First Published on Chaleuria
024a – All the other kids have gone to play basketball.
Very early in the morning, Wan Da gathered his things and headed to the cafeteria for breakfast. When he turned, he saw Shen Jie holding a pack of soymilk heading up the stairs, and waved and said hello.
He had met Shen Jie during an exam where they had forged a friendship through comparing their answers and cheating together. Although they didn’t talk often, they always had an inexplicable feeling of camaraderie when they met.
Shen Jie was about to reach the third floor landing when he heard a shout. “Hey, Know-It-All.”
“Why are you at the dorms?” Wan Da walked over. “Looking for Zhao-ge?”
Wan Da saw the bag in Shen Jie’s hand swinging back and forth and felt the impulse to grab it and spin around in circles. “Yes.”
Wan Da remembered that He Zhao had skipped morning classes and the subject teachers were all very angry about it. He said in understanding, “Zhao-ge asked you to come get him? Not a morning person, huh.”
“Comrade Know-It-All, what do you take Zhao-ge for?” Shen Jie asked. “Does he look like the sort of person who would ask people to come get him in order to not be late for class? You think too highly of him.”
Wan Da: “…Indeed, I was too naive.”
Shen Jie continued, “Your class’s new form teacher… he’s not bad.”
“Ah, right, the one surnamed Tang.”
Class 2.3 had gone through the perturbations of changing form teachers together. When they wrote the petition, a feeling of rising up for great justice had rippled through the whole second year class. Wan Da smiled and said, “Old Tang is quite a good guy.”
Shen Jie: “Really formidable. Never seen anything like this before.”
Tang Sen had not only called He Zhao over to have a very long and ugly conversation, he had even tried to understand He Zhao’s soul on a deeper level. Eventually, he had even called Shen Jie over.
This was the first time Shen Jie had been called to the office by a teacher from a different class. He drank two cups of piping hot tea and sat there, unsure what to do with himself. “Sir, I’m from Class 2.8.”
Tang Sen said kindly: “I know you’re from class 8.”
“I quite like the students in my class. They’re cordial and friendly, and students and teachers help each other, moving forward hand in hand. I’m quite happy and don’t have any intention to change classes right now.” Shen Jie felt like the teacher was eyeing him strangely and wondered if Tang Sen was trying to poach him.
In the end, Tang Sen explained that he had sent for Shen Jie in the hopes that Shen Jie could help He Zhao.
“I looked into it and you have quite a good relationship with our He Zhao. I think that, in his heart, he does want to come to class, but the difficulty lies in fighting the draw of his bed and winning. He doesn’t have much self-control. If possible, would you invite him to come to class with you? Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Shen Jie was a little shocked but still replied, “Sure, sure, sure, I will.”
Tang Sen continued, “I know that young people like you have rich night lives. I also want to understand what video games you young people are playing these days. Do you know if He Zhao has been playing any video games recently?”
“What games is Zhao-ge playing these days?” Wan Da asked.
“It’s a little hard to talk about.” Shen Jie stopped swinging the plastic bag in his hands. His expression was complicated as he said, “…Miracle. Miracle Nikki.”
Wan Da: “…Hah?”
The two talked as they walked upstairs. Wan Da wasn’t sure why he was following along, but by the time he realized what he was doing, he and Shen Jie were both standing in front of He Zhao’s door.
Shen Jie’s mission today was to drag Zhao-ge from his blankets.
He happened to have a key to He Zhao’s room. He had bugged He Zhao on the first day of school for half a day before getting his hands on it. The winds of fortune had blown his way: when he wanted to skip class, he could go to the dorms and hide out in perfect comfort.
Shen Jie opened the door and said, “Let me release your seal, Zhao-ge! Although the bed may trap your body, it cannot trap your soul.… Get up, and come with me…”
Shen Jie cut himself off halfway.
Wan Da urged him from behind: “Still sleeping? Just shake him awake.”
Wan Da walked up, glanced inside the dorm room, and was also stunned speechless.
“Can you hit me?”
“You… hit me, too.”
The beds in the dorm room were singles where more than one occupant would make for a tight squeeze.
The thermostat was turned down low and a gust of cold air had rushed out the moment the door opened.
Xie Yu’s head was pillowed on He Zhao’s arm. His back was to the door and it looked like he was lying in He Zhao’s embrace from where Shen Jie was standing.
A corner of the blanket lay against He Zhao’s waist. Most of the comforter was covering Xie Yu.
Half of Xie Yu’s face was covered by his hair, revealing only his nose and chin. Probably disturbed by the noise, he frowned in his sleep and subconsciously burrowed deeper into the blanket.
This movement, in turn, disturbed He Zhao.
Shen Jie watched as He Zhao, in a very natural movement, raised the arm Xie Yu was using as a pillow. His hand moved, turned, and landed on the back of Xie Yu’s head, fingers threading lightly into Xie Yu’s hair as he murmured, “…Don’t fuss.”
Wan Da calmed down. He wasn’t sure what to say and eventually just said, “Wo-ow.”
“Maybe it’s not what we’re thinking.” At last, Shen Jie closed the door and sat in the stairwell with Wan Da, thinking hard. The soymilk was left on the floor. “We’re definitely thinking too far in the wrong direction.”
Wan Da asked, “Does Zhao-ge let you lie in his bed, too?”
Shen Jie didn’t even need to think about it. “Impossible. The moment I lie down he’ll certainly kick me off.”
The conversation died again.
Wan Da patted Shen Jie’s shoulder. “Your responsibility is heavy. Bro, I’m gonna go. Class is about to start.”
Xie Yu’s circadian rhythm was very accurate and he slept lightly. Shen Jie opening the door just now had already half woken him up.
He lay on the bed, intentionally dawdling for several minutes. When he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was He Zhao’s Adam’s apple.
Shen Jie was still sitting on the stairs in deep thought.
Then he heard something crash onto the ground behind him with a dull thud, followed by Zhao-ge’s cursing: “Fuck it.”
Morning class was Tang Sen’s literature reading period. He Zhao was already more than ten minutes late.
“Can you walk faster?” Xie Yu was supporting him and he was already frustrated by the time they arrived at the base of the class building.
He Zhao, who was holding soymilk, shot back, “…Whose fault is this?”
Bright and early in the morning, he had been kicked out of bed by Xie Yu and his right ankle had crashed straight into the chair.
When they reached the floor their classroom was on, they could see from afar that Tang Sen was waiting outside the classroom doorway. He paced back and forth in the corridor, something in his hand.
He Zhao had almost finished the cup of soymilk in his hand. He raised his arm and tossed it toward the trash can, the cup making an elegant arc.
It didn’t swerve or miss. It landed perfectly.
“The Spanish Inquisition is lying in wait,” He Zhao laughed. “Sorry. You might end up standing in the corridor with me.”
For some unknown reason, the more Xie Yu interacted with He Zhao, the more he got the impression that most of He Zhao’s smiles were a habitual facade. Right now, for example, he didn’t actually seem all that happy.
He Zhao thought that Tang Sen had come to interrogate them, but Mr. Tang stopped the stopwatch in his hand and patted He Zhao’s back. “Thirteen minutes and twenty-six seconds. Classmate He Zhao, that’s a big improvement from yesterday.”
He Zhao: “…Ah?”
Mr. Tang put the watch away and said, “What’s the matter with your foot? Quick, go to the nurse’s office to take a look.”
Before He Zhao could react, Tang Sen had already bent down to inspect He Zhao’s ankle. He said, worried, “Xie Yu, you go to class first. I’ll take him to the nurse’s office.”
Xie Yu’s liking for Mr. Tang promptly increased quite a lot. He was about to agree when He Zhao said, “Today, this guy has to be responsible for me till the end.”
Xie Yu: “…I should’ve broken your other leg, too.”
Liu Cunhao was halfway through reciting a poem. He stopped and whispered in Wan Da’s ear, “Zhao-ge’s leg injury today looks very realistic.”
When He Zhao was late for class, he always had an excuse at the ready.
Class 3 was already guessing what excuse Zhao-ge would have for being late today.
[Eng Rep – Xu Qingqing]: Didn’t get it right. This time Zhao-ge’s excuse is really exciting.
[Class Rep – Liu Cunhao]: Do you remember the day school started, when he made Shen Jie say he had something gastric? Shen Jie still gets dragged by Zhao-ge to the nurse’s office to get medicine sometimes.
[Gym Rep – Luo Wenqiang]: Why?
[Class Rep – Liu Cunhao]: Zhao-ge says it’s to make a useless thing useful. Might need the excuse next time. If he has to act, he’s gotta act to the very end.
[Eng Rep – Xu Qingqing]: ……
Liu Cunhao finished chatting, then secretively stuffed his phone away. The he discovered that Wan Da, who was usually the King of Gossip, hadn’t moved. “What happened to you today? Upset?”
Wan Da shook his head: “I suffered trauma this morning.”
Wan Da’s phone was vibrating constantly, but it wasn’t from Class 3’s private group chat. It was from some Feng Feng or Yan Yan, whom he wasn’t sure he even knew. After being single for seventeen years, who would’ve known that he’d also be surrounded by girls one day.
–What’s the phone number for He Zhao from your class? Just give it to me, I promise I won’t say I got it from you.
–Da Da, we’ve known each other for so many years. Help me out? I wrote a letter and want to give it to Xie Yu. Could you give it to him for me?
–Damn you grandpa what’s taking you so long! Are we friends?! It’s taking you so much effort just to bring He Zhao out. The lifelong happiness of your sisters is in your hands.
–Does He Zhao have a girlfriend? What kind of girls does he like?
Wan Da had a splitting headache.
Don’t ask! The two of them might not like girls at all!! Ahh!!
Note from the translator: As chapter 24 is 10K words raw, which is about 3 times the length of an average chapter in this book, this chapter will be split into 3 parts.