First Published on Chaleuria
077 – The answer you gave
Old Wu finished writing the question, then drew a diagram to the side to help the class visualize the problem more clearly. He then labelled the diagram and drew some more lines.
Xie Yu glanced at the board and got the gist of the third solution He Zhao had mentioned. It was workable, but it involved some unnecessary calculations and went in a few circles before arriving at the answer.
[xy]: Too complicated to calculate.
[Handsome He]: It’s all right. Three minutes via mental math.
[xy]: You’re a real showoff.
On the phone screen, both game avatars were surrounded by the flashing lights of skills being used. Xie Yu finished typing, then swiftly set off a chain of attacks.
Following his lead, He Zhao broke through the waves of enemies surrounding them and went straight for the big boss in the back.
The boss was a monster with high defense and He Zhao whaled on it for a long time before finally chipping away at its hit points. He glanced at the top right corner and saw Xie Yu’s message in the team chat.
[xy]: What are your plans?
Xie Yu hadn’t directly asked, ‘How much longer are you going to pretend?’
He Zhao stared at the word ‘plans’ and his fingers suddenly stopped moving. He had been about to execute a final attack. As if possessed, he selected the healing skill instead.
His game avatar stopped moving and took a healing potion on the spot.
In the several seconds it took for him to do this, the tide of the battle turned.
Handsome He stood to one side, healing himself, while his HP kept dropping.
His hit points fell to 0 and the avatar slumped to the ground. In the same moment, He Zhao finished typing his response and sent it.
[Handsome He]: I think I have the answer.
He Zhao continued typing, but before he could finish, an alert popped up in the middle of his screen: Your friend Shen Jie requests to join the team.
Wu Zheng’s tough question now occupied two sections of the blackboard. The sounds of the class next door reciting classical poems also drifted in through the window.
“While you are all still awake, I’ll go over this question with you.” Wu Zheng had used up his half a stick of chalk, which was now about the length of a fingernail. He turned to get a new piece and happened to see the two students in the back row doing who-knows-what. “……”
This time, Wu Zheng didn’t throw chalk. He made a shushing motion at the class, indicating to everyone to be silent, then picked up the ruler and walked over.
Liu Cunhao held back his laughter. He made a fist with his hand, put it next to his mouth, and said to Wan Da, “Bet you fifty cents they die today.”
“That might not happen.” Wan Da leaned over. “Zhao-ge’s so full of tricks. I bet he can bounce back.”
Subsequent events proved that Wan Da had thought too highly of him.
He Zhao still had his phone in hand. Wu Zheng walked in front of him and could see the game screen clearly. This was unshakeable evidence; He Zhao was dead meat.
Wu Zheng bent to look closer. “You two lead very exciting lives.”
Xie Yu barely managed to leave the team and hide the chat window from view.
He Zhao, too.
Now Wu Zheng only saw two poorly dressed avatars in the game lobby and He Zhao’s notification: Your friend Shen Jie requests to join the team.
Your friend Shen Jie requests to join the team.
When Shen Jie was called by his homeroom teacher to the faculty office, he was in a daze.
He pushed open the office door and saw that his Zhao-ge and Xie Yu were also there.
The Class 8 homeroom teacher sat in a relaxed position, one hand resting on the back of his chair, a red pen between his fingers. He asked mildly, “All right, explain what you were doing during self-study period this morning.”
Shen Jie stammered, “Studying hard.”
He Zhao was in a good mood. The way he was standing to the side, one might think the teacher had called him up to praise him. He smiled, then said, “Friend Shen Jie, please be honest. Look into my eyes and try to recall.”
Shen Jie: “……”
Xie Yu leaned against the wall. He had slept badly last night and had not caught up on sleep during self-study period, so now, standing in the office, he started feeling sleepy. He leaned back quietly.
In the office, the various subject representatives came and went, carrying stacks of homework.
They reported in: how many people did not turn the work in, or had not yet shown up to class, or had left their homework at home.
The three of them stood out the most: Monday morning self-study period had not even passed and they were already standing here getting lectured.
“Teach, I really know what I did wrong. I should have resisted the lure of the game…” Shen Jie had never imagined that he would be this unlucky, but he obligingly admitted his mistake. “I’ll turn over a new leaf and become a new person. After today, I’ll quit gaming and study hard…”
While Shen Jie hung his head and admitted his mistakes, Xie Yu secretly nudged the back of He Zhao’s hand and said, eyes half-closed, “What’s your answer?”
He Zhao turned to look at him.
He liked the way Xie Yu wore the uniform. Erzhong’s uniform was very ordinary and everyone had hated it when it was first distributed. They took every chance they got not to wear the uniform and when they didn’t, their confidence went up and they walked with a spring in their step.
But Xie Yu wore it differently. He already looked like he didn’t follow the rules, his expression both cold and frustrated, as if at any moment he would roll up his sleeves and pick a fight with you. But he still wore the uniform every day.
“The answer you gave,” He Zhao whispered. “The answer you gave me in the theater.”
At first, He Zhao was indifferent to the notion of getting good grades and pleasing the teachers.
He wasn’t the sort to study night and day; he had his fun, too. He played all the popular games and joined in all the class activities.
Although he caused a lot of headaches, most teachers still praised him. “He’s quite good. Has character. He’s a guy and he’s still young, so he’s a little wild…”
Nothing had changed at all.
But now that his grades had dropped, he became the one his homeroom teacher accused of leading the charge in buying exam answers, and became someone Xu Xia called ‘your sort.’
With the matter of Erlei on top of that, he seemed to be spiraling downward, forever, with no end in sight.
Even he felt that he was rotten to the core.
But although Xie Yu hadn’t directly said it, that day…
His cold,emotionless boyfriend had held out a hand in the gentlest possible way.
He hadn’t undone any of the knots in He Zhao’s heart, but He Zhao now felt that he had much more courage.
—Courage to face these things and overcome them.
Shen Jie continued his apology for three minutes and was still unable to move the Class 9 homeroom teacher, who also was someone with an explosive temper. “You’re not sincere enough. Go back and write a 3000-word reflection essay. Not a single word less.”
Shen Jie said with heartfelt pain, “Will do, sir.”
Then the Class 8 homeroom teacher waved dismissively. “All right, go back to class. I’ll deal with you later.”
Old Tang, on the other hand, didn’t say anything so cliche. He finished his work at hand, then brought both of them to the balcony, thought for a while, and said, “Have you thought about what you’re going to do in the future? You don’t absolutely have to study. Some people study hard because they don’t yet know what they’re going to do, so they just do the best they can on the matters at hand to prepare for the future and wait for the things they do want to do.”
“Some people know what they want to do, so they strive towards the future they want.”
“What about you? Where do you want to go?”
“Regardless of where you want to go, you can’t just keep lying on the floor because you don’t know.”
A strong wind blew across the balcony. Several potted plants stood to the side, under the sun, including the cactus Old Tang called Xiao Cui. He had probably been holding back this speech for a long time. He really couldn’t rest easy seeing the two of them lounge about all day doing nothing.
“All right, I won’t make you write reflection essays.” Old Tang sighed, then said, “Go back to class.”
Xie Yu walked in front.
Shen Jie followed behind He Zhao. The moment he stepped out of the office, his entire demeanor changed. He tossed his head and inwardly cursed: Really damn unlucky today.
“Zhao-ge, aren’t you going to explain?” Shen Jie jumped up and hooked an arm around He Zhao’s neck. “Aren’t you sorry? I’m your bro…”
He Zhao smiled and let him keep making a fuss. He hadn’t thought that Shen Jie would get implicated just by playing a game. The worst had been that Old Wu had gone straight to Class 8’s homeroom teacher and said, “Is there a student named Shen Jie in your class? Tell him not to keep bothering He Zhao and Xie Yu from my class and asking them to play video games.”
The Class 8 homeroom teacher had protected his brood, “How can you say that? I think it’s the students from your class who lured Shen Jie first.”
Wu Zheng said, “Bullshit. See for yourself: request to join the team. Four or five of them. Can you read?”
The two had then started quarrelling.
He Zhao said, sidling out of the way, “What’s there to explain? There’s nothing to explain. You were just unlucky.”
Shen Jie was nearly a full head shorter than He Zhao, and he was going to jump up and try to get He Zhao’s neck again but then he saw Xie Yu who had stopped in his tracks, both hands stuck in his pockets and leaning against the wall, glaring coldly at him.
In Xie Yu’s eyes was clearly written: Just try doing that again.
Shen Jie: “……”
He quietly put his hands back down. “Count me unlucky, then. I’m going back to class. Bye.”
He Zhao waved and said, “Safe trip.”
Then he walked up to Xie Yu and said, “Why’d you stop here?”
Xie Yu paused for a moment before saying, “Old Tang.”
“Ah.” He Zhao froze for two seconds and said nothing.
After Old Tang had become Class 3’s homeroom teacher, the atmosphere of the class had changed. While Xu Xia was there, the class had all restrained themselves, but now they said anything they wanted to in their class chat.
That time they did the blackboard presentation on ‘My Dreams,’ most of them had been bullshitting, but Old Tang still spent a lot of effort looking for resources for each of them, hoping they would be able to establish their goals.
Xie Yu wanted to say, People aren’t the same. Old Tang isn’t Xu Xia.
But then he thought He Zhao must already know that.
Eventually, he said, “Let’s go back to class, boyfriend.”
In the classroom, Xu Jing was trying to get the Coolest Guy Group in the Universe to rehearse their dance. Even before entering the class, Xie Yu could hear them counting the beats. Luo Wenqiang shook his butt invitingly and everyone around him was laughing, saying, “Have you thought about what you’re going to wear on stage? Gym rep, just wear the costume from the sports meet. You’ll be on fire. It’s a waste to wear it just once.”
Luo Wenqiang said, “…Shh. Don’t let Jing-jing hear it or she might come up with some new ideas.”
The day of the school anniversary celebration drew closer and closer. A banner had been put up over the school gates. Aside from practicing, what Class 3 wanted most was to know what performances the other classes would be putting up. They wanted to know how strong their opponents were.
Therefore, Wan Da visited all the Year 2 classrooms. Within three days, he came up with an agenda even more detailed than the official one the school had distributed.
“Class 7 is dancing, too. And they have awesome costumes.” Between classes, several of them gathered in the back row around the agenda. Xie Yu was slumped on his desk, napping. Liu Cunhao sat in the empty seat opposite him and complained. “They’re all wearing suits. Animals, the lot of them, but well-dressed ones.”
Xie Yu couldn’t sleep. As he lay with his eyes half-open, his hand found He Zhao’s under the table.
He Zhao wordlessly squeezed back. His little friend’s fingers were slender and long, the knuckles pressing into his palm, and an idea came to him, “I think we have to get a little creative.”
Xu Jing was looking at the agenda. Still with her head bowed, she said, “Tell me. Creative how?”
“For example,” He Zhao paused, then smiled again. “…Black nail polish.”