"Wait, where are you guys going?" Cheng Cheng asked after their laughter subsided. The four of them were standing below the flashy banner in front of the campus gates. Li Yundong, Feng Na, and Cheng Cheng had been laughing too hard earlier to keep walking, while Su Chan was being... well, Su Chan — cluelessly wondering what her three companions were laughing about.
"We're on the way to visit Zhao Yujian at the hospital," Feng Na answered. All of a sudden, Feng Na's face lit up and she grabbed Cheng Cheng's arm. "Wanna come with us?"
"Sure!" Cheng Cheng said with a smile. "I'd rather be anywhere but here."
"Hah! Then it's settled!" Feng Na looped her arm around the crook of Cheng Cheng's elbow. "You, my dear bestie, are coming with us!"
Li Yundong chuckled and said, "You guys make it sound like we're going on a vacation or something."
"Honestly?" Cheng Cheng said. "Any place that doesn't require us to sing that horrible nursery rhyme feels a lot like, I don't know, Hawaii. Or Jeju Island."
Everyone burst into laughter again.
Well, everyone except Su Chan.
The group moved away from the campus gates, laughing at the stupidity of their university's brilliant policymakers. At the main road outside the gates, Li Yundong felt a tug on the hem of his shirt. He turned and saw Su Chan looking up at him innocently.
"Yundong... What were you guys laughing about just now?"
Li Yundong raised his brows. "You didn't understand what we were saying?"
Su Chan shook her head innocently.
Realization dawned on Li Yundong. "You don't know what a nursery rhyme is, do you?"
Su Chan shook her head again.
Feng Na, who was walking ahead of the group, interrupted before Li Yundong could say anything. "What? You don't know what a nursery rhyme is? But that's the kind of stuff you learn about as a kid! How could you not know?"
Li Yundong frowned slightly; he thought Feng Na's tone sounded a bit patronizing.
"So? Why do I need to know what a nursery rhyme is?" Su Chan fired back. "It's not even useful knowledge."
Cheng Cheng gave Su Chan a thumbs up.
"Well said! Maybe you're one of those super-geniuses who skipped grades," Cheng Cheng said. "While other kids were singing nursery rhymes, you were doing calculus. Ah... Looks like you have it all. You've got the brains and the looks. The full package!"
"Look at you, sucking up to the girl," Feng Na said, smacking Cheng Cheng playfully. "Get a grip, will you!"
Li Yundong chuckled at Feng Na and Cheng Cheng's antics then stepped off the pavement to hail a cab for them.
After the cabbie dropped them off at the hospital, Li Yundong and Su Chan went to a nearby ATM machine to make a cash withdrawal. When Li Yundong returned to Cheng Cheng and Feng Na, he split the cash so that they could each buy something before going into the hospital: Feng Na got some flowers from a nearby florist; Cheng Cheng bought some fruits; Li Yundong got some health supplements from a supermarket.
Nope. No showing up empty-handed during a hospital visit. Not even if the patient was an asshole.
The four of them entered the hospital with their purchases. After a quick inquiry at the reception counter, they took the elevator and went to the floor that had Zhao Yujian's room.
As they walked along the corridor leading to Zhao Yujian's room, Li Yundong was once again reminded of how stinking rich Zhao Yujian's family was. Luxurious VIP rooms lined the entire corridor. The whole floor seemed like a floor in a five-star hotel rather than a hospital. Heck, he couldn't even detect the smell of disinfectants. The perks of being rich indeed.
Outside Zhao Yujian's room, Li Yundong heard Zhao Yujian's pleading voice.
"Zhou Qin... Please. Please just give me a chance. I'm really serious about you, okay? Just give us a shot and you'll see that we have a lot of things in common."
Li Yundong, Feng Na, and Cheng Cheng shared glances with each other. The conversation inside the room seemed to have stopped, yet none of them raised their hand to knock on the door.
"Oh, by the way," Zhao Yujian continued, "you're very interested in Taekwondo, right? You see, when I won the city level Taekwondo tournament, they gave me a special trophy. It's a golden figure performing a kick. It's cute. I'm thinking about giving the trophy to you."
Another voice sounded.
A woman's, this time.
"Zhou Qin, my son has barely taken his mind off you for the past few days," the woman pleaded. "He refused to eat and he couldn't sleep just because he missed you and wanted to see you. Just look at the poor boy... Won't you show him some compassion and agree to—"
"Aunty, love doesn't work that way. It isn't something that can be given out of pity or compassion. If it was, then the happiest people on this planet would be beggars!"
Outside the door, Li Yundong winced at those harsh words. He wondered if Ding Nan, the viper, had ever poisoned someone to death with her words alone.
"Zhou Qin... I didn't mean it that way," Zhao Yujian's mother said. "What I'm saying is—"
"What are you trying to say, aunty?" Ding Nan cut in again. "You want Zhou Qin to play Zhao Yujian's girlfriend and take care of him while he's bedridden, is that it?" There was a loud snort. "Please, aunty. You're so much older than us, yet you're acting so childishly!"
Li Yundong shared glances with Feng Na and Cheng Cheng again. All three of them were now frowning.
"That woman's sharp tongue will be her downfall one of these days," Feng Na said in a low voice.
Cheng Cheng nodded. "I only heard rumors about Ding Nan," she said. "I never thought she could be this bad! The things she said just now... God. They're horrible!"
"Shh," Li Yundong said all of a sudden.
"That's enough, Ding Nan. Stop talking." Zhou Qin's voice sounded from inside the room. After a moment of silence, Zhou Qin went on, "Aunty, your son needs his rest. So it's time we take our leave."
The door opened seconds later, and Zhou Qin practically ran into Feng Na and the others.
Zhou Qin stopped herself just in time to avoid bumping into the woman standing just outside the door, but then froze when she recognized who the woman was. It was the senior who had approached her during the rehearsals to ask for her help. Feng Na, Zhou Qin thought, frowning. She probably overheard our conversation...
Feng Na stepped aside to make way for her. Zhou Qin stepped forward and pulled up short once again. Li Yundong! Zhou Qin's eyes brightened. Even her frown was gone.
Zhou Qin felt Ding Nan's presence behind her, so she moved away from the doorway. Ding Nan stepped out of the room and paused when she saw Li Yundong. Zhou Qin thought she saw a flicker of surprise and pleasure inside Ding Nan's eyes. Interesting, Zhou Qin thought. However, Ding Nan's eyes became cold a moment later. Zhou Qin followed Ding Nan's gaze and noticed that she was looking at the beautiful girl who was always following Li Yundong around.
"Yo, is it just me, or did we just catch a bunch of eavesdroppers in the act," Ding Nan said.
Feng Na smiled and said, "Must be some pretty scandalous stuff involved if you'd accuse us of eavesdropping the moment you see us."
Zhou Qin knew she had to step in right now unless she wanted to see a fight happening right outside of the room. She knew that look on Ding Nan's face too well. Ding Nan was a sore loser when it comes to ripostes and arguments. "Nannan, let's go," Zhou Qin said. "Let's not get in the way of Li Yundong and the others. They're clearly here to visit Zhao Yujian."
With that, Zhou Qin led Ding Nan away and moved elegantly along the corridor towards the elevator.
Cheng Cheng stared after Zhou Qin and Ding Nan.
"The more I look at those two, the weirder they seem to me," Cheng Cheng said, shaking her head. "One is cold and aloof like an enigma, while the other one is as venomous as a viper."
Li Yundong chuckled. "Well, it's none of our business," he said. "Let's head inside."
The first thing Li Yundong saw when he stepped into the room was Zhao Yujian being fed a bowl of congee by his mother.
"Yujian... Just ignore women like that, okay? I'll find another woman for you in the future. One that's a hundred times better than her! That Zhou Qin is just a cold-hearted woman with a powerful father! Just forget about her!"
Li Yundong nearly rolled his eyes. All of a sudden, it made sense to him now why Zhao Yujian was such an asshole; the guy had been spoiled rotten by his dear mother.
Zhao Yujian turned his head away in annoyance. "Tsk! Mom! I told you I don't wanna eat anything, dammit! And I don't need you to find other women for me! I want Zhou Qin! I don't want any woman other than her! Go away and leave me alone!"
Yet this is what she gets for spoiling him, Li Yundong thought.
Mrs. Zhou set down the bowl of congee and began stroking Zhao Yujian's chest in a way that almost made Li Yundong throw up. "Okay, okay, I won't say anything else," Mrs. Zhou said. "Are you feeling uncomfortable anywhere? Want me to give you a massage?"
Feng Na and Cheng Cheng shared a look with one another. Li Yundong thought he saw a hint of envy in their eyes. Hah. From the looks of it, not even beautiful women like Cheng Cheng and Feng Na had been doted on by someone to this extent.
Argh! This is awkward... Li Yundong thought, glancing at Cheng Cheng and Feng Na. None of them tried to interrupt Mrs. Zhou's mother-hen duties with a greeting. Clearly, they felt as awkward as he did. Judging from the way Su Chan was hiding behind him, he was pretty sure Su Chan felt the same too.
"Oh! You guys are here to visit my boy!" Mrs. Zhou's greeting made everyone jump. The awkward air thickened.
Mrs. Zhou approached them with a huge smile. "Welcome, welcome. It's so nice of you guys to come by!"
Mrs. Zhou took the fruits and flowers from Feng Na and Cheng Cheng, then turned to Su Chan. "Oh, you can put it in that cupboard over there."
"You!!!! Why are you here! Isn't it enough that you broke my leg? Now you want to show up here to mock me?!" Zhao Yujian yelled, pointing at Li Yundong.
Li Yundong sighed, then shot Feng Na a helpless glance. See? I told you so...
Alas, Mrs. Zhao had caught on as well.
"So it was you! You're the one who injured my dear boy! How dare you show your face here, you little shit! I'm going to beat you to death!"
Li Yundong frowned when he saw Mrs. Zhao charging towards him. Li Yundong stepped back unconsciously when he saw Mrs. Zhao raise her hand. The woman wanted to claw his eyes out. Li Yundong raised his arms instinctively to shield his face.
It was only when Mrs. Zhao's fingernails scratched his elbow that Li Yundong felt something strange. He knew he'd felt it before, but that didn't make it any less strange. It all happened in a split second: a ball of heat formed in his lower abdomen; then the heat surged upwards into his elbow.
Mrs. Zhou fell flat on her butt and began wailing. "Help! He's trying to kill me! First, this little shit hurt my boy, and now he's trying to kill me!!"
Li Yundong shared a look with Feng Na. Feng Na was looking at him questioningly.
But I didn't do anything! Li Yundong mouthed those words to Feng Na. It was true, he just raised his arm to shield his face. He didn't even try to push her away!
Then, he saw Feng Na giving him a pointed look: Don't say anything, I'll handle this.
Li Yundong gave Feng Na a subtle nod in return.
"Aunty, we're just here to visit Zhao Yujian," Feng Na said patiently. "And I assure you that Li Yundong didn't mean to hurt Zhao Yujian the other day. It was just an acci—"
"You shameless slut!" Mrs. Zhao yelled, wiping her tears and snot. "Who is that guy to you, huh!" Mrs. Zhao pointed at Li Yundong. "Why are you defending him! I bet you're sleeping with him!"
Feng Na opened her mouth to protest, but she was cut off by Mrs. Zhao.
"I've seen plenty of women like you! Accident? What accident! You're all just jealous of how bright and brilliant my Yujian is! That was why you planned your evil little scheme to hurt him!"
"Aunty! Please! It's not like that!" Feng Na protested, her face flushed in anger and humiliation.
Li Yundong couldn't watch this anymore. It was obvious that Mrs. Zhao's behavior was beyond reason. Besides, this was all just plain wrong. Feng Na shouldn't even be dragged into this drama in the first place. He should be the one to take this crazy woman's crap, not Feng Na. He stepped forward and pulled Feng Na back by the arm. "Aunty, I'm very sorry for hurting Zhao Yujian," he said. "But he's the one who attacked me, and I was just trying to defend myself. A lot of witnesses can verify that."
Mrs. Zhao scrambled to her feet and started yelling at Li Yundong. "You slandering bastard! You're in the wrong here, not my Yujian! Yet here you are, throwing wild and baseless accusations! How dare you! My Yujian is cultured and educated unlike a bum like you! Witnesses?" Mrs. Zhao laughed derisively. "Who are these witnesses of yours? Her?" Mrs. Zhao pointed at Feng Na. "You're sleeping together! Of course she'd be your witness!"
Something raged inside Li Yundong's chest like an inferno. Easy Li Yundong... easy... You're better than her. Be the bigger person, he thought, taking several deep breaths. "Regardless," he continued, "I'm the one who injured your son. I own up to that, and I apologize. Now, if you would tell me the cost of your son's medical treatment, I'll pay every cent—"
Mrs. Zhao spat on the floor. If Li Yundong hadn't moved his leg back in time, his shoes would've been stained. "You?" Mrs. Zhao snorted derisively. "Don't make me laugh. A penniless bum like you won't be able to afford half of the fees! No. I don't want your stupid money. Use it to buy coffins for your relatives instead! Now get out of my sight!"
Mrs. Zhou's outburst stunned everyone. None of them could comprehend how this crazy woman had changed from a loving and doting mother into this barbarian in front of them.
The next thing that happened brought everyone out of their stupor. The barbaric woman transformed into a gentle and harmless woman again.
"Zh- Zhou Qin? Y- you're back? What are you doing here?" Mrs. Zhao said sheepishly.
Li Yundong and the others turned to the door and saw Zhou Qin standing there.
The bed squeaked, followed by a series of rustling sound and a groan. Li Yundong turned away from the door and faced the bed. Zhao Yujian, who had been reclined on the bed earlier, was now sitting upright.
Zhao Yujian's once soulless eyes sparkled with life again. "Zhou Qin..." he said happily. "You came back... You came back for me! Thank—"
"Li Yundong, may I speak with you in private?" Zhou Qin asked, then nodded at Feng Na and Cheng Cheng.
Li Yundong turned away from the bed abruptly and stared at Zhou Qin. Then, understanding dawned on him. She was trying to extract him from this shitty situation.
Li Yundong gave Su Chan an eye signal, then followed Zhou Qin out of the room.