Zuo You looked around the table at the members from Team Shanghai and the few other people she remembered from the Shanghai 16 School Tournament. They’re Lin Feng’s friends. I don’t forget faces. Her job back in her old role was to suck up to people. And she was very good at it. She smiled and nodded at herself. All right! Time to get this party started! I’ll show these kids why the boss used to pay me so much money! She glanced at Tang Bingyao and An Xin. And we need to celebrate a little extra for you two. Girls beating those competitive boys! I love seeing that! Serves those dumbasses right for saying girls can’t play games! Shut them right up! You two were fantastic!
“Hiiiiiiiiii!” Zuo You said, drawing everyone’s attention. She stood up and raised her glass, a large pint of beer, and said, “Today was a great day! We saw Tang Tang and BunBun here carry you guys to the next round, once more proving that girls are just as good as guys!” She winked at Tang Bingyao and An Xin and added, “Did Lin Feng tell you girls I’m a diehard feminist? And I’m also a League addict! I love nothing more than to see girls do good at League! Watching you two play today was a dream come true! It was fantastic!”
Lin Feng looked from Tang Bingyao to An Xin and back to Tang Bingyao. He then mumbled, “I think I played really good too…”
An Xin glared at Lin Feng and was about to say something, but Zuo You was faster. “You were also great! Your Fizz gave me flashbacks to that time you helped me out with my coworker! And you looked so much better! But anyway…” She raised her glass a little higher. “I just wanna congratulate all of you on a well played series! GRATS!”
“ROUND OF 16 NEXT!”
Everyone raised their cups and drank them empty! One big swig, as was tradition! The alcohol flowing through their veins boosted their social skills, opening up a night of fun and laughter! That was how Zuo You had imagined it, anyway. She glanced around the table, confused. Why did they all order soft drinks? Aren’t they 18? Why don’t they get the good stuff? I’ve never had to socialize with… sober people… “Uhh…” She briefly hesitated before asking, “Why are you guys all drinking soft drinks? Aren’t you all legal? Don’t tell me you guys don’t like beer. You know there are other alcoholic drinks, right? If you don’t like beer, you can just get some wine or even something sweet like a breezer…” She trailed off, stopped by the wide-eyed looks of horror around her.
Ren Rou and Ouyang were shaking their heads, terrified. “No! NO!” was what they were trying to say without spelling out the words. It was their best attempt to keep the booze away from Tang Bingyao without telling her to her face that she was not a fun drunk. Everyone felt like this, all in their own ways trying to convey the message to Zuo You. The memory of Tang Bingyao’s birthday party was still fresh in their minds. And they knew for a fact that they enjoyed her company better when she was sober.
Lin Feng scratched the back of his head and looked around the table. Why is no one saying anything? Oooooh! They’re playing a game of ‘don’t say the words’! He grinned and nodded at Zuo You, grabbing her attention. He then pointed with his eyes at Tang Bingyao and said, “Bad stuff happens when the alcohol comes out.” He pointed with his head at Tang Bingyao and continued, “We’re not drinking!”
Zuo You scrunched her nose and looked at Tang Bingyao. She asked, “Bad stuff? What does that even mean? Is Tang Tang bad with the alcohol? Or…?”
“Not just bad!” Lin Feng exclaimed, forgetting all about the game. He shouted, “She’s terrible! You don’t know what happened last time! But it was terrible! She became this completely weird pers— AJJHHH!” He abruptly turned to look at An Xin and yelled, “BunBun! What did you hit me for!?”
Tang Bingyao slumped back in her seat, trying to hide from the others. They can have alcohol if they want. I can just not have any. Mhm. What happened at my birthday party that they don’t want to drink with me anymore? Why are they all looking at me? Did I do something… She bit on her tongue and wanted to disappear. It wasn’t that bad, was it? I just… Lin Feng had to carry me home, but… Oh my god, he had to carry me to his place. Her face heated up. She scratched her forehead, trying to hide her embarrassment behind her arm, and mumbled, “N-no! It’s… It’s… I just…”
Tears wetted Tang Bingyao’s eyes. She inhaled sharply, trying to draw them back. Don’t cry. Don’t let them see you cry. She chewed on her lips, the inside of her cheeks and her tongue. Her stomach was tied in a knot and she really wanted to get up and run away. I can’t run away. No running. Mm-mhm. I can’t look at them again then. They’re still my friends. She took a deep breath and finally said, “I just had a little too much last time we drank. Mhm.”
Zuo You looked at Tang Bingyao and then at the others around the table and shouted, “What’s wrong with you people? Socially inept freaks!” She turned back to Tang Bingyao and smiled warmly. “Hey, Tang Tang. Don’t worry about it. That happens to the best of us. It’ll be a fun story in a few years. Here, come, have a drink and let’s just have fun! Ignore those insensitive assholes!”
The waiters brought the food out and with that came the return of the lively atmosphere. The delicious smells made everyone forget about Tang Bingyao and alcohol, and even Tang Bingyao herself sat up a little straighter again. But it wasn’t until Lin Feng grabbed a chicken wing that everything returned to normal. He clutched it tightly, then punched it up into the air and declared, “We’re going to win the Collegiate Cup!”
Yang Fan adjusted his glasses and analysed, “This is the first time high school teams are competing. If you guys win, that means you’ll become the first ever high school team to win a university tournament.”
Ouyang nodded and said, “Yeah, yeah! Our bros are gonna win this! They’ll be the first high school team to win the Collegiate Cup!”
Zhang Hao took a big swig from his drink, pineapple flavoured, and said, “We’ve already reached the Top 16 at Regionals. I think the only two teams who can stop us now are Zhejiang and Fudan. We’ll win against everyone else!”
“TTSSSSSSK!” Zuo You replied. She giggled and continued, “Have some confidence! I saw you play today. Fudan and Zhejiang are shit! You guys can totally beat them! And it’ll be super fantastic when Tang Tang and BunBun carry you to Nationals!”
Lin Feng quickly chimed in, “And me! I’m really good at wrecking university teams too! Who cares about their names!?”
Zeng Rui felt the nagging throb at the back of his head again. She’s just as bad as he is. They’re like some overconfident twin-duo-something… Thundering dumbasses… He took a deep breath and explained, “Zhejiang University and Fudan University are strong teams. It’ll take a lot of careful planning to beat them.”
Yang Fan adjusted his glasses again and said, “You’re right. They’re very strong. I’ve watched some of their games. But I’ve also seen you guys play. I think you guys stand a good chance. It’s winnable.”
“Of course it’s winnable!” Ouyang shouted. “These are our bros! They’re the best! It’s gonna be an easy win! HOORAH FOR OUR BROS!” He raised his glass and drank it empty.
An Xin hadn’t said much of anything all night. She looked around the table and smiled. They’re all happy. That’s good. But I… She gritted her teeth and took a long, deep breath. This is too much for me right now. “Guys…” She waited for everyone to look at her before continuing, “I’m… I’m sorry. I’m not feeling great. I think I’m going to go home and get some rest. You guys celebrate. I’ll see you all tomorrow. Goodnight.” She got up from her seat and grabbed her stuff. Then she looked at everyone, an apologetic expression on her face, and said, “I…” She paused and took another deep breath before continuing, “I’m sorry.”
Everyone looked at An Xin in surprise. They hadn’t even really noticed how absent she’d been until now.
“Are you okay? Get some sleep.”
“Yeah, go home and rest a bit. I hope you feel better in the morning.”
“Do you want me to call you a cab?”
“Is there anything we can do for you?”
Su Xue looked at An Xin. She looks a little pale. Is she really ok? She chewed on her lips and listened to the others wishing An Xin a speedy recovery. No. We can’t just let her go home like this. She nudged Lin Feng, who was sitting next to her, and whispered, “Hey, bring her home. Make sure she’s ok.”
Lin Feng felt Su Xue nudge him and vaguely heard what she was saying, but wasn’t really paying attention to it. His eyes were locked on An Xin. What is this feeling? Why do I feel like I should… He chewed on his lips and rubbed his stomach. What did Su Xue say…? He turned to look at her and finally connected the dots. Bring An Xin home. That’s what I’m feeling. “Hey, BunBun?” he asked. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
An Xin raised her eyebrows, surprised. Him? She smiled at Lin Feng and said, “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just been a long day. I need to rest a bit and I’ll be as good as new!”
“Oh, okay…” Lin Feng replied. I can’t let her go home like this. It feels all wrong. I’m going to send her home! He got up from his seat and grabbed his own coat. “Hold on. I’ll bring you home!”
An Xin paused. She turned to look at Lin Feng, confused. You’ll bring me home? Did you just decide to bring me home all by yourself? That’s so not you… But it’s a nice change. She smiled and briefly considered it, but then shook her head and said, “It’s nice of you to offer. But there’s no nee—”
“I’m bringing you home,” Lin Feng cut her off. He put on his coat and wished the others a good night.
An Xin bit on her lips. I don’t want… She shook her head and closed her eyes. “Fine. Fine.” She allowed Lin Feng to grab her arm and walk her out of the restaurant.
Tang Bingyao watched this happen from her seat at the table. She hadn’t said anything through this entire scene, except for a quick goodnight. There was no jealousy that led her to act like this, but rather worry. Something’s wrong with BunBun. I saw her hand tremble when she took that piece of paper from Zeng Rui. That really happened. She’s not okay. She’s lying about something. What’s wrong? Is there something I can do? Mhm. I’ll have to ask. When I get her alone, I’ll ask. Mhm!
It wasn’t far to the subway station, which was where An Xin wanted to go. Lin Feng offered to call her a cab multiple times, but was quickly shut down each time. When they arrived in front of the subway station, An Xin stopped and tried to pull free from Lin Feng’s arm. She smiled at him and said, “It’s okay. You brought me far enough. I can go the rest of the way by myself.”
Lin Feng nodded slowly, but didn’t let her go. He looked at her and asked in a tone that was far more serious than he usually spoke, “BunBun. Are you really okay?”
An Xin forced a smile and nodded. “Idiot. I told you I’m okay. I’m really, really, really okay. Ok? I’m just a bit tired.”
“Really? Why does it feel like you’re lying to me then?” Lin Feng asked, doubtful.
“Lying? Since when can you tell when someone is lying?” An Xin asked sarcastically. Please let me go. Please.
Lin Feng glanced past this attempt to change the topic and repeated, “Are you really okay?”
“Yes I’m sure! Drop it!” An Xin said, annoyed. Drop it and go!
“Really?” Lin Feng asked again. Something is feeling wrong. Why does this feel wrong? Can I really let her go alone? “Really?”
“REALLY! REALLY! REALLY! I’M FINE!” An Xin yelled, quickly becoming very angry. I can’t hold this up! GO AWAY!
Lin Feng chewed on his lips and looked An Xin up and down. He finally asked, “Really?”
I need to look strong. An Xin suddenly stood very straight. She raised her fist and smacked Lin Feng on the head. “You’re an idiot! I said I’m fine, so I’m fine! Now I’m going to go before I miss my train. Stop following me! Goodnight!”
Lin Feng rubbed his head in pain, but didn’t leave. He took a deep breath and said, “Alright. Alright. Call me if anything happens. Please.”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry. I know. I’ll call you if anything happens. Now go!” An Xin said, shooing Lin Feng away.
Lin Feng let An Xin push him away. He walked a few steps away from the subway station, but then stopped and turned back around to look at An Xin. He said, “BunBun. I’m serious. Are you really okay?”
An Xin looked at Lin Feng, the dark of the night hiding the tears popping up in her eyes. I’m not. She chewed on the inside of her cheeks and blinked away a tear. He looks actually worried. I should tell him… No. No. She shook her head and said quietly, “Really. Please don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
Lin Feng nodded and then turned around and walked away. This feels wrong. This feels all wrong. But I can’t force her if she doesn’t want me to stay. It’s just… He stopped after only taking three steps and turned back around again. An Xin was walking down the stairs into the subway station. He called out after her, “BunBun? Are you sure? Are you really okay?” But she didn’t answer him. She kept walking until she disappeared from his view.
“I’m just worried about you,” Lin Feng mumbled, scratching the back of his head. “I’m just worried…” But An Xin was gone. She won’t like it if I go after her. She’ll just smack me and tell me to go away… He pursed his lips and, though his stomach was moving around and twisting tightly into a knot, he walked away.
An Xin glanced over her shoulder, searching for Lin Feng. He left. Good. She finally let the tension on her body drop. Her hand started trembling violently and the world swirled darkly before her eyes. She leaned against the wall and tried to stay on her feet. That was too much. I pushed myself too far. I shouldn’t have let him come with me. I just need to… I need to rest. She let her knees relax, falling semi-controlled to the floor. There, she leaned against the walls and closed her eyes. I just need a bit of rest.
It was late at night and she was in a subway station. An Xin knew she couldn’t sit here for long. So after only a couple of seconds, she forced herself back to her feet. Every movement of her body cost her a lot of energy. Drops of sweat appeared on her forehead. Just keeping it together was asking a lot from her. She took slow, deep breaths, trying to stay calm. The sound of a train arriving came from deeper in the station. I need to hurry to catch the train… A bead of sweat rolled down her face. She felt it make its way around her eye and down her cheek, before rolling over the edge of her chin. It fell to the ground and she reached her hand out.
There was the faintest sound of the drop of sweat hitting the palm of her hand. But in An Xin’s mind it sounded like thunder. It echoed and it smashed against the walls of her sanity. It was a painful reminder of the situation she was in. Her heart trembled. Just this much is already pushing it. I don’t know how much more I can… She bit on her lips, fresh tears watering her eyes.