Zhong Yan pushed Adrian’s hand away and quickly took off his shirt before putting on Adrian’s jacket. He wanted to pull up the zipper, but the more anxious he became, the harder it was for him to get it right. Adrian could not stand the sight any longer and pulled it up for him in one rough motion.
When he was done, Zhong Yan pushed him away once more. He wanted to get off the table, but Adrian was standing in front of him like a wall.
Zhong Yan reached out to push him, but he could barely move him a single inch, so he could only say, “I changed my clothes. Move over, I want to get down.”
Adrian asked, “What was that?”
“Whatever it is, it’s none of your business. Move!”
Not only did Adrian not move away, he even stopped Zhong Yan’s hands that were struggling with him repeatedly. He warned, “I’m in a bad mood right now, so you’re done for if you kick me. Try it if you dare.”
Adrian was standing right in front of the desk, and his legs were intertwined with Zhong Yan’s. Zhong Yan could have easily raised his legs and kneed him right at a man’s most vulnerable position, getting himself out of this predicament; but his threat was effective.
Zhong Yan thought about the other’s unpredictable temper and decided to endure the urge, instead opting to move him with reason. “Why do you always try to solve your problems with violence? You can’t convince anyone with violence, you…just let me go first…”
“This is not the capital, violence can convince the people. Welcome to Navi, Representative Member,” said Adrian. Seeing that he was not struggling for the time being, he released his hand but did not move away. He remained standing in front of him. “So, what was the case with that?”
Zhong Yan met his eyes and was silent for a long time. Then, he said, “What’s it to you? We’re not friends anymore.”
“In Navi, I ask. You answer. No arguing. Speak.”
Zhong Yan lowered his gaze. He saw it, Adrian would not let him go if he did not get a clear answer today. After being apart from each other for seven years, he was not like the man in that ivory tower like he used to be in school. He was now a rigid overlord who was not afraid to do whatever he said.
“When I was still going through my compulsory education, I got into a conflict with a senior. He and a few friends of his carved it with a utility knife. That was it.”
“The daughter of a wealthy businessman was from the same batch as I was. She was very pretty and my senior was interested in her.” Zhong Yan spoke very calmly as if he was speaking about someone else. “I’ve always been the first in class, and my appearance was not too bad, so the girl took an interest in me. I didn’t accept her, so she cried, then the senior got some of his friends to stick up for her. They did it in the locker room of the public bath since there was no surveillance there.”
Adrian closed his eyes and forced himself to not imagine that scene. He pushed down that unbelievable sense of fury and asked, “Huh. Why that word in particular?”
“Oh, that’s another story.” Zhong Yan chuffed, but no hint of amusement could be found in his eyes. “Do you still remember when I told you about my first adoptive parents?”
“The one who sent you back after the woman got pregnant?”
“Yeah. For the sake of appearances, they made up a story. In the next ten years, it became the most popular story in the orphanage. So, when the senior went there to ask about me, many of the younger children rushed over to him to tell him that story.”
Adrian could already guess. “They said you stole something…”
“Yes. When I grew up and started to understand the world more, it’s actually not something I couldn’t understand. But the truth of the matter is not important. That orphanage…” Zhong Yan let out a light scoff. “The star system I was born in wasn’t that developed to begin with, and the orphanage was built on a fourth tier planet. The standards were quite poor with the management and the system, so many things happened based on connections. The administrator and the other staff were all snobs, each one worse than the last. How much good could any of the children there grow up to be? None of the children who came out of there were good people, including me.”
“That senior had a very decent family background—oh, but of course, it’s hardly comparable to you. He came from one of the top families in the small planet that we came from. If he ever did anything to me, I could only endure it. If I were to kick up a fuss, I would not even be able to stay in school. Much too many of these incidents happened, but these were not serious cases yet. It was just that this particular incident left a scar.”
Adrian clenched his fists and said, “You’ve never told me any of this.”
“Yeah, I was worried then…” Zhong Yan never finished telling him what he was worried about, he just laughed self-deprecatingly. “Now you know, my childhood is way different from what you imagined. It wasn’t an inspirational story about an orphan from a backwater planet who struggled hard to change their own destiny. Do you regret being my friend even more now?”
The fury burning within Adrian’s silver eyes almost seemed as if it was going to ignite. He gritted his teeth and said, “What do you mean even more…”
“Didn’t you say it last time? You wouldn’t have been friends with me if you knew this was the kind of person I was. You’re right. My past was worse than you thought.” Zhong Yan seemed to have made up his mind to make Adrian hate him even more, and went on in one burst, “We learned to lie as children when we were very young. The orphanage would not starve the kids there, but we would eat the same things every time. There was a rotation of the same cheap ingredients, and the pattern never changes. Sometimes the food was good, but it was rare, done purely to make the purchase form look good. For the sake of being able to eat a little more of the good, lying was nothing. One time, when the local council’s social welfare department came to visit, I forgot the words I was supposed to say—I still remember it right now. ‘Miaomiao Orphanage is our home. We all like it here’. I was too young then, and I forgot the other half. For a month after that, I was only allowed bread and porridge. I never forgot my lines after that. As I got older, I’ve even learned to improvise and stand out. If I did it well, I would get a small piece of cake. It was so precious, that I…”
Zhong Yan frowned, suddenly realizing he had said something he wasn’t supposed to. He was just about to cover it up, but what’s done was done. Adrian grasped onto that point and asked, “Is that why you liked cakes so…”
“No!” Zhong Yan cut him off. “That’s not the reason. I didn’t have any preferences towards cakes, but I didn’t want to waste it since you bought them. This has nothing to do with it.”
Adrian knew that Zhong Yan was especially fond of eating cake, and he had discovered this during the first year they had known each other. When they had just met, Zhong Yan had actually yet to fully reach the age of seventeen, so his birthday came soon after school started. Adrian bought his roommate a birthday cake, and he had prepared to share a small bit of it between them each day until they could finish; but while Adrian had only taken a small slice that night, the rest of it was scarfed down by Zhong Yan as his dinner.
From then on, Adrian would often buy him cakes, but he didn’t dare to buy the big ones. He was shocked by how Zhong Yan had finished an entire birthday cake by himself that night. Zhong Yan said he wasn’t sick of it, but he still felt that eating cake like that wasn’t too healthy. Later on, he would only buy him small cupcakes. As long as he bought them, they would be the first things to be eaten—Zhong Yan didn’t have a big appetite, so he could take only half of his usual dinner after finishing two small cakes, which made it so that Adrian had to hold him back whenever he ate them, and he would never allow him to have them before his meal.
Zhong Yan was also too embarrassed to tell Adrian that while the birthday cake was indeed very tasty, it still felt a little too much when he reached the end. But since he was young, he had always thought that he had to finish the birthday cake on the very same day. After seeing how hesitant Adrian was to speak, he felt like something was not right. It was only later when he secretly looked it up that he realized that there was no such custom. He was afraid that Adrian, a young master from the capital, would find him barbaric if word ever got out, especially how that was the first time he had ever eaten a birthday cake. He kept silent about it, and maintained his image of “finishing the cake first no matter how big it was”.
But no matter what misunderstandings there were between them, there was something that both of them were sure about: Zhong Yan did love eating cakes. Adrian had never been able to understand how a man could love such sweet pastries, but he still quietly embraced his roommate’s hobbies, just like how he embraced his roommate’s hobbies of wearing pajamas covered in pictures of giant space rabbits.
Today, on this unexpected occasion, he finally got an answer; but this answer was much more bitter than the sweetness he had expected.
Zhong Yan used to think that if Adrian were ever to find out his fragile needs for his self compensative behavior, that it would definitely be used against him based on how much he hated him right now. But unexpectedly, Adrian let the cake issue go, and acknowledged it with just a hum before continuing, “So you reported the orphanage as soon as you entered the Supreme Institution?”
“More than that.” Zhong Yan responded, “After I graduated from the Supreme Institution, I returned to that little planet the year I entered the Supreme Council. It was doing decently, but news didn’t travel that fast there since it was not a developed planet, most of the people I wanted to look for were still around. Let’s just talk about the one you know about…that senior. He broke his ribs that day. I hired someone to beat him up. For the sake of currying favor with me, the local council members specially prepared me a corner without any surveillance. I was standing right at the side when they hit him. He was actually quite strong, and he really could have beaten the people I hired if he really went for it, but he didn’t dare to resist them. I worked in the Supreme Council, the disparity between us was so big that I could easily tear his family apart. I think it was when half of his ribs were broken and he couldn’t take the pain any longer that he cried. He shouted and told me he was sorry. He asked me to show mercy and spare him. I didn’t tell them to stop.”
Zhong Yan touched his left rib. Right under Adrian’s jacket was the unsightly scar he received when he was just a boy. “He didn’t do it himself back then, but I didn’t either. He didn’t cut off my future, and neither did I cut off his, but I wanted him to pay for everything he’s done with interest. This was the oath I made to myself in the past, and I did it. It was justified to me. I don’t regret it.”
He had never shown such a dark side of himself to Adrian in his life, but coming clean to him now made him feel despondent.
Zhong Yan kept his eyes obstinately down on the communicator on the ground; he didn’t dare to look at Adrian’s expression. Adrian would probably be very disappointed and get even angrier after discovering how despicable a person he was.
How did it turn out like this…He tried so hard to get himself to Navi. Clearly…Clearly he didn’t come here to say this.