Ning Yiwei and Zhou Zirui exited the taxi as it halted in front of the bar. Anxiously, they made their way past a row of suited men at the entrance, following closely behind the other guests. After paying the entrance fee, they stepped inside.
As soon as the door opened, laser smoke and loud music rushed out, surrounding Ning Yiwei and Zhou Zirui.
The DJ on the stage played a warm-up set, and the dance floor wasn’t too crowded. However, the large dark area and the mixed smell of smoke and alcohol in the air brought Ning Yiwei and Zhou Zirui close together.
After standing confused in the lobby for about two minutes, Ning Yiwei bravely took the first step. He casually grabbed a waiter and asked where they could find a seat.
The waiter hesitated briefly, spoke with a colleague, and then took them to an available private booth.
Ning Yiwei took the drinks menu and looked at it for a while but couldn’t figure out the different types of alcohol. He randomly chose a champagne set to meet the minimum spending requirement. Zhou Zirui remained silent the entire time, staying close to Ning Yiwei and staring blankly at the chaotic dance floor.
After the waiter left, Zhou Zirui leaned over to Ning Yiwei’s ear and nervously asked, “Yiwei, how long sh-should we stay here?”
Ning Yiwei piled their bags together, thought for a moment, and said, “We have to finish the food, can’t let it go to waste.”
Soon, the drinks and snacks were served. The waiter, sensing their unfamiliarity with the industry, kindly mixed a few glasses of alcohol with green tea, explaining, “It’ll taste better this way.”
As the place began to fill up, the waiter attended to other tasks in a different area. The two of them sat in silence for a while until Zhou Zirui asked Ning Yiwei, “Who should drink first?”
Ning Yiwei took a glass and brought it close to his lips. He smelled a strange sweet alcohol scent and quickly moved the glass away, asking Zhou Zirui, “Let’s drink together.”
Zhou Zirui then picked up a glass too, and both of them slowly raised their glasses and took a sip.
The familiar flavor of the iced green tea drink was unexpectedly mixed with a subtle hint of alcohol, giving it a slightly off taste. This sudden alteration left Ning Yiwei feeling quite uneasy. He looked at Zhou Zirui while holding the drink and noticed that Zhou Zirui had already swallowed the alcohol first, although his expression didn’t look good either.
Ning Yiwei held it in his mouth for a while, struggling to overcome the mental barrier, and finally managed to swallow the drink with a bitter face. He said to Zhou Zirui, “It’s so disgusting.”
“I-indeed,” Zhou Zirui put down his glass, agreeing with Ning Yiwei, and asked, “Yiwei, why did you s-suddenly decide to come to a bar?”
Ning Yiwei reached out and grabbed a strawberry, popping it into his mouth, and then handed another one to Zhou Zirui.
“Can’t really explain,” Ning Yiwei mumbled, “Just wanted to see.”
Several years ago, when Liang Chong was still studying at D University and living off-campus, his house was close to Ning Yiwei’s D High School. Ning Yiwei often went to Liang Chong’s place to use the internet for research.
Liang Chong had a troublesome friend surnamed Wang. One time, Wang came to Liang Chong’s house and insisted on dragging Liang Chong to a bar, claiming that someone was waiting for him there. Liang Chong declined, saying it wasn’t convenient as he had to take care of Ning Yiwei’s meal.
Hearing this, Ning Yiwei casually asked what bars were for and who was waiting for Liang Chong.
Liang Chong evasively glanced around and refused to answer directly. The friend with the surname Wang laughed ambiguously and asked Ning Yiwei if he genuinely wanted to know. Ning Yiwei nodded earnestly and said he did. Before the friend could respond, Liang Chong sternly told him to stop and chased him away.
Ning Yiwei wanted to ask more, but Liang Chong pressed him back down. “Behave and study.”
Upon seeing Liang Chong come to pick up Kong Zong, Ning Yiwei suddenly remembered this matter and decided resolutely to come and find out what was going on.
Little did he know that the drinks in the bar were unappetizing, the variety of fruits scarce, and the intense environment noisy, with noise levels exceeding a hundred decibels. It made Ning Yiwei, who was already restless and uneasy, even more uncomfortable. He kept pondering how Liang Chong knew Kong Zong and why he secretly came to the school to pick up Kong Zong without informing him. However, he didn’t feel like calling Liang Chong to clarify things.
Liang Chong hadn’t even opened the car door for him, so he had no obligation to report his plans.
Zhou Zirui didn’t notice anything amiss with Ning Yiwei. He thought the fruits at this place were quite delicious and reached out to grab a piece of pineapple.
Just as he took a bite, Zhou Zirui’s phone, which he had placed on the table, lit up. He wiped his hands, picked up the phone, and saw the contents of the email, which immediately caught his attention. He tugged on Ning Yiwei, who was sulking, and handed the phone to him. “Yi-Yiwei, look at this RMP!”
“What…?” Ning Yiwei focused and glanced at it, a smile appearing on his face. He completely forgot about Liang Chong and Kong Zong. “Lattice QCD, let me have a look.”
The headlining DJ took the stage on time, igniting the entire bar. Dazzling laser beams flickered and rotated within the crowded dance floor. Confetti rained down from above, and men and women pressed their bodies against each other, swaying their hips, shaking their arms. Even the people sitting at the tables in the dance floor area seemed to be captivated by the alcohol and electronic music, laughing loudly and flirting intimately.
Although the occasion was not quite suitable, Ning Yiwei and Zhou Zirui still opened their phone and managed to read and discuss a new research article in physics together.
High-energy physics was Zhou Zirui’s greatest passion. Once he started talking, he couldn’t stop. He even had several glasses of champagne in between, becoming more excited, and his stuttering frequency decreased. They moved from discussing the overview article on “Scattering and Resonance Processes in Lattice QCD” and delved into his views on contemporary high-energy physics.
Approaching half past ten, the fruit platter was emptied. Zhou Zirui had also had a bit too much to drink. Finally, he stopped, yawned, and said to Ning Yiwei, “Yiwei, I-I’m feeling a bit tired.”
Ning Yiwei was also starting to get a headache from the prolonged high decibel noise. He called a waiter over to pay the bill.
The waiter handed the bill to Ning Yiwei. Ning Yiwei gently patted the heavy head of Zhou Zirui, who was leaning on his shoulder, and said, “Don’t fall asleep yet.” He then took the bill, reached into his wallet, and realized something was wrong.
He had forgotten to bring the card his parents had given him at home.
Fortunately, Ning Yiwei always carried a good amount of cash. He took out a stack of cash from his wallet and awkwardly started counting it in front of the waiter. After counting the last banknote, he found that he was still three hundred and fifty yuan short of the total amount on the bill.
“Zirui, did you bring any money?” Ning Yiwei nudged Zhou Zirui. Zhou Zirui was awakened by the nudge, looked up dazedly, and slowly took out three hundred yuan from his bag. “Only this…”
“What about your card?” Ning Yiwei asked him.
Zhou Zirui shook his head. “Forgot… forgot to bring it.”
Ning Yiwei put Zhou Zirui’s three hundred yuan on top of the leather bill folder, still fifty yuan short.
“You can use mobile payment,” the waiter couldn’t help but suggest.
Zhou Zirui disdainfully replied, “We don’t use mobile payment, just… just cash.” Both of them had a strong distrust of mobile payment and never linked their bank cards to any financial platforms.
Holding onto his wallet, Ning Yiwei suddenly remembered that Liang Chong had given him a credit card a long time ago. He had casually stuffed it into a pocket in his wallet and never took it out.
He struggled internally and pulled open the inner pocket to take a look. The dark gray card was indeed lying inside.
“Sir?” The waiter politely reminded him.
Ning Yiwei reluctantly took out the card and handed it to the waiter. “Use this card for the remaining fifty yuan.”
Three minutes later, Liang Chong called.
Ning Yiwei answered the call.
“Did the sun rise from the west today? You finally decided to use the card,” Liang Chong, who had clearly been drinking, spoke louder than usual. The environment around him seemed quiet, without any background noise. He asked someone next to him, “Laila, what can you buy with fifty yuan nowadays? And what kind of place is this… Imperial Heaven Entertainment Management Limited Company?”
A female voice said something, and Liang Chong immediately fell silent. After a few seconds, his voice became dark as he asked Ning Yiwei, “Where are you?”
Ning Yiwei hesitated for a second before hanging up the phone.
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