First Published on Chaleuria
037 – Crossdressing Big Bro
They had gym class in the afternoon, so Luo Wenqiang said, “Sorry, sorry. I got too excited there. Let’s talk during gym class, then. If you want to participate, just come find me anytime.”
Xie Yu was a light sleeper. He heard someone talking, but he wasn’t listening closely.
Right before class started, Wu Zheng passed by their classroom and handed the homework to the class rep, who distributed it to the class. He was very energetic about handing out the papers, and even though people asked if they could help, he didn’t let them.
“Xie, Xie Yu…” The class rep read out the name, then looked up and locked eyes with his target.
The next second, an exercise book crash-landed next to Xie Yu’s head.
Xie Yu opened his eyes.
The class rep made a ‘Sorry’ hand motion. Xie Yu didn’t say anything and didn’t look at the exercise book before stuffing it into the desk drawer.
He Zhao was looking down at his phone to the side. He was wearing his earphones in, the cord winding out from his pocket.
When the class rep got to He Zhao, he called out, “Zhao-ge!”
He Zhao obligingly raised his hand to catch the ‘ball.’ After he caught it, he exclaimed in English: “Wo-ow, nice.”
“You’re awake?” After catching the exercise book, He Zhao turned to Xie Yu and asked, “…Where’s your homework?”
Xie Yu said, “What do you need it for?”
He Zhao was good at taking what he wanted, and now he leaned right over to Xie Yu’s side of the desk and looked in the desk drawer. “Just taking a look.”
Xie Yu didn’t stop him and didn’t hit his head with anything. He took the exercise book and slammed it onto the desk. “Take it and admire it and scram.”
On both his and He Zhao’s exercise books, from start to finish, there weren’t many big red checkmarks.
He Zhao flipped to the questions from this weekend and verified that Xie Yu hadn’t done a single one right, either, then contentedly closed it and put it back for him. “When I see how you’re doing I feel reassured.”
Xie Yu was still lying down, half his face obscured with his sleeve so that only his eyes showed. The warm breath he exhaled landed on the fabric of his sleeve, and he looked like a little animal that one wanted to reach out and pet. Of course, before one did so, they’d have to prepare to die. “What’s up with that?”
He Zhao pointed at a line of text on the blackboard: Wu Zheng’s writing, neat and boisterous.
—The two students who got everything wrong, go to the office during gym class. Be there or else.
“It happened when you were sleeping.” In the end, He Zhao couldn’t resist reaching out and ruffling Xie Yu’s hair. “Life’s like that. An endless amount of surprises.”
Xie Yu didn’t really mind and made a noise of assent. Really, he still seemed quite cold: from his expression to his voice, he was, all 360 degrees of him, cold. But He Zhao thought he must have been possessed—or perhaps it was just that Xie Yu’s hair was so soft. He actually thought that the emotionless killer, when he had just woken up, was just a little bit cute.
He Zhao continued, “Don’t worry. I’m here for you.”
At this point Xie Yu couldn’t continue agreeing.
The notice stayed on the blackboard through the next two class periods. Even though it didn’t mention their names directly, everyone knew who it referred to.
Wan Da was excited. “Shall we make a bet?”
Liu Cunhao said, “Do we need to bet on this? ‘The two students…’ who else would it be?”
Xu Qingqing: “Can you find a third person in our class who gets all the homework wrong?”
Xie Yu glanced at He Zhao’s exercise book and found that he had just copied the question, then wrote very casually, in the right margin, ‘Solution:’ …and then nothing.
“Didn’t you find someone to do your homework for you?” Xie Yu put his own exercise book back in the desk drawer and asked, “That’s all he did for you?”
He Zhao said, “I didn’t contact him. Thanks to you reminding me, I realized that aside from myself, there’s no one in the world with such suave handwriting. Look at the boldness of these strokes, these letter joins…”
Xie Yu mercilessly cut him off. “You can praise dogshit all you want, it won’t grow flowers.”
“Ding Lianghua, you do the sprint and the relay, all right? I’ve heard about your heroic exploits. You’re very explosive for a short distance… and then, the girls. I’m not so sure about things on your side. Qing-jie, help me out? Get a list of who wants to participate on the girls’ side.”
During gym class, Luo Wenqiang, Liu Cunhao, and the others sat on the quad in a circle. Luo Wenqiang had put three pens in his pocket and now he pulled one out and handed it to Xu Qingqing. “And the class event is tug-of-war, so I’ll find some time to explain the strategy to you. As for long-distance, that’ll be Zhao-ge and Yu-ge… ah, where are they?”
At this point, Luo Wenqiang found that the two long-distance champions he had already picked out last week were both not present.
Wan Da said, “You only realized now that they’re not here? They were called to the faculty office.”
Liu Cunhao added: “Those two long-distance runners got all the math homework wrong.”
Luo Wenqiang scratched the back of his head. “Ah? I was so excited after getting the notice about the sports event that I didn’t notice…”
The two long-distance runners were currently suffering a fate worse than death in the faculty office.
“The two of you, take your homework and find somewhere to sit. When you figure it out, then you can go to gym class.” Wu Zheng finished speaking, then looked down and continued grading homework. “The two of you are really something. But there’s one thing I have to compliment you on. At least you don’t copy, and you have a bottom line that you stick to.”
He Zhao said, “Thank you, thank you.”
Wu Zheng hadn’t imagined He Zhao had such a thick skin, either. His hand stilled on the homework pile. “You really think I’m praising you?!”
Xie Yu took the homework and dragged He Zhao away. He explained on behalf of his deskmate, “He didn’t take his meds before leaving his dorm room today.”
“He does have to take meds,” Wu Zheng said. “He’s quite seriously ill.”
There weren’t many teachers in the faculty office at this time. Old Tang had gone to teach literature to the class next door and his desk was empty, so they sat at Old Tang’s desk and did the questions, since it wasn’t convenient to sit at other teachers’ desks.
The last few times they had been here, neither of them had noticed that Tang Sen’s desk held several small potted plants, their individual names written on post-it notes alongside to-do lists like the watering schedule. He was clearly very attentive.
He Zhao lifted his hand to one of the post-its and read out the name of the small succulent plant. “…Xiao Cui?”
Xie Yu: “……”
“Are middle-aged men all so terrifying when they name things? This is a Haworthia cooperi, isn’t it?” He Zhao rested his forearms on his exercise book; clearly he was in no mood to do the questions. “He’s a literature teacher after all. Xiao Cui?”
Xie Yu glanced up. Under the glass pane covering Tang Sen’s desk were many photographs of the classes he had taught over the years, the dates ranging from the 00s in a neat row all the way up to last year.
“What are you looking at?” He Zhao asked.
Xie Yu was about to say he was looking for last year’s graduating class’s photos, then figured this would be a silly thing to say, and decided to say nothing and keep doing the homework instead.
The office desk separated them. He Zhao kept talking for a while more, then stealthily slid his stool over little by little, only stopping when he was right next to Xie Yu. He poked his deskmate with a pen. “Did you get the question Old Wu was explaining just now?”
Xie Yu gripped his own pen and asked, “What do you think?”
“I think I got it,” He Zhao said. “I think I really got it this time.”
The questions weren’t hard. Wu Zheng walked them both through it, from the structure to the individual steps, and they would have had to be idiots to still not get it.
Fortunately, this time when He Zhao said he understood, he really had understood. Most likely, he just really wanted to go to gym class, so his intelligence took a temporary leap. Xie Yu also relaxed his expectations of himself, and after half a class period or so they managed to work the questions out.
“They’re here, they’re here. Gym rep, your long distance runners are here.” Wan Da’s eyes were sharp and caught sight of He Zhao and Xie Yu from a distance. “The hopes of our village—no, our class—are here.”
“What hopes of the village?” He Zhao walked over and saw Class 2.3 all sitting on the quad in a big and neat circle. He also sat down and tapped the floor. “Old Xie, sit.”
“The long distance event! Three thousand meters.¹ No one in class wants to run it.”
“Put it down.” He Zhao waved a hand generously. “My name. Put me down for anything.”
Wan Da: “Impressive.”
Liu Cunhao: “Strong!”
Luo Wenqiang then looked at Xie Yu, who said with indifference, “Fine.”
The word ‘fine’ was the most gentle thing Luo Wenqiang had ever heard come out of Xie Yu’s mouth, and he was so touched he almost cried. “All right, then I’m putting your names down. The two of you, first long distance, and then… let me see. Push-ups? Can you do push-ups?”
The sports meet spanned two days, which meant there were no classes for those two days.
Although no one was that enthusiastic about sports, the two days of no classes were very attractive. And even if they didn’t step onto the court, everyone wanted to have a share in it.
“The class next door got a set of class t-shirts. Should we get a set, too?” Xu Qingqing was rather attentive to dress. “We can lose in anything else but we can’t lose in momentum.”
Wan Da said, “A guy from the class next door is crossdressing. Do we have to find someone to do that, too?”
The topic of conversation got weirder and weirder.
By the time the dismissal bell rang, they still hadn’t reached any sort of conclusion.
The student on duty returned the gym equipment to the equipment room while Luo Wenqiang was in charge of cleaning up the court. The circle of the class 2.3 students had dispersed, leaving only stragglers behind.
Wan Da went over to He Zhao and whispered, “Actually, when we were talking about crossdressing just now, the first person I thought of was Yu-ge.”
He Zhao: “If you want to die, I can see you off.”
“No, really. With Yu-ge’s looks—I’m not saying he’s girly, he’s not girly at all, he’s very manly…” Wan Da searched his entire vocabulary and couldn’t come up with a suitable descriptor. “That is, anyway, both Qing-jie and I think so. Do you think Yu-ge will agree?”
“You’re really going to die.”
He Zhao continued, “And you’re going to leave this world at a speed you can’t even imagine.”
When Xu Qingqing got wind of this news she was a little regretful, but then she had an epiphany and thought of a new idea. “Since we can’t win the most beautiful in the year award, then we must have a most eye-catching crossdressing Big Bro, like a Golden Barbie…” ²
Luo Wenqiang felt a chill wind at his back.
And then countless pairs of eyes turned to stare at him.
Xie Yu wasn’t aware of this Crossdressing Big Bro discussion. He had gone outside to take a call and by the time he came back in, Luo Wenqiang was already sitting on the floor of the classroom crying. “I don’t want to, I refuse—why must you all do this to me?!”
“Your muscles are very sexy,” Wan Da comforted him. “Have a little faith in yourself.”
He Zhao was laughing so hard he couldn’t sit up straight. He waved to Xie Yu, then leant close and said, “Our class rep, in girls’ clothes. Scary or not?”
“Are we making a horror film?”
He Zhao said, “Yeah.”
Then He Zhao continued, “Have you worn a skirt before?”
Something suddenly snapped in Xie Yu’s mind.
Things were better now that his looks had matured a little. When he was a child, even though he had his hair cut short, many people had mistaken him for a girl, Zhou Dalei being one idiot among them. He had called Xie Yu ‘little girl’ and so their friendship had taken many more years than it otherwise would have to solidify. Now, they only rarely met.
Zhou Dalei had been very troubled, too. He had to admit he was wrong and he couldn’t beat Xie Yu in a fight.
Madam Gu had also played pranks of her own when she was younger. Her son was soft and cute and pretty, so she found it fun to cajole him into wearing skirts. Now, at home, there were several photos of his dark history that he’d never be able to erase.
Wan Da was still trying to comfort the psychologically scarred gym rep when he heard a crash in the back of the classroom. He looked up and saw that for some reason He Zhao and Xie Yu had gotten into a tangle again and even overturned their chairs.
Liu Cunhao couldn’t help sighing as he looked on. “They’re doing it again? If a day goes by where they don’t do something, I’ll feel that Class 2.3 is lacking something.”
“Big bro, I’m wrong, I’m wrong, all right?” He Zhao cajoled as he admitted his mistake, at the same time pouring oil on the fire with his own hands. “But Old Xie doth protest too much, methinks. Have you really worn a skirt before?”
Xie Yu had been talking with his fists the whole time. He Zhao couldn’t hold his own, and he didn’t dare retaliate, so now he leaned backward and clutched his stomach, yelling, “.. Ah, that hurts.”
Due to He Zhao’s impressive track record, Xie Yu’s first thought was that he was putting on an act again. And a very exaggerated one, at that.
But Xie Yu still took two steps forward, not knowing why. “Where does it hurt?”
He Zhao’s mind didn’t work fast enough and he didn’t know what to say. His mind went through three different locations within a single second and finally his hand stopped on his chest. “Here. Maybe it’s internal injuries.”
He only needed to open his mouth to cause internal injuries. Truly impressive.
Xie Yu reached out and touched him through his shirt’s fabric. “Here?”
He Zhao looked down at Xie Yu’s hand resting on his chest and suddenly felt a little dazed. “Ah, yeah.”
That strange and confusing thought didn’t stay very long. He saw Xie Yu twist his wrist and said, “Damn it, you’re really going to give me internal injuries…”