Chapter 30 – Memory Shards
“You’re late. The old witch has already taken the names for the class.” Liu Meng leaned against the supporting bar. It seemed like she was stretching her leg, but, in reality, she was simply trying her best to salvage some of her lost sleep.
‘This?’ Li Yiming turned around to look at the busy street he stood on a second earlier and found a quiet corridor instead. ‘Morning practice?’ Li Yiming entered the studio, a little perplexed. All of his classmates were inside the room practicing. The event itself offered no clues about when exactly he “was”, since he spent most of his mornings during his four years at college this way.
“Come here.” Liu Meng waved her hand at him. Li Yiming removed his shoes and walked toward Liu Meng. He stopped right next to her and pushed his leg against the supporting bar out of habit. However, it was not long before Li Yiming realized that he was much more flexible than he remembered himself to be. He lifted his leg slowly, more and and more until it almost formed a straight line with the one that supported his body. ‘180 degree stretch? And I feel like I could go for more if I wanted. Well, the equipment is gone, but my body’s unchanged.’
“Hey, you’re here to show off? You think that I can’t do that?” Liu Meng raised her voice, and the ruckus she created drew quite a few laughs from those nearby. A few of them were also surprised at Li Yiming’s hard work for improving his basic aptitude, and his determination for excelling at the stage performance that was soon to happen.
“Well, you know, it’s morning training, so we should train and give it our best.” Li Yiming dropped his leg back down, a little embarrassed. He took on another position by supporting himself with both of his arms against the metal bar and appreciated his newfound ability. He saw Ji Xiaoqin spinning around in front of the mirror with pointe shoes. Her arms were supple and she seemed at ease despite her quick cadence. Ji Xiaoqin specialized in ballet and her pirouettes were an absolute pleasure to watch.
“Hey, do you think that our choreography will be selected?” Liu Meng whispered to Li Yiming with a droplet of yogurt still hanging on the corner of her lips. The mention of the upcoming performance made Li Yiming’s mind go astray. He looked at Liu Meng’s long hair, which was tied up above her head, revealing her ears and her sensual neck. ‘She still has long hair. I remember she cut her long hair after the show in second year and kept it short since then.’
“Of course,” Li Yiming answered confidently. He knew that their two-person choreography would be chosen for the performance at the theater of Shangbei. ‘That was also when Ji Xiaoqin and I…’ He turned his head toward Ji Xiaoqin, who was still busy practicing her ballet moves. He looked at her focused expression, at the fabric of her robe that billowed in the air with Ji Xiaoqin’s swift movements, and at the beads of sweats that rolled down her neck. Finally, his eyes went to her heaving chest and stopped there for an instant.
“Where did that confidence come from?” The drowsiness on Liu Meng’s face subsided, replaced by worry. The public show was a matter of significance to every student, and, most importantly, Ji Xiaoqin’s solo had already been chosen. Liu Meng did not want to lose out to her, despite being very good friends with Ji Xiaoqin. Li Yiming also had another one of his choreographies chosen, and Liu Meng was scared of being left behind. She also thought that Li Yiming and Ji Xiaoqin were growing unusually close and did not like it at all.
“Look at this stretch. You really think that we’d fail?” Li Yiming looked away from Ji Xiaoqin and switched legs. He pulled it further with his arm in a flaunting manner and almost stretched it to 240 degrees.
“Pfft.” Liu Meng rolled her eyes. “Speaking of which, pretty amazing progress you’ve done recently. But what happened when we were auditioning? Are you dragging me down on purpose?”
“Dancing is about conveying a sense of beauty, not just technical prowess. Otherwise I’d be doing gymnastics.” Li Yiming dropped his leg back down, showered by looks of amazement from those around him. It was a nice feeling, since he remembered himself to be fairly bad with the basics back in college, actually.
“Yiming, I brought breakfast, do you want to eat together?” As the music from the morning warm-up stopped, Ji Xiaoqin walked toward Liu Meng and Li Yiming with a black bag. The students had just a few minutes of rest before class began.
“Sure, what about you, Liu Meng?” Li Yiming accepted and turned around to ask Liu Meng as naturally as possible.
Liu Meng did not answer and smiled while showing her yogurt to Li Yiming. Her eyes paused briefly on a black bag right next to her backpack; she also knew that Li Yiming did not usually bring breakfast to the morning sessions.
“Wow, how much did you buy?” Li Yiming knelt down on the ground and started to empty the content of her bag: sandwiches, little steamed buns, sesame seed cakes, fried dough sticks and even two cans of soy milk.
“It’s okay, we will have fair amount of practice later and it’s going to be tiring.” Ji Xiaoqin smiled sweetly and opened the bag containing the soy milk for Li Yiming like a wife taking care of her husband.
“Oh? Showing love in this early in the morning?” A student walked by Li Yiming, gave him a light nudge and ran away laughing. Li Yiming did not mind the jibe, since he was on fairly good terms with all of his classmates. Ji Xiaoqin, on the other hand, lowered her head shyly and then peeked at Liu Meng furtively, but she recoiled immediately and seemed a little scared of Liu Meng.
Liu Meng pretended not to see any of it, sat down on the floor without minding the others and took out a piece of sesame cake. “You’re eating two? Careful, Li Yiming won’t be able to lift you at this rate.” The classmate who had just joked to Li Yiming walked past Liu Meng and laughed at her when she saw the other sesame cake in her bag.
“I’m still growing, okay?” Liu Meng seemed insulted and stiffened her chest. This prompted the classmate to look at her own and walk away silently, seemingly defeated.
‘Two sesame cakes?’ Li Yiming caught the detail. He remembered seeing the scene often. Sometimes he would take one out of convenience, while at other times he would see Liu Meng throw it away. ‘Was that… for me?’
“The old witch called us. The studio has been reserved by the people doing folk dance in fourth year, so we need to leave now.” One of Li Yiming’s classmates came back with his cell phone in his hand and started to pick up his own things.
“Alright, we should go. We’ll finish the rest on the way.” Li Yiming gulped down a small bun and saw Liu Meng throw the rest of her sesame cakes into the trash can.
As the rest of his classmates spilled out into the corridor, Li Yiming lingered and only followed behind Liu Meng when everyone had already exited the room. When he pushed open the studio’s door, he saw a blinding light. The world around him spun and he felt as if the floor beneath him vanished. Then, a mixture of noises, clangor, people talking loudly and the occasional screech of excitement came into his ears.
“What happened? It took you this long to go to the bathroom? Don’t tell me you puked in there,” Li Yiming saw someone talk to him when he opened his eyes. It was a friend of his back in college, but he could not remember his name anymore. Li Yiming’s head was heavy, and he found it extraordinarily difficult to formulate a coherent thought. ‘Where is… the hot pot shop?’
“Yiming’s at his limits. He can’t drink anymore.” Ji Xiaoqin sat right next to Li Yiming and looked at him with a worried expression.
“Bah. Enough of that for today. His duo was the best choreography today! You haven’t seen the look on the old witch… our teacher’s face! She’s never looked happier. Right, Ms. Yu?” The man had his arm around Li Yiming’s neck and spoke in a very loud voice while nodding at an old woman in the distance.
“Yiming and Liu Meng put on quite a show today. It’s okay to have fun now, just don’t overdo it.” The old “witch”, Ms. Yu, the dance teacher, had a broad smile. Even she, who was usually very strict, allowed her students to have a moment of freedom and enjoy themselves.
‘The celebration? Is this… after the performance at Shangbei Theatre?’ Li Yiming tried his best to focus on what he wanted to do and looked around to see the faces of those sitting beside him. He recognized the restaurant compartment instantly, as well as the people within it: the classmates who had also performed in the show, the teachers who supervised them, Ji Xiaoqin, who sat quietly right next to the teacher and was the only one to not have taken a drink, and finally Liu Meng, who sat in the middle of the group and talked loudly.
“So, you’re not drinking today. Are you going to let Liu Meng drink for you?” Li Yiming’s classmate picked up the beer on the table and looked around for Li Yiming’s cup.
“I’ll drink, I’ll drink. Have you ever seen me scared of that?” Liu Meng pushed the people blocking her way and snatched the beer from her classmate. “So tell me, how are we going to drink?” Liu Meng pushed Li Yiming back into his seat and stepped onto the chair with one leg. She looked at Li Yiming’s classmate as if she was ready to take on any challenge he proposed.
Teacher Yu looked at the scene with a smile. Amongst the entire cohort, Liu Meng and Ji Xiaoqin were her favorites. One was extroverted and had the character of an ardent flame whereas the other was reserved and gentle in every way, just like the water that flowed quietly in a small stream.
Li Yiming looked at Liu Meng’s feet. Unlike Ji Xiaoqin, who had to work with pointe shoes, Liu Meng was not so apt at ballet, so she did not have the calluses on her toes that Ji Xiaoqin did. The skin on her feet had a healthy rosy color and were as smooth as jade. 1
“Hey small bean, I’m your opponent.” Li Yiming loosened the buttons around his neck and said with a heroic air that induced an uproar from his classmates.
And then, Li Yiming slowly lost consciousness within the cheering and the rounds of applause.
When his senses came back, he found himself lying on a bed. Every corner of his body itched with a burning feeling, but he could feel something smooth sliding back and forth on his face. He opened his eyes with difficulty and saw a face inches away from his own. Her long hair dropped down and grazed the side of his face, and with each breath, Li Yiming could feel the hot and humid air come out of her mouth warming his flushed cheeks and stir up the desires buried within his heart.
It was not long before judgment succumbed to the raw outpour of passion. This was the night that Li Yiming remembered losing control of himself after Ji Xiaoqin came to look after him following his getting drunk at the celebration. Li Yiming could barely distinguish reality from illusion he was plunged in as he wrapped his arms around her in a crazy fervor mingled with jealousy and anger about her “eventual” betrayal. Li Yiming became a slave to his drunkenness and the hurricane of emotions that raged violently within him. He vented it all out on the girl in his arms, who reciprocated timidly by locking her own arms around Li Yiming’s neck and emitting low-pitched moans that reverberated within the quiet darkness of the room.
“What do you like the most about me?” The tempest had settled, and Li Yiming heard the question come from the girl that curled up in the bed and laid against his chest.
“Your long hair,” Li Yiming answered as if he had just woken up from a dream. The next moment, the voice hit him like lightning. ‘Liu Meng?’
Light returned to Li Yiming’s eyes. When he could see again, he found Ji Xiaoqin standing in front of him. She seemed surprised, timid, but also very happy. Contrary to her usual reserved self, she opened her arms and jumped daringly into Li Yiming’s embrace in front of everyone at the hotel’s lobby. Li Yiming caught her instinctively and looked around, at his classmates and at the teachers who were about to complete the check-out procedure. Some of them were envious, while others seemed surprised, and others still seemed entertained. Then, Li Yiming eyes crossed Liu Meng’s, and it was clear to him that there was nothing other than shock and disappointment buried within her irises.
No… No… I thought about the possibility of this when it was hinted at in previous chapters. No like this man…
1.I’ll add a note later, if you are curious, about why you will often seen female characters in CN novels compared to jade/other things like flowers. While this also happens in western literature, this is a tradition deeply rooted within Chinese culture. (People have been doing it literally for more than a thousand year.)