There were not many differences in the rankings between the finals and the midterms. Zhang Ganggang had however improved a lot, and squeezed into the top ten.
“Finally I have something to show my parents…” Zhang Ganggang was so emotional that he was about to cry. “I’m always afraid that if my grades are too bad, my red packet money would be gone.”
Xie Meng put his papers away and asked casually. “Why do you need so much red packet money?”
Zhang Ganggang thought about it carefully. “First, I want to treat you to a meal.”
Xie Meng, “…”
“Then, I want to buy a present for Rourou.”
Xie Meng did a double-take. “What are you buying?”
“A present.” Zhang Ganggang counted on his fingers. “Valentine’s Day is approaching.”
“… What do you plan on buying?”
“That lavender bear seems to be very popular now.”
“…” Xie Meng was speechless. “Don’t buy things at random. What if bugs grow on it.”
Zhang Ganggang murmured, “Will bugs grow on it?”
He asked Xie Meng, “Can you go with me to buy it?”
Looking at Zhang Ganggang’s hopeful baby face, Xie Meng was really unable to refuse him…
Even though it was now the winter break, Xie Meng’s schedule did not change much. He woke up at 6am, prepared hot milk, trained, remained on guard against Zhang Xiujuan’s sneak attacks, and practiced his skills against her for half an hour.
“I’ll go out for lunch this afternoon. I’ve already prepared your meal.” Xie Meng said as he pushed Zhang Xiujuan’s incoming palm away.
Zhang Xiujuan reached out and brushed past Xie Meng’s chin, “Yo, going on a date?”
Xie Meng turned his head and dodged. “It’s a boy.”
Zhang Xiujuan returned to the cool down position and smiled, “It’s rare that it’s a boy too. You’ve never brought any of your friends home before.”
“There’ll be chances in the future.”
Zhang Xiujuan did not believe him. “You said that in middle school too, but in the end there wasn’t even one.”
“It’s different now.”
“Which is better?”
Xie Meng thought about it. “It’s better now.” After a pause, he added, “I’ve met a lot of people, and I’m very happy.”
Zhang Ganggang said that he wanted to treat him to a meal, and he did acted like a host. However, due to his baby face, round like a ball, the waiter in the end still handed the bill over to Xie Meng.
“I’m footing the bill! I’m footing the bill!” Zhang Ganggang was anxious, and tossed his red packet on the counter. “Take it yourself!”
Xie Meng, “…”
The waiter, “…”
In the end, despite eating all they could, the total sum of the bill was only around 200yuan. As Zhang Ganggang’s red packet was too ostentatious, Xie Meng decided to go buy a wallet first.
“How much red packet money did you get?” Zhang Ganggang covertly asked Xie Meng.
“I don’t have many relatives.” Xie Meng was picking a color for the wallet. He took a light brown one and asked, “What do you think about this one?”
Zhang Ganggang threw a casual glance at it, “It’s nice… But your grandpa and grandma should still give you red packets right?”
Xie Meng said, “I’m staying with my grandmother, and my parents have passed away already.”
He asked the salesman to remove the tag, indicating that he did not need a bag, and turned around to see Zhang Ganggang with an expression of wanting to die on his face.
“…” Xie Meng could neither laugh nor cry. “What are you thinking about? They haven’t been around since I was in elementary school. It’s fine telling you about it.”
Zhang Ganggang wished that he could carve the words “I’m a sinner” on his face. He spat a couple of times, “It’s the lunar new year, let’s not talk about this. Instead, we should think about happier things.”
Xie Meng laughed, “I’m very happy. You’ve invited me out, and treated me to a meal. All these make me very happy.”
He looked at Zhang Ganggang with a smile, “Thank you.”
As for Rourou’s present, two people with no experience in dating made a very old-fashioned choice, selecting a plush teddy bear. As it was too big, Zhang Ganggang could only carry it on his back.
“How are you going to give it to her?” Xie Meng could not help asking.
“I’ll send it to her through delivery. If I send it directly to her school, it’ll cause Rourou trouble.”
“… How virtuous of you.”
Zhang Ganggang did not mind that others called him virtuous. His family was of the situation where the males would take care of the family while the females took care of outside matters. For a man to be described as being virtuous did not have a derogatory meaning for him.
After buying the bear, they went window shopping. Zhang Ganggang wanted to eat ice cream, and Xie Meng bought it for him. They took turns carrying the bear, and in the end, they no longer had the strength to continue carrying it.
“I can’t take it anymore… I’m about to collapse…” In the cold winter day, Zhang Ganggang was actually drenched in sweat. He decided to first carry the bear back home. “Want to have dinner at my house tonight? My mother has been asking after you.”
“Not today, maybe next time. You can come over to my place too.”
Zhang Ganggang naturally had no objection to it. Comically, he carried the bear on his back and boarded the bus, then waved at Xie Meng through the window.
“Be careful with that.” Xie Meng pointed at his bear. “That’s a present.”
“I know.” Zhang Ganggang replied him laughingly.
The sun set early in winter. After seeing Zhang Ganggang off, Xie Meng was not in a hurry to return home. Pulling the hood of his down jacket over his head, he continued down the street.
With the lights and lanterns, the feeling of the lunar new year had yet to fade away. Tail lights of cars left neon trails through the night. Xie Meng crossed the road, and the streets and lanes were still scattered with scraps of red paper left by firecrackers. The cultural market would open after the fifth day of the lunar new year, and many students were preparing for their classes in the upcoming semester.
Xie Meng looked at a bookshelf, about to bend down and look through them, then someone reached and touched the back of his head.
That person lowered his head and called out Xie Meng’s name uncertainly.
Xie Meng looked up, somewhat surprised. “Han Dong?”
“I haven’t seen you in awhile.” Han Dong nodded his head in greeting. “How have you been?”
Xie Meng spread his hands apart, giving a small smile, “Not too bad.”
Han Dong observed him carefully.
“Happy New Year.” He finally said.
The cultural market was situated very close to S High. There were many cafes around the area where students could study. In front of Ji Qinyang was a foam-topped latte, sitting there in boredom, he was waiting for Ji Moli to pick a cake.
“I want both…” Ji Moli scrunched up her face aggrievedly. “Let’s buy both.”
Ji Qinyang glanced at her. “You’ve already put on 3kg over the new year, you don’t think that’s enough?”
Ji Moli returned to her seat rolling her eyes. She had been studying in S High for half a semester already. Her grades were not much, but she was very familiar with the cafes in the area. With the excuse of buying books, she made her cousin Ji Qinyang accompany her here for snacks.
The bell at the entrance of the cafe chimed. Unconsciously, Ji Moli looked up, and immediately hunched over when she saw who it was.
“?” Ji Qinyang raised his brow. “What’s wrong?”
“Shh!” Ji Moli hushed him nervously. “I saw Han Dong!”
She spoke in a cautious tone, “He’s a big shot in our international class. He’s both good looking and has excellent grades, and is my new boyfriend.”
Ji Qinyang was bewildered. “… Why are you hiding from your boyfriend?”
Ji Moli said solemnly, “I gave him the label of my boyfriend by myself. He doesn’t know about it.”
Ji Qinyang, “…”
Ji Moli peeped over again, “Oh, he’s out with a boy… Hey, that guy looks very familiar?”
Before Ji Qinyang could turn around, Ji Moli suddenly said, “Ah! I’ve seen him on the BBS of the middle school! He’s called… Xie, Xie Meng?”
Han Dong paid for his coffee. He asked Xie Meng, “What would you like to drink?”
Xie Meng glanced at the menu, “Milk is fine.”
“You haven’t changed.” Han Dong paid for it. “You always drink milk every time you come here.”
Xie Meng was noncommittal. He chose a seat by the window, and a bunch of plants behind him blocked him from view.
Han Dong gestured, “Let me show you something.”
He pulled out his phone, scrolled through his photos, and pushed it in front of Xie Meng.
It happened to be the chat record of Zhang Ganggang’s “lip battle” on S High’s group chat.
“…” Xie Meng frowned. “Did you all bullied him?”
Han Dong laughed, “That’s not the point.”
He tapped at his screen. “These few people are from S Middle School, to be able to keep dragging this matter out, they’re also quite capable. Although that old post has already been locked, but it was not deleted. Even though it’s now deep within the records, but there are still clicks. You know what that means.”
Xie Meng did not speak. He drank a mouth of milk, then said after a while, “It doesn’t matter anymore, I’m now in W High anyway.”
Han Dong looked at him. “Lin Hengjing has been discharged from the hospital already. The school is now looking into this. If he doesn’t want his teaching qualification certificate to be revoked, he would definitely insist that you were the one forcing him.”
Han Dong sighed, “You were too impulsive. Those photos were taken at too good an angle already, and the one beaten up has now become the victim.”
The loading of the school’s BBS was not very fast. Ji Qinyang logged in with Ji Moli’s account, and after going through many pages he finally found the locked post, and the title was “Breaking News”.
There were three photos in the first post. From the angle, they were taken secretly, and looking at the images, it seemed as though Xie Meng was pushing someone against the wall and forcefully kissing them.
“Wow.” Ji Moli covered her mouth. “This is our laboratory building… How exciting.”
Ji Qinyang squinted. He studied it carefully, then said, “This is a screenshot. It should be a video, the person who created this post had only captured a few shots.”
Ji Moli blinked. “You mean…?”
Ji Qinyang wagged his finger, and put it lightly on his lips.
The milk in front of Xie Meng had cooled down already. Expressionlessly, he looked outside the window, and it felt like his face had frosted over. The glass window had fogged up, the sky was turning dark, but the lights in the night were not bright.
“I found the person who took the photos, and naturally, Lin Hengjing would be able to do so as well.” Han Dong motioned to the waiter to bring the namecard of the cafe and a pen. “He’s called Zhuo Xiaoyuan. Coincidentally, he has also been admitted to W High. I don’t know if he’s ever looked for you, but the evidence is in his hand. Lin Hengjing would definitely try to find him.”
Xie Meng watched at Han Dong wrote down Zhuo Xiaoyuan’s information and class. He hesitated for a moment, and finally still accepted that card.
“Thanks.” Xie Meng said sincerely.
“I’ve always believed in you.”
Xie Meng gave a nod. “I know. The Academic Affairs Department did not expel me… It’s because you spoke for me.”
“As classmates, it’s something I should do.” Han Dong stood up and patted Xie Meng on his shoulder. “Let’s go, I’ll send you back.”
Qi Fei’s family did not have much, but it had many members. Each lunar new year, even by the eighth day, their dinner parties were still not over. When he received Ji Qinyang’s call, he was carrying a girl belonging to one of his aunts, and that girl just happened to pee on his leg.
“Hey hey!” Qi Fei carried the girl in one arm while answering the phone with another. “Who is this?!”
Amusement could be heard in Ji Qinyang’s voice. “What happened? You’ve been trapped by your aunts again?”
“…” Qi Fei sighed. “Are you here to save me?”
“My spirit is willing but my body is weak.”
Qi Fei was exasperated, “Then why are you calling me…”
“I do have something.” Ji Qinyang lowered his voice and spoke in a rare, serious tone. “Do you know Zhuo Xiaoyuan?”
Qi Fei thought about it. “He sounds familiar… I think he’s from Class 6?”
“Who is he close with?”
“How would I know this…” Qi Fei was puzzled. “Why are you suddenly concerned about others?”
Ji Qinyang did not answer. Thinking through it, he suddenly said, “Alright, I have an idea. I’ll hang up first.”
“Eh eh…” Before Qi Fei could ask him anything, Ji Qinyang had cut off the call.
The little girl on his thigh widened her eyes. Sucking on her fingers she stared at her brother, “Gege 1how kids usually refer to their older brother in Chinese.[/eten_note]… Carry me!”
“…” Qi Fei screamed. “You little scamp! Don’t wipe your saliva on my arm!”
This was not the first time Xie Meng rode in Han Dong’s car. His driver also recognised him, and Han Dong motioned him to go in first.
“How come this doesn’t seem like the car I remembered?” Xie Meng looked at the trunk. “When did you change it?”
Han Dong replied indifferently, “It’s a New Year gift. I’m just driving it around.”
Xie Meng changed the topic. “Right, do you know a girl called Rourou?”
Han Dong was taken aback, his expression changing subtly. “Why are you asking this?”
Xie Meng explained. “It’s Zhang Ganggang, the one who had argued in your group chat. He’s very close to that Rourou girl. I don’t know if you know her. How is she as a person?”
Han Dong said without any hesitation. “Of course she’s a nice person, she’s very nice.”
“?” Xie Meng looked at him suspiciously. “You’re very close to her?”
“We’re quite close.” He thought about it, then started listing it out. “Her family background is good, her studies are good, her looks are also good. There’s not even a need to mention her character, she respects her elders and cares for her classmates.”
“… I didn’t want to know so much.”
“You can tell all that to your friend.”
Xie Meng thought that that made sense.
“What about him?” Han Dong suddenly ask. “How about that friend of yours?”
“Zhang Ganggang?” Xie Meng replied earnestly. “Of course he’s very nice. He’s very cute, and very lively and generous. He also studies hard.”
“Do you have any photos? Let me take a look.”
Xie Meng showed him the photo he took with Zhang Ganggang in his phone.
Han Dong looked at it for a while then frowned, somewhat dissatisfied. “Don’t you have a photo that’s just him alone? Send it to me.”
Xie Meng, “…”
Han Dong’s car could only send him to the entrance of Shan Tang street. Xie Meng got out of the car and waved goodbye at Han Dong through the window.
“If there’s any trouble, let me know.” Han Dong looked at him. “I’ll help wherever I can.”
Xie Meng stooped down and nodded. “I know, thank you.”
Han Dong waved his hand. He instructed the driver to turn around, and mouthed “goodbye” at Xie Meng.
The celebratory festival in Shan Tang Street had yet to be over. The noisy hawkers bustled around, and it was difficult for Han Dong’s car to make its way through, his brake lights flashing in the midst of the endless neon lights.
The dragon dance group blocked Xie Meng’s view. He slowly walked up the arch bridge, and the granny by the bridge who recognised him gave him a stick of cotton candy that she had just prepared. “Son, Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year.” Xie Meng smiled.
As he sat by the pier, he could see the boats drifting along the river. The boatman sang his song, and with a stroke of his oar he broke the reflection of the lights on the water. The string of lights winded along the riverside, and lit up the walls and pavilions along the bank.