Everyone was really hungry, so Dong Zheng chose the nearest restaurant to quickly solve their stomach problem.
After seeing the decaying rat carcasses on their dinner plates in the box, everyone hadn’t eaten much. An hour later, the four men and Cui Zuojing, who also had a large appetite, succeeded in destroying a whole table of dishes and a big pot of rice. They were all so full that they laid paralyzed on the sofa for a while.
Following Allen’s suggestion, they decided to go to the hot springs to relieve their fatigue.
Different areas in the Pure White Realm had specific setting styles, similar to how the original style of District IX used to be steampunk and everyone must wear a mask when going out. The style for District XII was, surprisingly, nature. The streets were bursting with colorful flowers and plants. Gears were made of gorgeous bird tail feathers. Wind chimes hung in front of every storefront and emitted a melodious jingle every time someone entered or exited a store.
The mutant plants in the Labyrinth of Time left Dong Zheng and Allen with too many unpleasant memories. After entering District XII, they preferred to use their cell phones to check the map of the area. Soon, they found a suitable hot spring and pub.
The pub’s decor was done in the Japanese style. The proprietress was a beautiful, petite Japanese woman with heavy makeup.
From the moment Allen entered the pub and saw her, he couldn’t tear his eyes away. He secretly nudged Dong Zheng with his elbow and said in a low voice, “Oh my God, I’m going to be defeated by the length of her skirt.”
Dong Zheng glanced at the proprietress’s miniskirt from the corner of his eyes. With the high skirt and the height-enhancing shoes, her legs looked very long. The corners of her lips were raised and her eyes were practically glued to their family Allen.
They paid two points for five people and opened a large private room. After receiving their bathrobes and number plates, they went into the room to change. Allen was still obsessed with the boss lady, and sighed, “My god, I really feel like it’s love at first sight…Tsk, don’t laugh. Brat, what do you know about it!”
Dong Linhai finally couldn’t help bursting out laughing and teasingly said, “Brother Allen, are you sure it’s not just falling in love with her appearance?”
Allen clicked his tongue and exclaimed, “No. Don’t you all think she is very beautiful, though?”
Lin Hangzhi scratched his head in embarrassment and smiled. “I’m allergic to women.”
Dong Zheng lowered his head coldly and wrapped the bath towel around his waist. “I’m not interested.”
Dong Linhai said, “I like the innocent kinds.”
Cui Zuojing smiled on the side and said, “Hey, Len’er, if you really like her, then go get her. Anyway, here, the future is indeterminate. It’s important to enjoy the present.”
Dong Zheng immediately glanced at Cui Zuojing when he heard these words, but the youth continued to humor Allen and didn’t pay attention. He was in the middle of changing clothes and had just taken off his shirt and hung it over his arm. The belt of his pants were unbuckled and hung loosely between his hips.
Because Cui Zuojing was frozen at the age of sixteen, he wasn’t tall and his figure was well-proportioned. The muscles on his forearms were smooth and natural, and they showed the unique vitality of a teenager.
Dong Zheng calmly lowered his eyes and closed his locker door.
Allen didn’t expect that Cui Zuojing would be the first person to support him. Tears filled his eyes, and his determination was strengthened.
Cui’er was right. He must enjoy the present. Otherwise, if one day he died in the box, he would leave behind many regrets!
“We’ve all died once already, why should we care so much about so many things?” Cui Zuojing continued to fan the flames.
Allen was completely moved by him. He slapped his thigh and said, “Okay! Then it’s decided. You’re all not allowed to hold me back.”
Dong Linhai said happily, “Why would we hold you back? That’s too dramatic, Brother Allen.”
They opened the door to their private room. Within the dense steam came the smell of sulfur and the sound of gurgling water. They bantered and laughed inside the hot spring. Cui Zuojing tested the temperature with his feet before walking in and slowly sinking into the water, leaving only his head exposed. Because of the water pressure, he immediately felt that it was difficult to breathe.
In the hot water, the pores all over his body seemed to smooth out and opened up, allowing the water to wash away all the dirt and fatigue. He let out a long sigh of relief, leaned his back against the wall of the pool, and slightly closed his eyes.
Heaven knows how long it’d been since he was this relaxed. In the real world, the conditions at home were average. His time was frozen for such a long time that, in order to avoid being discovered by their neighbors, they would move once every two to three years. It’d emptied a lot of money, leaving very few extra financial resources to support other activities.
Dong Zheng naturally sat down next to him one meter away. It was also rare for him to feel so relaxed.
Dong Linhai washed his neck with water and asked inquisitively, “Hey, Brother Hangzhi, what do you mean by being allergic to women?”
“It means literally.” Thinking about the unbearable past, Lin Hangzhi was full of tears. He sighed sadly and said, “Because I was so unlucky, every one of my girlfriends dumped me because they couldn’t stand it.”
Although it sounded very pitiful, it inexplicably made people want to laugh.
“Then you should probably try to find a European Emperor (1) as a partner in the future.”
“God knows. Whatever. Anyway, I feel a bit distressed whenever I see a woman now. I don’t know what to say. They both had very irritable and grumpy temperaments and made a lot of noises when we broke up. It was mentally and physically exhausting and really made me want to die.”
Emotional gossips were the most difficult topics to divert. From the beginning, Lin Hangzhi was very honest in sharing his own emotional experience. Similarly, Allen also didn’t shy away from talking about his Mexican ex-girlfriend.
“Why did you break up?”
“Because she was leaving China and going back home. I didn’t want to go to Mexico with her. If I have to go back, I would only go back to the United States. So, since we’re not suitable, we broke up.” Allen shrugged without any self-pity. “It was really uncomfortable at the time, but now that I think about it, I don’t feel much anymore. Dating often comes with unification and separation. As long as you’re together for any length of time, you can leave behind happy memories of your time together.”
“Have you ever been in love, Linhai?” Allen asked, turning the subject.
“I’ve talked about it.” Dong Linhai didn’t forget to glance at Dong Zheng’s face. Seeing that Dong Zheng was also curious and seemed to have no intentions to educate him, he boldly said, “The first one was in elementary school.”
Lin Hangzhi exclaimed, “Fuck, so advance?”
Dong Linhai waved his hand. “At the time, I didn’t understand anything, just jokes. There was a very cute little girl at the same table. You may not know that when I was in elementary school, it was very popular to play the web games Mole Manor and Obi Islands. I bought a lot of cards for her to make her happy. At first, she refused but after some time, she gave in.”
“Then she became your little girlfriend?”
“Yes, we kept talking. When I graduated from junior high school, I ended up in the best high school in the city. She didn’t pass the exam and so we broke up.”
“The best high school? You had such good grades? I couldn’t tell.”
Dong Linhai straightened his head and puffed out his chest pretentiously, but then Dong Zheng said, “The school principal is a friend of my dad. My dad donated a building to the school the year he enrolled.”
Dong Linhai was instantly discouraged.
“Hahahahahahahahahaha!” For a while, the hot spring was full of cheerful laughter. Allen wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes and breathlessly said, “No wonder. No wonder I thought you two brothers seem different from ordinary people like us. It turns out you both have the power of money.”
Dong Linhai muttered to himself, “What’s the use of the ability to make money? Didn’t the two of us still have a car accident and come here, or else we won’t be here now soaking in this hot spring.”
Cui Zuojing almost smiled. Allen was funny, Dong Linhai was a little dim-witted, and Lin Hangzhi’s decline was deep. In his former team, Fu Zhe was steady and calm, Victor was much older than they were and ended up playing the role of a parent, and Luo Yan and Nana were both girls. Everyone was very reliable, but they rarely had the experience of laughing to death.
“Eh, what about you?” He patted Dong Zheng on the shoulder and asked curiously, “Everyone has already spoken. As the team leader, you also have to speak.”
“I have nothing to say.” Dong Zheng met Cui Zuojing’s eyes. The youth’s face was flushed red from the heat. No, not only his face. Cui Zuojing was originally quite pale to begin with but now his whole body was completely rosy. His jet-black hair stuck wetly to his temples, while the rest were smooth backward, revealing a bright and clean forehead and clear, youthful eyes that glinted with the mischief of deliberate talk.
A short bath towel was wrapped around his waist, with one foot on the knee of the other leg. This uninhibited posture made the position of the bath towel seemed a bit dangerous.
He paused and said seriously, “I haven’t been in a relationship.”
“That’s a lie–” Allen and Lin Hangzhi immediately started booing. “You’re so rich and handsome. You’re obviously the favorite of many girls. How is it possible that you’ve never been in love before?”
Dong Zheng helplessly reiterated, “I’ve never been.”
“I believe my brother. After so many years, I’ve never seen him bring a girl home for dinner. He also doesn’t seem to have one in private either.”
Cui Zuojing teased him, “How do you know that there are none in private?”
Dong Linhai scratched his head and thought about Cui Zuojing’s question. Yes, if his brother was interested in underground romance, why would he let him know?
So he temporarily changed his mind and joined the camp of questioning. “Everyone is being very frank. Brother, don’t you feel embarrassed?”
“If I said there was none, then there was none.” Dong Zheng put his hand on the back of Dong Linhai’s head and pushed him into the water. Dong Linhai protested and grumbled. “I was busy with work and had no time for it.”
“Well, I’ll trust you for the time being.” Cui Zuojing pretended to sigh, and then he kicked Dong Zheng under the water and jokingly said, “It seems that our social elites and successful people also have their own troubles.”
Dong Zheng allowed Cui Zuojing to kick him and suddenly asked, “What about you?”
“Have you ever?”
Cui Zuojing replied very naturally, “I’ve also never, because I’m a person who’d already given up his emotions.”
Everyone thought Cui Zuojing was playing around and laughed at his words, including Cui Zuojing himself. It was only Dong Zheng who frowned, unable to overlook the cold indifference in the youth’s eyes.
They soaked for two hours, chatting and drinking sake, until their skin began to wrinkle. Finally, they got up. The moment his feet touched the ground, Cui Zuojing felt that his legs had gone soft. He stretched out his arms lazily, as if the filth of his limbs had been removed, and his whole body was much more refreshed.
They each put on their clothes, wiped their hair half-dry, and prepared to go home full of vitality..
When Cui Zuojing packed up and went out, he found Allen leaning against the front desk, talking to the proprietress. He normally wouldn’t see this kind of serious derailment. They were speaking English and were too far away so their words were a bit unintelligible. He didn’t know what Allen said to make the boss lady laugh so much.
After they handed in their number plate, Allen gave them a meaningful look. They understood each other clearly and smiled, then they left the hot spring pub.
“I guess Len’er won’t be back tonight,” Lin Hangzhi said.
“That’s certain.” Cui Zuojing smiled, “Even if he was rejected, he will have to stay out all night to create false prosperity for his own sake. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll give him a kind word and wish that next time he’ll achieve success with a single move.”
Everyone roared with laughter. Even Dong Zheng couldn’t help but laugh. They turned the corner and used Fu Zhe’s key to open a door in an alley that led to who knew where.
Xixi: Honestly, Cui Zuojing seems a little contradictory to me. Indifferent yet also displaying emotions like curiosity and amusement, etc. I guess maybe he does feel all his emotions, but very muted, unless suddenly triggered by something unexpected enough to cause a strong reaction, like when he had that nightmare? He also fakes emotions very well so it’s also hard to tell what’s real and what’s fake. At the same time, I definitely would not want to read about an unfeeling robot who only knows hatred. What do you guys think?
(1) European Emperor – This game title was derived from certain online games and was used to refer to players with excellent luck.