First Published on Chaleuria
035 – Someone who’ll do your homework for you, got it?
Xie Yu himself didn’t notice that the frustration and annoyance was disappearing from his body little by little.
He folded the note up again. The trash can was just beside him; he hesitated for two seconds but didn’t toss it.
There was something special about He Zhao.
His careless, casual attitude highlighted his colorful presence.
His grades were so bad it made people’s hair stand on end, and all the teachers got headaches just looking at him and weren’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Even so, after class, Wu Zheng would occasionally look for He Zhao to play soccer. “You, what did you say during math class? Come to the courtyard at noon and I’ll teach you a lesson.”
This didn’t have anything to do with Xie Yu but he was implicated every time He Zhao was reprimanded by name.
Wu Zheng then pointed at Xie Yu. “You come, too.”
So, at noon, after eating lunch, He Zhao dragged Xie Yu to the courtyard. Wan Da, Luo Wenqiang, and the others also came to make up numbers.
Wu Zheng’s team was well-populated. Aside from Old Tang and the history teacher from next door, even Dean Jiang was there.
Wu Zheng was talented at throwing chalk, but his soccer skills weren’t up to par. He sat in the office every day and didn’t exercise, after all, and he was getting on in years, so his physical skills couldn’t be compared to that of a young person.
“Let’s do this—in a bit, let’s play badly.” During half-time, He Zhao lowered his voice. “Let Mad Dog and the others score a few more goals.”
Wan Da said, “Zhao-ge, that’s a tall order. Their skills really are terrible. I’m not like you. This is too difficult of an act and I don’t think I can do it.”
He Zhao squatted and patted Wan Da’s head. “Difficult, my ass. I’ll teach you. When he’s trying to score, do this… kneel down, got it? Then look very frustrated and punch the ground to show your deep regret at making a mistake on the soccer field…”
Wan Da was a little stunned. “But that’s so exaggerated?”
“If you want to act, then do it yourself,” Xie Yu said as he squatted at the side, a bottle of water in his hand. He capped it. “Don’t drag other people into it.”
“This needs everyone’s cooperation,” He Zhao said. “And you’re not other people. You’re my deskmate.”
Before Xie Yu could reply, Luo Wenqiang was the first to stand up and refuse to cooperate. “Playing fake ball goes severely against the spirit of P.E.! I won’t agree to this!”
He Zhao: “……”
Out of respect for Old Wu’s soccer experience, they let him off. Wan Da took a leaf from He Zhao’s book and even did the fake fall. But Luo Wenqiang would rather die than play badly, so He Zhao took the script for ‘Worst Teammate’ and did his best to suffocate Contestant Luo Wenqiang’s performance.
Luo Wenqiang was in true pain. “Zhao-ge, what on earth are you doing? Which team are you on? …Yu-ge, do something about him.”
Xie Yu: “Why me? It’s none of my business.”
Wu Zheng and the others had a great time playing ball. They were energized and invigorated, and felt like they were 18 again.
They even made plans for the next game.
The noise in the study gradually grew fainter.
After listening to them fight for so long, Xie Yu had gotten the gist of it. In summary, Zhong Guofei had accidentally knocked to the ground a fountain pen Zhong Jie had received from his mother when he was young. The pen had broken and could no longer write.
And the problem which had remained unsolved for three years now exploded again.
Zhong Guofei thought that Zhong Jie was grown up now, so why was he still kicking up a fuss?
“Both of you calm down. There’s no point keeping on like this.” Gu Xuelan followed them out of the study.
Zhong Jie walked toward the door with the car keys in his hand. “Calm down? I’m very calm.”
Zhong Guofei was also angry. When Zhong Jie had lost his temper, he’d said many terrible things to him. But he still stood in the stairwell and said, “Come back. Where are you going? Where are you going to live if not at home?”
Zhong Jie didn’t even look back. Clearly, he was going to become a good-for-nothing bar-dweller who smelled of alcohol and loneliness.
There was no point in Xie Yu being at home. After meals he just went back to his room, sometimes to play games with Dalei.
Like that message Wan Da had sent when he got home: Got home. Salted fish. Like I’m drunk and dreaming.¹
“Don’t go over there! Help me out, will you?” Zhou Dalei was familiar with Xie Yu’s piss-poor attitude to online gaming. He’d never met a gamer more suited to solo play than Xie Yu. But knowing was one thing; after so many years, he still hadn’t gotten accustomed to it. “Boss Xie, do you see that I’m about to die? It’s not you getting hit, so you don’t feel the pain, do you? Ah, fuck, game over, game over.”
Xie Yu was unmoved. “You’re terrible at this.”
“I’m terrible at this?” Zhou Dalei said in a joking voice. “Who am I doing all this for? Who else would tolerate a teammate who’s more cruel than an enemy, huh?!
Xie Yu played two rounds, glanced at the time, and said, “You go on. I’m going offline.”
Zhou Dalei felt like he’d forgotten something. Only when Xie Yu said he was going offline did he hit his forehead and remember. “It’s Aunt Lan’s birthday today, isn’t it?”
“I almost forgot. Give my well-wishes to Aunt Lan for me—say I hope she gets more and more beautiful and that all things go as she wishes,” Dalei said, then complained, “Why didn’t you remind me?”
The guests downstairs still hadn’t left.
Although Madam Gu had made it very clear that she didn’t want any special birthday celebration, many people still trickled into the house and gifts piled up on the table.
Zhong Guofei held a high position in the business world. Although no one thought very well of Mrs. Zhong, they still presented the appropriate gifts.
“What for?” Xie Yu turned off the game and put one leg up on the edge of his chair. After staring at the computer for so long, he was a little tired. “Are you going to give plastic flowers again?”
Zhou Dalei said, “Don’t look down on plastic flowers. They’re fake, but they will never wilt. All my gifts are very practical.”
“Giving a scarf in the middle of summer is practical?”
Zhou Dalei would not admit his gift-giving skills were lacking. He tried to explain himself: “…Winter will come sooner or later.”
“Do I still have to compliment you?”
By six or seven in the evening, the visitors had mostly left.
The house finally quieted. The maid put away the fruit plates, mopped the floor, and wiped down the tables. Zhong Guofei saw the visitors out.
Gu Xuelan was tired. She was about to go upstairs but when she passed by the kitchen she saw Xie Yu inside, an apron around his waist, his sleeves folded up. He was holding a handful of vegetables, washing them carefully under the tap.
The water in the pot had just begun to boil and emitted steam. Xie Yu reached out and opened the lid, then put some noodles in. He did this with the ease of practice, without any dawdling.
Xie Yu wasn’t a stranger to the kitchen. Before, when Gu Xuelan had been busy with work and hadn’t had the time to take care of him, he had cooked for himself on days he didn’t go to Aunt Lei or Aunt Mei’s houses for dinner. A simple bowl of noodles or fried rice.
Gu Xuelan didn’t make a sound. She stood in the kitchen doorway and watched.
He made a very simple bowl of noodles. Green vegetables, a sprinkle of spring onion, and a fried egg.
He kept his head bowed, eyes attentive.
Gu Xuelan’s eyes filled with tears as she watched him. She turned around and covered her eyes with one hand.
Xie Yu didn’t say much. Madam Gu finished the noodles one bite at a time, and only then did he say, “Happy birthday, mom.”
Gu Xuelan nodded and made a soft noise of acknowledgement.
She couldn’t think of anything coy to say, either. In the end, she only replied, “It’s getting late. Get some sleep. You still have to go to class tomorrow.”
Tomorrow was Monday again. Xie Yu lay on the bed and was about to turn off his phone when the notification bar flashed with two messages. The timing was just right.
It came from QQ friend ‘He Zhao.’
Old Xie, I found something good.
Add Weixin 1502xxx7043, he’ll do your homework for you.
Xie Yu’s finger stilled on the screen. A second passed before he typed a question mark: ?
He Zhao: From our year. He specializes in doing your homework for you.
He Zhao: Shen Jie said this person is very capable. His prices are fair and he can even imitate your handwriting. He’s so good at it even Dean Jiang can’t tell.
He Zhao: And if he gets one wrong, he’ll do ten to make it up.
Xie Yu: So?
Xie Yu felt that his knowledge of being a slacker was still too limited. He simply wasn’t good enough.
Tell you via call. Is this a good time?
Although Xie Yu wasn’t interested, he still mustered up enough energy to reply, sure.
The next second, He Zhao sent an invitation.
Xie Yu didn’t look carefully at it and thought it was a normal voice call.
So, when he hit accept, He Zhao appeared in the middle of the screen wearing only a pair of underpants.
He Zhao hadn’t even toweled his hair. He stood barefoot on the ground, bent over by his bed going through his clothes. His shoulder blades and spine were drawn tight by the movement, and the red string still hung around his neck. The vigor only a youth could possess radiated from him.
Xie Yu was silent for two seconds, then said, “What are you doing? Showing off your damn black underwear?”
“Fuck.” He Zhao jumped, too. He picked up his clothes and looked back. “…What the hell.”
He Zhao had been busy putting on clothes and had accidentally hit the video call button instead.
The lighting on Xie Yu’s side wasn’t good—a little dark—but by the looks of it he was lying on his bed. He Zhao put on shirt and pants in a few swift movements. “Hand slipped. Hey, don’t look like that. Clearly you’re the one who benefited here. Your big bro’s body…”
“If nothing’s the matter, I’m hanging up.”
He Zhao stopped bragging about his body. “There was something. Right. The homework person.”
Xie Yu wasn’t sure why He Zhao had to talk one-on-one with him about someone who did homework for others. He asked, “Does he give a twenty percent discount for doing two sets of homework?”
“No,” He Zhao said. “Do you still have the piece of paper I gave you? What homework is there? Even I can’t tell what on earth I wrote on here.”
Xie Yu ‘greeted’ He Zhao calmly, with no trace of profanity. The general gist was to tell him to go somewhere cool. Then he prepared to cut the video call.
“Just try it! Maybe you and my handwriting have a special connection.”
“You’d better ask the homework guy if he and your handwriting have a special connection,” Xie Yu said. “Can he imitate this mess of yours?”
Xie Yu finished speaking and immediately hit end call. His phone screen returned to the home screen, where the icon of the Apple of Knowledge—he had forgotten to delete it—still lay quietly in the ‘Games’ folder. The patch of green was very eye-catching.
Before he knew it, night had fully fallen outside his window. Wind rushed in through the window from outside, bringing with it a touch of cold.
Xie Yu shut his eyes and his consciousness grew fainter. But he was somehow aware that summer was about to pass.
That hot and suffocating summer, when Zhou Dalei yelled through the phone, “F–king damn it stealing my violet weapon,” when He Zhao had pulled aside his black mask and smiled as he said, “I’m mixed blood from eight countries,” was about to pass.