First Published on Chaleuria
038 – Push-ups
The ‘Crossdressing Big Bro’ hurdle was probably one they wouldn’t overcome. While Old Tang wasn’t watching, Liu Cunhao and the others used the class computer to look for skirts. “How about this one? There’s lace, so it looks princessy… romantic, and also quite elegant.”
Wan Da: “Let’s go with this maid outfit. This one’s good. Looks seductive.”
Luo Wenqiang, who had no affection for such things: “……”
“The one above that. Scroll up.” After the tussle with Xie Yu, He Zhao bent down and righted his chair with one hand, joining in on the fun. “Not that one. Scroll up.”
“Which one?” Liu Cunhao scrolled up for a long time and didn’t see any that fit the bill, so the more he scrolled the more confused he was. “Zhao-ge, did you see wrong?”
Then He Zhao showcased his taste in women’s clothing to the whole class without holding back at all. “Third from the top. That one’s good.”
On the screen was a peony floral-print sheath dress, a dogshit mess of clashing red and green.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” He Zhao sat in his seat and looked at the projector screen, then at his deskmate. “What do you think? Isn’t this a good one?”
Liu Cunhao and the others were shocked into silence by this unbearably tacky dress and He Zhao’s textbook terrible taste. A thousand words stuck in each of their throats.
Xie Yu said, “Don’t you have any sense of this at all?”
He Zhao said, “I think it’s fine. If this were a dressup game, this dress would definitely get a good score.”
“A Renminbi player has no right to speak here.”
“Look at these colors. So bright…”
“Bright?” Xie Yu sneered, drawing blood at once. “The aunties at the flea market have taste that leaves yours eight blocks in the dust.”
When Xie Yu finished, Wan Da started clapping. “Well said. Exquisite.”
Liu Cunhao: “A like for Yu-ge.”
He Zhao: “……”
After He Zhao’s farce, Luo Wenqiang’s emotions had gone through a rollercoaster and opposing forces had leveled each other out. Now he felt that the romantic princess dress and the maid uniform weren’t that hard to stomach after all.
So Luo Wenqiang clenched his hands into fists and endured the pain. “Then, then let’s go with the one from just now.”
“Zhao-ge, well done!”
Wan Da had clearly overthought things. Recalling what had just happened, he now thought that He Zhao had intentionally looked for the ugliest outfit to provoke the gym rep. He shot He Zhao a thumbs-up and said with respect, “You still have the most impressive tricks.”
“I’ll take the compliment.” He Zhao was very confused but he was fairly well-practiced at carrying on a conversation. After he said that, he bent close to Xie Yu’s ear and whispered, “What’s he praising me for?”
Xie Yu pushed his head away; he wasn’t in the mood to talk.
After the last class of the day, everyone packed up their bags and prepared to go home as the student on duty cleaned the blackboard.
The live-in students were more concerned with what was for dinner. He Zhao had been messing around on his phone all through the last class period, and he even slipped out to make a phone call while Old Wu wasn’t looking.
Recently, the Gold List Restaurant had started a school delivery service and had sent a text to their customer mailing list to let them know.
He Zhao finished ordering, then asked, “Where do you want to send it? Which room?”
Shen Jie walked out of the toilet, coughing, smoke curling around him as he sprayed air freshener on himself to mask the smell of smoke. He turned and saw his Zhao-ge with one hand stuck in his pocket, standing in the corner of the stairwell with his back to the wall.
“Zhao-ge, what are you doing?” Shen Jie walked over, still spraying.
He Zhao turned to glance at him and didn’t respond. After a moment’s thought, he said into the phone, “And a fish, too,” then pulled the phone away and met Shen Jie’s eyes. “What was the name of that fish dish you ordered at the Gold List?”
Shen Jie responded, “Ah? What fish? The one that got overturned on the floor? Steamed perch. Why?”
“Nothing.” He Zhao reported the name of the dish, then continued, “My little friend likes it.”
Shen Jie’s hand jerked. “…Wow, damn.”
The dismissal bell rang and the deliveryman happened to call at the same time.
He Zhao went downstairs to collect the food. There were hardly any people left in the classroom; the live-in students had gone to the cafeteria to eat and only the student on duty was still here cleaning.
The classroom was much quieter now.
Xie Yu sat there, extremely bored. He really wasn’t sure what He Zhao was doing. Near the end of class he had told Xie Yu, “Stay right here and don’t go anywhere.” Before he finished, Xie Yu had already stamped on his foot.
The last class period was math and Old Wu had gone over the new formats for the questions in the next monthly exam, but not in much detail.
Xie Yu was bored anyway, so he wrote down the solution steps on the notes app in his phone, then pulled out a piece of scratch paper and started to draft it.
He had just one pen. At the baptism in the slackers’ gathering grounds at the previous monthly exam, he had discovered that nearly everyone was short some writing materials, whether an eraser or a 2B pencil. Some didn’t even have a pen to answer the questions with.
The group had traded supplies back and forth—I save you and you save me—and some people even wrote their exams with the lead refill for a mechanical pencil.
Xie Yu had probably dropped his pen one too many times. No ink came out when he started writing, so he tossed it and looked on He Zhao’s side of the desk for a different pen to use.
In order to hide that he was playing phone games in class, He Zhao’s side of the desk was quite messy and books were haphazardly stacked together.
Xie Yu went through the pile for a while. He didn’t find a pen, but he did find a strange piece of paper in a math book. He couldn’t make out the higgledy-piggledy scrawl—it seemed like the solution steps to a problem—but before he could look at it more closely He Zhao walked into class carrying a bag. “Clean up, and put away all the books on the desk or there won’t be room for dinner.”
Xie Yu stuffed the piece of paper back.
There were about five dishes, each in their own disposable container, as well as two cartons of rice.
Xie Yu looked at the fish and found it very familiar. “Gold List?”
He Zhao split his disposable wooden chopsticks and picked out the spring onion slices on the steamed perch before pushing the fish toward his deskmate. “Ah, I had to climb the wall to get it. They said deliver to the school. Damn it, is across a brick wall considered ‘delivered to the school?’”
Xie Yu was aware he was a picky eater. When Madam Gu cooked she was careful about the dishes she made, but He Zhao’s selection of dishes this time around hadn’t triggered any landmines either.
He faintly remembered He Zhao asking him, the previous time, what he wouldn’t eat. Had this idiot really remembered?
“Go on, what are you waiting for?” He Zhao said. “Waiting for me to feed you? Not that I mind. Call me big bro. We can talk about it.”
Xie Yu picked up his chopsticks to split them. “Do you want to die?”
Wan Da returned from dinner, humming as he walked in holding a cup of milk tea. From the doorway he could smell food and as he walked in, he looked at the table. “The two of you went a little overboard, didn’t you? The cafeteria food was so bland it was ready to hatch,¹ and it was all leftovers from lunch… but here you are, enjoying yourselves.”
He Zhao finished his last two bites of rice and said, “You’re enjoying yourself, too, aren’t you? Where did you get the milk tea? Is it good?”
“The Fudan Milk Tea shop across the street,” Wan Da said. “It’s passable. But it says bubble milk tea and I never found any bubbles.”
Xie Yu said, “Then why did you buy it?”
Wan Da said, “To be very honest, Fudan² is my dream.”
For the rest of the week, the sports meet was on everyone’s mind.
For the sports meet class uniform, Xu Qingqing picked a vest; it was practical and they could keep wearing it after the meet was over. Luo Wenqiang wore that elegant and high-class princess dress and walked at the front of the line, holding a placard.
The gym teacher gave everyone free time to practice and even directed them.
“Who signed up for the push-ups?” After picking out the shot put participants, the teacher walked over again blowing his whistle. “Who signed up for the push-ups? Eight of you, right? Come on up and show us what you can do.”
He Zhao, Xie Yu and the others stepped up.
“It’s not how many you do that counts. The judges are looking for form. At last year’s meet, wow—the first row of participants were so energetic. They were competing for who could do more. Up, down, up, down, so quickly, and in the end—let me tell you—the one who went the slowest ended up winning.”
The gym teacher made them plank on the ground, then walked from the head of the line to the end. He hadn’t even started the timer and already one of the boys couldn’t hold it and fell down.
The first one fell, then three or four others fell like dominoes.
He Zhao didn’t feel anything. He could still hold it for a long time, but seeing that all the people next to him were sitting on the ground, he felt a little silly still holding his own plank, so he and Xie Yu both went along and sat on the ground.
The gym teacher stopped walking and said, “…Aren’t you lot too weak? Just this little bit and you already can’t do it? Do you want to do well in the sports meet or not?!”
Xie Yu had originally intended to skip gym class and go back to his dorm room to read, but Luo Wenqiang had dragged the entire class out to prepare for the sports meet.
The eight push-up contestants sat on the floor of the indoor court. To one side, several pairs of first-year students were playing badminton.
The shuttlecocks flew across the indoor court. Up into the air, and then down again.
“How many can you do? He Zhao asked.
Xie Yu looked at the player before him run forward several steps, then leap to hit the shuttlecock. He said, “Don’t know. Never counted.”
“Later, should we see who can do more?”
The gym teacher didn’t give them the chance to compete. He gave it everything he had and said he’d be able to get their planking skills up to a never-before-seen level in just one short class period.
“Yes, yes, yes.” Wan Da raised his hand. “Coach, I want to learn this.”
The gym teacher smiled and said, very meaningfully, “Then let us begin.”
Xie Yu had a bad premonition.
Two minutes later, the bad premonition became reality.
The shuttlecocks were no longer flying through the indoor court, and instead a chorus of ‘Whoa’ resounded throughout the hall.
The gym teacher squatted by the side and said, “Odd-numbered students, lie down. Even-numbered students, begin. On my count, do a push-up. After fifty, you can rest.”
Xie Yu lay under He Zhao and slowly, with a complicated feelings, spat out a single word. “…Fuck.”
He Zhao’s hands were on either side of Xie Yu’s arms, supporting the weight of his upper body; he maintained his distance from Xie Yu and was still adjusting his posture. This really was a little strange and he couldn’t help laughing. “Who invented this? Genius. No wonder it’ll take you to heights you’ve never reached before.”
Wan Da was really about to cry. He said to the guy above him, “Do your best. If you don’t hold it, something bad will happen.”
The guy above him was also panicking. “I-I-I’ll do my best.”
Once they had assumed their positions, the gym teacher blew the whistle for the first time. “一！”
He Zhao lowered his body. The further he went, the closer he got to Xie Yu, and even though he tried to control his strength, he still inadvertently lightly touched him. Xie Yu’s body heat seemed to reach him through the thin material of their clothing—his heartbeat and even the light warmth of his breath seemed to tangle with He Zhao’s.
A while ago, He Zhao could still laugh at the prospect of this lying-down push-up setup; now, he couldn’t laugh at all.
The two of them couldn’t avoid staring at each other’s faces, and the magnified versions at that—their eyes, noses, eyelashes, and even every single microexpression was crystal-clear.
At the corner of Xie Yu’s eye, there was a very tiny mole.
Suddenly, He Zhao couldn’t bear it any more. Who knew which of them turned away first, breaking this extended eye contact.
He moved his fingers and found that his palms were sweating a little.