First Published on Chaleuria
079 -You have a boyfriend now. Don’t flirt so hard.
The day of Erzhong’s anniversary celebration, banners were hung up throughout the school and posters covered every noticeboard. They were red, a festive color, and on them was written: Celebrating Liyang Erzhong’s 67th Founding Anniversary.
Streamers hung above school gates and students talked about the event as they carried their schoolbags through the gates.
The student council had started decorating the great hall several days ago. Once they were done, they started rehearsing the program.
All the teachers were dressed formally today.
Old Tang was already not young and his fashion sense was even older than he was. He had a thing for old-fashioned cloth shoes. Now, wearing a suit, his outfit could be considered passable, and he looked more energetic and sprightly than usual.
But he still looked as if he felt a little uncomfortable, and he tugged at his tie from time to time when standing on stage.
“Xu Jing said in the group chat that we should go practice after lunch.” He Zhao poked Xie Yu with a pen and asked, “Do you still remember the moves?”
Xie Yu was lying down, cheek pillowed on his arms as he looked at He Zhao. “I do.”
He Zhao raised his hand and comfortably ruffled Xie Yu’s hair. It was soft and he didn’t want to stop once he started touching it. “Why don’t I believe that?”
Xie Yu had not been enthusiastic about practicing and most of the time he just went through the motions, stone-faced. Xu Jing was less worried about Luo Wenqiang, who danced like he was performing a ritual, than she was about Xie Yu not being able to follow along.
Xie Yu just thought that since he had learned the moves, it was annoying to keep rehearsing. “Believe it or not, that’s up to you.”
Mad Dog was enthusiastic today and read out Erzhong’s school history over the morning announcement. He briefly recapped every key event that had happened over the more than sixty years of school history, then said, “Our school history is mostly made up of, not glorious acts of heroism, excellent resources, or the strength of our teaching staff… but of you, the children who go through three years of highschool in Erzhong, class after class.”
Mad Dog kept rambling on over the broadcast. Xie Yu was starting to get a headache listening to it, and flipped open a comic book lying to one side.
Wan Da had brought it from home. The comic was ten books long, a hot-blooded shounen comic. It had been fervently passed around the classroom for a few days, all the boys reading volume after volume.
The day before yesterday, Luo Wenqiang had been reading it in math class and Old Wu had confiscated it, then penalized him with ten math problems. The class was too eager to read the comics and, as a result, planned to sneak into the faculty office while Old Wu wasn’t looking to take the comic back.
“Old Xie, are you a man or not?” He Zhao wanted to drag Xie Yu along, but Xie Yu wasn’t very interested so he tried to taunt him. “Are you scared?”
Xie Yu said, “Scared, my ass.”
They paced outside the faculty office with Wan Da for a while and saw Old Wu flip the comic open. He read all class period and gave them no chance to strike. “……”
Xie Yu had not flipped two pages before he heard He Zhao say loudly, “Teach, today you’re… elegant. Dashing and handsome. You look ten years younger. Very good-looking.”
As He Zhao spoke he backed away, rocking backwards on his chair so it stood unsteadily on two legs.
Liu Cunhao realized what he was doing and continued, “Truly, the Aaron Kwok¹ of Erzhong.”
Now that all the compliments had already been given, Luo Wenqiang could only say, “Just one word! Cool!”
The whole class started laughing and clapping in agreement.
Old Tang embarrassedly touched the top of his head. “What are you all going on about?”
As he finished speaking, he let his hand rest on the side of the podium and didn’t keep tugging at his tie.
Xie Yu stared at He Zhao, who was still rocking in his chair, completely unbecoming.
It was nearly winter and the students who got cold easily had already started putting on winter wear. He Zhao still dressed lightly but he looked like a human furnace. He had even folded up his sleeves, revealing his wrists.
At one point, Liu Cunhao had mentioned that if he wasn’t to be class leader, He Zhao would be the next most suitable choice.
He was indeed suitable.
He looked as if he didn’t follow rules, but he was only hiding his true abilities.
The school anniversary event had been scheduled for after school, during the time period when evening self-study was usually held. The students involved in rehearsal had to be there by the afternoon. After eating lunch, Liu Cunhao took his performance outfit out from under his desk. “We’ll get to skip class for half a day! How nice!”
“Stop going on about that.” Xu Jing and Xu Qingqing both got their costumes and were holding hands. “Change quickly and we’ll meet at the stairwell.”
They couldn’t change in class—it wasn’t good to show off one’s shoulders in public—so they all headed for the bathrooms.
There were six stalls in the men’s room. Liu Cunhao and the others occupied one each, moving as swiftly as if they were grabbing hot food. Finally, only the innermost stall was left.
Luo Wenqiang stepped into the second-to-last stall and said as he locked the door, “Sorry, Zhao-ge, Yu-ge, you’ll have to squeeze.”
Xie Yu stood in the doorway, holding his outfit, and considered kicking Luo Wenqiang into the toilet bowl.
“Let’s go.” He Zhao, on the other hand, was very satisfied and threw an arm around Xie Yu’s shoulders with a smile. “Squeeze?”
The stall was way too small and even without moving they were skin to skin. And they had to take off their clothes.
He Zhao moved quicker and shed his clothes in a few swift motions. Xie Yu had just unzipped his jacket when his arm brushed against He Zhao’s waist. It was firm.
His frame was lean, masculine and faintly defined, the unique youthfulness of a teenager.
“Move over.” Xie Yu paused, then said, “Go on, move aside.”
While changing, the others chatted. The conversation came round to the thrilling comic book series and Liu Cunhao said loudly, “I’m up to volume five. Who’s got volume six?”
“Volume six isn’t around any more.”
“It’s with Old Wu.”
“You still haven’t gotten it back?”
“……How could we have gotten it back?! Tell me how to get it back! Old Wu reads it every class period! And he still hasn’t finished it!”
Aside from the people changing in the stalls, people flowed in and out of the bathroom.
Xie Yu put on his clothes, then did up his trousers. When he looked up again, He Zhao was leaning against the stall door, watching him. “What?”
He Zhao had already changed. The white button-down gave him a careless and roguish air. He had not done up the first three buttons and the shirt lay audaciously open.
“Looking at you,” He Zhao said. “How does my little friend look so good?”
Xie Yu tugged up the zipper of his pants little by little, then took two steps forward, lifted a hand, and did up He Zhao’s shirt buttons for him. His fingers lingered on the buttons, feeling He Zhao’s warmth through the material of the shirt. He said, “You… have a boyfriend now. Don’t flirt so hard.”
He Zhao didn’t move. He let Xie Yu do up two buttons, then couldn’t stop himself from moving closer.
“Zhao-ge, are you two done?”
Luo Wenqiang was strong and he knocked on the door as if he was going to break it down. When his hand met the door, even the neighboring stalls shook.
He Zhao: “……”
Luo Wenqiang knocked on the door for a while before it opened. He had planned to twirl on the spot to show off his new look and ask if he looked handsome, but then he saw that He Zhao’s expression was dark.
They were in a hurry and they quickly assembled in the stairwell after they changed. Xu Qingqing and the other girls took a while longer, so they waited around.
By the time the girls emerged, the guys had been waiting in the stairwell for about five minutes.
Luo Wenqiang, Wan Da, and the others stood close to the doorway, standing in a row and posing attentively. Wen Qiang had stuck one hand in his pocket and Liu Cunhao folded his hands over his chest, a chilly expression and a distant look in his eyes.
Xu Jing’s gaze skipped right over this lot of crazies and landed on the two pretty faces of Class 3.
They, unlike the others, weren’t making a scene. They sat side by side on the stairs.
Xie Yu’s legs were bent under him, his low-waisted jeans full of holes. His legs were long and slender, and the hole at his knee revealed a large swath of skin, so pale it dazzled.
Xu Jing was mesmerized for a few seconds.
He Zhao had his phone in one hand, his other arm wrapped around Xie Yu’s neck. He looked as if he was trying to take a selfie with him. Xie Yu didn’t seem willing and stared at the camera with a blank expression.
He Zhao wasn’t good at photography and he had picked a bad angle. If not for both their good looks, which carried the show, the photo would have been a trainwreck.
But He Zhao was still confident. “How is this? Look at my composition.”
“Composition, my ass,” Xie Yu said, standing up. “Wake up. Get real.”
The school’s great hall was not often used. Aside from school-wide celebrations like this one, it was only occupied during the start-of-year assembly.
The stage had a wooden floor and dark red curtains hung to either side.
From the vantage point of the stage, the audience area was an endless sea of seats.
On the way here, Liu Cunhao and the others had been bragging about wanting to beat the other classes down, but the moment they stood on stage their legs went weak.
Luo Wenqiang said, “How did I never realize the school hall was this big?”
Liu Cunhao asked, “Can this many people really fit in the hall?”
Wan Da asked, “Does anyone want to go pee?”
“Spineless, the lot of you.” He Zhao, who was standing right in the middle, kicked Luo Wenqiang lightly in jest as he said, “What were we all saying on the way here?”
‘Coolest Guy Group in the Universe’ representative Luo Wenqiang replied, “Yes, we’re spineless.”
Xie Yu had not participated much in their daily practices, but he had also never made a mistake during practice. When he danced on stage he was not worried at all that he would do the steps wrong. Even without the spotlights from the AV crew, he seemed to radiate a brilliant light.
He was different from He Zhao, who wanted to entertain. Xie Yu did not want to express himself, but he couldn’t help that other people looked at him.
People were unable to look away.
Xu Jing completed the final move to the last note of the song, and the weight in her heart finally lifted. She thought, We’ve got it now.
At 6 p.m. that evening, the audience began trickling in and the empty hall began to grow noisy.
The school administrators sat in the first row, a table in front of them bearing placards with their names and positions.
The two emcees delivered a long opening address, then started to announce the performances. “Now, let us welcome Class 1 with a reading of the poem ‘My School.’ A round of applause, please…”
The performers were all sitting in the first few rows so that they would be able to get on stage more easily.
There was nothing to watch for a poem recitation, so Xie Yu listened for a while then turned and asked, “When are we up?”
“Didn’t you see the program? We’re after class 2. Eighth in line.”
“I didn’t look closely.”
The two girls on stage finished reading the last line of their poem and bowed to the audience, then the lights in the hall went out. Several seconds later, when the lights came back, the two reciters had already walked off stage and the two well-dressed emcees emerged again. “Thank you, Class 1, for bringing this exciting performance to us. On this special day, we’re sure everyone is as excited as we are…”
Class 2 ‘s performance was a comedy sketch. The audience all laughed wildly and the noise woke Xie Yu up.
“We’re up.” Xu Jing passed the word down from the head of the line. “Get ready, and don’t be nervous.”
Luo Wenqiang watched the stage, so nervous he could not blink, as each class performed. He turned to say something to the person behind him, then saw that Xie Yu, on his right, was still rubbing his half-closed eyes, looking sleepy. “We’re up—Yu-ge, you’re so calm.”
Rumors had spread that the two big bros of Class 3 would both perform on stage, and many threads had sprung up on the school forum discussing it. Everyone was saying, “It’s worth it! Damn, I’m happy to be alive to see this sight… it’s worth it.”
They had all imagined this scene countless times, but no one expected that seeing it with their own eyes would be even more stunning.