By the time school was over, the snow had piled up. Zhang Ganggang was so excited that he ran screaming into the school yard, while Xie Meng pulled his overcoat on and wrapped a scarf around most of his face before he slowly walked into the snow.
For a southern city like Suzhou, it was very rare to have such heavy snow. The students’ excitement was no less than how they felt about the Lunar New Year.
“Let’s play for while before we leave.” Zhang Ganggang looked at Xie Meng expectantly. “Did you apply for leave with the martial arts center today?”
Xie Meng tugged his scarf down, and his breath came out in a mist of white. Looking around, he agreed, “Alright.”
Zhang Ganggang pumped his fists up in the air, “Yeah!”
In the distance, Qi Fei shouted from the edge of the field. “Hey! Zhang Ganggang! Come over quickly! We’re having a snowball fight with Class Five!”
Xie Meng looked in the direction of the voice, and immediately noticed Ji Qinyang’s conspicuous light hair in a glance. Despite it being winter, the boys were all dressed in very few layers, and leaving their jackets unzipped, they were all prepping snowballs.
“We only have 20 boys in our class, it’s a big disadvantage.” Qi Fei was a very competitive person, and his eyes were almost burning with a desire to win. “Line up in formation, we cannot lose.”
Ji Qinyang laughed. “We’ll just screw with them when we see them, why do we need a formation?”
Zhang Ganggang was not concerned with winning this battle. He was holding his phone up and taking selfies, insisting on dragging Xie Meng into the photos with him.
“Don’t raise your phone up so high.” Xie Meng motioned him to put it closer to them.
Zhang Ganggang was a little worried, “If it’s too close, will it make my face look fat…”
Xie Meng, “…”
Qi Fei pinched Zhang Ganggang’s cheek. “Look at your baby fat! Stop taking photos, come and make some snowballs.”
A group of them crouched down and started piling up snowballs. Xie Meng was the only one not wearing gloves, and after making just one snowball, his fingers were red with cold. Ji Qinyang saw him, then removed one of his gloves and passed it to him.
Xie Meng did not reject it, and gave a fleeting smile. He said politely, “Thank you.”
Ji Qinyang did not speak. He watched as Xie Meng tugged on his scarf, pulling it over the tip of his nose, and revealing only a pair of black eyes, looking just like a boy who had yet to grow up.
“What are the two of you still doing?” Qi Fei swung his arms, starting his warm-up. The people from Class Five had already stood up, “Ready… Zhang Ganggang! Don’t run around!”
Zhang Ganggang ran away from the flying snowballs, yelling all the way. Qi Fei swore, and yanked him behind himself, picking up a huge snowball and tossing it over. Ji Qinyang pulled Xie Meng up, and a snowball shot between them. Ji Qinyang returned the attack, and hit the head of the person closest to them.
Zhang Ganggang had his phone raised up again, “Let’s take photos!”
Shoving his head, Xie Meng dodged a snowball. After hearing a shutter sound, on the screen was a hideous baby face with distorted facial features.
Zhang Ganggang, “……”
“……” Xie Meng scratched his nose. “Just take another one.”
Another snowball was aimed at them. Xie Meng leaned backwards, and heard a loud “Fuck!” behind him. The class monitor of Class Five shouted gloomily, “Aim properly! Can’t you see that it’s our own people here?”
Zhang Ganggang laughed until he convulsed. He no longer took photos, and switched to taking videos instead.
Both of Qi Fei’s hands were full of snow, just as though he was fighting them in close combat. Ji Qinyang had been besieged by a few people, and his coat and hair were in a mess. Xie Meng unwound his scarf, shook it hard, and wrapped Ji Qinyang in it face to face. With a turn of his leg, he kicked a snowball that was flying towards them, but unexpectedly, the snowball was packed too loosely, and it disintegrated, spraying snow into his face.
“Hahahahahahaha!” Zhang Ganggang laughed heartlessly, only to have a handful of snow suddenly shoved into his mouth.
Zhang Ganggang, “…”
Qi Fei, “Hahahahahahaha!!!”
Xie Meng brushed off the snow on his face, and looked back to see Ji Qinyang patting his coat. The boy’s shaggy hair was covered with ice, and half of Xie Meng’s scarf was hanging off his head, and the other half around his neck.
Zhang Ganggang came running over, shivering with cold. He did not forget about taking photos, wanting one with Xie Meng. Qi Fei also took his phone out, capturing the miserable figures of Class Five. Out of habit, he asked Ji Qinyang, “Do you want to take a shot too?”
Ji Qinyang did not disagree, wrapping the scarf around him, he took a photo with Qi Fei.
“You’re too good looking.” Qi Fei grumbled. “I shouldn’t have taken a photo with you.”
Hearing that, Zhang Ganggang leaned over and said energetically, “Let’s take a photo together!”
He dragged both Ji Qinyang and Xie Meng in front of the lens, while he could only half-crouch right at the front, making his baby face look larger.
“Let’s use my phone.” Ji Qinyang suddenly said. “Your phone is running low on battery.”
Only then did Zhang Ganggang noticed the low battery sign at the upper right corner of his phone.
Ji Qinyang fiddled with the camera on his phone. He looked at Xie Meng and smiled lazily, “Let’s take a photo together?”
Xie Meng felt that he had taken a lifetime’s worth of selfies that day. Zhang Ganggang even had a portable battery charger with him. Ji Qinyang only took one shot with Xie Meng, after that, his phone was taken away by Qi Fei to shoot all sorts of rubbish.
Xie Meng returned his one glove to him.
“Thank you.” Xie Meng said with a smile.
Ji Qinyang looked at the other person’s smile. He was still wrapped in Xie Meng’s scarf, and had no intentions of removing it. “I’ll wash it and return it to you?”
“Sure.” Xie Meng nodded, then he added. “No hurry.”
When Sun Tian came looking for Ji Qinyang, the snowball fight was already over. Ji Qinyang was sorting out the photos in his phone with his head lowered, and Xie Meng’s scarf was wound a few times round his neck and covered half his face.
Actually, in terms of appearance, Ji Qinyang’s eyes were too exquisite. Before he grew into his current height, he could be described as androgynous looking.
Sun Tian pouted and whined at her boyfriend, “I want to take photos too.”
Ji Qinyang raised his brow. His mouth was blocked by the scarf, and so his voice was muffled. “There’s no battery left, we’ll do it next time.”
Sun Tian complained, “It might not snow the next time.”
Ji Qinyang, “Isn’t it the same if you use your phone?”
Sun Tian was not very happy. “Take a photo with your phone then you can use it as a background image. Don’t couples always use each other’s photos like this? How else to prove that we’re a couple.”
Ji Qinyang was noncommittal. He did not say anything, leaving Sun Tian to babble on but did not give her any response.
“Are you even listening to me?” Sun Tian was a little angry. “I’m talking to you.”
Ji Qinyang removed his arm from the girl’s shoulders. He stood in place, turned his head and looked at Sun Tian dispassionately.
The latter stopped talking, and her face looked a little panicked and scared. She opened her mouth, as if to give in.
“You should head back first.” Ji Qinyang spoke, his voice flat and without any intonation. “I still have something on, I won’t accompany you.”
After spending a long time selecting from the photos of the snowball fight, Zhang Ganggang finally found a satisfactory one and sent it to Rourou. He was too embarrassed to send his own photo, and so sent a photo of a snowy landscape, attaching a text description underneath it.
“Today, Xie Meng and I were in a snowball fight, and our class won it.”
After sending the message, Zhang Ganggang felt a little nervous. As he was trying hard to suck the pearls in the milk tea, he finally received a reply from his goddess Rourou.
“How great, I don’t even have time for snowball fights.”
Zhang Ganggang started giggling again. Without a scarf, Xie Meng could only pull the collar of his coat up, and looked at Zhang Ganggang awkwardly.
“My goddess has replied to me.” Zhang Ganggang was cheerful. After picking up all the pearls, he handed Xie Meng the leftover milk tea. “Drink some, warm yourself up.”
Xie Meng sighed. Holding the cup in his hands, he watched Zhang Ganggang, with his head bowed, seriously typing his response.
“What do you think I should reply.” Zhang Ganggang asked. “Should I ask her to have a snowball fight with me next time?”
Xie Meng thought about it. “She’s from S High, so she should be very busy with her studies. She might not have the time to do so.”
Zhang Ganggang thought that he might be right, “Then, I should tell her to pay attention to her health and don’t tire herself out?”
“…” Xie Meng actually also did not have any experience in coaxing a girlfriend.
Zhang Ganggang was entirely a teenager who was engrossed in the troubles of love, drafting out a text for half a day before sending it out.
Xie Meng’s bus had already, and so he called out to Zhang Ganggang. “You should head home quickly.”
Zhang Ganggang was still entering his text with his head lowered, and was reluctant to waste his time waving goodbye. Xie Meng shook his head, resigned, and got on to the bus.
The snow began falling again.
The speed of the bus was twice as slow as usual. Xie Meng watched the streetlights turned on, and under the lights, the snowflakes drifted gently to the ground. Shantang Street was much quieter than usual, and the store selling small wontons at the end of the bridge was also ready to pack up.
As the snow got heavier, Xie Meng was soon covered in snow once he got off the bus. He lowered his head, and his eyelashes were coated with a thin layer of frost.
People walked on the bridges while water flowed underneath, and the boats were all waiting by the concrete banks. The houses and shops by the river had already hung their lanterns up. As Xie Meng crossed the stone arch bridge, snow fell gently from the sky, and the lights along the river were all reflected in the water.
Zhang Xiujuan was holding an umbrella. She was dressed in a Chinese jacket in the style of the Republic of China, and under her pleated skirt was a pair of embroidered cotton shoes.
“Grandma.” Xie Meng took the umbrella from her. “Let me hold it.”
Zhang Xiujuan patted the snow away from his body, removing her shawl and pulling it over her grandson’s head. “Such a rare occasion for it to snow so heavily, I also decided to come out and appreciate the scenery.”
Xie Meng pulled down the shawl and covered his face. Snow was still sticking to his eyelashes, as though after melting, spring water could be seen in his eyes.
Xie Meng wrapped his grandmother’s shoulders with half the shawl. “We’ll be able to make a snowman in the yard tomorrow.”
Zhang Xiujuan laughed. “I’m already too old for that.”
Xie Meng did not say a word, but he gently pressed his cheek against Zhang Xiujuan’s white hair.
The first reaction Mo Suyuan had after learning that Ji Qinyang had ordered a drum set was to change her son’s music room to a bigger one.
Ji Shanrong sighed, “You spoil him too much.”
Mo Suyuan did not feel that way, “He normally doesn’t care about much. It’s good that he has a hobby. Don’t I support your hobby as well?”
Ji Shanrong was speechless. The Mo family had produced tea for generations, and were famous tea merchants in Jiang Nan. They had tea plantations in Dongshan, and their income each year was considerable. Mo Suyuan had inherited it from her family, and she accepted her own apprentices, never insisting that her son had to inherit this family business.
“At that time, to marry you, I could have given up on everything.” Mo Suyuan prepared the tea and passed it to Ji Shanrong. She was dressed in a cheongsam, her figure graceful, and there were almost no trace of the years that had passed on her face. “Even the elders were able to accept it, why should we be so hard on the younger generations?”
Ji Shanrong had interacted with stones for a lifetime, and naturally was unable to argue with his wife. He wrote himself a piece of calligraphy and hung it in his study, which summarized his life simply.
“Read thousands of books, travel thousands of miles, get a good wife, and a harmonious family.”
Ji Shanrong drank his tea and sincerely praised his wife, “You’re my good wife.”
Mo Suyuan laughed, “You’re also my good husband.”
The day before the finals, Ji Qinyang was still hibernating in his music room, and did not look at his books. Mo Suyuan and Ji Shanrong had went to the mountains to spend some alone time together. Other than employing a part-time cleaner, they had left their son alone. Ji Qinyang was also accustomed to such freedom.
Xie Meng’s scarf had been folded and placed next to the drum set. Ji Qinyang rested his head in one hand, an earbud in one ear, and was drumming a rhythm on his thigh.
His phone rang three times in a row, and on the fourth time, Ji Qinyang finally picked it up impatiently.
“Are you revising?” Qi Fei did not mind that Ji Qinyang did not answer his calls. He always boasted that he had an indomitable spirit. “Want to come out and have a small campfire?”
“In reviewing?” Qi Fei didn’t mind that Ji Chinyang did not answer his previous calls. He always boasted about his indomitable spirit: “Come out and start a small cooker together?”
Ji Qinyang flicked the cord of his earphones and asked casually, “Who else would be there?”
Qi Fei, “Just those people.”
Ji Qinyang sneered, “Sun Tian went to look for you.”
Qi Fei was a little embarrassed. “She only wants to get back with you… Is there no chance at all?”
“She thinks I don’t know about her finding someone to provoke Yin Luoxue?”
Qi Fei was taken aback. “I thought Yin Luoxue and you…”
“It’s two separate things.” Ji Qinyang interrupted him. “I know clearly what Yin Luoxue wants, but at least she won’t harm others. Tell Sun Tian, breaking up means breaking up, don’t do such degrading things.”
Qi Fei sighed, “Fine, fine. Don’t be angry. Let’s go play basketball?”
Ji Qinyang did not answer.
Qi Fei knew that there was no hope any more, so he could only tell him that he would see him in the examination hall tomorrow before hanging up.
Ji Qinyang tossed his phone aside in annoyance, and it happened to fall on Xie Meng’s scarf. He thought for a moment, and again picked it up.
In his photo albums were all photos taken on that day the snow fell. Most of them were taken by Qi Fei, there were all kinds of ugly depictions of Class Five, inexplicable snowscapes, and even many of them were blurry. There was also a shot of just half of Zhang Ganggang making a face, and also the backs of many people that he did not recognise. While looking through them, Ji Qinyang started deleting them, and finally he saw the photo of him and Xie Meng.
Ji Qinyang had asked Xie Meng, “Let’s take a photo together?”
Xie Meng looked at him and gave a nod, “Sure.”
They stood very close, their heads almost leaning against each other. On Ji Qinyang’s neck was Xie Meng’s scarf, and Xie Meng was looking at the lens expressionlessly. Behind them was a background where the sky was indistinguishable from the snow.
The youths were bright, and the times were right.