First Published on Chaleuria
086 – Can I kiss you
Luo Wenqiang sat by the window, his coffee finished. He saw two familiar figures walk over from the other side of the street.
Xie Yu walked in front. A dark gray scarf was wound around his neck and only half his face was visible.
They held hands casually, fingers interlocked. Xie Yu stopped walking, looked down, and indicated for He Zhao to let go.
“Are you done?”
No. He wasn’t done.
He Zhao was completely unaware of where they currently were, his mind occupied with thoughts of the person next to him. Only when he heard Xie Yu speak did he notice the words ‘Coffee House’ in front of him. He coughed lightly and said, “This street is too damn short.”
Inside the Coffee House.
Someone went through the news feed on their phone and, finding nothing interesting, looked up and around, saying, “Where’s Zhao-ge? He said he went to get Yu-ge but he still isn’t…”
Luo Wenqiang’s large frame shook, worried that the speaker would see something he shouldn’t. He held down his classmate’s head, pulling him back by force, and cast about for something to say. “Fu Pei, look, the weather’s real nice today. Let’s sit down and chat about our life goals.”
“Luo Wenqiang, are you sick?!”
Ten people had shown up for the gathering. During winter vacation, everyone had their own plans, and some had even left the city. As they ate, they planned to go to a nearby KTV to sing karaoke, each harboring hopes of becoming the next God of Song when they made the booking.
Xie Yu rarely came to such noisy places. The moment he walked into the lobby, he heard wailing and shouting from all around. One of the KTV lounges must not have shut their door properly. A middle-aged man was singing at the top of his lungs, his voice hoarse as if from smoking.
This KTV lounge had reasonable prices and did fairly good business.
The cashier at the front desk put in their information and glanced up at the group of students, estimating they were about high school age. The girls had done their hair up in simple ponytails and wore thick down outerwear. The boys were clumped together, talking loudly.
He Zhao draped himself on Xie Yu’s shoulder from behind, as if wanting to pull him into his arms. He leaned closer and asked, “Old Xie, do a song later?”
“Song, my ass.”
“Come on, it’s just singing.”
He Zhao didn’t think any more of it and mentally went over a list of recently popular songs. He picked one which was so popular everyone had probably heard of it. “‘I Love You,’ do you know this one? It was popular lately.”
Still holding his position, Xie Yu leaned his head backward slightly, his lips brushing He Zhao’s ear carelessly as he spoke. He asked, “What song?”
He Zhao was about to repeat himself, but then his mind caught up and he thought, He’s definitely doing it on purpose. He Zhao lowered his head, just enough to bury his face in Xie Yu’s neck and whispered, “…Little friend, you’re very naughty.”
Class 3’s singing ability had already been showcased to its full extent on the bus during the autumn class trip. But they had been singing into a megaphone then and couldn’t show off nearly as well as they could when singing into a mic. Luo Wenqiang excitedly picked a song, but before he could sing more than a few lines, Xu Qingqing covered her ears and cursed, “…Fuck it.”
Liu Cunhao was about to pick a song, but when he heard her curse, he said in consolation, “Qing-ge, calm down.”
Wan Da said, “We men have to be strong. This pain is nothing. Qing-ge, be strong.”
Xu Qingqing threw a pillow at him.
Xie Yu got up and took off his jacket, placing it to one side. Luo Wenqiang glanced their way as he sang. The words ‘Zhao-ge, praise me’ were just about written on his face. He smiled, sat back down, and nudged He Zhao with his forearm. “No praise?”
“No praise. The way you sung it…” He Zhao said. “…I can’t praise it.”
He Zhao bent down and picked up a can of beer from the table. He slid his index finger through the ring in the tab and easily opened it one-handed, then said, “People should be honest with each other.”
Luo Wenqiang shut his eyes, and was still immersed in his singing. He swayed to the beat and finally let out a magnificent “Woah~~~!”
Liu Cunhao, sitting to the side, had endured long enough. “Guys, what other songs did the gym rep pick? I’ll delete them.”
On-screen, a marquee scrolled by. Next Song.
“Next song, Roller Skates.” Xie Yu was getting a headache from listening and considered turning around and pressing the mute button on the wall controller. “One of his.”
He Zhao said, “Love Till I Die is his, too. Delete them all. Don’t leave a single one for him.”
Liu Cunhao motioned, ‘No problem,’ then crouched down and sneaked past Xu Qingqing.
The lighting in the lounge was low. The lights from the screen sometimes lit up the room and sometimes left it dark.
Someone else tried out the other lighting settings. The lounge went dark for a couple moments before lighting up again. Then it lit up completely with star shapes which shone on the ceiling and the walls, twirling and twirling.
Xie Yu glanced at He Zhao. The light moved in their direction, over He Zhao’s face, and then went dark again.
He Zhao tilted his head back and gulped down the beer. Noticing the gaze of the person next to him, he turned to look at him, too.
Xie Yu was a little thirsty, but there was nothing in the lounge to drink aside from beer. This lot had completely forgotten what had happened last time they got drunk and called for another carton of beer now that they had the chance. So Xie Yu beckoned to He Zhao, indicating for him to hand a can over.
Xie Yu’s outstretched hand was right in front of him, slender and coldly elegant, a chill circulating at his fingertips. He Zhao stared for a while and didn’t hand the can over. As if possessed, he slid the ring tab he had not yet tossed away onto Xie Yu’s ring finger.
The cold ring tab slid on, little by little, and stuck at the joint of Xie Yu’s finger.
Only then did He Zhao pass the beer can to Xie Yu.
Xie Yu froze, then retracted his hand. “What is this?”
Their surroundings were noisy and Xie Yu didn’t clearly hear how He Zhao replied, but by the shapes his lips made Xie Yu could guess: Can I kiss you?
Luo Wenqiang had powerful lungs and his voice rang out through the speakers, several decibels louder than the accompanying music, piercing right into everyone’s ears. Xie Yu finished drinking his half a can of beer, then suddenly felt that it was a little warm in the lounge.
“What happened to my songs?” Luo Wenqiang finished one song and quietly waited for the introduction to Roller Skates to start up, but all he got was the song I Love You. Confused, he asked, “Who put this on? Who cut in line?”
He Zhao stood up and took the other microphone. “Mine, mine. Sorry about that.”
A little accident could not stop Luo Wenqiang. Having warmed up his voice, he was now in peak condition. He could keep singing for the next three hours. He felt a little floaty, to the point he forgot to think things through. He patted his chest and said, “I know this song, too. Zhao-ge, let’s duet this love song!”
He Zhao nearly said, “Who goddamn wants to duet with you?”
As Luo Wenqiang patted his chest, the microphone in his hand was suddenly snatched away by someone, leaving his hand empty.
They had decided on karaoke by voting, but no one had expected to hear Xie Yu sing. Based on this grandpa’s nature, just sitting and suffering with them was already stretching his limits.
Xu Qingqing was halfway through opening a bag of snacks. She pinched it between her fingers and pulled it open. When she saw Xie Yu take the mic, she lost her grip and the potato chips nearly fell onto the floor.
Xie Yu had already walked past Liu Cunhao and stopped in front of the monitor. His voice echoed from the microphone. “Which part is yours?”
The melodies of the two parts were the same, only the lyrics were different.
He Zhao said, “Either is fine.’
A chorus of ‘Whoa—’s surrounded them.
The lounge grew noisy.
They were excited about the novelty, right up until Xie Yu sang the first line.
His voice was cold, but it wasn’t incompatible with a gentle and passionate love song like this one.
After Xie Yu sang the opening lines, it was He Zhao’s turn. He held onto the mic and nearly missed the accompaniment, missing two of the opening beats.
Xu Qingqing tapped Xu Jing. “Yu-ge’s so gentle… is it just my imagination?”
Xu Jing watched them sing the ending lines together, their voices overlapping. It was dark in the lounge and she could only see their tall, slender silhouettes.
After the song was over, everyone yelled, “Encore,” but neither of the participants reacted.
“You all keep singing,” He Zhao said. “Whose song is next?”
Liu Cunhao had picked the next song and Luo Wenqiang insisted on dueting with him on pain of death. Liu Cunhao hurriedly snatched the microphone. “Hold him down! Luo Wenqiang, if you don’t duet with me, we can still stay good friends.”
Two people were holding Luo Wenqiang down, one on his left and one on his right. He said sorrowfully, “…You all are too much.”
He Zhao sat for a while, then couldn’t sit still. He touched Xie Yu’s hand and was about to ask him if he wanted to go out when he noticed his phone vibrate.
It was noisy in the lounge and He Zhao did not hear the notification chime. By the time he noticed, the chime had already stopped and an unknown number was displayed on his screen.
A missed call.
He Zhao glanced at the unfamiliar string of numbers. He was about to toss his phone to the side when it vibrated again, followed by the arrival of a text message.
Zhao-ge, it’s Xiao Lei.
He Zhao stood up and dialed the number while pulling open the door and walking out.
After walking a little distance, he heard the dial tone from the other end of the line. He leaned back against the wall, staring at the brick-colored carpet on the ground.
The call quickly connected.
Erlei still spoke with an innocent tone. It was noisy on his end and He Zhao heard the announcement of a high-speed rail about checking tickets. “Zhao-ge, are you still in A City? We haven’t seen each other in a long time. I just got here today to take care of some things… Are you free soon? Let’s get together?”
He Zhao subconsciously reached for his pocket, then remembered that he had quit smoking for so long that he didn’t even keep lollipops around any more.
He Zhao was talking, but his mind was not fully present. He wasn’t even sure what he had just said. He seemed to have asked Erlei how he was and what he was doing. Erlei replied that he was working at his cousin’s small business and had come to A City on business.
Erlei wheeled his luggage into the elevator. He looked up and glanced around at the several exits, then noticed that A City had grown foreign to him. “I’ll be here for about half a month. Jun-ge…”
Before he could finish, He Zhao cut him off.
He Zhao repeated, “…I’m sorry.”