First Published on Chaleuria
067 – The Complete Guide to the College Exams
Two brand-new copies of The Complete Guide to the College Exams. On the covers, in bold red letters, was printed: Bad grades? Don’t worry! The right guidebook is the key to success!
Wan Da copied two questions, closed his exercise book, then continued fretting about He Zhao showering in the morning. “You and He Zhao both seem to take a lot of showers. Last time, too… are you two germophobes?”
He then remembered Xie Yu’s words, ‘None of your business,’ and stopped.
Xie Yu stood by the desk, flipping through the books, and noticed that the slogan on the cover was genuine.
This guidebook was well-written. It covered content in detail and had thorough explanations of the examples and revision questions. One could grasp the class material just by reading it.
“Whose is this?” Xie Yu’s fingers stilled on the contents page. There was no name written in the book and Xie Yu thought it suspicious. Maybe someone had accidentally left it there. “Take it back.”
Liu Cunhao was erasing the blackboard. Hearing this, he turned around, still holding the washcloth. “What is it?”
Wan Da was a busybody who went anywhere there was trouble, and immediately ran over. He sat in the empty seat in front of Xie Yu’s desk and observed. “Books? Yu-ge, aren’t these yours?”
Xie Yu retorted, “Does this look like something of mine?”
Wan Da: “……”
Xie Yu could not be refuted.
The two skilled ‘bottom-of-the-class’ students never did their homework. Their textbooks were as pristine as they day they received them; they had never touched them, and the books were still like new.
Aside from textbooks, they didn’t have any even remotely study-related things.
Xie Yu’s desk was clean and empty. He Zhao’s occasionally contained lollipop wrappers.
When teachers lectured, Xie Yu and He Zhao never had their worksheets on hand, always missing something or otherdelivered the material, they never had their papers on hand, always missing one or the other. When they were lucky, they were missing different parts and could share, so they listened to class together.
All the subject teachers were mad at them. “—What’s wrong with you two? Can’t you hold onto your worksheets properly?”
“I was the first in here today and I didn’t see anyone come in.” Liu Cunhao also thought someone might have misplaced their books. “When everyone’s here we can ask about it again.”
But when the class had all arrived and Xie Yu took the books around, asking again, no one claimed them.
Liu Cunhao, watching him, thought that he would make a good class rep, actually. He was very intimidating. He stood on the podium, glanced around the class, and they instantly went quiet.
“One last time,” Xie Yu said. “Whose are these?”
Xu Qingqing shook her head. “Don’t look at me. I don’t know. They’re not mine.”
Luo Wenqiang had bought his own copy a long time ago and made many markings on it, and as he went on about it, he strayed off topic. “This is a good guidebook. My home tutor recommended it to me, and I really think everyone should get it. You just need to flip through it for a while, and then, like me, you’ll fall in love with it.”
Xie Yu: “……”
He Zhao arrived as class was about to start.
Seeing a crowd around the back row, he wondered what they were talking about.
“What are you doing?” He Zhao crooked a finger and knocked on the door. “Such a ruckus so early in the morning.”
Xie Yu had gotten a headache from the noise this lot was making. Hearing He Zhao, he propped his forehead with his hand and glanced backward.
He Zhao wore a thin sweater inside his school jacket. His hair was still damp, a charging cord in hand as he leaned against the doorframe. He had folded his sleeves up, revealing his wrists.
For a moment, their gazes met in the air.
When Xie Yu’s eyes met He Zhao’s, the noise around him suddenly grew faraway.
It had been only a weekend, but He Zhao felt that a long time had passed. He didn’t hold the thought for long before Xie Yu said, “I don’t know which idiot put books on my desk.”
He Zhao: “……”
“Zhao-ge, do you know where these books came from?” Wan Da looked up and asked.
He Zhao said, “Ah?”
Wan Da said, “No one comes to the classrooms on weekends, and the doors and windows are always locked. How did these two books get here?”
Although the classroom door had been locked, one of the windows didn’t have a secure fastening and could be opened easily by pushing it upwards.
He Zhao, who had climbed through the window and placed the books on the desk, was unsure how to react. “Ah…”
Wan Da and the others kept guessing along the same lines as before. “If it’s not Old Tang, it’s someone with a crush on Yu-ge. Maybe they were unsure what gifts to give him, thinking chocolate and things like that aren’t novel enough, and after thinking about it for a long time, only The Complete Guide to the College Exams…”
He Zhao: “……”
As Wan Da went on, he found that this story sounded very familiar. He slapped his forehead. “Isn’t this very like Zhao-ge’s email? Might they besisters?”
A vein throbbed at Xie Yu’s forehead.
Before Wan Da could put the email and the study guide side by side to analyze, the class bell rang and everyone returned to their seats.
He Zhao let out a breath.
Xie Yu put the study guides at the side of his desk.
“Going by your mid-term grades, you lost many points on reading comprehension. We’ll read several passages today for practice. Finish them in class, then we’ll go over them.” Old Tang distributed the worksheets, then said, “Analyze the questions carefully. If you run into issues, try to understand why.”
Xie Yu took the paper the classmate in front passed him, then handed He Zhao one, too. Then he put both arms over the paper and lay down to sleep.
He Zhao nudged him. “Old Xie.”
Xie Yu asked, “What?”
He Zhao wasn’t sure what to say, so he held his pen tighter and said, “That… book.”
Xie Yu thought He Zhao was jealous. He Zhao often got so jealous over small things he could flip vinegar jars for days.¹ Even for a simple game, he warned Xie Yu not to pick dare.
Xie Yu thought about it and thought he understood He Zhao’s intentions. “I won’t keep it.”
He Zhao said, “…Then where are you going to put it?”
Xie Yu wanted to give his boyfriend a sense of security and there was no point in keeping it, anyway. Might as well take it to get a refund. “I’ll toss it.”
They went over three modern readings during the class period. Old Tang kept picking He Zhao to answer questions.
Xie Yu slept through half the class period. When he next opened his eyes he heard Old Tang say, “He Zhao, stand up and answer this. How did you answer this question—Why was the author crying?”
He Zhao stood up, but before he said anything Wan Da and the others had already started to laugh.
Old Tang said, “What are you all laughing about?”
Bravely, Liu Cunhao answered, “We’ll laugh before he even says anything, to show him respect.”
He Zhao did not let Liu Cunhao and the others down. He analyzed the author’s tears from many angles: perhaps he had a fragile psychology, because real men didn’t cry easily, or perhaps he had an eye infection… He Zhao thought of even the most subtle reasons.
When He Zhao was done, the class was silent for several minutes, then erupted into laughter. “Zhao-ge, you really never let us down.”
He Zhao: “High praise, high praise.”
Xie Yu rubbed his temples in despair.
“Come to my office when you have some time.” Old Tang was in even more despair than Xie Yu; he almost couldn’t breathe. He drank some wolfberry tea and paused for a while before continuing, “And bring your paper with you.”
When Old Tang said “Come by when you have some time,” everyone made the excuse that they didn’t have time in order not to go.
No one wanted to go to the faculty office and dragged it out as long as they could. Perhaps when the earth was old and the sky was barren, Old Tang himself would have forgotten.
After class, He Zhao and some of the guys from the next row grabbed some of Luo Wenqiang’s dry noodle snacksand Luo Wenqiang nearly jumped up and started beating them up. “Are you done?! If you keep taking, there’ll be none left.”
He Zhao had broken off a piece and now reached out for more.
Luo Wenqiang said, “You’re all bandits!”
He Zhao said, breaking some more off, “My deskmate, too.”
Xie Yu had just finished a round on his phone game and happened to hear He Zhao. He put his phone in his pocket, got up, and walked over.
Luo Wenqiang thought finally someone with a conscience had arrived and begged him, “Yu-ge, save me.”
Xie Yu pushed up his sleeves and said to He Zhao, “You broke it into too many pieces. I’ll get some myself.”
“……” Luo Wenqiang had an expression of pure shock. “You two are bandit deskmates?!”
He Zhao, who should have gone to the faculty office, didn’t go, but Wan Da went.
At any sign of movement, Know-It-All would even stoop to knocking at the door with worksheet in hand and asking for homework help in order to get some news.
By this time, when Old Wu and the others saw him with a worksheet in hand, they always joked, “You’re really here for help?”
After Luo Wenqiang’s dry noodles had made its rounds, Wan Da returned from the office. “There will be an arts festival soon,” he said, reaching for the bag of dry noodles. “Every class has to come up with a theme. Arts rep, prepare yourself. We have to win this race.”
Class 3’s arts rep was a girl who had danced since a young age and she was quite excited at the news. “Really?”
Wan Da said, “The school anniversary is two weeks from now. It’s definitely true.”
At the subject of the arts festival, the class got noisy again. Only Luo Wenqiang held on to the dregs of his dry noodles in the bag and was quietly sad.
For an event like this, most classes would pick a dozen or so people to dance, sing, or hold a skit. With so many people looking on, they had to put on a good show. They couldn’t lose out on making their presence felt.
The arts rep had already begun selecting class representatives. He Zhao turned and asked, “Going, Old Xie?”
Xie Yu didn’t even consider it. “Nope.”
“Why not?” He Zhao remembered the black nail polish incident and the days when Xie Yu’s reputation was carried on the winds of this story. “You have experience, don’t you? That competition on your street…”
Xie Yu said, “Don’t mention it or I’ll punch you.”