First Published on Chaleuria
104 – Best-case scenario, I can see him when I open my eyes every day.
Class 3 gathered around the back row.
Xie Yu reached for the bottle of water at the corner of his desk and watched Wan Da dramatically act it out again.
He Zhao was obligingly supportive, as always. “Very good, very good. You act well.”
“Thank you.” Wan Da gave a fist salute. “All thanks go to my countrymen for supporting me.”
Xie Yu initially thought it uninteresting. He took a sip of water, then flipped his hand and screwed the bottlecap back on. But they were laughing so hard that in the end he couldn’t help but laugh along with them. “…You all have nothing better to do?”
Actually, before pulling his grades back up, Xie Yu had hesitated a little.
But he gradually came to realize that whether his grades were good or not—whether his grades pulled the class average down so low it made people want to shut their eyes and jump down from a high floor or pushed the class average ‘4.6 points higher’ like now—this lot’s attitude towards him didn’t change much.
At first, he had wanted to beat them all up, but after a while he had more or less processed his feelings.
When Liu Cunhao came to look for He Zhao to ask him how to do a problem, he even laughed. “I really have to give in to you two. You really are the first of the big bros of our school… whether counting from the top or from the bottom.”
“What does that mean? Is that praise or an insult?”
He Zhao was looking at the problem—Liu Cunhao had brought a question assigned by his home tutor—and he said, pen in hand, “I’ll give you two minutes. Rephrase that statement.”
Liu Cunhao now understood the meaning of ‘what goes around comes around.’ Before, he had acted like he had seen a ghost when He Zhao volunteered his homework for him to copy, but now he understood what He Zhao had meant by ‘beyond your reach.’
He shut his eyes and started ass-licking. “You’re awesome! A man among men! The pride of Erzhong! So how is this question solved?”
When Liu Cunhao was done, he heard He Zhao say, “There are a few ways to solve this. Do you want the short and blunt way or something a little more creative…”
Liu Cunhao thought, Big bro, spare me. I just want to solve the question.
Xie Yu couldn’t take it any more. He plucked the exercise book straight out of He Zhao’s hand. “Which question?”
Xie Yu did not waste a single word when explaining the question. His logic was clear and within a few sentences, Liu Cunhao seemed to have been struck by lightning and all his trains of thought suddenly ran clear.
He Zhao pointed to himself. “Did I explain so badly?”
Xie Yu retorted, “Badly or not… don’t you already know?”
Liu Cunhao listened to the explanation, then looked up at the two of them quarrelling as they always did.
What he nearly said was: Whether counting from the top or from the bottom, you’re still the two big bros we know—He Zhao, who took blame he didn’t need to shoulder in order to protect a girl, and Xie Yu, who rolled up his sleeves without a word and went down to the basketball court.
From Class 3’s point of view, what they thought of the two of them had long gone beyond grades. When class placements had first been announced, all they had known from rumors were that these two were school tyrants who intimidated everyone who heard of them, did every possible evil, and killed people without blinking.
But after interacting with them, this wasn’t the case at all.
Xie Yu closed the exercise book and handed it back to Liu Cunhao. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Xue Xisheng watching them without blinking.
His gaze was complicated and he stared them down until their hair stood on end.
Every day, Xue Xisheng persistently tried to talk to them about studying methods and they couldn’t avoid him no matter how they tried. “It’s fine that you deliberately pulled the class average down, but can’t you just talk to me a little about how you study?”
He Zhao had also noticed the study rep’s predatory gaze. He suggested, “Let’s go to Shen Jie’s to hide out for a bit?”
Xie Yu asked, “You sure?”
Xie Yu continued, “That madman… better not.”
Shen Jie had gone mad since about when the midterm grades had been out.
Within a single day, his bro who usually only scored a few points on any exam had shot up into the clouds. He even stood ahead of Shen Jie telling him, ‘Sorry, actually I’m just that good.’
The guy who sat in front of Xie Yu during every exam was also in Class 8 and he and Shen Jie ranted at each other all day in a daze.
That guy had always been in the last exam venue and no matter how he did in the exams—no matter how badly he did—there were always two people behind him, silently backing him up, so that he didn’t fall into the bottom of the abyss. When exam grades were released, he could say to his parents with confidence, “I’m not the worst! Dad, Mom, look, there are two guys even worse than me!”
Now the two men behind him said goodbye and left just like that.
He had lost all his will to live. The world had faded from color to black and white.
As they were talking, someone knocked twice on the glass.
Mad Dog’s face appeared at the window like in a scary movie.
He Zhao, who often used his phone in secret during evening self-study, had bad memories of being quietly observed by Mad Dog standing at the window. Now he felt a chill at his back.
But this time Mad Dog didn’t say much. He beckoned to the two ‘Hopes of Erzhong.’ “The two of you come out.”
The whole way, Mad Dog kept saying, “Don’t be anxious later. Relax,” and, “Show the best face of Erzhong.” It was getting more and more confusing.
Instinct told him it wasn’t anything good.
They followed Mad Dog all the way to the door of the principal’s office. Facing the plaque on the door, Xie Yu’s left eyelid kept twitching. He had a bad premonition and had a faint guess as to what Mad Dog had dragged them over here for.
“Hold up the exam paper and stand straight. All right, the two of you get closer together…”
“Principal Chen, please move a little to the side.”
“Chest out, chin up. I’ll count down. Three, two, one. Yell eggplant.”
Six or seven people stood in the principal’s office. Members of the school administration stood in two rows, wearing sharp suits.
Erzhong’s principal had a bald patch on top of his head, but he had stubbornly and meticulously applied hair gel to his few remaining strands of hair until they shone. He placed his hand on Xie Yu’s shoulder and smiled, warm and genial. “Eggplant.”
He Zhao said, “Eggplant.”
Xie Yu: “……”
“Smile, student over there, could you smile a little?”
“Don’t be so…” The photographer was half-squatting and was about to say, “Don’t be so gloomy,” but halfway through he thought the word wasn’t quite fitting, so he changed his words. “Don’t be so serious.”
Erzhong’s principal had said he wanted to record them both in the school’s history. Xie Yu had thought he was joking but the school administration had really hired a photographer to take photos of them.
The moment he had walked through the door, before he could even assess the situation in the office, the school principal had hung a sash over his shoulder.
The sash was red with yellow words, bordered on both sides with gold. On it was written: Top Student.
“Record it in the school’s history! This photo must be right in the middle!”
“Erzhong’s students have worked a miracle. Let’s write a headline…”
“They’re just very happy.” After the photo shoot, Dean Jiang couldn’t take it, either, and brought them out. “You still have afternoon classes, right? Go back quickly.”
Xie Yu pulled the sash off his chest without another word.
He Zhao shut the door and was about to go downstairs, then stopped in the doorway of the stairwell. “Dean Jiang?”
Dean Jiang looked back. “Was there something else?”
He Zhao smiled and said, “I did all right on the exams.”
“My deskmate did quite well, too.”
This was a fairly deep ruse, and Dean Jiang still didn’t understand what He Zhao was saying. “Mm.”
Then He Zhao said, “So, can we change dorm rooms now?”
Before, when He Zhao had applied to change dorm rooms, Dean Jiang had been unbelievably mad. The two bottom-of-the-year students wanting to room together—they must have gone mad from playing too much. He kicked them out without even thinking about it.
Who would have known they were still thinking about it.
Dean Jiang hesitated. “You two…”
He Zhao said, “We’re helping each other. We’re studying together and improving together.”
Xie Yu leaned against the railing in the stairwell. As he listened to He Zhao bullshitting, he lifted a leg and kicked him lightly.
Dean Jiang thought about it for a while. He thought about their grades this time around and fell for He Zhao’s bluff that they were ‘improving together.’ Eventually he relented and said, “All right. Fill in the application form and turn it in at my office before school’s dismissed.”
Erzhong was very efficient.
After turning in the application form, the procedures were completed in short order.
That evening, after self-study, the occupant list next to Xie Yu’s door had an additional name on it.
Xie Yu had gotten used to living alone. Several mock exams lay spread out on his desk and he sat in his chair with one leg bent as he watched He Zhao run about. The other half of his room, which had been empty, was now being filled, and he wasn’t yet used to it.
He tried to turn his attention to the question he was doing, but he only looked briefly before putting down his pen again. He discovered that He Zhao had already packed up the few things he had into cardboard boxes. “When did you start packing?”
“A few days ago.”
“I wanted to be closer to my little friend.” He Zhao had made several trips to move his things and he was sweating a little. As he took off his jacket, he continued, “Best-case scenario, the sort of close where I can see him when I open my eyes every day.”
Xie Yu was stunned.
By the time He Zhao had set up the bed, he belatedly realized that he had forgotten the requirements of those questions from just now.
He Zhao didn’t have many things and was able to move them all with just a few boxes. He also moved over the ‘Preparing for the college exams’ notice that he had had up on his door for a long time.
He Zhao had just finished unpacking and had taken a change of clothes to the bathroom to shower when Aunt Mei called.
Xu Yanmei was so emotional she couldn’t speak clearly. “You really scored first?”
Listening to the running water in the bathroom, Xie Yu distractedly said, “Mm.”
“That one at home, that idiot guy, he didn’t give you trouble, did he?” Xu Yanmei calmed down, then followed ‘idiot guy’ up with another barrage of curses.
Xie Yu’s mind went in a few circles before he matched the name ‘idiot guy’ to Zhong Jie.
“No, so don’t worry about nothing.”
Xie Yu had no idea what reaction Zhong Jie might have had. Madam Gu said not to worry about it. Grades had been out for a few days and he had not received a call from Zhong Jie.
They chatted for a little while and Xie Yu worked out the last problem sum at hand while he talked.
“All right, I won’t go on any more. Take care of your health…”
Xie Yu waited for Aunt Mei to finish nagging before he hung up the phone and tossed it aside. Then he saw a certain person, who had finished showering but had not properly put on his clothes, pull open the door and walk out.
He Zhao’s hair was still wet. He wore only a button-down and he had not done up many of the buttons.
Xie Yu thought that sharing a dorm room with this guy was probably not a wise decision.
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