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Now it's you and me, walking into each other's hearts | 现在是我和你 走进对方心里

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When ducking away from an oncoming crowd of fans outside the TV station, and slipping into a car, Jing Ran takes a breath of relief. The TV program had finally finished filming, and he had politely declined having dinner with the other hosts – he’s had enough of high-end cooking to last him a lifetime.

Finally back home after his stint in Italy, more than anything, Jing Ran wants to go and eat something warm that reminds him of home – like when he was a child, and his mother had cooked him a plate of fried rice. He hasn’t slept for almost two days – on the plane from Italy to China, then immediately to being interviewed for a magazine, then to shooting the program as a special guest.

In the back of the car, he efficiently removes the makeup they put him in for TV, disliking the feeling of it on his skin for any period of time. As he gets down from the car at the hotel entrance, he pauses, watching it leave, then checks his watch. Three in the afternoon.

He hails another cab, and only realizes that he hasn’t given the driver a destination when the car doesn’t move. More tired than he thought, it seems.

“…Where to?”

“Are there any places nearby to eat cheaply?” Jing Ran asks.

The driver shrugs. “I can take you by the food court. They’re gonna shut it down soon, I’ve heard. Build a mall or something.”

“…Thank you.” Jing Ran tunes out the driver’s chatter and checks his phone, noticing he has two missed calls from Cheng Zhenzhen, his newly assigned assistant upon arrival to China. He texts her that he had been busy but informs her that he will be free to call tonight, then impulsively switches his phone all the way off.

The food court is not a place that he is used to, and Jing Ran realizes that he looks very out of place in his Armani suit and custom-made sunglasses. Thankfully, there are not many people at this time, and he passes through without many people even looking at him, a pleasant respite from the usual reception he gets most places.

He stops in front of a place advertising a discount on all noodle dishes and goes up to the counter. There is nobody manning the counter, but Jing Ran can hear a confusing medley of sounds from the kitchen. He rings the bell on the counter.

There’s a man’s voice: the sound of loud, ridiculously off-key singing – and splashing water. Jing Ran rings the bell again, wondering whether he should just leave.

“Hello?”

There is a pause in the noise from the kitchen, then someone calls out, “Coming, coming!” and a young man comes out of the kitchen to the counter, wearing a stained apron, glasses hanging on a cord around his neck, and arms covered up to the elbows in soap suds.

Jing Ran stares at him. “…I’d like to order,” he says slowly.

“Uh, the boss is out. I’m just the dishwasher,” the young man says, putting on the glasses hanging around his neck with a soapy hand and leaving some foam on the corner of the frames. Jing Ran’s sense of orderliness is immediately put on edge by this. “I dunno when he’ll be back, would you mind waiting?”

“I see,” Jing Ran says.

Now with his glasses on crookedly, the young man squints at him. “You look really familiar; did we meet before?”

Jing Ran sighs internally. Not this again, please. “No, I don’t think so,” he says politely.

“Oh… Sorry, made a mistake.” Rubbing his cheek awkwardly, the young man nods. Now there’s soap on the corner of his mustache. Jing Ran’s eye twitches.

Taking a tissue from the dispenser, Jing Ran hands it to him.

The young man stares at him, and laughs a little bit, taking his glasses off to wipe them. “Thanks?” He thinks for a few seconds, then comes to a decision. “My name is You Dongdong. I’m really just a person who washes up, but how about this! You tell me what you want, and if it’s easy to make, I’ll make it! I’m not too bad at cooking, myself, you know!”

Jing Ran pauses. On one hand, he’s hungry. On the other hand, this child seems kind of…

At Jing Ran’s hesitation, You Dongdong’s enthusiasm seems to wilt significantly, and Jing Ran immediately can’t help feeling a pang of guilt. “Sorry… If you’re really hungry, I can just run over and get you some takeout-”

“Can you make fried rice?” Jing Ran asks suddenly.

“Ah?” You Dongdong blinks, then nods, grinning again. “Sure! Then, I’ll trouble you to wait a little!”

Jing Ran goes to sit down.

The sounds he hears from the kitchen disturb him more than a little bit – crashing, cussing, oil hissing and things boiling, with occasional off-tune breaks into song. Jing Ran, more than a few times, wants to go and check in on him – and then finally, after a particularly strangled yell, goes around behind the counter and peeks through to the kitchen.

You Dongdong is nursing his hand and cussing under his breath, glasses fogged up, as the pan hisses at him. There’s a cleaver on the floor and a half-chopped carrot on the cutting board.

“Did you cut yourself?”

You Dongdong startles with a yelp, then clutches at his chest. “Dude! You can’t sneak up on people like that!” He sighs. “No, I didn’t, I just left the knife too close to the burner and it got hot-” he cuts himself off. “Don’t worry, don’t worry, I’ll be done soon, go sit down!”

Jing Ran loiters in the entryway for a little longer, then backs out. He sits back down and in two minutes, “Here you go!” You Dongdong puts a plate in front of him, which certainly has fried rice in it. It steams and gives off a pleasant aroma but isn’t presented in any special way. “Try it and see.”

Jing Ran tries it, then nods. “Not bad.”

You Dongdong grins. “Really?”

“Do you want specific feedback?”

“Uh… I guess?”

Jing Ran takes another bite, chews slowly and thoughtfully, then sets aside his chopsticks and begins to speak. “You stirred the eggs in very well and made sure that the rice all had a very even distribution of soy sauce and sesame oil. But this is not the fried rice that can be served at a restaurant. The rice is old, and the vegetables are overcooked. You put more sesame oil than necessary.”

You Dongdong immediately looks offended, taking a breath to defend himself, but Jing Ran continues speaking.

“However, the above faults are what gives this dish a certain charm. It’s… Homemade.” He eats some more. “…I like it.”

You Dongdong sits down in the chair beside him and squints at him, then his eyes widen.

Jing Ran swallows his rice nervously. “What are you doing?”

“…You’re that guy on TV, aren’t you!” he exclaims, face splitting into a grin. “That’s where I’d seen you before! I fell asleep watching some cooking show, and I think you were there, right?”

Every system in Jing Ran’s brain stops completely when the young man pats him on the shoulder.

“Thanks for your advice, bro!” he says. “I was gonna get mad, but you’re a real professional, aren’t you.” He extends his hand. “What’s your name, Da-ge?”

“Jing Ran.”

They shake hands.

As Jing Ran eats his fried rice, You Dongdong sits beside him, with his back against the table and his long, skinny legs facing out, chatting about this and that. Jing Ran can’t help feeling amused, and somewhat warmed by this enthusiasm and lack of pretentiousness.

You Dongdong is currently relating the story of his feud with the neighbors that live across the hall from him. “…But it turns out he’s moved in with the freaky single dad gangster guy that keeps telling me to keep it down when I’m watching TV! I have the volume up at five! It’s not my fault I get emotional when my favorite characters die! He told me I cry too loudly, and next time he’ll give me something to cry about! As if he’s quiet!”

Jing Ran hides a laugh behind his napkin. “Oh? Is he loud?”

“He cusses people out on the phone all the time,” You Dongdong says, eyes wide, spreading his hands. “And he’s got a little kid, so she’s always running around and yelling stuff.”

“It sounds very lively. I live very quietly, myself,” Jing Ran says.

“Yeah? You really don’t cause any noise at all?”

“I… Occasionally play the violin? Or the piano.”

You Dongdong stares at him, then shakes his head, giving him a thumbs up. “Nice, bro!” he says. “As expected, you’re really just a perfect guy.”

Jing Ran pauses. “Ah, I’m not-”

“You know how to cook, you go out to eat fried rice in a three-piece suit, you play the violin and the piano… Is there something you can’t do, Jing Ran-ge?” You Dongdong laughs.

Jing Ran is at a loss. “A lot of things,” he says, then checks his watch. It is four o’clock. He still has to go back to his hotel room and sleep a little before speaking with his assistant as he promised, and then attend a gala held at the art museum later tonight. “Thank you for the meal.” He turns his phone on to scan the code for payment, and winces when he sees he has two more missed calls from Cheng Zhenzhen.

“Here, let’s add our WeChat,” You Dongdong says, getting his phone out of his pocket as well. “I’ll scan you!” There are several cracks on the screen, and Jing Ran’s fingers twitch slightly. Once they become better friends, and it’s not weird anymore, he vows to buy him a new one.

“Alright.”

You Dongdong grins sunnily, then he sees something over Jing Ran’s shoulder and his eyes widen. “Jing Ran-ge, I gotta run, the boss is back, and I didn’t finish the dishes-” he says quickly.

Jing Ran nods. “Go on, go on.” He smiles gently and gets up. “I need to go too.”

--

In the cab going back to the hotel, Jing Ran’s phone buzzes. He opens it and sees a notification from You Dongdong. He’s sent a meme of a duck surrounded by emoticon hearts, then texted, ‘See you, Jing Ran-ge!’

Jing Ran sends him a red packet. ‘Thank you for the meal. I will come again tomorrow.’

‘Wow tomorrow???’
‘Hahahahaha Jing Ran-ge what are you doing’
‘I’m not the actual cook, there, anyway’

‘I don’t care. I’d like to eat what you make.’

‘Ok! I guess I’m gonna have to do some quick learning haha’

Jing Ran deliberates, then sends a default smiling emoji. His heart feels a little lighter, and he’s already less tired.