Every year, the first of September was a big day for all students. The ones in their second year would move on to their third year, the first years would become second years, and there would be a new batch of fresh young faces in the first year.
Early in the morning from the corridor of the second floor, Qi Fei looked down. Zhang Ganggang had made a few journeys back and forth to move several books, and when he returned, Qi Fei was still standing there.
“What are you looking at?” Zhang Ganggang went up to him.
Qi Fei hooked his arm around Zhang Ganggang’s neck, speaking with a mysterious expression, “I heard that there’s a beauty amongst the first years. Come, look out for her with gege.”
Zhang Ganggang was scornful. “So what about a beauty? She’s definitely not as good looking as Rourou.”
“Forget it, who knows if your Rourou is a cow or a pig? Only you think she’s a fairy.”
All that filled his mind now was his Rourou, and Zhang Ganggang was not concerned about Qi Fei’s insult. “So did you manage to find that beauty?”
Qi Fei sighed, “In the past, Boss Ji could just stand anywhere and the beauties would come by their own initiative…”
Zhang Ganggang was indifferent. With the corner of his eye, he saw Xie Meng about to come upstairs with his books. He immediately yelled, “Xie Meng!”
The boy raised his head, and Ji Qinyang who was walking beside him stopped as well.
“Boss!” Qi Fei shouted deliberately, “Let’s play basketball in the afternoon!”
Ji Qinyang did not answer. He turned to Xie Meng and asked, “Are you going?”
Xie Meng nodded and smiled, “We haven’t played together in a while.”
The academic pressure on the second year students gradually picked up. Many students started to attend extra classes in order to lay a good foundation for next semester when they would split into the science or arts stream.
Ji Qinyang and Xie Meng never discussed about such topics, and it was not sure if they were indifferent or subconsciously avoiding it.
Instead, it was Qi Fei who privately mentioned it during language class. “I heard from Maitreya today that Xie Meng is going to participate in the Olympiad competition. He’ll be going to another school for extra classes in a few days.”
Ji Qinyang’s brows creased, and did not say a word. With a ear bud in his left ear, he continued writing. The language teacher was analyzing ancient poems, and Ji Qinyang’s paper was still the model.
Qi Fei sneaked a glance at him. “You’re definitely going into the arts stream, right?”
Ji Qinyang did not acknowledge the question, and his eyes fell on Xie Meng in the front row. The boy’s hair was a little long again. With his head lowered, the beautiful curve to his neck was revealed.
“Zhang Ganggang wants to study mass communications, and so decided on arts,” Qi Fei whispered. “I’ve asked Zhuo Xiaoyuan already. Since he wants to go into medicine, he’ll definitely choose science.”
Ji Qinyang’s pen ran out of ink. He pressed firmly on his paper a few times, then tossed it into his desk impatiently.
Qi Fei sighed, “Don’t be like this. Even if we’re separated into different classes, we can still see each other and play together.”
Ji Qinyang was silent, and plugged his ears with his ear buds. He saw Xie Meng look back in his direction, and their eyes met.
Ji Qinyang averted his eyes first.
“?” Xie Meng looked at Qi Fei, and the latter shrugged innocently.
Xie Meng did not reject the matter about the Olympiad. He found a time to tell Zhang Ganggang about it.
“I wonder if Rourou will be going too,” Zhang Ganggang spoke dreamily.
“If she’s in the international class, it’s likely she’ll go.” Xie Meng then saw Ji Qinyang entering from the front door.
“Ji Qinyang.” Xie Meng waved.
Ji Qinyang glanced at him lazily, deliberately taking off his earphones and asked, “You called me?”
Xie Meng could neither laugh nor cry, “Yes, I called you.”
Ji Qinyang’s lips twisted, and he slowly walked over.
“Would you like to come to my house today?” Xie Meng gave a good-tempered smile. “I have something for you.”
Zhang Ganggang heard him and immediately said, “I want to go too, I want to go too! It’s been so long, but I’ve never been to your place before!”
Xie Meng was just about to tell him next time, then he heard Ji Qinyang suddenly speak up.
“Sure.” He glanced at Xie Meng. “Let’s go together.”
As compared to Zhang Ganggang’s excitement, Xie Meng and Ji Qinyang looked a lot more silent on their way back. Ji Qinyang attentively listened to his music, occasionally hitting a rhythm along with the melody. Xie Meng looked over at him a few times, but was ignored.
No matter how slow Zhang Ganggang was, he too realized something was wrong. He leaned into Xie Meng’s ear, whispering, “You had a fight with Beauty Ji?”
Xie Meng hesitated for a moment and shook his head.
Zhang Ganggang patted his shoulder with a look of understanding. “Hurry and make up, I’ll create an opportunity for you guys to be alone later.”
Xie Meng, “…”
Zhang Ganggang had obviously forgot that the so-called opportunity to be alone had long been destroyed by him…
In the afternoon, Zhang Xiujuan would go to the geriatric university to learn Chinese painting. In the fridge was a fruit tea and green bean soup. Xie Meng welcomed Zhang Ganggang and Ji Qinyang into the house, going alone into the kitchen to get some cups.
The walls outside the old-fashioned house were covered with ivy. The living room was very dark, and the wind brought with it the damp scent of earth from the yard. Xie Meng’s house was clean and tidy. Two black and white portraits hung upon the wall, and on the table below, there were fruits and an urn.
“Those are my parents.” Probably afraid of awkwardness, Xie Meng took the initiative to explain. He came out with tea and snacks, only to have Ji Qinyang take them from him.
“I’ll take them,” Ji Qinyang said indifferently.
Xie Meng stopped, then smiled, “Thank you.”
The three people sat down at the square table in the living room. Zhang Ganggang look at the portraits and could not help asking, “Uncle and Auntie… What happened to them?”
Xie Meng lit a joss stick and inserted it into the urn. “My parents were the first group of freelance journalists. When I was 6 years old, they went to Israel and Palestine… and passed away in the conflict there.” He looked at Zhang Ganggang, “You like taking photos right? I have many photos taken by my parents in my room, would you like to see them?”
Of course Zhang Ganggang wanted to see, but he felt embarrassed about bothering Xie Meng, and hurriedly said, “Just remain seated, I’ll take them myself.”
Xie Meng told him where the photos were and let him look by himself. Only Ji Qinyang and him were left in the living room.
The smell of the joss stick gradually filled the room. Ji Qinyang drank his tea, looking intently at Xie Meng’s face.
“… There’s something on my face?” Xie Meng rubbed his cheeks with the back of his hand, uncertain, but did not feel anything on them.
“Right,” Xie Meng suddenly remembered. “I have a gift for you.”
Ji Qinyang watched Xie Meng stand up and retrieve a box from the cupboard behind.
Xie Meng looked a little nervous. “I’ll be attending the Olympiad training in a few days. I might not make it in time for your birthday, so I prepared it in advance.”
Ji Qinyang undid the wrapping of the box, and found that it was actually a pair of Sony headphones inside.
“I don’t really know which one’s better, so I asked a lot… This one was recommended by the salesman.” Xie Meng smiled at Ji Qinyang, “However, you’ll be the one to decide if they’re good or not.”
Xie Meng saw that Ji Qinyang did not react, and could only force himself to continue, “This is the manual, they work with your MP3 player as well. I didn’t throw the receipt away, the warranty is for 2 years, if it doesn’t suit you…” Xie Meng felt a heat upon his lips, the rest of his words had all been blocked.
Ji Qinyang’s face was very close. His eyelashes were long and curled up, and his eyes were smiling.
Xie Meng, “…”
“What happens if they’re not suitable?” The touch of the lips was still indistinct, and Ji Qinyang had already returned back to a safe distance. As though nothing had happened, he plugged the headphones into his MP3 player.
“…” Xie Meng said blankly, “Umm… You can use the receipt and exchange it.”
“Oh?” Ji Qinyang put on the headphones and smiled. “But they’re a present from you, how could they not be suitable?”
The students participating in the Olympiad had been split into two classes, and each class had fifteen students. The classes were held from 2pm till 8pm every day, and the classes were divided according to their progress. Xie Meng was the only non S-High student in the express class.
Han Dong was not surprised when he saw him on the first day. “It’s been a while.”
Xie Meng smiled, “It’s been a while.”
His former classmates came successively to greet him, and Xie Meng responded to them one by one, his expression cool.
“After Lin Hengjing’s affairs were settled, the Academic Department seemed to have contacted your grandmother to discuss about you transferring back.” Han Dong glanced at him, “However, they were harshly rejected.”
Zhang Xiujuan had never mentioned this to Xie Meng, but he could imagine his grandmother’s tone at that time.
“I’m doing very well in W-High,” Xie Meng said.
Han Dong gave him a scornful glance, “I’m also not blind. I can see that you’re now soaked in bliss.”
Xie Meng, “…”
At 8pm when the class ended, Han Dong and Xie Meng exchanged their notes. As they were discussing the topics, they bumped into the students from the normal class that were dismissed at the same time.
Lin Weixin was standing gracefully by the back door.
“Xie Meng.” The girl took the initiative to call out to him, her smile very sweet.
Han Dong chuckled, poking at Xie Meng’s arm. “Aren’t you lucky.”
Xie Meng glared at him, helpless, then looked down at Lin Weixin, “You’re not going back yet?”
Lin Weixin swept her long hair from the front to her back with a smooth action, her eyes shining, “I’m waiting for you… Let’s go back together?”
It was almost 10pm when Xie Meng returned home. Zhang Xiujuan’s door was closed, and a commentary was playing from her old-fashioned radio inside. Xie Meng quietly took a shower and returned to his room. Lying on his bed, he was unable to fall asleep.
He sat up, opened his bag and took out Lin Weixin’s letter. Sniffing at it, he realised there was actually perfume on it.
“…” Xie Meng smiled wryly and tossed the letter back into his bag.
On the table was boiled water that had already been cooled, and Xie Meng poured himself a glass. He then saw Zhang Xiujuan removing the facial mask from her face while humming <A Girl’s Love> as she walked out of her room. When she saw her grandson, she was startled.
Xie Meng, “…”
“Why didn’t you let me know you were back?” Zhang Xiujuan threw the mask away and complained. “Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?”
“I’ll make something myself if I’m hungry. You should head to bed,” Xie Meng urged. Zhang Xiujuan yawned and patted him on the head, “Then I’m going to bed, don’t stay up too late.”
Xie Meng nodded. He drank some water, and his head again started to hurt when he remembered Lin Weixin.
The urn in front of his parents’ portraits was full. Xie Meng poured out some of the ashes onto the plants, and lit three joss sticks and inserted them into the urn.
The fragrance of the joss stick wafted into his nose. As though possessed, Xie Meng touched his lips with his fingers.
It felt as though there were still traces of Ji Qinyang left.
As the training class started at 2pm every day, Xie Meng would still attend school as per normal in the morning. The first thing Zhang Ganggang asked upon seeing him was about Rourou.
“…” Xie Meng had completely forgot about it. He was very apologetic, “I’ll help you ask today… I really forgot.”
Zhang Ganggang was magnanimous. “It’s alright. Then did you bring the album?”
Ever since his visit to Xie Meng’s house, Zhang Ganggang had been thinking non-stop about the photos taken by Xie Meng’s parents.
Xie Meng did not forget this. “Yes.” He took the album out from his bag, and Lin Weixin’s letter was accidentally pulled out along with it. Zhang Ganggang deftly grabbed it.
“You actually received a love letter and you didn’t show it to me?!” Zhang Ganggang was jealous. “Are we still buddies?!”
“…” Xie Meng replied awkwardly, “It’s not what you think it is…”
Zhang Ganggang held the letter up, refusing to let him take it back. Suddenly, his hand was empty, and he turned around to see Ji Qinyang standing behind him.
Ji Qinyang raised his brow. Around his neck were the headphones Xie Meng had given him. Waving the letter in his hand lightly, he had a smile on his face. “A love letter?”
Xie Meng somehow felt guilty. He opened his mouth, denying it, “No…”
“Oh.” Ji Qinyang responded, “Then I’ll help you throw it away?”
Xie Meng frowned.
Ji Qinyang looked at him, and tossed the letter onto the table. His smile dimmed a little, “I was joking. You can keep it.”
When Xie Meng tidied his bag in the afternoon, he purposely took out Lin Weixin’s letter. Thinking about it, he finally stuffed it into a pile of books in his desk.
Xie Meng took a leave of absence from the PE class. There was no one in the classroom. He packed his bag, and Ji Qinyang came in as he was about to leave.
Just as their eyes met, Xie Meng unconsciously shifted his eyes. As a result, his action was too deliberate, and instead made things awkward.
“You’re leaving now?” Ji Qinyang greeted him with a natural expression.
“Mn.” Seeing that Ji Qinyang was calm, Xie Meng too relaxed a little. He looked at Ji Qinyang wearing the headphones and could not help asking, “Ji Qinyang… How does your family express their gratitude?”
“?” Ji Qinyang was baffled. “Why are you suddenly asking about this?”
Xie Meng bit his tongue. “That day… when you kissed me… Was it because you were very happy… and wanted to thank me?”
Ji Qinyang was silent, before he laughed, “Why do you think of it in this manner?”
Xie Meng, “…”
Ji Qinyang walked up and stood next to Xie Meng. Removing his headphones, he placed them on his head. Xie Meng unconsciously retreated, but his arm was caught by Ji Qinyang.
The melody coming from the headphones was foreign yet familiar. Xie Meng only felt a warmth on his lips, the entire world quietening down, only leaving Ji Qinyang’s singing, as though he was whispering in his ear.
“Your smile of fleeting snow, lights upon my heart, little by little, bit by bit, hidden under the traces of our lives together.”