First Published on Chaleuria
044 – Holding hands
The classroom went completely quiet.
In his more than ten years of teaching, Mad Dog had never met a student like this. These two were obviously up to something more than just holding hands, but he had been temporarily stunned by He Zhao’s antics and didn’t have the presence of mind to check the interior of the desk. “…You two. All right. Sure. Holding hands, are you.”
He Zhao’s lips moved—he might have intended to follow up with something even more shameless.
While Mad Dog was distracted, Xie Yu stepped on He Zhao’s foot. This action was completely merciless and He Zhao was in so much pain his hand subconsciously tightened around Xie Yu’s. He said, in pain, “Cripple, you’re so vicious?”
Xie Yu whispered, “If my leg wasn’t goddamn injured, you wouldn’t even be here right now.”
Mad Dog didn’t hear what they were saying and only observed that not only were these two male students still holding hands, their grip grew tighter and tighter.
Obviously posturing in front of him.
He felt that his authority as discipline head was being held in contempt.
“Since you like holding hands so much, then keep holding hands! Until class is dismissed!”
Mad Dog’s chest was heaving. These two had greatly angered him. In order to salvage his authority, he turned to the other students and said, “You all watch them carefully. Until the dismissal bell rings, they’re not allowed to let go. I’ll come back later to check.”
He Zhao: “……”
Xie Yu: “……”
The other students, upon whom had been placed a great responsibility: “……”
When Mad Dog left, Liu Cunhao poked Wan Da and asked hesitantly, “Do we… really have to watch them?”
Mad Dog often came up with creative and arcane methods of punishment. Once, when Liu Cunhao had been late, he had climbed over the wall to school—he had heard from other students that it was an easy feat, so he had plucked up his courage and climbed. But on the other side was Mad Dog, eating breakfast and drinking soymilk. Liu Cunhao had been caught and made to climb the wall back and forth over twenty times.
But this was too bizarre, surely… how could they keep watch, of two people holding hands at that?
Compared to Liu Cunhao, Wan Da was much calmer. He serenely flipped open his English book and said, “Actually, I think we probably don’t need to watch them.”
In the last row.
Although Xie Yu couldn’t use one of his legs, his battle prowess was still frightening. The moment Mad Dog set one foot out the door, Class 3 immediately grew raucous. Xie Yu and He Zhao had both flipped their chairs and fallen onto the floor. Passersby who didn’t know what had transpired would have been shocked.
“Old Xie, you can hit me, it’s fine,” He Zhao said as he dodged. “But we have to think of our classmates. If Mad Dog comes back to check on us, we can’t implicate them… Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Regardless of how angry Xie Yu was, He Zhao didn’t let go of his hand the entire time. Xie Yu couldn’t shake him off if he tried. He was so annoyed his head hurt. “Understand, my ass.”
At first, Liu Cunhao hadn’t understood what Wan Da had meant by saying, “We don’t need to keep watch.”
Now, after having observed for a little while, he finally understood. He patted Wan Da’s shoulder and said, “You’re really impressive… your predictions are as accurate as a seer’s.”
Wan Da cupped a fist in salute. “High praise, high praise. I just know too much.”
The fight didn’t last long.
He Zhao was focused on supporting the little cripple, worried that he’d lose his footing and fall.
He Zhao was dressed lightly today. His back was to the wall, one hand still gripping Xie Yu’s, the other holding Xie Yu’s waist. He looked down and said, “All right, all right. Don’t move too much. I won’t dodge. Hit me as much as you want.”
His tone was really as if he was coaxing a child.
Then, as He Zhao had wished, he took a solid beating.
“Now let us enter Class 2.3. I am your most beloved class rep…” During the two days of the sports meet, Liu Cunhao had brought his camera from home and taken many photos and videos. Now he started the footage rolling on himself, then turned the camera to face the class, sweeping its lens from left to right before stopping on the corner of the last row. “…In the corner, our Zhao-ge, being awarded his daily beating.”
Liu Cunhao hadn’t been recording for very long when Wan Da suddenly came close, occupying the whole viewport with his face. “Hello, everybody…”
Wan Da had just begun when Liu Cunhao pushed his head to one side dismissively. “Get out of the way and chill.”
There were still more than ten minutes left to the dismissal bell.
The subject teachers each came around to assign homework, and the assignments filled up half the blackboard. It washed away the wild, free atmosphere of the two days of no classes during the sports meet.
“There’s so much.”
“This is too much homework, surely…”
The English teacher finished writing, put the chalk back in the box, then clapped her hands to dust off the chalk. She said, “I want you all to wake up. You’ve played too much.”
She gave a few more reminders, then turned to go back to the faculty office. Before leaving, she suddenly remembered that one student still hadn’t turned in the mock paper she had assigned two days ago. So she stopped again and asked from the doorway, “He Zhao, where is your homework?”
He Zhao raised his voice. “I need a little more time.”
The English teacher was about to say, Then I might as well stop teaching, but then she caught sight of He Zhao and Xie Yu holding hands. “…What are you doing?”
Xie Yu’s expression was blank. He coughed once and He Zhao, reading the mood, didn’t say anything.
In the end it was Liu Cunhao who said, “Teacher, the two of them are… holding hands. Dean Jiang said they must hold hands until the end of class.”
The English teacher asked, “What are you doing? Being affectionate?”
“Right, right, right. Demonstrating our class team spirit and love for each other.”
Although He Zhao was very susceptible to a soft touch and usually folded so quickly he could hardly keep his dignity intact, he was still very stubborn on the subject of holding hands and wouldn’t let go no matter what.
Xie Yu was thoroughly defeated. “Mad Dog isn’t around.”
“He comes and goes like a phantom,” He Zhao said. “We have to be ready at all times.”
After a while, Xie Yu moved his hand. “I need to copy homework,” he said, looking for an excuse. “Let go. I haven’t finished yesterday’s homework.”
Xie Yu sat on the left and had his right hand held. He couldn’t write with his left hand.
But He Zhao took the opportunity to demonstrate a principle to him: You have no idea how shameless Big Bro Flirt can be when he wants to!
“I’ll swap seats with you,” He Zhao said. “Sit in my seat.”
In the end, they really did swap seats.
Xie Yu sat in He Zhao’s seat, pen in hand, copying Wan Da’s homework. When he finished the first question, he discovered that he had copied the wrong answer.
He Zhao sat to the other side, tapping at his phone with his left hand.
Neither of them spoke.
But the atmosphere… the atmosphere was very strange.
The background noise of the classroom seemed to grow farther and farther away. Xie Yu felt his hand grow warmer and warmer in He Zhao’s. One of them had started sweating and the sensation was clammy.
Xie Yu looked at the question he had copied wrong, remained stunned for a long time, then closed the exercise book.
He Zhao didn’t do much better. The game interface was on his phone screen but his avatar died less than ten seconds after the game began, and then he stayed on the game over screen and didn’t do anything.
Shen Jie was in a team with He Zhao. Seeing that He Zhao had been killed, he sent a few private messages. Zhao-ge, why are you playing so badly today? Leaving me to face this dangerous world alone? Ah? You’re too cruel.
Never had ten minutes felt this arduous. But when the dismissal bell rang, He Zhao felt that the ten minutes had been a really goddamn short time.
He Zhao studied his palm for a long time and when he looked up again, his deskmate had already reached the classroom’s rear door using the wall as support. “Where are you going?”
Xie Yu said, “Bathroom.”
The moment He Zhao said “I’ll”—the words ‘go with you’ hadn’t even left his mouth—Xie Yu cut him off. “No need.”
As chilly as usual.
He Zhao sat with one leg on his seat and asked, “Will you have problems peeing?”
Xie Yu answered, “Why, you want to hold it for me?”
Neither of them were in the habit of thinking very much before they spoke and only after the words had been said did they think them a little strange.
Who knew what He Zhao was thinking of—suddenly, his throat felt dry. He opened his mouth but it was a long time before he said, “Then… then you go.”
A moment later, He Zhao exited the game and opened QQ. He considered the long string of ‘Aaaaa’ on his mood message for a long time, tapped it to edit it, and then added a few more ‘a’s at the end.
He posted it.
After posting the mood message, He Zhao went back to his friends list. He found a little red dot on the messages tab, tapped on it, and a notification popped up.
——“Your Grandpa Jun” sent you a friend request.
He Zhao’s finger stilled on the screen.
After going to the bathroom, Xie Yu went to the cafeteria to eat. His foot wasn’t so badly injured he couldn’t walk, he just moved a little slowly. In the short run, he didn’t want to see He Zhao’s face. It annoyed him. He couldn’t say exactly how it annoyed him, but it annoyed him so much he wanted to beat somebody up.
Fearing for He Zhao’s life, Xie Yu went downstairs.
When he returned, He Zhao’s seat was empty.
“Zhao-ge got a call and left.” Wan Da came back early, a cup of Fudan milk tea in his hands. Seeing Xie Yu glance twice more at He Zhao’s empty seat, he explained, “He said he left a note for you.”
Xie Yu glanced over the desk twice. There really was a note stuck under one corner of a textbook.
Wan Da heard their Class 2.3’s Big Bro Xie Yu say, “None of my business,” then pull out the note and stare at it for a long time.
“What does it say?” Wan Da went over and asked.
Xie Yu put down the note and thought, A goddamn note like this, you might as well not have left anything.
Seeing that Wan Da was genuinely curious, Xie Yu folded up the note and said, “I don’t know. Couldn’t read it.”
Wan Da: “……”
Xie Yu couldn’t hold himself back and added, “What the hell.”
Your Grandpa Jun was Lei Jun’s online handle, a username he had used to make waves all over the internet. In so many years, he hadn’t changed it.
At that time, when Erlei had withdrawn from school, Lei Jun had blocked him on all social media, and then they didn’t talk for three years.
After adding him as a friend, Lei Jun sent a text. What’s your phone number?
Then came a phone call.
“I’ll wait at your school’s back gate. The very broken-down one.” Lei Jun was probably smoking. He was breathing hard and his voice was rough. “Come out.”
Erzhong had two back gates. One was locked year-round, in a desolate location, and had started to rust.
Since he said ‘very broken-down,’ this should be the place.
Lei Jun had come alone.
He squatted at the back gate. Seeing He Zhao come over, he pressed his cigarette into the ground and twisted it twice, extinguishing it.
He Zhao walked closer and asked, “Why here?”
He couldn’t get out and Lei Jun couldn’t get in. It wasn’t conducive to a fight.
Lei Jun was still squatting on the ground. His eyes were slightly bloodshot as he looked through the metal gate at He Zhao. He said, “I’m not looking for a fight. I’ll ask you two questions and I’ll go.”
Then Lei Jun asked the first question. “Why did you come to Erzhong?”
He Zhao felt it hard to move, and didn’t say anything for a long time.
Lei Jun looked down and ran his hand through his hair, then pressed the cigarette butt into the floor again. He asked, “You’re… a second year in high school?”
He Zhao didn’t stay silent any more, and made an “Mm” of assent.