First Published on Chaleuria
025 – Thrilling and joyous
He Zhao sunk into an emotional reverie and couldn’t extricate himself. He had moved himself, but he hadn’t moved the math teacher.
The math teacher corrected about half the homework, then asked the class rep to retrieve the set square from Class 5 so he could use it in class later. As he looked up he saw He Zhao using his workbook to shield his deskmate from the sun.
He put down the red pen. He didn’t alert them directly; instead, he calmly watched them for a while. Other students noticed something wasn’t right and followed his gaze.
This really was a scene full of love for a classmate.
So touching, it moved the sky and earth.
He Zhao considered switching the workbook for the textbook in order to provide more shade. While he deliberated, a tiny piece of white chalk flew from the podium and hit his head with perfect accuracy.
The chalk bounced off, landed on the ground, and leisurely rolled to a halt by the wastepaper bin.
The math teacher wasn’t sure whether to be mad or to laugh. “The two of you in the last row, do you think I don’t exist?”
On hearing this, He Zhao’s hand slipped. The exercise book fell and landed right on Xie Yu’s face.
Xie Yu was jolted awake.
He had only just fallen asleep and his mind was still foggy so soon after being woken up. He forgot that he was attending morning self-study. Without even opening his eyes, he cursed at He Zhao, “Do you want to die?”
Another piece of chalk came flying in their direction.
Wu Zheng had taught for nearly ten years and his chalk-throwing skills were honed to perfection. Students who shirked class or fell asleep were all awakened this way.
Every throw was perfectly accurate.
The effect was prominent, and it saved him time in class.
Xie Yu got hit twice before he figured out what was going on.
He Zhao dodged as he said, “Mr. Wu, I think we should all calm down…”
Calm down, my ass. Wu Zheng nearly cursed out loud but he tamped it down through sheer will. He didn’t intend to keep talking nonsense with them and pointed at the doorway. “Get out. You both get out and calm down. You want to calm down, right? Calm down nice and good.”
It was early in the morning, and Xie Yu hadn’t gotten enough sleep. He and He Zhao leaned against the window outside Class 2.3.
The first class period was also math. Wu Zheng’s temper was slow to cool and he made them wait until the class bell rang before they could return to their seats when the class bell rang. So, in between self-study and first period, they stood by the doorway like bellhops.
In the corridor, people came and went.
“While I can still control myself,” Xie Yu said, “You’d better explain this.”
He Zhao: “I’m afraid that if I say it you’ll be too moved.”
Xie Yu really wasn’t in a good mood. Since a young age, the philosophy he had cultivated was to avoid talking to idiots, and to just grab them and beat them up instead. He endured, then endured some more, then decided to give He Zhao one last chance. “Are you explaining or not?”
He Zhao hadn’t even the chance to speak before Wan Da stuck his head out the window and tilted it. He said, “What a touching story with a tragic ending. Very impressive, Zhao-ge. You even blocked the sun for Yu-ge, but in the end, this poignant gesture touched only you alone.”
He Zhao: “Da Da, how can you say that? You can’t say that.”
Wan Da: “No—look at Yu-ge’s expression. I think Yu-ge really wants to take your head off and use it as a soccer ball right now.”
He Zhao confidently said, “Not possible. Although my deskmate seems heartless, I believe he’s really very kind.”
Xie Yu understood the gist of what happened via Wan Da’s rambling. He exhaled slowly, rolled up his sleeves to reveal half his forearms, then grabbed He Zhao’s collar and dragged him towards the toilets.
“What are you doing?” He Zhao was rather cooperative and followed Xie Yu some of the way. “Asking big bro on a date to the bathroom?”
“Finding a different place to beat you up.”
Wan Da was overcome with joy. He leaned against the window and laughed out loud for a long time.
Shen Jie was walking toward them from the far end of the corridor. He felt in his pocket for a cigarette, preparing to hide in the bathroom for a smoke. He stopped as he passed Class 2.3 out of habit to say hi to his Zhao-ge. Glancing in, he saw that He Zhao’s seat was empty.
He leaned close to Wan Da and asked, “What are you laughing about? Where is Zhao-ge?”
Wan Da explained the situation to Shen Jie, whose desire for a smoke had vanished. “Damn it, I’m going over there to watch.”
Xie Yu had said he was going to beat He Zhao up, but he was just posturing and didn’t really show his skills.
They turned back before they even reached the bathroom door.
“All right, all right, I surrender.” He Zhao threw an arm around Xie Yu from behind, pushing him ahead. He cajoled, as if he were speaking to a child, “Let’s not fuss any more.”
Xie Yu wasn’t really angry.
When Wan Da had said, “block the sun,” Xie Yu had been stunned for several seconds.
Then something strange had happened in his head. A strange feeling had emerged, and he grew more and more frustrated the more he thought about it. He became so frustrated that only one simple solution remained in his mind.
…Beat the person who caused it.
Shen Jie grew more worried the more he looked. “What the hell are they doing?”
He Zhao didn’t resort to violence easily, but his skills were still very good. Shen Jie had initially thought he would get to witness a showdown between the ‘big bro of the year’ and the ‘old big bro,’ something with a coolness factor so high it emitted its own special aura.
Wan Da, in recent days, had accepted that these two had a bromance so strong it shut out any other friends, and now he spat out another word: “…Flirting?!”
Shen Jie: “……”
There were eight class periods today and all of them were going over their respective chapter tests, solidifying the class content that had been taught over the last month in preparation for the monthly tests, which would begin next Monday.
He Zhao lowered his head to look at his phone. When both it and his power bank ran out of power, he took a break and folded origami.
After he folded one, he tossed it on Xie Yu’s desk.
He made a lot of things: roses, little jumping frogs, and everything else he could think of.
“My side of the desk isn’t a rubbish dump,” Xie Yu reminded him.
He Zhao didn’t say anything and continued to fold paper with his head bowed.
Xie Yu swept all the origami he threw over to the side.
He had to pretend he wasn’t listening, while simultaneously dividing his attention between his phone game and the long problem question the teacher was explaining. He had no attention to waste on He Zhao.
He Zhao was also very attentively folding origami. He held a piece of paper about the size of a post-it between his fingers, folding it back and forth.
Compared to the things he folded, his slender, fine-boned fingers were better eye candy.
“So with the rules we established just now, we can eliminate one of the answers. Do you know which one?” Wu Zheng held a long ruler in his hand. Every time he touched it to the board it made out a loud clack. “If you didn’t understand it, then just give up. This question is beyond what’s covered in the syllabus, so you actually don’t have to do it…”
None of the students were speaking. This type of complicated question, which required comparatively more effort than the results it produced, wasn’t interesting.
Only Xue Xisheng raised his hand. “Teacher, which one do we eliminate? I still don’t really get it.”
“Come to the office after class and I’ll explain it,” Wu Zheng explained. “That’s all for this mock exam. Correct your answers, and class rep, collect the papers before the end of the day.”
The class bell rang as Wu Zheng finished speaking.
“Hey.” He Zhao drew close to Xie Yu and spoke in his ear.
Xie Yu was looking down at his phone, deleting from his notes app one of the two answers he had narrowed it down to. He deleted ‘negative one’ and kept ‘zero.’ “What do you want?”
The next period was gym. He Zhao was still injured and couldn’t play any sports yet, but breathing in the fresh air at the basketball courts was still something he looked forward to. It was better than staying in the classroom, anyway.
Xie Yu didn’t intend to go. He hadn’t slept well recently and was prepared to go back to the dorm to sleep.
“You’re really not going?” He Zhao asked.
Xie Yu turned off his phone and reflexively concluded the conversation. “What business is it of yours?”
“What’s the fun in staying in the dorm? Is there anyone as suave as your Zhao-ge to keep you company?”
The instigator of the entire sequence of unfortunate events really still dared to speak.
The night he and He Zhao did the English paper, they had stayed up till two or three in the morning.
When Xie Yu prepared to leave, He Zhao did everything he could think of to make him stay. He even said he’d let Xie Yu take the bed and claimed he’d sleep on the floor. In the end, he had still crept into the bed to sleep.
It was 4 a.m. by the time they went to bed. If not, with how light a sleeper Xie Yu typically was, He Zhao wouldn’t have successfully crawled into the bed.
Wan Da and the others grabbed their gym clothes, waiting for He Zhao so they could go downstairs together. “Zhao-ge, are you coming? I can’t hold back any longer. I think I’m in top form today.”
He Zhao stood up, about to go to the basketball court. As he left, he bent and stuck his hand in front of Xie Yu, a messily folded paper crane in his palm. “For you.”
And loose and crumpled at that.
Xie Yu picked up the crooked-necked paper crane by the wing, and the crane came apart at his touch. “…What the hell is this.”
Since it was falling apart, Xie Yu just took it apart and flattened it into a piece of paper. He was about to shove it into He Zhao’s math book when he noticed the other side of the paper had a very messy circle in black ink on it.
When He Zhao came back from gym class, his mood was worse than when he had left. He stuck his hands in his pocket and strolled lazily into class.
Wan Da, on the other hand, was very excited. The moment he entered the room, he went to the podium and said loudly, “Friends staying for evening self-study tonight, I have an announcement to make. I just came up with an excellent idea for a thrilling and joyous weekend!”
He Zhao returned to his seat, sat down, and didn’t say anything.
Wan Da felt like no one was listening to him and looked a little embarrassed. He turned to look at the last row and pleaded for help: “Zhao-ge, won’t you applaud for me?”
Only now did He Zhao take his hands out and clap faintly a couple times. “Well said. Well said.”
Something was off about He Zhao. Xie Yu tilted his head to the side and asked, “What are you up to now?”
“That…” He Zhao didn’t want to say it.
He Zhao scratched his head. “Wan Da said he’d get everyone together on the weekend to go ghost-hunting. For the ghost that’s been going up and down the dorm building and knocking on doors.”
Wan Da had read a supernatural novel underneath his covers last night. The story followed several students who went to an abandoned building and the ensuing adventures. The plot was very exciting, the characters died one by one, and he couldn’t stop reading no matter how hard he tried.
As he read, he came up with a daring idea.
The more he thought about it, the more thrilling he found it.
Xie Yu felt that these idiotic thoughts were certainly the sort Wan Da and the others would come up with.
And Wan Da still said it would be both thrilling and joyous……
He Zhao was currently worrying. After a second, Xie Yu suddenly said, “Then, be quick.”
“Be quick to what?”
“Quickly read the Complete Guide to Exorcism again.”
Xie Yu thought about the book he had seen and couldn’t hold back his laughter. The moment he started, he couldn’t stop. “Review a little. Maybe you’ll find a use for it.”
He Zhao: “…Fuck, are you really—”