The night before the concert, Yu Xinqiao couldn’t sleep well.
His physical condition was average, and he used to catch a cold every change of season. Even though the weather was hot at the moment, he immediately took a hot shower when he returned home, but the cold wind at night made his throat hurt.
There were common medicines at home, so Yu Xinqiao took a Kaiflex pill and swallowed it. He lay in bed for half an hour but still couldn’t fall asleep.
Deciding to get up, he started playing the piano.
The best thing about living in a detached house was not having to worry about disturbing others. From scales to exercises, as his fingers moved, Yu Xinqiao opened the music score and began playing the pieces for tomorrow’s concert.
In contrast to the afternoon at Mr. Huang’s shop, Yu Xinqiao became more and more excited as he played. His fingers flew and danced on the piano keys, and a thin layer of sweat formed on his forehead.
The reason for such excitement, apart from the concert tomorrow featuring his favorite performer, was also the stimulation he had received at the wholesale market earlier that day.
At the time, he didn’t think much of it, but in the silence of the night, he realized his cheeks were burning like they could fry an egg, and his heart was pounding like a drum.
Did he hug him? A solid and firm embrace. He could still recall the hardness and elasticity of Xu Yanhuan’s chest, as well as the sensation of his waist, which was full of resilience.
Unable to resist, Yu Xinqiao raised his hand and looked at his palm. The music stopped, and all was quiet. He felt embarrassed about his foolish behavior.
The night passed in a blur, and Yu Xinqiao woke up early on the weekend. He brushed his teeth, washed his face, and tidied his hair. It took him half an hour to choose what to wear for the day, even if they were just basic T-shirts and shorts. He wanted to coordinate the colors.
Once ready, he prepared a cup of hot milk and took out the leftover tea eggs from yesterday for breakfast. Yu Xinqiao playfully started divination, peeling one piece of eggshell and saying, “Come,” then peeling another piece and saying, “Don’t come,” repeating the process. In the end, only a fragment of eggshell remained. Yu Xinqiao couldn’t accept it, so he forcefully broke the eggshell into two pieces and carefully peeled it off.
“Don’t come, come… OK, I knew he would come!”
It wasn’t Yu Xinqiao’s confidence but rather the fact that yesterday, in front of the tea egg stall, he had stuffed the envelope containing the concert tickets into Xu Yanhuan’s pocket.
Both tickets were in there, which meant that if Xu Yanhuan didn’t come, Yu Xinqiao wouldn’t be able to attend the concert either.
After all, he had been pursuing him for two months, and while Yu Xinqiao couldn’t claim to completely understand Xu Yanhuan’s character, he had at least gained some understanding.
Xu Yanhuan didn’t like taking advantage of others, and if he accidentally did, he would immediately repay the favor, even if it meant suffering himself. Xu Yanhuan was also very responsible. He had made an oral agreement with the barbecue stall owner to go there every day, rain or shine.
So he would definitely come.
With renewed confidence, Yu Xinqiao stuffed a tea egg into his mouth and as he chewed, he started smiling.
Thinking about how he couldn’t free up his hand yesterday and handed the umbrella to Xu Yanhuan, his bewildered expression, and the subsequent instinctive tilt of the umbrella towards himself.
Looking at the sky outside the window, Yu Xinqiao wondered if there would be another timely rain today.
On the other side at the same time, Xu Yanhuan also looked up at the sky. The sun, hanging high in the sky, was obscured by thick clouds, and faint light leaked through the gaps.
On weekend mornings, he usually looked for odd jobs at the market. Today, there were a few new pianos at Mr. Huang’s second-hand piano shop, and Xu Yanhuan helped with the moving. Mr. Huang paid him a hundred yuan and treated him to lunch.
The workers who were moving together were surprised and said, “Why are you so generous today? Did you win big from betting on football yesterday?”
“No, I didn’t win,” Mr. Huang waved his hand as if he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. “I just wanted to treat you guys. If you don’t want to eat, you can leave now.”
One of the workers sat down on the reclining chair at the door and said, “I’ll eat, I’ll eat even if you ask me to eat shit.”
He didn’t mean it literally, but Mr. Huang didn’t treat them to anything special either. Each person got a box of fast food, the standard three dishes and a soup.
While eating and chatting, the workers were curious about whether Mr. Huang made money or not from his fishing and gambling activities over the past few days. Mr. Huang smirked and said, “It’s alright, enough to get by.”
They also talked about football betting and odds calculations. Mr. Huang admitted that he wasn’t good at math and had been blindly guessing for all these years. In the end, his income and expenses balanced out, and he felt lonely playing.
“As long as you break even, it’s not considered a loss. It’s all about the thrill,” one of the workers said excitedly. “The European Championship is coming soon. You should take me along then…”
With a loud bang, Xu Yanhuan slammed his empty plate on the table.
The worker’s shoulder twitched. “What’s with the commotion? You scared me.”
Thinking that Xu Yanhuan wasn’t interested, he turned to continue chatting with Mr. Huang. But Xu Yanhuan stood up directly, kicked the chair away, and walked outside.
Not long after, Mr. Huang finished eating and came out, a cigarette in his mouth, smiling as he watched Xu Yanhuan tying his shoelaces at the entrance. “What’s wrong? Does hearing the word ‘gambling’ make you unhappy?”
Xu Yanhuan didn’t even raise his head. “No.”
Mr. Huang was one of the few people in the wholesale market who knew about Xu Yanhuan’s family situation. When Xu Yanhuan came here half a year ago and asked if they were hiring, Mr. Huang thought he was underage and asked if he had any “compelling reasons for me to hire you.” Xu Yanhuan said, “My father owes 600,000 yuan in gambling debts. I need to earn money to support my family.”
The look in Xu Yanhuan’s eyes at that time was something Mr. Huang couldn’t forget even now.
In less than a year, Xu Yanhuan had grown up and looked like an adult, but he was still a child after all. He couldn’t hide his emotions on his face and would let the whole world know if he wasn’t happy.
But he stubbornly refused to admit it.
“I’m too lazy to take that kid in my house to bet on football,” Mr. Huang chuckled, his eyes narrowing into slits. “You know me, if I have spare money, I’ll gamble a bit; if I don’t, I’ll get a good night’s sleep. Just like those old men playing with walnuts and walking their birds, it’s a hobby that doesn’t affect work and life.”
Only then did Xu Yanhuan react. He looked up and glanced at the sign hanging at the entrance of the shop – “Closed today, please call 158xxxxxxxx if you need anything.”
It was a direct contradiction. Mr. Huang scratched his head awkwardly and said, “I can’t keep a piano shop like this open every day. Since your little friend ran off, I put up this sign. Anyway, my regular customers won’t go anywhere else.”
Speaking of the little friend, Xu Yanhuan’s hand paused unnaturally.
He couldn’t escape Mr. Huang’s sharp eyes. Mr. Huang saw through it but didn’t expose it, making an exaggerated gesture of turning his head to look at the wall clock. “Oh, it’s already one o’clock. If you have a date, you can go back, freshen up, and leave now. Perfect timing!”
The concert was from three to five in the afternoon at the Xuncheng Music Hall in the eastern part of the city.
Coincidentally or not, there wasn’t much work at the market today. Before leaving, Xu Yanhuan visited several familiar shops, but they all said their goods hadn’t arrived yet.
On the way back, Xu Yanhuan used his mobile phone to search for the concert. Looking at the images that appeared, both the performers on stage and the audience below were dressed formally, sitting upright. Xu Yanhuan suddenly hesitated.
He didn’t have formal attire; his newest clothes were a white T-shirt and sweatpants he bought from a street vendor last year.
If he couldn’t get in dressed like that, Xu Yanhuan thought, then he would let Yu Xinqiao go in alone to listen.
After all, he didn’t understand classical music anyway.
“Are you the son of the family in Apartment 208?” an Auntie quickly stopped him. “You came back just in time!”
Seeing the Auntie’s expression, Xu Yanhuan’s heart sank. “Yes, what’s wrong?”
“There’s a man looking for you at your home. Your mother didn’t open the door, so he kicked it open. Right now…”
Without waiting for the Auntie to finish, Xu Yanhuan rushed up like a gust of wind.
From the hallway, he could already see the door to his home wide open, along with the seemingly useless security door. Nearby residents heard the commotion and gathered around, pointing and discussing.
Pushing through the crowd and entering, Xu Yanhuan gasped for breath. The scene before him made his eyes burn with rage.
The house was in complete disarray, the only table overturned in the corner, the fabric wardrobe toppled over, clothes scattered all over the floor, and even a few bowls were not spared, all shattered into pieces.
And his mother, Bai Wei, was being pinned down on the ground by a thin man, who was pulling her hair back.
“Run, try running again, let’s see where you can run!” The man, wearing a yellowed vest and a scruffy beard, looked menacing as he stared. “Quickly tell me where the money is! If you don’t, I’ll beat you to death!”
As soon as the words fell, a dark figure pounced at him, followed by a powerful punch to the face.
On the third weekend of May, the weather forecast said it would rain at 17:00, but it actually started at 16:00.
When he was lifted onto the ambulance, a drop of rain fell on his eyelid. Xu Yanhuan struggled to open his eyes and vaguely saw a blue umbrella covering his head.
Still having some strength left, he reached into his pocket to grab his phone, but it wasn’t there. Only then did he remember that when he was beaten by Xu Zhen earlier, his phone fell to the ground and Xu Zhen picked it up and smashed it against the wall, shattering the screen.
While Xu Yanhuan went to help his mother up, Xu Zhen took the clay pot at the door and smashed it onto his shoulder.
“Mom,” Xu Yanhuan heard his own voice sounding gravelly, “what time is it now?”
Bai Wei, with a disheveled and tear-streaked face, said, “Don’t talk, be good, let’s not talk for now. Mom will take you to the hospital, going to the hospital will be fine, you won’t bleed anymore.”
For a brief moment, Xu Yanhuan thought he was dreaming.
Clearly, this morning, Bai Wei saw the concert ticket on his bedside table and was happy for him making new friends. Clearly, they had just moved and their life was getting back on track. He joined the class basketball team, his mother found a new job, and she even bought him a phone.
Everything was progressing in a positive direction, and he even began to have expectations for tomorrow.
It must be a dream, that’s why it’s so dark, so terrible.
His body was fixed on a stretcher, unable to move. Xu Yanhuan opened his mouth, trying to say something. Bai Wei leaned in to listen, and he asked, “What should we do?”
What should we do when the concert ticket is with me?
What should we do when I haven’t had a chance to tell him that I can’t go with him?
Four days later, on Friday.
Dragging his still unhealed body into the classroom, sitting down at his seat, Yu Xinqiao slowly noticed that it seemed unusually quiet around him after he entered.
The student in front, Liang Yi, turned around. “Qiao, promise me that you’ll stay calm.”
Yu Xinqiao felt like he couldn’t stay calm at all. “Xu Yanhuan came back to class?”
This was the first time Liang Yi heard him call Xu Yanhuan by his full name, and it felt unbearably uncomfortable.
“He arrived in the classroom early this morning, but now he’s been called to the head teacher’s office.” Liang Yi said.
Yu Xinqiao nodded and simply said, “Oh.”
After a while, he asked again, “Is he doing okay? Is he not sick?”
“Oh my, what does it matter whether he’s sick or not at this point? Anyway, I think he looks fine, running and jumping. But you…” Liang Yi observed Yu Xinqiao’s expression, “If you’re not feeling well, why don’t you stay at home for a few more days? Why rush to come to school?”
Ignoring the latter part of the sentence, Yu Xinqiao nodded again. “It’s nothing. It’s good as long as he’s fine.”
That day, he waited at the entrance of the music hall from dawn till dusk, from sunny weather to pouring rain.
He brought an umbrella, and there was a long overhang at the entrance, so he didn’t get wet. But perhaps because of the cold wind the day before, he still caught a severe cold afterward.
Feverish and dazed, Yu Xinqiao made sure his phone was fully charged and on standby, fearing he might miss a message.
Any message that could have been sent by Xu Yanhuan.
At the tea egg stall, using the class group chat, Yu Xinqiao managed to pry Xu Yanhuan’s phone number out of him. He had originally planned to wait until after the concert, when they would each go home, before sending him the first text message. It could have been “Are you home?” or “Goodnight, sweet dreams.”
Yu Xinqiao’s sense of ceremony always played out in strange places, so he didn’t want to ruin this unexpected romance. He kept waiting until the concert started and couldn’t reach him on the phone before finally sending the first text message to Xu Yanhuan: It’s Yu Xinqiao. Are you busy?
After the concert ended, he anxiously sent the second message: What happened? Your phone has been unreachable the whole time.
The third message carried a hint of frustration: Where did you go? I couldn’t find you anywhere, and I almost got hit by a car!
Out of worry, Yu Xinqiao flagged down a taxi and rushed to the wholesale market. When he got off, a van suddenly turned at the intersection, narrowly missing him and splashing him with water. The result was that the barbecue stall owner said that Xiao Xu hadn’t come today, and the piano seller,Mr. Huang, said that Xiao Xu had gone home at noon.
Yu Xinqiao didn’t know where Xu Yanhuan lived, and amidst his anger, he also felt wronged. Even if he didn’t want to keep the appointment, he could have made a phone call or sent a text message. His phone number was written on the back of the envelope, in a place that could easily be seen.
Even if he really didn’t want to input his number into the phone, he could have replied to the text message. As long as Xu Yanhuan gave a reason, even if it was made up, Yu Xinqiao would believe it.
But there was nothing.
Xu Yanhuan didn’t refuse, but he also didn’t show up for the appointment. He disappeared without a word, making Yu Xinqiao worry for four days and nights. Then suddenly, as if nothing had happened, he reappeared, still wearing that cold and indifferent expression that never smiled.
Returning to the classroom, Xu Yanhuan walked straight to his own seat.
He took out his books and pencil case from his bag, and when he raised his hand, it pulled at the wound on his shoulder. His face turned pale for a moment, but Xu Yanhuan clenched his teeth and remained silent.
He was afraid of being discovered and having to make up a fight to cover it up. The school was also afraid of trouble. If they knew that he had beaten up his biological father to the point of severe injuries, their likely approach would be to persuade him to drop out.
He couldn’t let his mother kneel down to anyone for him anymore.
Taking a deep breath, he stood up straight and caught a glimpse of a slender figure by the desk next to his. Xu Yanhuan instinctively averted his eyes, pretending not to have seen it.
But some things couldn’t be avoided or escaped. Just like now, not only the whole class but the entire school knew that Xu Yanhuan from Class 3 of the second year had stood up Yu Xinqiao. To put it more harshly, Xu Yanhuan had played with Yu Xinqiao, causing him to lose face in front of the whole school, and making him expect to be drenched in heavy rain and fall to the bottom.
Dozens of pairs of eyes in the class gathered on the two of them, and it was foreseeable that during the next break, the content of their conversation would become known throughout the school.
Even so, Yu Xinqiao still asked, “Did you receive my text messages?”
“No,” Xu Yanhuan replied.
“I also called you many times.”
After a moment of silence, Yu Xinqiao asked, “Is something happening at home?”
He had prepared a reason for Xu Yanhuan, but Xu Yanhuan knew what he wanted to ask.
“Then, is it—”
Just now, in the office, when the homeroom teacher asked why he hadn’t come to class these past few days, his answer was also those two words, “I forgot.”
This was the simplest and least likely answer to go wrong. When most people hear such a response to their questions, they usually won’t inquire further.
Because the attitude has been made clear, not caring, not taking it to heart, that’s why it was forgotten.
When enough disappointment sets in, one can no longer continue asking.
Sure enough, Yu Xinqiao said, “I waited for you at the entrance of the music hall for half a day.” He laughed lightly, “You have such a cold heart.”
The tone was somewhat joking, almost devoid of any blame, and even seemed indifferent.
However, just now when Xu Yanhuan entered the classroom, he had already seen Yu Xinqiao’s pale, ashen face, as if he had just recovered from a serious illness.
It easily brought to mind an apple placed on an old, dilapidated table. No matter how fresh it is, in such a cramped and narrow space, surrounded by decaying, dirty air, it will gradually lose moisture, lose its luster, and eventually wither away.
Suddenly feeling a dry throat, Xu Yanhuan’s Adam’s apple rolled lightly as he swallowed a gulp of air.
He thought of the homeroom teacher’s earnest advice in the office just now: “Your age is the time to acquire knowledge. Don’t disregard discipline just because you’re a bit clever, and don’t think you know everything. The world is so vast, the more you learn, the broader your future path will be.”
Upon hearing the word “future,” Xu Yanhuan almost burst out laughing.
A person like me, what future do I have?
Those people were all correct. Not only does he have no future himself, but he will also drag the people around him into the mire. Getting close to him will only lead to unhappiness.
What those people said was not only a fact but also the truth.
Standing in front of him was a living example.
So Xu Yanhuan didn’t think about anything, didn’t allow himself to think about anything.
He heard his own numb voice, devoid of any emotion, saying, “Then why are you still pursuing?”
Cherish life, stay away from gambling.
Damn XYH has it rough. But I also feel bad for my Xiao Qiao. They’re both pitiful 😭