First Published on Chaleuria
054 – what to do when boyfriend doesn’t study
The exam room was quiet, even as people played their little tricks.
Old Tang walked toward the podium, unaware that the moment he passed by a row of desks, wads of paper filled the air.
“No answers.” He Zhao’s palm was empty; no little note this time. Xie Yu’s hand was cool. He Zhao said, “I wanted to do this last time, too.”
The rain made ripples against the glass window.
After a while, Xie Yu asked, “Are you done?”
He Zhao said, “No.”
“Let me hold on a while longer.”
Xie Yu paused. He was speechless, but also amused. “Idiot.”
Seeing Old Tang about to walk past them again, the idiot finally let go.
Old Tang stopped in front of He Zhao’s desk for several minutes, looking at He Zhao’s answer paper, the creases in his forehead growing deeper and deeper. Finally, he sighed, his expression complicated as he looked at the answer sheet which was full of writing on both sides. “……”
When Old Tang had gone, He Zhao poked Xie Yu with a pen. “What was that about?”
“Zhao-ge, look downward at the answers you wrote down,” Xie Yu responded. “You really don’t know?”
Xie Yu helplessly thought that this idiot probably truly wasn’t aware.
As a student with grades so bad even eight bulls could not pull his grades to the passing line,¹ He Zhao likely even had full confidence that he had answered well.
The morning exams had ended and everyone compared answers during the midday lunch break.
“Zhao-ge, your couplets didn’t work. I got many of the math questions wrong.” Wan Da passed the ‘guaranteed pass’ couplets back to He Zhao. “Keep them for yourself.”
“I think they don’t work, too,” He Zhao said as he picked up his phone. “During the first literature exam, Old Tang even sighed at my exam paper. I’ll go ask the seller.”
Xie Yu wasn’t sure what his boyfriend was doing. “Ask the seller about what?”
“Ask him if we used it right.”
“How else are they to be used? Burn them and drink the ashes?”
“Surely not that evil…”
The group discussed it for a while before the seller replied. ‘If your heart is true it will work.’
‘If your heart is true it will work.’ He Zhao pushed the couplets into Wan Da’s hand again. “Shall we work on our emotions again this afternoon?”
Xie Yu thought, Why does it seem like He Zhao is just messing with him?
But Wan Da actually took the bait. “All right, I’ll try again this afternoon.”
The exams lasted two whole days. When the last paper was finished, everyone felt only one thing: exhaustion. To help everyone relax, Liu Cunhao put on a comedy film. The film was halfway through, the classroom still silent, when Liu Cunhao finally asked anxiously, “Why aren’t you laughing? Isn’t it funny? Cheer up.”
Wan Da said blandly, “Turn it off. I really can’t laugh. By the way, Master Ling Hui is currently the person I hate most.”
“I’m going to die.” Luo Wenqiang slumped on his desk. “I need to carefully consider my survival plan.”
Only He Zhao was very obliging and enthusiastic. “This movie is good! Aren’t you watching it?”
Xie Yu went out to take a phone call.
Last night, Lei’s mom had asked him when his exams ended, and Dalei had immediately called after the exams.
Zhou Dalei was squatting in an alley and stubbed out his cigarette when Xie Yu picked up. He switched his phone to his other hand and said, “Boss Xie, you’re done with exams?”
“Let’s get together. Aunt Mei learned some new recipes a few days ago and keeps going on about cooking them for you when you come over.” Halfway through, Dalei turned and clicked his tongue at someone at his side. “Bastard, you’re still messing around? Hold it right there. If I don’t kill you today I’ll write my name Lei-zai backwards.”²
Something didn’t sound right. Xie Yu asked, “What’s up over there?”
“Nothing.” Zhou Dalei walked out of the alley and the commotion grew fainter. “Someone stole something. Damn it, got the guts to steal in this neighborhood. I’ll show him the power of Black Water Street when we get together.”
Xie Yu understood. “Don’t hit too hard.”
Dalei kept walking and seemed to think of something that lightened his spirits. “Boss Xie, do you remember when Wang-ma got us all up in the middle of the night to chase the petty thief? Damn, that was some night. Scared me to death wondering what the hell had happened.”
Xie Yu leaned against the wall, gazing through the window into the classroom. He felt as though he had returned to the familiar small street where the Community Environment Review score was never high.
He was a little dazed.
It had happened quite a few years ago. One night, in the middle of the night, a thief had broken into Wang-ma’s house.
The thief had crouched under the window outside, not daring to jump over the sill and into the house. He stared up atWang-ma for a long time, never having guessed that a middle-aged lady could be this powerful. Pots, pans, and dishes rained down on him and she shouted loudly enough to wake everyone who lived on her street. “Thief! Thief!”
The petty thief also had not imagined that he would not be able to escape. He jumped down along the pipe by the side of the house, but had not even regained his footing before a slipper crashed into his face.
Lei’s mom, in her nightgown, took the slipper off her other foot and yelled from her balcony, “Over there! I see you! Still running? I’ll beat you dead.”
A night of chaos.
They had chased the thief down three blocks.
Xie Yu and the other kids had been part of the group, too, running here and there.
That summer, even the night wind was warm.
Before handing the thief over to the police, they trapped him against the wall where he begged for mercy. “I’m never coming here again.”
“What are you stealing for?” Aunt Mei stood right in front, rolling up her sleeves. “Chin up and let’s talk. Don’t be afraid. I won’t really beat you to death. At most, half to death so I can explain something to you.”
Madam Gu had not assimilated very well to life on this street. Her education and values led her to not believe in beating people at the drop of a hat; they could send the thief to the police station without needing to get violent.
Madam Gu had dragged him home by his ear. “What on earth are you joining in for?”
Xie Yu came back to himself enough to say, “Just for this weekend. I didn’t have anything to do, anyway.”
“Sure.” Dalei generously accepted.
They chatted a while longer.
Xie Yu stood in the bend of the stairwell. He Zhao had slipped out of class at some point and, while no one was looking, wrapped his arms around Xie Yu’s waist from behind, leaning forward to ask, “What are you doing?”
Zhou Dalei was about to hang up when he heard that on the other end of the line.
The voice was very low and very close, as if right next to Boss Xie’s ear. The tone lilted at the end, sounding nothing but flirtatious to his ears.
The voice also sounded familiar.
Zhou Dalei was shocked. “Who was that? Something sounded very inappropriate there!”
Xie Yu said, “Yeah, you got me.”
He Zhao, who had been called inappropriate out of nowhere, said, “Ah?”
“Oh, you’re that—I remember you, we met at the station.” Xie Yu gave him a quick reminder. He Zhao had a good memory and had not forgotten the experience of squatting in the police station and writing a reflection essay. He felt that he had to buddy up to his boyfriend’s friend, so he thought hard and finally came up with, “Friend, you wrote a good reflection essay. Brilliant style.”
Xie Yu: “……”
Zhou Dalei’s freshly lit cigarette almost fell out of his mouth. “……”
“Who on earth is this?!” Zhou Dalei then thought through the words ‘at the station’ and how shameless this person was, then remembered. “Is it the… the handsome devil with the mask?”
He Zhao was very close to the receiver and Zhou Dalei was speaking loudly. He answered shamelessly, “Yes, that’s me. The most handsome guy in the station.”
He Zhao was a person who was easy-going by nature and could chat with anyone whether he knew them or not. Xie Yu couldn’t bear to listen any more. “How shameless can you get?”
Zhou Dalei actually did want to keep chatting with this guy. “Ah, Boss Xie, what a coincidence. You’re in the same school? Friends?”
Xie Yu paused, then said, “Mm, friends.”
Zhou Dalei didn’t think in that direction so Xie Yu didn’t mention it, either.
Although they had to be on the down-low in school, Xie Yu had no intention of keeping his relationship under wraps. If Dalei really asked about them some day, he would probably admit it. Boyfriend. Surprised?
After Xie Yu hung up the phone, He Zhao asked, “You’re going back home for the weekend?”
“Mm,” Xie Yu said. “Going to my godmother’s.”
He Zhao thought about it. “The ground snake godmother you met on the streets?”
Xie Yu hadn’t thought that He Zhao would remember his offhand remark. Although Aunt Mei was a little hot-tempered and gave off the air of a mafia aunt, she was an upright businesswoman after all.
The school dismissal bell rang and everyone packed up their things before trickling out of class. Grades had not even been released yet but already people were happy or worried. Liu Cunhao and the others stood in the classroom doorway and glimpsed them from afar, then waved. “We’re going.”
One of He Zhao’s arms was resting on Xie Yu’s shoulder. In this position, he waved to Liu Cunhao. “Bye.”
Liu Cunhao was no longer shocked by this scene. They had already held hands in class in public and even had a dedicated CP thread on the school forum.
Xie Yu went back to his dorm room to pack his things and He Zhao followed closely behind every step of the way.
He picked up several sets of clothes, then turned around, about to pick up his phone to charge, but crashed headfirst into He Zhao instead. “Can you sit down somewhere quietly for a while?”
He Zhao said, “Can’t be quiet when I think that we won’t see each other for two days. 48 hours. 2880 minnutes. 172800 seconds.”
Xie Yu was only concerned with pushing him onto the bed and didn’t realize something wasn’t quite right, like how quick He Zhao’s mental arithmetic was.
“Sit down.” Xie Yu pushed He Zhao down onto the bed, then, holding back his anger, patted He Zhao’s head and said angrily, “If you say something that stupid to me again, I’ll punch you.”
He Zhao: “……”
Xie Yu didn’t go straight to Black Water Street. He went to the Zhong household first.
Madam Gu was currently preparing food and didn’t even remove her apron before coming to the door. “You’re back? Why didn’t you say something?”
Gu Xuelan asked him a few more questions—something about how the cafeteria food was, if he had gotten thinner, and how the mid-term exams had gone.
Xie Yu picked up an apple from a bowl of fruit and leaned against the kitchen doorway. “It went fine.”
The word ‘fine’ was ambiguous, who knew what he really meant.
“What’s ‘fine?’” Gu Xuelan said. “Are you going to be second from last place again?”
Xie Yu said nothing and Gu Xuelan didn’t press the matter, either. Inexplicably, she started talking about the last in the year. “Your deskmate. The one that gets last place every time?”
Gu Xuelan finished, then added an ‘Aiyoh.’
Actually, Xie Yu sometimes felt the same way Madam Gu probably felt now.
Madam Gu had originally intended to make two dishes, but now she cooked several more and was busy in the kitchen.
Xie Yu sat on the sofa and waited for dinner. He looked down at his phone and typed out in the search bar, character by character, what to do when boyfriend doesn’t study.