First Published on Chaleuria
065.2 – Z Y
It was impossible to find an isolated spot in a tourist destination.
After walking around for a while, they ran into Liu Cunhao and the others at the entrance to the local specialty store, and He Zhao did not manage to fulfil his dream of hugging his boyfriend.
“Zhao-ge, I really didn’t think you were this type of person.”
“Leaving your group behind and running off with your deskmate. What kind of group leader are you?”
“Never mind, never mind. What were you two doing?”
Everyone tried to get in a word as if this were a public shaming session.
He Zhao said, “All right, that’s enough.”
Luo Wenqiang said, “No, I’m thirsty. If a certain irresponsible group leader could buy us some…”
This was a fairly blatant hint.
He Zhao went off to buy drinks and the others sat on a bench and waited.
Xie Yu glanced at the bags in their hands, then looked up at the sign reading Northlake Specialty Store. Through the doorway, he didn’t see any specialty goods at all. Just snacks and desserts. “You bought souvenirs?”
“Yes, look, Yu-ge, I bought a scarf.” Liu Cunhao opened his bag and pulled out a red floral-print scarf.
Xie Yu was a bit confused. “How is this local?”
“It’s called local goods, but the actual location of production isn’t important. It’s just a psychological thing.”
This lot really was open-minded.
When He Zhao returned with drinks, the tour guide was already taking attendance. “Is everyone back? Group leaders, take a headcount.”
There were four to five classes all assembled here and it was terribly noisy.
After taking the headcount, the tour guide confirmed no one was missing and they got on the bus back to school.
On the bus, Xie Yu continued watching the movie from that morning, and He Zhao reached out to take an earbud.
Not long after, He Zhao suddenly said, “Hey, can I give you something?”
Xie Yu was trying to remember what the first half of the movie had been about and didn’t react immediately.
He Zhao pulled two bracelets from his pocket.
Red string with a red bean threaded through.¹
“I saw them while I was getting drinks.” He Zhao seemed a little embarrassed—it was the sort of trinket a little girl might like, after all. He paused, then continued, “Let me know which hand you want it on.”
Xie Yu looked at it and said, “It’s a bit girly.”
“It’s about who wears it, right?” He Zhao said. “I think neither of us are girly at all.”
“…Zhao-ge, can you be less shameless?”
“There’s something engraved on it?”
Xie Yu said it was girly, but took it anyway. On the back of the red bean was engraved a ‘z.’ A simple English letter but He Zhao had managed to write it messily anyway.
He Zhao had been drawn by the store’s signboard. Something about never separating, tying you and your loved one together, and free engraving if you buy today. One-of-a-kind couples’ bracelets.
As if inviting praise, He Zhao said, “Yeah, I engraved it myself.”
Xie Yu said, “I know. No one else would do it this terribly.”
On the way back, the bus was not as noisy as it had been on the way here.
Everyone was tired from the day’s excursion and had earbuds in, falling asleep while listening to music.
At the front of the bus, the tour guide was giving a speech about his thoughts and happiness at having passed the day with Class 3. “In the sea of people, it’s fate that we got to meet. After today, you’ll go back to school and attend classes again, and I hope that the joy you felt today will accompany you…”
Xie Yu hesitated for a while and when even He Zhao was convinced his little friend wouldn’t wear it, Xie Yu said, “All right, because it’s you.”
The bracelet wasn’t too bad-looking. An ordinary red string, no frills.
The design was simple and it was not girly when he wore it, after all.
Xie Yu’s wrist was slender and fine-boned, and seeing the red string hanging off it made He Zhao’s throat tighten.
The engraving on He Zhao’s bracelet was a ‘y,’ for the ‘Yu’ in Xie Yu.
After putting it on, Xie Yu glanced at He Zhao’s. They looked at each other for a long time, then He Zhao caught hold of Xie Yu’s hand and pushed their wrists together.
The bracelets twined together as if they were one.
After giving his speech, the tour guide sat down and the bus went completely quiet.
All that remained was Luo Wenqiang’s snoring.
Xie Yu was in no mood to pay attention to the movie. After watching for a while, he felt sleepy, too, and slowly shut his eyes. He laid his head on He Zhao’s shoulder and fell asleep.
All good things must come to an end.
In the future when they retrieved this day from their memories, they would remember it as an ordinary, boring day.
Old Tang had taught many classes over many years but he never got bored of the spring and fall class trips, even though they happened every semester.
He stood up and clumsily took a photo with his phone camera, angling it carefully, capturing an image of a bus full of sleeping students leaning every which way.
They slept for a long time on this journey.
When Xie Yu next opened his eyes the bus had turned into a side street near Erzhong.
Xu Qingqing quietly made a phone call. “Hey, mom, I’m almost there. Mm, are you at the school gates?”
Luo Wenqiang’s snoring was too loud and Wan Da woke him up. “Gym rep! Nearly there!”
Luo Wenqiang rubbed the corner of his mouth, and only when he was about to get off the bus did he think of being sad that the trip was over. “Ah, we’re here already?”
“It’s fine. The class trip is over, but there’s still the weekend, and we can look forward to the long vacation and the winter holidays,” Liu Cunhao said. “There’s still hope for us all. All right, everyone, we gave out caps this morning, now pass them back. I need to collect them for Old Tang.”
The caps were Erzhong school property. They were distributed because the school worried the students would get lost, or perhaps because one could tell at a glance who was from Erzhong. They were ugly and no one wanted to wear them, but they were handed out on every spring and fall class trip.
When He Zhao passed his cap forward, Liu Cunhao caught sight of the streak of red on his wrist. He asked, “Zhao-ge, when did you get that bracelet?”
When Liu Cunhao was done he saw that an identical one hung from Xie Yu’s wrist. He paused, then said, “…Yu-ge, you got one too? It looks quite nice. Is this another exam good luck charm? One that’s been blessed?”
He Zhao: “……”
Xie Yu: “……”
When the first and second from last students in the year wore couples’ bracelets they were still mistaken for exam good luck charms.
“We’re back—everyone, wake up. Go home if you’re going home and go back to the dorms if you live there. Be careful on the way back,” Old Tang reminded everyone. “Get serious now and do your weekend homework properly.”
He Zhao remembered that Xie Yu had not yet answered his question from before. “Are you going home this weekend?”
Xie Yu did have to go home that weekend.
He had gone to Aunt Mei’s last weekend so if he didn’t spend this weekend with Madam Gu, she wouldn’t say anything but she would be quietly upset.
“I’m going back.” Then Xie Yu continued, “Have to go back to appease my mom.”
He Zhao said, “Ah.”
A while later, he asked, “Then when does my little friend Xie Yu plan to appease his boyfriend?”
Class 3 got off the bus.
Many parents had gathered around the school gates. Xu Qingqing’s mother had a sunhat on and sat in her electric car chatting with other parents. She pulled an apple from a basket in front of the car, got out, and walked over. “Are you hungry? What did you bring on the class trip? I told you not to eat so many snacks.”
The parents all knew each other. Liu Cunhao had mentioned tearfully in the class group chat that his mom had somehow formed a friendship with Qing-ge’s mom at the school gates.
Liu Cunhao and the others walked over and greeted each other’s parents.
He Zhao got off the bus and glanced across the road.
Xie Yu didn’t need to take anything home—he hadn’t brought back the few sets of clothing he had taken last weekend—but he still followed He Zhao to the dorm buildings.
Xie Yu followed He Zhao all the way back to his dorm room before He Zhao realized something was wrong. “You’re not packing?”
Xie Yu replied, “I don’t need to bring anything.”
He Zhao was about to ask, ‘Then what are you doing here?’ when he heard Xie Yu say, “I came to appease my boyfriend before I go.”
He Zhao had wanted to hug him but hadn’t found a suitable location the entire trip.
Xie Yu had intended to just hug him for a while before leaving, to appease him, but when they touched he found it was not so easy to leave after all.
He Zhao pressed close to him, hands reaching inappropriately through the hem of his school trousers and lowering his head to bite Xie Yu’s neck. “Shall I take care of it for you?”
Xie Yu hummed low in his throat. The sound made He Zhao tighten his hand, almost too hard.
Xie Yu’s hands tightened on his bedsheets, muscles taut. The red string on his wrist made his skin look even paler in contrast, a vivid and evocative sight.
When He Zhao had bought it, he had never imagined it would look this way on Xie Yu’s wrist.
Fuck. He really was going to die.
When it was over, Xie Yu let go of the bedsheets, raising a hand to cover his eyes. He Zhao got up to pull a tissue from a box at the head of the bed. He pulled several sheets out and handed them to Xie Yu.
The air was thick with the scent of a certain fluid.
Xie Yu took it. Cleaning up didn’t seem to be working, so he got up to go back to his own room and change his pants, then remembered that He Zhao was still hard.
“I advise you not to touch me,” He Zhao said hoarsely. “…Or you might not get to go back and appease your mom.”
“Ah…” Xie Yu was just about to touch him, but at He Zhao’s words he turned around, holding onto the edge of the bed. He got up and said, completely disaffected “Thanks, then. Take a cold shower to cool off.”
When Xie Yu walked out of school towards the bus stop, the school gates were nearly deserted.
On the bus, he called Madam Gu, who happily said “Sure, sure, sure,” on the other end of the line.
Then Madam Gu asked, “Did you have a good time on the class trip? Are you hungry? What do you want to eat when you get back?”
“It was fine. Just as expected,” Xie Yu said. “Anything is fine.”
When Xie Yu hung up he realized that He Zhao practically never went home on weekends.
He Zhao’s mother was overseas but Xie Yu had never heard He Zhao mention his father.
How magnanimous did a parent have to be to not be worried when their child got grades like He Zhao’s?
Xie Yu kept thinking about it, then sent a text to He Zhao who should have finished his shower by now. Are you done showering?
He Zhao replied very quickly:
It won’t go down while I’m thinking of you.
Xie Yu got to the station before He Zhao finished his shower. He toweled his hair dry while calling Xie Yu. “Are you home yet?”
Xie Yu got off the bus and said as he walked, “You sure take long showers.”
He Zhao laughed quietly. “Mm. It was long.”
Ignoring the teasing, Xie Yu asked, “You aren’t going home?”
“There’s no one at home. What do I need to go home for?” He Zhao sat on his bed, pulling the cap off a pen with his teeth. He flipped open a textbook and said, “My dad is overseas for work. He’s rarely home.”
“He doesn’t worry about you?”
“It’s not that he doesn’t worry. He just wants me to think about it for myself, and whatever I want to do, he won’t stop me.”
He Zhao thought his dad was someone hard to come by, too. When he had said he didn’t want to take the high school exams, he had been allowed to do so. Then when he stayed at home after quitting school, his dad hadn’t lectured him about it, either. He had just done the cost-benefit analysis with He Zhao and then let him make his own decision.
All he said was, “He Zhao, your life is your own.”
“I’m here. Later.”
He Zhao had said, “Mm,” but he didn’t hang up.
Xie Yu stood in the doorway, leaning against the wall, and was tickled. “If I don’t hang up, then are you not going to hang up?”
“I’m hanging up,” He Zhao said. “Go in.”
Xie Yu had just entered and changed his shoes when Gu Xuelan pushed a plate of fruit into his hands. She said gravely, “Go and sit on the sofa and eat this. Dinner will be ready soon.”
The fruits were cut up neatly, several varieties arranged on a glass plate.
Xie Yu speared two pieces with a toothpick and ate them, then walked over and leaned against the doorway, watching her.
Gu Xuelan cut up the vegetables, washed her hands, then turned and caught sight of Xie Yu’s wrist accessory. “When did you get that?”
Xie Yu followed her eyes downward to his wrist. He said, “Ah, this… I got it on the class trip.”
Gu Xuelan didn’t think any more of it. She knew Xie Yu better than anyone. He didn’t interact much with others. So she said, “When you were little I bought you a gold pendant but you didn’t like wearing it, and when I put it around your neck you cried”
Xie Yu said nothing.
Zhong Guofei had come back early tonight and the three of them ate dinner together. The dinner table was quiet, and Xie Yu had no interest in Madam Gu telling Zhong Guofei about Madam Chen or Madam Lu. He ate a little, then got up to go upstairs.
Gu Xuelan asked, “Won’t you eat some more?”
Xie Yu said, “No need. I’m full. You all continue.”
Soon, Xie Yu found that when he was alone he kept thinking about a certain idiot’s excavator-piloting future.
He had seen He Zhao’s midterm papers. It wasn’t completely hopeless. He Zhao had answered several questions correctly, the ones which Old Wu had gone over multiple times in class that if anyone still got wrong might have caused him to expire from anger.
Xie Yu thought about it, then turned on his PC and opened a Word document, then typed out: Content summary for the college exams.
He Zhao was in his dorm room doing mock exam papers when a notification popped up on his phone screen.
—You have 1 new message.
Red beans mean ‘thinking of you’ and symbolize pure love, and are given as lovers’ gifts. One popular depiction is in the poem 《相思》 (Thoughts of Each Other) by Wang Wei. Red thread bracelets are often worn by couples and mean ‘together forever’.