First Published on Chaleuria
063 – A touch and a glance
Xie Yu handed over the newly-written list of names.
In dark ink on white paper, his handwriting was sharp and elegant. The six names on the sheet were written beautifully.
Although Xie Yu got most of the questions on his homework wrong, and for his math homework he often just copied the questions and left the solution space blank, the teachers had not yet given up on him. Just his handwriting alone could soothe their tempers quite a bit.
Whenever a teacher commented that this handwriting was wasted, someone else would say, “Better than He Zhao, at least. I get mad whenever I grab his homework. That boy thinks of everything…”
The tour guide looked at Xie Yu like his saving grace.
This was despite the fact that the boy before him seemed quite aloof, and his chilly aura was even stronger than his appearance.
For some reason, however, when the boy handed over the sheet of paper and then glanced at him, he felt as if his life was in danger.
The tour guide took the paper. “…Th-thank you.”
Xie Yu said, “No problem.”
He Zhao thought highly of himself, and besides, he had written quite carefully this time. Surely it wasn’t unreadable. He stood next to the podium, about to explain himself, when Xie Yu kicked him.
“Go back,” Xie Yu said. “Don’t embarrass yourself.”
He Zhao said as he left, “No, I wrote it quite nicely this time around. My handwriting was neat and impressive…”
Xie Yu said, “Shut up, will you?”
All of Class 3 knew what He Zhao’s handwriting looked like. At first glance it was indeed dizzying, but after over two months of looking at it they had more or less figured out how to decipher it.
They were the names of classmates, so anyone from Class 3 who glanced at the paper could tell by the shape who He Zhao had meant. But the tour guide was unfamiliar with them and had surely been confused.
Liu Cunhao covered his face with his hands. “What was I thinking, asking Zhao-ge to be the leader?”
Wan Da patted him. “It’s fine. What can you do, anyway? Keep going and don’t look back.”
Liu Cunhao: “……”
“Students, we’re going to Northlake Park, a well-known sightseeing spot in C City. I’ll give you the detailed itinerary when we get on the bus.” The tour guide straightened his cap then continued, saying that he hoped they would have a happy trip, and so on… a load of useless formalities. At the end, he said, “…Class 2.3’s bus is at the rear gate. Let’s form a line in the corridor.”
Two other classes were already lined up in the corridor and Old Tang hurriedly followed to say, “Line up properly and be quiet. The other classes are still holding lessons.”
The tour guide had gone on for a long time and Xie Yu had dozed off in the middle. By the time the others had all gone outside, he was still slumped on his desk, not moving.
He Zhao crooked a finger, turned, and knocked on Xie Yu’s side of the desk. “Get up. We need to line up.”
Old Tang also gave a long speech. After talking about conduct, he gave many reminders, as if they were an elementary school students going on a class trip. Finally, someone couldn’t take it any more and called out, “Do we need to hold hands too? Let’s just hold hands and go.”
The student finished speaking, then Xie Yu opened his eyes. He Zhao had already reached out to him.
There was a proper chair there, but He Zhao had chosen to sit on the desk instead, his jacket open with its zipper undone. He smiled and said, “Little friend, hold my hand?”
The sight of him smiling was just too pleasant.
The back of He Zhao’s hand lay on the desk, palm up.
Someone had been yelling about holding hands, so it should be fine for them to hold hands now, for a while.
A moment passed. Xie Yu said nothing and covered He Zhao’s hand with his.
In the corridor, someone near the end of the line called out and all of Class 3 followed, meaningful ‘Ohh—’s ringing out.
He Zhao was worried that the strong reaction would scare Xie Yu and said, “What’re you ‘oh’-ing about?”
Liu Cunhao said, “Zhao-ge, you’re so obliging. Someone said to hold hands and you did it immediately.”
This was purely to tease Old Tang and Liu Cunhao wasn’t thinking about anything else. Besides, the two Big Bros of their class had always been this touchy-feely and had even held hands in class before.
Tang Sen was amused. He shook his head, smiled, and didn’t keep going on about conduct. It was just a day trip, after all. Let them have their fun.
When they got on the bus, the girls got on first to pick seats, mostly in pairs. Xie Yu and He Zhao brought up the rear, and there were only two seats left in the last row by the time they boarded.
Wan Da, sitting right in the middle of the last row, waved to them. “Here, come on, come on.”
Xie Yu glanced around and asked, “No other seats?”
Liu Cunhao and the others were sitting in the last row. They were all energetic, and would probably make so much noise once they were on the road that Xie Yu wouldn’t be able to sleep.
Liu Cunhao figured out Xie Yu’s intent. “Yu-ge, you don’t like sitting with us?”
Xie Yu replied, “Yeah.”
They had walked to the middle of the bus. On Xie Yu’s right was Xu Qingqing, who had already opened a bag of snacks and was laughing out loud. “Ha ha ha ha ha. You brought it on yourself.”
He Zhao laughed, too. “Hao-zi, if you already knew, then why did you have to ask and hurt yourself?”
Liu Cunhao: “……”
Although they made a fuss, there was no other place to sit.
After everyone sat down, the bus began to move. It took the back way out of the school grounds and turned onto a side road.
The tour guide held onto the railing and gave his name. No one remembered his full name, only that his last name was Wang, so everyone called him ‘Wang-ge.’ The tour guide scratched his head. “All right. Wang-ge… Wang-ge will be fine.”
Xie Yu had started growing sleepy back in the classroom and now the drowsiness returned in full force. He leaned against the window, intending to sleep for a while, but before his head touched the glass He Zhao pulled him towards him. “You’ll lean on the window but not on your gege?”
The words ‘gege’ were like a curse. When He Zhao heard them, he replayed a certain set of scenes in his mind.
He Zhao had initiated this conversation, but the moment the words left his mouth, he coughed lightly and thought, Damn, I brought this on myself.
Xie Yu couldn’t take it, either, and the most obvious indicator of that was that he couldn’t fall asleep, any more.
The back way out of school was long and narrow. The bus travelled slowly, passing by the street where the restaurants were. The midterm banner over Valedictorian House was still there. A stray dog lay at the entrance to the Gold List Restaurant, head drooping as it watched the crowds go by,
Wang-ge went over some of Northlake Park’s history, as well as the various important buildings in the park. Among them was a famous author’s old residence. “You all know him, right? He wrote…”
The mention of literature aroused Old Tang’s teacher’s instinct. He could give them a literature lecture with a minute’s notice without needing to prep. He got up and took the megaphone from the tour guide. “Let me say something, let me say something…”
All of Class 3 said, “…Don’t let him!”
Liu Cunhao was about to cry. “I thought we’d have a good time today.”
Wan Da said, “Yeah, we were supposed to have a good time today.”
Amidst the noise, one of them moved first. The backs of their hands lay against each other silently for a while, then He Zhao’s fingers entwined with Xie Yu’s.
Sometimes, contentment came very easily.
A touch, a glance, and the warmth that came with it.
Xie Yu was content.
The bus grew noisier and noisier. The moment Luo Wenqiang gathered the guts to take the megaphone from Old Tang’s hand, the bus went wild.
“Let’s sing,” Xu Qingqing suggested. “Prizes for participating.”
Everyone clapped and agreed, then asked, “What prizes?”
Although there were no prizes, Class 3’s karaoke competition started up anyway.
Most of them didn’t sing very well and the music was more like noise, but the singers were very caught up in it. Old Tang devotedly sang An Unforgettable Night.
He Zhao was a very obliging person, and no matter how the singer sang, he could turn his back on his conscience and give praise. “Well done! You sang so well!”
Sang well, my ass.
Xie Yu didn’t understand this at all. He moved his hand, fingertips coming to rest on He Zhao’s knuckles. “Is that sarcasm?”
He Zhao replied, “No, it’s encouragement.”
Old Tang was embarrassed from the praise, but he still waved at the audience and decided to sing again. “Since you like it, I’ll…”
He Zhao had never imagined that their homeroom teacher would be a mic hog. “Ah?!”
The students in the front row were so mad they threw water bottles at him.
By the time Old Tang was done singing, the other students had changed their minds and started calling out, “Zhao-ge, a song! Make it up to us!”
He Zhao agreed quickly. “Sure. I’m very good at singing. You’re in luck today—Old Xie, what song do you want?”
Xie Yu had never heard He Zhao sing, but he felt that something wasn’t right with He Zhao’s confidence. Mostly, it was because He Zhao often spoke of his handwriting the same way, as if no one in heaven or on earth could measure up to it, but in the end it was still terrible.
But it was clearly written in He Zhao’s eyes: Whatever you want to hear, I’ll sing it for you.
Xie Yu had been about to say something but on his tongue the words turned into, “Anything is fine.”
All of Class 3 thought that, based on He Zhao’s character, he would sing something powerful.
Contrary to all their expectations, He Zhao picked a love song.
The song had originally been sung by a woman, and was gentle and slow.
The megaphone was passed back from the front. Before He Zhao turned it on, Xie Yu heard him whisper, “They’re lucky this time… I’m singing this for my little friend.”
This was probably the one time He Zhao was not full of hot air.
He actually did sing quite well, his voice echoing softly in Xie Yu’s ear. The song seemed different from the original, since it was a male voice singing it, but it was still gentle.
A restrained, masculine gentleness leaked from the words.
The interior of the bus suddenly quieted.
Away from the eyes of others, their hands were still secretly linked, as if they could feel each other’s heartbeats through their interlaced fingers.