Xie Meng did not sleep well. When he woke up in the middle of the night, he had a slight headache. Climbing out of the bed to get some water, but he ended up alerting Zhang Xiujuan next door.
The old lady was dressed in a grey linen robe, standing by the door wrapped in a large shawl, and frowning slightly. “What time is it?’
“It’s around 3am.” Xie Meng felt a little guilty. “You should sleep for a little longer.”
Zhang Xiujuan sighed and walked to the table. “If you’re unable to sleep, as an old woman, why should I be able to do so?”
Xie Meng did not speak. He boiled some water, prepared some soup, crouched down and passed it to Zhang Xiujuan. When he stood up, she grabbed his hand.
“What exactly happened?” Zhang Xiujuan studied her grandson’s face, her heart aching. “There was a period in middle school when you were like this too. Grandma refused to ask about it, but I was still very worried.”
Xie Meng opened his mouth before closing it again. He smiled slightly and held Zhang Xiujun’s hand. “There’s really nothing, I’m fine.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan did not come to school the next day. Xie Meng kept waiting til the physical education class ended, but he still did not see a shadow of him. With no other choice, he could only look for him again after school.
“Zhuo Xiaoyuan has applied for leave.” The class monitor of Class Six was a girl. “He didn’t say how long he was applying it for… Why? Are you looking for him urgently?”
“…” Xie Meng’s face did not look very good. “Do you have his address?”
She said, “The address book is with the teacher, do you want to look for her instead?”
Xie Meng faltered. He went to the office, stood outside the door for a while and still gave up in the end. When he turned around to head downstairs, he bumped into Ji Qinyang who happened to be running up.
When the other person saw him, he raised his brow. “So you were here? I’ve been looking for you.”
Xie Meng, “?”
Ji Qinyang, “Let’s go back together.”
Xie Meng, “… You’re going to your grandfather’s place again?”
Ji Qinyang looked momentarily confused, but soon registered his words. He acknowledged it, then added after thinking, “My grandfather’s cat has given birth, so I’ll be going there to help him out for the next few days.”
“…” Xie Meng cocked his brow. He rarely had such a teasing look on his face, and his eyes showed his amusement. “Little kittens…?”
Ji Qinyang replied earnestly, “Yes.”
Xie Meng laughed. Ji Qinyang looked at him, and suddenly reached out to brush his fringe.
Xie Meng, “?”
“There was something in it.” Ji Qinyang flicked his fingers, and he gave his customary insouciant pretty smile. “Let’s go.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan never returned to school. Xie Meng’s dazes got longer, and sometimes, dark eye circles could be seen on his face, showing his obvious lack of sleep the night before. He was originally thin, and now, when he dressed in a black shirt, he would give the impression that he was so thin he could fade away any moment.
Ji Qinyang still went back with him every day after school, finding all sorts of excuses to accompany him.
“Did you cut your hair?” Ji Qinyang once asked without thinking. He had two arms around Xie Meng, and the both of them were standing together in the bus.
The boy’s hair was a little shorter, and it clung to his neck.
“I cut it myself.” Xie Meng was a little embarrassed. “I wasn’t concentrating… It seems like I did a bad job?”
Ji Qinyang smiled. “No.” He placed his palm on Xie Meng’s neck. “It’s not too bad.”
The skin under his palm was very smooth. As it had been exposed to the elements, it was a little cool. Ji Qinyang’s hand was very warm, and Xie Meng did not refuse this gesture that seemed almost like it was pinching his neck.
Ji Qinyang tightened his fingers, acting as if nothing was going on. “Your muscles are very stiff.”
“It’s probably because my head’s been lowered for too long.”
Ji Qinyang did not say anything. Using his knuckles, he massaged the side of Xie Meng’s neck, repeating the motion for three times before stopping. “How does that feel?” He asked.
Xie Meng did now know when he had closed his eyes. He sighed, “It feels very comfortable. You know how to give a massage?”
“My mother is always preparing tea for tea ceremonies, and her shoulders often ache.”
Xie Meng nodded. “That’s nice.” It was not clear if he was referring to Ji Qinyang’s massage techniques or something else.
When they got down from the bus, they would go to Shantang Street for snacks. It was no longer clear who suggested it first, but it gradually became a habit. Xie Meng had finished half his bowl of beancurd before he realised Ji Qinyang was still adding chili to his bowl.
The weather was starting to warm up. Halfway through eating, Ji Qinyang removed his coat, leaving himself in a long-sleeved shirt.
Xie Meng was still wrapped in his coat. The rays of the evening’s setting sun fell on his face, highlighting his handsome face, and drew attention to the area of his neck under his chin.
Ji Qinyang stared for a long time before looking away. His fingers were heating up, and he placed his bowl on the table.
Xie Meng looked at him strangely. “You’re done?”
Ji Qinyan’g skin was so pale it was almost translucent. As he had too much chili, his lips were red, and sweat dotted the tip of his nose. His dark brown hair curled naturally and was a little shaggy, curling around his ears.
“It’s a little warm.” Ji Qinyang loosened his collar. Resting his head in his hand, he smiled at Xie Meng. “Go ahead and finish yours.”
“…” Xie Meng quickly finished up the last of the beancurd in his bowl.
Ji Qinyang took out his phone to look at the time.
“Let’s go.” He picked up both their school bags. “I’ll walk you to the junction.”
Zhao Xiaoyuan’s right leg was in a cast, and it was resting on the coffee table. With nothing to do, he was sitting in the living room and watching TV. His sister Zhuo Jinjin came running in with two ponytails on the side of her head, and marched back and forth in front of the television.
“Hurry up and say what you want to say.” Zhuo Xiaoyuan impatiently tossed a cushion at her. “You’ve just had an ice cream, what do you want now?”
Zhuo Jinjin had just reached the age of ten. Because of certain physical issues, she did not have to go to school, and would stick to her older brother looking for snacks and fun. Zhuo Xiaoyuan was stuck at home recovering for so long, and out of the entire family, she alone was the happiest one.
“Someone came saying he’s your classmate.” Zhuo Jinjin hung from Zhuo Xiaoyuan’s shoulder, gesticulating at the same time. “It’s a very pretty handsome older brother.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan could not stand her. “If he’s handsome, he’s handsome. If he’s pretty, he’s pretty. Don’t you know this?”
Zhuo Jinjin pouted, coming down from Zhuo Xiaoyuan’s body reluctantly. She helped open the door for her brother, and Zhuo Xiaoyuan’s face instantly darkened upon seeing Ji Qinyang walk in.
“Why are you here.” Zhuo Xiaoyuan spoke coldly. His hair had grown a little longer, poking stiffly up.
Ji Qinyang passed the fruits he had brought to Zhuo Jinjin. Bending over, he patted the little girl’s head. “Good girl, can you wash the strawberries yourself and eat them?”
Zhuo Jinjin had absolutely no resistance to all good looking guys around her brother’s age. She scooted into the kitchen, and no longer bothered about Zhuo Xiaoyuan.
“I’m here to see if you’ve grown any moss yet.” Ji Qinyang smiled lazily. He looked at Zhuo Xiaoyuan’s cast. “Has it nearly recovered? If so, quickly return to school, don’t add anymore trouble for others.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan frowned. “Who did I add trouble for?” He snorted, “I thought you don’t want to see me around?”
“I don’t want to see you, doesn’t mean that others don’t.” Ji Qinyang fished a pair of earphones out from his bag and slung it around his neck. “Still carrying on despite not being able to win the fight, you really think you’re a hero?”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan’s face was ugly, but he did not take it lying down. He said stiffly, “That scum is no much better. So what if he had more people? He still ended up in the hospital because of me.”
Ji Qinyang scoffed. Zhuo Xiaoyuan glanced at him, and could not help asking, “Did that scum harass Xie Meng again?”
Ji Qinyang said lightly, “There’s me around.”
“Don’t think that this is because of you. Han Dong just doesn’t want Xie Meng to get into trouble again. If they really start fighting, even with more people, it’s nothing for Xie Meng.”
Ji Qinyang raised his brow. “What do you mean?”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan was too lazy to explain it to him. “You’ll understand it in the future.”
Ji Qinyang narrowed his eyes. Looking pensive, he swung the cable of his earphones and said, “You seem to know him quite well.”
“Xie Meng?” Zhuo Xiaoyuan gave him the side-eye. “I definitely know more about him than you do. This matter has to do with our S Middle School, I don’t know why are you sticking your oar in.”
Ji Qinyang laughed scornfully. “We’re now in W High. He’s from our Class Three. Please think about it, who’s the actual outsider?”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan was angered. Blowing his breath out a few times, he still could not come up with a rebuttal.
Ji Qinyang put his earphones on. He stood up, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I see that your leg has pretty much recovered. Remember to come to school tomorrow. If I don’t see you in the morning, don’t blame me for coming here to drag you out.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan, “…”
Xie Meng and Zhang Ganggang arrived at school at nearly the same time. Outside the door to Class Three, the two of them bumped into Zhuo Xiaoyuan who was already waiting there.
“…” Xie Meng’s eyes fell on the cast on the other person’s leg.
“That scum won’t be able to teach anymore for his entire life,” Zhuo Xiaoyuan said dispassionately. “If you want the details, you’ll have to ask Han Dong. I’m only in charge of passing the message.” He did not look at Xie Meng again, limping away with a crutch under his armpit. Just as he was about to head downstairs, Xie Meng shouted after him.
Turning his head around impatiently, “What?!”
A smile appeared on Xie Meng’s face. “Thank you.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan glared at him, muttering, “Crazy fellow!”
Xie Meng smiled and waved, while Zhang Ganggang looked at the both of them, bewildered. “What happened? What’s wrong?”
“It’s fine.” Xie Meng saw Ji Qinyang who happened to be coming upstairs. Around his neck was his earphone cable, and he raised his brow when he saw him.
“Morning,” Ji Qinyang greeted.
“Morning.” Xie Meng noticed his chest, and asked, “What are you listening to?”
“Early.” Xie Meng noticed his chest and unconsciously asked, “What are you listening to?”
Ji Qinyang handed him one side of the earphones. “Want to listen to it?”
“…” Before Xie Meng could react, the earbud was pushed into his ears. An unfamiliar silvery melody played in his ear, the tiny resonance trapping his attention like a spider web, and even his heart started trembling lightly.
“Does it sound nice?” Ji Qinyang leaned in very closely, looking down and studying Xie Meng’s expression.
“Yes.” Xie Meng nodded and said uncertainly, “But I’ve never heard it before…”
Ji Qinyang’s smile was a little proud. “This is a song I wrote.”
“…” Xie Meng blinked, his earbud already snatched away by Zhang Ganggang.
Ji Qinyang just passed the MP3 player to them. “Remember to return it to me.” He pointed at Xie Meng.
Finally done with his classroom duty, Qi Fei walked out of the class. Seeing the MP3 in Zhang Ganggang’s hand, he called out with a “Yo.”
“You’d better record it down.” Qi Fei boasted. “This would be a dark history in the future, a student work from China’s top music producer.”
Ji Qinyang kicked Qi Fei in the leg, and the latter exaggeratedly cried out in pain.
Xie Meng and Zhang Ganggang followed behind them with a earbud each in their ear. Zhang Ganggang was dancing along with the music, and Xie Meng hurriedly grabbed the earphone cable that was about to be yanked away, shaking his head helplessly.
The fine dust danced in the air, reflecting the morning sun shining through the window. The warm spring sun lit up the youths’ fresh faces.