Zhang Ganggang’s military training ended in mid September. On the day he returned, he made a loud announcement in the groupchat.
Zhang Ganggang: I, Hu Hansan1, is back again! Everyone, cheer!
Han Dong: … Why are you so noisy, shut up!
Zhang Ganggang: Master Han! Let’s go out to eattttt!
Han Dong: What would you like to eat?
Zhang Ganggang: It doesn’t matter! Let me meet Rourou!
Han Dong: …
Zhang Ganggang: Aren’t you in the same school? Let’s come out and play together, I’ll buy her everythingggg!
Han Dong: She’s not free. Let’s just go out together and I’ll buy you everythingggg.
Zhang Ganggang did not send anymore messages. An hour later, Ji Qinyang looked through the chat, and saw these messages. About to respond, he received a call from Zhang Ganggang.
“Top Beauty Ji!!!” Zhang Ganggang’s voice was extremely aggrieved in speaker mode. “I don’t want to play with Master Han anymore! He’s the empress dowager, obstructing a couple’s love!”
Seated next to Ji Qinyang, Guo Lin’an spat out his water.
Ji Qinyang gave him a scornful look. “Aren’t you dirty.”
Guo Lin’an, “…”
Ji Qinyang switched the speaker mode off, speaking lightly. “How can a woman be more important than a bro? He said he’d go out and play with you, so just let him buy you everythingggg. Anyway, he has money, might as well just spend it.”
“…” Zhang Ganggang harrumphed. “I don’t want Master Han… I want Goddess Rourou…”
Ji Qinyang cocked a brow. “Why? Without Rourou, you don’t want to eat Peking duck, you don’t want to go to Wudaokou or Sanlitun?”
Zhang Ganggang, “…”
Ji Qinyang changed the topic. “We’re going to Nanluoguxiang next week. Do you want to go?”
“Yes!” Zhang Ganggang replied with no hesitation.
After the composition class in the afternoon, Ji Qinyang sent a text to Xie Meng while walking out. Wearing a cap, a white singlet and a white pair of shorts, Di Lin walked next to him, his long limbs making him look like a crane.
“Top Beauty.” Ever since Guo Lin’an learned about Ji Qinyang’s nickname in high school, almost the entire school started calling Ji Qinyang Top Beauty Ji. “You’re going to Mao this week?”
“I guess.” Ji Qinyang locked his phone, looking at Di Lin. “Do you want to come along?”
Di Lin nodded. “Yes yes, I’ll go play with you guys.”
“Sure.” Ji Qinyang patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll be back late tonight. Remember to leave a window open for me.”
“I know I know, you’re going on a date.” Di Lin wrinkled his nose and smiled. “Top Beauty, the two of you are wrapped around each other too tightly.”
Xie Meng ordered plain milk from the school cafe. He had received a call from the tutor recruitment department, and was arranging his timings with the parents.
“I’m available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. From 4pm to 8pm?” Xie Meng clamped the phone between his shoulder and ear, slipping his wrist through the take-away bag and asked the shop employee for paper and pen. “Junior high mathematics, a boy, 150RMB per hour… Excuse me.” The phone slipped down Xie Meng’s cheek. He reached out to catch hold of it, but someone else caught it instead.
“Let me help you.” Li Ruixin helped him hold onto his phone, a smile lighting up her face. “Quick, write.”
“…” Xie Meng nodded at her, swiftly jotting down the address.
“Thank you, xuejie2.” The boy thanked her after hanging up.
Li Ruixin was very candid. “Why are you standing on such courtesy?”
She was also from the school of finance. As a year two student, Li Ruixin had many tutoring contacts. Xie Meng’s job had been introduced to him by her, and so the two of them got to know each other. Other than Yu Run, Li Ruixin was the rare second one that was close to Xie Meng.
The girl was dressed in a long chiffon skirt today. Her figure was slim and beautiful, and many people in the cafe were looking in their direction.
“Are you going out in the afternoon?” Li Ruixin tilted her head. “There’s a gathering by the student union to welcome new students tonight. Do you want to go together?”
Xie Meng shook his head. “I’m not in the student union, so I won’t be going.”
Li Ruixin pouted. “People not in the student union can go as well, just take it as getting to know each other better.”
Xie Meng glanced at her. “There’s really no need. I’ve an appointment with someone else tonight, so I won’t be going.”
Li Ruixin shrugged, no longer insisting. “Alright… By the way, you’re going out now?”
“Mn.” Xie Meng looked down at the time on his phone. “I’ll take my leave first?”
Li Ruixin hurriedly spoke. “Let’s go together, I also want to go to Clothes City to shop around.”
Ji Qinyang had his headphones on, leaning against the gate of the school and waiting for Xie Meng to come out. September’s summer still felt heavy, and the air in Beijing was very dry. Ji Qinyang was dressed in only a black t-shirt, a shirt tied around his waist, and his hands were in his pockets.
When he saw Li Ruixin next to Xie Meng, his brow raised.
“You’re Xie Meng’s friend?” The girl was not shy, and greeted him openly. “I’m Li Ruixin. As expected, the friends of handsome people are all handsome.”
“Ji Qinyang.” Ji Qinyang held his hand out. “I’m in Zhongyin, and I graduated from the same high school as Xie Meng.”
“The same high school?” Li Ruixin smiled. “Then you must know Xie Meng’s girlfriend?”
Ji Qinyang looked at Xie Meng, and the boy coughed awkwardly.
Li Ruixin continued undermining her junior. “Now pretty much the entire school is about to know that he has a girlfriend whom he’s very close to. For his girlfriend, Xie Meng even started tutoring…”
“Xuejie.” Xie Meng interrupted her resignedly. “They don’t know about this yet.”
“So I’m asking your friend to tell her,” Li Ruixin replied, as though it was naturally her duty to inform them. “You’re the Adonis of our entire school, we have to make your girlfriend feel a little sense of crisis.”
Xie Meng, “…”
Ji Qinyang smiled enigmatically. “I feel this way too. Our Xie Meng needs to be properly loved.”
“Right, right,” Li Ruixin agreed. She suddenly felt that his words seemed a little odd, but it was very quickly glossed over.
“Other than the tutoring,” Ji Qinyang asked. “What else did Xie Meng do?”
Xie Meng hurriedly spoke up before Li Ruixin could. “Nothing else.”
“Did I ask you?” Ji Qinyang warned him lazily. “Xuejie, go ahead.”
Only then did Li Ruixin register that the atmosphere was a little strange. She was a little embarrassed. “I think there’s really nothing else already.”
“Mn. You previously said that Xie Meng was the school’s Adonis?”
Li Ruixin was gleeful. “This is totally not exaggerated at all.”
“There are many people chasing after him?”
“No, actually there’s not…” Li Ruixin sighed, “A flower high up in the mountains, we can see but cannot touch. However… there are definitely a lot of people who want to be a sidechick.”
Xie Meng, “…”
Ji Qinyang did not speak. He reached out, placing his hand behind Xie Meng’s neck, and pinched with a little force.
It felt like Xie Meng’s hair on his back were standing on their ends. Ji Qinyang’s palm was very hot, the heat feeling as though it could melt his spine even through his skin.
“I’ll like to request something from xuejie.” Ji Qinyang smiled at Li Ruixin. “Help me watch over Xie Meng. Whatever he wants to do, or whatever that happens to me, please let me know first.”
Xie Meng, “…”
Ji Qinyang looked down at him and added meaningfully. “This is to prevent his girlfriend from getting jealous.”
Even after arriving at Zhongguancun, Xie Meng was still dazed. Instead, Ji Qinyang found the restaurant with no signs of unfamiliarity.
“We’re here.” The boy stood in front of a small wooden door. Xie Meng looked up, seeing the words “Xiao Diao Pear Soup”3 written on a plaque.
“… How did you know about this place?” Xie Meng followed Ji Qinyang in. He saw a copper kettle on every table, and they did not seem to contain plain water.
“Through DianPing4.” Ji Qinyang waved a waiter over to take their orders. He picked up the copper kettle and poured Xie Meng a cup. “Try it.”
Dubious, Xie Meng drank a mouthful and was surprised. “It’s pear soup?”
Ji Qinyang laughed, “I knew you’ll like it.”
He ordered the cheese “fish”, crisp-skin prawns with flour-wrapped pear balls, fried chicken, and the rice in broth. While waiting for the dishes to be prepared, he poured Xie Meng another cup of pear soup.
“Have some more,” Ji Qinyang advised. “Beijing is very dry, and pears are good preventing your throat from drying out.”
Xie Meng pointed at Ji Qinyang’s cup. “You’re speaking as though you don’t use your throat.”
Ji Qinyang did not reply, but supported his hand on his hand and smiled at him.
As the two drank the pear soup, the dishes arrived one after the other. The food in Beijing was not like the commonly used sweet glutinous rice in Suzhou, but it was very in line with Xie Meng’s taste. He finished two bowls of rice, barely even having the time to talk to Ji Qinyang. Even when there was rice stuck by his mouth, he did not know. Finally, Ji Qinyang could not help but reach out and pick the rice grain away, placing it in his own mouth in a natural manner.
“You ate quite a bit.” Ji Qinyang pinched Xie Meng’s cheek. “How come you don’t get fat?”
“I’ve gained 5 pounds already. You’re the one who lost weight, but you didn’t get any tan.”
“I didn’t?” Ji Qinyang raised his own arm, studying it. “It should be a little darker.”
Xie Meng only smiled and ruffled his hair.
A kettle of pear soup was soon emptied, and Ji Qinyang ordered another. After the meal, they slowly drank it, and their conversation soon returned to the matter of tutoring.
“There’s no need for you to rush into a job,” Ji Qinyang wrapped his arms around himself, speaking calmly. “There’s more than enough for our daily necessities, and we’ve already pooled our money together. What are you worried about?”
Xie Meng drank the pear soup, explaining, “I’m just being prepared. I checked your school… and read up a bit about the music scene. If you want to buy some instrument or audio equipment in the future, they won’t be cheap. If we can save some money regularly, it’ll always be good.”
Ji Qinyang frowned, remaining silent.
Xie Meng looked at him and continued, “Also… didn’t you say you wanted to rent a place to stay?”
The boy’s face momentarily became complicated and surprised. Ji Qinyang looked at Xie Meng, rubbing his forehead and huffing, feeling at a loss for what to do.
“You…” Ji Qinyang did not know what to say. He put his arm around Xie Meng’s shoulders with some strength, holding him tightly in his embrace.
Xie Meng did not struggle. He slipped his arms around Ji Qinyang’s waist, lowering his head and nuzzling in the crook of Ji Qinyang’s neck.
“There’s always money somewhere.” Ji Qinyang kissed Xie Meng’s earlobe, speaking quietly, “We’ll move out next semester and live together.”
Their trip to Nanluoguxiang on Saturday night, due to the addition of Zhang Ganggang and Han Dong, there were six of them. Guo Lin’an too made a last minute decision to tag along, and after greeting Xie Meng and the rest, he immediately put away all courtesies.
The doors of Mao were styled to look rusty, degenerate and yet with a sort of extraordinary attitude to it. They got their hands stamped at the entrance, and only after entering did they realise hundreds of people could fit inside.
“Tonight seems to be a solo show for Qian Mo and his friends.” Guo Lin’an studied the setlist. “Their price seems to be the highest, 300RMB. Cool, they’ll definitely earn quite a bit during this show.”
Di Lin rolled his eyes, mumbling, “What’s there to be envious about.”
Zhang Ganggang was carrying his dslr, and everywhere he went, the sound of his shutter could be heard. Ji Qinyang greeted Han Dong, “Hi.”
Han Dong nodded back expressionlessly, “Hello.”
“How have you been?” Ji Qinyang handed him a can of beer. Suddenly, he said, “You still don’t plan on letting Rourou meet him?”
Han Dong looked at him, remaining quiet.
Ji Qinyang continued lightly, “Zhang Ganggang is also not stupid. No matter how truthful a lie sounds, there would be a time where you can no longer keep lying. You’re a clever one, you should know what has to be done. For all you know, there might be a way out.”
Han Dong drank the beer, replying calmly, “Not everyone can be as fortunate as you.”
Ji Qinyang narrowed his eyes.
“However,” a smile appeared on Han Dong’s face, “Thanks for your blessing.”
There were only four people in Qian Mo’s band. Qian Mo was the lead singer, and their compositions varied in style. There was jazz, rock, and ballads as well. Guo Lin’an listened, and exclaimed, “No wonder this fellow can become so popular, he’s quite talented.”
Xie Meng looked towards Ji Qinyang, and Ji Qinyang happened to be looking down at him as well. “What’s the matter?”
Xie Meng, “Is he very good?”
“He’s not too bad,” Ji Qinyang whispered in his ear. “But there’s still a gap between him and your husband, me.”
Xie Meng shook his head, neither able to laugh nor cry. Ji Qinyang placed an arm on his shoulder, and in the eyes of outsiders, they looked like two very good friends.
According to customs, the last song should be the curtain call’s encore. Qian Mo motioned for everyone to be quiet, as he held a guitar and sat on a high stool, adjusting the height of the microphone.
“I’ve written a song recently,” he leaned into the microphone, his voice not very loud. “I want to dedicate it to myself and a friend I just met.”
Qian Mo’s gaze swept across the audience. Ji Qinyang happened to have his head bowed, speaking to Xie Meng, and did not see him.
When the prelude started, Qian Mo closed his eyes.
“What wrong did I do? Why did you say I made a mistake? You’re not me, you’re not me.” Qian Mo’s voice was naturally husky, and when he sang a ballad, it was full of emotions. “I love, and so I loved. Whoever I love, there’s no difference.”
The guitar was slow and melodious, and Qian Mo’s lips were almost right against the microphone. “The one I love is just like me, the same body, the same soul. We only love, can’t we?”
Guo Lin’an lowered his voice, conflicted. “These lyrics are a little ambiguous… Don’t tell me…?”
“Shh!” Di Lin gestured at him, signalling Guo Lin’an to shut up. Next to them Zhang Ganggang was enraptured with the song, and Han Dong turned his head to look at him.
“People generalise wrongly, that salvation is the excuse for the many wounds. In the end, what’s right and what’s wrong? Love clearly has no right or wrong.” During the chorus, Qian Mo did not use a usual high pitch. He still unhurriedly sang softly, “I only want, in the rain, to be under an umbrella with you. I only want, in the sunshine, to walk along with you.”
Some in the audience had started whistling, and there were even some girls crying and shouting Qian Mo’s name.
The people on stage played the last section of the melody, and Qian Mo sang softly, almost as though he was speaking, “I only want, your hand in mine, to walk a long, long way with you.”