It was a hot autumn afternoon. The sun was still blazing at 3 o'clock, dressing the black exterior walls of a large gymnasium in gold.
Large black letters were glimmering above the front entrance of the gymnasium, stating its name:
"Songcheng University Martial Arts Club!"
Looking from afar at the letters and the youths full of vigor and vitality streaming inside the gymnasium, Lou Cheng felt the vibrancy but hesitated to join them. He swallowed a lump of saliva down his throat and seemed to be bothered by the feeling that one would experience when returning home, though sure enough martial arts and the club had never been his home.
He could not help but turn to look at his roommate, Cai Zongming, who was standing nearby, seeking some psychological comfort.
They met upon entering the university and soon became close friends, as birds of a feather. After the military training and course selection, they developed a friendship where they could comfortably exchange good-natured banters with each other.
Cai Zongming was over 1.8 meter in height and topped Lou Cheng by half a head. Lou Cheng had to admit that the tall and handsome Cai Zongming had the figure of some appealing heroes in Wuxia novels. Also, he was born in an affluent family and had good taste in clothing, adding points to his charm. His only problem would be his gift of the gab!
"Cheng, why are you so nervous?" Cai Zongming noticed Lou Cheng's abnormal emotions and asked, still keeping his hands in the pockets of his cream-colored slacks. "It's just an orientation of the Martial Arts Club, and many students, like Old Qiu, won’t come to the orientation of Martial Arts Club. He just signed up but didn’t show up, instead, he went for self-study. It is not an examination, so why are you so concerned?"
Lou Cheng thought about it and found himself in need of advice. He carefully selected his words and asked his friend, this time using his nickname:
"Casanova, do you remember the girl we met when we signed up?"
Claiming to have dated many girls, Cai Zongming was experienced and good at fabricating wild tales, which earned him the title "Casanova" among his roommates. Lou Cheng considered him a good consultant on love-related problems...
"Yes! How could I forget? Over one month here, I've only met two or three girls of her league. I would have accosted her, had I no true love!" Cai Zongming took a glance at Lou Cheng and smiled. "So what's the story? Having a crush on her? Longing to pursue her? You seemed like an honest and ponderous guy when I first met you. Cheng, I didn't expect this from you!"
Lou Cheng hurried to clear himself. "Actually, I've known her since high school. We were in adjoining classes and we would stand right next to each other during the setting-up exercise to music. Day after day... You know?"
"Sure! Wait, does she know you?" Cai Zongming could barely keep a straight face.
Lou Cheng shook at the mouth and glowered at Cai Zongming. Finally, he gave in and said in a low voice, "Not really…"
"I see... An unrequited love... Perfectly normal," Cai Zongming stopped teasing him. "No wonder you dragged me to join the Martial Arts Club. I thought you had somehow found out my hidden martial skills!"
"Bah! You are mere an Amateur Fifth Pin! What hidden martial skills are you talking about?" counterattacked Lou Cheng.
Until today, martial arts had run a long course of thousands of years. Neither a tale nor a myth, it carried on and on through decades of confrontation against science and technology until it had to change its tradition to integrate into the modern society. Even the ranking system of martial arts had adapted to this era. A special Ranking Event would be held by the Martial Arts Association to assess martial artists with the First Pin being the highest rank, and Ninth Pin the entry level. Below the entry level was nine amateur Pins for martial enthusiasts who were more than sufficient to defeat the common mass.
Cai Zongming tut-tutted. "Someone is not even of Amateur Ninth Pin. Comparing to you, I'm certainly a master, right? Let's fight, and I'll use only one hand."
"Get lost," Lou Cheng cut him up and slowly walked forward after a deep breath. "She was very popular in my high school. I knew she was a fan of martial arts but I didn't know she had also entered Songcheng University. I saw it as some kind of destiny and was thrilled. So I dragged you into this to have more contact with her."
"Good. Reasonable enough," Cai Zongming took a few steps and suddenly burst into laughter. "Look, Cheng! Isn't that your goddess?"
With his heart thumping, Lou Cheng looked ahead following the direction Cai Zongming was pointing. Outside the main entrance of the Martial Arts Club gym there was a set of stairs with nine steps, on which he saw a girl in red and white traditional Han costume standing. Her small face was delicate and beautiful with exquisite features—a classic beauty from the south of the Yangtze River. She was Yan Zheke, the perfect girl Lou Cheng had constantly been thinking about. Her mother was from the south of the Yangtze River.
Lou Cheng was stunned. It was the first time he saw Yan Zheke in a Han costume. How gorgeous!
"How come she is working for the Martial Arts Club as a ceremonial usherette?" asked Lou Cheng with a confused look after he recovered from the shock.
She was also a freshman and the orientation was to take place today!
Cai Zongming laughed. "Simple. A girl of her league must have been contacted in advance by those senior members. Even if they can't win her heart, they can at least use her to promote the Martial Arts Club! Not like you, loser!"
"Aren't you the same…" Lou Cheng struck back.
"Well, actually, I'm not. I'm an Amateur-Fifth-Pin master, a future backbone for the Martial Arts Club…" Next, Cai seemed disturbed by some thought, "They should have contacted me in advance as well. An Amateur Fifth Pin is quite rare in Songcheng University Martial Arts Club. This year's freshmen are of this high quality? Besides that legendary Lin Que, would there be many of Amateur Third or Fourth Pin?"
While listening to Cai Zongming, Lou Cheng stared calmly at Yan Zheke standing on the steps like a star in the spotlight, outstanding and gorgeous, attracting all the attention. Many were probably ashamed of their appearance in front of her.
"Well, back to business. Cheng, here is a chance for you," Cai stopped talking to himself.
Lou Cheng turned and looked at him with dazed eyes. "What chance?"
"A chance to accost her! A chance to draw her attention." Cai Zongming heartily sympathized with this low-EQ pal.
"Accost her..." Looking at Yan Zheke from afar, Lou Cheng stammered, "Me?"
He had never accosted anyone before and was never thinking about it. Would it be a good idea?
Cai Zongming shook his head and tut-tutted, "Though it mainly depends on your appearance and eloquence, you will never succeed if you don't dare to give it a try. On most occasions, girls may condemn cowards. Don't you adore her? What kind of adoration is it if you don't even dare to pursue? Besides, you are very likely to succeed according to my analysis. She might not even consider it as accosting."
"Why?" Lou Cheng became interested.
"Has the crush reduced your IQ? You two were schoolmates from the same city. What a perfect start! Being in this strange land, far away from acquaintances, she will certainly regard you as her first choice when it comes to boys," Cai began to give an eloquent speech. "Imagine a young girl who has gone so far away from home for further education. Surrounded by strangers, how insecure she must be feeling now. Anyone with some common ground would be ideal for her to make friends with. As the saying goes, when two fellow townsmen meet each other, tears run down from four eyes. Not to mention you were once in the same grade of the same school! There are too many things for you guys to talk about, and the gap between you two is narrow.
"Just pretend to run into her and recognize her by chance. There is a ninety percent probability that you will get her QQ number or mobile number. Well, don't go too deep with her on your first encounter. Get her QQ number and retreat."
Lou Cheng carefully listened with a pounding heart. He was very tempted, as what Casanova just said made perfect sense.
However, he soon sank into another hesitation. "But a man average as me doesn't deserve her. I don't know if I can provide her the life she wants. Err... I'd better not…"
That was what would be called as diffidence.
Cai Zongming was shocked for quite a while.
"Cheng, isn't that too much at this moment? You don't even know each other yet, and you are already thinking about your married life with her? Your imagination impresses me…"
Giving Lou Cheng no chance to ponder further, Cai continued to persuade him. "Cheng, your intention to show responsibility and self-knowledge is good, but don't be a coward like this. We are in our first year in a pretty damn good university doing an okay major. Four years of hard study should easily get us a decent job after graduation. Don't you have this confidence? Or you are just going to be a quitter? Improve yourself and push yourself for her. Making yourself a better man for the one you love is true responsibility. Otherwise, your love for her will only move yourself. What counts is conscientiousness!"
Lou Cheng was amazed by Cai's words.
Cai Zongming waved his fist and jumped to another topic. "Nothing is set yet. It remains unknown whether you can win her heart or not. Your chance is pretty small... Err... Come on! Cheng, no regret. We try and try. The aspiring youth express no anxiety!"
Cai's speech turned Lou Cheng into an aggressive young man. His blood was boiling as he tried to suppress all the hesitation and concerns. Lou heavily nodded.
"I'll have a try!"
"Yes! Youth knows no failure!"
Looking at Yan Zheke's beautiful figure in red and white, Lou Cheng plucked up courage and was about to approach.
All of a sudden, Cai Zongming held him back.
"What's the matter?" Lou Cheng could feel his blood boiling.
Cai Zongming grinned. "Cheng, calm down. Your face is red like a monkey bum. She would be able to tell your attempt easily. Buy yourself a bottle of ice water to cool down first."
"Wow, Casanova, you are so experienced," Lou Cheng felt the heat on his face and almost stammered.
How exciting and frightening!
A good idea flashed across his mind. He took the opposite direction, ran away from the grand venue for a hundred meters and returned. By the time he passed Cai Zongming on his way back, he could barely catch his breath.
"You..." Cai Zongming was lost for a second before he got the point. He gave a thumbs-up, "Smart!"
A red face from running should be enough to cover his blush.
While Lou Cheng's heart was racing, his pace slowed down out of timidity. Soon, he picked up his pace and moved away from Cai. He clenched his hands and talked to himself, "Umm, at least I'll give it a try!"
He kept motivating himself while running toward the gymnasium and the beautiful figure in red and white.
Looking at his back, Cai Zongming hurriedly said, "Keep it short. You just met each other. Don't make it awkward. Leave a good impression for the future."
Lou Cheng waved to acknowledge his understanding and kept his pace up to get it done in one vigorous effort.
"This is youth..." A man with gray hair in his 70s or 80s was watching Lou Cheng from under a street tree by the pavement and got a bit sentimental. "I was once a young man just like him…"
Everyone has their youth!