First Published on Chaleuria
108 – But Old Xie’s mine.
They chased He Zhao until he was forced to stop and take a few hits.
The group crowded in the stairwell entrance. Luo Wenqiang had lost a slipper and hopped downstairs on one foot to get it.
He Zhao leaned against the railing. While they weren’t looking, he mouthed at his boyfriend, ‘Save me.’
“Are you done making a scene?”
Xie Yu glanced at the time with a smile, then said, “Are you going to class or not?”
Old Tang had told them to return to the classroom to clean up a little and for a meeting. It was probably to distribute new books or to talk about the end-of-term exams.
Hearing this, Liu Cunhao let go and glanced down at his wristwatch. “Damn, that’s the time?”
He Zhao walked down the stairs, taking them two at a time. He hooked an arm around Xie Yu’s neck and leaned in close. “Do you have a conscience… They chased me for so long and you just stood here watching the show.”
Xie Yu looked at him and leaned close to his ear without any hesitation. “Count your blessings. Actually, I wanted to hit you too.”
A line of people walked out of the school dorms. Green foliage surrounded the road, but it did little to block out the sun.
A hot, dry wind rushed up to meet their faces.
Only the Year 3 students had supplementary lessons during the school holidays so the other classroom buildings were empty. They weren’t used to how quiet it was.
Old Tang started his lecture before they even reached the classroom door, his voice drifting through the window. “I won’t assign you new seats. Go back to your original places. The weather is very hot today. Everybody, please bear with it. Let’s try to finish our first round of revision early so you all can have a few more days of vacation.”
About half of class 3 had arrived and were cleaning the classroom.
Xie Yu got to the door and glanced inside the classroom, then at the sign by the door.
Year 3, Class 3.
Classroom cleaning duties had been divvied up so there wasn’t much left for Xie Yu to do by the time he entered. In the end, he and He Zhao each took half the blackboard. “This half is mine. You scram over to that side.”
Even though the division of work was clear, Xie Yu came back after washing his cloth and found that his half of the territory had been occupied by He Zhao.
“Snatching my territory?”
He Zhao said, “In this world the strong prey on the weak.”
Xie Yu still had water on his hands. He nearly threw the cloth on He Zhao’s head in response.
They were both boys, and tall, and squeezed in front of the blackboard, they fumbled around for a little. Xie Yu reached out to grab the cloth in He Zhao’s hand, but He Zhao turned around and looked downward at him. “All right, I won’t mess around with you any more.”
Old Tang had said all he needed to say. He stood by the side, drinking water, and found these two very funny. Then he shook his head and his gaze landed by the window.
Xu Qingqing was cleaning the window, but her mind was clearly elsewhere.
She rubbed the same section several times and only came back to herself after a while.
“I know you all are very interested in your end-of-term exam grades. The rankings have been compiled and our class did quite well this time around, better than expected. Everybody, have confidence in yourselves.”
Old Tang got the grade sheet from his office and got ready to go over the exams with them. Before he started going over them, he couldn’t help mentioning something else.
All of Class 3 heard Old Tang’s slow words, “This time, our school took two of the top five places in the city.”
The room went silent.
Even though these two big bros from their class, who might have hit their heads and broken their brains, had made their name in a single night during the 4-school combined exams, that had only been 4 schools and there was still a great distance from the top-tier schools.
Now that the news of ‘Top 5 in the City’ emerged, they were so shocked their spirits might have left their bodies. For a long time, nobody could say anything.
It wasn’t only Class 3 who couldn’t digest the news.
The day Old Tang finished recording grades, the office phone didn’t stop ringing for the whole afternoon. Not only did the members of the school administration come over to ask about it, the top-tier schools were all surprised by these two who had massacred their way in to the rankings and wondered what trickery was afoot.
Liu Cunhao was the first to recover. He felt around in his pockets for a long time and came up with a 5-yuan bill. He slapped it onto his desk. “I bet the one who ranked higher is Yu-ge.”
Wan Da said, “I… I bet on Yu-ge too. Zhao-ge is too volatile. Not a man I can get a hold of at all.”
Luo Wenqiang said, “I’ll bet my dignity today. I pick Big Bro Xie, too!”
Xie Yu initially hadn’t cared at all about the rankings and flipped past two pages of the new study material. But now that he found them already betting, and one-sidedly at that, he found it funny. “What’s there to bet on?”
This lot probably just wanted to make it feel ritualistic.
He Zhao waited for a long time and no one bet on him. He couldn’t sit still. “Are you all still human? Even if we only say we’re brothers, you should at least make a show of it. You’re not considerate at all.”
Liu Cunhao said, “Sorry, we don’t want to show anything.”
He Zhao got up and walked to the front row, about to bet on himself, but he felt around for a while and couldn’t find any spare change. He bent down and knocked on Wan Da’s desk. “About that, can I borrow some change?”
Before Wan Da could refuse, He Zhao continued, “This is your chance to strike it rich. Think about it carefully. You’ll only get one chance. Lend me ten bucks today and in future I’ll—”
Wan Da said, “No! I refuse!”
Xie Yu smiled and leaned back.
But contrary to everybody’s expectations, the ‘acting suave, made some mischief and lost two points for handwriting’ bad stock whom nobody was willing to bet on actually managed to turn the situation around this time.
Old Tag looked down at the grade sheet as he said, “This time, classmate He Zhao with a total score of 743 ranked second in the city, 2 points short of first place…”
Wan Da nearly lost his grip on the stack of cash in his hand, and thought, I really did lose the chance to strike it rich.
They had witnessed the prowess of the top students from the top-tier schools before. They were quite terrifying and just looking at the released grades would make people shake from fright.
The top 5 were only a few points short of each other.
Besides, there was still a year until the college exams. Who knew who would be ahead of whom in the next exam.
This time, Xie Yu had scored two points less than anticipated in the essay component of his literature paper and ranked third. But the essay component included the grader’s personal viewpoint and biases, so it was normal to get one or two points less or more.
After hearing the grades announced, Xie Yu felt a headache coming on. He was foreseeing another section in Erzhong’s school history about them, possibly something about ‘Suppressing the whole city and creating a radiant legend together.’
He didn’t even dare recall the scene in the principal’s office from last time.
He Zhao ruffled his hair. “What is my little friend thinking about?”
Xie Yu’s expression was blank. “What dumb antics of yours will end up in school history this time.”
Old Tang kept nagging. “Children…” He Zhao listened for a while, then reached for his phone.
Just now, his phone had vibrated in his pocket for a long time but he hadn’t looked at it.
Xie Yu asked, “Who is it?”
“Shen Jie,” He Zhao said. “He asked if you had time later to draw two cards for him.”
Xie Yu didn’t even think about it. “I don’t have time.”
He Zhao put his phone back under his desk. The screen flickered off, then flickered on again. He glanced down at it and said, “…Can’t I draw them? My luck of the draw is good, too.”
From the dressup game to the bad boy in the dating game, Xie Yu really couldn’t tell from where He Zhao’s so-called ‘luck of the draw’ manifested.
Clearly his good bro Shen Jie had never witnessed it, either.
[Shen Jie]: Zhao-ge, be more self-aware.
[He Zhao]: I think my understanding of myself is very clear and accurate.
Shen Jie was getting a headache.
[Shen Jie]: Don’t say any more! How could you be the same as your Old Xie? He’s the true God Ou.¹ Did you get amnesia? Do you need me to help you awaken your memories?
He and He Zhao had known each other for many years. This guy never played cards according to expectations. Even if he originally had good luck, it would be completely frittered away by this guy,
Shen Jie was about to offer up his sordid history like bbq on a stick, but before he could form his words he saw the reply:
[He Zhao]: But Old Xie’s mine.
Shen Jie: “……”
He Zhao sent the text and Shen Jie’s avatar turned grey in a single second, like magic.
He didn’t even say goodbye and straight up disappeared.
Old Tang finished talking about the two shocking pieces of news, then started reporting the grades of the other people in class according to the ranking.
He had said their class did fairly well in this exam. This was not just consolation. Although they had scored fewer points, the difficulty of this exam was higher and, on the whole, they had improved.
Usually, after Xue Xisheng’s name was announced their Qing-ge’s name would be right after. Who could have expected that Xu Qingqing’s grades had dropped her class ranking by several places?
“What’s the matter?” He Zhao said quietly. “Qing-ge didn’t do well?”
“I don’t know.”
Xie Yu glanced over and only saw Xu Qingqing’s straight-backed silhouette and the braid at the back of her head.
They had initially worried that Xu Qingqing would feel bad, but she didn’t act any differently the whole class period and continued to listen to the lesson as she should. After studying her for a while, Liu Cunhao let down his guard after class ended. He slapped Wan Da’s shoulder and said, “Look, our Qing-ge is our Qing-ge. A man—”
Before Liu Cunhao finished speaking, Xu Qingqing’s initially straight back suddenly curved over and she buried her face in the crook of her elbow.
Xu Qingqing crying left everyone around her helpless.
Xu Jing lightly patted her back and said, over and over, “It’s fine. It’s just an exam.”
He Zhao dragged Xie Yu over to Class 8 to draw the cards, then went back to class. This was the scene they saw: Xu Qingqing sitting, red-eyed, and Liu Cunhao and the others standing in a line in front of her, taking turns. “I’ll tell a joke. There was a little penguin…”
For many people, the pressure brought on by Year 3 was hard to accept immediately.
Cruel competition, uncertainty about the future, and the hopes of their family…
Anyone could see what had happened here.
Through the window, He Zhao joined the group too. He said loudly, “Qing-ge! I’ll do a miraculous magic trick for you.”
This guy’s crappy magic—who knew where he had learned it from—needed someone to work with him, so Xie Yu took the temporary position of magician’s assistant.
In the end, He Zhao lost the plot with his first line. He pointed at his assistant and said, “I’ll introduce you. This is my shill.”
Xie Yu said, “…Do you actually know how to do this or not?”
Xu Qingqing: “……”
Xu Qingqing was speechless, but she also felt her eyes prickle and quietly blinked. “Are you sick? Go, get lost. Go cool off.”
This lot of boys was really clumsy beyond belief. They had no idea how to console people at all and each of their plans was more bizarre than the last.
But, for some reason, she felt a little better.