First Published on Chaleuria
080 – “I can see you.”
“Class 2.3, dancing to ‘X.’”
As the announcer finished the introduction, Class 3 started cheering from the audience stands and the music started playing from behind. “Ohh—”
Some people started shrieking, few and far between at first. The lights around the audience started to dim, starting from the head of the line and going down to the end of the line.
Only a dozen spotlights remained lit and pointed at the stage, shining downward from all directions, brilliant and dazzling.
“Deep breaths,” He Zhao said, standing up. “Gym rep, you’re shaking so hard. Are you afraid?”
Luo Wenqiang took two deep breaths and flinched. “I can’t. I…”
“If you’re a man stop saying you can’t.”
“But I really…”
Luo Wenqiang hadn’t finished before Xie Yu cut him off. “Shall I beat you up to calm you down?”
Xie Yu had been straightening his sleeves, and without looking up, he folded them up a little.
Luo Wenqiang believed Big Bro Xie Yu was not joking and genuinely considered ‘beating you up’ to be the best solution to the problem at hand. If one punch didn’t do it, then he would make it two.
“No need, Yu-ge, thank you.” Luo Wenqiang suddenly felt his hands weren’t trembling any more. His survival instinct forced him to calm down. “I think I can do it. I’m a man. I can.”
He Zhao rested one hand on Xie Yu’s waist and smiled. He bent close to Xie Yu’s ear and said, “You’re pretty good.”
Xie Yu took two steps forward. He Zhao’s hand had only been lightly resting there at first, but now it got more and more inappropriate. “Can you stop goddamn touching?”
Xu Jing led the group. She and Xu Qingqing had tied their hair into two high braids, a simple hairstyle that even looked handsome. They had changed their styling a little that afternoon, stuffing the hem of their shirts into their pants so that their legs would look longer.
They walked onstage, heads held high, full of confidence.
Xie Yu walked right at the end of the line and didn’t squeeze onto the steps with the others. The stage was not very high, so he put one hand on the stage and jumped up.
With the movement, the hem of his button-down lifted, revealing his waist.
His frame was slender and masculine, and his waist was narrow.
The vision passed in the blink of an eye.
The audience was set alight by this simple but showy movement. Not only Class 3 was screaming themselves hoarse—the whole hall exploded into shrieks and applause.
Several first-year girls, sitting in the front row close to the stage, had never seen the legendary school tyrant and couldn’t match the name to the face. “Ah, was that really…?!”
“Xie Yu of the West Building.”
Last year, a long corridor had separated the East and West Buildings. Like well water and river water, they did not intermingle. This year, both the legendary school tyrants had not made much trouble after entering second year, and the only big matter had been their CP thread on the school forum, which had been stacked so high with replies it had reached the clouds.
Now they stood side by side on stage. Under the spotlights, they were haloed in a layer of light, very striking.
When He Zhao wasn’t smiling, he gave off an air of aloofness unlike his usual relaxed manner. This was actually more in line with their ideal of a ‘school tyrant.’
The intro to the song began to play and the crowd went wild.
He Zhao stood center stage. Everyone else got down on the floor around him, supporting their weight on one hand, and started the opening steps.
More lights went out.
He Zhao lifted one arm over his head, making a ‘3’ in the air to the strong drumbeat and the melody of the music.
He Zhao had a strong presence, and just by moving his hand he got the crowd going.
The eyes of the entire audience were focused on him. The cuffs of his shirtsleeves slid down his raised arm, revealing his fine-boned wrist. The red string on it was very striking. When the next drumbeat sounded, he put down his ring finger, changing the handsign.
The third drumbeat sounded and everyone scattered, changing formation.
“It’s cool, but it’s also very middle school.”
Class 3 was both excited, and extremely embarrassed. “…Thank goodness this was Zhao-ge. If this were someone else I wouldn’t even be able to look. Such a show-off.”
He Zhao was already a class clown and no embarrassing thing he did would ever measure up to that time at the sports meet, when he had led them in yelling Number One before even crossing the finish line.
Among them, only Xu Jing had taken dance lessons before. Everyone else was an amateur. Even though they had memorized the dance moves over many days, they still didn’t execute them very smoothly.
But it was precisely that awkwardness that was touching.
Their shirts were overlarge and billowed with their dramatic and enthusiastic movements, faintly outlining their bodies as they moved.
Before going on stage, Xie Yu had said ‘Nervous, my ass. Only an idiot would be nervous.’ But perhaps he was dancing too hard, because he began to feel warm all over, from head to toe.
Shrieks sounded from below the stage.
The audience stand was pitch dark, but also seemed to be awash with color.
Someone from Class 3 had made a signboard, written in red glowing ink: Class 3’s the coolest!
Class 3 takes the victory!
The performance was short, just five minutes.
Old Tang had his phone raised the whole time, not looking at the stage. He wanted to look, but then he would not be able to look at his phone recording, and the camera might end up going crooked and pointing somewhere else.
The music was deafening and the dance was striking.
At the part where the dancers hugged each other’s waists, screams erupted. He Zhao had completely forgotten Xu Jing’s instructions prior to going on stage—she had said not to smile and to act cool instead—and the corner of his lips lifted in a smile.
When the last move was done, the music also stopped.
All the lights on stage went out.
To make transitions more fluid, the lights in the hall would be dimmed between performances for the performers to leave and the emcees to walk out from backstage.
They had been reminded of this several times during rehearsal. Don’t stick around on stage and leave quickly.
“Damn, it’s so dark.” Liu Cunhao was shocked— he could see only several steps ahead of him. He felt around for the side of the stage as he walked, saying, “…I think we were really damn cool just now.”
Luo Wenqiang said, “I think so too. This is my best performance to date. So many girls were shrieking at me from the audience.”
Wan Da, on the other hand, was self-aware. After a moment of silence, he said, “You sure they were shrieking at you? Yu-ge, say something. Make him face reality.”
“Ah?” Xie Yu had not been listening. He tugged at his collar and went to jump off the side of the stage.
Then he heard He Zhao call him from behind. “Old Xie.”
The hall had only several small windows and it was dark outside, so there was not much light.
Xie Yu was feeling a little warm and had just undone one of his buttons when he glanced back. He Zhao, half shrouded in darkness, caught hold of the back of his head and kissed him without warning.
He Zhao was warm, too, and when he drew near he was still breathing hard.
Nearly half the school was in the audience, both teachers and students. There were dozens of rows of seats, and the people who didn’t fit in the hall were watching a live broadcast from their classrooms.
The applause had not faded. The nearest row of seats was just several steps away. Xie Yu stood on the middle of the stage and could hear all the whispers from below.
“They’re so cool!”
“Did you record it? I want to watch it again.”
“I recorded it. Later.”
Although they knew that no one in the audience could see anything, both their hearts still uselessly skipped a beat.
Alongside that was a very faint pride, rising up from the bottom of both their hearts.
As if wanting to tell everyone: He is mine.
“Thank you, Class 3, for that dance performance. An extremely cool dance that made the audience go wild.” The lights in the hall went on again and the emcees had walked out from backstage to stand center stage. “Now, let us all calm down and enjoy, from Class 8, a little comedy sketch—’Top Student.’”
“Shen Jie’s class.” He Zhao jumped down from the stage and ran to the seating area just as the lights went on. The entire thing had taken less than two seconds. He sat down in his seat, still shocked, and steadied himself before saying, “During rehearsal I saw a bit of it. It’s very funny. They took a talent show and changed it up…”
Xie Yu said, “I didn’t see them rehearsing.”
“What could you have seen?” He Zhao said. “You’re always sleeping or playing video games. When you sit to the side, no one even dares talk to you.”
Xie Yu said lightly, “Ah. So you had a good time talking.”
He Zhao had never imagined that his offhand remark would lead to his death.
During afternoon rehearsal, a group of senior girls had surrounded He Zhao, explaining everything from where to stand on stage to how to exit the stage. Xu Jing, the dance lead, and Liu Cunhao, the class rep, had stood idly by.
On stage, Shen Jie and the others were swiftly moving stools and setting up their props. Aside from three students acting as ‘teacher-judges,’ the others wore their school uniforms.
He Zhao was trying to figure out how to explain himself when he heard Xie Yu say, “I can see you.”
He Zhao froze.
Xie Yu repeated, “I can see you, so you’d better watch yourself.”
Class 8’s comedy sketch was as funny as advertised. It opened on the three teacher-judges with their backs to the participants as the participants came on stage one by one to introduce themselves. “Dear teachers and judges, hello. I’m Xiao Cai from Class 2.8 and I’m here to participate in Super Student. My dream is to spread the charms of studying to everyone, and my performance will be—reciting 30 English words in a minute.”
“He’s good!” the teacher-judges began to discuss, about to turn around. “I think he’s very good!”
As Xie Yu finished speaking, He Zhao started laughing, his hand over his mouth as he grew increasingly unable to hold it in.
He might have been laughing at the comedy sketch on stage, or laughing at Xie Yu’s words just now.
A moment later, when Shen Jie swaggered off the stage with mock paper in hand, He Zhao whispered, “Got it. I’ll watch myself.”
After Class 3 had finished the dance and left the stage, the heat over Xie Yu’s body had also dissipated. He was only wearing a single layer and felt a little cold.
When Old Tang arrived, he had brought their school jackets with him, and put a little label on each jacket, indicating whose it was. Now he called someone to go around and pass them their jackets.
The boy carrying the pile of clothes now bent down. “Ah, pass these out. Everyone take theirs. The names are written on the labels.”
“Pass it down,” Xu Jing said as she checked the labels. She turned and said, “This is Zhao-ge’s.”
Liu Cunhao caught it and handed it to Luo Wenqiang.
Luo Wenqiang patted Xie Yu’s shoulder. Before Xie Yu could say thank you, He Zhao said, “I’m not cold. You wear it first.”
He Zhao really wasn’t worried about the cold. Xie Yu, on the other hand… He Zhao had accidentally touched him just now and found that his hands were cold.
Xie Yu saw Luo Wenqiang’s expression twist.
“……” Xie Yu put He Zhao’s uniform jacket on. It was a size too big and was loose on him, and the jacket sleeves reached the backs of his hands. Luo Wenqiang was looking at him oddly, so he turned and asked, “Is something the matter?”
Luo Wenqiang hurriedly waved. “No, no, no, no, nothing.”
“Gym rep, your clothes.” Xu Qingqing found her jacket, then tossed Luo Wenqiang’s over. “Catch.”
Liu Cunhao stepped to the side and Xu Qingqing nearly hit him. “Qing-ge, can you learn from Jingjing? Look how gentle she is. You, on the other hand, are you trying to kill someone?”
Xu Qingqing threw another one.
The last performance ended, then the emcees gave a long closing speech. The school principal went on stage. “Today is a special day for Liyang Erzhong, and a special day for all you students here today…”
Xie Yu glanced at the time. Even if he went back now, he wouldn’t make it to evening self-study.
He Zhao’s school jacket smelled of detergent, and something else Xie Yu couldn’t name, but it was the same presence that always permeated the air when He Zhao was near. Without needing to look back, Xie Yu would know it was him.
“Hao-zi, we’re leaving.” The school principal’s speech was concise and they didn’t have to wait too long. The audience started filing out of the hall, the people in the back leaving first. Soon, more than half the audience had left. He Zhao picked up his uniform and got up, helping his half-dozing little friend up on the way. “Qing-ge, how are you all going home? Shall Old Xie and I accompany you all to the bus stop?”
Xu Qingqing said, “No need to worry. My dad’s coming to get me. Are you going straight back to the dorm? Remember to do your English homework. The teacher lectured me yesterday because of your worksheets. Are you sure a human did those?”
He Zhao smiled and skipped replying completely. He patted Luo Wenqiang’s shoulder. “Let’s go. What are you thinking about?”
Luo Wenqiang had been in a daze for a while.
He hadn’t recovered since leaving the stage after the performance.
He had been in a hurry to get off stage and had wanted to hurry the other two to go with him, but when he turned, he had glimpsed something not quite right.
…Maybe he had seen wrong.
Uncertainty fermented in his heart.
Luo Wenqiang was forthright and did not like holding things in. When he, Liu Cunhao and Wan Da had reached the multi-purpose building, he couldn’t help asking, “When you two walked off stage just now, did you see something… like a dream?”
Wan Da was calm. “Actually, when we were walking off stage and you stopped in the middle, I stopped with you.”
Liu Cunhao said, “Da-zi¹ stopped, so I stopped too.”
Luo Wenqiang: “……”
“I really wanted to tell them that although it’s dark in the hall, we can still see what’s in a three-step radius around us,” they said, squatting by the road next to the classroom building. “Could they be a bit more considerate?”