First Published on Chaleuria
050 – You provoked me first
Xie Yu kept his eyes shut.
The darkness before his eyes made his other senses even more acute.
For instance: his breathing, his heartbeat, and his fingers interlaced with He Zhao’s.
Xie Yu felt at peace. He didn’t feel any of the unidentifiable emotion from before. He didn’t want to hit anyone anymore. He would let He Zhao keep his damn life a little longer.
The unidentifiable frustration now seemed to have found an outlet—an answer began to take shape, barely noticeable.
Maybe it had been there all along.
The interior of the cab was nearly silent. Aside from Wan Da humming in his sleep in the front seat, there were the sounds of other cars passing by and honking.
It was nearly evening and the sky was growing dark. When the cab turned onto a side road, Wan Da smacked his lips and woke up again, asking in confusion and fear, “Where’s my light? Lighting crew?”
Asking for music so he could dance, and now asking for lighting, too. He was probably dreaming of being an international superstar.
When Wan Da finished speaking, Xie Yu felt He Zhao’s hand stiffen in his. He seemed very anxious and even his breathing grew shallow.
Thankfully, Wan Da then closed his eyes and sank back into a deep sleep.
He Zhao moved his fingers, wondering whether to let go.
After a long time, he didn’t move. He couldn’t bear to let go.
The red light changed and the car kept moving forward. The number on the fare meter steadily ticked upward from its base fare.
After an indeterminate amount of time the surroundings grew familiar. Then the cab turned into a side street near Erzhong. Now they could see the classroom building, which was the flagship building of Liyang Erzhong. It was the tallest in the school and had the school’s motto written on the top.
“Up here, right?” The driver turned the cab. “Quite an impressive school. Which year are you?”
“Second year, huh… My son is in his third year, so one year above you. Students these days have it hard. You have to do your homework late into the night, and I must say… studying is important, but your health is important, too.”
Xie Yu was pretending to sleep, and this pretense was tiring. Especially for his neck, which was twisted so his head could rest against the back of the seat.
Seeing they were about to arrive at school, He Zhao tried to let go and withdraw his hand while his little friend wouldn’t notice. “It’s quite tiring. Hope your son does well on the high school exams…”
He suddenly cut himself off.
He was just starting to let go when Xie Yu—initially passive, his fingers slack—suddenly tightened his own hand, fingertips resting on the back of He Zhao’s hand suddenly gripping it tightly.
He Zhao really was going to explode this time.
The cab driver was still discussing his son. “He lost so much weight, my heart hurts for him. Third year is exhausting. Endure… everyone just has to endure. No one gets to escape, wouldn’t you say? When you get into a university, things will be better. So being tired now is worth it…”
No one listened to the driver’s ramblings.
In the few minutes they had left, the two remained as they were, fingers intertwined. Neither of them spoke or looked at each other. When the cab stopped and the driver was waiting to collect the fare, he discovered neither of his passengers in the back seat were moving. “Erzhong, wasn’t it? We’re here. Erzhong.”
Xie Yu was calm. He looked at He Zhao and gently moved his hand. Only now did He Zhao come back to his senses, and his thoughts whirled once before he suddenly let go.
Xie Yu watched as He Zhao hurriedly fumbled for his wallet and even failed to count his money correctly. The fare was thirty yuan but he only pulled out a twenty.
The driver held the twenty and was a little worried. “Can you count?”
Xie Yu’s discomfort had now all but vanished and he couldn’t stop himself from cursing. “Idiot.”
“Thirty, was it. Ah, thirty.” He Zhao fumbled for a long time before pulling out a ten. “Sorry. Heard wrong.”
Xie Yu circled around to the passenger seat, bent down, patted Wan Da’s face, and pulled Wan Da out of the seat.
Wan Da walked as if he were stepping on cotton balls. Unsteady on his feet, he asked, “Ah? Is it my turn to go on stage?”
“Yes, superstar,” Xie Yu said. “It’s your turn to go on stage.”
Wan Da was very happy. Looking at the streetlamps lining the road, he felt like he was standing center stage. “What song would you like to hear?”
Xie Yu caught hold of his collar, dragging him toward the school. “How about Loyalty to the Country?”
Wan Da immediately paused.
Ever since Dean Jiang had made Loyalty to the Country a school-wide wake-up call, the song had become a shadow in every live-in student’s heart that could not be wiped away.
He Zhao paid the fare and came over to help. The two helped Wan Da walk, one on either side. Many times they wanted to say something, but the words died on their lips; nothing seemed suitable.
Aside from that, they still had to deal with Wan Da’s intermittent drunken outbursts. For instance, when they were going up the stairs, he suddenly shouted, “Friends in the audience, let me see your hands!”
He couldn’t see their hands so he stood in the stairwell and wouldn’t move.
“That is the stairwell, not the audience stand. You normally aren’t this annoying, are you?” He Zhao was thoroughly defeated. “Don’t make me take action.”
Wan Da clutched the railing, adamant on keeping his superstar dignity.
Xie Yu had washed his hands of the matter and sat on the stairs to watch the show.
He watched He Zhao retreat several paces and wave, fulfilling Wan Da’s wish.
Wan Da waved excitedly back at him. “My fans, my friends.”
Xie Yu covered his mouth with his hand, stifling a laugh. “This is what you meant by take action?”
He Zhao reminded, “…Don’t tell anyone about this. I get embarrassed, too.”
They had classes the next day, and students had been trickling back into school since noon. Both Wan Da’s suitemates were back, so when they returned the ‘superstar’ to his room, Xie Yu leaned against the doorway and said, “Take care.”
Wan Da’s two suitemates had no idea the depth of meaning “Take care” had until Wan Da jumped onto the bed and started dancing. “Damn it, how much did he drink?”
“Hey, take care of him,” He Zhao said. “If you really can’t stand it anymore, get a stick and knock him out.”
They walked out of Wan Da’s dorm room and headed toward the third floor.
That oppressive atmosphere which made it hard to breathe had returned again.
Xie Yu suddenly remembered when, around second year in junior high, Zhou Dalei was chasing his crush. Rumor had it the girl liked guys with talent, so he learned to play the guitar and wrote a song, singing day in and day out in the street, “Oh baby, you are the rose with thorns…”
Every time he practiced he was able to collect the many presents thrown at him by the residents of Black Water Street—pots, crockery, plates, and even some bricks.
Only Da Mei provided positive moral support. “Bro, actually, your song is quite okay. Have some faith in yourself.”
“Really? Is it really okay?”
Zhou Dalei’s injured soul clearly needed more comfort, so he glanced at Xie Yu, who took his earplugs out of his ears and said mercilessly, “Are you done singing?”
So merciless it was hackle-raising. In response, Zhou Dalei had said, unhappily as he held his guitar, “Boss Xie, you’ve never liked anyone. You don’t understand love.”
Xie Yu was, in matters of the heart, very cold.
But just because he left things unsaid didn’t mean he didn’t know they were there.
He didn’t like dragging things out. If something was wrong, just spit it out. Don’t make trouble.
Before, someone with a crush on him who didn’t dare confess had made such a scene that everyone knew, to the point it was as if something of significance really had happened between them. Even Dalei had come over and wink-wink-nudged-nudged. “I heard that, who was it, about that, did you two really…”
The next day, Xie Yu had gone in search of that person and said only two things:
You like me?
Sorry, I don’t like you.
He Zhao was annoying, too. And a big annoyance who got him mixed up in shenanigans, at that.
Now that things had come to this, they couldn’t both keep playing dumb.
Xie Yu’s thought process was very simple. If there was something to say, he’d say it. However he thought, whatever he wanted to do.
Walking to his dorm room door, He Zhao’s mind was full of fireworks going off. Like when he couldn’t properly count out thirty bucks, he had opened the door, walked in, then closed the door by the time he came back to his senses.
Xie Yu watched the idiot enter his room. “……”
Is there something wrong with him?
Xie Yu walked over, but before he could knock the door opened.
He Zhao stood in the doorway. “I…”
Xie Yu cut him off. “Are you drunk.”
“No.” He Zhao was a little stunned, but he quickly figured out what Xie Yu meant. He paused, then asked in return, “Are you… drunk?”
Xie Yu said, “Idiot, what do you think?”
He wasn’t drunk.
It wasn’t the alcohol acting up.
It wasn’t a momentary impulse, either.
“You called me Zhao-ge before. Why idiot again?”
“You are an idiot.”
From the corridor came the sound of luggage wheels and the noise of several people making a racket as they came down the stairs.
With incredible childishness they bandied, “you’re the idiot,” back and forth several times. Then Xie Yu stood still in the middle of the racket and said, “He Zhao, you provoked me first.”
You provoked me first.
Invaded his life with so much noise.
Insisting on breaking past all of his defenses.
The moment Xie Yu finished, He Zhao grabbed his wrist and pulled him into the dorm room. Xie Yu’s back hit the door with a jolt of pain. “Damn, are you crazy?”
They were very close together. He Zhao’s arm was on the door by Xie Yu’s ear, and he finally couldn’t hold it in any more. Even if Xie Yu crippled him when he said it, he was willing.
“I’ve… never liked anyone before.”
“The one in front of me, my little friend called Xie Yu, is the first.”
He Zhao wasn’t sure how to say it. He had no experience confessing, and in Shen Jie’s words he was EQ-challenged. After a pause, he continued. “Even though my little friend is bad-tempered and beats people up at the drop of a hat, I still like him very much.”
“It’s a very serious like. I’m happy when I see him. I want to date him. I love him like my life.”
When He Zhao was done confessing, he asked, “Did my bad-tempered little friend hear that?”
The bad-tempered little friend very much wanted to punch someone right now.
Who says such things?
Asking for a beating.
“I’ve never liked anyone either.”
Xie Yu held back his desire to punch someone and said, “The idiot called He Zhao in front of me is the first.”