Today's wedding was very lively.
Xiao Zhan was squeezed into the corner of the banquet hall. To his side was the constant shutter sounds of the hired photographer taking his photos. The photographer would occasionally move closer to him, saying excuse me, please make some space.
In the center of the banquet hall, white and purple balloons were suspended on the decorated ceiling, their attached ribbons falling downwards and floating through the air. The groom stood straight in a suit that was neat and crisp, and he slipped the ring onto the bride's finger. Her father, who had just walked his daughter down the aisle, stood to the side with red eyes, and his hand holding the microphone was shaking slightly.
The music currently playing in the background was "Wedding March," and it had probably played over a hundred times today in this Ritz-Carlton banquet hall.
Xiao Zhan suddenly remembered the time there had been an issue with the speakers and the music had stopped playing at the most crucial moment. Afterwards, when settling the bill, they'd waived off two thousand dollars. The bride had been extremely unhappy, and said that she would never give their hotel her business again.
Today there were no issues — he'd only felt reassured after closely inspecting the speakers. The extremely overused piano melody, in a brightly-lit room full of friends and family, could cause people's eyes to water forever.
It didn't matter how commonplace weddings were. For the two people standing on the stage, it was a precious moment.
"Are you willing to marry me?"
This exchange was also commonplace, and Xiao Zhan had heard it hundreds of times. Different men and women standing on that stage, repeating the same lines.
He was once again nudged to move aside a little, and he watched the girl on the stage wipe at her tears. She was leaning against her husband, and her hand holding up the microphone trembled slightly. Her voice was also shaky as she said, "I'm so happy today, this is the happiest day of my life. I want to pass this happiness to my younger cousin."
She looked down to a direction below the stage, and continued, "He just returned from abroad, and I hope he can also find someone to be his partner for life."
Amidst the cheering, a tall, slender figure dressed in a black suit was pushed onto the stage. He had pale, clear skin and a slender build, though his expression was rather distant and he didn't seem all that happy.
He took the microphone, and said, "Cousin, and cousin-in-law, may you forever be of one mind."
Xiao Zhan's vision had always been poor, and recently it seemed to be getting worse. He wore contacts with a prescription that wasn't quite correct, but he hadn't gone to get new ones.
From this distance, he felt like the figure on the stage seemed a little familiar. Who did it look like?
"Our Yibo is just like this! Shy!" The bride smiled with a flushed face, and nudged at the young man.
The wine glass in Xiao Zhan's hand shook. In the instant he heard those two syllables, he felt his fingers go numb.
"Handsome young man, make a little space?" The photographer on the side moved a little again, and smiled as he said, "This cousin is very handsome."
Wang Yibo looked like he'd bulked up a little. He no longer looked the same as he did in America, and seemed more mature.
The center stage lights were especially bright. The people on stage joked around a little more with their younger cousin who had just returned from studying abroad, and then were pulled by their driver towards their next activity.
Xiao Zhan suddenly felt a little uncomfortable, placed down his glass, and decisively left the banquet hall. In the hallway he met his coworker, who nodded towards him with a smile, "Today's event seems more and more lavish, the car that picked the couple up was a Ferrari."
Xiao Zhan nodded, and didn't say anything. He took the elevator all the way down, and walked to the back of the hotel. He removed his name tag, and pulled a pack of cigarettes out from his pocket.
Marlboro, white, very high nicotine content.
He remembered the ex-boyfriend he'd only recently broken up with, asking him, "What's there to like about smoking?"
That man really didn't like the smell of smoke; in fact, he hated it. The biggest reason they hadn't moved in together was that he was extremely picky about cleanliness, and insisted on Xiao Zhan giving up smoking.
Xiao Zhan always felt like, for people like them, the point of a relationship was to be happy and comfortable. Too many stipulations would just end up reducing the initial happiness.
But truthfully, he had also asked someone that exact same question five years ago. At the time, they had just finished making love, and the other person was lying on the bed. He leaned his upper body over the side of the bed, and lit up a cigarette.
Outside the windows, Manhattan's nightscape was bright and luminous, an indulgence in luxury. The other young man's bangs were damp, and he took a drag of the cigarette, then another. Xiao Zhan was still panting slightly, his body a little sticky, and he laid on his back facing the ceiling. He slightly turned his head, his eyes shining in the dim evening light, and stared at the person next to him for a while before asking, "What's there to like about smoking?"
The young man's hand lifted the cigarette, inhaled a mouthful of smoke, then turned his head and kissed Xiao Zhan in that position. The taste of his mouth was mixed with the taste of the cigarette, acrid and not at all pleasant. His tongue slipped in, as if he would only be satisfied after filling the entire mouth of the person being kissed with that pungent taste.
After kissing for a while, Xiao Zhan began to feel aroused again, and as the place that had just softened, slowly gained sensitivity again, the other person released him, and said shortly, "Because of boredom."
At that time, the young man's fingers which dangled off the side of the bed were still holding the cigarette. He reached out with his hand and extinguished it in the ash tray on the carpet.
Sparks of flame shone, but they couldn't compare to the bright lights of New York outside.
Marlboro cigarettes had an especially fast burn rate, and he finished his smoke in the blink of an eye.
Xiao Zhan lifted his head to glance at the sky. It looked a little like it was going to rain; this city's summers arrived suddenly. After a typhoon passed through, and then a week of uninterrupted rainstorms, summer would burst explosively and fiercely onto the scene.
"Smoking, Manager Xiao?" From behind him came a voice he recognized. Xiao Zhan turned around and saw his coworker, Little Liu, who was in charge of the catering. He was pale and a little chubby, and when he smiled his eyes became especially small.
"Mm," Xiao Zhan nodded, and seeing the cigarette the other held up, thought about it, then prepared to refuse.
When he was working, he didn't smoke very often. Mainly because he was worried it didn't smell pleasant, and would irritate customers who didn't smoke.
He had just lifted his hand in order to push the cigarette back, when the back door of the hotel was pushed open again, and two people walked out.
One of the men was wearing a gray suit, with a bowtie. The man following behind him was wearing a white shirt, with a long, skinny black tie.
The man wearing the bowtie saw Little Liu, and greeted him. They seemed to know each other. The person behind him glanced at Xiao Zhan, and fished out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.
Marlboro, white, very high nicotine content.
The designated smoking area wasn't very large, and the four of them stood around the ashtray on the stand.
"Thank you." Xiao Zhan's hand changed position, and smoothly took the cigarette Little Liu passed over. Little Liu smiled and helped him light it, then turned towards the man wearing a bowtie to say, "President Li, regarding what you said last time about holding a birthday banquet here next month, when you have the time I can help you plan the menu."
"This is our Manager Xiao, in charge of banquet events. Your younger sister's wedding today was also organized by him. He's Marriott International's gold medal organizer." As Little Liu spoke, he smiled and pointed towards Xiao Zhan, standing to the side.
"Hello, I'm Xiao Zhan."
"Hello, my younger sister seemed pretty pleased today. She kept saying everything was well-considered. You've gone to a lot of trouble." The man Little Liu had called President Li was the older brother of today's bride.
"We simply did our jobs," Xiao Zhan smiled a little. His customer service smile was especially effective in these kinds of situations.
"Who is this?" Little Liu was talkative. Someone accustomed to being a salesperson could converse a little with anyone they met. Just as this conversation finished, he looked to the person behind President Li.
That person hadn't said a single word, and only stood there smoking his cigarette.
"Oh, this is my younger cousin, the son of my aunt, Wang Yibo. He just returned from studying in America six months ago," President Li introduced him, and joked, "A handsome young man. So many girls like him, even my aunt worries about it."
Wang Yibo smiled a little, and counted that as his greeting.
"Indeed, handsome!" Little Liu immediately echoed.
Xiao Zhan didn't speak. The cigarette in his hand was almost at its end. Marlboro cigarettes really did burn quickly.
He walked over to the ashtray, pressed in his cigarette butt to extinguish it, and said to Little Liu, "I'll head up first."
To the side, Little Liu was still talking to President Li about the birthday banquet, trying to get his business, and Xiao Zhan didn't feel like staying around. His chest felt tight and heavy, perhaps because it was the kind of weather that wanted to rain but didn't rain.
Of course, it could also be due to that completely silent person standing on the side.
"Oh okay, hurry and head up then." Little Liu nodded, and called out a response.
"Ge, I'll also head up." To the side, Wang Yibo, who hadn't been talking, also extinguished his cigarette butt; his Marlboro cigarette had also burned down very quickly. Then, he entered the hotel.
Two people, one in front and one further back, stood in the elevator lobby.
This Ritz-Carlton had been open for four years, and it was also Xiao Zhan's fourth year working there.
Right after graduating and returning from America, he applied and was accepted for a position at Marriott International. After working at another hotel in the chain for a year, this new Ritz-Carlton opened, and the company transferred him over.
In the elevator lobby, there were some other people waiting for an elevator. A couple aunties were talking and smiling, and even nodded and greeted Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo when they saw them.
Xiao Zhan stood in front of elevator 2. Wang Yibo wasn't in his line of sight, and though he could feel a direct gaze from behind him, he didn't dare to turn his head to confirm.
Not long after, the elevator arrived. The people inside walked out — one man had drunk too much, and was swaying back and forth as he walked. His relatives were supporting him, and almost bumped into Xiao Zhan.
"Careful, careful!" The relatives shouted, and with a lot of effort, those three or four people finally made it out of the elevator. Just as it looked like the elevator door would slide shut, and Xiao Zhan was ready to press the elevator button, from behind him a hand reached out and pressed the button on top.
"Aiya, thank you, handsome young man." The aunties looked over towards Xiao Zhan, and entered the elevator, smiling, until only Xiao Zhan was left.
"You're not going in?"
From behind him, a voice sounded, deep and rich, without much emotion. He even felt like a heated warm breath was directly on his neck.
Xiao Zhan's entire body stiffened, and he felt that strange, prickling sensation in his fingertips again. With his long legs, he took a large step and hurried into the elevator. He turned around, and met that person's eyes.
At this distance, Xiao Zhan could now see clearly.
Wang Yibo really had grown up a lot. After five years of not seeing him, he had long lost the youthful looks he'd had at that time. His entire being now radiated a mature manner.
Even his voice had deepened quite a bit.
Wang Yibo shifted his gaze away before Xiao Zhan did. His face was expressionless, and he stood to the other side of the elevator. Due to his professional work habits, Xiao Zhan had chosen to stand on the side with the panel of buttons indicating floor numbers.
Between the two of them was the crowd of aunties noisily comparing their daughters-in-law.
Not long after, the elevator arrived, and the aunties exited. They even turned around and thanked Wang Yibo. Xiao Zhan pressed the elevator button to hold the door open, and waited for them to finish saying their thanks before releasing it.
On the two rows of buttons, only an "8" was still lit up.
Once it was just the two of them remaining in the elevator, the atmosphere immediately changed. Xiao Zhan shifted forward slightly. He kept feeling like there was someone staring at him, and his heart was a little uneasy, and he felt more and more uncomfortable.
Finally, he gathered up his courage, and looked around, but he found that on the other side, Wang Yibo had his head lowered, and was on his phone.
He wasn't looking at him at all.
The door opened, and Xiao Zhan pressed the button to keep the door open. The person on the side looking at his phone walked out without even lifting his head, his gaze locked onto his phone screen, the corners of his mouth even curved upwards a little with the hint of a smile.
But at least he remembered to say a word of thanks.
Xiao Zhan's hand relaxed, and the door closed again.
The seam of the elevator door slowly blocked off the back view of that figure with his head lowered.
Xiao Zhan inhaled deeply, and began to feel a little anxious. He wanted to smoke again. He reached into his pocket, but found that his pack of cigarettes was already empty. Marlboro cigarettes really didn't last long enough.
"Marlboro cigarettes really don't last long enough, next time I'll try a different brand." This sentence, he thought he had also heard him say before.
Xiao Zhan leaned against the wall of the elevator, lost in thought without knowing what he was thinking about.
Suddenly, the elevator door opened again. Xiao Zhan startled when he saw who was standing at the door, and stood up straight. Wang Yibo had switched into his suit and was standing outside the door, staring at him with an expression full of astonishment.
"You didn't press the button?" Wang Yibo walked into the elevator, and glanced at Xiao Zhan.
Xiao Zhan finally realized, in those few minutes just now, he had stood in the elevator without even pressing the button for his floor.
Wang Yibo, seeing Xiao Zhan's lack of reaction, pressed B2, then asked him, "I'm going down, what about you?"
After a moment, Xiao Zhan didn't answer his question, and only said this one polite phrase as if they were old friends that hadn't seen each other in a long time, meeting up again.
This time it was Wang Yibo's turn to stand towards the front of the elevator.
He was silent for a moment, and didn't rush to respond. He turned around and gazed at Xiao Zhan with his mature eyes. He stared at him — this time, he really was staring at him.
"Mm, I returned." A polite response, the kind that showed the distance between old friends after many years of not seeing each other.
Ritz-Carlton's elevator really was quite fast; it didn't take long before they arrived at the B2 garage.
The elevator door opened, and just as Wang Yibo was about to walk out, it was as if he'd suddenly thought of something and he once again pressed the button to hold the door open, and stopped.
"Marlboro cigarettes burn out so quickly, why are you still smoking it?"
Then, Wang Yibo exited the elevator and walked towards his car. The elevator door slowly slid shut again.
Xiao Zhan didn't speak, and only looked at the silhouette of his back. His heart began to feel overwhelmed. He couldn't describe how he was feeling — he wasn't in pain, but he definitely wasn't happy either.
The person in the elevator, leaning on the elevator wall, just felt his heart pounding as if he was about to throw up. It had been too long since he'd had this type of messy, chaotic thoughts.
It clearly hadn't been longer than one or two minutes, but it had been torturous. Xiao Zhan had already been a controlled and rational adult for five years, and had long forgotten this kind of feeling.
So, the idiomatic "old friends meeting again" was like this.
These years, it wasn't as if Xiao Zhan hadn't thought about the ways in which they could meet again. But most of the time, he couldn't think of a suitable setting. The worst-case scenario he'd thought of was both of them pretending to be strangers. The best-case scenario he'd thought of was being able to be peacefully and calmly exchange a couple words. But no matter which kind of scenario, he'd always imagined himself being able to face it with composure.
But today, he had clearly lost control of himself.
— Why won't you pick up my calls?
— I'm returning to China, and I've been moving.
— Why do you want to break up with me?
— Xiao Zhan?
Things deep in his memories were reeled up on a hook, along with flesh and blood. He couldn't remember any big moments, but the small details near the breaking point played vividly before his eyes.
Xiao Zhan lowered his head, and for no particular reason began to smile. He returned to the banquet hall; half of the guests had left already, and only the new workers wearily sending guests off with a smile remained. He straightened out his emotions a little, and walked over.
This wedding ended beautifully. The bride was especially satisfied, and even pressed a red envelope into Xiao Zhan's hands, then asked her husband to add his WeChat, saying that in the future they could host company events here.
Xiao Zhan was distracted, but he remained serious and professional. After the invoice had been paid, and he'd given them Marriott International's keepsake gift, he went to the garage to see them off personally.
This entire day, he didn't look any different. He even helped a coworker organize a wedding for the day after, and then inspected the venue with them.
When he arrived home at night, he fell asleep very early.
After falling asleep, he had a dream, an especially sweet and prolonged dream.
In the dream was his twenty-two years old self, and also Wang Yibo.