Fake Slackers - chapter 112
When He Zhao reached out to take Xie Yu’s hand, Xie Yu squeezed back out of habit. He didn’t dodge or hesitate.
The sky gradually grew darker.
All they could see was red. The ground was covered with remaining fragments of the fireworks, and lanterns filled the street, glimmering.
They walked side by side for a while. On the way, they passed a stall selling sweets. He Zhao looked twice, his hand tightening as he pulled Xie Yu towards the stall. “Shall ge buy some sweets for you?”
Some female tourists surrounded the stand.
The syrup was orange-yellow and translucent, glistening under the light from the streetlamps behind them. The shopkeeper was an old hand at this and in two or three strokes he drew a dragon with fangs bared and brandishing its claws.
Cheers rose from the crowd.
“How childish.” Xie Yu didn’t want to squeeze into the line. “How old are you?”
He Zhao lifted a hand and pointed at one of the sweets. He said loudly, “Sir, this one.”
He Zhao used to carry lollipops with him to help him quit smoking. Then he got used to it. Even though he no longer ate them often, when he went to the convenience store at school he would get two and put them in the pocket of his uniform, just in case.
After he had grown friendlier with the class, Xu Qingqing and the others got braver and would occasionally come over to ask for sweets. “Zhao-ge, do you still have sweets?”
At the time, He Zhao had been ‘mired in video games’ and unable to extricate himself. He still firmly held the position of ‘bottom-of-the-year student’ whom no one could budge no matter how badly they did in the exams. He held onto his phone and didn’t bother with them. “Wait a while. I’m at an important part.”
Xie Yu had just woken up. Still lying on his side, he reached for He Zhao’s pocket.
Xu Qingqing had frozen for a moment. When she came back to herself, she raised a hand to indicate, “I want the strawberry one!”
Xie Yu said, somewhat impatiently, ‘Mm.’
He Zhao’s game had ended quickly, but he had situational awareness and pretended he hadn’t yet finished.
After reminiscing this far, Xie Yu looked down at the sweet in his hand, thought for a while, then bent down and tasted it.
It was cloyingly sweet.
The two of them were very close and the picture drawn in cane sugar was about half a palm’s width long.
He Zhao bent down and bit down on the other side.
Several old-fashioned, resonant chimes rang out from a distance.
The moment the bells sounded, the lights on both sides of the street lit up again.
All along the path they had taken here, extending forward. The whole temple festival was thoroughly illuminated by the lanterns’ light.
They left the area and walked a little further to the shopping street.
Xie Yu wanted to bring something back for Madam Gu. He picked a shop, but didn’t find anything after looking through things for a while. There were many varieties of scarves on the wall, but ones that suited Madam Gu were few and far in between.
He Zhao, on the other hand, picked something. “What about this one? Old He should be very happy with this. Straightforward, but not simple. Classic, but fashionable.”
Next to him, Xie Yu was getting a headache listening to him.
He Zhao was holding a plain mug, the old-fashionedness of it practically about to come off the cup and stick to his face. It was a classic design from the ‘80s in the classic color combination of blue, green, and red. On the mug were six large words: Dad, it’s been hard on you.
Xie Yu said, “Are you serious?”
He Zhao said, “Do I look like I’m the casual kind?”
“Ge, you’re very impressive.”
Xie Yu glanced over the other things on the shelves and said sincerely, “Really, you’re very impressive. Among so many things, you picked out the ugliest one at a glance.”
He Zhao: “……”
Xie Yu remembered He Zhao’s personality and that of his father were cut from the same mold, and thought that maybe the son had also inherited his father’s gift-giving strategies. He probed, “What does your dad give you for gifts?”
He Zhao put the mug back, thought about it, began to say something, then stopped again. “About that… I can’t explain it in a few words.”
Xie Yu raised his eyebrows.
He Zhao said, “Hold on. I’ll look for it.”
Xie Yu watched He Zhao pull out his phone and go through it for a long time, then He Zhao stuffed one side of a pair of earphones into his ear.
It didn’t go in properly and Xie Yu lifted a hand to hold it in place.
On the phone screen was He Zhao’s WeChat conversation with his dad. Looking at the message history, it was from He Zhao’s birthday from last year.
[Old He]: Son, happy birthday.
[Old He]: [Video]
In the video were a dozen or so children from Africa, wearing brightly colored clothes. The children in front raised a blackboard in their hands. Three lines were written in chalk on the blackboard: He Zhao, happy birthday! Wishing you health and success in all you do. Dad loves you forever!
The child in the lead shouted this, then the group of children echoed it. After the cheer, they also included a short dance.
This was both a visual and auditory assault.
Xie Yu, caught unawares, was shocked by this video and couldn’t say anything for a long time.
Before he could come up with the words, he heard He Zhao say, “At the time I was actually quite touched.”
Xie Yu considered what to say and found that nothing he could say could express his current feelings. Eventually, he took the tea mug of worrying taste and stuffed it in He Zhao’s hands. He was thoroughly resigned, in word and in spirit. “Your family’s genetic material is really outstanding.”
They ran into Xu Qingqing and the others on the shopping street. It was nearly time to regroup, so the group of them walked toward the meeting spot.
He Zhao said, “Qing-ge, you bought a hammer?”
Xu Qingqing raised the massage stick in her hand and waved it in front of him. “This is not a hammer! I think I’ve been studying too hard and need a massage…”
He Zhao smiled and took it to play with. All the way, when he had nothing to do, he rapped Xie Yu’s back with it.
He rapped so much Xie Yu got impatient and nearly did violence to him in public.
“Is everyone here?” Liu Cunhao stood at the front of the line and looked around. “Don’t move about. Let me count…”
Liu Cunhao finished counting and found they were two people short.
Luo Wenqiang got in contact with them, then hung up the phone and said, “They’re on the way. Let’s wait a bit. The fireworks will go off in a while, anyway.”
The evening fireworks show lasted about ten minutes. The fireworks rose up from the surface of the lake.
The meeting place happened to be by the lake. When Old Tang arrived, he saw Xie Yu and He Zhao sitting on the railing. They were very gutsy—their hands were braced on the side of the railing, both feet hovering off the ground as they leaned forward.
The wind rushed up to meet their faces.
“Wa-ah, it’s pretty.” The others braced themselves against the railing. Unable to stop themselves, they also leaned over it.
Perhaps it was the light from the fireworks, but each of this group of kids had stars sparkling in their eyes.
“Going out at night is forbidden. Don’t keep thinking about your rich night lives. Stay quietly in your rooms and rest. If you’re caught, you’ll get demerit points right away.” On the way back, Old Tang was worried and kept reminding them of this. “Do you all understand?”
Several people called out, “We don’t need to go out to have rich night lives. We have six people, short one person for Monopoly. Does anyone want to play? Room 3009. We’ll wait for our fated person.”
“Over here. Murderer, pro league.”
“Count me in!”
They automatically ignored Xie Yu, whose luck was so good he had no friends, and shouted, “Zhao-ge, are you coming? We’ll wait for you in 3009.”
“I’m not going.” He Zhao smiled and said, “I’ll play something else with Old Xie.”
Due to the headcount, Erzhong had made reservations across three hotels. The one they were assigned was closest to the city center and the amenities around were better, too.
They indeed didn’t need to go out to have rich night lives.
Xie Yu took a simple shower, and when he pulled open the door to go out, He Zhao trapped him in the doorway of the bathroom.
He Zhao had one arm braced against the wall. With his other hand, he leisurely undid the buttons on his shirt, starting from the third button and moving downward. “About that, do you want to play with something else? For instance, me.”
This guy really would die if he didn’t flirt for a day.
Xie Yu didn’t say anything. He moved forward a little, letting the water in his hair continue to drip, and placed a kiss on his protruding Adam’s apple. Then he opened his mouth and bit down, neither hard nor lightly.
This was a sensitive spot and He Zhao couldn’t help letting out a hiss.
He Zhao thought: his little friend was always like this. He looked calm and indifferent, but his ability to flirt back was first-rate.
After Xie Yu had teased him this way, the situation was unsalvageable.
By the time Xie Yu reacted, the clothes he had put on not too long ago had nearly all been removed.
Xie Yu had his back to the headboard in a half-sitting position. His fingers had been lightly threaded through He Zhao’s hair, but as He Zhao serviced his lower body, his fingers curved and he couldn’t help tugging a little harder.
Worried that the soundproofing in the hotel was not good, Xie Yu buried half his face in the crook of He Zhao’s neck and didn’t dare make a sound.
Then he raised his hand, about to cover his mouth, but reflexively bit down on the joints of his fingers.
On his slender, long fingers was a row of extremely suggestive bite marks, but his voice still slipped out, a muted groan. Eventually, when he was roughly treated, his voice trailed off, but was still harsh. “You goddamn… fuck.”
He Zhao bent down and kissed the joints of his fingers, then said hoarsely, “…Be good.”
So Xie Yu dropped his hand to clutch at the sheets beneath him. His skin was already pale, the loop of red thread around his wrist even more eye-catching in contrast.
After they were done, Xie Yu went to the bathroom to shower and found his legs were a little weak.
A messy pile of clothes lay at his feet.
He Zhao started to say, “I’ll help you shower,” but before he finished, a certain little friend who turned hostile the moment he got out of bed retorted, “Get lost.”
Xie Yu held onto the wall and picked up two pieces of clothing, then walked barefoot into the bathroom.
Xie Yu took a quick shower. He had just turned off the faucet, the sound of water growing quiet, when he heard a bout of knocking at the door.
“Big bros, are you there?!”
“Is it this room? It’s this room, right?”
“What is it?” When He Zhao opened the door, he still hadn’t finished putting on his clothes. Through his wide open collar, two scratch marks were faintly visible. “You’re not sleeping?”
Wan Da stuck his head into the room and looked around. “Where’s Yu-ge?”
He Zhao tsked and pushed Wan Da’s head back out. “Watch where you’re looking. He’s showering. Spit it out.”
“It’s like this… are you interested in coming along on a man’s quest?”
Wan Da and the others had grown tired of playing cards, but were still so excited they couldn’t sleep. They remembered that on the bus they had looked up the amenities nearby and found that there was a nearby park. Rumor had it there was a very famous wishing pool in the park.
Luo Wenqiang forcibly cut in. “Right, right. Looking at the reviews, it’s very effective. We’re going to go out and try it.”
He Zhao said, “How do you all have so many little girls’ dreams and thoughts?”
Luo Wenqiang was about to continue when he caught sight of Xie Yu coming out of the bathroom.
Xie Yu was wearing only a black T-shirt, radiating aloofness. The corners of his eyes were red, as if he had just cried, but also like that wasn’t the case. “What wishing pool?”
The news of the night raid on the wishing pool spread from one person to ten and, within ten minutes, the whole class knew.
More and more people gathered in the corridor. Xie Yu just sat down on the carpet in the corridor and discovered that, ultimately, this lot didn’t care in the least about the wishing pool. The atmosphere of breaking the rules as a group and furtively going out in the middle of the night to cause mischief was the important part.
“Let’s plan our battle route.”
“We’ll go down by the elevator, then form groups of three.”
“Watch out. There are security cameras in the lobby, but we can’t do anything about that. We have to let the security cameras record our crimes!”
Xu Qingqing was the first to use her fists to hit someone. “Hao-zi, is something wrong with your brain? What kind of idiot plan is this?”
Near midnight, the night was dark and heavy.
The park was indeed close by, just across the street. But the area containing the wishing pool was not open to the public after hours so they had to climb over the fence and sneak in.
The crying of insects sounded everywhere.
The dozen of them were like thieves. Xie Yu found it embarrassing and even took out his mask and put it on.
“It’s so dark. Who can see your face clearly?” He Zhao smiled as he reached out and hooked a finger around the string at Xie Yu’s ear. “Little friend, you have a heavy burden.”
The so-called wishing pool was just a little pond. A thick layer of coins covered the bottom.
Liu Cunhao was especially sincere and nearly knelt down in front of it. “Bless all of us with high scores in the college exams.”
Luo Wenqiang said, “I hope Hao-zi’s wish comes true.”
Wan Da said, “Plus one.”
Xie Yu happened to touch a small stone. He picked it up and tossed it in the pool, where it made several ripples. He couldn’t help laughing. “Plus one?”
He Zhao noticed that Luo Wenqiang was carrying a bag in his hand and reached out to nudge it. “What is this?”
“Fireworks I bought at the temple fair.” Luo Wenqiang had resolved to act out the dreamy wishes of his little girl’s heart to the end. “This makes it feel more ceremonial…”
Hearing this, the others all crowded around. “Fireworks?”
Xie Yu retreated several paces and sat on a nearby step, watching them work out how to light the fireworks.
He Zhao walked over and sat shoulder to shoulder with him.
After a while, Xie Yu heard He Zhao call him, “Xie Yu.”
He Zhao felt around in his pocket for a while, eventually coming up with something and handing it to Xie Yu.
It was a letter.
By the faint light of the streetlamps, Xie Yu could barely make out several ostentatious words: To my little friend.
Xie Yu held onto the edge of the envelope and was stunned for a second.
There wasn’t a long screed inside, only two lonely lines.
—Let’s go together. To somewhere even further away.
“After it’s lit, everybody back off quickly.”
“I’ll count. Three, two, one, light!”
“Wait. This firework doesn’t look quite right…”
A loud explosion swiftly followed.
Xie Yu was so blown away by the firecracker’s earth-shaking explosion that his ears hurt. “……”
“What the fuck is this?!”
Liu Cunhao had been slow and was the last to back off, and he felt that even his butt had taken a hard hit. “Wenqiang, explain this. This is a firework? You lied to us! This is a firecracker!”
The explosion could have cracked apart the sky and the earth. The whole park seemed to shake.
Before they could ‘clean up after themselves,’ the park superintendent came over, following the sound. The bright light of his flashlight drew close and swept the area around the wishing pool. “—Who’s there?! What are you doing?! Stop right there! Don’t run!”
Pandemonium erupted. Class 3 ran for their lives and as they ran they didn’t forget to offer up their sincerest apologies. “We’re sorry!”
Repeating in Xie Yu’s mind was the line, ‘Somewhere even farther away.’
Before he could react, someone caught hold of his wrist. Then he heard He Zhao yell, “Old Xie, run—”
The steps weren’t high. Out of habit, the two of them jumped straight down.
For a moment, there was nothing beneath their feet.
They welcomed the wind that rushed up to meet their faces, the pinpricks of starlight above, and the lights that ran endlessly in both directions on the street, stretching into the horizon.