First Published on Chaleuria
058 – You like to study, don’t you.
Whether it counted as meeting the parents or not, He Zhao had acted like it was. He did everything he could to gain Aunt Mei’s favour, as if he, and not Xie Yu, were her godson.
“It counts.” Xie Yu took two steps forward. “So remember to eat all the walnuts the family gave you.”
He Zhao looked down at the bags in his hands, and it kind of dimmed the joy of his prior son-in-law visit.
Just now, at the dining table, they had not said much to each other, worried they’d let something out of the bag. Besides, they had been focusing on their little movements under the table. So, Xie Yu only complained now. “You looked the part of a leader this afternoon, Zhao-ge.”
He Zhao said, “It was all right. When I walk down the street, I feel like the whole street belongs to me.”
“You’re taking my sarcasm for sincerity?”
The buses here ran every half an hour, and the previous bus had probably just left. The bus stop sign hung crooked and there were no seats in the waiting area. It looked very run-down.
He Zhao hadn’t noticed when he had arrived. Now he looked for a place to sit and only saw four bare stumps. He could imagine what the seat that had previously been there looked like based on the stumps. “This place really has character…”
When Xie Yu had returned for summer vacation, the seat had already been like this. Zhou Dalei had even squatted on the side of the street, waiting for him.
“It was stolen a while ago. Then the police found it.” Xie Yu briefly summarized the theft which had made waves in the community, then paused and said, “It was probably stolen again.”
The chair of the neighborhood committee was always the busiest person on the street, running herself ragged to take care of the smallest of matters in the neighborhood. Every three or five days one would see the members of the neighborhood committee wearing red armbands, yelling through megaphones, “Where’s the well cover?! —Which one of you stole the well cover?!”
“Who broke the bus station sign? And the bus station seat? What are you going to do with it after sawing it off?”
He Zhao was very entertained. “That really happened?”
But wait, there was more.
They had later discovered that the well cover had been stolen by a ruffian from the next street over. Of course, the residents of the next street weren’t so altruistic as to admit it, so the people from the two neighborhoods had started quarrelling. It had gone on for so long they made the local news.
He Zhao asked, “Then you fought?”
Xie Yu said, “We didn’t fight. Do we look like such hooligans?”
It hadn’t escalated into a fight, but in the middle of the night, some aunties from the Black Water Street Neighborhood Committee had gone to the next street over and stolen their well cover back.
The neighboring street had never imagined such a thing would happen, and everyone was slack-jawed the next morning.
Xie Yu finished his story, then noticed He Zhao was standing in a daze. He stopped and waved a hand in front of his face. “Hey.”
Xie Yu waved twice, then got impatient and tried to slap him and be done with it. But He Zhao caught hold of his hand, his fingers weaving through Xie Yu’s, then he said quietly, “…Before today, I’d only seen this place in your photos.”
What He Zhao did not say was that now that he had come to visit for himself, those photos began to come alive… the animals that scurried from the grass, dirty from scuffling in the mud, the mud drying in patches on their fur as they lay, eyes closed, under the sun.
Every brick, every building, and every sound from the surroundings.
Now he realized where Xie Yu’s contradictory yet alluring nature came from. He shut out all the evils of the world with a hard outer shell, a dry attitude that kept people at a distance.
But the soft place in his heart had remained spotless.
He Zhao had a lot to say, but eventually only held on to his little friend’s hand and said, “I think there’s no hope for me.”
Xie Yu listened to the plastic bags rustling, thought of the walnuts, and quietly thought, I think there’s no hope for you, too.
With a brain like his, eating walnuts would probably be of no use.
They waited a while more. Half an hour went by but the bus hadn’t arrived.
Xie Yu wanted to know what time it was, but he had forgotten to charge his phone last night and the battery had run out. When he unlocked it, the screen barely lit up before going dark again. He nudged He Zhao with his elbow. “Where’s your phone?”
He Zhao said, “Pants pocket, left side.”
Xie Yu’s fingers came to rest on He Zhao’s pocket. The material of his jeans was rough, and before he could reach in He Zhao reminded him, “Don’t touch anything you shouldn’t.”
Xie Yu stopped. “In your dreams.”
It wasn’t late yet, but it wasn’t early, either, and the ride back would take more than an hour.
Xie Yu thought about it and decided to call Madam Gu to report in.
He Zhao’s home screen was very clean with only a few apps. The games folder was full, but Xie Yu only caught sight of several pink icons and a familiar-looking blob of green in the corner.
Xie Yu didn’t look closely. He was trying to hit the call button on the lower right corner but touched the browser icon to its left.
It was a matter of privacy, after all, and Xie Yu had no intention of snooping into his partner’s phone. He reacted faster than he could think, reflexively hitting the back button and returning to the main screen.
But he was very sure that he had caught sight of something quite unusual on the browser page.
Xie Yu hesitated a moment before opening it again.
Baidu Knows: Ten must-learn kissing tips.
Xie Yu glanced up at He Zhao, who was playing with a stray cat that had popped out of the grass. He squatted by the side of the street, plastic bag in one hand, his other hand outstretched. He whistled for a while, but the cat continued to watch him warily.
A while later, with no other recourse, He Zhao snapped his fingers, still squatting. The image was cool, but it scared the cat, who whined, turned tail, and squeezed back into the underbrush.
“What are you running for? I won’t eat you…”
He Zhao was about to stand up when he noticed his little friend squatting by his side, too. He turned and asked, “Done calling?”
Xie Yu passed the phone back. “No one picked up.”
Madam Gu had probably gone out and left her phone at home again. He didn’t like calling the Zhong household directly, since it was usually the maids who picked up and they greeted him as ‘Second Young Master.’
Young master, his ass.
He Zhao didn’t yet know that his secret Baidu research on kissing techniques had been exposed. He took his phone back and stuffed it in his pocket. As he stood up, he heard Xie Yu calling him. “He Zhao.”
He Zhao’s footsteps stilled and he glanced to the side. “Mm?”
Xie Yu was still squatting, but he followed He Zhao’s earlier motion of inviting the cat and beckoned with a finger.
He Zhao stuck one hand in his pocket, bent down, and stopped some distance from Xie Yu. He was about to ask, ‘What does my little friend want?’ when, without warning, Xie Yu caught hold of his collar and dragged him down.
Xie Yu’s fingers tightened, exerting strength, his knuckles whitening slightly. He Zhao was bent at the waist and nearly lost his balance. Although Xie Yu was squatting, his pull made him rise up a little, too, violently and inexorably forcing them closer.
The next second—
Xie Yu’s lips met his.
He Zhao froze completely.
And his heart started pounding wildly.
He had researched many kissing tips, but at the critical juncture he had forgotten to close his eyes.
So he saw Xie Yu’s slightly upturned face and the beautiful line of his jaw. He swallowed, perhaps out of nervousness, the motion subtle and nearly unnoticeable but completely different from his usual strong presence.
Xie Yu stayed there for a while, then slowly opened his eyes, too.
Just like that, He Zhao forced his way into Xie Yu’s line of sight.
The streetlights behind them shone on the muddy ground, cutting a circle of beautiful light through the darkness.
Xie Yu recalled the contents of the article he saw on He Zhao’s phone, so he tentatively stuck out his tongue and touched He Zhao’s tightly pursed lips, soft and wet.
Xie Yu had completely forgotten the rest of the must-learn kissing tips, too. He only remembered that He Zhao’s lips were very soft, and when he touched them, he went warm all over.
Before Xie Yu let go, He Zhao heard him say, “You went to Baidu instead of coming to me. Zhao-ge, you like to study, don’t you.”
The bus was just turning the corner. The number 21 shone in red across the top, and as the bus’s long body rounded the turn, it tilted heavily on the uneven, potholed road.
They were both heading back to A City and had to change buses on the way. They took the same bus: 21 to the interchange where they would take separate buses.
Worried that He Zhao would repeat his previous mistake of not even being able to count out thirty yuan, Xie Yu paid the fare for both of them and led the handsome devil to the very last row.
Not many people took the evening bus and there were only two or three people sitting up front. The bus’s interior lighting was poor, and since there weren’t many people, the lights were turned off most of the time. From afar, it looked completely dark.
In the corner of the back row, they were virtually unspottable.
For a long time, He Zhao didn’t say anything. Xie Yu was still thinking that his embarrassment period lasted quite a long time when he heard He Zhao say, “Fuck, I’m hard.”
“Happened when you licked me just now.”
Xie Yu had still been calm up till now, but the moment He Zhao mentioned ‘licking,’ all the little details of their earlier kiss now resurfaced. He paused for a long time, then said, “Ask Baidu, won’t you?”
He Zhao: “……”
Xie Yu said, “What to do if you get hard on a public bus?”
Reality proved that there was nothing to be done. He Zhao couldn’t sit next to his little friend, that was all. He crouched and moved over to the seat in front, intending to calm down on his own.
They sat, one in front, one behind.
The bus trundled on.
When He Zhao calmed down, he cleared his throat and said, “So about that… Baidu.”
“Accidentally saw it.” Xie Yu huddled in the back seat, slightly dizzy from the bus’s motion. “What on earth do you think about every day?”
Since that day in the equipment room after gym class, He Zhao hadn’t mentioned kissing again, and Xie Yu thought it strange that he had suddenly become so pure-hearted and chaste. He had never imagined he was planning to practice his kissing skills before approaching him again.
He Zhao said nothing. He looked down at his phone and tapped away, then passed it to Xie Yu.
Xie Yu reached out to take it. On the phone screen was an article Shen Jie had reblogged on QQ called The Young Man’s Guide to a First Kiss, and when he reblogged it he had even mentioned his good bro He Zhao: Zhao-ge! Look! Good stuff!
Some first kissers are killers. After the first kiss, your partner won’t want a second one.
If you don’t want to become a ‘killer,’ you must follow these steps.
Xie Yu was rendered thoroughly speechless. “What the hell did Shen Jie reblog this for? Isn’t he a single dog?”
He Zhao said, “…He said it was preparation for the future.”