As soon as Jiang Cheng took his first step into the arrivals area, groggy from nearly fourteen hours of flying, he could hear someone calling his name.
“Hey! Oi, over here!” Although Jiang Cheng usually sighed whenever Wei Wuxian spoke, his brother’s distinctly Australian accent was a welcome contrast to the Mandarin he’d been immersed in for the past month.
Jiang Cheng rubbed his eyes, trying to make out where his brother was in the crowd, but before he had located Wei Wuxian, an arm was slung around his shoulder.
“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Cheng tried to duck out of Wei Wuxian’s grasp, but he was too slow.
Wei Wuxian grabbed him by the shoulders and looked him over, probably taking note of Jiang Cheng’s crumpled tracksuit and dishevelled hair. “Can you still speak English?” he asked after a moment of consideration.
Jiang Cheng looked at him blankly, at first wondering how somebody could possibly be so stupid, before realising that Wei Wuxian was joking. “Far out, you really think I’m gonna forget how to speak English after only a month in China?” he sighed, but he had to admit that his brain did take a moment to switch back into English.
Wei Wuxian took hold of Jiang Cheng’s suitcase, chattering nonstop as they made their way outside and towards Wei Wuxian’s rather battered second-hand Corolla. The moment they left the airconditioned airport, Jiang Cheng could feel the summer humidity soaking into his body. Stopping abruptly before the zebra crossing, he stripped off his tracksuit jacket, totally unaccustomed to the January weather.
“Strewth, I wanna go back to China,” he groaned, wishing Wei Wuxian would stop laughing at him.
It had been Jiang Cheng’s first time visiting China; his parents had lived in Australia since they were children and had met at university. Raising three children meant they hadn’t had a lot of time to travel, so Jiang Cheng had spent his first year of university saving up enough money to go to China himself. His older sister had been too busy with exams, and although Wei Wuxian had wanted to come along for a holiday, Jiang Cheng had pointed out that his brother’s Mandarin was atrocious. “At least I’m semi-fluent,” Jiang Cheng had said with an exasperated sigh. “You didn’t even turn up to half our Chinese classes as a kid; you’ll actually die if you get lost in China.”
Wei Wuxian started up his car, listening to Jiang Cheng talk about his experiences in China, before announcing, “Oh yeah, mate, you know Hua Cheng, right? From macroeconomic theory?”
Jiang Cheng nodded, more focused on the view from the car window. “Yeah, the class you’ve been to, like, twice ever.”
“He’s having a party tonight and I thought you might wanna come, so I got you a plus-one,” Wei Wuxian continued, ignoring Jiang Cheng’s jab and merging onto the highway.
With a sigh, Jiang Cheng grumbled, “A party? Do you even know how tired I am? It’s not even nine a.m. and I could fall asleep now.” He leaned against the car window, propping his head up with his arm.
Wei Wuxian shrugged, flicking a strand of hair out of his eyes. “Well, he didn’t actually say it was a party – it was more along the lines of ‘casual gatho’ – but I reckon it’ll get pretty wild. You’re invited though; he said we can just rock up whenever and leave early if you’re tired.”
Jiang Cheng’s eyebrows furrowed. “Do you really think I’m gonna go to a fuckin’ party after being on a plane for fourteen bloody hours? I don’t even know Hua Cheng!”
Pouting, Wei Wuxian protested, “Come on, you’ve gotta come! Huazza’s a nice guy; we can’t just bail on him!”
Jiang Cheng itched his nose. “Really? Huazza? You couldn’t come up with a more original nickname? You just sound like a fuckin’ kid in high school tryinna sound cool.”
“Yeah nah, mate.” Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes, and Jiang Cheng’s stress levels skyrocketed as his brother took a hand off the steering wheel to whack him on the shoulder. “You’ve been in China for too long. Chinese nicknames are so boring, with all that ‘a’, ‘er’, ‘xiao’ bizzo. You really think we’re gonna call the guy Xiao Hua? Hua Hua?” The car lurched as he awkwardly changed gears. “Huazza is a strong and manly name for a strong and manly bloke. He’s not some little flower.”
Wei Wuxian laughed as though everything he had said was completely obvious, and Jiang Cheng couldn’t be bothered to argue that Australian nicknames were just as predictable as Chinese ones.
“Besides,” Wei Wuxian continued, apparently totally unaware of the car he was tailgating, “even Qi Rong’s going, and he’s, like, the last person you’d expect to actually turn up to a social event! In fact, he said he’s even gonna start coming to some classes now that we’re starting second year!”
Jiang Cheng wanted to scream. “Qi Rong? Isn’t he, like, a delinquent? Far out, what kind of people have you been hanging out with while I was away?”
“Look, he’s done some bad stuff, I’ll give you that, but Rozza isn’t a cannibal!” Wei Wuxian blurted, and Jiang Cheng felt his heart drop a little.
“I… never said he was one…” he muttered, not at all reassured by Wei Wuxian’s statement, and frankly, rather concerned. “But now I’m not so sure.”
Even though he knew he would only be tired the next day, Jiang Cheng eventually gave in to Wei Wuxian’s pleads and agreed to attend Hua Cheng’s party. “I’m not taking a nap beforehand,” he declared stubbornly when they arrived home. “I can’t lose to jet lag.”
Wei Wuxian raised an eyebrow as he dragged Jiang Cheng’s luggage inside. “It’s not a competition, mate.”
“I know,” Jiang Cheng snapped, making a beeline for the fridge and grabbing the nearest bottle of alcohol, but upon inspection, he demanded, “Oi, what the fuck is this? ‘Sunny Orange Passionfruit’ flavour? Are you an adult or a sixteen-year-old sneaking booze into a birthday party?”
Wei Wuxian snatched the bottle back. “Hey, hands off that! I bought it for Lan Zhan!”
Jiang Cheng wanted to whack his head against the kitchen bench. “Lan Wangji? Since when were you guys friends? And I thought he didn’t even drink!”
“He’s a good mate!” Wei Wuxian protested, putting the bottle back in the fridge. “While you were away, I hung out with better people!”
“Yeah, like Qi Rong,” Jiang Cheng muttered, stalking over to the couch and turning the television on.
Wei Wuxian ignored him. “And Lan Zhan doesn’t drink; that’s exactly why I bought it for him. He keeps refusing to drink anything I offer him, so I’m being a thoughtful friend and trying to find something he’ll like! The passionfruit flavour will hopefully make it taste better. I want him to enjoy parties, not just sit around bored ’cause he’s sober.”
Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes. “Can’t he buy his own bloody drinks? What if I had wanted to drink that just then?”
Wei Wuxian grabbed a juice popper from the fridge and threw it to Jiang Cheng. “A) he doesn’t drink so he won’t know what to buy, and B) you shouldn’t be drinking during the day anyway. Now drink that orange juice and be responsible like me.”
“Responsible?” Jiang Cheng countered, but opened the juice anyway. “You’re the one hanging out with cannibals.”
“Rozza isn’t a cannibal!” Wei Wuxian insisted.
That evening, Jiang Cheng was roused from the nap he denied taking by Wei Wuxian. “Get ready, mate, it’s time to go.”
Jiang Cheng rolled off the couch and landed on the floor with a thud. “Are you fuckin’ kidding me?” he mumbled, blearily checking the time on his watch as he dragged himself to his feet. “It’s already six-thirty. Where’s A-Jie? And Mum and Dad? I haven’t even seen them yet.”
“She’s meeting us there, and Uncle Jiang and Auntie Yu are upstairs. They didn’t wanna wake you up from your nanna nap,” Wei Wuxian teased.
Jiang Cheng growled, but voiced the most pressing matter first. “A-Jie’s coming? To hang out with a bunch of dipsticks she doesn’t even know?”
Wei Wuxian patted him on the shoulder. “Relax, relax. She’s not friends with any cannibals. Jin Zixuan’s coming, so he invited her.”
Jiang Cheng felt like his head was going to explode. “Jin Zixuan? That asshole rich international student who practically owns Gucci? How does he know A-Jie?”
Wei Wuxian twiddled his fingers with a stupid grin. “They started dating just after you left. Didn’t you see their cute couple photos on Instagram?”
“Instagram doesn’t work in China!” Jiang Cheng roared, but quickly quietened when he heard his mother’s footsteps on the stairs.
“A-Cheng!” Yu Ziyuan demanded, approaching the couch with a disapproving glance at Wei Wuxian. “Did you travel safely? Did you eat properly?”
Jiang Cheng nodded, moving over to hug his mother, but his stomach let out a tell-tale grumble, and Yu Ziyuan pulled away quickly. “I told you to eat the food on the aeroplane,” she reprimanded him, shaking her head in clear disappointment.
Jiang Cheng groaned. “Come on, aeroplane food is shit. You can’t expect me to eat chicken that’s been boiled so much it’s inedible!”
Yu Ziyuan clucked her tongue. “Look after yourself, you stupid child. And don’t use that sort of language.”
Her tone was as sharp as usual, but Jiang Cheng could tell from the soft creasing around her eyes that she was glad to have him back.
She was clearly about to start lecturing him further, but she was interrupted by Jiang Fengmian, who appeared at the bottom of the stairs and declared, “A-Cheng! What’s up, dude?”
Jiang Cheng cringed but tried to force a smile. “Dad, you really don’t need to try so hard to be, as you’ve said far too many times, ‘cool and trendy’.”
Jiang Fengmian laughed and clapped Jiang Cheng on the shoulder. “C’mon, chill, mate. I’m much cooler than that old bastard Lan Qiren. He isn’t cool and trendy like I am. Oh, speaking of, we’ve been having some great business with some of those big companies like his, so I decided to invite them over next weekend and we can chuck some snags on the good old barbie.” He chuckled and tousled Jiang Cheng’s already messy hair. “Well, I won’t keep you boys from your party. Just make sure to stay safe and use protection! I’m too young to be a granddad!”
Jiang Cheng grabbed Wei Wuxian’s elbow and dragged him away, unable to deal with his father’s embarrassing words. “Yeah, we’ll be safe,” he called, smiling as he heard his mother telling his father off for being immature.
As soon as Jiang Cheng had settled into the car’s front passenger seat, Wei Wuxian dumped a full bag of drinks on his lap. “Hold these for me, would ya?”
Jiang Cheng groaned. “Far out, how much alcohol are you taking to this thing? You’re gonna be off your face in an hour if you drink all of this.”
Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes as though it was obvious. “Of course it’s not all for me. You can have whatever you want, and there’s some for Lan Zhan, and Nie Huaisang and Wen Ning paid me to get some for them.”
“I can have whatever I want?” Jiang Cheng asked as Wei Wuxian started backing the car out of the garage.
“Only if you pay me,” Wei Wuxian laughed.
“And Lan Wangji doesn’t have to pay?” Jiang Cheng demanded, astonished. “Fuck you.”
When they pulled up at what was apparently Hua Cheng’s house, Jiang Cheng could already hear music blaring. Not even bothering to knock at the front gate, Wei Wuxian let himself into the front yard and around to the side of the garden, where people had already started to congregate.
Wei Wuxian approached a tall man who was wearing an eyepatch and looked about their age. “Oi Huazzaaaaa!” he called, leaving Jiang Cheng with the drinks and pulling Hua Cheng into a hug before slapping him on the back.
Hua Cheng grinned and returned the hug. “Glad you could come, mate,” he said warmly, but Jiang Cheng noticed that he lacked the buzzing energy of the other already drunken partygoers.
“This is my brother,” Wei Wuxian announced, motioning for Jiang Cheng to join them. “I don’t think you guys have met properly. He just came back from China.”
Hua Cheng nodded and extended a hand. “I’ve heard all about you.” He shot Wei Wuxian a glance. “Make sure our old mate here doesn’t go too wild.”
There was something about him that gave Jiang Cheng the impression that Hua Cheng was certainly more sensible than Wei Wuxian had made him out to be. “Yeah, I’m used to watching over this idiot.”
Wei Wuxian flicked his hair. “I don’t need watching over. If you really wanna keep an eye on someone, keep an eye on Rozza.”
Jiang Cheng’s gaze flickered around the area. “Is he here yet?”
“Rozza?” Hua Cheng shook his head. “He rooms with Bingbong at the uni, so they’ll probably have to get through all the city traffic.”
Traffic. “Oh, fuck!” Jiang Cheng exclaimed, suddenly realised that they’d overlooked one rather important detail. “If you’re drinking, how are we gonna get home?”
“You can drive,” Wei Wuxian suggested with a careless laugh. Jiang Cheng couldn’t tell whether Wei Wuxian had forgotten to assign a designated driver, or whether he had done it on purpose just to be irritating.
“I’m not driving your shit car in a million years,” Jiang Cheng refused, and quickly opened a can of beer, taking an exaggerated sip before Wei Wuxian could actually manage to convince him to drive. “And besides, I’m drinking too.”
Wei Wuxian shrugged, seemingly unperturbed. “Well, I guess we can probably walk or something. It’s not too far.”
“What about the car?” Jiang Cheng demanded, shaking his head in disbelief. “You’re a bloody idiot, you know that? Obviously the rubbish truck is gonna come around and take it because it looks like trash.”
Wei Wuxian had just opened his mouth to retort when Hua Cheng interrupted, “I don’t usually let people stay over after parties, but I can make an exception if you two can’t get a lift home.”
Wei Wuxian’s face lit up. “Oh, yes maaaate! Thanks, Huazza!”
Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes, but still couldn’t resist deadpanning, “Thanks, Xiao Hua.”
“No worries, Xiano,” Hua Cheng replied, exchanging a high-five with Wei Wuxian before turning to Jiang Cheng. “And, well, I was gonna call you Chengo, but if you’re calling me Xiao Hua, I guess I should call you Cheng-Cheng, then.”
Jiang Cheng scowled. “I’m not sure which one I hate more, but I’ll let you off because you’re letting us crash.”
“No worries, Cheng-Cheng,” Hua Cheng repeated, before leaving them to greet some more guests.
“You’re both idiots,” Jiang Cheng sighed as they made their way over to where Jiang Yanli stood with Jin Zixuan.
Jiang Yanli hugged him and gushed about how happy she was to see him, before introducing Jin Zixuan as her boyfriend.
Jin Zixuan pushed his sunglasses further up the bridge of his nose and adjusted the heavy gold chain hanging around his neck, practically obscuring the lettering on the front of his oversized jumper. With a slightly stilted Chinese accent, he declared, “Yanli and I are dating now.”
“I can tell.” Jiang Cheng frowned at their clasped hands. “You better treat her well, or we’ll be coming for you.”
Jin Zixuan smiled magnanimously. “Of course I’ll treat her well.” He casually displayed a shining gold watch with a flick of his wrist. “And I can certainly buy her anything she wants.”
“You can’t buy happiness,” Jiang Cheng retorted, wondering what his sister could possibly see in this rich idiot.
“But you can buy gold,” Jin Zixuan replied, putting an arm around Jiang Yanli, “and I’d buy all the gold in the world for her.”
Jiang Cheng glared at him, but Wei Wuxian had the nerve to murmur, “You’re an idiot, but that’s… actually kinda sweet.”
“Stupid bastard,” Jiang Cheng muttered as he dragged Wei Wuxian away. How dare Jin Zixuan seduce his sister like this? There was absolutely nothing good about him except for his riches, and wealth wasn’t even a personality trait.
There was a sudden commotion at the front gate, and two more men arrived. One was muscular, with long, fluffy hair and a strange mark on his forehead, while the other looked scrawnier and had noticeably sharp teeth. Both were wearing bright green crocs, which was, in Jiang Cheng’s opinion, a rather bizarre choice of footwear for the occasion.
Wei Wuxian bounded over to greet them. “Qiiiiiii Rozza! Bingbong!”
Jiang Cheng couldn’t hear what he said next, but it must have been something stupid, because Hua Cheng quickly intervened. “Great to have you here,” he said, beckoning them into the yard.
Qi Rong bared his teeth into a grin, flicking his fringe out of his eyes. “Ayyy, Huazza! Ready to hit the piss?” he called, his voice coarse and vulgar as he stomped through the garden in his haste to reach Hua Cheng. “Is my shit cousin here yet?” he demanded, popping open a drink.
Hua Cheng’s smile turned cold, and he put out an arm to stop Qi Rong from progressing any further. “Watch it, mate.” His voice dropped to a low, threatening tone. “I’ve already told you that you can’t talk about ge-ge like that in front of me. Or anywhere, for the matter.”
Qi Rong spat a mouthful of alcohol into a bush. “You’re no fun. I’ll fuckin’–”
Luo Binghe scowled and shoved Qi Rong in the arm. “Oi, mate, don’t get us kicked out. I’m not gonna drive you back home when you’re smashed if you play up like this.”
Qi Rong spun around to face his roommate. “Ya fuckin’ bastard! What happened to the crocs crew sticking together? I thought you said we’d have each other’s fuckin’ backs forever, you shit friend!”
Luo Binghe kicked his crocs across the yard. “You’re not bein’ a good mate,” he declared obstinately, reminding Jiang Cheng of a petulant child in an adult’s body.
“Rack off, Bingbong-bastard,” Qi Rong snarled, but cast a longing look towards Luo Binghe’s discarded crocs as he stalked away. “I hope you step on bindies without your crocs and fuckin’ cark it.”
Yet, not even an hour later, Luo Binghe was spotted reluctantly reclaiming his crocs while a deliriously drunk Qi Rong sobbed into the grass next to him.
Despite the nap he had taken earlier, Jiang Cheng was still tired, so he spent most of the evening sitting in a chair, half asleep and slowly sipping his drink. He really couldn’t be bothered to socialise, and he didn’t know most people there anyway. Nie Huaisang had said a brief “g’day mate” to him when he arrived, but he had rushed away to collect the drinks Wei Wuxian had bought for him, and now he was passed out under a tree a few metres away.
Currently, Jiang Cheng was watching a couple of drunk idiots fight over whether Coles or Woolworths was the better supermarket. He had no idea who either of them were, but, slightly dazed from jetlag and alcohol, Jiang Cheng impulsively muttered, “Coles would fuckin’ beat Woolies’ ass.”
The two men turned to face him. The taller one’s face instantly transformed from a scowl to a giddy grin. “I work at Coles!” he declared, stumbling as he made his way over to Jiang Cheng, who could smell the alcohol on his breath. “Next time you’re there, ask for Feng Xin, and I’ll serve you!”
Jiang Cheng nodded slowly, starting to regret his decision to pipe into the conversation. “Okay, mate.”
The second man shoved Feng Xin in the back. “No! Come to Woolies! Ask for Mu Qing! I’m better than him!”
Feng Xin pointed an accusatory finger towards Mu Qing. “This fuckin’ idiot Mu Qing works at Woolies, and he just won’t shut up about it, but I know he likes Coles better, because who wouldn’t? But…” He hesitated and leaned on Jiang Cheng’s chair for support. “But if he prefers Coles and still works at Woolies, then that means he’s not truly loyal to Coles or to Woolies. And that’s – that’s even worse. This betrayal…”
Feng Xin, who had seemed so mad at Mu Qing earlier, had been reduced to a blubbering mess. Jiang Cheng, who was nowhere near drunk yet and was certainly more capable than both men, stood up and helped them both into the seat he had been occupying. “I’m gonna come and visit both of you, okay?” he placated them, patting them on the shoulders, even though he certainly hoped to never meet either of them again. “Don’t drink too much, idiots.”
He left them, trying to find Wei Wuxian, but his eyes were caught by a familiar figure on a bench on the other side of the garden. There was a shorter man on Hua Cheng’s lap; he was leaning against Hua Cheng and their eyes were locked. Hua Cheng gazed down at him like he was the only person in the world, as the other man spoke softly. Jiang Cheng felt like he was intruding on something extremely beautiful, so he dragged his eyes away and stumbled away, tripping on his own feet in his haste.
After a few minutes of searching, Jiang Cheng couldn’t locate Wei Wuxian, and he was tempted to wake Nie Huaisang up just to have someone relatively normal to talk to. However, his hopes of staying sane were quickly dashed when he finally found Wei Wuxian.
Lan Wangji had finally arrived, and Wei Wuxian had handed him the bottle of passionfruit-flavoured alcohol. Jiang Cheng couldn’t hear what they were saying over the blaring music. It was a song from the 80s that he vaguely recognised. The words “I eat cannibals” were chanted repeatedly, and he could see Qi Rong dancing like he was having the time of his life – such a contrast to his dark mood from earlier. His concern growing, Jiang Cheng seriously wondered why this man was so often associated with cannibalism.
He looked away from Qi Rong to see Lan Wangji finally take a sip of his drink. A moment later, he collapsed on the grass.
“What the fuck?” Jiang Cheng gasped as he rushed over to where Wei Wuxian stood, bemused. “What did you just feed him? Poison?”
Wei Wuxian shook his head and leant down to check Lan Wangji’s pulse. “I think he’s just… sleeping…” He lifted his head. “Hey, do you reckon we should tell Huazza?”
The image of Hua Cheng looking so peaceful with the other man floated through Jiang Cheng’s mind. “Nah,” he murmured, giving Wei Wuxian what he hoped was a reassuring grin. “Wouldn’t wanna bother him.”
Wei Wuxian stood up and wobbled a little. “Yeah, he’s probably busy – woah! Lan Zhan!”
Jiang Cheng turned his attention back to Lan Wangji, who was slowly coming to. “Hi,” he said, waving a hand in front of Lan Wangji’s eyes. “You right, mate?”
Lan Wangji started to sit up, and Wei Wuxian pushed Jiang Cheng away, muttering, “It’s okay! I’ve got him.”
“Okay.” Jiang Cheng was too tired to fight Wei Wuxian for the role of the responsible caregiver, so he wandered away for what felt like the millionth time that night. He really just wanted to go home and finally sleep in his own bed, but it seemed that the party would never end.
When it was just past eleven p.m., the sound of kissing forced Jiang Cheng to relocate from the formerly quiet spot where he had been drifting off to sleep. He drowsily got to his feet, and, as he brushed leaves off his body, was unlucky enough to catch a glimpse of two canoodling couples.
He could just identify the entwined silhouettes of Feng Xin and Mu Qing as they aggressively made out in the chair Jiang Cheng had left them in earlier. There was clearly some sort of unresolved sexual tension between them that they simply couldn’t address while sober, Jiang Cheng determined with an exasperated sigh. They probably wouldn’t remember this moment at all when the morning came around, and they would go back to arguing about supermarkets like an old married couple.
He had thought there would be nothing worse than watching these two attack each other’s faces like famished dingos, but his heart dropped a little when he saw his sister in Jin Zixuan’s arms. He averted his gaze, reluctant to view their passionate kiss, and decided to look for Hua Cheng and ask him if he could nap inside somewhere.
But all thoughts of looking for Hua Cheng were dashed from Jiang Cheng’s mind when he saw Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji standing in the middle of the yard, in the most public spot imaginable, with their lips locked together in a tight embrace. Lan Wangji’s ears were tinged with red, and he was cupping the side of Wei Wuxian’s face in one hand, while Wei Wuxian shamelessly tugged at the ribbon Lan Wangji was apparently so protective of.
“OH MY GOD!” Jiang Cheng yelled, running to the nearest entrance to Hua Cheng’s house, finding the door mercifully unlocked, and sinking his face into the cushions on the nearest couch.
Wei Wuxian had certainly been clingy towards Lan Wangji, but Jiang Cheng hadn’t expected anything like this.
Jiang Cheng woke to the sound of Wei Wuxian groaning.
“I’m such a bloody idiot,” Wei Wuxian mumbled as he rolled off the couch adjacent to Jiang Cheng’s and flopped onto the carpet.
Jiang Cheng rubbed his eyes blearily. “You’re always a bloody idiot.”
Wei Wuxian chucked a pillow at him. “That’s different,” he sighed, covering his face with his hands and rolling on the floor.
“The fuck did you do this time?” Jiang Cheng demanded, sitting up groggily, trying to remember the details of the night before. Wei Wuxian had a high alcohol tolerance, so whatever he did, he mustn’t have been that drunk. “Surely it can’t have been that bad – oh.”
Wei Wuxian could hold his alcohol, but Lan Wangji certainly couldn’t.
“I got Lan Zhan drunk,” Wei Wuxian wailed, writhing on the floor like a headless worm. “I got him drunk and I was a bit tipsy too and then we were kissing and then he just fell asleep again and when he woke up like, ten minutes later, he didn’t remember a thing!”
Jiang Cheng nodded slowly, still wondering what the big deal was. Everyone seemed to hook up while drunk, and it usually wasn’t treated overly seriously. “That’s good then, isn’t it?” he asked, retying his hair. “If he doesn’t remember, it’ll never come up in conversation and you can forget all about it, right?”
Wei Wuxian made an unintelligible noise and nearly rolled into the side of a coffee table. “That’s the problem,” he complained. “I want him to remember it. I didn’t realise it when we first started hanging out, but I kinda like him. A lot.” He took a breath and sat up straight, his hair a mess. “I like him a lot.”
Jiang Cheng sighed and lay back down, unsure of how to react. “Are you sure?” he eventually ventured. “I mean, you’re like, the straightest–”
“To hell with that!” Wei Wuxian exclaimed, and Jiang Cheng nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard a chuckle behind them.
Hua Cheng stood in the doorway, carrying a plate containing a large mango sliced into chunks. “Morning, fellas.” With a smirk, he added, “Thought you might want some nice, cool mango to quench that burning hunger from last night.”
Wei Wuxian flipped him off with a scowl. “Rack off, Huazza.”
Hua Cheng’s smile only widened. “Young love,” he sighed, handing Jiang Cheng the fruit. Lowering his voice, he told them, “Ge-ge is gonna bring you some pastries in a moment, but don’t eat them. Thank him for his hard work and then give them to me.”
Jiang Cheng’s brow furrowed. “Why?”
Hua Cheng opened his mouth to answer, but the man who had been sitting on his lap the previous night came down the stairs. “Morning, everyone,” he beamed, holding out a tray of what Jiang Cheng assumed were blackened, rock-hard Danishes. “I’m Xie Lian. I work at Baker’s Delight, so I thought I’d make some nice pastries for you guys!”
Jiang Cheng’s mouth fell open. “They look… delicious,” he lied, catching Hua Cheng’s pointed gaze. “Are you a chef there?”
Xie Lian shook his head with a light laugh. “Oh, no, I only just started working there, but I’ve been practising my cooking lately, so hopefully they’ll let me join the kitchen soon!”
Wei Wuxian got up from the floor and gingerly took a Danish from Xie Lian’s tray. Taking a nervous nibble, he declared, “Strewth, Xiezza, these are great!”
Hua Cheng put an arm around Xie Lian’s shoulders. “Ge-ge’s cooking is excellent,” he announced proudly, grabbing a pastry and eating it whole without a second thought. “Ge-ge should be the head chef at Baker’s Delight.”
Xie Lian smiled. “Thanks, Sanlang.”
Jiang Cheng couldn’t resist blurting, “Are you two dati–”
Hua Cheng and Xie Lian immediately stepped apart, both suddenly red-faced and shaking their heads.
“Oh, no, no, no,” Xie Lian protested, though he did sneak a glance at Hua Cheng. “Sanlang and I are just good friends.”
Hua Cheng nodded intently, but his expression looked like he had been shot through the heart. “We’re just mates, just mates,” he confirmed sadly.
It was midday on Friday, and Shi Qingxuan was working his usual 7-Eleven shift. He had texted Ming Yi earlier – just a quick how about dinner? i’ll shout you this time – and he was still waiting for a response. He hadn’t actually heard from Ming Yi since the party at Hua Cheng’s the other night, after which he had been informed that the two of them had spent most of the evening playing a drunken game of duck-duck-goose with Nie Huaisang, Luo Binghe and Shang Qinghua. He supposed that Ming Yi was too embarrassed to show his face after playing a children’s game…
There wasn’t really anyone overly interesting in the shop at the moment, Shi Qingxuan thought, and wondered once again what Ming Yi was up to. He was probably getting mugged in that dodgy eight-ball pool place he worked at, or maybe he was the one doing the mugging. Ming Yi really seemed to live two separate lives – one involving Shi Qingxuan, and one that Shi Qingxuan was completely foreign to.
Lost in his own thoughts, Shi Qingxuan barely noticed an elderly woman approach him at the counter.
“Oh, hi there,” he said quickly, brought back to reality. “You can place your items on the counter,” he prompted her after she didn’t move.
She smiled, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “Just the hand sanitiser today, thank you, young man.”
Shi Qingxuan took the bottle she handed him, scanned it and handed it back. As the woman counted out her coins before placing them in his palm, she seemed to remember something.
“Oh,” she said, leaning on the counter as though she was about to tell him a secret. “Those two men over there were talking, and I couldn’t help but overhear.”
Shi Qingxuan tilted his head. “Okay…”
A strange sense of excitement welled up inside him as he wondered what they could be saying that was so interesting that an old lady needed to report it. Perhaps they were spies, or politicians, or maybe they were just badmouthing someone and this woman’s sense of justice had kicked in…
“They were arguing over whether 7-Eleven was an Australian company or not,” she revealed, and Shi Qingxuan’s heart sank. It really wasn’t anything interesting after all. “I wanted to tell them that it’s actually a Japanese-owned American chain, but they both look very strong and I was nervous to get into a fight with them. Do you think you could go over and tell them?” she asked timidly.
Shi Qingxuan nodded earnestly. “Oh, sure.”
The elderly woman led him to the back of the shop, where the two men were having their discussion.
“Excuse me.” Shi Qingxuan cleared his throat to get their attention. “I just wanted to let you guys know that 7-Eleven is a Japanese-owned American company.”
As he spoke those words, the two men suddenly gave him their fullest attention. “Far out,” one exclaimed, his eyes wide with shock. “Jun Wu, you were right!”
Jiang Cheng spent most of Saturday morning wiping down the barbecue and dragging trestle tables into the backyard in preparation for the barbecue with his parents’ business partners.
“Who’s even coming to this thing, anyway?” he asked Jiang Yanli as they searched the back shed for the French cricket set their father insisted upon using.
His sister rummaged through a cardboard box. “The Lans, the Nies and the Jins are definitely coming,” she said, “and I think Mum said something about the Wens even turning up.”
Jiang Cheng dropped the deflated soccer ball he had been holding. “The Wens? Who the fuck invited them?”
Jiang Yanli shrugged. “I think Dad wanted to get on better terms with them, seeing as they’re so influential at the moment.”
Jiang Cheng wasn’t impressed, thinking of his snivelling classmate, Wen Chao. “Huh.”
The first to arrive were Jin Zixuan and his half-brother, Jin Guangyao. Jiang Fengmian, in his flower-patterned apron, stepped away from the barbecue to greet them. “G’day, boys!” he boomed, opening his arms in what he clearly hoped was the most welcoming way possible. “Bloody scorcher today! Dad still in China?”
Jin Guangyao nodded, while Jin Zixuan gravitated towards Jiang Yanli.
“Our father is very busy with his work, as usual,” Jin Guangyao explained, pulling a business card out of his pocket. “But I’m here on a trip from Hong Kong, where I recently set up my own vitamin company. You should have a look at my website.”
Jiang Fengmian took the card, and was about to say something, but apparently Jin Guangyao hadn’t finished promoting his new company yet.
“I brought some samples of my products today,” Jin Guangyao continued, flicking his hair so that the brand’s logo embroidered on his shirt was visible. “If you think you’re interested in them, you can join our VIP list. We are a very influential company, and we have many overseas sponsors, so if you decide to embark on this exciting journey with us, you’ll have the opportunity to attend our grand functions and balls.” He took another breath and kept talking. “In fact, my father is only a minor sponsor of my company, so I can assure you that we do not rely on him for our business plans, products, investments, or income.”
Jiang Fengmian looked like he was struggling with the information overload. “Wow, thanks for letting me know, Guangyao,” he said eventually, clicking the tongs in his hand. “I’ll be sure to have a look at your products later, but for now, I’ve gotta go fry some snags!”
There was a sudden commotion behind him, and Jiang Cheng spun around to see Wei Wuxian launch himself towards Lan Wangji, who had just arrived with his brother and uncle, who was accompanied by an unfamiliar woman. Wei Wuxian had been subtly avoiding Lan Wangji since their drunken kiss at Hua Cheng’s house, but he seemed to have suddenly forgotten all about it.
Lan Qiren shook his head, muttering, “Shameless,” while Lan Xichen simply smiled knowingly.
Jiang Fengmian once again rushed to greet his guests, but his wife placed a hand on his arm, silently warning him not to push Lan Qiren over the edge with his enthusiasm. Clearing his throat, Jiang Fengmian deepened his voice slightly. “Qiren, great to have you here, mate. I’ll grab the French cricket bat and we can start playi–”
“Thank you all for coming,” Yu Ziyuan said, interrupting her husband with a pointed glance. “Help yourself to the food; we’ve got sausages and some veggies.”
Lan Qiren inclined his head. “I’ll eat shortly,” he declared, stroking his goatee. “Firstly, I’d like to introduce you to my fiancée, Bina.”
The woman beside him had smooth, dark hair, and a brilliant smile. “Lovely to meet you,” she said, taking hold of Lan Qiren’s hand. “Lan Daddy and I are so glad to be here.”
Lan Qiren’s face creased into a smile, which was a sight Jiang Cheng had never seen before. “We’d like to invite you all to our wedding, which we’re planning to have in May.”
“Congratulations, mate!” Jiang Fengmian exclaimed, shaking each of their hands in turn. “Congratulations to you too, Bina! I’m just stoked for both of you!”
Lan Qiren’s smile didn’t disappear, and Jiang Cheng decided that love must really have mellowed him.
Next to arrive were Nie Huaisang and his older brother. Nie Mingjue immediately raced towards the barbecue and shook Jiang Fengmian’s hand with a vice-like grip. “Maaate,” he bellowed, grabbing a spare pair of tongs and tossing one of the sausages into the air with clear expertise. “Haven’t seen ya in ages! When are we playing cricket?”
Jiang Fengmian seemed glad that someone who shared his passions had arrived, and his entire face brightened. “Cricket starts whenever you want, mate.”
“Yes, mate!” Nie Mingjue exclaimed, clapping Jiang Fengmian on the shoulder.
Jiang Cheng was forced to play round after round of French cricket, and painful bruises appeared on his legs from where he was hit every time Nie Mingjue threw the ball at him. Everyone had a go – even Lan Qiren, who seemed the least likely to be interested in backyard sports. The hot midday sun beat down on them, and the afternoon shade was a welcome blessing – at least until the mosquitoes arrived.
“Bloody mozzies!” Wei Wuxian cursed, accidentally slapping his own arms in an attempt to shoo the mosquitoes away.
Lan Wangji, who hadn’t left Wei Wuxian’s side since he’d arrived, squished a mosquito between two fingers. Wei Wuxian immediately praised him, even though all he’d done was kill one mosquito out of the hundreds buzzing around. Jiang Cheng kind of wished they would just kiss and be done with all this ridiculous flirting.
It was only when more mosquitoes arrived, and everyone had decided to stop playing cricket and go back to the tables, where the citronella candles had been set up to repel the mosquitoes, that the Wens finally decided to show up.
“They came with the bloody mozzies,” Jiang Cheng muttered, as Wen Ruohan and Wen Chao stalked into the backyard.
“Fuckin’ bloodsuckers,” Wei Wuxian agreed.
Wen Ruohan narrowed his eyes at the sight of Yu Ziyuan carrying the cricket bat back to the shed. “We haven’t played yet,” he declared coldly. “Don’t put that away.”
Wen Chao sneered and tossed a cold sausage onto the grass. “These snags are shit!” he exclaimed, rudely pointing a finger at Jiang Fengmian. “Who the fuck eats snags this bloody cold?”
Jiang Fengmian was too busy trying to coerce Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian into playing more French cricket – “Just one more round to placate our old mate!” – but Nie Mingjue took full offense and puffed himself up to his full size.
“Oi, watch it, mate,” he threatened, and Wen Chao shrank back. “I cooked some of those snags, so you better not get up yourself. They’re only cold because you arrived so late, so quit whinging like a bloody ankle biter. You’re not six years old anymore.”
Wen Chao didn’t dare to say another word, but Jin Guangyao took the opportunity to promote his company once again while everyone was silent.
Every time Wen Ruohan hit someone in French cricket, he gave a menacing laugh and declared ominously, “I’m going to take over all of you pathetic Australians, with your stupid ‘mates’ and ‘snags’.”
Jiang Cheng couldn’t tell whether he was joking or not.
“I’m going to rule this country and make everyone speak only Mandarin,” Wen Ruohan stated in a sinister tone when, to Bina’s horror, he hit Lan Qiren with the ball. “Then you’ll have no chance against my company and you’ll all bow to me one day. Your stupid slang will be useless, mate!”
Lan Xichen pointed out, “You know, all of us here can speak Mandarin anyway, so we really would be fine, even if you did take over the country.”
“I can’t!” Wei Wuxian announced, sticking his arm into the air. “But Lan Zhan would just translate everything for me!”
“Mm,” agreed Lan Wangji.
“You are pathetic little worms,” Wen Ruohan said darkly, and threw the ball straight at Lan Wangji’s face.
Lan Wangji was perfectly capable of catching the ball, but Wei Wuxian decided to take matters into his own hands and pushed Lan Wangji onto the grass, landing on top of him. His judgement really was awful, Jiang Cheng thought, as the ball flew past them at a pace that was barely dangerous to a mosquito.
Jiang Cheng’s opinion of Wei Wuxian’s common sense was once again lowered significantly when Wei Wuxian took the awkward situation as the perfect opportunity to claim, “Lan Zhan, I like you a lot!”
Just when Jiang Cheng thought it couldn’t possibly get any more uncomfortable for everyone around them, Wei Wuxian kissed Lan Wangji.
There was a cry of “Shameless!” but for once, it did not come from Lan Qiren, who had also decided that this was a great opportunity to start making out with Bina.
Wen Ruohan, who had shouted out, grabbed his son and stormed away. “Shameless, shameless,” he grumbled to himself.
“Bloody idiot,” muttered Jin Zixuan, using Aussie slang for what was probably the first time in his life.
“Fuckin’ oath,” Jiang Cheng concurred, agreeing with Jin Zixuan for what was also probably the first time in his life.
It was nearly 11 p.m. on Saturday night, and Pei Ming had just started packing away when the bell tinkled, and two men pushed the door open.
“Welcome to Domino’s Pizza.” He forced a bright tone, just wanting to go home. And besides, these customers, men only a little older than him, were hardly what he considered good-looking; he would much rather have preferred his last customer to be someone memorable, like a pretty girl.
The broader man asked, “Do you have stores in other countries?”
Pei Ming blinked, taken aback. “I’m sorry?”
“This isn’t an Australian company, right?” the man pressed, sounding almost desperate.
Pei Ming had to admit that he wasn’t the most knowledgeable about these things, so he sneakily searched for stores on the company database. “You’re in luck, mate,” he declared after a moment’s pause. “We’re actually an American company, but we’ve branched over nine countries. So if you’re ever craving pizza in the middle of, say, Luxembourg, you can find us there.”
The second man’s eyes widened, and he brushed a strand of hair that had escaped his long, loose plait out of his eyes. “Jun Wu, I can’t believe this!”
Jun Wu gave his arm a comforting, and somewhat pitying, pat. “I told you, Mei Nian Qing. Domino’s isn’t just in Australia.”
This was ridiculous. Pei Ming just wanted to leave.
Mei Nian Qing shook his head in absolute disbelief. “We’ve got to order something. I need to taste this true international food.”
They spent almost five minutes scrutinising the screen behind Pei Ming, who was tempted to turn around and look at the screen too.
“Let’s get the Philly cheese and steak pizza,” Mei Nian Qing finally decided, taking out his wallet. “The idea of Domino’s being associated with Philadelphia, America, really is hard to get my mind around.”
“Okay,” Pei Ming sighed, and reluctantly went into the kitchen to make the pizza. Oh, how he wished he was holding the hands of a beautiful woman instead of holding a rolling pin…
When the pizza was ready, Jun Wu and Mei Nian Qing eagerly devoured it, and Pei Ming casually listened to their conversation.
“I still can’t believe that all these companies aren’t Australian,” Mei Nian Qing mumbled through a mouthful of pizza. They must have had this conversation before, Pei Ming realised.
Across the table, Jun Wu took his hand. “The world really is surprising, huh?”
There was such tenderness in Jun Wu’s voice that Pei Ming suddenly realised that he had been too busy fantasising about going home to notice that these two were actually a couple.
“How long is it going to take for me to convince you that Australia isn’t the centre of the business universe, Mei Nian?” Jun Wu teased.
Mei Nian Qing thought about it seriously for a moment, before stating, “Seven days and seven nights. You’ll have to prove it to me seven times in total before I’ll believe you.”
While Jun Wu and Mei Nian Qing fed each other slices of pizza, Pei Ming couldn’t stop yawning. “Okay, guys,” he declared after nearly twenty minutes of listening to their flirting. “I can’t keep my eyes open any longer, so how about I head off now? I’ll lock the door from the outside, but you can still open it from the inside to leave when you’re done.”
Jun Wu and Mei Nian Qing nodded silently, mouths full of pizza, and Pei Ming left them to it.
“Last night at around 11 p.m., two men somehow broke into the local Domino’s Pizza,” claimed the reporter on the news the next morning. “It’s presumed that they stole a key and got in, because nothing was broken or stolen. An anonymous witness walking past claimed to have heard strange, moaning noises. When he knocked on the door, the lights were on, and two men emerged from the back kitchen, looking dishevelled. As there was no damage done, DNA tests are not being undertaken, but the police are issuing an official warning to these men.”
Pei Ming felt his blood run cold. “Oh, fuck!”
There was a bizarre story on the news about some men breaking into a Domino’s Pizza restaurant at midnight the night before, but Jiang Cheng sighed and paid it no attention as he gulped down his cereal. Today would be his first shift back at work since going on holiday, and he couldn’t say he was looking forward to donning that ridiculous green Subway shirt and hat again. Every time he wore it, Wei Wuxian would make a stupid remark like, “So you really are a sub after all,” and Jiang Cheng hated it with a burning passion.
When Jiang Cheng drove off, Wei Wuxian wasn’t even awake yet; he’d been off doing god knows what with Lan Wangji before arriving home at some unearthly hour of the morning.
A sudden realisation hit, and Jiang Cheng nearly hit the car in front. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji couldn’t possibly be the two men breaking into Domino’s, could they?
He shook his head, trying to dispel the shocking idea. There was no way that Lan Wangji could have allowed something like that to happen. Although… a drunk Lan Wangji seemed to have a mind of his own. The more he thought about it, the more plausible it seemed to Jiang Cheng that his brother could have been the culprit.
With this playing on his mind, Jiang Cheng barely noticed the two people hanging around outside the restaurant until they came to the counter.
“Morning,” he said flatly. It was uncommon for people to wait for the shop to open in the mornings; Subway had breakfast options, but it wasn’t exactly the sort of place people usually chose to eat breakfast at.
“G’day, mate,” one man greeted him. “Could you tell us where this company comes from?”
His hair was abnormally long and tied in a braid that reached over halfway down his back. Jiang Cheng wondered if he was a hippie.
Jiang Cheng frowned, and tentatively guessed, “America?”
The second man, who thankfully didn’t look like a hippie, slapped his hand triumphantly down on the counter. “And that would be right, mate! America! America, Mei Nian Qing! America, not Australia! Everything comes from America.”
“We’ve still only been to three places now, Jun Wu,” Mei Nian Qing protested. “Once you’ve shown me the full seven, I might concede.”
Idiots, thought Jiang Cheng. “Do you wanna order something, or are you just here to waste my time?”
Both men were older than him, but they were acting like schoolkids who had made some sort of ridiculous bet.
Mei Nian Qing sighed, exchanging an unreadable glance with Jun Wu. “No, but do you have a bathroom?”
Why would you go to a restaurant just to use the bathroom? Jiang Cheng wondered, but sternly told himself that customer service was important, and reluctantly said, “Yeah, it’s just that door behind the counter and to the left.”
“Thanks, mate,” said Jun Wu, and not one, but both men, walked around the counter and headed towards the bathroom.
Jiang Cheng didn’t think anything of it until his co-worker, Pearl, arrived late through the back entrance, screaming, “Ching! Ching!”
At first, Jiang Cheng ignored her, still irritated that she was so incapable of pronouncing the simple name Cheng after nearly six months of working together, but the screaming continued, so Jiang Cheng demanded, “What?”
Pearl didn’t answer, but Jiang Cheng heard peculiar crashing noises coming from behind him, so he left the counter unmanned and went to have a look. He had forgotten that there was a second back entrance that ended in the bathroom, but was suddenly reminded of it when Pearl appeared, Jun Wu and Mei Nian Qing following behind her.
Both of their faces were painted with guilt, and Jiang Cheng snapped, “What the fuck is going on?”
Pearl looked ready to cry. “I don’t know!” she wailed, and Jiang Cheng noticed that she was brandishing a broom. “I just got here and then I heard noises in the bathroom and then I saw that one of the men’s cubicles was occupied so I bashed on it with the broom and then the door broke in and I saw these two and they were making out–”
In the corner of his eye, Jiang Cheng spotted Jun Wu elbowing Mei Nian Qing, who tried to subtly zip up his pants.
Jiang Cheng saw red, and hollered, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE BEFORE I CALL THE POLICE ON YOU!”
Jun Wu and Mei Nian Qing scampered out, leaving Jiang Cheng and Pearl standing awkwardly behind the counter.
“Are you actually gonna call the police?” Pearl asked quietly.
Jiang Cheng shrugged. “Nah, it was just a threat.” He tilted his head, starting to reconsider. “Well, actually, were they actually doing anything?”
Pearl shook her head. “Just making out, but I reckon they were definitely planning to take it further if I hadn’t arrived.”
“Then I’m not gonna call the police,” Jiang Cheng decided, adjusting his hat. “Nothing even happened, so they didn’t actually do anything illegal. We’ll just be wasting their time; we can’t even say they were fucking in public ’cause they were just kissing.”
“Shame,” said Pearl, still gripping the broom tightly. “I kinda woulda liked to see them get arrested for being a public nuisance.”
When he returned home that afternoon, Jiang Cheng recounted the morning’s shenanigans, and Wei Wuxian seemed to think it was the funniest thing in the world.
“I can’t believe they were gonna fuck in the bathroom!” he cackled, before gasping. “Hey, do you reckon they were the same blokes who broke into Domino’s?”
Jiang Cheng nearly spat out the water he had been drinking. The drama in the bathroom had caused him to totally forget about the Domino’s incident. “I – wait – fuck – I thought that was you!”
Wei Wuxian’s face contorted into an expression of pure confusion. “You thought I came into your work and had a make-out session with a random stranger in the bathroom?”
Jiang Cheng really hated Wei Wuxian’s obliviousness sometimes. “No, idiot, I thought the guys who broke into Domino’s were you and Lan Wangji! You came home so late, and it sounded like something you’d do…” He trailed off as Wei Wuxian spluttered with laughter.
“HAHAHAHAHAHAHA no, we were taking a peaceful walk in the suburbs and discussing things,” Wei Wuxian admitted once he’d calmed down again. “You know, like feelings.”
Jiang Cheng felt absolutely ridiculous. What Wei Wuxian had been doing couldn’t be further from what had happened at Domino’s. He had the grace to mutter, “I guess I had that wrong, then…”
“You really did, you bloody idiot,” Wei Wuxian gloated, and Jiang Cheng almost wished he hadn’t even said anything in the first place. “Far out, I can’t believe you thought Lan Zhan would let me do something like that. Maybe next time, we should try shoplifting as a date…”
“A date?” Jiang Cheng hesitated. “So are you guys like… a thing, now?”
Wei Wuxian nodded earnestly. “Yeah.”
He didn’t elaborate, and Jiang Cheng didn’t press further.
That evening, Jiang Cheng found himself inside Wei Wuxian’s car once again. Wei Wuxian had insisted that it was an emergency, but when they pulled up in a dodgy street in the middle of the city, Jiang Cheng had his doubts. Wei Wuxian led him to an even dodgier street and paused in front of a narrow door sporting a battered sign that read ‘8-ball pool’.
“We’re here to play pool?” Jiang Cheng demanded, crossing his arms. “I thought you said it was an emergency.”
“It is, it is!” Wei Wuxian insisted, pushing the door open and climbing a dimly-lit staircase. Lowering his voice, he hissed, “It’s a romantic emergency.”
“Did you have a fight with Lan Wangji or something?” Even as Jiang Cheng said it, it seemed unlikely. If they’d had a fight, Wei Wuxian would probably be acting all melodramatic. “Is that why you didn’t bring him along instead of me?”
“Nah, mate. He’s attending some sort of extra advanced class right now because he’s a good student.” As though he thought it obvious, Wei Wuxian declared, “We decided it’s time to finally set up Huazza and Xiezza. It’s so obvious that they like each other, but they’re just refusing to say anything.”
Jiang Cheng sighed. “You shouldn’t intrude on their business. How would you like it if someone had done that to you and Lan Wangji?”
“I woulda fuckin’ welcomed it,” Wei Wuxian declared, turning around to roll his eyes at Jiang Cheng. “Did you know, I had no idea I even liked Lan Zhan before that time we kissed at Huazza’s? Someone shoulda just told me earlier!”
“That’s your fault, though,” Jiang Cheng pointed out, and he was about to continue when they reached the top of the stairs and Wei Wuxian motioned for him to be quiet.
Hua Cheng, Xie Lian and two men Jiang Cheng didn’t recognise were gathered around one of the many tables in the large room.
“This is Ming Yi,” Hua Cheng introduced, motioning to the taller man who wore a slightly irritated expression and a black t-shirt with a badge reading ‘STAFF MEMBER’. “And this is Shi Qingxuan.”
Shi Qingxuan, unlike Ming Yi, smiled brightly and waved. “I saw you at Hua Cheng’s party,” he said to Jiang Cheng, “but I didn’t get a chance to say g’day. We spent most of the night playing duck-duck-goose while drunk off our faces.”
“Ming Yi managed to get us a special price ’cause he works here,” Xie Lian added, smiling at Ming Yi, who just glowered.
“I’m practically working overtime just by being here,” Ming Yi muttered, shaking his head and letting his fringe obscure half his face.
Hua Cheng clucked his tongue. “You already owe me so much goddamn money, Mingo. You should be working overtime for the next five years.”
He turned away to say something to Xie Lian.
Ming Yi’s expression was dark. “You guys better get toge–”
“Better get really good at pool!” Shi Qingxuan interrupted brightly, shooting Ming Yi a pointed glance.
Luckily, Hua Cheng and Xie Lian were too busy pretending they weren’t gazing longingly at each other to notice Ming Yi’s accidental betrayal.
They split into two teams: Wei Wuxian, Hua Cheng and Xie Lian on one team, and Jiang Cheng, Shi Qingxuan and Ming Yi on the other.
“I’m not very good at pool,” Xie Lian admitted when it was his turn. “I seem to have really bad luck, so whenever I play, someone always knocks into me or I trip on my own feet – and then I mess up my turn!”
Hua Cheng moved to stand behind him. “Don’t worry, ge-ge. I’ll guard you so that nobody walking past hits you.”
Wei Wuxian offered a cheeky grin, and Jiang Cheng already knew what he was going to say. “Come on, Huazza, now you’re blocking the walkway. Move closer, move closer – I reckon Xiezza won’t mind.”
Hua Cheng looked like he was torn between plastering himself onto Xie Lian or flipping Wei Wuxian off, so he settled for both. Giving Wei Wuxian the finger behind his back so that Xie Lian wouldn’t see, Hua Cheng rested his chin on Xie Lian’s shoulder and practically snuggled up behind him. “Ge-ge, I hope you don’t mind,” he murmured, not looking uncomfortable in the slightest, “but unless I stand right here, I’ll be blocking the walkway.”
“Good onya, Huazza,” Wei Wuxian crowed, high-fiving Shi Qingxuan under the table.
As the night progressed, Hua Cheng’s clinginess increased, but neither he nor Xie Lian addressed it. Jiang Cheng wondered how they could stand it; they clearly liked each other, so what was stopping them from just discussing it? Not even a crowd at a barbecue had stopped Wei Wuxian from kissing Lan Wangji in the middle of a game of French cricket with Wen Ruohan, of all people!
Jiang Cheng had just decided that they were a lost cause, but just after Hua Cheng took his next turn, he murmured something to Xie Lian. Xie Lian’s face heated, and he gently prised the cue from Hua Cheng’s fingers, quickly passing it to Ming Yi, who was standing nearest to them.
“Where are you off to?” Shi Qingxuan inquired as Xie Lian took hold of Hua Cheng’s hand and marched towards the exit.
“Macca’s,” Hua Cheng answered, sounding rather flustered, at the same time that Xie Lian blurted, “Woolies.”
Their eyes met. Hua Cheng corrected his first statement with a muttered, “My bad, it’s Woolies,” while Xie Lian stammered, “Oh, yeah, Macca’s.”
Jiang Cheng exchanged a glance with Wei Wuxian and Shi Qingxuan, but Ming Yi’s only apparent thought was, “Wherever you go, make sure you bring something back for me. I’m starving.”
“You’re gonna owe me,” Hua Cheng crowed as they left without a backwards glance.
As soon as they were out of earshot, Ming Yi asked, “What was all that about? Are they actually getting food?”
Wei Wuxian seemed as perplexed as Ming Yi, and shrugged. “I dunno, mate. I didn’t even hear what they were saying. For all I know, Huazza coulda just said he was hungry.” He paused, and his usual, troublemaking grin appeared on his face. “But I reckon they’re off having a nice little chat. You guys better thank me for arranging this.”
“They’re always off having a nice little chat, but it never goes anywhere,” Ming Yi pointed out sullenly. “This probably isn’t even anything different. Don’t look so proud; you’re a shit matchmaker, you know that?”
It was Monday afternoon, and Luo Binghe had just returned to the dorm after a class Qi Rong hadn’t been bothered to attend.
“If you don’t start turnin’ up to classes, they’re not gonna let you room here, y’know, Rozza,” Luo Binghe pointed out, much to Qi Rong’s frustration. He put his bag down on the table Qi Rong was currently lying on.
“Who gives a rat’s ass?” Qi Rong chucked Luo Binghe’s bag onto the floor and took a long, noisy gulp of Coke. “Ya think they can just kick me out? Where do they fuckin’ think I’m gonna live? The outback? I’m not goinna uni every day ridin’ a bloody kangaroo!”
“Mate, you don’t even fuckin’ go to uni every day,” Luo Binghe countered, checking that the contents of his bag hadn’t been destroyed. “At this rate, you’re probably gonna get expelled soon.”
Qi Rong itched his chest through his baggy singlet and kicked off his crocs. “They’re not gonna expel me. I’m a bloody legend.”
Luo Binghe snatched the Coke out of Qi Rong’s hand before it tipped onto the floorboards. “You? A bloody legend? Yeah, nah, mate.”
Qi Rong sat up blearily, suddenly remembering what he had been meaning to tell Luo Binghe for three days. “Aw yeah, Bingbong, ya old man called me the other day.”
Luo Binghe’s brow furrowed. “What’d he want from you?”
“Gimme my Coke back and I’ll tell ya.” Qi Rong held out his hand expectantly, and Luo Binghe sighed and returned the can. “He said somethin’ ’bout not believin’ ya when ya said we don’t actually keep emus in the rooms. He wanted me to remind ya that you’re probably allergic to emus, so ya better not try and get too close.”
Luo Binghe looked like he was going to throw something. “Far out!” he sighed in exasperation. “I’m not even gonna try to work out how the hell he got your number, but Jesus.” He took a deep breath. “Dad’s watched too many movies and now he thinks we all eat Vegemite outta the fuckin’ jar and keep emus as pets.”
“Sometimes I eat Vegemite outta the jar when there’s nothin’ else to eat,” Qi Rong pointed out, licking his lips at the thought.
“But people also think you’re a cannibal, so I wouldn’t exactly consider any of your eating habits normal.” Luo Binghe crossed his arms and flopped onto the couch, disappointed to remember that it wasn’t as soft as it looked. “He needs to stop fuckin’ ringing me – and now you – about shit like this. He needs to stop fantasising about what he thinks the Aussie outback is like and just stick to doin’ business in China.”
Qi Rong wasn’t listening anymore. “Aw no, I’m gonna be late for work,” he realised, checking his watch. “Wonder when I’m gonna get the sack.”
“Hopefully today,” Luo Binghe muttered, but Qi Rong ignored him.
Qi Rong arrived at the shopping centre thirty minutes after his shift at Target was meant to start and spent another fifteen minutes trying to find somewhere to park his rather unwieldy ute in the already crowded carpark. He ended up parking near the food court and wasted even more time standing in line at Macca’s in the hope of getting a $1 frozen drink, but gave up after realising that he really would get sacked if he turned up over an hour late.
“Got stuck in the bloody traffic,” he declared upon arrival, grabbing his crumpled employee uniform from where he had stashed it under a counter last time he had worked. He probably wasn’t meant to just leave his uniform lying around, but nobody had actually told him not to, so he figured it didn’t matter.
The pasty guy working at the register adjacent to his shot him a filthy glare as Qi Rong buttoned his red shirt up over his singlet and pulled his trousers on over his shorts.
“The fuck are you lookin’ at, Chris?” Qi Rong demanded as he fastened the badge that used to read ‘Rong’ to his shirt. He had scribbled it out and written ‘Rozza’ in permanent marker, and so far, none of his superiors had picked up on it.
Chris crossed his arms and glowered. “You turn up late looking like the bogan you are, and nobody says shit, but if I do anything outta line, everyone spits the bloody dummy. You’re not even wearing shoes!”
Qi Rong spat out a piece of something unrecognisable and shook his ragged fringe out of his eyes. “Aw, rack off Chris, ya fuckin’ galah. Go chuck another sickie like ya did last time someone made ya cry.” He rummaged under the counter to find his spare pair of thongs. Slipping them on, Qi Rong lifted a foot into the air, displaying his crusty skin and ingrown toenails. “Got shoes on now, Chris, so stop yabberin’ on and do some work.”
Chris was clearly resisting the urge to launch into a tirade, and Qi Rong loved winding him up. The girl at the register on his other side – Qi Rong didn’t even know her name – rolled her eyes and directed a forced smile at the customer she was serving.
Qi Rong’s walkie-talkie crackled, and a distorted voice blared, “Customers in the toys aisle need assistance.”
He ignored it at first, preferring to make obscene hand gestures at Chris, who was busy ogling a pretty girl who’d just walked in.
The walkie-talkie cracked again. “Rong, I’m talking to you, mate. Go help the customers.”
Qi Rong sighed. “Orright mate, hold ya horses. I’m comin’ over.”
He ambled into the toy aisle, expecting to be faced with the usual case – screaming children and overtired parents – but to his surprise, a man with a long plait that could certainly rival Qi Rong’s own was holding a board game box. The man next to him jabbed the box with his finger.
“This box says the game is mahjong for kids,” he said, his tone accusatory as he kept poking the box, “but we read the rules on the back and they’re not only oversimplified, but also completely wrong.”
The man with the plait looked devastated. “How could you let this happen,” – he looked at Qi Rong’s name tag – “Rozza?” He shook his head in disappointment. “Kids are gonna grow up playing this, thinking it’s mahjong, but it’s all a lie!”
Qi Rong wanted to interrupt and point out that maybe there was a reason it was in the toys aisle and labelled as mahjong for kids, but the other man declared, “This is false advertising!”
Qi Rong took a deep breath. Screaming kids were one thing, but thirty-year-old men overreacting about board game packaging were on a completely different level. “It’s just a game for kids, orright?” he began, wondering if the plait guy was about to cry. “And I didn’t make the goddamn game – don’t blame me if it’s not up to ya standards. I just sell this junk–”
The man with the plait inhaled sharply. “Of course you didn’t make it,” he breathed, putting the box back on the shelf. “Jun Wu, it all makes sense.” He turned to Qi Rong. “Is this an Australian company?”
Qi Rong was taken aback. “How the fuck would I know? I just work here.”
Jun Wu took out his phone to search something up and showed them both the screen. “Look, Mei Nian Qing. There’s a Target in America, but it’s actually a separate company.”
Mei Nian Qing scrutinised the screen for a moment, apparently deep in thought. “But does that count?” he wondered, no longer paying attention to Qi Rong as he scrolled down Jun Wu’s screen. “If it’s an unrelated company, then…”
Jun Wu placed a hand on Mei Nian Qing’s shoulder and gazed into his eyes. His voice gentle, he murmured, “But Mei Nian, did you know that Target exists in America?”
Mei Nian Qing shook his head in resignation. “Okay, I’ll admit I had no idea it was in America. I guess this makes four places now.”
The tenderness between them made Qi Rong look away in disgust; affection was gross. Especially in public. Suddenly thinking of his cousin and that awful Hua Cheng’s constant public displays of affection, Qi Rong’s mood worsened and he snapped, “So do ya wanna buy this shit or not, Mate Nian Qing?”
Mei Nian Qing crossed his arms as Qi Rong’s joke went straight over his head. “Absolutely not. I own a mahjong club; I’m not gonna stoop so low as to buy something like this.”
“This pathetic excuse of a mahjong set is probably sabotage from the American company,” Jun Wu declared, taking Mei Nian Qing’s hand and heading out of the aisle. “They’re probably just jealous that Target is more popular in Australia.”
Qi Rong snatched the box off the shelf. “It’s not even a fuckin’ Target product!” he yelled after their retreating backs. “It was designed in Spain and made in China! It’s got nothin’ to do with America!”
In his irritation, he accidentally knocked a 1000-piece puzzle onto the floor. Someone had stupidly torn the plastic wrapping off the box, which fell open, scattering the pieces everywhere.
“Bloody hell!” Qi Rong muttered, kneeling down and frantically trying to gather the pieces up before someone slipped and blamed him, but in his haste, he pushed a few tiny pieces under the shelf.
A man pushing a pram containing three wailing babies gave him a sympathetic look as he entered the aisle to see Qi Rong lying on the floor, blindly groping for the lost pieces. “Hard yakka, mate?”
Qi Rong sighed and accidentally whacked his head against a wooden koala toy on the bottom of the shelf next to him. “Bloody hard yakka.”
Wei Wuxian prided himself on being the best employee at the local Macca’s, but sometimes he had to admit that that was mostly because his co-workers were idiots. And because he manned the drive through, which was a single-person job, so there wasn’t really anyone to compete with in his field of expertise.
One of his co-workers from the front counter opened Wei Wuxian’s door and slammed it against the wall while Wei Wuxian was talking to a customer. “Okay, mate, now just come around to the window and that’ll be six dollars fifty.”
He turned off his headset’s microphone to quickly talk to his co-worker as he waited for the customer to drive around. “Oh, hey, Bruce.”
Bruce was a balding man in his thirties and thought he was the superior Macca’s employee, but Wei Wuxian knew better.
“This was mixed up in the cash a customer paid with,” Bruce began gruffly, handing him a small, folded piece of paper. “I thought you might be able to read it.”
Wei Wuxian wondered if it was a secret note written in code from Lan Wangji, who would have somehow known that Wei Wuxian’s co-workers would find it and pass it on for him, but his heart sank when he saw the printed Chinese characters. He couldn’t read any of it, but the format looked like a receipt, and Wei Wuxian’s dreams of having Lan Wangji send him love letters were shattered.
“I can’t understand Chinese,” Wei Wuxian laughed, handing it back to him. “It’s just some random receipt that got mixed up with their money.”
Bruce frowned, his eyebrows scrunching together in confusion. “But you’re Chinese, mate,” he pointed out, motioning at Wei Wuxian by waving his hands. “You should be able to read it.”
“Wow, I know,” Wei Wuxian grinned, covering his mouth in mock surprise. “Look, mate, I was born here. My family speaks English to me. I can’t even write my own name in Chinese, let alone speak it or read anything.”
Bruce crossed his arms. “Aw, come on, mate, give it a burl. I really wanna know what it says.”
Wei Wuxian sighed. Bruce was annoying, but he couldn’t just give up and let this guy take his title of the self-proclaimed best employee. “I took a Chinese class when I was, like, nine or something,” he said, squinting to read the fine print, but nothing stood out. Just as a car pulled up at the window, Wei Wuxian recognised a word that looked slightly familiar. “I think this says… uh… ‘thank you’,” he guessed before turning his microphone back on.
Bruce didn’t look impressed in the slightest. “Wow, thanks, mate. So helpful.”
He left sullenly. Part of Wei Wuxian was irritated, but he was mostly impressed that he had even managed to read one word. Besides, he was a helpful and proactive employee, unlike Bruce, who could’ve just used Google Translate if he wanted to know so badly. And Bruce hadn’t even bothered to shut the door when he left.
A beep sounded in his headset, pulling Wei Wuxian away from his dreams of being crowned employee of the month. “Hi, how can I help you today? We have a Tuesday special on some wraps, if you’re interested.”
A low male voice answered, “G’day, mate. Could we just grab a small fries and an orange juice?”
“Sure,” said Wei Wuxian, tapping on his screen to place the order. “That’ll be four dollars seventy-five. Come around to the window.”
Shortly afterwards, a white Audi pulled up, and Wei Wuxian handed the driver his order. “Not very hungry today, guys?” he asked, noticing that there was a man in the passenger seat. Surely their entire lunch wasn’t going to consist of just chips and juice between the two of them.
The passenger leaned over, his long braid nearly getting caught on the driver’s arm. “Nah, we’ll be right. But I did have a question.”
“Ask away,” said Wei Wuxian, expecting to hear a complaint about prices.
“Where do burgers originate from?” the passenger asked, and Wei Wuxian was taken aback.
“Uh…” He really should know this, he realised, considering he had actually been asked something like this when he had interviewed for the job nearly two years ago. Racking his brains, he finally answered, “I think it was in either Germany or America. Nobody seems to agree.”
Neither the driver nor the passenger said anything. Wei Wuxian paused, wishing he could give the conclusive answer they were looking for.
Remembering something else, he brightened, adding, “But although we see going on a Macca’s run as quintessentially Aussie, Macca’s first came from the US.”
The driver seemed extremely pleased. “Thanks, mate.” He turned to the passenger, grinning as though he had just won a raffle prize. “And there we have it, Mei Nian Qing: a foreign food and a foreign company.”
Mei Nian Qing reached through the car window and shook Wei Wuxian’s hand. “Thank you for making our Macca’s run so special.”
Trying not to laugh at the seriousness on both men’s faces, Wei Wuxian replied, “No worries, mate. Have a good one and enjoy that orange juice.”
“Someone asked me what country burgers came from today,” Wei Wuxian remembered, flopping onto the couch. “It was wack.”
He hadn’t expected Jiang Cheng to care, but his brother suddenly sat up straight, nearly knocking Wei Wuxian’s glass of water off the coffee table. “What?”
“These guys ordered, like, nothing and then asked me what country burgers came from,” Wei Wuxian repeated, wondering why Jiang Cheng cared. “And then when I told them about the burgers and the company, they got really excited and one of them shook my hand.”
“Did you get a name?” Jiang Cheng demanded, pushing a cushion out of his way so he could drape his arm over the back of the couch.
Wei Wuxian yawned and thought for a moment. “Oh yeah, actually,” he said after a short pause. “They were Chinese. I remember ’cause just before they turned up, this guy I work with was tryinna get me to read something in Chinese, but I couldn’t and then these Chinese guys turned up and one of them said a name… Oh, what was it again?”
For once, Jiang Cheng didn’t seem annoyed at all that Wei Wuxian couldn’t remember – and he seemed even more excited upon hearing that they were Chinese. “Jun Wu?” he prompted, but Wei Wuxian shook his head. “Mei something? Mei Nian Qing, I think?”
Wei Wuxian slapped his thigh. “Yeah! That’s it! This guy with really long hair was called Mei Nian Qing!”
Jiang Cheng’s eyes flashed and he stood up abruptly. “They were the guys making out in Subway!”
Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened. “Really?” He pulled out his phone, typed something in and scrolled for a few minutes before declaring, “Mei Nian Qing! He owns a mahjong club!” He showed Jiang Cheng a Facebook profile. “This is him, right?”
Jiang Cheng nodded intently. “Far out! I can’t believe this! So they’ve just been goinna all these different places and causing trouble!” He grabbed Wei Wuxian’s phone. “Is Mei Nian Qing’s mahjong club still open now?”
Mei Nian Qing’s mahjong club was open until late, so Jiang Cheng got into Wei Wuxian’s car and directed him. They arrived at a small shopping plaza, and one of the shops had a sign on the door reading ‘mahjong inside’.
Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian made their way inside. The mahjong club was small and dimly lit, but had a strangely cosy atmosphere.
“There they are.” Jiang Cheng pointed to a table in the far corner, where Mei Nian Qing’s distinctive braid could be seen.
They were expecting to only see Mei Nian Qing and Jun Wu, so they were surprised to recognise the two other people at the table.
“Huazza?” Wei Wuxian demanded in shock. “Xiezza? You guys know these two?”
Xie Lian nodded. “Oh, yeah,” he explained with a smile. “They’ve both been my tutors in the past.”
Hua Cheng didn’t look as excited as Xie Lian about knowing Jun Wu and Mei Nian Qing. “How do you guys know them?”
Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian exchanged a glance. “Uh…” Jiang Cheng began. They tried to fuck in the bathroom where I work wasn’t exactly the best thing to start with. “They’ve been to our workplaces.”
Jun Wu and Mei Nian Qing finally looked up. Upon noticing Jiang Cheng, both clearly remembered him from Subway and tried to pretend they hadn’t seen him, but Wei Wuxian declared, “Hi! You met me on your Macca’s run today!”
Both of their faces lit up. “Oh, yeah!” said Mei Nian Qing, his face breaking into a smile. “You gave us some great info.”
“You’re a good mate,” Jun Wu agreed, nodding his head firmly.
Jiang Cheng was slightly put out by how happy they were to see Wei Wuxian, and moved onto more pressing matters. “So why the hell have you guys been asking about where these companies come from?” he demanded.
Jun Wu and Mei Nian Qing exchanged a glance. “We’re going to seven different places I thought were only in Australia,” Mei Nian Qing explained.
Nobody really understood what that meant, but by this point, they were too confused to ask for details.
“Why did you need to make out in the Subway bathroom?” Jiang Cheng shuddered at the memory.
Jun Wu averted his gaze, briefly turning his attention back to their game of mahjong. “We, uh, wanted to make it a memorable seven times.”
Jiang Cheng couldn’t believe it. They had been public nuisances simply because they wanted to have a good time in non-Australian companies. “By tryinna have a good old root in the bathroom?”
Mei Nian Qing nodded, completely unashamed. “We actually did it in Domino’s.”
Everyone took a moment to process that statement.
“Oh my god,” Xie Lian whispered as it finally clicked. “You were the people on the news.”
Jiang Cheng, Wei Wuxian, Hua Cheng and Xie Lian had left, but Jun Wu and Mei Nian Qing were still playing mahjong when Jun Wu suddenly asked, “Are you convinced yet?”
Mei Nian Qing smiled, knowing exactly what his beloved was talking about. “You’ve still only shown me five places. We both know I won’t be satisfied until you’ve shown me seven.”
“Alright,” said Jun Wu, perfectly happy to oblige. He enjoyed spending time with Mei Nian Qing, even if it meant doing small things like wandering around shops and annoying the employees. It really distracted him from the stress of marking primary school kids’ holiday practice exams and ringing up the parents to explain why their children were potentially failing year three level maths. The school term hadn’t even started yet, but some parents were adamant on sending their kids to extra summer holiday classes, and Jun Wu found these holiday parents even more demanding than regular parents during the term.
Wednesday was Wen Chao’s least favourite day of the week, because it was the one day his father made him to go work. And he had to work for the entire day. At KFC of all places. The constant smell of frying chicken had been amazing at first, but now, Wen Chao was tempted to go vego if it meant he would never have to smell chicken again.
He hated his job. Everyone from his university seemed to enjoy popping in on Wednesdays just to annoy him for five minutes. What they got out of it, he had no idea, but there was something satisfying about pouring that extra bit of spicy sauce on their chicken nuggets as payback.
Today was apparently Jin Zixuan’s day to say hello. The wealthy international student came in with his girlfriend and flashed both his credit card and his shiny watch.
“Why don’t you get a job and stop hanging around here?” Wen Chao sneered as he passed Jin Zixuan a small serve of chicken nuggets with a massive dollop of chilli sauce.
“I’ve already got money,” Jin Zixuan declared, flashing his smile and his gold chain necklace. “I don’t need a job right now.”
Jiang Yanli took his hand, and the gold bracelet on her wrist sparkled. It was clearly a gift from her boyfriend, Wen Chao realised, because it was flashy too. Everything about Jin Zixuan was flashy, and it really made Wen Chao want to wring his neck and show that he was the most powerful.
When the couple left, their flashy, glowing aura faded, and KFC returned to its usual, boring state. Wen Chao glowered at the stack of paper serviettes on the counter in front of him. One day, he would be so rich that he could buy the entire company. And then he’d be the flashiest.
He was so caught up in his own thoughts that he didn’t realise that two more customers had come inside. They didn’t even look at the menu, but the taller one just straight up asked him, “Hey, mate, d’you reckon you could you tell us what the K in KFC stands for?”
Wen Chao rolled his eyes. “Kentucky, obviously. You know Kentucky? In America? That’s where this place is from.”
“Thanks, mate,” said the man with the long plait, who was apparently satisfied with that answer. “Sorry to bother you.”
And with that, they just walked back out.
It was Thursday evening, and Jun Wu had just had the most stressful day of his working career. He had returned practice exams for both English and history, and that afternoon, nearly twenty parents rang him to complain. It wasn’t his fault that the children couldn’t be convinced to do their homework. He could only encourage them so much; it was the summer holidays, and these were extra holiday classes for primary school children whose wealthy parents had unreasonably high expectations. There was absolutely no reason as to why the kids would actually want to work hard for these mock exams, but Jun Wu couldn’t exactly tell the parents that eight-year-olds would be better off playing outside during the summer holidays.
Luckily, Mei Nian Qing had left his mahjong club early and driven to the school where Jun Wu taught holiday classes. He couldn’t exactly help Jun Wu talk to the complaining parents, but it was nice to have moral support when parents wanted his head.
Now, they were driving home, and Jun Wu had completely forgotten about his quest to show Mei Nian Qing a seventh and final non-Australian company. They stopped in the local shopping centre, because Jun Wu suddenly remembered that he needed to buy more tape, in case a rampaging parent ripped apart his books in a parent-teacher meeting. It had happened before, and he didn’t want it to happen again.
“Wanna get something to eat?” Mei Nian Qing asked as they passed through the food court.
Jun Wu wasn’t really overly hungry, but he was worn out, and his eyes fell on Boost Juice. “Let’s get a smoothie,” he suggested, glad to see that at five p.m., the line wasn’t as long as it usually was.
Only after they had gotten their drinks and headed back towards the car did Jun Wu remember. “Mei Nian,” Jun Wu said suddenly, grabbing his hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t finish the seven times.”
Mei Nian Qing looked at him quizzically. “But you took me to seven places that aren’t from Australia. Today was the final one.”
Jun Wu shook his head, smiling despite himself. “Mei Nian… Boost Juice is an Australian company.”
Mei Nian Qing’s mouth fell open and his eyes widened. “What?” he breathed in disbelief. “That’s the only place that I always, always thought was American.”
Jun Wu started to laugh. “You’ve got to be kidding, Mei Nian.”
“I’m not.” His tone softer, Mei Nian Qing suddenly added, “Besides, you’ve been so stressed with all these holiday classes you’ve had to teach. It’s true that I thought those places were Australian, and it was certainly eye-opening to learn that they weren’t, but the real reason I wanted you to show me seven different places was because I wanted you to relax a little. This past week, you’ve seemed so much happier now that we’ve been getting out and about, and I–”
They had reached the car, and Jun Wu couldn’t help but wrap Mei Nian Qing into a tight embrace. “Thank you, Mei Nian.”
He could feel Mei Nian Qing’s smile against his collarbones. “We didn’t get our seven times, but we can do it seven times tonight instead,” Mei Nian Qing whispered. “And even every day for seven days and seven nights, if you want.”
“Absolute scorcher today,” Jun Wu remarked as they dragged their surfboards out of the boot of Mei Nian Qing’s Jeep.
“Good thing we’re going surfing then,” Mei Nian Qing agreed, walking slightly ahead on the narrow path down to the beach. He had tied his long hair up high for once, and Jun Wu could see a surprising amount of muscle on Mei Nian Qing’s back and shoulders. And from behind, those low-waisted board shorts looked really good…
Jun Wu shook his head. There was a time and a place for those sorts of thoughts, and it wasn’t then.
The beach was full of people reclining on the sand, and squealing children raced around making trouble for their parents. Waves crashed further out in the ocean, rolling cleanly into shore, populated by surfers and swimmers. Jun Wu had finished dealing with the aftermath of the extra holiday classes, and they had decided to take a daytrip to the beach. He hadn’t even known that Mei Nian Qing could surf, but he had offered to teach Jun Wu, who had gladly obliged.
“Mei Nian…” he began a little hesitantly as they tasted the salty breeze, gasping a little at the coolness of the water compared to the scorching sand.
Mei Nian Qing turned to face him, his features glowing under the hot sun. “Yeah?”
“You sure you’ll be able to teach me to surf?” Jun Wu asked as they placed the boards in the water. He knew he had good balance, but he had never ridden a surfboard in his life.
Mei Nian Qing put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “C’mon, mate. You’ll be fine.”
“I’m gonna fall off,” Jun Wu laughed, following Mei Nian Qing as he paddled into the shallowest section of the surf.
“You’re gonna fall off?” Mei Nian Qing asked with an incredulous chuckle. “What about me? I’m bloody sore after you did me those seven times.”
Jun Wu was slapped in the face by an unexpected wave and emerged with his face and hair sopping wet. “Oi, I’m sore too! And you’re the one who suggested it in the first place!”
Mei Nian Qing just laughed, paddling out further. “If I tire you out in the water now, we won’t be able to move later, let alone do anything else. I’m gonna pay you back fourteen times right now!”
Jun Wu looked at the massive wave hurtling towards him and took a deep breath. He had asked for it, and now he was going to pay, but he didn’t mind at all, because being with Mei Nian Qing was worth everything.
To hell with seven times, and even fourteen times – Jun Wu would gladly do anything an infinite number of times for Mei Nian Qing.