First Published on Chaleuria
056 – “No time right now. We can talk when I’m done fighting.”
Dalei’s house was the same as before. Even the television set still had the same dent on top with a crack running down the screen. Just looking at it gave Xie Yu a sense of familiarity.
Da Mei had broken it by accident. At the time, he had jumped from shock and said, “It’s not broken, no way…”
Da Mei had even concocted a plan to sell himself to repay the debt.
But Dalei had waved a hand dismissively and said, “There’s no way it’s broken. Even if it was, my mom would thank you. This television has a very strong will to live. Mom has been waiting for it to break so she has an excuse to get a new one for a long time… look, it’s fine, isn’t it?”
Xie Yu played for a while, then stopped. He pushed the pile of blankets on Dalei’s bed into the corner, freeing up some space for himself, then sprawled with his back against the headboard and looked down at his phone where he had pulled up the class group chat.
[Liu Cunhao]: I’m telling you, my dad came home drunk last night. He hugged the toilet bowl, passionately called out my mom’s name, and my mom nearly kicked him into it.
[Wan Da]: Your dad’s a lot, isn’t he.
[Luo Wenqiang]: Is he still alive?
He Zhao had woken up early and Xie Yu had received a text from him. Before he could reply, he saw He Zhao making his presence known in the group chat.
[He Zhao]: The two of you, stop messing around.
[He Zhao]: Compared to Hao-zi’s dad, you’re worse in every way. Do you want me to recite all your heroic deeds here?
Faced with the threat of blackmail, Wan Da immediately sobered up.
[Wan Da]: …Ha ha ha, I… I just remembered I haven’t finished my homework. Friends, see you later.
[Luo Wenqiang]: See you later.
Xie Yu watched as the two who had said ‘See you later’ surfaced again soon after, complaining that there was too much homework.
In the time they had spent idly chatting, they could probably have finished a problem set.
Zhou Dalei got bored of playing video games alone and saw that his Boss Xie seemed to be in good spirits. “What’s got you so happy?”
“Group chat,” Xie Yu explained succinctly. “Someone got drunk and thought the toilet bowl was his wife. Too much homework.”
Zhou Dalei: “……”
Zhou Dalei: “Ah.”
If not for Zhou Dalei’s long friendship with this young master, he wouldn’t have understood what on earth Xie Yu was talking about. Xie Yu hoarded his words like gold, and his conversation partner had to fill in the blanks for himself. He told stories in a roundabout manner, too.
After saying, “Ah,” Zhou Dalei noticed that something was wrong. What was it?
“Damn it… your class group chat?” Two minutes later, Zhou Dalei tossed away the red and white controller and jumped up.
Xie Yu: “What kind of reaction is that?”
“A surprised reaction,” Zhou Dalei said. “I… I would’ve never guessed.”
Xie Yu thought about closing the chat, but He Zhao’s words from last night kept echoing in his ears. About the class group chat, and about the study rep… Xie Yu hesitated for a while, then decided to leave a mark of his presence before leaving.
He went through the emoji list and found a rather warm, smiling face.
All the students in Class 2.3 who were online at the moment now saw in the chat window an expression that did not at all suit their youthful aesthetic sense of someone reserved, chilly, and with a mocking gaze.
Xie Yu: [/Smile].
[Wan Da]: ……
[Liu Cunhao]: ……
[Luo Wenqiang]: ……
The chat instantly went silent.
Only their Zhao-ge wasn’t fazed at all.
[He Zhao]: Good morning, Old Xie. Had breakfast yet?
Xie Yu tapped on the screen. Before he could respond, He Zhao called. Xie Yu was still a little sleepy, and when he answered the call he said, “I’ve eaten. What about it?”
He Zhao laughed and said, “Nothing. Just wanted to hear your voice.”
“The correct answer, again?”
“…No.” He Zhao thought that his little friend might have misunderstood. “Where are you?”
“At the house of the one who wrote a good reflection essay.” Xie Yu glanced at Zhou Dalei’s bed, which resembled a dog’s nest. Although he judged it a little, he hadn’t had any other place to sleep. He continued, “…Anything else? If not, I’m going back to sleep.”
Fuck. Still going back to sleep?
He Zhao connected the two thoughts and thought it rather serendipitous. “Where are you sleeping?”
Xie Yu said, “On the bed. Where else?”
“Ah.” A moment later, He Zhao said quietly, “My little friend’s sleeping in some other man’s bed?”
“……” Are you crazy?
Zhou Dalei was still sitting on the ground, playing the video game. Xie Yu suddenly felt a little uncomfortable flirting with his boyfriend in front of his bro of many years. “I’m hanging up.”
He Zhao had been joking. He only wanted to hear some gentle words, but now he thought it was probably better that he didn’t. It was his little friend, after all, so anything was fine. “Mm, sleep well, then.”
He Zhao hung up the phone, a lollipop in his mouth as he put his phone to one side. He glanced back down at the mock paper he was doing, read the questions, then thought about how to answer. His phone screen lit up again.
It was a text.
From the cutest little friend in the entire world: Other man my ass.
It was only a few simple words, harshly phrased, as chilly as always. But He Zhao stared at them for a long time, and by the time he came back to his senses, he was in no mood to think about practice questions at all. He wanted to go out and run a few laps around the quad and yell at the top of his lungs.
Let’s read between the lines!
This is a confession!
He’s mine alone!
Xie Yu tossed his phone aside after sending the text and slept till noon when Zhou Dalei woke him. “Boss Xie, look what time it is. Lunchtime is nearly over but Aunt Mei still isn’t back? I’m starving.”
It was bright outside. Sunlight shone in through the balcony window. Noise filtered in from the alleyway; it sounded like a couple arguing, and the whole street could hear every word.
Xie Yu sat up and looked outside. A woman on the opposite balcony was eating melon seeds while listening, and every two seeds she muttered under her breath, “…arguing about what, exactly? Just fight it out. You’ll be arguing till the cows come home.”
Perhaps Xie Yu had slept too much, or perhaps it was because he had been woken up, but his left eyelid kept twitching. He lifted a hand to press on it lightly. “Ask her.”
Zhou Dalei called her but no one picked up.
It took several more calls before someone picked up. Xu Yanmei said that she was busy and told them to get food from a restaurant and wait until she got home that evening… then the call cut off.
“She said she was busy. Probably stuff to do over at Guang Mao.” Zhou Dalei stuffed his phone back in his pocket and stood up. “How about it? Shall we go out to eat?”
There weren’t many restaurants in the area, just a few Shaxian² places, all empty. Aside from the shops that clearly weren’t doing honest business, there were only roadside stalls to visit.
“Lei-zai, long time no see.” The shopkeeper waved warmly at the familiar face. Zhou Dalei had wanted to keep browsing, but now they couldn’t not go in and eat. “Have a seat. What do you want to order?”
Zhou Dalei found a window seat, sat down, and said, “Two servings of the specialty dish, then.”
Xie Yu picked up a pair of chopsticks. “You know him?”
“Not well, but if you say my name in this shop you get a 20% discount,” Zhou Dalei said. “…When the boss gets to a level in a phone game he can’t beat, I help him beat it.”
Hearing the words ‘phone game’ now made Xie Yu think of dressup games and the like… Zhou Dalei claimed that he was a pro who dared play any game that dared show its face in the app store, but he probably hadn’t stepped into this realm of games before.
They chatted on and off, and the smell of oil and smoke wafted from the kitchen alongside the sound of a gas stove. After about ten minutes, the boss brought out two plates of gaifan.¹ “Two specials. Enjoy!”
After delivering the food, the boss walked back to the kitchen where there were two workers wearing aprons.
Xie Yu had just touched his bowl and had yet to reach for his chopsticks when he heard the workers talking, their voices leaking out through the door the boss had opened. “Guang Mao? I heard… yes… a fight…”
They were chatting when the kitchen door suddenly opened again, revealing the chilly expression of the boy who had only just now been sitting at the window seat. “What fight?”
Both of them were stunned, and recovered just enough to say, “Ah, a fight at… Guang Mao. Someone’s causing a scene there. A whole group of them. There might be a brawl.”
Zhou Dalei had only taken two bites of his food before a rather angry-looking Xie Yu dragged him outside by the collar. After leaving the shop, he looked extremely confused. “What are you doing? Was there poop in the food?”
“What did Aunt Mei say to you just now?” Xie Yu didn’t let go. “What did she say?”
Down the street from here, after taking a left, was Guang Mao.
Zhou Dalei also could tell something wasn’t right. He recalled, “‘I’m busy right now, might be late going back.’ Then nothing.”
Now, thinking about it, Comrade Xu Yanmei’s tone had been too gentle. Before, if a delivery had been half an hour late, she would curse—without repeating a single word—for half an hour. But today, not only was she not angry thather precious time had been wasted, she was even very calm.
Xie Yu let go. “Let’s go.”
“Let’s go take a look.”
He Zhao followed the route on his map application and changed buses twice before arriving at a location which looked similar to the image from a certain person’s social media feed. The moment he got off the bus, he almost tripped on the road full of potholes.
He Zhao had struck up a good conversation with a grandpa sitting next to him. When they got off the bus, the grandpa had even invited him to go back to his house for a chat.
“Next time.” He Zhao was surprised at how welcoming the people here were, but he refused. “I have something to do.”
The grandpa kept pressing. “What’s so urgent? Let’s just have a drink.”
He Zhao smiled. “Looking for someone. Someone very important.”
He Zhao couldn’t tell if he was being impulsive or not. After getting the text that morning, he had managed to hold back the urge to run laps, but he hadn’t managed to restrain himself from coming over here to look for a certain someone.
He wanted to see him.
He really wanted to see him.
But He Zhao made a few circles round the block and couldn’t find his destination. Not only did he not know where his friend from the station lived, he didn’t even remember his name.
When Xie Yu got He Zhao’s call, he was still in Guang Mao’s doorway. They were on one side, facing a group of angry-looking, heavily tattooed gangsters on the other. Swords were drawn and arrows notched.
He Zhao didn’t have time to say anything before Xie Yu said, stick in hand, “No time right now. We can talk when I’m done fighting.”