Wang Xiaoming had no dating experience, so he sought help from the internet.
He typed the name of the city followed by the words “dating locations” into the Baidu search bar and a series of answers popped up, as expected.
“Delicious Dates?” Baal’s finger stabbed the air and that page automatically closed.
Wang Xiaoming continued scrolling.
“Lake of Love?” Baal’s eyes glinted and that page automatically popped up.
It was a touching legend about the Lake of Love situated in the northwest corner of the city.
There had been a talented but pitifully poor student in ancient times, one who didn’t even have the funds to go to the capital to take the imperial exams. He fell in love with the daughter of a wealthy family. The two met at a shrine and fell in love at first sight, promising themselves to each other without the approval of their respective families. But the young lady’s wealthy father had wanted to marry her off to the local minister’s son. In order to fight for their love, the two of them promised to meet at the Lake of Love and elope. But unfortunately, the father discovered the affair between the young lady and the student before they left and locked her up. Then he sent someone to go where they promised to meet at the Lake of Love and pushed the student into the lake, drowning him. After the young lady received news of her lover’s death, she fell into despair and found an opportunity to escape to the promised location, jumping into the lake and dying for love.
Though the lovers had died, their souls remained behind and lived at the bottom of the lake, protecting lovers who came by to make wishes.
“Hmph, that definitely sounds like something stupid humans would do.” Baal felt utter disdain for the story.
But Wang Xiaoming was even more disdainful. “I think the person who made up that story was too perfunctory.”
“Whether it’s the plot or the way the story concluded… It all seems like a simplified version of ‘The Butterfly Lovers’. It lacks creativity.”
Baal asked, “Butterfly Lovers?”
Wang Xiaoming answered off-handedly, “A better-selling legend.”
Baal asked, “So?”
After Wang Xiaoming clicked through a dozen pages using the mouse, he slapped his hand against the desk and decided, “Let’s go to the Lake of Love.”
Regardless of how perfunctory or uncreative the legend around the Lake of Love was, or how… much of a knock-off it was, at least it brought considerable profit.
Wang Xiaoming finished buying tickets and nervously pulled on Baal to instruct him, “No matter what happens next, don’t send people away.” This wasn’t the Silver House and if someone suddenly disappeared in broad daylight while everyone watched, it would certainly cause a ruckus.
One person telling a story could be passed off as being delusional. Two people saying the same story could be collusion. But if three people talked about the same strange thing like a supernatural event or an UFO, police and reporters would come. Not only would he and Baal be in trouble, but the Silver House would also have trouble.
Three people making a story true was something that Wang Xiaoming knew very well—furthermore, there were at least three hundred people here.
Baal lifted an eyebrow and asked, “Even if something like last night happens again?”
Wang Xiaoming said awkwardly, “That kind of thing won’t happen at a place like this.” He didn’t believe that his luck in love would be that rotten.
Baal scoffed, “You may not want to put so much faith in your luck.”
Wang Xiaoming said quietly, “Does this count as you cursing me?”
Baal answered, “No, I didn’t use the curses that mages do.”
Wang Xiaoming, “…”
The Lake of Love was separated into the inner and outer circle.
There were various kinds of flowers and trees planted around the outer circle along with stones in mountain formations and gazebos, which provided many places for a quiet date. The inner circle was the actual Lake of Love. The lake was in the shape of a gourd; according to the legend, the bigger circle was the student and the smaller circle was the young lady. The two circles were connected as a sign of their hearts being intertwined and never being separated.
The lake had many boats docked on it. Dragon boats, foot pedal boats, and boats with awnings… anything that could be imagined.
There was a shaded area by the bank, underneath which there were coffee shops, tea shops, cold drink shops, one after the other…
Wang Xiaoming looked at Baal, who was occasionally forced into other people’s bodies, and his lips kept forming a smile.
Suddenly, a hand reached out from the crowd and gripped his hand tightly.
Frightened, Wang Xiaoming jumped and was about to cry out when he spotted a familiar face. “A-Chang?”
“Xiaoming? What are you doing here?” A-Chang looked around him. “Are you the only one1The Chinese character used for this could also be translated as [i]human[/i]. here?”
Wang Xiaoming nodded. That didn’t count as a lie. Baal technically didn’t count as a human.
By himself at the Lake of Love?
A-Chang looked at him with a strange expression. “How long has it been since you talked with Haitao?”
Wang Xiaoming paused for a moment. It was probably because he had gone too long without thinking of the man, but his mind blanked for a second when he heard the name come from someone else’s mouth.
But his blank state managed to coincidentally match one of A-Chang’s guesses.
“You didn’t really come to the Lake of Love to… die for love, did you?” He gripped Wang Xiaoming’s wrist nervously.
Baal watched unhappily from the side. “Didn’t you say you wouldn’t run into this kind of thing?” How long was that damned human going to hold on for?
Wang Xiaoming rolled his eyes and said quietly, “This is not the same thing. He won’t dig out ten thousand yuan.”
“If you need anything, please tell me. Don’t dig yourself into a hole.” A-Chang noticed how Wang Xiaoming kept talking to himself and how the man’s eyes kept looking off to the side. He thought Wang Xiaoming had suffered a mental breakdown and said seriously, “If you’re sick, you need to get treated! You are educated and should know what it means to avoid the doctor out of foolishness. If it’s about money…” He hesitated. “I don’t have a problem as long as it’s within ten thousand yuan.”
Wang Xiaoming stiffened and kept his eyes straight ahead.
Baal chuckled dryly, “He won’t throw out ten thousand yuan?”
Wang Xiaoming covered his mouth with his palm and said in an extremely muffled voice, “At least, at least he won’t make those sorts of demands… right?” When he got to the end of the sentence, even he became uncertain. After all, ever since he met Baal the world had become crazy.
“Wang Xiaoming, say something.” A-Chang waved his hand.
Wang Xiaoming hurriedly jerked himself back to reality. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just here to… uh… play the tourist, look at the scenery. You know how I’ve rarely left the campus to look at the scenery or walk around the park while I was in college.”
“What scenery would you see by yourself at the Lake of Love?” As a local, A-Chang found it hard to understand. “At the very least, you should go to the Cucumber2Chinese euphemism for penis. Park or the Chrysanthemum3Chinese euphemism for anus. Park to meet someone attractive. Who are you trying to fool?”
Meet someone attractive?
Baal silently put Cucumber Park and Chrysanthemum Park on the “Do Not Visit” list.
A-Chang saw the struggle on Wang Xiaoming’s face and sighed as he said, “I thought about it for a very long time and thought it through very carefully. Actually, being gay is not a big deal. At least if I’m friends with you, I just have to worry about whether you’ll fall in love with me and not if you’ll fall in love with my girlfriend and try to steal her away from me. That’s great. At the very least, I won’t fall in love with you. So this means that we won’t have any sort of relationship drama. I think it’s safer being your friend than being anyone else’s. So it’s not a problem.”
Wang Xiaoming asked in confusion, “Why are you worried whether I’ll fall in love with you?”
“… I’m a man, at least soothe my pride a little bit.” A-Chang let go of Wang Xiaoming’s hand and patted the man’s shoulder, saying, “Come, I’ll introduce you to some of the newcomers. If you see anyone you like, go for it. These couple of freshies have dewy and soft skin and if they really go visit Brokeback Mountain, you’d be doing the rest of the males at the school a favor!”
Wang Xiaoming glanced at Baal’s gradually darkening expression and said quietly, “I have something to do.”
“Dammit! Stop it. There are only two reasons to visit Lake of Love—a date or committing suicide for love. Since you’re here on your own, then it has to be the latter.” A-Chang became frantic. “I’m telling you, the school tried so many times to find you about the internship thing. But you moved and left no address. I tried really hard to find a snack shop to put a stamp on the document for you and fooled them about your internship… What is with your expression? Snack shops have operating licenses.”
He’d spent too much time considering abnormal things such that he had ignored the regular things. Wang Xiaoming knew that the administrators at his school would rather toss him aside if possible. A-Chang must have exerted a lot of effort trying to get his internship approved. He said sincerely, “Thank you.”
“Oh leave it, it didn’t take that much energy since it was my family business. Hey, let’s set that aside. Just for that, you are stuck with me for today. You haven’t met my girlfriend yet, right? Come, I’ll introduce you.”
Since he put it that way, Wang Xiaoming couldn’t easily refuse. So he could only sneak out a finger and hook it around Baal’s sleeve, pulling it once.
Baal snorted and remained immobile.
Wang Xiaoming tugged a couple more times.
Baal remained standing still.
Wang Xiaoming heard A-Chang’s urging and could only plead quietly, “Please.”
“What are you saying ‘please’ for? I need to say that to you. Hurry, hurry. There are so many people and you’re stuck there like a dam.” A-Chang slung an arm around Wang Xiaoming’s shoulder and was about to move forward when the scenery around him suddenly flashed and a shriek came from beside him. He turned around and realized that he had his arm around a middle-aged woman’s… shoulder and his hand had actually pulled the other person’s collar down a bit to reveal half a plump shoulder.
A-Chang calmly took his hand back and explained, “Wrong person.”
The middle-aged woman also very calmly scolded him, “You’re crazy.”
Wang Xiaoming looked at the place where A-Chang vanished from and demanded slightly angrily, “You’re moving them again!”
“It’s just shifting this time.” It wasn’t even a meter.
Wang Xiaoming carefully looked around him and nobody else seemed to have noticed. “What happens if someone notices?”
“Dead men say nothing,” Baal said dismissively.
“That’s illegal… no, that’s immoral! No, that, that’s not right!” Wang Xiaoming came to the sad realization that the only words he could say to restrict Baal’s behavior were a pale and useless “not right.”
Baal said, “Today’s our date. I hate having someone else here.”
“But he helped me…” Wang Xiaoming stopped.
Baal watched unhappily as A-Chang got closer and complained to Wang Xiaoming, “Why did you walk this fast? It was your fault I grabbed the wrong person’s shoulder. That was awkward.”
“I’m in a rush to meet your girlfriend.” Wang Xiaoming chuckled dryly.
“Alright, I like the reason. Come on, I’ll take you to eat something delicious!” Without a second word, A-Chang grabbed Wang Xiaoming’s arm and walked forward.
With his other arm, Wang Xiaoming instantly pulled on Baal and looked at him pleadingly.
The corner of Baal’s mouth twitched and he finally moved his feet, albeit unwillingly.
But a story always had its twists.
If Wang Xiaoming had known he’d meet that person here, then he’d rather have been scolded to death by A-Chang than walk over.
“Let me make the introductions. This is my girlfriend Xiaoting and her friend Xiaoli. These two are my juniors, Zhang Gang and Chen Jian.”
Wang Xiaoming looked at Zhang Xiaoli’s instantly darkening expression and guessed that his own must have turned very pale.
“Hey, it’s okay. There’s a saying that it’s better to make friends than enemies and also let bygones be bygones. Haitao is gone already and we should stop being trapped in the past.” A-Chang had heard a bit about the conflict between Zhang Xiaoli and Wang Xiaoming.
“This is Wang Xiaoming, my former roommate. He’s a very sincere guy and you guys take care of him.” A-Chang pulled out a chair and sat down, and then he pointed at a chair beside him. “Sit.”
Wang Xiaoming was about to sit when he heard Zhang Xiaoli say shrilly, “Xiaoting, you should be careful. This man is more enchanting than any wild vixen. Be careful that he doesn’t turn your boyfriend into his boyfriend.”
Wang Xiaoming’s butt instantly hung suspended in midair but not because of what she had said. Rather, it was because of Baal’s expression, which had instantly turned chilly.
He shook Baal’s arm and blinked desperately at Baal.
Baal snorted coldly.
Wang Xiaoming pulled a chair over for him and then sat down.
Xiaoting suddenly smiled and asked, “If your name is Xiaoming, then do you know a Xiaohong?”
Wang Xiaoming paused and then shook his head. “No, I don’t.”
“Oh, that’s a shame. When I was in elementary school, my dream was for Xiaoming and Xiaohong to get married and then one would help a grandmother cross the street every day while the other would find a penny and hand it to the police every day. They would spend their days being happy and carefree.”
Wang Xiaoming, “…”
He didn’t have a problem with helping old grandmothers cross the street, but to have Baal find a penny every day…
That should probably stay a dream.
- 1The Chinese character used for this could also be translated as [i]human[/i].
- 2Chinese euphemism for penis.
- 3Chinese euphemism for anus.