First Published on Chaleuria
059 Thirty points, but to him it’s thirty points of happiness.
They fell into silence for a long time.
Now, thinking back, He Zhao was shocked by the turn his own thoughts had taken. He had even believed Shen Jie’s bullshit, to say nothing of the rest—to have been caught by the collar, dragged up, and kissed by his little friend like that… he would have been willing to do it a hundred times over!
A moment later, He Zhao cleared his throat and said, “That… let’s just forget this happened.”
Xie Yu leaned back, the lights from the streets passing by outside falling onto his face. He couldn’t help smiling. “No can do.”
“It’s too idiotic. I won’t forget. Zhao-ge.”
He Zhao had opened the window to let in the cool air to calm himself down, and now several strands of hair were blown up by the wind.
He was very image-conscious. He would rather have his neck broken than let his hair be messy.
Xie Yu watched as He Zhao took out his phone and used the front camera to check his hair. Due to the poor lighting, the image on the screen was poor quality, so he could only reach up and run his hand through it to smooth it down.
Xie Yu looked on for a while, arm resting on the windowsill, and complained, “No one’s looking at you anyway.”
He Zhao kept running his hands through his hair, then said, “A hot guy must maintain himself.”
Maintain. What nonsense.
It was too dark in the bus and He Zhao hadn’t noticed a single piece of hair still sticking up on top of his head.
Xie Yu reached out, fingers winding gently into He Zhao’s hair. As if stroking a cat, he patted his hair down, twice. He Zhao’s hair had grown out a little. Xie Yu remembered that when they had just met, He Zhao’s hair had been very short, and even a little prickly to the touch.
He Zhao froze for a moment. When he came back to his senses, he noticed that the camera app he had used to check his hair was still open, so he called out, “Old Xie.”
Xie Yu looked up at him. “Ah?”
He Zhao hit the camera button, capturing two indistinct shadowy blobs.
The image was still, but one could see from it the motion of the bus interior, the streetlights that shone in from outside, and the faint silhouettes of two people, one in front and one behind.
“Group photo.” After He Zhao took the photo—artsy-looking, never mind that no one would understand it, anyway—he made it his home screen wallpaper.
The bus had stopped announcing the stops. It wound to and fro among the streets before finally slowing to a stop on some street corner and opening its front door.
No one got on.
The driver yelled out the door, “No one? If no one’s there I’m driving off. This is the last bus—”
He Zhao was done changing his settings. At the sound of the driver’s voice, he looked up and glanced outside. He caught sight of the tchotchke store by the bus stop and thought it looked familiar.
Xie Yu followed his gaze, too.
“I think I’ve been here before.” He Zhao put away his phone, got up, and sat back down in the back seat. He leaned against his little friend and enunciated, “Jian… Jian Xing Store. There’s an internet cafe near here, if I’m remembering right?”
This area was not far from Black Water Street. The bus had taken many turns and hadn’t gone very far as it kept circling in this area.
There was indeed an internet cafe right behind the tchotchke store.
Xie Yu asked, “When were you here?”
“Summer vacation,” He Zhao said. “A friend asked me over, so I came. I was bored at home.” He didn’t even remember where they had arranged to meet, just that he had looked for the place when he got here.
The half-hour bus journey passed quickly in conversation.
Before getting off the bus, He Zhao thought he might want to keep riding the bus for another couple rounds.
“Friend, this is the last bus.” Xie Yu pushed his boyfriend off the bus. “What are you thinking?”
He Zhao stood in the doorway and said, “I want to stay with you a while longer.”
This time, Xie Yu didn’t kick him. The bus driver, on the other hand, wanted to. The bus driver sat in his seat and waved them off. “Are you two getting off or not? Why are you dawdling?”
Xie Yu: “……”
He Zhao: “……”
Once they got off the bus, the pick-up point was just around the corner. Xie Yu changed to the 3 bus, and He Zhao took the Song Ting line; they were going in opposite directions. After paying the fare, Xie Yu boarded out of habit.
The bus would not set off for another few minutes and the engine rumbled as it idled.
At this time of night, only a few buses were left at the interchange and several people were trickling into the pick-up point.
Xie Yu leaned against the window and looked out. He saw a certain idiot get off the Song Ting line bus, not even bothering with the final step and jumping right onto the ground.
Then the idiot boarded the 3 bus from the rear door and walked past the rows of seats to stand in front of him.
Before Xie Yu could even say, “What did you get on here for,” He Zhao bent down and kissed him possessively. Completely different from the previous kiss and a little rushed.
Brazen and unpracticed, with an uncontrollable impulse, violently drawing closer.
He Zhao moved quickly. Xie Yu wasn’t the only one who didn’t react in time; the other passengers didn’t know what this boy had rushed onto the bus in a wild hurry to do, either. They only saw them together for several seconds, then the boy stood up again and left through the rear doors.
“Looking for someone, not riding the bus, sorry.” He Zhao waved to the driver before he left, then he turned and said to Xie Yu, “I’m really going this time.”
“…Get lost faster.”
Xie Yu’s words were harsh, but after the bus had travelled several stops, he lifted a hand to his ear and found that it was still burning.
The weekend passed quickly, and amidst the anguished complaints of ‘I don’t want to go back to school and get my grades’ in Class 3’s group chat, Sunday was about to come to an end.
Xie Yu packed his things and glanced at the class group chat before he went to bed.
[Liu Cunhao]: Why did the weekend pass so quickly? I haven’t fully enjoyed my last two days alive on earth.
[Wan Da]: And our teachers are so hardworking, too. They even brought our papers home to grade. Did you see Old Tang’s text? He said grades would be out by Monday. Hao-zi, have you decided where you want to be buried after you’re dead? I want my ashes to be scattered over the sea. Facing the ocean, where the springtime is warm and the flowers blossom.
[Liu Cunhao]: I prefer burial. Dust returns to dust and dirt returns to dirt.
[Xu Qingqing]: You’re all sick, right? It’s just a midterm exam.
[v-=abc]: It’s never too late to study. One failure doesn’t count for anything. The important thing is to correct your attitude towards studying.
[Luo Wenqiang]: Study rep, new formula again?
After a while, He Zhao popped into the group chat, too.
[He Zhao]: Quickly? What?
[He Zhao]: I think these two days have passed so slowly.
[Luo Wenqiang]: ……
[Wan Da]: This isn’t like you, Zhao-ge.
[Liu Cunhao]: Zhao-ge, you’re tired of living?
Their Zhao-ge not only didn’t look like he was tired of living, he even went against character and arrived in the classroom bright and early the next morning.
“You’re very early today.” Liu Cunhao was on duty today and had to arrive early to face his terrible fate. “So early it’s even a bit weird.”
He Zhao looked up and smiled. “You say it like I’m late every day.”
Liu Cunhao was shocked. He was about to say, ‘Aren’t you?’ but decided not to. He shook his head, then took the washcloth to the bathroom to wash.
Xie Yu had gone to the breakfast place outside school and gotten a cup of soymilk before coming to class. As he paid, he saw Mad Dog and Old Tang having breakfast in the shop. Holding his drink, he couldn’t bring himself to leave just like that. “Dean Jiang, Mr. Tang.”
Old Tang nodded at him, swallowed his food, then waved him over. “You’re just drinking soymilk? Is that filling? Come, sit down and eat a bun.”
“No need. I…”
“What’s this about no need? Come over.” Mad Dog dragged out the plastic stool next to him, thoroughly demonstrating the principle of ‘abuse of power.’ “Or else you’re barred from school.”
Xie Yu held onto the meat bun, listening to Dean Jiang complain about the school cafeteria food. “What meat buns? Three bites in, there’s still no meat.”
Old Tang nodded. “The first time I ate there I thought there wasn’t any filling at all.”
Dean Jiang said, “It doesn’t taste good, either.”
Xie Yu: “……”
Outside school, Dean Jiang was quite reasonable. Even if this place was only one block away from school.
He was different from the DJ Jiang who broadcast over the intercom and different from the Mad Dog who was the headache of every student in Liyang Erzhong.
He was very ordinary.
He was so ordinary it seemed that it was only the burden on his shoulders and the title of ‘teacher’ that made him formidable.
When Xie Yu arrived at class, almost everyone had arrived. Wan Da rushed in from the faculty office all agog. “Good news! The papers aren’t done being graded! Not! Done! Grading! We can live one more day, brothers!”
Liu Cunhao tossed aside the washcloth and hearily embraced Wan Da on the podium. “My good brother, we’ll have a good meal this afternoon. We must go out in a blaze of glory.”
“What’s all this,” Xie Yu said as he entered through the back door. He sat down and said, “About living or dying.”
He Zhao had watched the ruckus all morning and his deskmate had finally arrived. “Midterms. They’ve even written their last wills and testaments. Something about ‘if I am unfortunately beaten to death by my mother…’ can’t remember the rest, but that’s the gist.”
The image of their classmates writing a will bright and early in the morning was too beautiful and Xie Yu thought that, in comparison, eating meat buns with Dean Jiang wasn’t much.
On the topic of food, Xie Yu remembered something else important.
He Zhao heard his boyfriend, whom he had been mooning over all weekend, now say a second thing to him in the space of less than a minute since they had seen each other again. “Did you eat the walnuts?”
Wan Da’s hearsay was not always accurate. He heard that the papers hadn’t been graded, but he hadn’t heard all of it. Only some classes’ exam papers hadn’t been graded, and Class 3 was not among those classes.
So, when Wu Zheng carried a stack of exam papers into class, the whole classroom went quiet.
He Zhao was quite happy. “Old Xie, look. I actually got this question right.”
Xie Yu thought, I don’t really want to look.
“Didn’t believe it, did you? These few papers… I finished grading them on Saturday.” Wu Zheng picked several pieces of chalk out of the box and said, “Look at what you got. Wan Da, what are you closing your eyes for? Eyes opened or closed, you scored eighty points… Look at how happy He Zhao is. He scored thirty points, but to him it’s thirty points of happiness.”
Wan Da: “……”