First Published on Chaleuria
040 – “Big Bro Flirt.”
“On this day of clear skies and good weather, we welcome you to Liyang Erzhong’s 67th autumn sports meet. Students, the phrase ‘holistic development’ consists of values, intelligence, body, beauty, and hard work. The ‘body’ refers to one’s physical condition.”
The sports meet had not yet begun, but there definitely weren’t enough seats in the stadium and everybody was currently moving chairs from the classrooms to the quad. The stairwells were jam-packed with people.
Dean ‘DJ’ Jiang’s voice was currently reverberating through the school. “Physical training and a love for exercise represents the spirit of physical development. I know that in the day-to-day, everyone is busy with schoolwork, but today you can soar freely upon the quad and let your perspiration fly…”
“Why is it so crowded? Are you letting us pass or not?”
These male eagles that should have been soaring freely over the quad were currently all stuck in the stairwell entranceway. Not only the entranceway, but the entire corridor was full of the click-clack sounds of things being dragged. It was as congested as rush hour traffic, so packed that even water might not have been able to flow through the cracks.
Class 2.3 occupied the part of the corridor outside their own classroom, and the ones who couldn’t squeeze out were still waiting in the classroom.
Wan Da had left his chair in the doorway and no one knew where he had gone. After several minutes, he returned, squeezing back out of the stream of people. “Damn it, the line goes from the fifth floor to the first floor. The building we were in last year is even worse. Collisions all along both the east and west buildings.”
“Why are you being a busybody about unrelated things?! If you have so much free time you should have moved your chair downstairs.” He Zhao dragged his own chair to the rear door of the classroom and, seeing the impressive sight outside, just gave up and sat down in the rear doorway. He said around the lollipop in his mouth, “Just wait. It’ll probably be jammed for another ten minutes, at least.”
As he finished, he turned back to Xie Yu. “Old Xie, come over?”
Xie Yu didn’t move. He lay on his desk and said with his eyes closed, “Not going. Being squashed in a crowd is no fun.”
“Help me put my number tag on. I can’t reach my back.” He Zhao held the number tag the gym rep had handed out earlier: a piece of cloth, slightly yellowed from many uses, with a 4-digit number on it. “Quickly. I’m the hope of the entire village.”
Xie Yu didn’t react.
He Zhao repeated himself, then Xie Yu sat up and said, “Wan Da, go help the hope of the entire village with his number tag.”
Wan Da, who had been dragged into the conversation for no reason: “……”
Wan Da glanced left and then glanced right. He met He Zhao’s eyes and found that, although Zhao-ge hadn’t said a word, his silence spoke volumes. He could understand from He Zhao’s face: Please read the room. I want my deskmate to help, so don’t you dare come over and try.
So Wan Da turned around and pretended not to have heard. “Ah, why aren’t they moving? How much longer is this jam going to last?”
Xie Yu: “……”
He Zhao mentally took note of Wan Da’s contribution, then dragged the chair back and put the safety pins and the number tag on the desk. “Sorry to trouble you, little friend.”
Xie Yu took the safety pin and seriously considered pricking him to death.
He Zhao sat facing the back of his chair, his back to Xie Yu. Wan Da stood in the doorway and shot him a complicated look. He Zhao smiled and even audaciously made a ‘Yeah’ gesture in the air.
Wan Da shook his head; he couldn’t bear watching any longer.
Xie Yu pinned the number on He Zhao’s shirt with a safety pin in each of the four corners. When he was done, he mercilessly kicked He Zhao’s chair to tell him to get lost, and said dismissively, “Done.”
He Zhao put a hand to his back and realized Xie Yu had done quite an attentive job, and was about to praise him but Xie Yu kicked his chair again.
Class 3 had had bad luck and was assigned the corner of the stadium directly opposite the stage, under the hot sun.
Each of the classes walked in square formation onto the court. Luo Wenqiang had changed clothes in the indoor court’s toilet and now he walked right in front, holding the class flag. He Zhao and Xie Yu walked side by side right behind him, leading the rest of the class.
In Xu Qingqing’s words: He Zhao and Xie Yu are the faces of our class. They’ll hold up everything for us.
Xu Qingqing had meant ‘they’re good-looking,’ but everyone from the other classes didn’t think so.
When they looked at Class 3’s marching formation, the only emotion in their hearts was terror. Even though the background music was a rousing military march, with the former Big Bros of the East and West buildings in front leading more than thirty other people out, it really gave the impression that they were ready to roll up their sleeves and start a brawl at any second.
Terribly, terribly wild.
So even though Luo Wenqiang was wearing such audacious clothes, no one dared laugh at him.
“What’s up with this lot,” He Zhao turned his head slightly and said. “No one’s laughing? Is it not funny? Everyone was so excited when next door’s Crossdressing Big Bro walked out. Did we not measure up? Did we lose?”
Xie Yu said, “Maybe he’s too ugly.”
Luo Wenqiang, who had taken a sword to the heart, thought, …Have you considered my feelings?
The sports meet spanned two days and the long distance event would be held on the afternoon of the second day. Today, they would only participate in the push-up event that was taking place in the indoor court.
Although it was already autumn, the midday sun still shone strong in the sky and it felt a little hot.
He Zhao took off his jacket and lay it over his head to block out the sun. He glanced down at his phone and saw that Da had sent him a forum link ten minutes ago.
The subject line was, Live broadcast of the two hottest big bros in school – Doing! Push! Ups! I’ve already exploded like fireworks!
There were already more than a thousand replies and the topic stayed at the top of the school board, a sea of red. ¹
He Zhao opened a few of the threads, and his instinctive reaction was to close out of the browser, as if he had just picked up a hot potato. He couldn’t tell if it was because the sun was too hot or if he had suddenly started burning up from within for no reason again.
After a while, He Zhao opened up the forum thread again… and, as if possessed, hit ‘Save Image.’
There were three images in all. The indoor lighting was bad and the person taking photos also hadn’t dared openly take the photographs, perhaps aware of their guilt, so the photos were out of focus—blurry and suggestive.
Although the photos weren’t in focus, the two main actors were clearly recognizable.
Wan Da, the big mouth, wouldn’t have just sent it to He Zhao, he had probably sent it to the whole class.
He Zhao tentatively nudged Xie Yu with his arm and asked, “…Did–did you see it?”
“See what?” Xie Yu’s eyes were half-closed as if he was about to fall asleep.
People milled about on the quad, some even riding their bicycles all around the quad. Others were doing warm-ups—the boys from their class who had picked Ding Lianghua for the 100m sprint.
Xu Qingqing and a group of other girls were writing an announcement to be submitted for broadcast, coming up with the script one line at a time.
He Zhao was internally thinking what else could it be, of course it’s the thread about our CP,
² but he couldn’t say it out loud so he beat around the bush. “You know, the one.”
Xie Yu looked at him. “Which one?”
In the end, He Zhao beckoned to him with a finger and Xie Yu scooched over with much reluctance.
He Zhao raised his jacket, indicating to Xie Yu to come in, and the two squeezed in under the jacket, head to head. The phone rested on He Zhao’s thigh and Xie Yu had to lean in and look down to see.
Xie Yu was looking very intently.
He Zhao stared at the back of Xie Yu’s neck, at his hair that was so soft to the touch and at his collarbone lightly jutting from the base of his neck, and felt a little regret.
Why had he shown this to him? Or should he say, he wanted to see how he would react?
He Zhao wasn’t sure either what exactly he wanted to find out with this.
Xie Yu went through a few pages. The comments were all about the same, matchmaking all the way. As he went through the comments, his finger suddenly stopped on comment #52, which had the comment Damn it, I want to push his head down! Kiss him! Just kiss him!
Xie Yu blinked slowly, and then He Zhao heard him say calmly, “Ah, I see it now.”
He Zhao hadn’t thought of a response when everyone heard a shrill cheer. “Ah—do your best!”
Not far away from the court, Ding Lianghua was in a half-squat with both hands on the track, preparing to run. When the shot rang out, he dashed forward, even faster than on that night when he had beaten up the study rep.
“Beautiful! First place!” Luo Wenqiang’s face was red from excitement. He spread his arms and said, “Dingding, I will give you a hug of love!”
Ding Lianghua was normally already very shy and now he turned into a complete social recluse. After stepping off the court he smiled with embarrassment. “No, no, no need.”
He wiped off his sweat and as he passed by, He Zhao also gave a word of praise. Xie Yu felt that it’d be too cold not to say anything, so he also said, “Ding Hualiang, not bad.”
“Ding Lianghua.” He Zhao lightly hit Xie Yu’s head and whispered a reminder. “His name is Lianghua. When will you remember?”
Old Tang sat to one side, a thermos of wolfberry tea in his hands. He had brought homework to grade and he looked like an old man getting some sun to improve his calcium levels. He said, “It’s good to be young,” and as he gazed upon them, he reminisced deeply about his own youth.
The study rep held a book in his hands and memorized English vocabulary while he watched the matches.
Very soon, it was time for the pushup event.
Coincidentally, the referee for this event was their gym teacher. When the students of Class 3 saw him they all felt deeply uncomfortable.
The gym teacher held a record sheet in his hand and said, “The lot of you had better do well. After my special training, you had better place in the top eight… All right, get ready. One minute.”
Xie Yu had taken off his vest, leaving him in a white short-sleeved shirt.
He Zhao looked at him and said thoughtfully, “Is it easier to move with less clothes? Old Xie, you’ve thought this through.”
Xie Yu thought, I was just hot.
But he hadn’t managed to say anything before He Zhao started stripping, taking off the vest in three motions. As he did so the inner shirt rode up, showing half his waist.
Several people around made low, short ‘Ah’ sounds.
“It does feel easier to move.” He Zhao made several tentative motions, then found that Xie Yu wasn’t saying anything and turned to ask, “What’s the matter?”
Xie Yu said, “I think you’d better not be called Zhao-ge any more.”
He Zhao didn’t understand. “Ah, then what should I be called?”
Xie Yu placed his palms flat on the ground and said coolly, “Big Bro Flirt.”³
He Zhao thought about it for a long time and concluded that this was probably an insult.
One minute of time. In the first half a minute, He Zhao and Xie Yu kept pace with each other.
The gathered audience was whispering and Xie Yu faintly heard someone’s ardent whisper. “Is this the school forum audience group? Ah, I’m also on the ‘push his head down’ team.”
“Mr. Tang, reporting in, good news, good news. Classmates He Zhao and Xie Yu have placed first and second in the push-up event respectively!” Luo Wenqiang completed a formal military salute in front of Tang Sen and reported. “Aside from the two of them, the other six completely failed.”
Tang Sen nodded. He pulled eight bottles of water from a carton and said, “Reward everyone. Greatly.”
Xie Yu took the water the gym rep passed out, thanked him, and then glanced around at the people running on the quad and the people cheering for their classmates.
Suddenly, he realized couldn’t recall how last year’s sports meet had gone.
He probably hadn’t come to the quad at all and had hid in the music room with earplugs in to sleep instead.
He Zhao had a lollipop in his mouth and he offered Xie Yu one, stuffing it into Xie Yu’s hand heedless of whether he was going to eat it or not. Then he smiled and shouted to Liu Cunhao who was running past: “Hao-zi, do your best!”
Liu Cunhao waved to them and answered, “Long live Class 3! I’m the best!”
He Zhao leaned back in his seat again, smiling.
Xie Yu didn’t like sweets; he found them too cloying. But he looked down at the lollipop wrapper for a while and eventually opened it.
Then Xie Yu stared at the white lines on the track and thought, Really, very cloying.
It was orange and a little sour, too.
That afternoon, near the end of the sports meet, Shen Jie came over from Class 8 and said, “Shall we go out to eat after school? Didn’t Big Bro Xie say he’d pay? Might as well be today.”
Shen Jie and He Zhao had each footed the bill for one meal. Xie Yu didn’t like owing people, so he had said that the next time they went out, he’d pay. Any day was fine.
He Zhao looked at Xie Yu, and seeing that his deskmate had no objections, he silently agreed. “All right. What shall we eat?”
“Either way, not Gold List again.” Shen Jie found an empty seat behind them and sat down, thinking hard. “Actually, we’ve been to all the restaurants near school. The Top Scholar House is both expensive and the food isn’t good. Why don’t we give our business to some of the smaller restaurants on the other streets?”
So, when school let out, they fruitlessly walked down three streets before deciding where to eat.
Shen Jie looked up at the shop signboard and was a little confused. He felt as if he hadn’t walked down three streets but circumnavigated the globe and returned to his original spot. “…Uh, why do the shops here name themselves so much like the ones near our school?”
“Dian Ji is right around the corner,” Xie Yu reminded him from behind.
Dian Ji—the full name of the school was Information Technology and it was the vocational skills school closest to Erzhong.
When school let out on Friday, some people from Dian Ji would come over to Erzhong’s gate to wait for their friends. When Erzhong students quarrelled and, in true youthful fashion, arranged for a fight, they would also sometimes invite Dian Ji students to come and help out, and a single phone call could bring a carful of people.
But Erzhong was rather strict so if they wanted to plan a fight, they had to pick a location farther away from the school.
The small restaurant was already half-full with people. He Zhao pushed the door open and went in. “This one, then. If we keep looking, evening self-study is going to end, and I haven’t even finished copying my homework.”
Xie Yu also ignored the people and walked in, found a seat, and sat down. He carefully used the napkin on the table to wipe down the bowls and chopsticks.
He Zhao lifted a hand, saying, “Boss, the menu?”
The people inside didn’t look too nice. Shen Jie’s right eye started twitching and he couldn’t stop it.
He followed in, reflexively reaching for his pocket. Mm… his wallet was still there.