37. I hold grudges.
On this year’s Christmas, Yu Xinqiao and Boss Huang celebrated together.
Boss Huang bought a bag of discounted apples from the neighboring fruit stall after Christmas Eve. He picked one, took a bite, found it too cold for his teeth, and asked Yu Xinqiao if she wanted to eat roasted apples.
Yu Xinqiao was feeling frustrated because he couldn’t find Xu Yanhuan in their usual spot. Upon hearing Boss Huang’s words, she sighed and said, “I want to eat a poisoned apple.”
Boss Huang chuckled and said, “You’re young, you don’t need to commit suicide over a heartbreak.”
Yu Xinqiao insisted that he hadn’t experienced a heartbreak and asked Boss Huang how he could tell she was heartbroken.
Boss Huang took out a small knife and cut off the top of the apple. “During these foreign holidays, even my workers went out to join the festivities. The ones left here are either the elderly, the weak, the sick, or the single elites.”
Indeed, it seemed that way. Not only did He Tangyue and Wang Kun go out on a date, but even Liang Yi and Shen Daye went to the movies together. Yu Xinqiao was left alone, sitting here accompanying the empty nest elderly.
“Hey, why did you include me in the category of the elderly, weak, and sick?”
Boss Huang also had his pride, so while making roasted apples, he told Yu Xinqiao a story.
He said that there was once a couple, childhood sweethearts deeply in love. They studied together in a higher education institution in a big city after passing the exams from their small town. They thought their future would be graduating, getting married, having children, and living a simple yet happy life. But before graduation, the girl met a prominent figure in their industry during her internship. The figure was attracted to her intelligence and beauty, offering her a smooth and prosperous future, asking her if she wanted to be his lover. The girl came from a poor background, just like the boy, so after intense internal struggle, she gave the decision-making power to the boy and asked him, “What should I choose?”
Upon hearing this, Yu Xinqiao couldn’t help but ask, “How did the boy respond?”
Boss Huang leisurely scooped out the apple core and smiled, saying, “I told her that before coming to ask me, she already had the answer in her heart.”
The ingredients in the store were incomplete, so Boss Huang gathered materials from the neighbors, barely managing to gather everything needed for roasted apples.
He used liquor as a substitute for brandy, white sugar instead of brown sugar, and mixed in raisins, crushed nuts, and other ingredients, stuffing them into the apples, covering them, and placing them in the oven.
When the aroma filled the air, Yu Xinqiao asked Boss Huang if he studied cooking in college. Boss Huang laughed heartily and said, “So, according to you, the big shot who took my woman must be the top chef in the industry?”
Yu Xinqiao pouted, “It takes two to tango. If that girl were determined enough, you wouldn’t have remained a widower for so long because of her.”
“I’m not a widower, I’m carefree and independent, living as I please.”
As Boss Huang spoke, he swayed over to the oven, casually picked up a book that was resting on top and tossed it to Yu Xinqiao, saying, “Don’t just practice the piano all day. Take some time to read too.”
Yu Xinqiao caught the book. It was titled “dāo fēng”, with an orange cover that had been flipped through many times, resulting in curled edges. He randomly flipped through it and saw a sentence marked with a pencil underline: “Unfortunately, sometimes a person cannot do what they believe is right without causing distress to another person.”
Yu Xinqiao couldn’t help but pause. He didn’t know in the story of the boy and the girl, or in any story for that matter, who was the one and who was the other.
And the preceding sentence that was overlooked consisted of only five words.
—”I truly love you.”
After Christmas, Yu Xinqiao’s job of grinding stones officially entered the final polishing stage.
He clamped the polished raw stone into a specialized tool, using diamond sandpaper and polishing paste to carefully polish each side. When he was halfway through, the hidden light inside the crystal faintly emerged. Yu Xinqiao took it out and looked at it in the darkness, his lips involuntarily curling upwards.
The flowing light was radiant, shining brightly, the blue moonlight he desired.
The eternal moonlight that complemented Xu Yanhuan.
However, after Christmas, Xu Yanhuan took leave and didn’t come to school.
Yu Xinqiao waited left and right, his neck constantly turning backward, almost unable to turn back anymore. In the end, he acted as a representative under the “recommendation” of others and went to the office to inquire about the situation.
With a second chance, Teacher Yang was grading papers. “Xu Yanhuan has some family matters and said he will come to take the final exam.”
With half a month left until the final exam, Yu Xinqiao couldn’t wait any longer. “What’s going on with his family? Taking such a long leave, don’t you ask about it?”
Teacher Yang replied, “If you’re concerned, why don’t you ask him yourself?”
Yu Xinqiao muttered, “He doesn’t answer my calls.”
“Teacher still suggests you focus on yourself more.” Teacher Yang put down the red pen and pulled out Yu Xinqiao’s paper from a pile of math exams. “Look, there are red crosses everywhere, even as an arts student, you shouldn’t…”
Before he could finish, Yu Xinqiao rushed out, “Thank you, Teacher! Goodbye, Teacher!”
A few more days passed, and Yu Xinqiao, who had searched every possible place, desperately went to the bar he had visited during the summer vacation.
He went during the daytime, when the bar was closed. The cleaning staff in the hall stopped him, so he squatted at the door and waited. It didn’t take long before the bar owner, Sister Huang, came out to meet him.
Sister Huang was still the same, wearing heavy makeup and a dress, wrapping herself in a coat due to the cold. She held a slender cigarette in her hand and smiled when she saw Yu Xinqiao, “Oh, isn’t this the student who comes in pairs?”
Yu Xinqiao felt somewhat embarrassed that she remembered him. However, his urgent need to find Xu Yanhuan took precedence. Ignoring Huang Jie’s teasing, he stood up and said, “Xu Yanhuan… the service staff I specified last time, is he working at your bar?”
Sister Huang rested her hand on her elbow and brought the cigarette to her lips for a puff. “No, he hasn’t been here since school started. After all, this isn’t a good place for him to work as a high school student. If it gets known, people will gossip.”
Yu Xinqiao wasn’t sure if her words had a hidden meaning. At least when he saw Xu Yanhuan being taken advantage of, the word “depravity” did come to Yu Xinqiao’s mind.
He heard that Xu Yanhuan hadn’t been here for a long time, and Yu Xinqiao slumped his shoulders, feeling disheartened.
He had searched everywhere he could.
After expressing his gratitude and turning to leave, Huang Jie called out to him from behind, “Little student, maybe it’s better not to hang yourself on one tree.”
Yu Xinqiao halted his steps.
“To put it simply, being a server was his choice. He didn’t refuse when someone made advances at him. Our servers only associate with wealthy people. People act in their own interests, and the heavens will annihilate them. Besides…”
Huang Jie exhaled a smoke ring and laughed, “How many men who like men are there in the world?”
After that, Yu Xinqiao, who had never had trouble sleeping before, couldn’t sleep well for several consecutive days.
Waking up in the middle of the night became the norm, and what was even more terrifying was the constant thoughts and dreams. In his dreams, Yu Xinqiao held his phone, facing the keypad, but always pressed the wrong numbers. Again and again, he pressed the wrong numbers, and again and again, he started over. He became so anxious that he broke out in a cold sweat, unable to make the call no matter what he did.
Even if he managed to dial, no one would answer.
At midnight, Yu Xinqiao sat up on his bed, regulated his breathing, and slowly got out of bed. He opened the door and went downstairs to the living room, where the workbench with tools was placed. He sat down in front of it.
He didn’t turn on the light, relying on the faint streetlight outside. He picked up the sandpaper, poured a bit of diamond powder, and continued polishing.
When he was awake, he had to find something to occupy himself; otherwise, he would wander into random thoughts. Why didn’t Xu Yanhuan come to class? Why doesn’t he answer my calls?
Is it because he can’t accept that I’m a man, so he’s avoiding me?
The result of being absent-minded was that Yu Xinqiao applied too much force with his right hand while polishing, causing the stone clamped in the iron tool to loosen. With a click, the stone flew out of the tool, and at the same time, the tool closed in the middle, firmly trapping Yu Xinqiao’s left index finger.
After the sharp pain, a lingering dull ache followed.
He used tissue paper to stop the bleeding, wrapped an ice pack with a towel, and applied it to his hand. It was too cold, and he subconsciously wanted to get gloves.
The gloves Xu Yanhuan had given him.
In the quiet late night, Yu Xinqiao sat alone in the empty living room, and he heard the sound of tears falling on the back of his hand with a thud.
If you were to ask Yu Xinqiao about his talents, crying after playing the piano would definitely be listed right after. There were so many situations where he wanted to cry, but not every time could he let the tears flow.
This time, he had held back for a long time, but he couldn’t suppress the overwhelming sadness in his heart. He found excuses for himself, saying it was because the wound hurt too much.
As he wiped away his tears, his hand accidentally brushed against the wound, causing even more pain.
Yu Xinqiao had grown up being influential wherever he went, never experiencing such humiliation.
He cried out loudly, crying and cursing at the same time, “Xu Yanhuan, you big villain!”
You seduced and ran away, you irresponsible scoundrel!
In anger, he picked up the gloves with his uninjured right hand, walked to the window, and threw them with force.
In less than three minutes, the door was pushed open, and Yu Xinqiao, wiping his tears, ran out and squatted on the ground, searching for the gloves he had just thrown. After struggling to find them among the dry grass, he dusted them off while scolding himself for being weak.
As he stood up, Yu Xinqiao realized that he was standing at the same spot by the bathroom window where Xu Yanhuan had stood when he came to rescue him.
That day, he had mistaken Xu Yanhuan for a prince, and he saw himself as the lettuce boy trapped in a tall tower.
But reality wasn’t a fairy tale, and rarely did reality have a perfect ending.
Moreover, this story was one-sided from beginning to end, with Xu Yanhuan never giving any clear response.
After that night, whether due to a hidden premonition or accepting reality, Yu Xinqiao stopped looking for Xu Yanhuan. When classmates asked, he would calmly say, “He doesn’t want us to find him. Even if we turn the whole city upside down, it won’t make a difference.”
Time flew by, and it was the end-of-term exams. Five major subjects were compressed into two days, and the closing ceremony was scheduled for the evening of the last day, utilizing every minute to the fullest.
Exam seating arrangements were based on the previous exam scores, and Yu Xinqiao had average grades, so he took the exam in the classroom upstairs with the humanities class. After finishing the exams on the first day and returning to his own class, he heard from Liang Yi that Xu Yanhuan had returned.
“But I heard from a classmate in the exam room that he arrived just in time for the exam and left right after it,” Liang Yi observed Yu Xinqiao, who still had bandages on his hand, and suggested, “Why don’t you try blocking him at the school gate tomorrow?”
Yu Xinqiao nodded, “Okay, I got it.”
The next morning, Liang Yi, who was in the exam room next to Yu Xinqiao, took a sick leave. Yu Xinqiao called him, and Liang Yi sounded deliberately weak on the phone, saying he had a fever and couldn’t get out of bed.
But Yu Xinqiao clearly heard the sound of car horns in the background.
At this moment, Yu Xinqiao didn’t have time to delve into the true reason for Liang Yi’s absence from the exam. In the afternoon, during the last English exam, Yu Xinqiao finished half an hour early, rolled up his pencil case haphazardly in a piece of scratch paper, and headed towards the school gate.
He guessed that Xu Yanhuan wouldn’t be back in class today, let alone attend the closing ceremony in the evening.
Sure enough, not long after, about ten minutes before the exam was over, Xu Yanhuan, wearing the school uniform, came out of a classroom on the first floor. His hands were in his pockets, and he walked with his head down. When he lifted his gaze near the school gate, he froze in place.
Yu Xinqiao approached him, meeting his gaze, and asked, “Where have you been these days?”
He no longer held hope; he just wanted an explanation for himself.
However, Xu Yanhuan pursed his lips, remained silent, and even averted his gaze.
As they were about to pass each other, Yu Xinqiao took two steps back, opened his arms, and blocked Xu Yanhuan’s path.
“I have something to give you,” he said.
But Xu Yanhuan only glanced briefly at his bandaged hand and coldly said, “Move aside.”
In the evening, it was the busiest time in Xuncheng.
Neon lights shimmered on both sides of the roads in the old town, bustling with people going home from work and school. The joyful sounds from shops washed away their fatigue, and the enticing aromas from various restaurants made their mouths water, causing their pace to quicken involuntarily.
With the approaching festive season, despite the cold weather, everything felt warm and cozy.
At this moment, sitting on the bus and looking at the lively scenes outside through the window, Xu Yanhuan felt out of place, observing with cold eyes.
Even if Yu Xinqiao also boarded the bus and sat behind him, Xu Yanhuan didn’t dare to turn his head. He was afraid that one more glance would make it difficult for him to remain firm, and he also feared that Xu Zhen might still be lurking nearby.
After the commotion last time, Xu Zhen didn’t dare to easily force him anymore. After all, no matter how much money he had, it wouldn’t matter if he lost his life. But it couldn’t be guaranteed that nothing would happen, considering Xu Zhen was a desperate ruffian with nothing left. When he came to his senses, he might gather his courage again and do something outrageously crazy.
As long as he stayed in Xuncheng, he couldn’t be completely safe unless he returned to the capital, beyond Xu Zhen’s reach.
He clenched his fist, which was in his pocket, and touched the scar on his prominent knuckle. Xu Yanhuan silently made a decision in his heart.
Half an hour later, the bus arrived at the stop, and the two of them got off, one after the other. They walked along the street to a less crowded area, and Xu Yanhuan suddenly turned around, facing Yu Xinqiao.
Yu Xinqiao also stopped and looked at him quietly from two meters away.
“I thought you would stay far away from me?” Xu Yanhuan spoke first. “Why are you following me?”
His tone was low, always giving off an extreme sense of indifference. Yu Xinqiao was not oblivious to his resistance and alienation, but he hadn’t finished what he intended to do.
“You moved?” Yu Xinqiao said. “I have something to give you.”
As expected, Xu Yanhuan ignored the question. He lowered his gaze and glanced at what Yu Xinqiao held in his hand. “What is this? Is it valuable?”
“If I take it to a pawnshop, how much can I get for it?”
Even though Yu Xinqiao was mentally prepared, hearing these words directly from Xu Yanhuan’s mouth still made his blood rush to his head.
He took a deep breath, forcing himself. “This is a blue moonstone that I personally polished…”
“Well, I don’t want it,” Xu Yanhuan said without much emotion. “You can go now, don’t follow me.”
“Xu Yanhuan,” Yu Xinqiao raised his voice, “What’s wrong with you? What happened?”
The Xu Yanhuan he knew wasn’t like this, but after not seeing him for a month, why had he completely changed?
The silence didn’t last long before Xu Yanhuan’s face turned wooden. “Nothing happened. I just don’t want to see you. Is that not allowed?”
Intuition told Yu Xinqiao that something was definitely wrong.
There must be some problem that he couldn’t see, which caused Xu Yanhuan to say such things.
Thus, when he
heard the words “unless,” Yu Xinqiao’s eyes brightened, filled with a sense of hope in a desperate situation.
But Xu Yanhuan looked at him and said, “Unless you can give me a lot of money.”
“I don’t need worthless things.”
In the dim twilight, a putrid smell permeated the air.
It was the Xu Yanhuan that Yu Xinqiao remembered, someone who remained independent and alert even in the darkness, crumbling bit by bit.
After an unknown period of time, Yu Xinqiao heard himself ask, “Then how much do you want?”
“You can’t afford it,” Xu Yanhuan said.
Everything Yu Xinqiao currently owned was given by his parents, and he really couldn’t afford it.
“That means you’ve never…,” Yu Xinqiao began to speak.
“Never,” Xu Yanhuan’s voice was cold and heavy, as if it came from the abyss. “I hate you, I’ve always hated you.”
And Yu Xinqiao, it seemed, had already developed an immunity to these hurtful words. It was as if the blood that had accumulated on top of his head had already solidified into ice.
No wonder there was never a response. It turned out he was hated, and it had been difficult to endure until now.
Yu Xinqiao found himself split into two people. One was extremely calm, standing in the cold winter and ignoring the cold wind that felt like knives. The other cowered behind, curled up into a ball, covering his ears and refusing to listen.
For no reason, he thought of the night with thunderstorms and power outages when Xu Yanhuan asked him not to hate him.
“Why should I?” Yu Xinqiao laughed lightly. “You hate me, but you don’t allow me to hate you. Why?”
“Because you like me,” Xu Yanhuan said. “Just go, please, go as far away as possible. I don’t want to deal with you anymore.”
Yu Xinqiao found it somewhat ridiculous. The liking he had never expressed was directly spoken by the person he liked, devoid of any romantic charm, only the pain of his heart being pulled apart.
This rejection was more painful than all the countless times before.
When the conversation reached this point, continuing would only be humiliating. Xu Yanhuan even used the word “please.”
Yu Xinqiao’s throat choked, as if something wanted to overflow, from his eyes, from his heart that had been torn to shreds.
His wrist trembled, and the moonstone in his hand slipped and fell, making a clang sound. It may have shattered, just like his seemingly tough but actually fragile heart.
Something that was worthless and unwanted, why bother picking it up again?
So, without even glancing at it, Yu Xinqiao put his hand wrapped in gauze back into his pocket and swallowed a mouthful of cold air. “I will leave, but not because of you.”
In the final moment, he was grateful for his rationality, for not losing face and preserving his dignity.
“We were never meant to be together. Let’s just consider this past year as me accompanying you for a while. In the future, it’s best if we never see each other again in this lifetime. Even if we accidentally meet, please stay away from me.”
“Otherwise, I can’t guarantee that I won’t retaliate against you.”
“I hold grudges.”
When the sky was completely dark, sitting on the bus back to the school, the grudge-holding Yu Xinqiao rested his head against the window. Unable to make any sound due to the crowded bus, he couldn’t help but cry.
He held on until he got on the bus, and only then did he finally relax, allowing the weak version of himself hiding behind to replace the cracked facade of strength.
He took out his phone and called his parents. When his mother’s voice came through, tears flowed even more violently. He had accumulated so much bitterness to share, but in the end, only one sentence remained: “Mom, I want to go home…”
About a hundred meters away from the bus stop, Xu Yanhuan walked back from the darkness to the dim streetlight, bent down, and picked up a stone lying on the ground.
A round stone, emitting a blue glow.
He rubbed it against his school uniform jacket, brushed off the dust, and the glow grew brighter, like a full moon unobscured by clouds.
It reminded him of the song Yu Xinqiao hummed that day by the window of the dormitory building.
Look, look, the moon’s face is secretly changing.
Later, Xu Yanhuan had listened to the whole song from beginning to end and knew the first two lines were:
Is it time to break up?
Can’t bear to let you see my tear-streaked face.
Looking up, the car had already driven far away, and he couldn’t see anything.
Xu Yanhuan still stood there for a long time, until the moon reached its zenith, and the shadows of people and objects almost merged, becoming a lonely entity.
It seemed as if he and his shadow were bound together in place.
The recollections are all over, and Yu Xinqiao’s memories after amnesia also stopped here.
Certified member of the IIO(International Introverts Organization), PhD holder in Overthinking and Ghosting, Spokesperson for BOBAH(Benefits of Being a Homebody), Founder of SFA(Salted Fish Association), Brand Ambassador for Couch Potato fall line Pajama set.