First Published on Chaleuria
101 – Old Xie, run.
Class was about to start and the noise in the corridor gradually quieted.
Wu Zheng sat by the podium, eyes fixed unblinkingly on the two special ‘exam takers.’
There were only three people total in the classroom so it looked empty. One of them finished answering the questions, tossed his pen, then lay down on the table to sleep. From where Wu Zheng sat, he could only see the back of his head.
Another one of them had too much free time and nothing to do, and was doodling on scratch paper with pen in hand.
Before Xie Yu lay down, only one thought remained in his head: half an hour is still a little too long.
He had not napped for very long before he faintly felt an intense gaze on him. It made him feel uneasy, so he opened his eyes again and met his boyfriend’s unconcealed, assessing gaze. “……”
“What are you two doing? If you’re done with the exam, turn it in.”
Wu Zheng glanced at his wristwatch. Generously speaking, the two of them had been taking this math paper for about twenty minutes. He knew they were close deskmates but they were even making eyes at each other in front of him.
Wu Zheng really didn’t know what to say to them. Over the last two days he had taken many emotional blows and now he really couldn’t take it any more. “Turn it in, turn it in. Turn it in and then hurry back to class.”
From start to finish, the word ‘cheating’ had not crossed Wu Zheng’s mind. Instead, Wu Zheng was thinking more along the lines of ‘did these two go out together for a walk over winter vacation and get struck by lightning… so hard it broke their brains.’
Not even cheating could explain these grades.
The elaborate way He Zhao had answered the questions—which cheating student would make so much trouble for themselves? And where would they find answer keys like that?
Xie Yu had just taken two steps when he heard Wu Zheng calling them again.
Wu Zheng cleared his throat and asked, “Did you two go out over winter vacation for any events?”
He Zhao had no idea what he meant by this and answered, “Yes. We went to karaoke?”
Wu Zheng really wanted to ask how the weather had been that day, if there had been a thunderstorm, and, most importantly, if lightning had struck both of them. He steadied himself, then swallowed all his nonsensical questions one by one and waved a hand dismissively. “That’s all. Hurry up and go.”
Literature, math, English, and combined science. They took exams all morning.
They had been told it was a new exam, but each paper was just ten major questions. None of them were ordinary questions, however. The difficulty was comparable to those of the top tier schools.
When Xie Yu turned in his paper, the questions from each subject test were still rattling around in his mind.
He was still thinking about them when someone abruptly shoved a piece of paper into his hand. “What is this?”
Outside the classroom, the midday sun shone hotly on them. He Zhao unzipped his jacket and said, “A master is giving this gift to you. A masterpiece.”
Xie Yu straightened the sheet of scratch paper in his hand. Aside from a messy set of calculations, there was also an abstract-style line drawing.
The lines were messy, and it was only faintly recognizable as a human figure. If not for Xie Yu remembering that this guy had been staring at him the entire time they were retaking the exams, he would have no way of telling who the subject of the drawing was.
……Masterpiece, my ass.
He Zhao was quite confident in his drawing skills. “Surprised?”
“Surprised, yes.” Xie Yu slowly folded the scratch paper up again, then beckoned to him. “Come over.”
He Zhao leaned over and was about to say, “I don’t expect a lot, just kiss me on the cheek,” when he took several direct hits and was nearly kicked down the stairs.
Wu Zheng heard the commotion in the corridor, shook his head, and looked back down at the exam papers in front of him.
In the combined exams of the four schools, Erzhong had produced two top scores.
After these grades had been verified to be right, the explosive news quickly spread throughout the year. Then, it spread not only in year 2, but through the whole school.
These grades were so high it was ridiculous. All the subjects featured perfect or near-perfect scores, and there was a 3-digit point difference from the 3rd in the year.
Class 3 was not self-aware at all and was still consumed with the notion that ‘the other classes must have done very badly.’
The first afternoon class period was Old Tang’s.
The grades had been calculated. Old Tang, knowing they were anxious to find out their grades, brought the grade sheet along with the class material. He planned to analyze their grades with them so that they could lay out rules and study goals for the second half of the term.
“Our class average is higher than the year average by 4.6 points…”
Xie Yu chased He Zhao all the way to the class doorway, where they heard Class 3 cheer so loudly they might have torn off the school roof. “Have they gone mad?”
Xie Yu covered his ears and gave a noncommittal response.
Wan Da was the first to jump up and yell, “It’s real!”
Liu Cunhao’s eyes were growing red. He was a grown man but he only needed to blink to shed a tear. “We actually really did it!”
Luo Wenqiang said, “This is a miracle! We worked a miracle!”
Old Tang didn’t quite understand why they were so moved. “Wait, I haven’t…”
But Liu Cunhao and the others couldn’t wait at all. They had only half-believed this class average before, but now that Old Tang had personally confirmed it, an unbelievable wild joy enveloped them all.
—Their class had really succeeded in changing their own fate! By their own strength, even dragging the two bottom-of-the-year students behind them, they had dragged their class average up!
They were unbelievably impassioned.
Until Xie Yu crooked a finger, face blank, and knocked twice on the door. “Reporting in.”
“You two are just in time. Come over and stand by the side.”
Old Tang flipped a page of the grade sheet and kept wondering how to make this announcement.
All of Class 3 looked at the two bottom-of-the-year students standing side by side next to the podium. Xie Yu looked like he had not gotten enough sleep. He leaned against the wall, hands stuck in his pockets.
“This is what happened. This time around, the first place and second place in the year both came from our class. Classmate Xie Yu scored 150 in math, 146 in literature, 148 in English, 300 in combined science, and came first with a total score of 744…”
“He Zhao scored one point less in total, but…”
Before Old Tang finished, there was a crash from the classroom floor.
Liu Cunhao had fallen off his chair, taking the chair with him. As he was falling, he had tried to catch the edge of his desk to steady himself, but had missed and fallen flat on the floor. “……”
Wan Da, his deskmate, didn’t hold out a hand to him. “Does it hurt? It probably doesn’t. This is a dream, so it wouldn’t hurt.”
Not only had all of Class 3—who had just a moment ago been yelling ‘We’re awesome, we worked a miracle’—sunk into a stunned stupor, Class 4 next door wasn’t much better off either.
Liang Hui’s face went green, then white.
During gym class that morning, he had already bought drinks and distributed them to the class to celebrate, saying they would definitely soundly beat Class 3.
Every word he had said then was now like a slap to his face, over and over.
“Did they cheat? Those two from that class… is it really true?”
“Don’t make blind accusations. They retook the exam.” Class 4’s homeroom teacher was also surprised, but despite the surprise, some accusations should not be thrown around. “The exam setters came up with new questions overnight, even more difficult than the ones on the midterm.”
The whole class was silent.
Then someone said quietly, “Their grades… they got perfect scores on nearly every subject.”
Liang Hui was silent and he nearly snapped the pen in his hand in half.
Tang Sen finished announcing grades no one said another word for the rest of the class period.
Xie Yu took his exam papers, then returned to his seat and continued sleeping.
Liu Cunhao’s butt was still hurting.The pain made him aware that he was not dreaming. This was goddamn reality… this was real.
While Tang Sen was turned to the blackboard writing class notes, Liu Cunhao turned around and looked at the back row, his mind still buzzing with static.
—Hao-zi, you ignore me now. But in the future, I’ll climb so high you can’t reach me.
—Old Xie and I have no issues getting a perfect score.
—I can do this question, I really can. Bring it over here and I’ll do it for you to see.
Liu Cunhao’s head drooped lower and lower until he buried his face in his hands and internally cursed, “Fuck.”
Xie Yu wasn’t aware his classmates were internally going through so much. He and He Zhao had already warned this lot and they didn’t believe it, choosing to be submersed in their notions of changing their fate.
“How are we going to explain later?” He Zhao poked him with a pen. Liu Cunhao had been staring at him for a long time and he shot back a smile, then kept asking quietly, “Look at Hao-zi. He’s looking at me like he wants to kill me.”
Xie Yu didn’t open his eyes and retorted, “What can we say? That you were always this excellent?”
He Zhao was left with nothing to say.
That morning, in the faculty office, Old Tang had asked them about it, but they hadn’t known what to say. They hemmed and hawed for a long time and Old Tang thought they had difficulties they couldn’t talk about, so he didn’t press them, and said, “It’s fine if this isn’t a good time. When you want to talk about it, come and find me… but I have to tell your parents about these grades, no matter what the situation is.”
But when Tang Sen called them, Madam Gu was reserved and kept apologizing. “Sorry, sir. He’s given you trouble.”
He Zhao’s dad had said without preamble, “I know. My son’s always been excellent.”
Old Tang choked. “Ah… all right, He Zhao’s dad. As long as you’re aware of the situation.”
The dismissal bell rang just as Old Tang finished delivering the new content he had prepared.
He also assigned them a few sets of homework. Then he realized the students were still frozen in their chairs. “Next class is gym, but you’re still sitting there? This isn’t like you. You like my class so much?”
When Old Tang packed his things and left the classroom, Liu Cunhao, as the class rep, slowly stood up. “Explain this?”
As Liu Cunhao finished, the rest of Class 3 looked in unison to the back row.
For the first time, Xie Yu felt a stifling atmosphere emanating from his classmates.
A set of complicated feelings formed a complex mess. These were rooted in surprise, the feeling that they had been lied to, and the realization that the tall tales these two had told and they had refused to believe had turned out to be true in the end.
Class 3 might have associated with Xie Yu for too long because they really wanted to use violence to vent their feelings and solve the problem.
He Zhao quietly moved backwards, taking his chair with him right to the doorway. He opened his mouth and bullshitted in an attempt to ease the atmosphere. “Actually, over winter vacation, Old Xie and I were in a car accident. The night was dark and the wind was high, and as we walked on the street, an electric motorbike¹ came in our direction…”
When Xie Yu heard the words ‘electric motorbike,’ he nearly snapped. “Are you sick? Couldn’t you come up with something more normal?”
He Zhao said, “Let me think about it a bit more.”
Before He Zhao could think of anything, Liu Cunhao took the lead, rolling up his sleeves as he leaped over two rows of desks and walked toward the back row. “Brothers, let’s beat them up and then we can talk.”
Xue Xisheng went even farther than Liu Cunhao. As he passed by the classroom closet he picked up a broom on the way.
“Old Xie.” He Zhao stood up and pulled Xie Yu up from his seat. “Run.”
 Electric motorbike: This