Zhangjing is so Done.
It's a little past nine, and Zhangjing is still stuck standing in a supermarket aisle, staring at the contents of his cart. He was supposed to have gone home half an hour ago, but here he is now, all because he can't figure out what it is that he'd forgotten to buy. He still has several pages of homework to finish at home, and at this rate, he’s going to be burning the midnight oil to get that done. Not to mention the fact that he had to wake up extra early the next morning for work. Why on Earth did he agree to take that thrice damned morning shift, why, why, why? Oh right, because Jieqiong’s girlfriend had gotten sick, and she had somehow managed to convince (read: blackmailed) him into switching shifts with her.
Zhangjing would also like to credit Lin Chaoze as being the main reason why he’s out here, standing in the middle of a supermarket – because the younger boy had forgotten that humans like himself and Zhangjing needed food to survive, and that it was Chaoze’s turn to get the groceries this week. But no, Chaoze forgot and now it’s up to Zhangjing to make sure his roommates don’t starve to death.
"Why do I always forget to buy one thing?" Zhangjing groans, covering his face with his hand. He couldn't just go back home, he wasn't going to be free to go grocery shopping again until next weekend, and if he forgot something essential again, he was never going to hear the end of it from Qiu Zhixie. The memory of the last time he forgot to buy an essential still send shivers running down his spine.
(“How could you have forgotten to buy cooking oil, You Zhangjing - “)
"This is why shopping lists exist, You Zhangjing." Zhangjing mutters, glaring at the contents of his trolley. He's got bread, garlic, butter, apples, he's even got the cookies that Chaoze specifically asked for... What was he missing? What was he missing?
"Is it meat? No, I got that already," Zhangjing thinks out loud, looking through the groceries in his cart. "Is it onions? Cabbages? Carrots?"
The sound of his ringtone loudly blaring from his pocket interrupts his train of thought. Zhangjing fumbles for his phone, trying to ignore the pointed glare the auntie down the end of the aisle shoots at him as his finger swipes across the screen to accept the call.
In his rush to silence the deafening ringtone - honestly, setting his ringtone while he was drunk was, in all hindsight, a bad idea, and he really should change it already - he doesn't see who's calling him, assuming that it's probably just one of his roommates calling to remind him to buy something.
However, the voice that comes out of the speaker is not the voice of any of his roommates.
The call barely connects and the person on the other end of the line is already speaking: "Jeffrey, you have to help me."
Zhangjing wants to interrupt the desperate stranger because who the hell is Jeffrey? But he's rolling on like a steam engine: "I'm going to wring Lu Dinghao's neck when I get my hands on him, I swear to god – she stepped on my shoes, Jeffrey, she stepped on my brand new white shoes - "
The stranger breaks off in a groan. Zhangjing stifles a laugh: it wasn't every day that you encountered someone this passionate about a pair of white shoes, even if Zhangjing can understand how annoying it could be to get a brand new pair of shoes dirtied for the first time. How had this stranger survived high school, Zhangjing wonders, suddenly reminded of his days as a student, and the struggle of keeping white school shoes the same pristine white colour they were when they were brand new throughout his years at school. Or maybe white school shoes weren't a universal thing.
The name Lu Dinghao does sound rather familiar, and Zhangjing isn't quite sure where he's heard it before: maybe at a roll call during class? Or maybe another customer's name he's had to write on another plastic cup at the coffee shop he works at?
But the stranger is going on, and thoughts of Lu Dinghao take a backseat as he listens to what the stranger says: "She showed up almost half an hour late, but she said that she got stuck in traffic beforehand, so that's fine. We ordered our food, made small talk, things were going fine, even if they were kinda awkward, especially after she almost accidentally launched a cherry tomato at me."
Oh, so that's what he's forgotten. Zhangjing pushes his cart over to the fruits and vegetables section. Tomatoes...should he get cherry tomatoes or just normal tomatoes...
The stranger continues on: "Then I made the great mistake of asking her if this was her first time going on a blind date." He sighs. "She immediately teared up and just started bawling right there and then – not even my baby sister can cry on command like that! So I'm just sitting there, confused as heck while half the restaurant is giving me the stink-eye like it's my fault that she's crying."
"When she'd finally calmed down enough for her sobs to make sense, she said that she had met her previous boyfriend on a blind date, and rambled on about him for a good five minutes – the girl is obviously still not over her ex, why the hell did Lu Dinghao think it was a good idea to set her up on a blind date with me? Why? Why? "
And Zhangjing shouldn't, he knows he shouldn't, but the pure misery and exasperation in the stranger's voice as he demands an explanation from Lu Dinghao, Jeffrey or even the gods themselves is just too much for his exhausted brain, and Zhangjing bursts out laughing. It's just too much – from stepping on white shoes to crying on command and now this. God, this is even better than watching a drama series.
It's only a moment later, when Zhangjing notices that the other end of the line has gone quiet, that he realises that he had said that out loud, directly into the phone receiver.
"You're not Jeffrey." He said in an accusing tone, reminding Zhangjing of his kid nephew, an image of the small petulant child popping into his head, and Zhangjing bites back a second wave of giggles.
"No, sorry." Zhangjing admits. "I think you called the wrong number. I don't know a Jeffrey either."
"Oh my god." He groans. "Just when I thought my luck couldn't get any worse..."
"Sorry, I probably should have just interrupted you and told you that you got the wrong number." Zhangjing says. "If it makes you feel any better, your blind date story isn't the worse one I've heard?"
"Oh, the story isn't finished yet, uh..."
"Zhangjing. You Zhangjing."
"Okay, hi Zhangjing, I really hope you're not my psychology professor, because that would be really awkward - "
"I'm a college student, so no worries there." Zhangjing laughs.
"Okay, thank god my luck isn't that bad." He chuckles. "I'm Lin Yanjun, by the way. Sorry for disturbing you so late at night."
"Well, I'm the one who didn't hang up, so if I fall asleep during work tomorrow that's on me." Zhangjing says, beginning to wheel his cart over to the cashiers. "So, what else happened on your date?"
"Oh right." Yanjun says. "So she's there crying over her ex, right? Guess who shows up at the restaurant, barging in like madman, looking like he was summoned by her crying?"
" No ." Zhangjing gasps.
" Yes . Of course he saw us and headed straight to our table, and he wanted to try and pick a fight with me because he thought I'd made her cry, then she got up and told him to get out and stop causing trouble for others, and he responded with this long ass speech about how he was still in love with her – "
"Oh my god." Zhangjing is unable to hold back his laugh, no matter how bad he might feel for Yanjun, this was just one of those situations that you see in dramas that you never expect to actually happen in real life. The cashier zapping his items pauses to give him a judgmental look, and Zhangjing forces himself to control his expression and not look like he’s lost his marbles. "That must have been so uncomfortable to sit through." he says finally.
"You have no idea." Yanjun says dryly. "The entire restaurant was watching. I think an auntie at the back looked like she was about to pass out or have a heart attack from how excited she was. All that was missing to make this a legit drama scene was a dramatic love song playing in the background. His speech was good though, I'll give him that."
"...Did she take him back?" Zhangjing asks.
"Oh, yeah, she did. She even had her own teary speech and all. The whole restaurant was clapping and cheering while they were happily embracing and making out in front of me like I wasn't even there."
"Oh wow." Zhangjing winces sympathetically, "I can't imagine how awkward to walk out of the restaurant after that."
"Yeah, about that..." Yanjun laughs nervously.
" You're still in the building? " Zhangjing asks incredulously.
"Why else do you think I'm calling for help?" Yanjun retorts. "You know, I'm starting to wonder if this was all an elaborate prank by Dinghao to get revenge for that time I accidentally made him think he was being targeted by loan sharks."
"How do you accidentally make someone think he's being targeted by loan sharks?"
"I accidentally spilled some red paint on his car."
"Amazing." Zhangjing says. "Would he be petty enough to put this much effort into this though?"
"...I can't be a hundred percent sure, and I'm not about to go back out there and ask them if he put them up to this. I've seen enough tongue and saliva exchanging between them to last me the rest of this lifetime."
Zhangjing can't hold back his laugh, ignoring Yanjun's sulking about how he wouldn't be finding it as amusing if he had been the one with a front row seat to a drama series finale worthy make out session. "Where are you now?" Zhangjing asks finally.
"Hiding in the toilet. Don't laugh!" Yanjun threatens.
"I'm not, promise." Zhangjing says, taking the phone away from his mouth to say a quick thank you to the cashier. "Have you tried going out through the back door?"
"I tried, but it's locked," Yanjun replies.
Zhangjing hums thoughtfully. "Hey did you watch 'Friends'? Remember that episode where the girl climbed out of the window to escape her wedding?"
"Uh..." Zhangjing can hear sounds of Yanjun moving about the washroom, before he continues: "I'm pretty sure that there's a dumpster right outside below the window."
"You can always wash up later?"
"But the germs ." Yanjun hisses.
"Well, are there any other exits to the building?" Zhangjing snipes back.
"...no." Yanjun reluctantly admits. He lets out an exasperated groan: "I'm never going to be able to walk into Sunset Restaurant ever again."
Zhangjing stopped. "Sunset Restaurant? As in Sunset Restaurant on C Street?" he asked, ignoring the annoyed grumbling of the person who had been walking behind him.
"Yeah, you've been here before?"
"Yeah," Zhangjing laughs awkwardly, staring at the restaurant's neon sign across the street. "In fact, I'm standing right outside it right now."
"Nope, I'm not. Uh...do you want me to come in and get you?" Zhangjing offers. "If you don't want to walk out alone, I can come in and walk you out, if you want."
"...I'd appreciate it."
"Okay, hang tight, Lin Yanjun." Zhangjing says, looking in both directions before he crosses the road. He's been to this restaurant before, Lin Chaoze had dragged him here just the week before. The food was pretty decent, he can see why Yanjun’s blind date was at this restaurant.
One of the waiters look up when he pushes the doors open, but he's a junior who recognises Zhangjing, and leaves Zhangjing to his own devices. Zhangjing counts a total of three couples still sitting in the restaurant. He makes his way to the washroom without any difficulty, carefully pushing the door open. "Hello?" he calls.
There is only one person in the washroom, and he is much, much more good-looking than Zhangjing expected. Even in the washroom's terrible lighting, or perhaps it is better to say that the dim lighting merely adds a touch of mystery to his handsome features, making him look like some kind of character from one of those online games that his younger roommates like to play so much, especially when combined with his bleached silver hair.
Okay, the other dude must either be a really, really hot supermodel or ridiculously rich then, because Zhangjing cannot possibly imagine any other reason for choosing someone else over the man standing in front of him right now.
Zhangjing suddenly feels a tad bit self-conscious, in his old yellow hoodie and sweatpants, holding bags of groceries in his hands.
" - You Zhangjing?"
Oh, stupidly-handsome-dude was talking to him. "Yeah, that's me." Zhangjing clears his throat, flushing at the way his voice cracked. There's no reason to be nervous here, You Zhangjing, this boy hid in the toilet in the middle of a disastrous date instead of just walking out of the restaurant, if anyone is a nervous trainwreck, it's him, not you , he tells himself.
"Are you Lin Yanjun?" Zhangjing asks finally.
Yanjun nods. "I can't believe you were serious about coming here to get me."
"Well, I was in the area, so..." Zhangjing shrugs, and he hopes the movement doesn't look too forced. "Uh, I didn't see any couples obnoxiously making out while I was coming in, so with any luck, your date probably left already."
"God, I hope so," Yanjun lets out a laugh, and Zhangjing has to tear his eyes away from his face, because dear god, he's already so attractive, and now he has dimples too? This was just unfair.
None of the staff pay them any mind as they walk out of the restaurant - Zhangjing even lent Yanjun his cap - and they emerge out onto the sidewalk without attracting any unwanted attention, although they do get a couple of stares, mostly from older aunties wondering what Zhangjing could be carrying in his bags.
"Well, that was easy." Zhangjing remarks, glancing at Yanjun. The relief of having escaped the restaurant is clear on the other’s face, and he turns to smile at Zhangjing – a smile that threatens to take Zhangjing’s breath away, because facing the full force of Lin Yanjun’s dimples? Now that’s a fatal move.
"Yeah, thankfully. Are you a lucky charm?" Yanjun jokes.
"Not that I know of." Zhangjing laughs.
They end up walking to the train station together: Zhangjing has to take the train back to his apartment, two stations away; while Yanjun parked his car in the nearby car park. Yanjun offers to give Zhangjing a lift home, but Zhangjing refuses after learning that Yanjun stays on the other side of town: “Anyway, it’s only two stops,” Zhangjing reasons.
"Well, I guess this is where we say goodbye." Yanjun says, and Zhangjing wonders if he's imagining the almost reluctance in Yanjun's voice. "Really, thanks for saving me back there, Zhangjing."
"It was no problem, really." Zhangjing says, taking his bags of groceries back from Yanjun. “Drive safely, Lin Yanjun!”
Later, after Zhangjing steps into his apartment and sees his reflection in the mirror, he realises that he forgot to get his hat back from Lin Yanjun. Just as the thought forms in his mind, his phone vibrates in his pocket: a new text message from an unknown number. Zhangjing opens it eagerly:
"Hey, this is Yanjun. Sorry, I forgot to return your hat to you - are you free for lunch on Wednesday maybe?"
“Hey, Zhangjing, did you get – why are you smiling at your phone like an idiot?” Chaoze asks curiously.
“You forgot to get food for all of us, who are you calling an idiot, idiot?!”