First Published on Chaleuria
068 – Radiant, making waves wherever he stands.
“What about the middle-aged dance competition?” He Zhao said. “That was impressive too. Not everyone gets a chance like that.”
Xie Yu looked at him and slowly pushed his sleeves up his forearms, then rotated his wrists. “Are you sure you want to keep talking about this?”
The meaning was obvious: Keep goddamn talking and you’ll die where you stand.
He Zhao kept asking, “Did everyone cheer when you went on stage?”
“Did you win anything?”
Liu Cunhao and the others were still writing down their names and discussing songs at the same time. Before they had decided on a song, they heard a crash from the back row.
The sound of someone kicking over a chair was very familiar.
“Oh.” Liu Cunhao glanced backwards, then said calmly, “Ignore them. Let’s continue.”
Luo Wenqiang scratched his head and mumbled, “Did I miss something? I feel like they fight less these days.”
And whenever they were together there seemed to be an invisible barrier separating them from their surroundings.
It was a very subtle feeling, and no one could pinpoint just exactly what was strange about it.
Xie Yu was not tactful in the least. He Zhao took several blows before catching hold of Xie Yu’s wrist, and nearly tripped over the chair as he moved back. “You’re really hitting me?”
Then he added in a whisper, “You’re really hitting your boyfriend?”
Xie Yu bent down, picked up the chair on the floor, and pushed it out of his way. “You asked for it.”
During lunch break, Old Tang came to distribute the homework and inform everyone of the arts festival.
“I have something to tell you—next week is the school anniversary. Wan Da has probably already told you.” Laughter erupted from below. Old Tang paused, then continued, “Every class has to prepare a performance. Everyone, sign up, and let’s put together a skit or something—Xu Jing, you take care of it.”
The arts rep, hearing her name, raised her hand and said, “Will do, Mr. Tang.”
Xie Yu had no interest in the performing arts and his previous experience of dancing on stage had already left a heavy black mark on his heart. It ranked among the top three most embarrassing experiences of his life.
While Old Tang was talking, he was slumped on his desk, sleeping, and didn’t notice that the arts rep was now eyeing him and He Zhao.
Secretly, Xu Jing wanted the two of them to lead the performance.
They were the face of Class 3, after all, so their appearance would definitely make waves.
The performances would be graded by the teachers, and since Class 3 was participating they definitely wanted to do well.
“Will He Zhao want to participate?”
After Old Tang left, several of them put their heads together. After Xu Jing asked this, Liu Cunhao banged on the table and said, “Of course he will. No need to even ask. Look at Zhao-ge! So radiant, and making waves wherever he stands. The world is his stage.”
Then Xu Jing asked, “What about Xie Yu?”
Liu Cunhao fell silent.
Luo Wenqiang considered it. “That… that is a little more difficult. How about someone else? How about me? My coordination is quite good.”
Wan Da said, “Difficult is an understatement… you might want to start thinking about which cemetery you want to lie in after you’re dead.”
They discussed it until class was about to begin, then they went downstairs to the quad and lined up. They still had not come to a conclusion.
Gym class was still free activity. Since the basketball team no longer welcomed He Zhao and refused to let him play with them no matter what, He Zhao went over to Xu Qingqing’s side and collected two badminton rackets. “Old Xie, coming?”
Xie Yu took one of the rackets. It was just badminton. Back and forth, He Zhao wouldn’t be able to play any of his tricks. “Are we going to the stadium?”
“If there’s room,” He Zhao said. “If not, outside’s fine, too.”
The stadium was packed with shuttlecocks flying through the air, and the rest areas on both sides were also packed. Xie Yu walked all the way to the end of the hall before finding an empty space.
They stood on either end.
He Zhao unzipped his jacket, making the first show of strength.
He was just done bragging when a brutal smash from Xie Yu flew diagonally across the court at him. “Cut the crap.”
Xu Qingqing had not found a spot to play badminton, so she sat to the side, and the arts rep approached her to help pick songs.
All three songs she picked were very upbeat and would get the school going.
“Listen and tell me which you like,” Xu Jing said. “Wan Da and the others think the second song is best. I think we should decide today. Ah, I really want to ask Xie Yu to participate… but I don’t dare to.”
Xu Qingqing couldn’t decide and said “I think they’re all good.” She heard the crowd begin to murmur around her, so she pulled out her earphones and looked up only to catch sight of the two Big Bros playing badminton in the corner.
Although they were standing at the far end of the hall, they were still the most eye-catching of the lot.
On the class trip they had joked that their Zhao-ge was the one person who would never be lost, because anyone would recognize him just from his silhouette.
Many people around them were also looking on, saying behind their hands, “So cool.”
Someone else said, “But they’re playing so brutally.”
Xie Yu played badminton just like he beat people up. When he jumped up to smash the shuttlecock, his chilly and sharp aura could hit you in the face.
He Zhao had not been prepared at first and Xie Yu’s smash nearly defeated him. But he reacted quickly, analyzed where the ball would land, retreated several steps on instinct, and managed to return the serve.
They hit the shuttlecock back and forth, running a little farther each time.
Xie Yu, especially, played like his life depended on it.
“Damn.” Seeing how Xie Yu was playing, He Zhao was forced to play seriously, too. He took off his jacket and threw it to the ground. “You’re aggressive, little friend.”
The air circulation was bad in the indoor stadium and Xie Yu felt breathless, so he unzipped his own jacket and said, “Just a bit stronger than you.”
Xie Yu had never gotten used to playing sports with Dalei and the others. Dalei had always said, “Are you playing the game or are you fighting? We have to coordinate, you know? We’re a team. Boss Xie, if I invite you along the next goddamn time you can call me a dog.”
But after Dalei had slept on it, he forgot all about it and brought his ball with him the next day anyway. “Let’s go. Basketball. I invited Xiao-hu from the next street over, too. We’ll have it out today.”
All the kids of similar age in this area had formed basketball teams. Probably influenced by the movies, they also liked to give themselves ridiculous nicknames.
Little Tiger Army, Black Bull Army…
The game was well underway and Xie Yu was starting to sweat, so he took off his own jacket. While He Zhao was picking up the shuttlecock, he bent at the waist and pulled at his collar, fanning himself.
The light sweater Xie Yu was wearing inside was loose-fitting, and when he raised his arm to catch the shuttlecock, the material followed his movements, faintly outlining his waist.
Following that line of sight, He Zhao could also see his defined collarbones, and beneath that…
Xie Yu was still waiting for He Zhao to toss the shuttlecock over, but He Zhao just said, “I’m done.”
Xie Yu’s hand was still on his collar. “Ah?”
He Zhao said, “You broke the rules.”
Broke the rules, my ass.
What rule did I break?
Before Xie Yu could figure it out, He Zhao had already called Xu Qingqing to take his place. “Qing-ge, you didn’t find a spot, right? Come on.”
Xu Qinqing and Xu Jing walked over, carrying their rackets.
Xu Jing was still thinking about the arts program. She plucked up her courage and asked Xie Yu, “Hey, Classmate Xie, will you perform with us at the arts festival? You can pick your role. Center stage is fine, if you want…”
Xie Yu was putting his jacket back on.
He didn’t really remember who this girl was. Despite being classmates for so long, he didn’t even remember her name.
But the girl was watching him, both attentive and hopeful. Her clear eyes shone brightly.
Although she seemed scared, she still stood in front of him and said her piece.
Xu Qingqing stood beside He Zhao. Seeing that Xu Jing really had approached Xie Yu, she said in surprise, “With Yu-ge’s personality… does Jing-jing want to die? Everyone knows he won’t do it.”
But He Zhao smiled and said, “That’s not a given.”
They were too far away to hear what Xie Yu and Xu Jing were saying. Xie Yu finished saying his piece, zipped his jacket closed, and carried his badminton racket over.
Xie Yu tossed the racket to He Zhao. “Let’s go.”
He Zhao caught it and waved to Xu Qingqing. “See you, Qing-ge.”
Xu Qingqing waved back, stunned, then walked up and leaned against the net dividing the court in two. “How did it go? What did Yu-ge say?”
Xu Jing hadn’t recovered, either. She didn’t answer the question, but said, “Can you pinch me?”
Does that mean he agreed?
Xu Jing said, “He agreed, I guess. Although he was very cold about it. He said, “Whatever.””
The participant name list quickly reached Old Tang’s hands. Old Tang was very vehement that their participation was the important thing and how they ranked in the competition was secondary. They started rehearsals during class time.
Class 3 had a specific temperament: Although they didn’t dance well, they were all immersed in their own performance and all thought themselves very cool.
Besides, He Zhao was leading them, so the classroom had become their stage.
Only Xie Yu still sat in his seat. After learning the moves, he stepped aside and watched the others go mad.
He Zhao, done making a scene, stood next to him.
Xie Yu drank half of a bottle of water, then handed it to He Zhao. “King of the stage, you’re not dancing any more?”
He Zhao gulped the water, wiped his mouth with his hand, then said, “They learn very. The students surpass the teacher, really.”
Xie Yu had disliked the commotion just now and put his earbuds in. Now, taking them out, he found that they had inherited He Zhao’s attitude. Anywhere there was an audience, was their stage.
Liu Cunhao: “We’re the Coolest Guy Group in the Universe!”
Wan Da “Friends over here, put your hands in the air!”
Luo Wenqiang: “You’re not loud enough! Make some more noise!”
Old Wu was carrying his study materials into class, and this threefold shout made him jump. Thinking for a moment that he had entered the wrong classroom, he retreated several paces, made sure the sign on the door said Class 2.3, then said, “What are you doing?! Are you going to make your debut? All this nonsense about this coolest guy group in the universe.”
Class began. Everyone calmed down and paid attention.
Old Wu finished explaining a concept, then started giving out homework. Something seemed to occur to him and he picked up his chalk again. “There is a little more to this concept. I’ll explain it. You might not understand, and if that’s the case, that’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Just do the parts you know how to do.”
Xie Yu looked up at the blackboard. Old Wu was explaining a question format that touched on several content points, with quite a novel approach.
Most of the students had glanced at the question and immediately given up on it.
Xie Yu read the question, then took out his phone to draft an answer on his notes application, but discovered that He Zhao, who had been playing a game all class period, was also looking at the blackboard.
He Zhao was still holding his phone, a game interface on the screen. The avatar named ‘Handsome He’ was currently being slaughtered by a dungeon boss and lost all its health.