First Published on Chaleuria
078 – White button-downs
Wan Da was still recounting to the class the great contributions he had made, moving himself nearly to tears. For the sake of compiling this agenda, he had nearly died in Class 7, which had mobbed him the moment he walked in.
When He Zhao mentioned the black nail polish, Wan Da unsteadily backed away two paces. He caught hold of Liu Cunhao and said, “Damn, brothers, let’s retreat. Quick.”
Liu Cunhao nearly lost his footing, too. He jumped up into the air, flipping his chair as he did so. “…Retreat, retreat! Run, everyone!”
He Zhao noticed Xie Yu freeze up next to him. Xie Yu’s hand, which had been toying with his until now, tickling his palm and catching hold of his fingers, now stilled. Xie Yu stood up, looked at him, and said, “Do you want to die?”
Everyone knew about Xie Yu and the black nail polish.
He was a figure of legend, someone dark and unknowable.
Although Liu Cunhao and the others were not aware of the details, Xie Yu had introduced himself on the first day of second year by saying he did not wear black nail polish. It certainly didn’t seem like a happy topic for him.
“The two of them, really.” Liu Cunhao and the others had safely retreated from the battleground and now ran around the classroom to the podium. After they caught their breaths, he said, “All they do is romp around.”
Then Wan Da said, “Romping around is a good word for it.”
Exactly. They were romping around.
Xie Yu was especially irritable before he woke up completely, but from their angle all they could see was He Zhao pinning Xie Yu against the wall, hands trapping Xie Yu’s wrist.
He Zhao looked at him. “All right, I’m done. I was just joking.”
Xie Yu didn’t bother with words and immediately started a fight.
Luo Wenqiang shook his head. “How embarrassing.”
Xu Qingqing said, “I can’t even look.”
Wan Da said, “It’s… very gay.”
He Zhao was very familiar with Xie Yu’s temper. Xie Yu seemed harsh, but if he got his way he would calm down in less than three minutes. So He Zhao did just that and retreated, but then Xu Jing provoked Xie Yu again by saying, “Actually, I think that’s quite a good idea…”
Unlike Class 7, who had picked a steady and down-to-earth song, Class 3’s dance routine featured a song that was rather grim. Considering a few other things, Xu Jing concluded that a dark tone would suit their routine.
The more Xu Jing thought about it, the more she believed it would work.
Luo Wenqiang saw that they had stopped fighting and walked off the podium. “Jing-jing, are you serious? Jing-jing?”
Xie Yu was righting the chair with one hand and glanced at Xu Jing.
That look made a chill run up Xu Jing’s spine.
Xu Jing really hadn’t given up. The second day, she brought a bottle of nail polish but didn’t dare pass it to the back row. She sat next to Xu Qingqing and asked nervously, “What do you think? What should I say so that Yu-ge will let me live?”
Xu Qingqing said as she collected homework, “I don’t think there’s any way to say it and live.”
Xu Jing sighed in disappointment.
He Zhao came back to the classroom. When he passed the third row, he pulled two napkins from the stack Xu Jing had at the side of her desk, and cleaned his hands. He asked, “Arts rep, what is this?”
“Nail polish,” Xu Jing said. “Black.”
He Zhao took it, twisted the top open, glanced at it, paused, then said, “Can I borrow this for a while?”
Xie Yu napped during morning self-study. He slumped on the table and shut his eyes, but couldn’t fall asleep. The English teacher was leading the class in reading vocabulary aloud. They were very noisy and weren’t reading in unison. They had started out all right, but after they got to the next page they started falling out of sync, some reading faster than others
Xie Yu shut his eyes and felt He Zhao touch his hand lightly.
Then a noxious scent reached him.
Xie Yu opened his eyes and saw He Zhao carefully putting something on his fingernails. “……”
He Zhao just wanted to see what his little friend looked like with it on, but he had barely done three fingers before being very shocked.
Xie Yu’s nails were very well-kept. His fingers were long, the joints making sharp angles.
The black nail polish made his hand look very pale, nearly sickly.
“Wipe it off.” Xie Yu held back his temper. “I’ll give you three seconds.”
He Zhao finally came back to his senses and used the wad of tissue he had cleaned his hands with just now to clean the nail polish from Xie Yu’s nails. He accidentally smeared a little of it onto Xie Yu’s finger.
The day of the school anniversary celebration drew nearer and nearer.
Aside from constant practice, the group also focused on finding the right performance costumes. They came up with many sets and Xu Jing even asked Old Tang over to help them decide. But Old Tang’s taste was clearly of a different generation than their own. “What do you think about Zhongshan suits?¹ They embody the spirit of the Constitution…”
Everyone said in unison, “No, no, no, that won’t do.”
“Not suitable. Really, they don’t suit.”
Xie Yu had only one request for the performance costume: that it look normal.
Nothing else mattered. Even wearing the school uniform would be fine.
Xu Jing considered a few more things, then decided they would all wear white button-downs. The style went with everything and they couldn’t go wrong with it.
They placed the order late and the shirts arrived at school only two days before the celebration.
“They just got here. No one’s left yet, right?” Not long after the class dismissal bell rang, Luo Wenqiang walked in holding a cardboard box. “Come on, come on. Look for your number and take yours. Try them on at home and bring them back in tomorrow if they don’t fit.”
Xie Yu got back to his dorm room and tossed the shirt onto the bed. He showered, then looked at the shirt for a while and removed the clear packaging.
The shirt had a simple design and was a little loose.
When He Zhao knocked on the door, Xie Yu had just taken off his jacket and had not yet put on the shirt.
Just now, during evening self-study, He Zhao had said he had found an interesting mock exam yesterday and was going to show it to him later. Xie Yu knew he was coming over and didn’t lock the door.
The door was slightly ajar.
He Zhao rapped at the door with his knuckles, then pushed the door open and was immediately greeted with his boyfriend’s naked back.
Xie Yu had just showered and had not yet dried his hair. It looked damp.
He Zhao’s gaze went to Xie Yu’s low-rise jeans and to the shallow dip of his lower back. Then he looked back up at the smooth lines of his shoulder blades.
He had only looked for a while—not even enough time to blink—before Xie Yu put on the white button-down shirt.
“Where’s the practice paper?” Xie Yu did up the buttons of the shirt, head bowed, fingers tangling in the buttons which were white like jade. His collar was wide open, his collarbones visible beneath the material. “How far did you get?”
White shirts usually lent the person an air of collected calm, but He Zhao felt that the surrounding air was getting warmer.
He was in no mood to think about practice papers.
“Not going to do it,” He Zhao said. “I want to do something else.”
It was tough for two people to fit in a single bed, and when they moved the bed creaked. The room was silent around them, so the sound was magnified. It sounded suggestive.
The buttons on the shirt Xie Yu had just done up, He Zhao now undid one by one, from the bottom up.
He Zhao’s movements were impatient. Using just one hand to undo the buttons was annoying and if not for Xie Yu reminding him that he still needed to wear this on stage two days later, He Zhao might have ripped the buttons all off.
“Don’t pull so hard.” Xie Yu’s hair was half dry, the shirt collar growing damp, and even his eyes seemed to mist over. “If you rip the buttons off you can get out.”
He Zhao used less strength.
His fingertips, radiating warmth, kept wandering upwards. With his other hand he undid the zipper of Xie Yu’s jeans, the low-slung pants hanging at his hips, then shoved his hand inside.
Xie Yu had been fierce just before, but now he was speechless. His fingers wound through He Zhao’s hair, curving slightly, and he made a noise of assent.
A very small noise, barely escaping his lips.
He dragged the sound out, ruffling feathers in He Zhao’s heart. It tickled.
Neither of them could control themselves. He Zhao’s hand moved to Xie Yu’s back, then kept moving downward, over his tailbone and to the dip… Xie Yu felt where he was touching and froze up, his mind going blank.
“…Ge.” Xie Yu said against his lips, calling out to him.
But the sound made He Zhao come to his senses.
His little friend wasn’t of age yet.
Not yet of age.
He Zhao pulled his hand out, holding on to the edge of the bed, and steadied himself.
Xie Yu took another shower, but still didn’t feel calm enough, so he pulled the performance shirt over and washed it in the water.
He Zhao was not that much better off. By the time he had finished his shower, someone was whistling downstairs. He towelled his hair and walked to his bed, about to check the time, when he noticed a text his little friend had sent ten minutes ago.
Birthday, in two months, 18.
Xie Yu’s text was straightforward and at a glance He Zhao couldn’t put the three pieces of information together. He read it twice, and after making sense of it, he felt that the shower he had just taken was pointless. His body was burning up again.
He even suspected Xie Yu was doing it on purpose.
Provoking him on purpose.
The next morning.
Xie Yu and He Zhao entered the classroom, one after the other. Seeing them, Xu Jing forgot all about the English vocabulary she had been memorizing and quickly asked them if their performance shirts fit. “How are the shirts? You didn’t reply in the group chat when I asked last night…”
Xu Jing had asked about it several times in the group chat. Liu Cunhao said it fit well, Luo Wenqiang said his was a little small, so everyone discussed whether wearing it a few more times would make it fit better and asked him to eat a little less for a couple days.
Till the end, neither of the group’s core members had shown up.
Even mentioning them several times in the chat didn’t help.
“The shirt…” He Zhao coughed. “…It fits fine.”
Xie Yu had not finished yesterday’s homework, so he opened his exercise book and started copying.
It was for the best that the shirt fit. The celebration was nearly upon them and there was no time to change them even if they didn’t fit. Xu Jing let out a sigh of relief and asked, “Yu-ge, what about you?”
Before Xie Yu could reply, He Zhao said, “His fits fine, too.”
Xu Jing: “……”
Something wasn’t quite right with the way He Zhao had replied. Xu Jing thought about it for a while and figured it out. She said carefully, “How do you know?”
Xie Yu’s pen froze halfway through copying a multiple-choice answer.
 Zhongshan suits, named after Sun Yat-sen.