The two students sitting in the row in front quietly pulled their chairs forward a little, the chairs making small sounds as they dragged on the floor. They pulled forward until their chests were right up against the side of the table, and only stopped when they were at the point their chests were tight and they almost couldn’t draw breath. They did everything they could to put distance between them and the two big bros behind them.
He Zhao: “Surely you’re overreacting. I just touched you.”
“Get your ass the hell away,” Xie Yu said. “Don’t casually touch me.”
He Zhao didn’t say anything, just stuck out his hand in front of Xie Yu.
Xie Yu glanced at He Zhao and remembered He Zhao’s line from before: ‘I’m quite interested in him’. “You want to go a round?”
“Go on, touch me. I’m letting you touch me back.”
Xie Yu: “……”
The last student finished their self-introduction and walked away. Xu Xia coughed, hinting to a certain two students to follow the classroom rules. “We’ll end the class meeting here. Dorm students, remember to follow the school conduct rules. I don’t want to spend time after class dealing with your extracurricular matters. Have some self-awareness.”
Xu Xia handed out the timetable and some school notices, then said, “Liu Cunhao, you be the temporary class rep. You have experience.”
Liu Cunhao’s heart felt like ashes: “… Ah, yes.”
Not even two minutes later, He Zhao asked again, “Hey, so what’s the real story behind your nail polish?”
Xie Yu thought: this person is really very frustrating.
The incident of the black nail polish.
Xie Yu hadn’t realized it would leave such a heavy and colorful brushstroke upon his life story.
About half a year ago, Black Water Street had held a dance competition.
The Residents’ Association put up banners in the streets calling for people to sign up. The advertising was very heavy-handed. However, going by the wording of the banners, it was obvious that this competition’s target audience was not youths. On them was written, “Regain your youth! Regain the confidence you had when you were young!”
At that time, Da Mei had just received his acceptance letter from a U.S. university. Not long after, he would have to leave. He insisted that they sign up and participate before he left.
Zhou Dalei sure didn’t know how to dance, and refused on the spot. “I don’t want to. It’s too embarrassing. What are you thinking—going to compete with a bunch of Residents’ Association aunties in dancing? Are you mad?”
Xie Yu also said, “Da Mei, this is not up for discussion.”
Not only the Residents’ Association aunties but even Xu Yanmei and Lei’s mom had started making preparations for this dance competition.
Aunt Mei had even dragged Xie Yu to the plaza to see their elegant, complex fan dance. They held green fans, the staves glittering in the light.
When Lei’s mom was young, she was said to be the most beautiful girl within ten kilometres and eight villages. But by now, she had eaten her way to more than 100 kilos. When they finished dancing, Xie Yu stood in the center of the plaza. With a hundred mixed emotions, he squeezed out two words: “… Quite good.”
Da Mei was extraordinarily serious this time. They had thought that this was a fit of temporary enthusiasm, but Da Mei bugged them for three days.
This had never happened before.
Zhou Dalei begged: “Give me a reason, Da Mei. Give me a reason that’s stronger than my shame”
Da Mei sighed. “Big bro, I’m about to leave. You’re so cruel. Won’t you fulfill even this tiny wish of mine?”
Zhou Dalei: “You might as well ask me to pluck the stars from the sky, little rascal.”
Da Mei: “……”
Da Mei then glanced at Xie Yu, who didn’t say anything and straight up left. “I’m going home for dinner.”
In the end, they didn’t outlast the little rascal.
Da Mei called the two of them out on a pitch-black night. They squatted at the corner of the street enduring the cold wind. Zhou Dalei pulled his clothes tighter, and bowed his head to protect his styled hair, but it was still blown about, making him look like an idiot.
“Da Mei, what are you doing? In the middle of the night?” Zhou Dalei felt that sometimes even good friends needed to be taught a lesson. “Looking for a beating?”
Da Mei squatted in front of them, back to the wind, controlling the emotions overwhelming him. “Actually, there’s a girl I have a crush on, but I don’t dare confess to her. You know it too, I’m about to leave… LDR is too painful and I don’t want to think about it. Not in this lifetime. But, before I leave, I want to let her remember a cool and handsome image of me.”
Xie Yu: “……”
Zhou Dalei was also about the age to be seeking out love and romance, or maybe he was just blown silly by the cold wind at 3 a.m. With a sniff and some hesitation, he wavered: “Is there no other way to show her the cool and handsome image of you? Is this the only way?”
In the end, they did the competition.
But when the three of them stood in line to register, the atmosphere was so awkward it almost suffocated them on the spot.
“… Old man, look at these three young guys.”
“These three young guys.”
Xie Yu’s trio: “……”
Da Mei was very sensitive to the trends of the zeitgeist. If time had permitted, he might even have fashioned a performing costume for himself. Instead, when he pulled out a bottle of black nail polish, Xie Yu refused: “This is the cool image you want to show off?”
Da Mei put the nail polish on and said, “It’s damn cool, really. Xie-ge, please believe me. Last night I watched a lot of videos. The cool guys all dance like this.”
Thanks to Da Mei, their stage image was not only at the very forefront of non-mainstream, but also contained many strange and odd elements.
The day of the competition, Xie Yu skipped class.
They hadn’t rehearsed enough. Xie Yu’s movements were awkward. Da Mei’s dancing was elegant and graceful, but looked very humiliating. Zhou Dalei– don’t mention him. Hid dancing was downright awful but he thought he was quite good.
In the end, the three of them danced at the venue without knowing what they were doing. They didn’t even remember the steps right, and found every way to crash into each other. They resented each other for getting in the way and restricting each other’s creative freedom.
The next day, in class, Xie Yu realized he hadn’t removed the nail polish.
Zhou Dalei was even worse off. He was participating in a small online competition, rather formal, even livestreamed to a small audience. That night, a few dozen thousand people saw his black-nail-polished hand holding the mouse, five black nails on his other hand clacking nonstop on the keyboard.
These matters weren’t that important. There was only one thing Xie Yu cared about more: up till Da Mei left, they didn’t find out who the girl was.
“Actually, maybe, I have a very daring guess. Do you think Da Mei fell for one of the middle-aged aunties? And an auntie from our Residents’ Association at that? But he was shy, and worried that we would judge him with worldly eyes… Fuck, this is too far beyond the pale… but if not, then none of this makes sense. There were no girls in the audience at all.”
Xie Yu hadn’t gone into detail. He Zhao heard the gist and nodded. “Oh… for stage effect.”
The tone of his voice was very obvious and Xie Yu said, “You seem very disappointed.”
He Zhao said: “Ah… a little.”
Xu Xia announced the end of the meeting and everyone hurried in all directions.
Several boys had stood in the doorway of Class 3 for a while, laughing and talking. Now they pulled open the window, leaned in and yelled, “—He Zhao, let’s go play basketball.”
Broadly speaking, He Zhao’s people skills were pretty good.
He had a personality that attracted bad friends. Although his ‘hooligan’ reputation was now earth-shaking, in first year, there were a bunch of guys whose friendships with him were solid as metal. They would get together to play sports, or go to an internet cafe to play online games.
Shen Jie was among them. When Xu Xia left, she glanced coldly at him. Shen Jie was about to say “Let’s go play basketball,” but before the words left his mouth they changed, mechanical and raw: “—I’m not going. I’ll watch you guys play. My stomach still hurts a bit.”
He Zhao seemed to be in a good mood. He sat in his seat, angling his body backward, and waved to them: “Go on, I’ll see you on the court.”
He bent and pulled a mask from his trouser pocket, and was about to put it on when he seemed to remember something. His movements halted and he asked casually, “Want to play basketball?”
Xie Yu stood up and walked out: “No.”
He Zhao shrugged and didn’t say anything.
Xie Yu was almost to the door when He Zhao suddenly called his name from behind: “Xie Yu?”
Xie Yu turned around, leaned against the doorframe, and looked at him. On his face was written “Spit it out quickly” and “You’re very annoying.”
He Zhao had already put on the mask: “Nothing. Just getting used to my new deskmate’s name.”
He Zhao continued, “Let’s take care of each other in future, deskmate.”
Gu Xuelan called Xie Yu at six in the evening.
“Have you eaten dinner? Did you meet your teachers and friends?” Gu Xuelan asked. “How is your deskmate?”
Xie Yu had had a deskmate in first year, but after his reputation got worse and worse, the teachers had taken precautionary measures and let him sit alone. Gu Xuelan must have heard that he now had a deskmate, and quickly called to ask about it.
Xie Yu internally said: … He’s not much.
But to avoid trouble, he said: “All right. Sunny, outgoing and likes sports. Though his grades aren’t that good.”
Gu Xuelan wasn’t sure why her son who got last place in every exam would so casually look down on his new deskmate for having ‘not that good’ grades.
She gave him another few reminders, the gist of which was to not get in trouble and to study hard. Xie Yu reacted neutrally, and didn’t say anything aside from “Mm.”
“Then I won’t say any more,” Gu Xuelan said. “Think about it for yourself. Mom can’t keep you in line any more. Almost grown up… don’t be so reckless.”
Xie Yu said: “Mm, you should rest early.”
Xie Yu didn’t get in trouble, but his sunny, outgoing deskmate who liked sports caused a big mess on the first day of school.
……Mischievous to a fault.
He had gone to play basketball and managed to beat up a boy whose grades were stellar and who was always in the top three of the year.
Xu Xia walked out of the faculty office. Her superiors were very angry and she had not been lectured like that in a very long time. They had asked her how she managed her classroom and her students, to have something like that happen on the first day of school, and she had had to stand there with her head bowed listening to the long telling-off. Out of frustration and embarrassment, her face went green for a while and then red for a while. When she entered the faculty office she slammed her tray heavily on the desk.
The other teachers were shocked. They looked up at her, and seeing her terrible expression, for a while no one dared ask what had happened.
At this time Liu Cunhao arrived to turn in the school notice his parents had signed. Xu Xia was so mad her face was blank and her tone was cold: “Is He Zhao in the classroom? Call him over.”
Liu Cunhao was quite scared. Everyone said Xie Yu of the West was the more terrifying of the two, always going about alone and high and mighty, and that the one of the East was more down-to-earth and a more interesting guy.
But Liu Cunhao was even more afraid of He Zhao.
He had personally witnessed He Zhao fight.
Liu Cunhao had still been in first year then. Halfway through class he had a stomachache, and he raised his hand to tell the teacher that he needed to use the toilet. He grabbed tissue and ran out, but when he reached the toilet door he saw a “Maintenance” sign.
He was about to go downstairs to relieve his biological needs when he heard someone in the toilet begging for mercy: “I was wrong… don’t beat me, I was wrong…”
Liu Cunhao paused a moment, then set one foot in and carefully glanced inside.
He Zhao clasped a cigarette between two fingers and stood in front of a boy kneeling on the floor.
Although He Zhao’s uniform was neat and tidy, the word ‘law-abiding had nothing in the slightest to do with him. He Zhao narrowed his eyes and spit out a cloud of smoke. When he wasn’t smiling, his whole person radiated a bone-deep chill and a smothering sense of tyranny.
—Completely different from his usual gregarious, affable image.
He Zhao flicked off the ash, dark clouds seeming to mass in his eyes. Then he squatted, grabbed the person by the hair, and forced him to look up. “Got a lot of nerve, have you?”