First Published on Chaleuria
047 – Looks alone don’t cut it.
“Any friends willing to step in and defend our lives?” Wan Da gestured furiously. “Yu-ge, will you help?”
Xie Yu said, “We’re not friends and I’m busy.”
Wan Da: “……”
Cold. As cold as always.
Wan Da watched as Xie Yu, after saying all that, still proceeded to get up and sit down next to the window facing the corridor. He couldn’t tell what on earth this cold big bro really intended.
Was he willing to keep watch or unwilling?
He Zhao smiled and said, “You all keep playing. He’s on the lookout.”
Wan Da was genuinely shocked. He said, not quite believing it, “How do you know? How can you tell?”
Xie Yu was a loner, prideful, very antisocial, and had a hair-trigger temper.
The words, ‘Don’t bother me,’ were just about written on his face.
Last year when their class year had been split into the East and West Buildings, the Big Bro of the West Building had been Xie Yu. Just the rumor of his black nail polish had scared away countless people. He sounded like a dark, twisted character.
He Zhao didn’t answer Wan Da’s question.
He jumped in through the window, feet landing on a chair, and thought, I just know.
Xie Yu was still on his phone. From time to time, he’d glance up and outside then look back down after finding nothing out of the ordinary.
He Zhao sat down at the desk in front of Xie Yu, his back to the blackboard as he watched the group play Dou Dizhu. Then he glanced up at the latest homeroom assignment Class 3 had been given: My dreams.
Class 3’s homeroom reports were especially terrible. In the whole class of 30-odd people, no one had any talent for drawing. Since they wouldn’t win any contests, they might as well not waste their effort on it.
But they were very creative. Every student wrote a wish on their paper and stuck it to the board with tape in the shape of a rather untidy heart.
It was just something they had put together on the fly, but Tang Sen took many photographs of it as if it were a great treasure.
He Zhao glanced back at the person in front of him.
The Big Bro of the West wore his school uniform—the weather had grown cooler lately—and, perhaps because he didn’t like the cold, had put on a jacket on top of his uniform. His hands were partly hidden in his sleeves, half his fingers peeking out as he concentrated on tapping at his phone screen.
Xie Yu’s movements were occasionally very gentle. For instance, when he woke up during morning self-study and blearily opened his eyes. Or when he said, ‘none of my business,’ then, after a pause, added a question mark at the end.
Or now, with his slender and pale fingers curled, his pinky lightly hooked on the edge of his sleeve.
He Zhao rapped on the desk. “Little friend, what dreams did you write about?”
Xie Yu’s fingers stilled on the phone screen. He had been chatting with Aunt Mei—asking how business was going at Guang Mao and telling her not to scrimp and save. If she didn’t have enough help, she should hire several more people. The sudden change of topic surprised him. “Ah?”
Then he followed He Zhao’s gaze and turned around to look at the homeroom assignment on the blackboard.
He had scribbled down whatever came to mind. What dreams? To genuinely lay them out in this ‘heart of love’ for the whole world to see would have been too dramatic, would it not? Besides, a second-year high school student’s entire world consisted only of ‘the high school exams.’ Wan Da and the others had only laughed when they collected their papers to fill in and didn’t take it seriously. “Dreams! Fudan is my dream!”
“You can forget about Fudan. But you can have Fudan milk tea,” Liu Cunhao mocked him, then narrated a daydream of his own. “Me, I want to save the world.”
Wan Da patted the class rep’s head. “You’d better come drink Fudan milk tea with me and stop thinking about nonsense.”
In adolescence, no one really had a clear or solid self-image, and things like dreams still seemed far away.
He Zhao was still asking about it.
Xie Yu had already forgotten what he had written down. He thought about it a little more closely and remembered. “Strike it rich.”
He Zhao had thought that his ‘world peace’ had been perfunctory enough, but now he realized the guy in front of him was a genius. “Strike it rich?”
Xie Yu said, “…You disapprove?”
“Nope. This is a good dream,” He Zhao said, then remembered that Xie Yu had taken a biographical photo of him that he hadn’t collected yet. So he knocked on the desk again and asked, “Where’s my suave photo?”
“How annoying can you get? What suave photo?”
“I posed so hard. Didn’t you get a photo?”
At the mention of this word, Xie Yu felt transported back to that very awkward event that was so embarrassing he couldn’t bear to look. “You have the gall to mention that?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” He Zhao said. “You couldn’t resist taking photos of me, right?”
Xie Yu thought, ‘Couldn’t resist, my ass.’
Xie Yu had uploaded the photo on his feed. Since He Zhao really wanted to see it, Xie Yu found it and showed it to him.
He Zhao glanced at it and found that it was quite a passable photo. “Good photography skills. Of course, the important thing is that I’m photogenic…” As He Zhao spoke, he accidentally scrolled down to the comments beneath the photo. He discovered that, although Xie Yu was a loner who didn’t draw attention to himself, there were more than fifty comments on the photo.
Looking at the names, they were all Aunt somebody or So-and-so’s Mom, all old ladies of some sort, and one of them even had the note, ‘Breakfast place one street over – Wang’s Mom.’
Aunt Mei: Son, who’s this in the middle? Quite handsome.
xy replied to Aunt Mei: An idiot.
Dalei: Damn, why does this guy seem so familiar?!
xy replied to Dalei: Crowd-face.¹
He Zhao read through all of them and found that his little friend was quite happy to diss him. “Never mind the crowd-face bit, you told your mom I’m an idiot?”
Xie Yu had clearly forgotten about the comments section. He said calmly, “That’s my godmother.”
Xie Yu rarely talked about his family and now he produced a godmother out of nowhere. These fifty-plus comments indicated that his little friend’s social network was quite impressive. He Zhao continued asking, “You have a godmother?”
Xie Yu introduced her briefly. “My godmother. Ground snake. ² Met her on the streets.”
He Zhao pointed at the name Dalei. “And this one?”
Xie Yu said, “You met him in the police station.”
Eventually, Xie Yu grew very frustrated—he had no idea how to explain his relationship with the breakfast store aunt one street over—and papered it over with the comment, “You’re suave, you’re not a crowd-face,” and declared the matter finished.
Before He Zhao returned the phone to Xie Yu, he swiftly entered his own phone number. “You don’t even go on QQ. Add me as a friend?”
Xie Yu said, “You’ve already added yourself. Why bother asking me?”
He Zhao replied, “To be polite.”
Aunt Mei and the others used text messages, so Xie Yu and Dalei had followed suit and gotten used to it.
Xie Yu didn’t really need to contact his classmates, anyway. In first year, he was the sort who lost all contact with his previous friends after leaving middle school, and after a year of not being in touch, he didn’t even get notifications from his teachers any more.
But now, it seemed that… something had changed.
For instance, his contacts list where the ‘Friends’ group had steadily grown.
For instance, Xie Yu had never imagined that one day he would sit at the window, keeping watch for his classmates so that they could play Dou Dizhu in peace.
Damn it, has my temper gotten better? Xie Yu thought.
Wan Da’s self-assessment had not been exaggerated in the least. He didn’t only have bad luck on the draw, he also had terrible skills.
“I admire rookies like you.” Before long, Xu Qingqing had won all her money back and said contentedly, “Our friendship will last a lifetime.”
Wan Da didn’t much care how badly he had lost, either. He replied, “My honor, Miss Xu.”
He Zhao sat on the desk and leaned against the windowsill, helping keep watch for a while. “How much longer?”
“Zhao-ge, last round, almost done.” Wan Da was very excited. He glanced at his terrible hand of cards. “I’m about to lose.”
He Zhao tsked. “You still sound happy?”
Xie Yu said, “Losing every single hand is a talent, too.”
“Right.” Wan Da nodded. “That’s exactly it. I think I’m pretty talented.”
They had kept watch for a long time but Mad Dog hadn’t appeared. However, Shen Jie, who had been held back at dismissal to talk to his teacher, stopped and glanced in as he passed Class 3 on his way out of the faculty office. “What are you doing?”
Shen Jie stood at the window and looked in. Hearing Xu Qingqing call out heartily, “Four with three,” he was shocked at Class 3’s talent. “Damn it, a card room?”
“What are you doing?” He Zhao retorted. “Why haven’t you gone home?”
Shen Jie said, “This afternoon was the math pop quiz, right? I… had a little accident.”
Wan Da had no playable cards left and was easily distracted. “I know. He got caught cheating during this afternoon’s test.”
Shen Jie had intended to gloss over the matter but Wan Da had directly revealed everything and he could only helplessly say, “How do you know everything?”
Wan Da said shamelessly, “There’s nothing I don’t know in my part of the world.”
“Just fold. You just listen at corners and you think you’re something,” Shen Jie said before he left. “Right, Zhao-ge. What you said this afternoon, about being in lo…”
Shen Jie still hadn’t let go of the ‘being in love’ text He Zhao had sent. The more he thought about it the more he felt something wasn’t right, so now that he’d bumped into He Zhao he wanted to clear the air. But before the word ‘love’ could leave his mouth, he saw his Zhao-ge go rigid. He seemed to have hit a sore spot. He Zhao nearly jumped out of the window but settled for leaning his upper body out. “Shut up, you.”
“No, I just meant to ask you.” Shen Jie couldn’t figure it out. “That being in…”
Xie Yu tilted his head. He had no idea what these two were doing. “Talking about what?”³
He Zhao jumped out of the window, looking extremely anxious, the length of his entire back taut. The moment he landed, he covered Shen Jie’s mouth and followed up. “We need to talk. You’re looking for me because we need to talk, yes?”
Shen Jie was about to say, “Of course not, it’s about being in love,” but all he could make were muffled sounds of, “Mm, mm.”
He kept “Mm”-ing as He Zhao dragged him away.
Xie Yu: “……”
“What are the two of them up to?” Wan Da’s hot air immediately rushed out as he deflated. “Something’s up.”
Xu Qingqing said, “Knows-It-All-In-This-World, you’d better concentrate on losing this hand.”
He Zhao wasn’t sure where he was dragging Shen Jie to, either. Nowhere seemed like a good place to talk about this, so he dragged him straight back to the dorms.
Shen Jie sat on the chair, gasping for breath. On the way over, He Zhao hadn’t only covered his mouth, but his nostrils, too. “Zhao-ge, I almost suffocated and died, do you know?”
Before he had recovered, He Zhao said, “That… a crush is fine, too. Tell me about it?”
Shen Jie said, “Ah? What’s there to say about a crush? Feels uncomfortable and bloated, like a can of Fanta that’s been shaken very hard. Bubbling up—if anyone were to open the can, it would explode in his face.”
He Zhao: “……”
This metaphor was very apt.
But He Zhao felt that his own can of soda was quite intense. It didn’t need anyone to open it, it would explode on its own.
Shen Jie walked out of the boys’ dormitory and to the bus stop to wait for the bus. He sneezed in the autumn wind. He still hadn’t made sense of this matter with He Zhao, and now he even wanted a soda.
Shen Jie kept thinking about it. On the subject of dating, he’d known He Zhao for very long but hadn’t seen him date anyone.
He Zhao was obviously someone who could find a relationship very easily if he wanted to.
Going off his looks alone, one might think He Zhao had a lot of relationship experience. As the saying went, he was so suave he was untrustworthy.
But his Zhao-ge had remained single for more than ten years.
Shen Jie had personally experienced it when hanging out with He Zhao. One time a girl had shyly come up to start a conversation. He Zhao had replied, “Are you selling something? Sorry, not buying.”
“When Heaven opens a door, it closes a window.” Shen Jie shook his head. The bus was pulling into the station, and as he reached for his card, he said, “Looks alone don’t cut it.”