The weather would not warm up immediately after the New Year. The cold would still last for more than a month, and so, the students who had returned to school were still depressed.
Maitreya started distributing exam papers the moment he entered the classroom early in the morning. He completely ignored the dissent of the class, joyfully garnering hatred. “Even if you’re frozen to death, you’ll still need to sit the exams. Hurry! Take out your pens!”
There were four classes in the morning. After the math exam was the language exam. Even for students like Xie Meng, they too had a headache at the end of it.
Zhuo Xiaoyuan did not even have the strength for lunch at noon. He lay upon his table, exclaiming, “I’m completely suffering… Finally, I feel like I’m about to take the college entrance examinations.”
Zhang Ganggang was breaking apart his chopsticks. Trying for a long time, he was still unsuccessful. Qi Fei rolled his eyes, impatiently stretching out his hand. “Give them to me!”
“So fierce…” Zhang Ganggang muttered. “Look at how No. 1 Beauty is so gentle to Mengmeng. Mama Qi, shouldn’t you learn from him?”
Qi Fei, “…”
“…” Xie Meng was amused. “When did I become Mengmeng?”
Ji Qinyang placed a chicken drumstick into Xie Meng’s bowl. “Ignore him. Recently, he’s been getting addicted to giving people nicknames.”
“This is called developing feelings!” Zhang Ganggang said righteously. “We’re going to be separated after graduation. How can we not leave any beautiful memories before that happens?!”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan narrowed his eyes. “Leaving a stupid nickname?”
Zhang Ganggang looked at him, angry. “Shut up, Ironman Zhuo!”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan, “…”
It was rare that they did not have to study during noon. They could rest from 12pm till 1.30pm, and Ji Qinyang went to the music room to practice on the piano with his music book.
Sitting by the window, Xie Meng did some exam practice. He would occasionally look at Ji Qinyang, and the boy had his back facing him with his headphones on. Bent over the piano keys, he was writing on his book. Often, he would play a snippet of a melody, and revised and played it repeatedly.
In that moment, Ji Qinyang had a rare solemn and serious look on his face, even exuding a sense of loneliness as though he was isolated from the outside world. Xie Meng listened to every individual note, slowly coming together to form an unfamiliar melody. The air around him rose and sank, gathering into a magnificent sea, and the tide gently curled around his ears and heart.
When the bell rang in the afternoon, Ji Qinyang did not hear it. He had his headphones on, making the final edits to his music. By the time he snapped out of his focus, he discovered that two classes had already passed.
“You’re done?” Xie Meng only closed his book after seeing him turn his head. The boy stretched, a smile on his face. “We can still catch the third class if we head back now.”
“…” It did not matter if Ji Qinyang attended class or not. He frowned, “Why didn’t you call me?”
Xie Meng dusted his trousers off. “It’s a rare chance to skip classes… and it was also just a good private concert.”
Ji Qinyang laughed. He rubbed at his nose before hanging his headphones around his neck.
After Xie Meng tidied up his books, he looked up to see Ji Qinyang standing right in front of him.
Ji Qinyang suddenly reached out and pulled the blue curtains behind him. Unconsciously taking a step back, Xie Meng was now against the wall, and Ji Qinyang’s arm was beside his cheek.
Xie Meng, “…”
Ji Qinyang placed his palm onto Xie Meng’s chest, mumbling, “Your heart’s beating really fast.”
Xie Meng opened his mouth, wanting to object. Ji Qinyang lowered his head.
At first, the boy only sniffed gently, the tip of his nose brushing against Xie Meng’s neck. Next was his cheek, his temples… Ticklish, Xie Meng evaded him, and could neither laugh nor cry. “What do you want exactly…”
Ji Qinyang did not speak. He pressed a little harder on Xie Meng’s chest, speaking to himself. “These all belong to me.”
Xie Meng looked at him.
Ji Qinyang stroked Xie Meng’s hair, his palm heated. He squeezed himself between Xie Meng’s legs, pushing him right up onto the wall. Without thinking, Xie Meng pulled the curtain to cover the both of them, and Ji Qinyang leaned down to kiss his lips.
It felt as though the needle of youth slowed slightly for a second, stretching out the teenagers’ secret kiss behind the curtain.
Xie Meng only returned to the classroom for the last class of the day. Zhuo Xiaoyuan frowned when he saw him.
“You guys need to be more careful.” He pulled out a wet wipe from his desk and handed it to Xie Meng, “Your lips are all swollen…”
Xie Meng apologised, covering his lips with the wipe. It even caused Maitreya to come over in concern, “Are you still feeling unwell? Don’t force yourself, just go back and rest.”
Sitting by the side, Zhuo Xiaoyuan nearly vomited blood. He muttered, “How lucky to be a good student, one can even abuse single people openly.”
Xie Meng, “…”
As the weather gradually warmed up, Xie Meng went with Ji Qinyang to sweep Zhang Xiujuan’s tomb during the Qingming Festival. The bus journey took the entire morning before they arrived at Dongshan. They then cleaned up the tombstone, kowtow-ed, and burned the joss papers offerings.
As the smoke curled up, Ji Qinyang placed his hands together, closing his eyes. While burning joss papers, Xie Meng looked up at him.
“What did you say to Grandma?” Xie Meng asked as they walked down the hill.
It rained just before the Qingming Festival. The tea fields of Dongshan were lush and green, with a lake in the distance. The scent of tea wafted over with the wind.
“Nothing much.” Ji Qinyang walked amidst the rows of juniper trees. He reached his hand out to Xie Meng, smiling. “I told her I’d take good care of you.”
Xie Meng too smiled, and he held Ji Qinyang’s hand.
The number of people walking down the hill gradually increased. Seeing the two boys holding hands, they were a little curious. Some elders called out to them kindly. “Are you two brothers? Whose tomb are you sweeping?”
“My grandma.” Ji Qinyang did not explain their relationship, and Xie Meng too did not mention it. They politely nodded towards the old man who asked.
At the foot of the hill was a town. Many tea farmers lived in Dongshan, and their houses were scattered in various places, surrounded by fields and ponds. The freshly turned earth was still damp, and under the ridge was a water canal that looked clear and fresh.
Xie Meng and Ji Qinyang walked along the only road. Some of the farmhouses had loquat trees planted outside, all tall and sturdy. There were fruits, but none were ripe. Green and dainty, they looked adorable.
Outside the town was a lake. Willows grew along the bank, and the reeds had yet to turn yellow. Crowds of ducks swam among them.
Holding onto Xie Meng’s hand, Ji Qinyang placed it in his own pocket.
“It’s beautiful.” Xie Meng looked at the fishing boat in the distance.
Ji Qinyang, “When we’re old, we’ll buy a lakehouse here and live together.”
Xie Meng shook his head. Laughing, but not speaking, he slowly walked back with Ji Qinyang.
“There’s no need for a lakehouse.” Under the setting sun, Xie Meng looked down the road, speaking slowly. “It’s enough that we can still return here when we’re old.”
After Mangzhong, the sign for the countdown to the college entrance examination at the back of the classroom was in its single digits. Every day, Zhang Ganggang would have to turn and look at it a few times, making Qi Fei stressed as well.
As the only one out of their group who would be staying in Suzhou, it could be said that after Ji Qinyang, Qi Fei was having the easiest time of all. As such, he truly turned into Mama Qi, becoming Zhang Ganggang’s trash can.
No matter how nervous he was about the examination, Zhang Ganggang never stopped thinking about his goddess Rourou. Qi Fei could not stimulate him casually, just in case it affected his exam mood.
On the last day of school, the entire grade had a pledge ceremony.
As the representative of their grade, Xie Meng was in charge of going on stage to give a speech to boost his classmates’ morale. The speech was written by a literature student that Maitreya had asked. Only when reading till the end did Xie Meng realised the signature there read Ji Qinyang.
The boy paused, looking down the stage. Sure enough, Ji Qinyang was also looking at him from a distance away. When their eyes met, Ji Qinyang raised a brow, giving on a pretty, cheeky smile.
Xie Meng could not help chuckling. He slowly recited the last paragraph of the speech.
“We’ll soon go our separate ways, starting our different lives. The road ahead will be full of thorns and roses. We might fail, and we might succeed.”
Standing below the stage, Ji Qinyang silently recited each word along with Xie Meng.
“Although we’ll face countless losses and choices in life, there will always be love and dreams to tell you—”
Xie Meng looked around, carefully putting down the speech in his hands.
“Tell you, where the path lies.”
After the ceremony, all the students were very moved, and there were even girls huddling together, crying. With red eyes, Wu Xiaomei complained about Ji Qinyang and Xie Meng. “Why did you write something so sentimental… I’m going to be reluctant to part.”
“Who said anyone will be parting?” Qi Fei winked at the both of them. “Yang-ge has already said it, love and dreams! Right, boss?!”
Ji Qinyang kicked him, throwing an arm around Xie Meng’s shoulder.
Xie Meng laughed and watched them make a scene. Zhang Ganggang came over with his camera, saying that he wanted to capture shots of the school for his memories. As such, the few people once again became temporary “models”.
Zhuo Xiaoyuna and Xie Meng sat at the desks, one in front of the other. To create a studious atmosphere, they even stacked books on the table. Qi Fei wanted a shot with Ji Qinyang on the basketball court, and they got Zhang Ganggang to capture the photos while they played against each other. In the end, they were too serious about the game, and forgot to look at the lens… Ji Qinyang had a solo shot of himself in the music room, playing the piano. There was a shot of Xie Meng’s side profile, sitting by the window, reading. Another had Qi Fei wiping his sweat with his shirt off as he was too warm after the basketball game. Zhuo Xiaoyuan hung off the horizontal bar, upside down, giving a victory sign towards the camera.
In the heat of summer, the rays of the afternoon sun shone through the lush leaves and branches, casting mottled shadows along the main path in the school. Ji Qinyang and Xie Meng were holding hands while Zhang Ganggang captured the images from behind them.
Youth within the lens was not aged, and time too gentled the faces of the young people.
Accompanied by the chirping June cicadas, the last bell of the college entrance examination finally rang. Xie Meng followed the crowd out of the examination hall, and Ji Qinyang was waiting outside with his headphones on.
From a large distance away, Zhang Ganggang waved his arms wildly. “Here! Here!”
Xie Meng walked over, smiling. Zhuo Xiaoyuan and Qi Fei had yet to exit the hall.
“We’re free!” Zhang Ganggang did not wait for Xie Meng to come closer before lunging towards him. “Let’s go on a graduation trip! A graduation trip!”
Xie Meng laughed. “Our results are not even out, and you’re already thinking about playing. Seems like you’ve done pretty well in the exam?”
Zhang Ganggang giggled. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Qi Fei coming over, and so he shouted, “Mama Qi! Here!”
Ji Qinyang looked at Xie Meng, smiling lazily. “It’s been hard on you.”
Xie Meng reached out and ruffled the hair behind his head. “You too.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan was the last to exit the hall. The four people were discussing where they should go as they waited for him.
“We should go somewhere closer,” Ji Qinyang said. “If it’s too far, it won’t be very convenient for Xie Meng and Zhuo Xiaoyuan.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan raised his brow. “Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai wouldn’t be a problem.”
Zhang Ganggang said enthusiastically, “Shall we go to all these places then?”
Qi Fei spoke up. “We should go to the beach in the summer. Ningbo Xiangshan will be nice.”
“We can go to Changzhou Dinosaur Park! And eat Yangzhou soup bun!” Zhang Ganggang shouted. “Dinosaur Park! Soup bun! Dinosaur Park! Soup bun!”
“Yangzhou, Changzhou, Ningbo,” Ji Qinyang declared. “Alright, we’ll go to these three places then. Tonight I’ll go back and check which route is the most convenient. You’ll all start packing, and we’ll leave tomorrow.”
“Cool!” Zhang Ganggang said excitedly, “A trip where we’re going so spontaneously!”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan was speechless, and he mocked him. “Fine, you can just go. Without us, let’s see how you go. You won’t even know that you’ve been sold.”
Zhang Ganggang, “…”
While packing his luggage that night, Xie Meng was on the phone with Ji Qinyang.
“I’ve packed the plasters, can you bring the travel sickness pills?” Xie Meng retrieved the medical kit in his house, picking the items he wanted to bring.
“Sure. There’s not need to bring too many clothes with you.” Rustling could be heard over the phone, “I’ve also brought medicated balm, a torch… don’t forget your swimming trunks.”
Xie Meng stopped what he was doing. “The boxer-styled ones right?”
Ji Qinyang laughed. “What are you getting worried about?”
Xie Meng did not speak.
In a very good mood, Ji Qinyang hummed. “I’m bringing the boxer type one. It’s up to you?”
Xie Meng paused, speaking deliberately, “Then I’ll bring the boxer-styled ones too.”
Ji Qinyang chuckled for a long time.
“Have you booked the tickets yet?” Xie Meng asked after he was nearly done packing.
“We’ll first go to Changzhou, and I’ve already bought the tickets. As for the hotel… how should we book for 5 people?”
Xie Meng too did not think about this issue. As he was pondering over it, he heard Ji Qinyang pull his phone slightly away.
“I have a call coming in.” The boy seemed to have looked at his screen, his voice somewhat surprised. “I’ll call you again later.”
Xie Meng agreed, then hung up and packed up his belongings. Cleaning Zhang Xiujuan’s portrait, he lit a joss stick. In less than ten minutes, he received Ji Qinyang’s call.
“The hotel and transport are all settled,” Ji Qinyang sounded delighted. “Han Dong is joining us too… Right, don’t tell Zhang Ganggang about this.”
Xie Meng really wanted to ask why he should not tell Zhang Ganggang, but after thinking about it, he felt it was wiser not to say anything.
It was a rare occasion that Zhang Ganggang woke up before his alarm. With his bedhead and closed eyes, he went to wash his face. Mama Zhang was in the kitchen making egg pancakes. Through the door, she shouted with vigour, “Clean up the sink! Don’t spit your toothpaste onto the mirror!”
She then turned to Papa Zhang. “Old man, stop playing with your bird already! Come and help me pack the pancakes, quick!”
Papa Zhang acknowledged her, putting down the spoon he was using to feed his bird and ran to the kitchen to give Mama Zhang a hand.
Zhang Ganggang was done with his morning ablution. When he came out of his room, he saw Mama Zhang still stuffing his bag with food.
“It’s enough, Ma,” Zhang Ganggang could not endure it any longer. “There’s only five of us, are you raising pigs…”
“A pig isn’t as smart as you!” Mama Zhang laughed heartily. She kissed her son on his forehead heavily. “Be careful! Treat your friends more often! Remember to make friends properly!”
“Yes, yes.” Zhang Ganggang bit into his portion of the pancakes, leaving his house. As soon as he reached the entrance of his neighbourhood, he saw an extremely large nanny van parked right there.
Zhang Ganggang walked over with a baffled expression, leaning into the window and looking through it cautiously.
With a sudden whir, the door opened from within.
“Woah!” Zhang Ganggang was startled.
Sitting cross-legged, Han Dong removed his sunglasses and looked expressionlessly at him.
“… What are you doing here?!”
Han Dong cocked his brow. Before he could even speak, Qi Fei poked his head out from behind. “Zhang Ganggang, what are you dilly-dallying about? Quick, get onto the bus!”
“Mama Qi, why are you inside too?!”
Han Dong responded lightly, “Because I’m going with all of you.” He patted the seat. “This nanny van belongs to my family.”
Zhang Ganggang, “…”
The driver was an experienced chauffeur, respectfully addressing Han Dong as Young Master. Ji Qinyang and Xie Meng were seated in the last row, and the six boys in the bus shared the pancakes Mama Zhang made.
Extremely reluctant, Zhang Ganggang sat next to Han Dong. He turned his head away deliberately to avoid speaking to him.
Qi Fei smacked his head from the back. “What tantrum are you throwing this time?”
Zhang Ganggang fumed, “Neither riches nor honours can buy me!”
Han Dong sneered, “Did I offer to buy you?”
Zhang Ganggang choked.
Zhao Xiaoyuan responded coolly. “He’s just envious of you for being rich and willful.”
“…” Zhang Ganggang was furious. “Ironman Zhuo, you read my Weibo again!”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan enjoyed the scenery outside, pretending that he did not hear Zhang Ganggang’s accusation.
Han Dong suddenly spoke up. “You have Weibo?”
“Why?” Zhang Ganggang watched him vigilantly. The boy suddenly thought about something, and his antagonism instantly transformed into friendliness. “Right! Does Goddess Rourou have Weibo?!”
Han Dong gave him a meaningful look. “I’m not sure either. Shall I help you ask later?”
Zhang Ganggang opened his mouth, immediately sitting upright and declaring gravely, “Master Han Dong!”
Han Dong, “?”
Zhang Ganggang’s expression was very serious. “During this trip, I’ll definitely follow after you and serve you wholeheartedly!”
Han Dong, “…”
In the last row, Ji Qinyang had his arm wrapped around Xie Meng’s shoulders. He placed his headphones onto Xie Meng’s head. After their graduation, Ji Qinyang had replaced his previous mp3 player with a more luxurious Sony ZX1 player, and stored his completed song in it. After listening for a bit, Xie Meng turned his head to see Ji Qinyang fiddling with Xie Meng’s phone.
“?” Xie Meng asked, “What are you looking at?”
Ji Qinyang smiled carelessly. “I’m downloading Weibo and WeChat onto your phone.”
Xie Meng took his phone, glancing at it. “There’s not much memory space in my phone… I’ll have to replace it after a while.”
“I’ve heard the iPhone 6s is coming out?” Ji Qinyang was still using the iPhone 4s, and his lock screen was the first photo he had ever taken with Xie Meng during that snowy day.
Xie Meng laughed. “You’re still keeping such an old photo?”
Ji Qinyang raised a brow. “Because it looks good.”
Xie Meng looked over it and earnestly said, “You’re better looking.”
Clicking his tongue, Ji Qinyang spoke. “Your words are getting sweeter and sweeter.” He uploaded the photo, then taught Xie Meng to like it and save it. Ji Qinyang too did not have many friends on his account, and everyone always liked each other’s posts. It was not too long before Qi Fei, Zhuo Xiaoyuan and Han Dong all liked the photo.
Qi Fei even left a message. “Why aren’t you posting it on Weibo? Shouldn’t you be more professional in your PDA endeavours?”
Xie Meng was extremely amused, and Ji Qinyang kicked the seat in front of him. Qi Fei howled exaggeratedly, and the entire bus burst out into laughter.
In the end, Ji Qinyang did post the photo on Weibo, and even tagged Xie Meng.
Zhang Ganggang shared Ji Qinyang’s post. “I have even more photos than you!”
Xie Meng went to his main page, and there were many photos taken by Zhang Ganggang. They ranged from the snowball fight long ago, to the temple festival, then the fireworks they released during the New Year, as well as the photos they took when they graduated.
Zhang Ganggang compiled them all into an album, naming it “Times of Our Lives”.
“There’ll be even more in the future.” Zhang Ganggang turned around, kneeling on the first row of seats. He raised his camera, his lens catching everyone within. “Come everyone, smile!”
They only need one and a half hours to travel from Suzhou to Changzhou Dinosaur Park on the Hurong Expressway. After getting off the car, Zhang Ganggang began taking photos like crazy, while the others left their bags in the bus and headed straight to the hotel.
“We’ll go to China Dinosaurs Park first.” Han Dong had requested for a map. “We can have lunch at Dinotown. Do you want to go to the hot spring in the afternoon?”
Qi Fei fainted. “Hot spring in the hot summer?”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan was indifferent. “Since we’re here, let’s try everything.”
Towards the dinosaur museum whatsoever, the boys were not very interested. Zhang Ganggang led the way to the Jet Tower.
“…” Xie Meng almost had to tilt his head all the way back to see the top of the tower.
Qi Fei’s face looked somewhat awful. “I think I’m a little afraid of heights…”
Zhang Ganggang clenched his fist tightly. “Mama Qi! Show us your papa side here!”
Qi Fei, “…”
Xie Meng, Ji Qinyang, Zhang Ganggang and Han Dong sat in a row. Ji Qinyang held Xie Meng’s hand, “If you can’t bear it, just scream.”
Xie Meng gulped. “I’ll try my best…”
As their seats ascended slowly, Xie Meng could not help but look down at the ground. By the time they reached the top, the crowd below looked as small as ants.
Seated next to Xie Meng, Zhang Ganggang already started screaming.
When they dropped, Xie Meng felt that his heart was about to stop. His ears were filled with Zhang Ganggang’s screams. “Rourou! Rourou! I’m going to die!”
Han Dong could stand it no longer and roared, “Shut up!”
Zhang Ganggang ignored him. “Rourou! I love you!!”
Han Dong, “…”
Han Dong, “…”
Zhang Ganggang was nearly hoarse. “Je t’aime! Rourou! I love you! I love you I love you I love you! Ahhh!!!”
Han Dong yelled, “Shut up, stupid! I got it!”
Zhang Ganggang was so excited that he could not hear anything. After the safety bar was released, the boy still had yet to recover. He coughed as he wiped his tears, “That was too invigorating…”
Qi Fei came from another side. Supported by Zhuo Xiaoyuan, his face was green.
Han Dong’s expression too was not much better, but it did not seem like it had anything to do with a fear of heights.
Xie Meng exhaled. “You guys are too impressive… We’ve just arrived and you chose something so thrilling.”
Ji Qinyang laughed lazily. “Then shall we try something else? What about bumper cars?”
After playing four or five rounds with a group of seven to eight years old children, Qi Fei finally recovered. When Zhang Ganggang wanted to play the 4D rollercoaster, Mama Qi refused to go even on the pain of death.
“They’re essentially shortening their lives by over-indulging…” From below, Qi Fei watched Zhang Ganggang and Han Dong being tossed left and right and doing 360˚ flips on the roller coaster. “Why did human beings invent such things to torment themselves?”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan shot him a scornful look. “Why don’t you say that love makes you torment yourself as well… And why would people still fall in love?”
Qi Fei, “…”
Ji Qinyang bought ice cream. When Xie Meng saw an employee selling all sorts of headgear, he could not help but glance over a few more times.
“Shall we buy one?” Ji Qinyang selected a pair of black cat ears and paid for it.
Xie Meng was unable to avoid his insistent hands, and looked resignedly at Ji Qinyang.
The boy laughed, “It looks very good.”
Xie Meng narrowed his eyes. He suddenly opened his mouth and meowed emotionlessly.
Ji Qinyang, “…”
Xie Meng focused on his ice cream, speaking lightly. “That just means thank you.”
“… You better take off those ears,” Ji Qinyang said.
Xie Meng, “?
Covering his nose, Ji Qinyang spoke slowly. “I can’t bear it, it’s too cute.”
The six people headed for the theme hotel in the dinosaur park in the afternoon. While assigning rooms, they ran into a small problem. Without any hesitation, Zhang Ganggang had clung onto Xie Meng. “I want to sleep with Mengmeng!”
Xie Meng, “…”
Ji Qinyang cocked a brow. He leaned against the counter, smiling lazily. “No.”
Zhang Ganggang looked as though he had received a hard blow…
Ji Qinyang pointed at the rest. “Other than Xie Meng, you can have your pick.”
“Why can’t I choose Mengmeng?” Zhang Ganggang pouted, huffing. “I want Mengmeng!”
“Because he’s not yours.” Ji Qinyang reached out and curled his arm around Xie Meng’s shoulders, pulling him over to himself. “He’s mine.”
Zhang Ganggang, “…”
Qi Fei piped up sympathetically. “Forget it, just come sleep with Mama. I’ll tell you a bedtime story.”
Han Dong opened his mouth, his expression a little strange. He looked as though he wanted to say something, but could not say it out loud. With his bag, Zhuo Xiaoyuan came over. With a puzzled frown, he asked, “What are you thinking about? Have you got the room card yet?”
Han Dong glanced at him unenthusiastically.
Zhuo Xiaoyuan nagged, “You don’t snore or grind your teeth when you sleep, right? I can’t sleep when there’s sound.”
Han Dong, “…”
After checking into their rooms, they went to the hot spring together. Due to the hot weather, not many people went to the hot spring, and many of the pools were empty.
Xie Meng and Ji Qinyang soaked in the red wine pool for a bit, but as it was too warm, they ended up just sitting by the pool and soaking their feet.
Xie Meng noticed that Ji Qinyang was indeed wearing boxer-styled trunks.
“Don’t look,” Ji Qinyang leaned back on his arms, smiling carelessly. “It took me a lot of effort to soften, but I’m about to harden again when you look at it.”
“…” Unable to cry or laugh, Xie Meng ruffled Ji Qinyang’s hair.
In the evening, Qi Fei took out a pack of cards and started playing dou dizhu in the room. Ji Qinyang shuffled a few times, all because of Zhang Ganggang’s mistakes. Qi Fei howled in frustration, “Zhang Ganggang, do you know how to play? Why are you hiding the bomb? Growing it for the New Year?!”
Zhang Ganggang, “One more time! One more time!”
He called out to Han Dong, “Master Han! I’m kneeling here awaiting your guidance!”
Ji Qinyang tossed his cards down, giving up his seat to Han Dong. “You can take over, Xie Meng and I are going to bed.”
“So early?” Zhuo Xiaoyuan raised a brow. “Will you even be able to fall asleep?”
Ji Qinyang did not speak, instead pushing Xie Meng to the door. Before they left, they heard Zhang Ganggang yawning. “I want to go to bed too…”
“Sleep your ass!” Qi Fei roared. “You better get up!”
Zhang Ganggang, “…”
“…” In the corridor, Xie Meng laughed. “Seems like the battle will rage till dawn.”
Ji Qinyang pursed his lips. “Let them have their fun. They’ll know what suffering is tomorrow.”
Xie Meng shook his head. Taking out the room card, he opened the door. Before the door even closed, he was pulled into Ji Qinyang’s arms and a kiss was pressed onto his lips. The boy was dressed in only a bathrobe, and the reaction of his lower body was obvious.
The room had a tropical rainforest theme, and the wallpaper was printed with towering trees.
The air conditioning was cold. Stripped bare, the two people nestled into the bed, grinding against each other, kissing non-stop.
Xie Meng felt Ji Qinyang’ hand occasionally probing behind him, but he never went further. He could not help but open his eyes, looking at Ji Qinyang. “?”
“Your birthday falls during the end of the year.” Ji Qinyang kissed Xie Meng’s eyes.”
Xie Meng did not speak. He flipped over, pressing Ji Qinyang down.
“…” Ji Qinyang laughed. “We can do it this way too.”
Xie Meng lowered his head, kissing him. He spoke lightly. “It’s better that you do it. I’m afraid that due to my inexperience, I’ll hurt you.”
“…” Ji Qinyang suddenly hugged Xie Meng tightly.
“?” Xie Meng stroked his head. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Ji Qinyang murmured. “I just feel that you’re really too cool…”
Early next morning, other than Ji Qinyang and Xie Meng, the rest all looked like they had just returned from death. All their expressions looked as though they wanted to just die again.
Getting onto the car, Han Dong immediately put his sunglasses on. Zhang Ganggang occupied the last row, and drooled all over himself while he was sleeping.
“You guys really went all out.” Xie Meng looked at them helplessly. Zhuo Xiaoyuan had went to bed at dawn, and he seemed to look a little better than the rest.
“Not me,” Zhuo Xiaoyuan yawned. “When I left, the three of them were still playing cards, and I could hear Zhang Ganggang screaming the entire time…”
Han Dong walked to the last row, patting awake Qi Fei who was acting as a pillow for Zhang Ganggang. “I’ll sit here, you can go to the front and sleep.”
Qi Fei was more than happy to not have to sacrifice his thighs. Groggily, he made his way to the first row and tried to catch up on his sleep.
Han Dong sat down, gently placing Zhang Ganggang’s head on his thigh.
Ji Qinyang raised a brow at him.
Han Dong motioned him to remain quiet, and Ji Qinyang turned away with a smile.
As they were somewhat late departing Changzhou, they only arrived at the hotel they booked in Yangzhou in the afternoon. They grabbed a simple meal, and then returned to their own rooms to catch up on their sleep. This time, Han Dong had arranged for him to be in the same room as Zhang Ganggang.
Xie Meng and Ji Qinyang did not plan on sleeping so early. They hired a trishaw, and went to tour the city center of Yangzhou.
For supper, they had hulatang, and even went to take a look at the old city gate. Taking advantage of the night, Ji Qinyang held onto Xie Meng’s hand, slowly strolling down Dongguan Street.
By the time they returned to the hotel, it was already past 10pm. Han Dong was waiting by the door of their room with his laptop, and frowned with disdain when he saw them. “Showing off your love at night, aren’t you afraid of getting struck by lightning?”
Ji Qinyang was not bothered. “If you’re envious, you can show off your love too.”
Han Dong’s face turned cold, but he was unable to refute. His face screamed his upset.
Xie Meng looked at them, baffled. “What are you guys hinting about?”
Ji Qinyang opened the door with his room card, answering lightly, “Nothing…”
“What are you doing here?” Ji Qinyang asked Han Dong.
Han Dong waved his laptop. “The cut-off points for the examination are out, I want to estimate our scores with Xie Meng.”
Ji Qinyang was speechless. “You’re really good at dragging the mood down.”
Xie Meng laughed and wrapped his arm around Ji Qinyang’s shoulders. He pushed open the door, signalling Han Dong to enter. “Where do you plan on applying to?”
“My first choice would probably be Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications,” Han Dong turned his laptop on, connecting to the internet. “You?”
Xie Meng thought about it, “Renmin University of China.”
Han Dong raised a brow. “It wouldn’t be easy to get in there.”
“I know, but it’s pretty close to Zhongyin.”
Ji Qinyang was delighted. He leapt off the bed, hugging Xie Meng and gave him a big kiss.
Han Dong’s expression spelled, “Enough is enough, you damn single-abusers…”
“Has your spot in Zhongyin been confirmed?” Han Dong asked Ji Qinyang. He entered the website and started analysing the scores.
“I’ve already passed the interview, and as for my scores… Even if I scored zero in Math, I’ll still be able to get in.”
“…” Han Dong ground his teeth. “You’re even more arrogant than a curve wrecker.”
Ji Qinyang shrugged gloatingly.
After looking at the points, Xie Meng’s feelings were mostly settled. He discussed with Han Dong about what they would like to major in, and tentatively decided on banking and finance.
“Your ranking in the province shouldn’t be low. The other top scorers would probably choose Tsinghua or Peking, so it’ll depend on how many places Renmin would give Jiangsu.” Han Dong made a few calculations. “You should be able to make it.”
“There’s not only this option for finance. When I filled in my application form, I’ve already made a few choices.”
Han Dong nodded, “They’re all fine. With a finance degree, it’ll be easier to find a job in the future. There’s the tax authority, the China Banking Regulatory Commission, or if that doesn’t work out, there’re still banks and insurance companies.
Xie Meng smiled, “I haven’t thought so far ahead.”
“If you want to have a firm footing in the capital, then you have to start considering all these early.” Han Dong finished checking before switching off his laptop. He also helped Zhang Ganggang estimate his score.
Ji Qinyang, “So how? Would that kid be able to get into media?”
Han Dong revealed a rare smile. “He should be fine. His hard work before the examination was not in vain.”
Xie Meng, “Next is Zhuo Xiaoyuan and Qi Fei. Qi Fei should be fine.”
“Zhuo Xiaoyuan wants to apply to Tongji University School of Medicine. He’s probably looking at the scores tonight as well.” Han Dong looked at the time, “I’ll go to his room and ask him, you guys should head to bed first.”
“You don’t stay up too late too.” Ji Qinyang switched off the lights in the corridor, only leaving the lights by the bed turned on. “We’ll be going for morning tea at the teahouse tomorrow.”
Business at Yechun Teahouse in Yangzhou was bustling early in the morning. To celebrate that he was able to get into his first choice, Zhang Ganggang insisted on giving everyone a treat.
The crab roe soup bun was the size of a plate, and when they were served, the skin was even wobbling. At first, all six of them were a little stunned, and did not know how to eat it. It was only when the waiter brought them the straws did they come to a realization.
“This is so fun…” Zhang Ganggang was completely satisfied. “The ones in Suzhou are not so big.”
Qi Fei’s expression looked a little complicated while eating. “It feels like sucking on a breast.”
“…” Zhang Ganggang looked down at the bun that looked like a breast…
Zhuo Xiaoyuan was disgusted. “Can you don’t be so trashy? Do you want us to stop eating?”
Ji Qinyang and Han Dong were unaffected. The two big eaters even asked for four servings each. Xie Meng too thought that it was delicious, and had one more.
They had tea, soup buns, and ordered three more baskets of fried dumplings. Zhang Ganggang’s heart was bleeding as he paid, mumbling, “Next time I will never treat boys to a meal again… They can really eat an impressive amount…”
After breakfast, they went to Slender West Lake for a stroll. Zhang Ganggang always remembered a line from an ancient poem, “West Lake here does rival the Beauty of the West. Howe’er she is exquisitely or plainly dressed.1” And so, he ran about with his camera, snapping away.
Ji Qinyang could not help but make fun of him. “Su Shi’s West Lake refers to Hangzhou’s West Lake. Why are you getting all excited here?”
Zhang Ganggang was not bothered. “It doesn’t matter. Anyway, we’re about to go to Hangzhou already. I’ll take more photos there.”
“We’re not going to Hangzhou’s West Lake,” Han Dong cruelly said. “We’re heading straight to Ningbo Xiangshan, to the beach. You can take photos of the sea instead.”
Zhang Ganggang, “…”
It would take them nearly six hours to drive from Yangzhou to Ningbo Xiangshan. As such, they moved off from Yangzhou before 10 in the morning.
In the car, someone started singing, and Qi Fei clamoured for Ji Qinyang to sing his own song.
“I’m not finished with it yet.” The boy stretched his arms lazily, but did not refuse. “I can sing a small part though.”
Zhang Ganggang had already readied his phone. “Don’t be shy, Number 1 Beauty! Come on!”
Xie Meng turned the Bluetooth speaker on. He looked at Ji Qinyang, and the boy smiled at him.
“I remember, the snippet of the morning song.” Ji Qinyang’s voice was low and gentle. Zhang Ganggang held his breath, raising his phone. “The setting sun dyed the hills red, and the water gradually flowed away, never looking back.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan turned his head. He looked at the scenery outside, tapping his fingers on his thigh along with the rhythm.
“The boat, drifting under the bridge.” Ji Qinyang smiled and sang, “Plum blossoms in bloom outside the courtyard, and the sound of pipa made homesickness feel a world away.”
“Time moves slowly, don’t wait for me; Time goes by, and who now has regrets.”
The familiar chords of the chorus played, and Ji Qinyang looked at Xie Meng.
“The years move on without rest. The days pass by, tender and slow.”
Xie Meng sang along, “Little by little, the times never linger.”
“Your smile of fleeting snow, lights upon my heart.” Ji Qinyang harmonized with Xie Meng. “Little by little, hidden under the times of our lives.”
When they arrived at Xiangshan, it was already evening time. Zhang Ganggang was still looking at the video he recorded of Ji Qinyang singing. The others had saved the original version into their own phones, and like Xie Meng, used it as their ringtone.
“Yang-ge, you’ll definitely become famous.” Qi Fei suddenly said earnestly after listening to the song one more time.
Ji Qinyang punched him. “I plan on working behind the scenes, and not as a singer. It doesn’t matter if I’m famous or not. I’ll just let my work speak for me.”
Zhang Ganggang was a little surprised. “You’re not going to be a singer? Isn’t it better to be a singer-songwriter… Number 1 Beauty, that completely would not be a problem for you!”
Ji Qinyang smiled, not saying a word. Zhuo Xiaoyuan tapped Zhang Ganggang’s head. “A person should try to be low-profile, alright? You think everyone wants to be famous?”
Xie Meng’s eyes fell onto Ji Qinyang’s face. The boy’s smile was unconcerned, gentle and beautiful.
The hotel they booked was located near the ancient city of Shipu Fishing Port. After putting their luggage in their rooms, they went to explore the ancient city. As they were near the sea, the summer breeze that blew upon their faces carried along the scent of the sea.
The stairs of the city zigzagged upwards, with old wooden houses on both sides. Fishermen hung rows of conchs under their eaves, and planted flowers within.
Zhang Ganggang looked for a spot to take photos. Standing on a tall platform, Han Dong looked down. Next to him, Qi Fei exclaimed, “It’s truly a place with a long history.”
Ji Qinyang looked at the merchant branches carved on the stone tablets. “Mn, it’s really nice here.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan wanted to buy a conch for Jinjin, and Xie Meng helped. After a lot of deliberations, they finally settled on one.
Dinner that night was all seafood. Clams, oysters, all sorts of shellfish, and squid. Zhang Ganggang was eating and scratching away, and his arms were all red from scratching. Han Dong had no choice, returning to grab the ointment and applying it for him.
After dinner, Qi Fei made noise about going to the seaside. Ji Qinyang was worried that they would not be able to see clearly in the dark, and even brought a torch along. They did not expect that there would be many fishing boats on the sea, each with lanterns hung on the masts, moored quietly. With stars scattered across the sky, it was as beautiful as an ancient painting.
The sky gradually got darker. The sounds of the waves were unceasing, breaking upon the shore.
The boats swayed along with the waves, the lanterns just like stars, shimmering in the dark sea.
Zhang Ganggang asked the fishermen for a few lanterns, and piled up sand by the shore, with Han Dong crouching down and watching by the side. Zhuo Xiaoyuan and Qi Fei were playing in the waves nearby. As it was too dark, they could not see clearly, and ended up drinking a fair bit of seawater each time. Qi Fei’s shouts could be heard even in the distance.
With a lantern, Ji Qinyang stood on the rocks, smiling and extending his hand to Xie Meng.
They walked to the bottom of Xiangshan. Pulling Xie Meng along, Ji Qinyang sat down at a higher spot. The sound of the waves crashing upon the rocks made Xie Meng look down. Very close to them was a fishing boat. The sky was very dark, and the lantern on the fishing boat was the only thing that gentled the savage sea.
Ji Qinyang laughed, “The late song of the fishing boat.”
Xie Meng made a rare joke. “Are you getting inspired for lyrics now? Do you need pen and paper?”
Ji Qinyang pinched his face. “Do I still need inspiration? Huh?”
Xie Meng laughed and evaded him, only to have Ji Qinyang catch both his hands. Their fingers intertwined, and they kissed intimately surrounded by the song of the sea.
“As long as I’m with you,” Ji Qinyang pressed their foreheads together. “I can write the most beautiful songs.”
Xie Meng hugged him, laughing. “In this point, boys who study science are at a disadvantage.”
Ji Qinyang raised a brow. “Is that so?”
“We can’t write poems, nor can we sing.” Xie Meng thought over it. He looked at Ji Qinyang, pointing at his own chest. “I only have a heart that loves you, will that be enough?”
Ji Qinyang’s mouth fell open, and he could not speak for some time.
Xie Meng kissed his face. “I’ll tear through all brambles for you, no matter the cost?”
“Where would you need to tear through brambles…” Ji Qinyang laughed and murmured, “Just stay by me and it’ll be enough.”
Xie Meng did not speak. Their foreheads pressed against each other, and they looked down at the continuous surge of the sea at their feet.
From a distance, Zhang Ganggang shouted their names. “Quick, come and see what I’ve written! Once the tide comes up, they’ll be gone!”
Ji Qinyang shouted back, “What did you write?!”
“Youth is forever!” Qi Fei laughed and shouted on behalf of Zhang Ganggang.
Zhang Ganggang shouted excitedly, “There’s another sentence! Another sentence!”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan refused to shout it. “That sentence is too cringy, ok?!”
Han Dong could not resist Zhang Ganggang’s pleading eyes. He could only resignedly say, “We must be together forever!”
On the beach, they laughed and laughed, mocking each other.
The vibrant laughter of the youths seemed to be able to cross the endless sea, lighting up the resplendent stars in the sky.