First Published on Chaleuria
052 – Very eye-catching, as if he radiated light.
“Stay still. Got it.”
One of Xie Yu’s hands was in his pocket, the other acting as a pillow for his head. He looked down at the pen caught in his shirt. “What did you throw?”
He Zhao said, “My hand slipped. Really, my hand slipped.”
He Zhao had finally painstakingly found the pen he had lost for several days in the corner of his desk compartment. Xie Yu thought He Zhao looked like a refugee, one so poor he couldn’t feed his guests, who had suddenly received an unexpected windfall. “Did you see, Old Xie? We have a pen now.”
Xie Yu lay on the desk. He hadn’t slept enough during the previous class period, so he made a lukewarm noise of assent. He had wanted to continue sleeping, but that pen had flown in his direction the very next second. If Xie Yu moved even a little now, it would fall to the floor.
He Zhao was very close, his hands on top of Xie Yu’s thigh; it was ticklish. If his hands wandered upwards just a few more centimeters they would touch something they shouldn’t touch.
Xie Yu turned away and said, a little stiffly, “Hurry the fuck up.”
He Zhao hadn’t thought much of it, initially. He loved his pen like he would love the last scion of his family. He finally realized when his fingers touched the pen cap.
Shen Jie stood at the window, waiting for Xie Yu to kick his Zhao-ge’s chair over, informing him that people can’t just do as they please, that touching inappropriately came at a price. But he waited and waited, and the class bell rang but Xie Yu still hadn’t moved.
The Big Bro of the West Building just let his deskmate touch him for a while and even responded when He Zhao talked to him.
Shen Jie thought, I haven’t seen them for a few days and the world has completely changed?!
The last class of the morning was gym. Luo Wenqiang, who had suffered all morning, was now recovered from his headache and stood up excitedly. “Brothers and sisters, see you on the court!”
He Zhao stood up. “If Old Wu sees you he’ll die of anger.”
During the math class just now, Wu Zheng had asked Luo Wenqiang to come up to the board and solve a problem, but Luo Wenqiang had said he was too weak that day to hold chalk. But now he was all fired up, as if he was about to take off his jacket and jump out the window and onto the basketball court.
Luo Wenqiang opened his mouth, but Xie Yu, knowing he was looking for an excuse, interrupted before he could speak. “Don’t go on about the spirit of exercise.”
“Old Xie.” He Zhao stood in the doorway. “Let’s go.”
Luo Wenqiang: “……” These two are really presenting a united front today.
“Two laps for warm-up.” The gym teacher squatted by the rostrum, a whistle in his mouth, and said lazily, “Free time after you’re done.”
The moment Xie Yu saw the gym teacher, he remembered the push-ups training, and along with it, the forum posts He Zhao had shown him at the sports meet. As he thought, he unintentionally met He Zhao’s eyes.
They stood at the back of the line and neither one of them spoke. Xie Yu averted his eyes, staring at the chaos on the soccer field. Someone walked by them with a bag of volleyballs. Then Xie Yu discovered that He Zhao was pressing the back of his hand against his, whether intentionally or not.
The gym teacher narrowed his eyes and said, “If you want sports equipment, go to the gym rep. The gym rep will go to the equipment room to get everything all at once. Luo Wenqiang, are you still playing basketball today?”
Luo Wenqiang replied, “Yes, of course we are.”
The gym teacher said, “We don’t know if there will be a basketball tournament this term. I heard from the dean that he wants to try something new this year.”
“What ‘something new.’” Liu Cunhao had expended a great deal of effort getting on the basketball team and had kissed up to the gym rep for a long time. “Because of what happened last term?” The last two classes standing after the round robin were both too competitive and almost started a fight. The classes had stayed enemies and glared at each other for the whole school term.
The crowd murmured.
No one noticed the small movements of the two people in the last row.
The backs of their hands pressed together, they stayed that way, quietly, aware but silent.
“Old Xie,” He Zhao suddenly said.
Luo Wenqiang walked to the front of the row and led the class in their warm-up run. He ran backwards, hands in the air, and said, “Girls, follow Qing-ge! Stay in line and don’t fall behind.”
He Zhao had been running at the end of the line, and while the gym teacher wasn’t looking, he disregarded the line and ran forward one place, next to Xie Yu. He whispered, “Can you run? Is your leg okay?”
He’d recovered long ago. It wasn’t a serious injury in the first place and it had healed quickly. A few days’ rest had been enough.
Before Xie Yu could reply in the affirmative, Luo Wenqiang shouted, “Zhao-ge, what are you doing? Formation! Formation! You’re too much.”
He Zhao waved at Luo Wenqiang and returned to the back of the line.
After jogging two laps and passing the finish line, everyone dispersed.
Behind the quad, near the equipment room, there were a few grassy patches where the students not doing gym activities often sat to chat.
Xie Yu looked for a place to sit down, but then he remembered that Class 3’s study rep had gotten a hold of him last time—Xue Xisheng really didn’t miss any opportunity—and had pulled out a pocket vocabulary book, saying, “Xie Yu, let me tell you about word stems. English word stems are very easy to remember, so I hope your English score will improve in the mid-term exams…”
He had better look for somewhere near the basketball court to hide.
When Xie Yu appeared near the basketball courts, Luo Wenqiang’s eyes lit up. “Yu-ge!”
Luo Wenqiang had had his eye on Xie Yu for the basketball team from the start. No one had seen him play yet, but they all thought he would be very good. Only Wan Da held the ball quietly, remembering the last video game he had played with Xie Yu, then shook his head despondently.
He really couldn’t imagine such a single-player type playing a team game.
He Zhao was taking off his jacket beneath the basketball hoop, leaving just a short-sleeved t-shirt behind. He tossed his jacket to the side, and hearing Luo Wenqiang holler, he glanced behind him.
Luo Wenqiang said, “Yu-ge, did you come over to…”
Xie Yu said, “No, I’ll just watch you all play.”
Luo Wenqiang was about to continue but Xu Qingqing called him from the gates. “Gym rep, are there more badminton rackets? We’re short.”
Luo Wenqiang scratched his head and ran over. “Short? I got enough for everyone in the class.”
He Zhao leaned against the basketball stand, drawing eyes just by being there. Once Luo Wenqiang had departed, he bent to whisper in Xie Yu’s ear, “You came to watch us… or came to watch me?”
Xie Yu thought, Neither. Came to avoid the study rep.
But He Zhao’s breath against his ear was warm, and when he spoke his eyes sparkled, hinting fiercely at him. It was just about written on his face, Say you’re here to watch me. Say it.
“Came to watch you.” Xie Yu decided to give him face, and sighed. “To watch my boyfriend.”
“Zhao-ge——” Wan Da urged. “Done?”
He Zhao smiled and replied, “Coming,” then patted Xie Yu’s head and said, “Watch closely. I’ll show you how great a partner you picked.”
Great, not so much. Shameless, on the other hand.
The whole match, He Zhao seemed to be trying his utmost to draw attention to himself. He played both fierce and hard. When he did a three-step layup and leaped into the air, catching the wind, and his waist was faintly visible as he moved.
He snatched the ball then ran clear across the court. He dribbled the ball past people when they were there, and when they weren’t, he dribbled the ball through air.
“Very good. Now we see Zhao-ge dribble the ball through thin air again. A perfect pass. Perfect posture, brilliant and exciting. As if someone really was standing there.” Liu Cunhao was the substitute for this round, and since he was sitting on the sidelines with nothing to do, he started commentating. “Very awesome. Let us give Zhao-ge a round of applause.”
Xie Yu laughed, then called him mad.
He Zhao landed the basket before turning to glance in Xie Yu’s direction. He put his index and middle finger to his lips, then blew a kiss.
The huge group of onlookers screamed in unison, “Ahhh—”
Excited discussion arose all around, trying to guess who the recipient of the flying kiss was. The people in the area glanced at each other, searching for a clue.
But the true recipient of the kiss didn’t seem moved at all.
Xie Yu, leaning back on his hands next to the flowerbed, thought, Yes, quite cool.
He paused, then thought, Forget it. I’ll be compassionate. Take the word ‘quite’ away.
He was cool.
The drama king really was eye-catching. As if he radiated light.
After He Zhao had played for a while, the people playing with him couldn’t take it any more, especially Wan Da, who felt completely useless on the court. If he took off his basketball tank he could even rest with Liu Cunhao on the sidelines. He Zhao was carrying the whole match, anyway. Didn’t even need support.
And the way he was posturing and feinting right and left, even his teammates didn’t know what he was trying to do.
“Take a break, Zhao-ge,” Luo Wenqiang advised. Before He Zhao could reply, Luo Wenqiang waved at the substitute. “Hao-zi, come up!”
He Zhao said, “…Are you even human? Who was it that begged me to come in the first place?”
Luo Wenqiang said, “I was wrong, all right? Now I know why you said you were too good and didn’t want to disturb us. Your self-assessment was very accurate.”
The price of showing off was that He Zhao was kicked off Class 3’s basketball team forever, and the gym rep now deeply understood that the Big Bros of the East and West Buildings were not beings he could control.
He Zhao walked off the court, disappointed. “They’re inhumane.”
Xie Yu said, “You’re inhumane, too. Is passing the ball to air that fun?”
The match began to grow exciting again. Liu Cunhao tried to pass someone with the ball, but failed, and had the ball snatched by the other player.
He Zhao turned and asked, “Wasn’t I cool?”
Xie Yu replied, “Like an idiot.”
The two sat on the sidelines, watching the match. He Zhao took several gulps of water from a bottle, then handed it to Xie Yu. “Drink?”
Xie Yu wasn’t thirsty but He Zhao handed it over so naturally that he just took it.
When his lips touched the mouth of the bottle, he felt a faint wetness, the condensation rising from the drink inside——He Zhao had touched this place just now, too.
The same phrase surfaced in both their minds: Fuck, indirect kiss.
He Zhao suddenly felt that the half a bottle he had just drunk had been rendered completely useless; his throat had suddenly gone dry. And his little friend’s lips were moist and shining, and as he looked… he wanted to… ah, better stop looking.
He Zhao coughed and forced himself to keep watching Hao-zi and the others play basketball.
Xie Yu wasn’t much better off. He held onto the bottle for so long his fingertips started going numb, and only then did he return the bottle to He Zhao.
He Zhao scrambled to cap the bottle again. His fingers fumbled with the cap for a long time before his hand slipped, the cap dropping to the ground and rolling around in the grass.
Note from translator: Next chapter may be a few more days, sorry!