First Published on Chaleuria
085 – I’m not that sort of person
Xie Yu’s ability to silence a crowd was first-rate. Ever since he had sent that surprisingly chilly smiley face, no one but He Zhao could continue conversing with him when he joined the class chat.
The chat instantly went silent. A few minutes went by without anyone saying anything.
[Liu Cunhao]: ……
[Wan Da]: ……
[Luo Wenqiang]: ……
Only Xu Jing didn’t understand why her classmates, who had been chatting happily all this time, suddenly quieted down. She asked, Yu-ge, how do you know?
Xie Yu had not thought too much about it when he typed the reply. Seeing them so excited about grades, he had relaxed a little and replied out of politeness. After he had sent it, he too realized something seemed amiss.
Xie Yu lifted a hand to hide his face and cursed quietly to himself.
Wan Da was done chatting and about to go back to his online game match, but when Xie Yu’s reply appeared, his hand slipped and he exited the game.
He stared at Xu Jing’s response and internally screamed, Of course he knows!
They might even have been showering together!
The two of them… the two of… could they be more self-aware?! They’re being far too obvious.
After a long silence, Liu Cunhao reacted first and Luo Wenqiang followed quickly after.
[Liu Cunhao]: Because they’re best bros.
[Luo Wenqiang]: That’s right. I know Hao-zi’s shower habits, too. On average, once every two days, ten minutes long, usually between 8 and 9 p.m. at night.
[Xie Yu]: ……
[Wan Da]: …You’re really something.
[Xu Jing]: ⊙0⊙。
Having successfully explored the topic of ‘showering,’ the conversation now very stiffly returned to ‘end-of-term exam grades.’ By the time He Zhao finished showering and returned, Class 3 was already discussing how to celebrate.
[He Zhao]: Celebrate what?
Xie Yu looked down at his phone as he typed. Although he found this reason for celebration quite strange, he replied, Celebrating you scoring 49 points in math.
[Liu Cunhao]: Rounding up, that’s 50 points. Zhao-ge, you’re something. This is a new beginning in your life.
[He Zhao]: …If you want me to treat everyone to a meal, just say so.
[Liu Cunhao]: You understand me!
[Liu Cunhao]: I hadn’t even begun hinting and you got it.
He Zhao getting ‘good grades’ was an excuse. Class 3 wanted to go out and have fun—that was the real reason. Since vacation had begun, they had all grown sick of staying at home and missed the lively atmosphere of their classroom.
So the few of them picked a time—the day after tomorrow—and planned to meet.
Xie Yu had no plans for the next couple of days and had no objection to the time the group decided on.
When Xie Yu told Madam Gu he was going out, she was organizing things in the storage room.
Gu Xuelan wore a white wool sweater. She had just come out of the kitchen, so she still wore an apron around her waist. She stood on tiptoe looking through a basket. “What is it?”
Xie Yu said, “I’m going out. I won’t be back for dinner.”
“Where are you going?” Gu Xuelan took out a photo album from the basket, about to put it aside, then turned to look at him. “I told you to read more. Have you read anything these couple of days? I don’t know what you’re doing in your bedroom all day…”
The storage room was full of old things.
Three years ago, when they moved here from Black Water Street, they had many things which they could no longer use but that they couldn’t bear to throw away, which were all put into this storage room. Xie Yu stared at the old photo album in Madam Gu’s hands and remembered that when they had first moved here, he often came to this storage room.
He couldn’t get used to it. He couldn’t get used to this place at all.
Zhong Jie, a sharp look in his eyes, had yelled at him, “Get out. This is my house.” Xie Yu had gone here and there and ended up in this storage room. He sat on the floor, back to the door, and stared at the white cloth covering the things in the room.
Sometimes, Xie Yu would go through the old things. All sorts of things, from an exam paper Dalei had asked him to forge his mother’s signature on, to the ‘Record of school life together’ Da Mei had given him before he had left.
—Boss Xie, wishing you happiness every day!
Xie Yu paused, then said, “Class gathering.”
Gu Xuelan had always supported class activities like this one. She couldn’t wait for Xie Yu to go out and talk to people more often. It beat staying at home all day, doing who knows what.
She asked which classmates of his would be there, then reminded him again to mind his safety. “Don’t stay out too late and get along with your classmates. If you don’t see eye to eye, calm down and think about it. You’re growing up now and you need to solve problems with more maturity. Don’t keep…”
Xie Yu stuck his hands in his pockets and said, “All right.”
Madam Gu could tell he wasn’t paying attention. She sighed and didn’t go on.
Gu Xuelan had come in looking for something. She remembered a checkbook on which was a bank account number. She had not found the checkbook despite looking through the cabinets for a long time. On the other hand, she had found a photo album from Xie Yu’s childhood.
After Xie Yu left, she glanced down and flipped open the photo album. The first photo was one of Xie Yu right after he was born.
A wrinkled little wad lying in a crib.
In the lower right corner of the photograph was neatly written in black ink, March 14, 2 a.m.
Gu Xuelan stared at it for a while. She forgot that she still had soup brewing in the kitchen. She flipped page after page and went through the whole photo album.
She finished looking through the album and was putting it back when she knocked against a hard cardboard box somewhere underneath.
The box contained Xie Yu’s junior high textbooks. The words ‘Xie Yu’ written on the cover were written quite beautifully, and there were several exam papers stuck inside the books.
Gu Xuelan looked at them in a daze and didn’t even hear when the maid knocked on the door calling for her.
Xie Yu’s grades had been good before. But the junior high on Black Water Street was not a good school. Everyone in Black Water Street went to vocational school right out of junior high and got tattooed, started smoking and drinking, and dyeing their hair. It was the natural flow of things.
There weren’t many students in the school who worked hard. When Gu Xuelan went to the school gates to pick Xe Yu up, she watched him walk out of school alongside a bunch of kids who didn’t even carry school bags and instead clasped cigarettes between their fingers.
She kept thinking, I have to take him away from here quickly and give him a better living situation…
Gu Xuelan’s gaze seemed to pass right through the textbooks as she reminisced about that time.
After standing dazed for a while, she sighed, put the documents back in order and put them back.
Xie Yu walked out of the train station. He had walked for a while, but couldn’t quite recall which direction to go, so he pulled out his phone to look for a map. Then he saw the text He Zhao had sent him.
Where are you?
He Zhao replied very quickly. I’ll come get you.
When Class 3 was deciding on a meeting location, they had pulled up a map of A City and gotten everyone who wanted to come to point out where they lived. Then they drew a bunch of messy lines and picked a spot close to everyone’s house, and decided that would be it.
Right here, brothers! This place called Entertainment Street. None of us have been there and we don’t know if it’s any fun…
He Zhao had arrived early. He chatted with Liu Cunhao and the others at the meeting spot for a while, glancing down at his phone from time to time. When he received the reply he was waiting for, he pulled the lollipop from his mouth, tossed it in the trash, and got up. “I’m going to get Old Xie.”
Liu Cunhao and the others were on their phones, looking for something interesting. The few of them were huddled in a little coffee shop for warmth. When they heard this, they didn’t even look up. “All right, all right, go get your Old Xie.”
Luo Wenqiang said, “Remember to come back and pay the bill for us.”
Wan Da said, “Don’t forget about your bros now you have your Old Xie.”
The words ‘your Old Xie’ were clearly very effective. He Zhao smiled as he pushed the door open. “Am I that sort of person?”
Perhaps everyone was preparing for New Year celebrations—there were a lot of people on this street. The clothing stores on either side of the street played music, all different genres. Someone called out, “20 percent storewide discount!”
Xie Yu hadn’t gotten very far before he saw He Zhao walk up to him from the other direction.
He Zhao was wearing a coat and cut a striking figure. Xie Yu could pick him out at once in the crowd.
He Zhao smiled slightly. When his gaze met Xie Yu’s, his eyes seemed to light. He opened his arms and said, “Hug?”
There were many people around and this guy was being conspicuous. People passing by looked in their direction, intentionally or otherwise.
Xie Yu couldn’t bring himself to do something so pointless. He would have to bang his head on a door before he would willingly hug him in this situation. Instead, he kicked in He Zhao’s direction. “Stay away from me.”
Xie Yu had not actually kicked him; he had left a bit of space. After going through the motions, he passed by his boyfriend and mercilessly kept walking.
He Zhao followed him, smiling. “Little friend, you’re so cruel. Doesn’t your conscience hurt?”
In the end, his cruel little friend took another two steps before slowing down. He reached behind him and silently took He Zhao’s hand.
Xie Yu’s hand was cool and felt like a block of ice to He Zhao’s touch. But the chill still made the back of He Zhao’s hand burn up, little by little.
People came and went in the street, their footsteps hurried.
Near New Year’s, all the shops in the street were brightly lit and colorfully decorated, and couplets decorated the glass shopfronts. A sea of red met their eyes. And because the temperature was low, all the passersby’s breaths misted in front of their faces.
They walked, holding hands, for a little while.
As they walked, Xie Yu noticed He Zhao slowing down. Xie Yu, still unaware of his intent, instead asked, “Have Hao-zi and the others all arrived?”
“They got there long ago.” He Zhao’s hand tightened on his. “When I got there, the gym rep was already on his fourth coffee refill.”
Luo Wenqiang had a big appetite and when he got the chance to eat, he would make sure to leave even more room to show off his eating talents. Xie Yu said, unsure whether to laugh or cry, “Did he not eat yesterday again?”
He Zhao replied, “I think this time around he didn’t just not eat, he didn’t drink water, either.”
The coffee shop was on the opposite side of the street. He Zhao suddenly stopped walking. Xie Yu was about to ask, ‘What?’ when he heard his boyfriend say very seriously, “…Let’s forget about them.”
When Luo Wenqiang ordered his fifth cup of coffee, he was still unaware that Zhao-ge, who had said self-righteously, “I’m not that sort of person,” was really going to leave them behind.
Xu Qingqing and the other girls arrived late, and they couldn’t all fit around the table, so they had to go to a different table. They put their heads together and talked. “I think this is good. Looks fun.”
Luo Wenqiang was still enjoying his coffee, saying to Liu Cunhao, “This coffee is very good. Fragrant and rich… but why is Zhao-ge not back yet? The bill’s due.”