Finals were coming up soon after the classes were separated. Class 3 and Class 6 happened to be located in the same place, only on different floors. Ji Qinyang could leave early almost everyday, and he would go to the second floor to wait for Xie Meng.
After seeing him for a few times, Zhuo Xiaoyuan got accustomed to it. One day, he really could not help but poke fun at this, “You guys are really an old couple. Aren’t you sick of doing this every day?”
The finals were spread over three days. On the first day, they had their Chinese exam in the morning and maths in the afternoon. Ji Qinyang handed his papers in early, and leaned against the wall next to the door of Class 3 with his headphones on.
Zhuo Xiaoyuan was scornful when he saw him.
“I’m also not waiting for you,” Ji Qinyang pulled his headphones down around his neck. He saw Xie Meng walking out. The boy was wearing a white, down jacket, his eyebrows sharp and angled, his eyes black and bright.
“How was your exam?” Xie Meng smiled, ruffling the back of Ji Qinyang’s hair.
Ji Qinyang raised his brow. “Didn’t we say that you can’t ask curve fodders such a question?”
Xie Meng looked at him. “Speaking as though you’re one.”
“I am,” Ji Qinyang sprawled lazily onto Xie Meng’s back. “It’s not like you don’t know how bad I am at maths.”
Ji Qinyang rode the bicycle while Xie Meng sat behind, drinking his warm milk. When he stopped at the traffic light, Ji Qinyang turned to look at him.
“Give me a taste.”
Xie Meng stood up and put the straw to his mouth.
Ji Qinyang took a sip just like that. “It’s not sweet?”
“It’s the original flavour,” Xie Meng smiled. He suddenly lowered his head and kissed Ji Qinyang’s lips. “Here’s a little sugar for you.”
Zhang Xiujuan was basking under the sun in the courtyard. She opened her eyes when Xie Meng returned, “Xiao-Ji is here too.”
Ji Qinyang greeted her by calling her grandma, and Zhang Xiujuan smiled, “My dear grandson.”
Xie Meng went into the house to help the old lady take her radio out, and found another blanket.
“Don’t stay out in the sun for too long,” Xie Meng covered Zhang Xiujuan’s legs. “Call me when you’re feeling cold.”
These days, Zhang Xiujuan had been feeling a lot more tired. She had went to the hospital for a check up, and the doctor said that she was just getting old, but there were no specific symptoms.
In their old age, people would get weaker.
Xie Meng dared not think too much about it, and only tried to accompany her as much as possible.
Ji Qinyang only left after dinner. Xie Meng walked him to the entrance of the alley, and the two of them walked next to each other hand in hand.
Xie Meng’s palm was damp and warm. At first, it was only a normal hand-holding, but later, Ji Qinyang’s fingers were interlocked with his. The grip was too tight, and a little painful, but neither let go.
Ji Qinyang stopped at the entrance of the alley. “You should go back first.”
Xie Meng acknowledged it, but continued holding hands.
“Don’t just throw away the recommendation from Zhongyin,” Xie Meng suddenly said. “It’s a pity not to go if you actually get in.”
Ji Qinyang did not speak. He looked at Xie Meng, pulling him into his arms with a slight force.
After the three days of examinations, the rankings were announced. A few more papers were added to their homework for the winter break. As the Spring Festival was later than usual, Zhang Ganggang had grumbled about this for quite a few days.
“Only children like the Spring Festival,” Qi Fei ridiculed him. “How old do you think you are?”
Zhang Ganggang objected, “I’ll get red packets as long as I’m not married. Why wouldn’t Spring Festival be good?”
Qi Fei no longer received red packets since a few years ago. Not only did he not get them, he still needed to take care of children during every festival. As such, he was completely uninterested in the Spring Festival.
On the other hand, Zhuo Xiaoyuan and Xie Meng were also unable to experience the trouble of having too many family members. Zhuo Xiaoyuan’s parents were working overseas, and Zhuo Jinjin had been sick for so many years. Every year was like a gift, and Zhuo Xiaoyuan treasured each day as though it was stolen.
“How has Jinjin been recently?” Ji Qinyang asked.
“A few days before the exams, she had been hospitalized. She’s just came home, and should be able to spend the New Year at home.”
Xie Meng patted his shoulder with encouragement.
“How’s your grandmother?” Zhuo Xiaoyuan asked.
Xie Meng was calm. “She’s still the same.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan nodded. He smiled, his angled eyes looking very rakish. “With less people, the New Year would also be less troublesome. You don’t have to prepare as many things, and don’t have to worry about it.”
They exchanged their plans, and Ji Qinyang was the only one who might be travelling abroad for the New Year.
“It’s not confirmed yet,” Ji Qinyang sat on Xie Meng’s seat, his smile unconcerned. “My mother’s the one who wants to go, I don’t really care about it.”
Qi Fei quipped, “Your mother and father are really just a pair of celestial lovers. You’re superfluous.”
Ji Qinyang was not angry, “Yes, that’s why I also don’t want to go. I don’t know what I can do when they’re having fun.”
“Then come over to my place for the New Year.” Zhang Ganggang would always be the type of person who loved having the bustle of a crowd. “My mother had mentioned many times to bring my friends home, but none of you have ever given me any face…”
Ji Qinyang glanced at Xie Meng, smiling, “We’ll see. In any case, I won’t be spending it alone.”
It snowed before the Spring Festival. Xie Meng woke up to find that the courtyard had turned white. He huffed a breath, returning back to his room to put on his cotton jacket before doing his martial arts practice.
Zhang Xiujuan stood under the eaves with a mug, watching her grandson train as she chatted with him.
“Go to the market later, I want a chicken.”
Xie Meng exerted pressure with his foreleg, turning with a graceful flow. The snow on the ground was swept around, leaving a thin layer behind. “Anything else?”
Zhang Xiujuan listed everything out. “Cakes, dates, flour… Get some fried snacks as well. Oh, don’t forget about candy too.”
Xie Meng threw his fists into the air, a force underlying the gentleness. “We won’t have any guests, there’s no need to waste money on things like fried snacks.”
“How will we not have guests? What if Xiao-Ji comes visit us?”
“…” Xie Meng returned to a relaxed position. He wanted to tell the old lady that Ji Qinyang might have gone overseas already, but he decided not to do so. He went into the house to take some money, “I’ll go buy them. It’s very cold outside, don’t bask under the sun.”
There were not many people in the market. Many people had returned back to their hometown because of the Spring Festival. After buying the chicken, Xie Meng went to the snack shop. He grabbed some melon seeds, hawthorn and pork jerky, and even bought some smelly tofu from the stall on the bridge.
“Happy New Year,” The hawker selling smelly tofu greeted him cheerily.
Xie Meng exchanged his money for a bowl. “Happy New Year,” he said.
Just as Xie Meng was feeling puzzled that the gate to the courtyard was not shut, he saw a familiar bicycle parked by the side. Ji Qinyang was rolling his sleeves, walking out, and he smiled lazily when he saw Xie Meng.
“You’ve bought everything?” The boy stepped forward and took the things from his hands with a very natural movement. He even looked inside the bags, “Yo, you bought smelly tofu as well?”
Xie Meng was a little incredulous looking at him. “… You didn’t go overseas?”
“Yeah.” Ji Qinyang glossed over it, “You also know how my parents are like. I don’t want to be a gooseberry.”
Ji Qinyang brought the chicken to the kitchen. When he came back out, Xie Meng was still standing there.
Ji Qinyang waved his hand in front of his eyes. “Are you so happy you’ve turned into an idiot?”
“No… Do you want some candy?”
Ji Qinyang raised his brow. “You think I’m Zhang Ganggang?”
Xie Meng was not listening to him, clumsily piling the snacks on the table. “I’ve bought hawthorn, melon seeds, pork jerky as well as some plum candy… What would you like?”
Ji Qinyang suddenly reached out and hugged Xie Meng fiercely.
Xie Meng, “?
Ji Qinyang turned his face and kissed the boy on his cheek. “I’ll love you even more in the new year.”
Hugging him, Xie Meng was silent for a moment before whispering, “Me too.”
Kneading the dough, stuffing, rolling, and making dumplings, Xie Meng then removed the seeds from the cooked dates. Choosing three, he stuffed them into the dumplings, and Ji Qinyang laughed when he saw it.
Xie Meng was a little embarrassed. “One for each of us, it’s good luck for the new year.”
The three people prepared a table full of dishes. Ji Qinyang chopped the chicken up, showing off and preparing two dishes. Zhang Xiujuan was happy, and drank a little liquor. The radio was by their side, and an opera was playing.
Ji Qinyang had long stopped the habit of watching the Spring Festival Gala punctually at 8pm. When Xie Meng turned on the television, he still did not recall about it.
“Grandma likes it.” Xie Meng switched over to the Central channel. Zhang Xiujuan switched off the radio and watched the TV attentively.
“Right,” The old lady suddenly clapped her hands together. Rummaging around in her pockets for a while, she retrieved two red packets. “One each.”
She smiled, “Go outside and watch the fireworks, there’s no need to accompany an old lady like me.”
Xie Meng took a large scarf, wrapping one end around him and the other around Ji Qinyang. The two of them walked to Shantang Street. The snow had not melted away, and when stepping on it, crunching sounds could be heard.
On the night of the New Year’s Eve, Sucheng was quiet and cold. Other than a few children coming out to set off fireworks, there were barely anyone around.
Red lanterns were hung along both sides of the river, and the lights were reflected upon the water. Ji Qinyang and Xie Meng sat next to each other on the pier, watching the children release fireworks.
“Do you want to play with one?” Ji Qinyang asked with a smile.
Xie Meng took out a few sparklers from somewhere. “Let’s just play with this.”
They asked to borrow the fire from the children, and crouched together and lit their sparklers. The heat from the sparklers was not high, and Xie Meng cupped his hand around it, looking as though he was holding fireworks in his hand.
The sparks highlighted Ji Qinyang’s delicate features. He lowered his head, quietly looking at Xie Meng.
“This is our last stick.” Xie Meng looked up and met Ji Qinyang’s eyes, “… You don’t want it?”
Ji Qinyang smiled. “I’ll just watch you light it.”
Xie Meng smiled as well. He lit the last sparkler, then watched the sparks slowly burn out.
“Let’s go back.” Xie Meng stood up and adjusted the scarf. He lowered his head, pressing his lips onto Ji Qinyang’s forehead, “Happy New Year.”
Ji Qinyang did not stand up immediately. He took Xie Meng’s hand, and the latter felt something hard in his hand.
“… What?” Xie Meng turned his wrist over, and Ji Qinyang slowly released his hand as he stood up.
Xie Meng looked down to see a pair of silver earrings in his palm.
Ji Qinyang reached out and touched his earlobe. “Want to get a piercing?”
In the second semester of their second year, Ji Qinyang started attending music theory classes in preparation for his arts degree. As for the culture classes, he was not as anxious as his other classmates.
Xie Meng had signed up for a cram school outside of the school. Zhang Ganggang also wanted to join in, but when he went in, he found Han Dong was there too.
“A curve wrecker’s life is also very lonely,” Han Dong gave an excuse. “With nothing to do, I can only study more.”
Because Zhang Ganggang was in the S High group chat, whenever he met S High students in real life, he would instinctively be a little apprehensive.
Han Dong glanced at him expressionlessly.
Zhang Ganggang, “…”
Han Dong nodded. “Hello.”
With good manners, Zhang Ganggang sat down next to him. “H-hello…”
Xie Meng introduced the both of them to each other. “Han Dong knows Rourou. Zhang Ganggang, if you have any questions, you can just ask him.”
Zhang Ganggang’s eyes lit up. “Real, really?!”
Han Dong’s attitude was reserved, and it took him a moment before he acknowledged it faintly.
Xie Meng looked at him strangely.
“How, how does Rourou look like?” Zhang Ganggang cautiously asked him, full of anticipation.
Han Dong raised his brow, drawling, “Short, black hair.”
“Oh, short hair…” Zhang Ganggang was a little disappointed.
Han Dong sneered. “Why? You don’t like short hair?”
Zhang Ganggang hurriedly denied it. “Of course not… It, it’s just different from what I imagined.” He observed Han Dong’s expression, and spoke a little placatingly, “Actually, short hair is pretty nice too…”
“Oh?” Han Dong was non-committal. “You like it?”
Zhang Ganggang hesitated. “I…”
Han Dong frowned, snorting impatiently, “Do you like it or not?”
Zhang Ganggang mustered up his courage and glared at him. “…”
Han Dong narrowed his eyes back.
“… I like it.” Zhang Ganggang finally humiliatingly gave in under Han Dong’s “you’ll die if you say you dislike it” stare.
Ji Qinyang was in a cafe near the cram school. He sent a text to Xie Meng, then ordered a cup of milk to takeaway at the counter. When Xie Meng came out, he saw the boy waving the plastic bag at him.
“How long have you been waiting?” Xie Meng took the milk. He held Ji Qinyang’s hand, then leaned in and stroked his forehead.
Ji Qinyang smiled, “I didn’t wait that long.” He looked behind Xie Meng, and Han Dong nodded at him expressionlessly.
“Hi,” Ji Qinyang greeted.
Zhang Ganggang sniffed, grumbling, “You guys are really very close… There’s no one waiting for me at all.”
Han Dong looked down at him. “Want me to send you back?”
Zhang Ganggang was a little frightened. “No, no need…”
Han Dong stared at him expressionlessly.
“…” Zhang Ganggang hunched over, speaking in a feeble tone, “All, all right… Sorry to bother you.”
Xie Meng was speechless. He watched as Zhang Ganggang took his own sweet time walking to Han Dong’s car, and glanced at the person who started all these disapprovingly. “Don’t bully him too much. What if he cries?”
“Just let him cry then.” In a good mood, Han Dong tucked his scarf into his coat. His eyes fell indifferently onto Xie Meng’s earlobe, and he smiled. “The two of you.”
He pointed at Ji Qinyang. “Don’t be too obvious about it.”