First Published on Chaleuria
083 – Just try taking off your jacket again next time we play basketball.
Winter was well underway. It didn’t snow often in A City, but the damp and chilly air still pierced through his clothes.
Xie Yu put down his pen. He still wore the jacket He Zhao had passed to him over his shoulders. He smiled faintly and said, “That’s all you want?”
Then, before He Zhao could reply, Xie Yu called him ‘ge’ without further thought.
Xie Yu had caught a light cold recently. After playing basketball and working up a sweat, he had stripped down to his thin undershirt and run about in the wind for half the class period. Now his voice was slightly hoarse and carried a hint of careless apathy.
But He Zhao was mesmerized by the simple, light word.
He buried half his face in his hand, leaned back in his chair, and sighed quietly, “Who’s punishing who here, really?”
It was getting late. Xie Yu presed at his temple, then got up and started to leave. But before he could take two steps, He Zhao tightly caught hold of his wrist from behind, and Xie Yu heard him say, “Don’t go.”
He Zhao repeated, “Don’t go back tonight.”
Xie Yu stopped walking, letting He Zhao catch hold of him, and didn’t struggle to get free. “I call you ‘ge’ and you’ll let me go. Which idiot said that, again?”
He Zhao said, “Yeah, which idiot?”
The brightly lit dorm building now had all its lights off. The security guard walked back and forth downstairs, flashlight in hand, its light breaking through the darkness of night. Outside the window, the light flashed by from time to time.
The single bed was too narrow. Xie Yu took off his sweater and was skin to skin with He Zhao when he lay down.
He uncomfortably moved his leg, which was flush against He Zhao’s through the fabric. His foot met He Zhao’s and He Zhao gave a hiss of pain, then warned in a low voice, “Don’t move around.”
Xie Yu opened his eyes and turned to look at him.
They occasionally spent the night in each other’s dorm rooms.
At lights-out they would say they needed to go, and then not move, never leaving even if they wanted to.
Erzhong’s dorm rooms were very well managed. A student need only put in an application if they wanted to swap dorm rooms, and the procedures would be completed within three days. But Xie Yu and He Zhao’s situation was different.
Before this, they had to worry about the pile of extracurricular study materials and mock papers they kept hidden. If one of them really moved in with the other, would they need to get up in the middle of the night to do practice questions in secret? Now, they no longer had this worry and had thought about switching dorm rooms again.
But when Mad Dog received the application, he was so angry his head could have ballooned to twice its size. He rapped on his office desk and said, “The two of you, what are you planning? Are you going to play video games into the middle of the night? I’ve seen more than my share of your kind of tricks, I’m telling you now.”
He Zhao tried to explain himself. “Actually, we’re going to study properly…”
Mad Dog threw the application straight into the trash can. “Forget that nonsense. Don’t even think about it. There’s no room for discussion. Go on, get back to class.”
Xie Yu, having slept squashed in a single bed all night, was sore all over when he woke up the next morning to Mad Dog’s announcement. He was supremely frustrated and nearly kicked He Zhao off the bed.
There was a lot of homework. Not long after the school gates opened, Wan Da and the others had already gotten to class and exchanged homework assignments while gobbling breakfast.
Wan Da was halfway through copying an assignment when his sharp ears caught wind of someone pushing open the door. He glanced up and let out a sigh of relief, then he did a double take. Still with half a dough stick in his mouth, he said, “Good morning, Yu-ge… what’s the matter, back pain?”
Xie Yu was in a bad mood and was still a little dizzy. He walked straight to the back row. “No.”
“Ah, don’t turn the page.” Wan Da glanced back down and found that Luo Wenqiang had turned a page of Liu Cunhao’s math exercise book. “I’m not done copying, wait a minute.”
The two continued copying homework for a while without further incident. Wan Da, transcribing attentively, didn’t even look up when he reached for more breakfast. After a beat, Luo Wenqiang finally couldn’t take it any more. “Can you stop eating my buns?”
Wan Da swallowed the bite in his mouth. “I thought something seemed amiss. I didn’t buy beef mince buns…”
He Zhao held a paper cup and was getting water at the back of the classroom. When he heard this, he couldn’t hold back a laugh.
As he laughed, he remembered the strange scene from gym class the previous day. He asked, “What were you doing with those two girls yesterday?”
Wan Da paused mid-chew.
Luo Wenqiang was halfway through copying an answer. He stopped and met Wan Da’s eyes for two seconds. “……”
Their class couple was now known throughout the school, and no matter how Class 3 tried to make official announcements or explain things away, it was no use. After they had stopped the two girls outside the basketball court, another thread popped up that day on the class forum. Someone from Class 3 said they are upstanding best bros. Who on earth believes that?
The comments below were nearly identical. Please, isn’t this a case of ‘there are no 300 taels of silver here?’¹
Nope, I don’t believe it.
Whoever believes it is an idiot.
There were too many responses to the thread and the three of them couldn’t even keep up with replying.
He Zhao hadn’t paid much attention and was just asking off the top of his head, but now he thought their reactions seemed amiss. After getting hot water, he pushed the paper cup into Xie Yu’s hands and said, “You two… did something happen?”
Luo Wenqiang was so nervous he couldn’t even keep his tongue straight. “No, no, nothing happened!”
Liu Cunhao was not there yet, so Wan Da had an idea and pushed all the blame onto their class rep. “It’s… it’s like this. Hao-zi was on the student council, right? Someone came looking for him for student council stuff.”
Luo Wenqiang let out a sigh of relief and gave Wan Da a thumbs-up on the down-low. “Good idea.”
The explanation made sense, so He Zhao didn’t keep asking.
Xie Yu took the cup of hot water He Zhao handed over. His hands were half-hidden in his sleeves, and his fingers poking out were faintly red from the cold. He held onto the cup and asked, “What’s this for?”
“Pay more attention, all right?” He Zhao sighed. “You didn’t even realize that you got sick? Just try taking off your jacket again next time we play basketball.”
Xie Yu really hadn’t been feeling well the last couple of days, but he hadn’t paid much attention, thinking he had just caught a slight cold. A minor thing. Now that He Zhao had spoken, he sat frozen, holding the cup.
In Zhou Dalei’s eyes, Xie Yu was someone who could accompany him to beat someone up with a stick even while running a fever.
Once, when he was ill, Madam Gu had made Xie Yu eat fever medicine and then lie down to sleep. Zhou Dalei wasn’t aware of the situation and came knocking. “Join a fight? The bastard on the next street over…”
When they were done, Zhou Dalei had said excitedly, “Let’s go and have a drink at my family’s stall.” Xie Yu had thrown down his wooden stick and declined with a hoarse voice. Only then had Zhou Dalei noticed something was off. He had touched Xie Yu’s forehead: burning hot.
It wasn’t a big deal.
But it was precisely the little details like this, which even Xie Yu himself didn’t notice, that someone had taken very seriously to heart.
Xie Yu’s hand warmed little by little.
Even Xie Yu himself didn’t notice that, alongside the rising temperature, his frustration also dissipated.
About half the class had arrived. Nearly everyone was copying homework, and the ones who weren’t were comparing answers and correcting some of their own. Only when Xu Qingqing came around to collect the worksheets did He Zhao start doing his homework.
“Zhao-ge, you didn’t do your paper again?” Xu Qingqing was not surprised at all. She stood to the side with a stack of worksheets, watching him struggle. “Everyone else turns in a full mock paper and you turn in half a mock paper. Might as well not turn it in at all, like Yu-ge… Is that really what you’re going to write there? You don’t even have the first half of the passage… how are you even doing these?”
Under He Zhao’s arm was half the mock final paper he had dug out of his desk with much difficulty. Even if the entire reading comprehension passage had been printed on the missing half that he had no idea of the whereabouts of, it wouldn’t affect his question-answering abilities at all.
He Zhao said, “I do questions based on feel alone. If it feels right, that’s it.”
Xu Qingqing said, “…I just feel that you’re done for. The English teacher isn’t going to let you off.”
As mock paper by mock paper went by, the weekend finally arrived.
Erzhong’s food street was filled with flying banners. The Valedictorian House was using the end-of-term exams to host a ‘20% Storewide Discount’ event with great fanfare.
—Welcome the end of the semester! We heartily celebrate Erzhong’s final exams. During exam week, 20% storewide discount!
“…One day I’ll wreck the Valedictorian House. They’re going too far.”
“Exams are painful, but after they’re over we can enjoy our vacation,” Liu Cunhao said, directing the class as they moved chairs and tables. “Isn’t it more relaxing to think of it that way?”
Xie Yu moved his chair and desk to the left. Before he could go very far with the chair, he saw a girl in front having some difficulty moving things.
Her desk was full of books and study materials, so it was too heavy for her to push. She was slow and blocked the way of the person behind her who was also trying to move.
He Zhao only had a single pen. He sat at the very end of the first column, spinning the pen in his hand. He turned and saw his little friend help someone carry their desk and chair from the beginning of the row to the end.
He looked the same as always. The weather was already chilly, but looking at Xie Yu, one might feel that the surrounding temperature had dropped another few degrees.
The girl was worried Xie Yu was annoyed by her moving things too slowly.
“Here?” Xie Yu stopped and asked.
“Y-yes. Thank you.”
He Zhao, looking on from the side, couldn’t hold back a slight smile.
After sitting back down, Xie Yu noticed He Zhao staring at him and smiling about something. He mouthed, “Are you goddamn sick?”
The end-of-term exams lasted three days.
The atmosphere of every examination hall was very tense, aside from the very last one.
The bad students’ gathering grounds still consisted of the same few faces. It was no use cheating to get good grades; Mad Dog beat them back down here all the same. They all had the air of grandmasters: strong psychological constitution, talking and laughing.
There were also some who worried a bit more about their grades. Before the invigilating teachers arrived, they stood up and started rallying people, “This exam will determine if we have a happy New Year.”
“Everyone, although we’re the last 30 students in the year, we can’t give up hope. If we all strive hard, one question done is one question gained. If we put all our knowledge together, and distribute it to every corner of this classroom…”
This group of students made cheating sound like they were spreading knowledge, but even if they passed answers around, it was still the same old set of answers. Even if crib notes flew all through the exam hall, they would all score about the same anyway.
Xie Yu glanced at He Zhao’s answer sheet. Over the last several exams, He Zhao had indeed quietly scored a few more points on each subject test.
 300 taels of silver: An idiom meaning ‘trying to keep something hidden but inadvertently exposing it in the process.’ A man who had 300 taels of silver wanted to hide them from robbers and evildoers, so he dug a pit and buried them. Still worried, he put up a sign saying ‘There are no 300 taels of silver here.’ (Of course, they were stolen.)