In the afternoon, Yu Xinqiao was called to the homeroom teacher’s office.
Facing the undeniable facts, Yu Xinqiao removed Liang Yi from the equation and took full responsibility, stating that he alone entered the broadcasting room by climbing through the window, and no other students were involved.
Homeroom Teacher: “Then how did I hear the voices of several people in the broadcast at that time?”
Yu Xinqiao: “That was me role-playing and talking to myself.”
The homeroom teacher was speechless. “Do you think I’m a fool?”
“How could that be?” Yu Xinqiao sweet-talked, “Teacher Yang is the best. Otherwise, how did our class get the first place in the mid-term exam under your guidance?”
At this moment, he was extremely grateful that he had announced his identity in the broadcasting room at noon and specifically emphasized that the mid-term exams had ended.
This flattery undoubtedly hit the homeroom teacher’s soft spot. He pushed his glasses and coughed lightly. “That still doesn’t justify your high-profile announcement.”
“I know I was wrong. I’ll be more careful next time.”
“And you expect there to be a next time?”
“Well, of course. In the next final exam, our class will still aim for first place!”
The homeroom teacher wasn’t at school during lunchtime. When he came back, he only heard that students from their class had sneaked into the broadcasting room and used the loudspeaker to invite everyone to go out and play.
It wasn’t a big deal, maybe just a punishment for a bet among the boys. It was just a playful act.
It couldn’t be considered a major issue, so the homeroom teacher didn’t dwell on it much. He called Yu Xinqiao over, gave him a symbolic punishment of writing a 3,000-word self-reflection, and assigned him to clean the corridor on their floor for a week. That settled the matter.
However, teachers were easily deceived.
Back in the classroom, Yu Xinqiao was baptized by the gazes of all his classmates.
As soon as he took his seat, Wang Kun from the back row rushed over. “Xiao Yu, are you…”
Liang Yi turned around. “It’s not that I didn’t want to cover for you, Qiao, but your actions at noon were too bold. Now all the students in our school probably know that you’re pursuing Xu Ge.”
“En, let them know,” Yu Xinqiao shrugged. “I didn’t plan to hide it from anyone in the first place.”
Confirming his suspicion through this conversation, Wang Kun’s eyeballs almost popped out of his small eye sockets. “Xiao Yu, do you really like guys?”
After spending a class digesting this information, Wang Kun believed that friends should support each other’s decisions. After experiencing the basketball game and drinking countless bottles of drinks that Yu Xinqiao treated him to, he already regarded Yu Xinqiao as a brother who would go to any lengths for him, just like Liang Yi.
But there were still other questions. During the second break, Wang Kun ran over again. “What about Xu Ge? Does he also like guys?”
“I don’t know,” Yu Xinqiao candidly replied. “Why don’t you go and ask for me?”
Curiosity got the best of Wang Kun, so he went to ask.
In less than a minute, he came back to report, “Xu Ge said one word.”
Yu Xinqiao’s eyes lit up. “Did he say ‘yes’?”
Wang Kun shook his head. “He said ‘get lost’.”
Yu Xinqiao: “…”
Originally, he was worried that this matter might cause trouble for Xu Yanhuan, but it turned out that he didn’t care at all.
On Friday after school, Xu Yanhuan walked out of the classroom, ignoring the onlookers from other classes and the whispers of “he’s the guy who received a confession from another guy.” He kept his eyes forward and didn’t even pause his steps in the face of criticism.
With his eyes fixed on Xu Yanhuan’s figure disappearing at the end of the road, Yu Xinqiao sighed and slumped his shoulders.
It was a conflicting feeling. He both hoped that Xu Yanhuan wouldn’t be affected and wanted him to care, to come and ask for an explanation, at least inquire about the concert and its starting time over the weekend.
The concert tickets were sent by Yu Xinqiao’s father, Yu Hanzhang. He knew that Yu Xinqiao liked this pianist.
Before the mid-term exams, Yu Hanzhang not only cared about Yu Xinqiao’s recent life but also kindly asked, “Do you want me to attend the parent-teacher meeting?”
“There’s no need for a parent-teacher meeting. Don’t come,” Yu Xinqiao firmly refused. “We agreed that I would rely on myself. You don’t have to worry about me.”
Although he couldn’t exactly say he was self-reliant since he had food and shelter without having to earn money himself.
Yu Hanzhang also said, “Your mother has calmed down a long time ago. She’s just waiting for you to give in. After this semester ends, she’ll transfer you back to the capital.”
Yu Xinqiao almost laughed. “What did I do wrong to make her so angry? I even wanted to ask her, now that even UNESCO no longer considers homosexuality a disease, does she see me as her son or a pet? As long as I don’t follow her wishes, she keeps moving me around from one place to another.”
As a university professor, Yu Hanzhang had relatively progressive thinking. Although he initially struggled with traditional views, he eventually accepted his son’s sexual orientation. The problem lay with Yao Qiongying, who believed that her son liking men was a shameful thing and would damage her reputation within the company, thus lowering her social status and authority among subordinates.
Helpless against his wife, whom he feared, Yu Hanzhang could only say, “Dad knows you’re feeling wronged. Let me try to persuade her again—”
“No need to persuade, and don’t transfer me back,” Yu Xinqiao said with frustration. “I’m eating well and enjoying myself here. I’ve made a truckload of friends. Don’t worry about wasting two tickets. After this concert, your son might no longer be single!”
Looking back now, he realized he had been exaggerating in Haikou. Even if Xu Yanhuan agreed to go together, the concert hall wasn’t a matchmaking agency where a single visit could bring about a sudden change in emotions and lead to a successful pursuit.
Besides, Xu Yanhuan hadn’t even agreed to go with him yet.
On Saturday, Yu Xinqiao arrived at the wholesale market in the northern part of the city. He chose Huang’s second-hand piano store as his base and picked a piano near the window. He played the piano while keeping an eye on the activities outside.
The summer barbecue stalls were doing well and had set up shop in the afternoon.
Xu Yanhuan had arrived early and was helping the stall owner set up a canopy and arrange tables and chairs. At the moment, he was standing on a low stool, replacing a lightbulb hanging from the canopy. Looking up caused a slight tension in his jawline.
Combined with the raised arms revealing beautiful muscle lines and his long legs, not only did passing girls slow down their pace, but even the daughter of the barbecue stall owner, who hadn’t even started elementary school, admired him with great interest.
But the person involved remained unaware that he’d become the center of attention.
After changing the lightbulb, Xu Yanhuan stepped down from the stool.
Aunt Li, who ran a clay pot rice noodle stall next door, called out to him, “Xiao Xu, come help me fix this stand. Auntie doesn’t have the strength.”
The barbecue stall wasn’t busy at the moment, so Xu Yanhuan went over.
Because there was often casual work available nearby, nearly everyone selling night market snacks in this area knew Xu Yanhuan. Whenever they were short-handed, they would call him for help. He either received payment for more substantial tasks or got some food or drinks as a token of gratitude for smaller tasks.
Today was Saturday, and Aunt Li’s daughter, who studied at Xuncheng No. 1 Middle School, was also present. Xu Yanhuan hadn’t finished his work yet when she brought a bottle of sports drink from their stall and bent over to hand it to him. “I passed by your school today and saw the honor roll for the mid-term exams. You ranked third in your grade.”
Xu Yanhuan remained silent, crouching on the ground and fixing the stand’s feet.
The girl could only place the drink on the ground beside him. “With such good grades, you probably didn’t need to take extra classes, right? Do you have any free time tomorrow…”
Before she could finish speaking, Aunt Li interrupted, “Xiao Min, come over and help Mama.”
The girl named Xiao Min pouted and reluctantly stood up, walking to the other side of the stall. “What’s the matter? Didn’t you say I could just sit and not work?”
Xu Yanhuan unintentionally overheard the subsequent conversation, Aunt Li’s hearing had been damaged from working at a textile factory, just like his mother, causing her speech to be slightly louder.
“What were you talking to Xiao Xu about?” Aunt Li asked her daughter.
“Nothing,” Xiao Min said. “Just studies, nothing more.”
“Mom warns you not to have any thoughts about him.”
“What kind of thoughts ah?”
“No matter now or in the future, you can’t have a boyfriend like him.”
“Why not? What’s wrong with him? He ranked third in his grade!”
“Xiao Xu is smart, diligent, and hardworking. Mom also likes him. Unfortunately, he ended up with a useless father.”
“I’m not dating his father.”
“You’re so silly. His father has accumulated hundreds of thousands of gambling debts outside, and in a couple of years, it might even turn into millions. He and his mother have been chased by loan sharks and forced to move everywhere. Which girl would be willing to jump into a pit of fire and ruin her life by marrying into his family? If you dare to find someone like that in the future–“
“Oh, Mom, what are you talking about with marriage? You’re going off on a tangent…”
After finishing the work, Xu Yanhuan stood up and returned to the barbecue stall without picking up the drink from the ground.
He had heard similar gossip before.
In fact, it couldn’t really be called gossip. Most of it was true. Since he could remember, Xu Yanhuan had grown accustomed to constantly moving and had adapted to the strange looks and hurtful rumors from others.
He had never thought of hiding or concealing it. After all, there are no secrets that can’t be uncovered in the world. He was mentally prepared for it, not building walls around himself but becoming numb and immune to it.
Therefore, when he learned that Yu Xinqiao had beaten up Xie Fei, who had insulted him, Xu Yanhuan’s first reaction was amusement. He found it ridiculous that someone who appeared so weak and fragile would stand up for him. That person even worried about him getting hurt and asked others not to reveal his family situation.
Unexpectedly, the thought of Yu Xinqiao made Xu Yanhuan furrow his brows.
He attributed this rare reaction to the fact that Yu Xinqiao was always around at school, constantly pestering him. He believed that it would subside and return to tranquility after a couple of days without school.
Little did he know that just half a minute of peace hadn’t passed when Xu Yanhuan, who was helping arrange the ingredients and condiments, lifted his head and saw the radiant smiling face that had just appeared in his mind.
Yu Xinqiao didn’t want to disturb Xu Yanhuan at work, but Mr. Huang urged him to go quickly, as the military march was turning into a funeral march in his shop. Unfortunate timing.
“What a coincidence,” Yu Xinqiao told a well-intentioned lie without any guilt at all. “I bumped into you here again.”
Since he started pursuing Xu Yanhuan, Yu Xinqiao had come here often. The word “again” was an understatement. In reality, it should have been “repeatedly.”
Therefore, even if Xu Yanhuan felt a bit flustered with a hint of “think of the devil and he appears,” he didn’t show it on his face. He lowered his eyes and continued working in silence.
Yu Xinqiao understood and, after greeting him, found a spot at the barbecue stall that wouldn’t be in the way. He asked the owner if today’s squid tentacles were big, and he ordered five skewers along with a can of locally produced nameless drink with golden packaging.
Thinking that he would be working until late tonight, a sudden heavy rain poured down in the evening. The dilapidated rain canopy above the barbecue stall started leaking everywhere, and the rain even threatened to extinguish the grills with water pouring in.
The weather was bad, and the number of customers decreased. It wasn’t even 8 o’clock yet when Mr. Liu, the owner of the barbecue stall, said, “It looks like it’s going to rain for a while. There shouldn’t be many customers later. Xiao Xu, you can go home first.”
Xu Yanhuan took off his apron and bid farewell to the owner without any hesitation. He walked into the rain without a second thought.
As he took a couple of steps outside, an umbrella covered the area above his head. Xu Yanhuan turned his face and saw Yu Xinqiao coming out behind him, holding a blue umbrella, smiling, and asking, “Don’t you check the weather forecast before going out?”
He actually did check it. The local weather was displayed on the home screen of his new phone, and it predicted rain at 19:00 in the evening.
He didn’t bring an umbrella because, when he left, the only umbrella they had at home was already packed in his mother’s bag by Xu Yanhuan.
Besides, he had long been accustomed to getting wet in the rain. As a future pillar of the family, he didn’t have enough time to hide under the eaves and wait for the rain to stop.
Therefore, when someone offered him an umbrella, Xu Yanhuan instinctively resisted.
He replied evasively, “No need.”
However, Yu Xinqiao still moved the umbrella closer to his side, covering his shoulder as well.
“You can catch a cold even in the summer rain,” Yu Xinqiao said. “Let’s go. I’ll take you home first.”
Xu Yanhuan couldn’t possibly accept his offer to be escorted.
Thus, a strange scene appeared on the road of the wholesale market—
A tall boy walked briskly in front, and a slightly shorter boy followed behind, holding an umbrella, running with all his might, splashing water under their feet, struggling to keep up.
Yu Xinqiao’s mouth was not idle as he chased after Xu Yanhuan. He asked, “Did you look at the English materials I gave you? Your English test scores have improved, and your ranking in the class has also gone up. That’s amazing. Are you aiming for first place in the final exams?”
“How did you study math? You even got a perfect score. I think those who attend cram schools are no match for you.”
“By the way, I saw that you have a mobile phone now. What’s your number? I’ll add you to our class group chat. A Kun and Xiao Yi are there too, and it will be convenient for future team training—Ah!”
Running too fast, Yu Xinqiao didn’t pay attention to the road and stepped into a puddle, letting out a scream before falling backward.
At the critical moment, Xu Yanhuan reached out and grabbed Yu Xinqiao’s arm, pulling him back.
This pull caused Yu Xinqiao to lunge straight into Xu Yanhuan’s embrace, and in the next second, his cheek was pressed against Xu Yanhuan’s chest. His free arm instinctively wrapped around Xu Yanhuan’s waist, and the two of them were entwined in an intimate posture.
After managing to regain their balance, Xu Yanhuan gently released Yu Xinqiao from his embrace. The flustered Yu Xinqiao raised the umbrella and awkwardly said, “Thank you.”
When he looked down, Yu Xinqiao not only saw his own shoes soaked and in a sorry state due to the dirty water but also noticed the hand that had tightly gripped his arm—the distinct joints of Xu Yanhuan’s hand.
Xu Yanhuan was also momentarily stunned, then he let go of Yu Xinqiao’s hand as if he had snapped out of a daze.
The sound of footsteps ceased, and the noise of raindrops hitting the umbrella fabric became more pronounced.
As if the space under the umbrella was isolated from the rest of the world, only two people remained, accompanied by some air to prevent suffocation and other unfamiliar sounds.
Yu Xinqiao also felt inexplicably holding his breath.
It was just a slight touch, nothing they hadn’t experienced before.
Their gazes darted around aimlessly, and Yu Xinqiao took on the responsibility of breaking the awkwardness. He raised his hand and pointed ahead, saying, “Look, are they selling tea eggs over there?”
It was still fifteen minutes before nine o’clock when Xu Yanhuan arrived home, drenched. He placed the plastic bag containing two tea eggs on the table.
Bai Wei came out of the inner room wearing a coat. “You’re back so early today. Why didn’t you answer my call?”
“It was noisy on the road, didn’t hear it,” Xu Yanhuan replied.
He took out his phone from his pocket, along with a blue envelope.
The edge of the envelope was damp from the rain, and it had a small tear, revealing a corner of two concert tickets featuring a piano’s black and white keys.
Yu Xinqiao had slipped it into his pocket when they bought the tea eggs. At that time, Xu Yanhuan held the umbrella with his left hand and carried the tea eggs with his right hand, unable to stop him.
Realizing he was looking for an excuse, Xu Yanhuan furrowed his brows and pressed his lips together. Then, he decisively threw the envelope, along with the tickets, into the trash can beside the table.
Worried that Xu Yanhuan might catch a cold from the rain, Bai Wei urged him to take a hot shower before going to bed.
Taking a hot shower meant pouring hot water from a kettle into a basin and mixing it with tap water. Standing in the cramped public bathroom, a person used a ladle to pour the mixed warm water onto their body.
Perhaps he had added too much hot water today, and the water was scalding. Pouring it on his body made him feel hot and uncomfortable, unable to distinguish whether it was washing away the rain or his own sweat.
After finishing the shower and returning to the room, Xu Yanhuan didn’t bother waiting for his hair to dry. He spread out the bed and lay down, closing his eyes.
It was still early, so he didn’t immediately fall asleep. Instead, his mind involuntarily retraced a recent memory.
A very close memory.
He saw a pair of fair hands extending beyond the edge of an umbrella, allowing rainwater to fill the palms.
Those hands should have been resting on black and white piano keys or encased in expensive silk gloves. But now, they were in a dirty place, beside him, reaching out to catch the slightly acidic raindrops.
He heard someone saying in a childish yet serious tone, “Wash your hands before eating.”
The cheap yet rich aroma of tea eggs permeated the surroundings. Each frame of the replayed scene seemed to slow down and elongate, allowing Xu Yanhuan to almost see the fine hairs on the back of the hand and further up, the equally fair and delicate forearm, bearing distinct red fingerprints.
He had pinched them.
But he shouldn’t have exerted so much force.
Late at night, in a dilapidated building near the Xuncheng North shantytown, Xu Yanhuan got up in the dark and reached for the trash can not far from his sleeping mat. He retrieved the envelope lying inside it.
Then he pulled out the ticket and placed it beside his pillow, allowing a beam of moonlight, dispersing the dark clouds, to shine upon it, illuminating the date and time printed on it.
It seemed that by doing just this, Xu Yanhuan could believe that even for him, a weekend filled with endless running and busy work could be something different.