When Shen Jie received He Chao's phone call, it was close to 1am.
He groggily reached for his phone, fumbling around for a while before realizing he had only managed to drool on himself. He sat up, feeling less than pleased. "...Who is it, calling at this time of night?"
Being abruptly woken up from a deep sleep would irritate anyone, but Shen Jie's attitude changed immediately when he saw the words "Brother Chao" on his phone screen.
"Brother Chao, what can I do for you?" Shen Jie turned on his bedside lamp and sat up. "On this quiet night, would you like some spicy crayfish or the famous pan-fried buns from Yang Yuan Road? Or perhaps some company to chat with?"
Shen Jie was ready for anything, but all He Chao said was, "I have a question for you."
"Ask! Just ask!"
"Do you think, Xie Yu...yes, that Xie Yu you know," He Chao didn't know how to say it. He scratched his head, hesitated for two seconds, and asked a question that would keep Shen Jie awake all night, "Would he agree to let me hug him to sleep?"
Shen Jie felt like he had been hit by a truck. "What?"
He had only been going to Class 3 less frequently recently. Did he miss something important?
Why did things develop in such a strange direction?
Was he dreaming? Maybe he hadn't woken up yet?
"Brother Chao, I think, whether it's the Xie Yu I know or the Xie Yu you know, neither of them would agree," Shen Jie replied in a daze, "I can't even imagine how many ways you could die."
He Chao said, "Is this matter so absolute?"
Shen Jie said confidently, "Absolutely, more than absolute."
After hanging up the phone, Shen Jie felt that his brother was disappointed in him. It wasn't just any ordinary disappointment, but a mix of many indescribable emotions that made it hard to read.
The next day, Xie Yu didn't wait for He Chao to come knocking on his door to have breakfast together.
Before leaving, he looked over at the dormitory across from him. The door was tightly shut and there was no movement. After hesitating for a moment, he decided not to knock on the door and went straight to the classroom.
"When it comes to our school dormitory building, it's really eerie," as soon as he entered the classroom, he heard Wan Da spreading all sorts of rumors, "Didn't I say I heard knocking on the door on the second floor a few days ago? It was gone last night, really strange. Many people heard it, it's definitely not a hallucination."
Liu Cunhao didn't live on campus, so he wasn't affected by these strange rumors. "Don't scare yourselves here. There's nothing to it. Believe in science, okay? Follow me in saying, 'Believe in science.'"
Xu Qingqing said, "Mr. Know-It-All, say it once or twice and be done with it. Don't keep going on. Why hasn't anything like this happened in our girls' dorm? If it really comes to knock on my door, I'll just open it and smash its head in."
Just then, a male student below slowly raised his hand and said, "I...I heard it too. It's true. There was knocking on the third floor last night."
He Chao didn't come, but Shen Jie ran to Class 3 very diligently.
Shen Jie sat in He Chao's seat and asked, "Where's Brother Chao? Hasn't he come yet?"
Xie Yu gave him a meaningful look and let him figure it out for himself.
Shen Jie figured it out, knowing he was being scolded for saying the obvious, but he was curious if He Chao had actually carried out his strange and dangerous thought last night. He asked, "Did you sleep well last night?"
The rumor about the knocking on the third floor had caused a stir, and Xie Yu immediately classified him as a gossipmonger. He retorted, "What do you think?"
"I think maybe...you experienced some...um...harassment?"
When He Chao arrived, half of the morning class had already passed.
"Brother Chao, Teacher Tang asked you to go to his office at noon," Liu Cunhao had just returned from the teacher's office and saw He Chao walking slowly towards the classroom. He paused and added, "Your dark circles are quite heavy."
He Chao woke up in a hurry and didn't have time to tidy up. He was busy stuffing the red string necklace into his school uniform collar with his head down. "Got it."
In the morning, Tang Sen received a complaint from the teacher that the students from their class were always absent. Did they seemed to think that school was like home, and they could come to class whenever they wanted?
Tang Sen apologized on behalf of the absent student and tried to calm down the angry teachers. "Yes, I will talk to him. It's unacceptable."
When the absent student, He Chao, arrived, Tang Sen was ready with a long speech and wanted to have a good chat with him.
"Student He Chao, take a seat."
For the first time, He Chao encountered a teacher who invited him to sit down. He sat down skeptically and then heard Tang Sen say the second half of the sentence: "...because our conversation today might be a little bit longer than usual."
Half an hour later, He Chao realized just how much "a little bit longer than usual" really meant.
"I know you young people have your own ideas, and it's normal not to like studying," Tang Sen said, pausing to take a few sips of water before continuing, "I completely understand. But avoiding a subject you're not interested in is not a good solution. A man should have fighting spirit, be willing to take on challenges, and climb to new heights."
He Chao interrupted, "...How much longer do you plan on talking?"
Tang Sen glanced at his written outline and spoke truthfully, "I've only covered about three-fifths of the content so far. There are still a few big sections left."
Finally, the bell rang and Tang Sen stopped talking, "So, let's stop here for our conversation today."
As the sound of the bell faded, He Chao stood up, ready to leave. But Tang Sen changed the subject, "Those dark circles under your eyes..."
He Chao leaned against the door, feeling that being called in for a talk with the teacher was such a hassle, "We young people have a rich nightlife."
After He Chao returned, he collapsed onto his desk and fell asleep.
His collar was unbuttoned, revealing a red string hanging from his neck. Xie Yu accidentally caught a glimpse and thought it was quite scandalous.
Several girls were standing in the hallway, pointing at them and whispering excitedly with their hands covering their mouths.
Since the beginning of the school year, this group of girls had been hanging out together, each with a water bottle in hand. They would come to the hallway during every break, fill their bottles with hot water, and then stand there with their bottles, seemingly doing nothing.
Some students in the class even bet on who they were there to see. Wan Da put fifty yuan on it and couldn't wait any longer, so he bravely went to ask He Chao for help in figuring it out.
At the time, He Chao said with a smirk, "They must be here to see me."
He walked over to the window, propped his hand on the windowsill, and before he could say anything else, the group of girls covered their faces and ran away.
Wan Da immediately jumped up and shouted, "I won! Yes!"
He Chao still didn't quite understand, "What did you win? Who were they here to see? They didn't even say anything before running away...how rude."
Wan Da came back to his senses from his excitement and realized something was off. "Brother Chao, your understanding of a girl's thoughts...is really not strong..."
"Hey," Xie Yu called out.
He Chao did not respond.
Xie Yu leaned back and picked up his English book, rolled it up in his hand, and knocked it on He Chao's head.
"...What are you doing?" He Chao opened one eye.
Xie Yu pointed to his chest. "Your shirt, wear it properly."
He Chao still hadn't fully reacted. "Huh?"
Xie Yu said, "It's an eyesore."
He Chao buttoned up his shirt and said, "Are you blind? I have a great figure."
Xie Yu asked, "Did you not sleep last night?"
He Chao looked up. "After sitting next to each other for so many days, you finally care about me?"
"Indeed," Xie Yu mocked without hesitation, "I'm concerned about whether you were scared by the knocking last night and couldn't sleep."
In his mind, He Chao thought that he was so scared he nearly went mad.
He had never been afraid of anything, except for ghosts.
His mother used to tell him horror stories as if they were Grimm's Fairy Tales, but it didn't give him any immunity. Instead, it left a deep childhood trauma that became a conditioned reflex.
But he had his pride.
"How could that be?" He Chao repeated, "That's impossible."
"What are you guys talking about?" Wan Da walked over and took a seat in the nearby empty spot. "Um, to be honest, I have something to ask you guys."
Liu Cunhao also strolled over and said, "Can we take a look at your notes?"
The next class was an English dictation.
Their English teacher in class was very strict about vocabulary. If the students didn't pass the memorization test, they would have to spend extra time in her office to redo it.
The classmates had already prepared their "notes" on their desks. They had all made some small adjustments, with the only difference being how much they had written down. Wan Da and Liu Cunhao argued over whose cheat sheet was better: "Look at mine, it's definitely foolproof. Yours is outdated..."
Liu Cunhao covered up the cheat sheet on his desk with his book and felt satisfied with himself. "You don't know anything. Mine has stood the test of time."
As they continued to argue, they unintentionally discovered the two worst students in the class were either sleeping or playing on their phones, completely unfazed.
"Maybe those two have already made their cheat sheets?"
"I don't think it's safe to write on the desk. Why don't we ask them? They have more experience," said Xie Yu.
"Their skills must be extraordinary, god-tier."
He Chao gave a standard answer under their hopeful gaze, "Why make things complicated? Just open the book and copy it."
Xie Yu: "..."
Wan Da was puzzled for a moment before realizing, "Not copying is better than copying."
"Literally amazing," added Liu Cunhao.
However, it turned out that He Chao was not as skilled as they had imagined.
Even after opening the book, they couldn't find the words.
"Where is it?" He Chao flipped through the pages, "Why is it in English one moment and Chinese the next? Is this the vocabulary for this class?"
Xie Yu had always thought that he had perfected the role of a bad student over the past few years. But now he realized that he still had a long way to go. The real bad students were even more foolish than he had imagined.