“Change, change scene… You are meeting with the lover of the male lead.”
Ning Yu Ren flared her nostrils, glared and shouted with all her might, “I am so jealous of you! Why does he love you but not me!”
“…Don’t come here, don’t come here, change to the break up scene.”
Ning Yu Ren still flared her nostrils, glared and shouted with all her might, “I hate you! I was with you for so long! You actually want to break up with me?”
“… Can’t you use another expression? Besides flaring your nostrils, flaring your nostrils and flaring your nostrils, do you not have any other expressions?”
Ning Yu Ren turned red, she tried very hard to regulate her next expression, then flared her nostrils, glared and shouted with all her might, “How is it now? Is it better?”
Chen Guan Chao raised his hands to surrender, then took out his wallet and handed a note over to her, “I will pay for your transportation, please go back to wherever you came from.”
Ning Yu Ren did not take his money, she looked down and fought her tears.
“Hold on.” Ning Ning suddenly rushed over and pulled her outside.
With such poor acting skills, this couldn’t be her mother. Ning Ning knew deep down that this was a movie. Although it was said to be adapted from a true story, a lot of things were just not right Director Chen was not like Director Chen, Mama was not like Mama, a lot of things were weird…
At a corner with no one around, Ning Ning let go of her hands then turned around and looked at the person behind her.
This face…as long as she saw this face, she would not be able to deny that this was all real.
“Who are you?” Ning Ning asked gently.
The other person was surprised. “I am Ning Yu Ren….”
“No!” Ning Ning was flustered by the interruption even though she was the one who interrupted Ning Yu Ren mid-sentence. She didn’t even know where to place her hands and feet. She licked her lips and cautiously told Ning Yu Ren, “There is no such person in the script. Who are you? Phantom of the Theater? Wealthy Lady? Stage performer? Spectator of the play? Before…before you act, you have to characterise yourself — who are you?”
Ning Ning was too nervous, she even made Ning Yu Ren felt nervous she stuttered, “I, I, I, I don’t know.”
“How about the Phantom?” Ning Ning’s eyes twinkled and smiled feverishly. “Of course it’s the Phantom, it has to be the phantom! The other characters are not good enough for you! Wealthy Lady? The former star of the theater? No no no, even I could act as these characters, not to mention the other miscellaneous characters…”
She paused her speech because she saw Ning Yu Ren took a few steps back, the expression she had while looking at Ning Ning was slightly filled with fear.
“…I’m sorry, I was overzealous.” Ning Ning said, her left hand grabbing her right armpit, fingers forcefully pinching her flesh, reminding herself with the pain, ‘It’s not real, nothing is real, none of this is real at all.’
…But even if it was fake, even if it was just a fake person who looked like her mother, she could not resist treating her well. This might be a kind of self comfort, but what did it matter?
“Don’t be scared.” Ning Ning looked at her with a smile. “I won’t harm you, I only want to help you.”
I will help you, because helping you would be like helping my mother. For you to live well, is like me watching my mother live well.
“O, okay…” Ning Yu Ren nodded her head repeatedly. She looked like she didn’t really believed Ning Ning and only did so because she was afraid of her. “I believe you…”
Ning Ning immediately turned cheerful, reaching out and covering Ning Yu Ren’s eyes while gently saying, “Then we will do this again.”
Ning Yu Ren shivered a little when Ning Ning’s fingers touched her. “What, what are we doing?”
“The three scenes you just did, let me demonstrate them once — as the Phantom.” Ning Ning did not move her hands which seemingly lack temperature, she only lowered her voice. “Most of the time the Phantom would not reveal himself directly to another person. His presence was represented by his voice, so you have to take note of your vocalisation…”
She had learned this from Chen Jun Yan. He was an expert on using his voice. He could portray the same sentence with a difference voice and emotion based on the environment and his needs…He he, now that she thought about it, his sweet talks were always laced with lies.
“Come, listen to me carefully.” Ning Ning slowly got closer to Ning Yu Ren and repeated the three sentences from before with different voices and emotions.
“I love you.”
“I am jealous of you.”
“I hate you!”
Goosebumps appeared on Ning Yu Ren’s body as the last three words were spoken.
Ning Ning was still unwilling to let her go, she gently laughed, “Come, give it a try.”
Ning Yu Ren bit her pale lips, then opened her trembling mouth.
“I love you!”
“I am jealous of you.”
“I hate you.”
Not far from this, the Director and Chen Guan Chao had witnessed everything.
“Such a waste of time.” Chen Guan Chao didn’t express any opinion on Ning Yu Ren’s performance, he felt that Ning Ning performed better. “The gap between the two of them is too wide.”
“That is because you have not met a lot of people.” The Director gazed at Ning Yu Ren instead, then tugged Chen Guan Chao and signalled for him to leave together so that the girls wouldn’t hear what he had to say next. “You favour Wen Xiao Ning. She is indeed not bad, but she has a fatal flaw. So on the contrary, I favour Ning Yu Ren more. She does have a lot of flaws but she has a very outstanding merit…”
“What merit? Why can’t I see it?” Chen Guan Chao asked in a straightforward manner, “Don’t tell me you’ve gone senile?”
The Director clenched down on the script in his hands. It was a feat for this kid to be able to live this long, if he was not the son of an old friend and the investor of this film, the Director would have long pushed him into the well in front and throw a few rocks down.
“Just wait and see.” The Director had wanted to tell him the reason, but suddenly decided not to. He didn’t want to be straightforward with Chen Guan Chao anymore. He turned and glanced towards the direction of the two girls and downplayed it, “The preparations will require three to four months anyway, just put the two of them together. We will at most get them to phase two of the training, all the merits and flaws would reveal themselves.”
Thus, both Ning Ning and Ning Yu Ren received the notification that both of them had passed the selection and became the reserve actresses for the role of the Phantom. They had to live in Orchid Theater, there would be specialised drama teachers who will teach them everything about performing arts, allowing them to be closer to the characterisation of the Phantom.
Ning Yu Ren’s lessons were more comprehensive in comparison because just arrived from a county. She still had the accent of someone from the countryside. The Director had insisted for her not to be dubbed over, so she had to have an extra lesson in speech correction. When the timetables were given out, Ning Yu Ren took a look and was almost suffocated, but what was even more suffocating was…looking at Ning Ning who was beside her.
“Orchid Theater is very well-established, before the theater was built, this used to be a big house during the Republic.”
Along with Chen Guan Chao’s introduction, Ning Ning walked into the courtyard. Although most of the things had been torn down, there were still some broken tiles left. She quietly stood under a very very old plum tree, reaching out and touching the rugged tree trunk. The branches were empty, without leaves or flowers.
“Then the war started, so my grandfather took his whole family to America. The reason he let me come back this time was not only to invest in the construction of his homeland, but also to buy this place over… I guess this was bought as a souvenir.” Chen Guan Chao strutted in front of them and opened a door to a room in front.
“Oh em gee, this place is so rundown.” The Socialite followed them into the door while dragging along her luggage. She looked at the surroundings and immediately furrowed her brows. “You can bear to let me stay in this kind of place?”
“This was actually the boudoir of the eldest young mistress, although it was the eldest daughter of a kidnapper.” Chen Guan Chao stumbled. He looked at what he had stepped on then gave it a kick, the thing rolled all the way to the feet of Ning Ning. She looked down and picked it up, it was the head of a blonde doll. Due to the passage of time, one of its blue eyes were missing, the once dazzling blonde hair had already faded and withered.
Besides the Socialite, a few other people who agreed to accept the closed door training began to place their luggage in the room. The Socialite folded her arms and looked at them, looked over to Chen Guan Chao and said, “Is there no better, cleaner room?”
“There’s none.” Chen Guan Chao said, “This is the best room here, even the kidnapper’s room cannot be compared to this.”
“What do you mean by kidnapper?” Ning Ning suddenly asked.
‘Someone finally asked! I can finally brag about the glorious achievements of my ancestors!’ Chen Guan Chao laughed out loud, struck a cool pose and told the crowd, “My grandfather and grandmother were once kidnapped by the kidnapper. There were a lot more people who were also kidnapped, one of them was the grandson of a shipping tycoon. It was all due to the resourcefulness of my grandfather that they managed to destroy the nest of the evil kidnapper and the circus that he owned, hence saving everyone!”
“What happened to the eldest young mistress?” The Socialite asked.
“She died.” Chen Guan Chao laughed, “ She was burned to death by my grandmother along with her father.”
“Oh em gee? People had died here?” The Socialite shrunk her shoulders, she was even more unwilling to stay here, “Then, then I think I will stay in another room!”
There were a lot of rooms left anyway, so Chen Guan Chao brought her to another room and spent some time to console her. When he came back he had lipstick on his face which he failed to clean up properly. He lifted the chins of Ning Ning and Ning Yu Ren, “Follow me.”
He brought them to the cellar. Ning Yu Ren reached out and swatted the spider web in front of her and trembled, “What, what have you brought us here for?”
“The two of you will stay here.” Even Chen Guan Chao himself choked on the dust and coughed. He rubbed his nose, and said with a little nasally voice, “The Phantom had lived below the theater all their life, passing days without seeing daylight,.. cough. I feel that allowing you two to live somewhere similar,.. cough, cough,.. will let you better grasp the Phantom’s mental state. Cough, cough, cough… Forget it! I will get someone to clean this place up tomorrow! As of now,.. cough, cough, cough, cough! It’s impossible to live in!”
He turned around and wanted to walk away. After taking a few steps, he turned back as he held his flashlight, shaking a beam of white light at what was in front of him, “Hey, what are you doing?”
In the darkness, Ning Ning stood beside a coffin. She reached out and brushed off the dust on it, then gently asked, “What is this?”
Chen Guan Chao had two fingers on his forehead, groaned like he was constipated, had an epiphany and finally said with a snap of his fingers, “I remember now. My grandmother told me, the kidnapper had a servant with the surname Wang who had always been accumulating savings for the coffins for her two masters. She even wanted to reclaim their ashes. After my grandmother found out about it, she ordered someone to beat her to death…Ha, I didn’t expect her to have saved enough for her coffin, just that she couldn’t use it for the kidnapper nor herself.”
Ning Ning’s hand which was brushing off the dust stopped in its tracks. She mumbled in the darkness, “Is that so? Wang Ma is already dead…”
Chen Guan Chao didn’t put two and two together, but Ning Yu Ren trembled a little. Chen Guan Chao only said that the servant’s surname was Wang, but he didn’t say whether the servant was a male or female, why did Ning Ning address them as Wang Ma?1
“Let’s go, I will get someone to remove the coffin tomorrow and bring beds for the two of you.” Chen Guan Chao shined the flashlight on Ning Ning, “Why are you not leaving?”
“…leave?” Ning Ning laughed, “Isn’t this place, just right for sleeping?”
That laughter was mournful, it had hints of a cry, echoing in the cellar, not dissipating for a while.
On another look, Ning Ning had already slowly opened the lid of the coffin, bowed down and inspected it. It was as if she would fall head first in the next second. Two breaths were simultaneously taken, Chen Guan Chao and Ning Yu Ren looked at each other, then noisily rushed out of the door.
1Wang Ma was never her name it was her surname Wang(王) with the suffix Ma(妈), which indicates that she is an older woman.