reached out and pointed a finger at the disrespecting student before him, voice shaking out of anger, or something else. “You… are you rebelling?”
“No.” Yao Yuan shook his head. “I’m just asking you for fairness. When you judge other people, please use the same standards to measure the people around you. Can you protect him all his life? When you can’t protect him any more, what is he going to do? Have you thought about that? At that time, he’ll hate you. I guarantee it. I can withdraw, but only on the condition that Hu Lin leaves, too. I have evidence to prove what I said, and every witness will happily testify in my favor. Even if you’ve paid them off, please don’t doubt that.”
“Are you… threatening me?” After a long time, Hu Yang finally found his voice.
“If you insist on thinking of it that way, be my guest.” Yao Yuan knew he had won this round. He straightened his collar and smiled. “Principal Hu, my father died early, and since then I’ve wanted paternal affection. But I don’t understand why your paternal love is so short-sighted. You should understand better than I do whether it’s a good thing or not that you’ve raised him to be so arrogant and wild. I’ll go now.”
Yao Yuan slowly retreated to the doorway and bowed slightly to Ji Zhen who had stood there throughout the confrontation. “Sorry, Professor. I broke your cup.”
Ji Zhen grimaced and thought, young people these days are… truly forthright! I have grown old after all, and in such a position, I have too much to worry about. It’s good to be young, and to dare to fight and strive!
Yao Yuan paid no more attention to the thunderous-faced man in front of him. He pulled open the office door, then remembered something and turned back to the man who seemed to have suddenly grown old. “Discipline your son. If not, next time, I’ll discipline him for you again.”
As the door shut, applause rang out by Yao Yuan’s ear. Yao Yuan looked in the direction of the sound and saw Su Mu standing there smiling at him. He was initially going to ignore Su Mu, but on account of how Su Mu had helped him yesterday, he had to say something. “Why are you here?”
“Just wanted to know how you’d settle this thorny matter.” Su Mu’s hands were also stuck in his pockets, but he did it more elegantly than Yao Yuan.
“I can tell you’re very satisfied?”
“Yes, I’m very satisfied.” Su Mu walked up to him and looked him up and down. After a long time, he said, “What about it, Yao Yuan?”
“What?” He didn’t understand.
“I think I’m getting more and more interested in you.”
Yao Yuan’s answer was a fist to the face, but of course Su Mu easily dodged it.
“Tcheh!” Yao Yuan scoffed in dissatisfaction. “I have no time to chat with you. I’m going. I need to get to class.”
Su Mu did not stop him, only smiled at his departing figure. Who said Yao Yuan was reckless and hasty? In the negotiation just now, he had used both hard and soft tactics to score a perfect win against his opponent in a very short time. If this were a business negotiation… Yao Yuan, this time I’m serious about keeping you by my side.