1 - Play Something Harsh
“Xiao-Jiu…” Yue Qingyuan stares at the crying event manager curled up on the floor, the three punched fans moaning against the carpet, and yet another bodyguard demanding a raise. “What… exactly happened?”
“What the hell did you do?! ” Qi Qingqi roars like the banshee she is. If he didn’t need her PR expertise (and because hardly anyone is worthy of working with him), she’d be fired. Again.
“ I did nothing,” Shen Jiu--otherwise known as Shen Qingqiu, rising Chinese singing sensation, winner of best dancer and body for three years in a row, and best dressed according to several influential blogs--pulls out his antique fan to cover his face. These plebians don’t deserve to look at him.
Yue Qingyuan just stares again with that pathetic kicked-dog face that makes Shen Jiu want to strangle him. But then who else will he train to be his manager?
“ They insulted me.” Shen Jiu scoffs. Then, because he knows Yue Qingyuan is weak, he adds, “Gege,” along with the look .
Immediately, Yue Qingyuan’s visage melts into a puddle of besotted goo, before his professional face (finally) switches on and he turns a cool gaze towards Qi Qingqi and the rest of the snivelling and/or angry idiots. “You heard Shen Qingqiu. I’m afraid Cang Qiong Entertainment will not tolerate any slight against our top star. Miss Long, consider your contract terminated. Mr. Su, there will be no raise or future career for you once I tell Bai Zhan Security of your unprofessional behavior, and you three …”
The whimpering fans begin kowtowing immediately after seeing Yue Qingyuan’s chilly smile. Shen Jiu feels a shiver of delight at the sight of it.
“As stated in the contract you signed as a requirement to attend this exclusive meet and greet, you were to stay at least three meters away from Shen Qingqiu at all times, and no touching was to occur, no exceptions .”
One of the fan’s lips tremble in an obvious ploy for mercy. “B-but, I j-just tripped, I didn’t m-mean to grab his a-arm…!”
Yue Qingyuan snaps the cover of his tablet shut, his smile growing colder. “ No exceptions.”
He turns to the new bodyguard, some person named Liu something (whatever, Shen Jiu doesn’t bother to remember the names of fighting addicts from Bai Zhan Security), and tells him to escort them all out and take them to Shen Jiu’s lawyer Madame Meiyin. Then Yue Qingyuan turns to Shen Jiu, looking like an old dog who just performed the same trick again but still demands praise.
Shen Jiu just nods. He’ll reward Yue Qingyuan later. It’s stupidly gratifying to see Yue Qingyuan’s shoulders slump in disappointment.
“ Wait a second! ” Qi Qingqi still points her finger at Shen Jiu. Urgh, he forgot about her. “That is not fair at all! I saw what happened! That poor girl really did trip--”
“A likely story.” He knows how sick people can be.
“And this is the fifth time this year that we’ve had to cover up another incident with one of your fans! I can’t cover this up with rumours again! This is setting a pattern, which means bad PR, which means lower sales, which means you’re out of the business!”
He rolls his eyes. “Cang Qiong can’t afford to let me go.”
True enough, Cang Qiong Entertainment is a small company that had no direction. It has several departments dedicated to different avenues of entertainment, whether it be television, pop music, classical music, rap music, indie music, any kind of music really, or movies. There are even smaller departments dedicated to writing and makeup. But because of the disorganized mess left by those in charge, Cang Qiong Entertainment has yet to have a hit.
Until Shen Qingqiu.
“We will once we get new blood. And who knows, we might get new blood rather soon once our investigators find out who Peerless Cucumber is.”
Shen Jiu’s fan snaps. He ignores Yue Qingyuan’s panicked looks and grits out. “Peerless Cucumber?”
“I’m sure you’re familiar with their work. It’s viral, after all,” Qi Qingqi, the witch, pulls out her phone to show how Peerless Cucumber is trending again on social networks with yet another new song on soundcloud.
Yes. Shen Jiu is very familiar with Peerless Cucumber’s work, having obsessively listened to all of Cucumber’s free songs on soundtrack relentlessly every night. He’s tried to copy Cucumber’s melodies and implement them in his own music, much to many gossip columns and blogs’ delight. He’s always asked about how he feels about Cucumber stealing his number one spot on social media when Cucumber is a mere indie artist who doesn’t show their face, doesn’t post on social media, doesn’t even make any money on soundcloud and yet has millions of listens and fans from word of mouth.
Cucumber doesn’t even sing. His songs are all instrumental!! The one time, Cucumber put a few humming vocals in one song , the internet went crazy speculating over Cucumber’s gender! (Many say female alto, others say male tenor, clearly.)
Meanwhile, Shen Jiu has had to claw his way to the top of the entertainment world, had to flirt and bribe the right people to get where he is now, and Cucumber has become well-known with mere luck and the internet. Shen Jiu has to wear the best make up, diet, pay attention to the best fashion, and watch how much he spends, what he says, and Cucumber could be walking around wearing a trash bag and with the worst acne in the world but no one would know!
Whoever they are, Shen Jiu hates them.
“Get out,” Shen Jiu says.
Qi Qingqi puts her hands on her hips. “Excuse me?”
“I said get out! ”
“And I said no ,” Qi Qingqi is a demon indeed, “not until you listen to what I will say.”
“I will fire you.”
“And you know no one else will willingly work PR for you.”
“You’re fired,” Shen Jiu says, just to be contrary, though they both know that he’ll re-hire her in a few days.
“Fine,” Qi Qingqi shrugs. “I need the vacation. Don’t call me for three days. I need a spa retreat after all this stupidity.”
Shen Jiu does not throw his broken fan at her, no. He just gracefully tosses it in the air. Yup.
2 - Play Something Strange
Yue Qingyuan misses the days when they were at the orphanage and Xiao Jiu would follow him cutely like a duckling. He’d do anything to get that affection again. Though, the Xiao Jiu now, with his power and sharp tongue, makes his heart race too.
“Don’t worry, Xiao-Jiu,” Yue Qingyuan still feels absurdly proud that he is the only one that Xiao Jiu will let touch him on the shoulder. “We’ll get through this as we always do. Miss Qi is wrong about the press. Sometimes a few bad rumours can be a good thing… it brings you more attention.”
“Not the right attention,” Xiao Jiu snaps. “This isn’t America . One scandal, one false accusation from a mere fan, and I’m finished.”
Yue Qingyuan’s grip tightens. Any fan like that would be gone before they can slander his Xiao Jiu. “We have money.”
“But will it keep being enough?”
They’re always careful with their money, a survival method from childhood. While Xiao Jiu is endlessly proud of how he dresses and looks, he’s always conservative over what brands he buys. Good quality but reasonable price, is what he always insists. As long as the outfit exudes power, than no one will ever know how much Xiao Jiu spent on it, especially if he keeps his tailor secret.
While money can cover up any scandal, Xiao Jiu is correct. Someday, they might not have the right amount to quiet down the incidents between “Shen Qingqiu” and his fans.
“We’ll have to cancel the future meet-and-greets. Tell them I’m in mourning or something. My grandfather died.”
“We used that excuse last year.”
“Tell them that my other grandfather died then.”
Yue Qingyuan nods, though inwardly he decides to use ‘grandmother’ as an excuse instead. Less suspicious. It’s unfortunate that they’ll be cancelling the next meet-and-greets. Fan interactions generate a lot of revenue, with all the merchandise sold, and the free advertising via instagram and the like. They can always use more money.
Ah well. He can think on that later. Right now, Xiao Jiu needs cheering up. “Shall I get you your favourite dumplings from that little shop on the corner?”
Xiao Jiu doesn't look up, merely standing to pick up the pieces of his splintered fan while waving Yue Qingyuan off. Silently, Yue Qingyuan makes a mental note to buy another fan for Xiao Jiu later…
"Then I'll be off!" He spares another glance at Xiao Jiu, and dares to steal a kiss against his shoulder before being chased off.
At the dumpling house, Yue Qingyuan waits patiently in line while typing out blackmail to use against Miss Long and Mr. Su (just in case), filling out another order for an antique fan (only the best for Xiao Jiu), and figuring out how to phrase Xiao Jiu’s excuse to the next event planners. Perhaps he should make up a story of how close Xiao Jiu was to his non-existent grandmother, add in something about a terrible bout of cancer, or a backstory of how this grandmother taught Xiao Jiu how to dance…
“Next in line please,” the cashier calls out.
“Ah, yes, I…” Yue Qingyuan drops his phone when he looks at the cashier.
The cashier stares awkwardly, but politely back, with a strained smile in place. “Um, sir, you dropped your phone…? Do you want me to help pick it up…?”
Yue Qingyuan keeps staring.
This cashier… he’s a bit thin, but if he grew his hair out and wore contacts instead of those large plastic frames, he could be an exact copy of Xiao Jiu! A softer but more approachable Xiao Jiu! If his Xiao Jiu is like an angry cat that you have to placate every day, this lookalike looks like a little kitten you want to protect from the rain.
Without realizing it, Yue Qingyuan pats the cashier lookalike on the head.
The cashier splutters, turning absolutely red, just like Xiao Jiu used to when they were younger. “I, um, sir, what are you doing?! Did I do something wrong?”
“Oh no.” Yue Qingyuan checks behind him. No other people waiting. Good. He’d hate to bother this young man at work. “It’s just… can I take a photo of you? For work?”
“Um…” the cashier looks ready to run or call his manager.
“It’s really for work!” Yue Qingyuan insists, fishing out his card to hand to… what does the name tag say? Yuan! A lucky name. Very profitable. “You look just like my client. Uncanny, really. I just want him to see the resemblance…”
A-Yuan gives him a deadpan stare that would make Xiao Jiu proud. Or angry that someone can do the same stare. Likely the latter.
“I’ll pay you 700 yuan!”
“Wow, it looks like it’s my break, let’s go take that picture,” A-Yuan agrees so easily. Yue Qingyuan finds himself patting the cashier on the head again.
With the picture snapped and sent to Xiao Jiu via WeChat, Yue Qingyuan hands A-Yuan 900 yuan in cash and orders a lot of dumplings. At first, A-Yuan tries to hand Yue Qingyuan back the change but Yue Qingyuan insists on A-Yuan keeping it. Something about the boy makes Yue Qingyuan want to feed him. Probably all of the guilt of being unable to support Xiao Jiu through their childhood.
His phone beeps. Xiao Jiu sends back a STAY at the dumpling house, I’m coming over IMMEDIATELY and Yue Qingyuan smiles.
The little cashier sees said smile and shivers. Poor thing must be cold. This dumpling house isn’t insulated properly. Maybe Yue Qingyuan should complain.
As he hums, waiting for XIao Jiu (and unknowingly making the cashier A-Yuan sweat like mad), finally Xiao Jiu storms through the doors, beautiful hair hidden in a cap. His eyes zero in on the jumpy cashier and narrow.
“You,” he points and snaps. “Come here!”
“Uh…” A-Yuan glances behind him, “I’m still on the clock, maybe I should…”
The manager, seeing A-Yuan’s signal for help, bustles over, only to gasp excitedly at Xiao Jiu. “Oh my goodness, it’s Shen Qingqiu! ”
“Yes, yes, I’ll pay you 1000 yuan to keep quiet. Now I’m going to take your cashier for a chat. Do you need anything else?” Xiao Jiu grits out.
“Oh, no, no, not at all,” the manager bows and flutters her eyes (Yue Qingyuan does not simmer at that action.) She elbows A-Yuan and hisses, “Shen Yuan, go to him!”
“ Now! ”
A-Yuan sighs and shuffles over like a well-behaved boy. He bows his head and murmurs, “It’s nice to meet you sir…”
Xiao Jiu’s eyes narrow further. With a snap, he pulls A-Yuan’s chin up so they stare at each other face to face. He stares for so long, that A-Yuan looks like he’s stopped breathing. Just as Yue Qingyuan thinks he should cut in, Xiao Jiu murmurs, “You’re short.”
“Nothing a good pair of heels can’t fix, I suppose,” Xiao Jiu nods. “Turn around.”
“?!” Xiao Jiu spins A-Yuan as forcefully as a child might spin a new beyblade.
“Skin’s not bad. Too thin, but the press will eat it up… needs a wig, lots of make up… Make a scowl for me.”
Blinking up at Xiao Jiu, A-Yuan looks at Yue Qingyuan helplessly. Yue Qingyuan does not feel like a wolf offering up a rabbit to his mate, nope.
“Xiao Jiu… perhaps we should explain things to him first…”
“Jiu…?” A-Yuan looks at Xiao Jiu, and Yue Qingyuan can feel Xiao Jiu preparing himself for the annoyance of yet another rabid fan recognizing the Shen Qingqiu, when A-Yuan’s face transforms into a radiant smile, one that reminds Yue Qingyuan of the first time he gave a fan to Xiao Jiu when they were eight. “You’re Shen Jiu! I remember you from all the erhu competitions! You won first in the nationals two times! Your chinese violin was amazing, I loved your rendition of The Moon Reflected on the Second Spring by Hua Yanjun, it made me cry . It reminded me of all those nights waitng for my mother to come home, and being comforted by the moon, but you don’t care about that . What I mean is, your technical skill and emotional range on the erhu is beyond anything I’ve ever seen! I, um, oh no, I don’t have paper. But if I could have your autograph, I just… I really loved your erhu!”
For the first time in years, both Yue Qingyuan and Shen Jiu are speechless. Yes, Xiao Jiu used to play the erhu, when he was poor and trying to make money. But that was over ten years ago when he was twelve. Yue Qingyuan still gets teary when he listens to old footage of Xiao Jiu’s playing, not that Xiao Jiu plays anymore… Hardly anyone recognizes Xiao Jiu from those days. They all see Shen Qingqiu.
And Xiao Jiu just… looks at A-Yuan, before stepping away and pulling his hat down to cover his eyes.
Yue Qingyuan beams. “Do you see that, A-Yuan? I knew you’d be a perfect fit for the job!”
“Close your mouth, idiot-Yuan, my body double shouldn’t exude such lazy behavior.”
“... Body double?! ”
They leave after paying a hefty bribe to the manager, and dragging a gaping Shen Yuan (and isn’t that another coincidence? The same surname! Fate again!) towards Cang Qiong Entertainment.