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93 I Won’t Give You the Satisfaction

 Gu Nianzhi knew who Ai Weinan was, of course, and was annoyed. Ai Weinan was just a nobody; she did not deserve the gratification of instant recognition.

Gu Nianzhi made a show of looking Ai Weinan over. She said, with a cheery smile on her face, "My name is Gu Nianzhi. Do I know you?"

Ai Weinan sputtered. She stared at Gu Nianzhi, her eyes wide with surprise. "You don't recognize me?"

"Oh? Should I? Why?" Gu Nianzhi was determined not to give her any sort of emotional satisfaction.

Ai Weinan had not expected this at all.

She had assumed Gu Nianzhi thought of her as an eyesore, a thorn in her side...

But here was Gu Nianzhi, saying she didn't remember her at all.

That can't be right!

Ai Weinan recalled what Mei Xiawen had told her about Gu Nianzhi: she was an orphan, with only a distantly related uncle acting as her custodian. Her family was poor.

You're only clinging to Mei Xiawen like a leech because of his wealthy, distinguished background, aren't you?

Ai Weinan chuckled. She said to Gu Nianzhi in a bright, easygoing manner: "That's okay if you don't remember. We'll just have to get to know each other again." She put out a hand. "I'm Ai Weinan. I was Mei Xiawen's classmate throughout middle school and high school. We even shared the same desk." She carefully watched Gu Nianzhi's face as she said, in an overly dramatic manner, "Oh, it's not what it sounds like! Seriously - don't get me wrong here! Xiawen and I are just bros, nothing more. We enjoy confiding in each other when we're upset, but that's pretty much it, really."

Gu Nianzhi was standing in the middle of the campus avenue, her suitcase in hand. She stared at Ai Weinan as though she were an idiot. She shook her head and walked away, deliberately taking the long way round to avoid Ai Weinan.

A female student, one of Gu Nianzhi's classmates, saw Gu Nianzhi and immediately went up to her to say hello. "Who was that? What a weirdo..."

Gu Nianzhi smiled. "Who knows? Total nutcase. I mean, I don't even know her. She walked up to me and started prattling on about how she used to share a desk with Class Rep, et cetera et cetera. It was cringeworthy, I had second-hand embarrassment just listening to her."

"Seriously? Wow, did she come all the way here to like, assert her sovereign rights over him?" The classmate knew that Mei Xiawen was trying to court Gu Nianzhi. She laughed and gave Gu Nianzhi a playful nudge.

"What sovereign rights? C'mon, you're a law student, you know that makes no sense." Gu Nianzhi laughed. She returned to her dormitory, merrily talking and joking with her classmate the entire way.

Ai Weinan's face was now alternating between red and white. She was so annoyed by Gu Nianzhi's actions she wondered if she was going to have a stroke.

It was evening; many of the C University students were out and about. Ai Weinan stood in the avenue for a long moment, feeling awkward and out of place, before she remembered what she had come here for. She made for Mei Xiawen's dormitory.

She had summoned all her courage to come to C University to look for Mei Xiawen, and she hadn't done it on a whim.

News of how the C University senior law students had almost lost their lives while holidaying at Dufeng Mountain Resort Villa had spread from C City to the rest of the Empire like wildfire.

The TV stations took turns covering the story. The country's biggest websites were relentless with their follow-up reports. The forums and Weibo could not stop discussing the incident.

Everyone was forwarding and sharing different versions of "the ordeal."

Anyone and everyone knew about the case; there was no escaping the onslaught of interest and discussion surrounding it.

When Ai Weinan saw Mei Xiawen being interviewed by a reporter on TV, she knew she could no longer sit idly by.

Mei Xiawen had looked thin and haggard on TV, a pale shadow of his usual self. He had apparently suffered from a long bout of fever after returning from the mountains.

The Dufeng Mountain Resort Villa hostage-takers had been extremely ruthless. They had killed a shocking number of people.

The students had been extremely lucky to escape the vicious thugs.

If they had been a little less lucky, a little less vigilant... it was very likely that Mei Xiawen would have been lost to her forever.

Ai Weinan mulled over this at her college for two whole weeks, before finally deciding to give it a try.

She was taking a risk: it was entirely possible that they could no longer be friends after this.

But if she did not try it, she would regret it for the rest of her life.

She did not want to spend the rest of her life in regret.

This time, Ai Weinan returned to C City by plane.

She headed for Mei Xiawen's house as soon as she was off the plane, her hands full of tonics and herbal supplements.

"Hi Uncle, hi Auntie - how's Xiawen?" Ai Weinan was no stranger to Mei Xiawen's parents; the two families were very close.

Mei Xiawen's mother took Ai Weinan's hand. Her eyes were red. She said, in a quivering voice, "Weinan, thank you for coming to see Xiawen. Oh, we were so scared."

"Don't worry, Xiawen is a good man. The gods always protect good, honorable men. I mean, he escaped unharmed, right? And hey, he even got on TV! He was totally the most handsome guy there." Ai Weinan steadied Mei Xiawen's mother as she piled on the praise, eager to leave a good impression on his parents.

But when she asked for Mei Xiawen, his mother told her that he had already returned to his college.

Ai Weinan had immediately rushed over to C University upon hearing that.

She had not expected to bump into Gu Nianzhi, her rival in love, at the school gate.

Ai Weinan had prepared an entire speech for this occasion, only to discover that it had all been for nothing - the girl who looked four years younger than her had not remembered Ai Weinan at all.

Ai Weinan watched Gu Nianzhi's retreating back for a long moment. Once she was certain that Gu Nianzhi had returned to her dormitory, Ai Weinan turned away and made a beeline for Mei Xiawen's room, over in the male dormitory.

C University had strict rules that made it difficult for the male students to enter the girls' dormitory. It was extremely easy for a female student to enter the boys' dormitory, however.

Ai Weinan arrived at the lobby of Mei Xiawen's dormitory. She registered as a visitor at the counter, before making her way upstairs.

It was evening; the occupants of the dormitory went about their business clad only in their shorts, as was their custom.

When they saw a girl coming up the stairs, the shirtless boys immediately dived into their rooms and locked the door.

Ai Weinan smiled as she walked down the corridor of the dormitory. She found Mei Xiawen's dorm room and knocked on the door.

Strongman poked his head out. He gave an unholy shriek when he saw that it was Ai Weinan. "Wait, don't come in! I have to put on my clothes!"

He, too, had been playing video games dressed only in his shorts and nothing else.

"Take your time, I'm not in a hurry." Ai Weinan smiled as she waited before the door.

Strongman shouted through the door as he pulled a T-shirt over his head: "Are you looking for Class Rep? He's not here."

"Not here?" Ai Weinan was very surprised. "Where did he go? I was just at his house, and his parents told me he's back on campus."

"Do you even have to ask? He's standing watch over at the girls' dormitory, duh!" Strongman laughed as he opened the door. "Did you forget? Class Rep's been trying to get Nianzhi to return his feelings..."

Ai Weinan responded with an easygoing laugh. "Well, he's in luck. I saw Nianzhi return to her dormitory a few moments ago. The two of them must have met up by now."

"Who knows? Hey, wanna come in and sit down?" Strongman moved to make way for Ai Weinan. "I see you have your luggage with you and all."

Ai Weinan shrugged. "I just arrived, haven't even booked a hotel yet. I'm going to hit up my old classmates and ask them to join me in a karaoke session. We're going to party through the night. Wanna join us?"

Strongman was sorely tempted, but he remembered just in time that Ai Weinan and Mei Xiawen were high school classmates. Ai Weinan would most likely be inviting her other classmates from high school, which meant he would be the odd one out. He smiled and shook his head. "Thanks, but that's all right. Maybe next time."

Ai Weinan had brought specialty snacks from Z City with her; she extracted a pack of the snacks from her luggage and handed it to Strongman. "This is for you. I noticed that you like this."

"Oh wow! Thanks! You're the best, Weinan." Strongman knew that it was only polite to show gratitude when someone had been nice to him. He showered Ai Weinan with praises.

Ai Weinan decided there was no point waiting in Mei Xiawen's room if he wasn't around. She turned and left C University; once outside, she made a few calls, and managed to rustle up more than a dozen of her old high school classmates.

"We'll all be graduating from college soon, so let's have a get-together today to celebrate. We'll drink till we drop. I booked two rooms in the hotel, one for the guys, and one for the girls; if any of you end up plastered from all the alcohol, you can go up to your rooms and sleep it off." Ai Weinan was a pro at throwing parties.

One of her classmates spoke up. "Why don't we get Class Rep, too? It's no fun without him, right?"

"Sure. You call him, then," said Ai Weinan with a smile.