First Published on Chaleuria
082 – What shall we bet
Xie Yu tossed the ball backward to He Zhao, then the two swapped positions.
He Zhao dribbled the ball for a while, glimpsing the onlookers outside the court. The weather was hot and Luo Wenqiang only wore a sleeveless gym shirt, his arm muscles showing.
He Zhao did a double take. “They are?”
Xie Yu pulled down the zip of his jacket and watched He Zhao distractedly dribble. He was in no mood to worry about ‘them’ and said, frowning, “Be serious.”
“No, what are they doing surrounding those two girls…” Before He Zhao could finish, he saw the two girls squeeze past Wan Da hand in hand.
They looked shocked, and ran so fast they could have been sprinting in the 100m event at the sports meet. They dashed into the classroom building like they were fleeing something.
He Zhao didn’t understand what was going on and he couldn’t figure out how this might have happened or how it had ended.
Luo Wenqiang and the others, who had been personally involved, didn’t understand either.
Wan Da stood frozen to the spot, scratching the back of his head. “Why did they run?”
Liu Cunhao reflected on the previous events. “We were okay when we talked to them. We were gentle and polite and we weren’t fierce.”
Luo Wenqiang felt very tired and walked back to the basketball court carrying the ball. He really couldn’t figure out girls’ hearts. He said, “The issue is whether or not they understood what we said… remember, upright and honest best bros! Upright!”
There were just three or four scattered groups of people on the court.
Class 3 occupied most of the court and Class 4 next door had to walk further in as a result.
Class 4 had split into two teams and looked like they were going to have a friendly match. A proper one, following the rules. Someone had even hung a whistle around their neck.
He Zhao looked away and prepared to go a few rounds with Xie Yu properly.
But before he could throw the ball, he saw a ball fly diagonally across the court in Luo Wenqiang’s direction with no warning.
Luo Wenqiang had good reflexes. He stepped to the side and the ball flew past his face like a sharp wind. It cut close, but landed hard on the steel netting behind him.
The ball landed hard on the court floor and bounced several times.
“Sorry.” A boy from Class 4 was standing about two meters from them. His hair was buzzed short and when he spoke his smile didn’t reach his eyes. He spread his hands innocently and said, “Hand slipped.”
Then he ran over to the steel netting, bent down, picked up the ball, raised it high above his head, and tossed it back into the court. “Brothers, catch!”
The group went wild.
Buzzcut-who-didn’t-smile-sincerely had not left a good first impression on Xie Yu. This was the so-called ‘not seeing eye-to-eye.’ Luo Wenqiang had been minding his own business playing ball but had been interrupted for the second time by someone whose ‘hand slipped.’ Now Xie Yu stopped and asked, “Who is that? Does he know how to play ball or not? Is something wrong with his hands or is something wrong with his head?”
The moment Xie Yu finished, another thud sounded behind him.
Then came Luo Wenqiang’s raised voice. “What is wrong with you?”
Even the best-tempered person couldn’t bear being interrupted this many times.
“It’s like this.” That guy smiled and pointed to the basketball hoop Luo Wenqiang was using before finally revealing his intentions. “We usually use this hoop. We’re used to it.”
Class 4 was not having gym class right now and they had never run into them before. This was probably a last-minute switch in classes.
And now they even treated the basketball court like their own home.
Luo Wenqiang was shocked by how shameless this person was and momentarily couldn’t come up with a rebuttal. Then he saw a ball smash into that guy’s back with a thud.
The guy cursed and glanced back. He saw the legendary Big Bro of the West standing two meters from him, expression blank.
“Sorry,” Xie Yu said. “Hand slipped.”
The guy from Class 4 was a classic case of a ‘bully scared of people stronger than him.’
He was well aware of Xie Yu’s reputation—and not only Xie Yu’s, but also that of someone else leaning against the basketball hoop who looked languid and hadn’t said anything but clearly carried a warning in his eyes.
When that guy had walked over just now, he saw that Xie Yu and He Zhao had separated from the class to play basketball on their own and looked like they weren’t much of friends.
Although he was unhappy, he didn’t dare say anything. He swallowed his anger, bent down, and picked up the ball. When he stood back up, he was smiling again. He lightly bounced the ball over. “Your ball.”
Xie Yu was the harder ass, in the end.
Liu Cunhao signaled to Xie Yu, Formidable.
With the two big bros around, both classes played their separate matches until the end of the class period without further conflict.
After class, when Luo Wenqiang was collecting the gym equipment, Wan Da finally couldn’t hold it back any longer. “Just now Yu-ge was unbelievably cool. That Liang Hui from Class 4…”
Xie Yu, who was helping with the balls, lifted one eyebrow. “Liang Hui?”
Wan Da said, “The one whose hand slipped.”
Liang Hui was rather well known in the school.
But his reputation was slightly different from ‘school tyrant.’ He only did things in the shadows. When he was done playing his tricks, he would never admit to them when confronted.
Privately, everyone in the year was well aware what kind of person he was.
The equipment room was deserted. Xie Yu put the balls back in the crate, then heard Wan Da continue to gossip. “Gym rep, you keep looking forward to the basketball tournament, right? Mad Dog said it mightn’t happen this year, because of him.”
“Wait a minute.” At Wan Da’s reminder, He Zhao now remembered and cut him off. “It’s that damn bastard.”
Wan Da, shocked by the words ‘damn bastard,’ said, “…Zhao-ge, I’ve never heard you cuss out someone that harshly before.”
He Zhao said, “I’m polite. I have manners and I’m as civilized as you are. I don’t curse at people often.”
In their first year, the basketball tournament had ended in chaos.
Liang Hui’s whole team played dirty the whole way through. He Zhao had joined the tournament with some other guys from his class, but before they had even stepped onto the court for their first match, the people sitting on the sidelines were already getting a headache. “What’s up with that? You call this playing a match?”
Eventually, He Zhao didn’t even bother setting foot on the court.
He had only seen Liang Hui once and hadn’t formed a solid impression of him, or even learned his name.
Because Old Tang had fought for a gym class period for them during literature class that afternoon, the whole class supported him. It was like the class was being observed by a school official. “Sir, I know this question! I can answer!”
“I can recite this passage!”
Old Tang even grew embarrassed. “I’m… really not used to you all being like this.”
“No need to worry, no need to worry. Sir, we’re always this enthusiastic in class.”
“All right, now remember.” Old Tang shook his head, smiled, and said, “There are two weeks left until the end-of-term exams. Don’t take it too hard and remember to revise. It’s important to go over the questions you got wrong for all your subjects. Look over them a few times…”
The end-of-term exams drew closer.
Even during regular school days, no one had much free time. There were just two or three gym class periods a week, which Old Tang had to argue back and forth with all the subject teachers in order to snatch back for them. Those teachers couldn’t beat Old Tang in getting class periods, but they didn’t just give up, either, and piled more and more homework on Class 3’s students.
Just for math class alone there were two mock papers. Counting all the subjects together, the homework made a thick stack.
Xie Yu showered, crossed the hallway, pushed open He Zhao’s door, and went in. He Zhao had already gone through the thick stack of homework until only a single math paper was left.
He Zhao did problems quickly. For most of them, he just ticked them off and circled his choice. For the longer problems, he was even less attentive. He did a small calculation on the side and circled an answer messily in the scribbles.
Xie Yu had brought a pen with him. He towelled his hair with one hand, holding on to the black gel pen in the other. He tossed the pen onto He Zhao’s desk and said, as if in a bad mood, “Which set?”
He Zhao stopped and leaned back in his chair, the chair moving with him. He turned and looked at him. “Mock paper A, second-to-last question.”
Xie Yu walked over and glanced down at the question.
He had been showering when He Zhao called him, asking him if he had done his math homework and saying there was a rather interesting question.
Xie Yu, still dripping water, had stepped onto the bathroom tile with his bare feet. He wasn’t sure why, either. “That’s it?”
He Zhao could hear the sound of running water on the other end, but before he could ask, he heard his little friend say, “I’m showering. Don’t bother me about nothing.”
Xie Yu had come over right after his shower and he was cold, radiating a chill all over.
He Zhao, looking at him, couldn’t hold back any longer. He put his hands over Xie Yu’s, holding the half-damp towel in place, and started awkwardly towelling his hair for him.
“……” Xie Yu was distracted by what He Zhao was doing and stared at the question for half a minute without absorbing it.
Old Wu had put a star in front of this question, saying they could look at it if they had time, and that it was fine if they couldn’t solve it. The important thing was to get a sense of that type of question.
“Shall we bet?” He Zhao touched Xie Yu’s hair through the fabric of the towel and when he drew closer, his nose was filled with Xie Yu’s scent. “Five minutes.”
Xie Yu asked, “What shall we bet?”
Five minutes to solve a problem.
As for what the wager was, neither of them thought any longer. Compete first, decide later.
Xie Yu sat right on He Zhao’s bed and tore out a piece of scratch paper.
The night was as quiet and beautiful as water.
The windows were half-open and wind slipped through the cracks.
Xie Yu was dressed lightly. He wore a loose sweater, and one could look through his sleeve holes and see his wrists with prominent bones.
He Zhao handed over the sweater draped over the back of the chair and remembered the last time they had competed by doing questions. “I’ll give you a minute’s head start?”
“……” Xie Yu glanced up and said, “You really like showing off.”
The digits on the phone timer jumped and jumped.
Time passed, one minute and one second at a time.
This question was novel, but not too difficult, and the key was to break out of the usual problem-solving pathways. Five minutes was too short and when the timer stopped, neither of them had come up with their final answer.
But He Zhao was good at mental arithmetic and when Xie Yu was on his last solution step, he was two steps ahead.
“Little friend.” He Zhao threw down his pen and turned to look at him. “If you dare to bet, then dare to lose.”
Xie Yu’s head was bowed and he was still writing. He calculated the final answer, then said, “What were we betting on?”
“Let me think.” Many thoughts passed through He Zhao’s mind, but he couldn’t bear to torment Xie Yu too much. “Call me ‘ge.’ Call me ‘ge’ and I’ll let you go.”