First Published on Chaleuria
048 – “Zhao-ge.”
A certain person who had had a window closed on him by Heaven was currently very frustrated indeed.
He was so frustrated he didn’t sleep well all night. Even doing mock exam papers didn’t help.
He Zhao discovered that the strange, something-is-out-of-place feeling had gradually built up, little by little. By the time he became aware of it, it was completely out of control.
Countless times he had been shaken, and each time, he wasn’t sure what to do.
He wasn’t sure where to put his hands, he didn’t dare look directly at that person, yet a voice in his heart continued to shout.
He, likes, Xie Yu.
Not that sort of like. That sort of like.
Whenever he saw him, his heart filled up. Afraid to win, yet afraid to lose. Not grounded at all, with the lingering feeling that somewhere within him still remained empty. That sort of like.
He Zhao had remained single for more than ten years. Faced with this age-old dilemma, his thoughts rushed about in all directions like a wild beast but still could not find their way.
Eventually the beast stopped, having exhausted all its energy. He Zhao sat on the ground and thought, would his little friend… dislike it?
As someone who was discussed in a CP thread on the school forums, He Zhao was, in a broad sense, aware of the matters of being gay and being straight.
What if Xie Yu was as straight as an arrow?
He was at an age where it was easy to be reckless, but he didn’t dare to just do as he pleased.
Eventually, He Zhao tossed his pen down. He wasn’t sure what to do, either, so he opened Xie Yu’s social media profile and scrolled down, post by post.
Xie Yu’s social media profile was like a boundary line, cordoning off the Xie Yu he knew. He Zhao now saw Xie Yu’s life from before, his friend circle… and the gentleness that he ordinarily never showed.
Xie Yu’s everyday posts were very simple, generally a short phrase. When he was angry he would post, ‘Go fucking scram,’ and when he was happy he would post pictures of nature or his surroundings. One common subject of the photographs was a very fat orange cat, with the caption Eat yourself to death.
The orange cat sometimes sunned itself belly-up at the entrance to the convenience store, napping with its eyes narrowed.
The convenience store looked run-down and children’s toys were arranged on its stock shelves. A whole wall of cheap toys.
There was a signpost in the upper left corner of the photo, the words ‘Black Water Street’ faintly visible.
He Zhao paused. This location sounded familiar.
But the posts about Black Water Street had grown fewer in number over the last few years, and He Zhao thought to himself, Did he move?
As he continued scrolling, he reached a close-up photo of the orange cat. It was very close to the camera, its nose almost pressed to the glass, and Xie Yu’s hand was placed on the orange cat’s head——just looking at the hand, one could not imagine that the person rubbing the cat’s head could be vicious at all.
Xie Yu was sitting on the side of the road, and the cat was clearly very comfortable being petted, its eyes narrowed with satisfaction.
He Zhao stared at the photo for a long time before quietly saving it.
The Xie Yu in these photos was different from the Xie Yu in school, but he was still the little friend He Zhao knew.
With such a thick layer of armor, everyone thought he was impenetrable.
“Damn.” He Zhao couldn’t bear it any longer and flipped his phone over. “…Why is he so cute.”
After evening self-study ended, Xie Yu returned to his dorm room and had just finished showering when he received a phone call from home. He thought it was Madam Gu calling to ask him again if he would be going home for the weekend, and prepared to use the excuse that he needed to study for the upcoming mid-term exams.
But when he picked up the phone he heard Zhong Jie’s voice, stuttering and clearly drunk. “Xie Yu, I’m te-te-telling you, don’t fucking think…”
Zhong Jie’s voice stopped there, because Xie Yu had hung up the phone.
Two minutes passed, then Zhong Jie called again and said haughtily, “You’re just a peasant, but you dare hang up on me?”
A vein jumped at Xie Yu’s temple.
What the hell was ‘peasant?’ The drunk was still acting like he was a lord tyrant?
He Zhao was still awash in the feeling of ‘my little friend is too damn cute’ when he heard his cute little friend walking down the corridor and cursing out loud, “Motherfucker, are you quite finished?”
He Zhao: “……”
“Everyone owes you something and you’re the worst off.” Xie Yu pushed open his dorm room door and walked out, heading to the deserted end of the corridor to keep talking. Expression blank, he said, “Yes, I’ve been eyeing your family fortune for a long time now. You had better guard it like the dog you are.”
Xie Yu had not taken two steps before the door opposite his opened and He Zhao leaned in his doorway, watching him.
Xie Yu did not react, passed him, and kept walking, cursing the whole way. Very impressively, he never repeated a single curse.
When he was done, and walking back after hanging up the phone, He Zhao asked, “Who was it that deserved that cursing?”
He Zhao did not ask anything further about the situation. An average person, listening to this without knowing the full picture, would think Xie Yu was the bully here. But He Zhao straightaway labeled the other party, who had been cursed at for a long time, as ‘deserving of cursing.’ He really was very biased.
Xie Yu didn’t want to talk about it. He stopped, stood in his dorm room doorway and said, “Ah, just an idiot.”
Xie Yu’s expression was frustrated, an air of annoyance emanating from him. If Zhong Jie were in front of him now, and if one were to hand Xie Yu a stick, he wouldn’t hesitate to beat Zhong Jie to a pulp. He was that annoyed.
He Zhao turned to one side. “Want to come in and sit down?”
Xie Yu didn’t move.
He Zhao said, “I have sweets.”
Xie Yu used words economically. If he could express what he wanted in two words he certainly would not use three.
After listening for a while, He Zhao had gotten the gist of it. He suggested, perfectly seriously, “Is your stepbrother a special needs child? Does he need to see a neurologist?”
Xie Yu laughed. “Yes. Developmentally challenged child.”
He Zhao suddenly remembered the orange cat from Xie Yu’s profile. He pulled up the photo and showed Xie Yu. “How did this cat get so fat?”
“The whole street feeds it. How could it not get fat?” Xie Yu glanced at it then asked, “What are you looking at my profile for?”
“I…” He Zhao stopped. “Just looking.”
They chatted for a while, about everything from developmentally challenged children to the latest video game equipment, and then the conversation came around to Liu Cunhao’s birthday. “Hao-zi’s birthday is next weekend. Are you going?”
Xie Yu thought about it. “Birthday?”
“Did you not notice him dropping hints?” He Zhao dragged his chair closer. “A wily one, he is.”
Over the last few days, Liu Cunhao had been hinting right and left about the things he liked, as if worried others wanted to buy him birthday gifts but weren’t sure what to get. “There’s nothing I really like lately, but if I had to name something, it would be xx’s new album… That’s all right.”
Wan Da was close to him and didn’t require such roundabout hints—Liu Cunhao had just sent him a Taobao¹ link—but no one else in the class escaped Liu Cunhao’s attentions.
Now that He Zhao had reminded him, Xie Yu finally realized Liu Cunhao’s intentions. “I thought he’d gone mad.”
He Zhao leaned against the back of his chair and laughed. “It was very obvious. Couldn’t you tell? Hao-zi must be so embarrassed.”
Xie Yu thought about the few conversations he had had with Liu Cunhao over the past few days and suddenly wanted to laugh. “He didn’t speak plainly. How was I to know?”
It was rare for the two of them to sit together talking about their classmates, and now the conversation suddenly cut off. For a while, neither of them spoke. Xie Yu felt uneasy for no real reason, and after he calmed down he found the atmosphere was a little more strange than just simply awkward.
He couldn’t sit still any longer and got up. “I’ll… go then.”
Before he finished, He Zhao had already caught the hem of his shirt.
He was wearing a button-down and the overall image was of someone who didn’t really care about anything: a little languid, a smile always on his lips, as if there were many things in the world to be happy about.
He Zhao swallowed, then said—both to himself and to Xie Yu—“It’ll pass.”
Even if it feels like being imprisoned right now.
As long as you put in a little effort, and if that doesn’t work, a little more… and walk forward, the life you want and all the answers you were looking for… will be there.
“Go.” He Zhao let go and smiled. “Goodnight, little friend.”
Xie Yu stood, stunned, then after a moment, said goodnight, too.
The next day.
The wily guy who had been labeled ‘mad’ was now formally inviting everyone to attend his birthday gathering that weekend. He had even written invitations.
Xie Yu received one, too. Inside was written the time and place: next Sunday, 9 a.m. at Central Avenue.
He Zhao pretended to be put on the spot. “Hao-zi, about a gift…”
Liu Cunhao waved a hand dismissively, putting on a magnanimous air as if he hadn’t been dropping hints wildly just a few days ago. “Gifts aren’t important. Your good wishes mean more! Before our friendship, all those things are unimportant.”
Xie Yu said, “…You really want to save face that much?”
Xu Qingqing and Wan Da couldn’t keep listening and threw writing implements at him. “Bullshit! What’s this about good wishes meaning more! Aren’t you embarrassed saying that!”
Wan Da said, “Shall I help you remember that Taobao link you sent me? Hao-zi, think about that link, then talk.”
Liu Cunhao put his head in his hands, hiding. “So rough. Especially you, Qing-ge. You won’t be able to get married like that.”
He Zhao stirred the pot. “Hao-zi, how can you say that to Qing-ge?”
Xu Qingqing was about to go to the faculty office to get the English homework, but on hearing this she started rolling up her sleeves. She gritted out, “Come on. Come over here, if you dare.”
Liu Cunhao dashed outside. “I’d be stupid if I went.”
Liu Cunhao had invited everyone out for an outing and then a meal for his birthday.
Xie Yu had intended to skip, but seeing how excited Liu Cunhao was, he couldn’t think of how to refuse. He Zhao patted his head and said, as if he’d anticipated everything, “Yes, he’s going.”
Xie Yu thought, Going, your ass.
Madam Gu was even more excited than Liu Cunhao about this class birthday gathering.
Xie Yu’s previous friends were all from Black Water Street. She hadn’t noticed Xie Yu making many new friends after moving.
Even falling in with Zhou Dalei and the others had taken Xie Yu a long time. Since the accident when he was young, people had beat them while they were down. Friends and family all chased them away. Now that Gu Xuelan thought about it, during those years when she had taken Xie Yu here and there and suffered the judgmental gazes of others, she had thought Xie Yu wasn’t old enough to understand, but he had seen and understood it all.
So Xie Yu had gradually grown quieter and subconsciously defensive when meeting people for the first time. He was very wary.
“Your classmate, the class rep,” Gu Xuelan began with a smile. “Have you bought him a present? You must be polite and wish him a happy birthday. Be sweeter. Isn’t this nice? Go out with your classmates more often and take some photos… Do you have enough money on you?”
Xie Yu was a little annoyed at getting a lecture before he went out. He changed his shoes and walked outside. “All right, talk to you later. Mom, I’m going out.”
In school, everyone wore the school uniform and hairstyles were also regulated. They only chatted about homework and exams. Now that they had a chance to go out, everyone went a little mad.
Xu Qingqing wore a pair of overalls, long hair loose, a small shoulder bag over her shoulder. When she appeared, everyone was surprised. “Wah, who is this? Are you from our class?”
Xu Qingqing smiled. “I’m your Qing-ge.”
He Zhao arrived early. He squatted by the side of the street, looking down at his phone.
Liu Cunhao and the others quickly found that with this person in their group, they turned many heads. It seemed as if every girl that passed by would secretly take a second look. When Xie Yu arrived later… it would be unimaginable.
Xie Yu’s phone exploded with messages before he had even left the train.
Are you here?
At the train station entrance. The north one.
Where are you?
Xie Yu glanced down and walked as he replied, Ask again and I’ll block you.
He Zhao didn’t reply.
Several steps later, Xie Yu received a message: I’m especially handsome today. You’ll see me the moment you exit the station. The most eye-catching one in the group.
Wan Da had changed his hairstyle and was skipping about on the platform. When he jumped, he glimpsed Xie Yu. “I saw Yu-ge! Wah, Zhao-ge, today you two, black and white, a perfect match.”
Everyone glanced in the direction of the train station.
He Zhao was wearing a black jacket; Xie Yu was wearing a white one and glancing down at something.
Xie Yu’s finger was currently on the block button. He hadn’t yet pressed it when he heard cheering in front of him. When he looked up, all of Class 3 was waving at him. “Yu-ge, over here——”
He Zhao was standing right in front, smiling as he yelled, “Old Xie!” He really was the most eye-catching of the lot.
Not all of Class 3 was here—there were twelve people. The others were attending remedial lessons and couldn’t make it.
“Shall we sing karaoke after lunch?” Liu Cunhao said as he collected his presents, arms filling up so quickly he couldn’t take any more. “Ah, don’t give them to me yet. Give them to me when we eat cake later, so it feels more ceremonial. And I don’t have to carry them, either.”
Eating this meal was like fighting a war.
Every dish was fought over. Luo Wenqiang was upfront about the fact that he hadn’t eaten dinner last night just so he could eat this meal.
Xie Yu frowned as he watched. He didn’t participate in the battle but he did open his camera app to take a photo.
“…Bros, you’re too much.” He Zhao was also embroiled in the fight for food, almost getting his whole sleeve soaked in oil as he snatched a piece of fish belly and put it in Xie Yu’s bowl. “Are you trying to starve my deskmate to death?”
Xie Yu’s hand trembled and the viewfinder listed to one side.
The resulting photo contained no people, just six or seven pairs of entangled chopsticks and the steamed fish in a sorry state in the middle of the table. “……”
He Zhao was just like a stray dog who had picked up some meat and was hiding it in its nest, only the nest was Xie Yu’s bowl.
He Zhao snatched a piece of sweet and sour ribs from someone and put it in Xie Yu’s bowl, saying, “Old Xie, don’t be so image conscious.² Children who care so much about appearances won’t get food.”
He emphasized, “My chopsticks are clean… quick, eat. Do you see how the gym rep is eyeing it?”
Xie Yu opened his mouth, unsure what to say, and eventually called out, “He Zhao.”
He Zhao was still fighting Luo Wenqiang for the last piece of corn pie and wasn’t paying attention. He said distractedly, “Mm?”
Xie Yu paused, then said again, “Zhao-ge.”