Gu Xuelan's birthday is in two days.
Xie Yu didn't go back home not because he couldn't handle it emotionally, but because he couldn't bear to leave behind the whole box of study materials under his bed.
After hearing it, He Chao brainlessly said, "Oh, happy birthday."
He Chao clearly wanted to say something like "Wishing you good health and all the best," but before he could continue, he was ruthlessly interrupted by this cold-blooded killer.
"Okay, that's enough. Thank you," Xie Yu made a zipping gesture with his hand, "Done."
"Your gesture looks like the emojis Shen Jie sent me," He Chao imitated it and then spread his fingers, "Release."
Xie Yu: "..." Release your head.
He Chao probably had no idea what Tang Sen's Chinese homework was about earlier.
He sat in his seat and surfed the internet for a while, then patted classmate sitting in front of him on the shoulder and borrowed his homework notebook to copy it.
The front seat classmate was very puzzled. Everyone in the class knew that He Chao basically didn't do homework, so he bravely asked, "You...want to do homework?"
He Chao said while copying, "Just in case. You never know, it's all about fate. Maybe there's a homework assignment that catches my eye and I can't resist this fate."
The classmate was probably hearing this kind of "fate with homework" for the first time and was amazed.
He Chao copied two copies and returned the notebook to the front seat. He then placed one of the copies on Xie Yu's desk and said, "Take it, just in case a miracle happens."
Xie Yu lowered his head and looked at the paper covered in illegible handwriting. He thought to himself, I can't even understand this, like hell a miracle would happen.
He folded the paper and couldn't find a place to throw it away, so he casually stuffed it into his pocket. Just then, He Chao asked, "When is your birthday?"
Xie Yu turned his face back, feeling annoyed by looking at him. The residual trauma from the hallway incident earlier still lingered in his mind. A neat row of heads popped out of the windows, staring at them with various subtle expressions.
Wan Da even covered his eyes, looking like he didn't want to witness anything indecent.
Xie Yu had never been involved in any strange rumors with anyone before, but after meeting He Chao, he realized that the world truly had no shortage of oddities.
"Students who stay at school on weekends must strictly abide by the dormitory regulations." Tang Sen found a chair to sit on and looked like he was going to chat with them until school ended. "We must believe in science. I almost forgot about the incident in the dormitory building last weekend...Wan Da, don't lower your head. I didn't expect you guys to be so creative."
Settling scores now.
Their Teacher Tang had a particularly slow reaction time.
Sometimes they thought he really didn't care, but when they let their guard down and felt that everything had passed and the peaceful days had returned, they were suddenly caught by Old Tang for a lecture: "Sigh, you guys last month..."
"It's like you'll die if you say it," He Chao tilted his head to look at Xie Yu, then also leant down to be on the same level as him, reaching out to touch his hair. "So when is your birthday?"
Xie Yu said, "I'll die."
He Chao didn't persist with the birthday issue and within a few minutes, the topic changed to "How old are you? You must be younger than me."
Xie Yu was particularly sensitive to the words like "young", such as "little" whenever He Chao called him "little friend".
So Xie Yu sat up, his expression not looking too good, and asked in response, "Why am I young? How am I fucking young?"
As a result, the two compared their birth years, and He Chao was two years older than him.
"Call me big bro," He Chao laughed, "You still don't believe me when I say you're younger."
Xie Yu always felt that He Chao was setting him up.
He Chao leaned back with his legs up, the front legs of the chair lifted up, his posture lazy, his center of gravity shifted to the back, and he looked a bit unsteady.
He Chao looked up and gazed straight ahead, his eyes passing through the back of his classmates' heads and landing on the blackboard. The blackboard was filled with neatly written lines of text, and Tang Sen's chanting suddenly grew distant in his ears.
After a moment, Xie Yu heard He Chao casually say, "You must be younger than me. I repeated the third year of middle school."
Xie Yu's first reaction was, "No wonder no one accused He Chao of cheating to get into high school, despite such lousy grades."
Back then, Xie Yu's cheating scandal had spread throughout the entire grade, but He Chao had nothing like that.
It turned out he had repeated a year.
Repeating a year made sense. A student with terrible grades, repeating a year and getting lucky, finally managed to touch the tail of higher education.
Xie Yu looked at He Chao's relaxed appearance, holding a pen in his hand and twirling it with a few fingers.
On He Chao's desk lay the math test paper, which had been corrected, but he had only managed to copy a few lines before losing focus. The handwriting was messy and looked like a jumbled mess.
Xie Yu was a bit curious and asked, "How many years have you repeated?"
"...One year, what's the big deal." He Chao replied.
Xie Yu said, "Nothing, I just thought someone like you would have repeated at least three years."
He Chao didn't feel comfortable hearing this and retorted, "What do you mean? Aren't you just like me? Second from the bottom, can you talk again after touching your test scores?"
As they spoke, the bell rang for the end of class.
Everyone cheered and Wan Da stood on his chair waving his test paper, shouting, "We're free! We're free, comrades!"
Tang Sen's speech was interrupted, he shook his head, and stood up to remind them, "Today's student on duty, make sure to clean the classroom before leaving."
Xie Yu didn't have much to pack up, while He Chao would be staying on campus for the weekend. He sat in his chair, still swaying, and even waved his hand at him and said, "Goodbye, little friend."
Xie Yu didn't say anything. As he passed behind He Chao, he lifted his foot and kicked him directly, saying crisply, "Try saying that again."
He Chao instantly lost his balance and was about to fall backwards with the chair. Luckily, he reacted quickly and found the most handsome landing posture, propping one hand on the ground and saying, "...Fuck."
The chair fell down with a loud "bang".
Wan Da waved his test paper for a while, and then, on a whim, folded it into a paper airplane and held it by his mouth, saying, "Fly, little bird, fly freely."
Liu Cunhao saw it and folded the math test paper on the table. "Dada, let me show you something even more impressive."
Tang Sen had just walked to the door when the class was already in chaos. He had his hands behind his back and was carrying a cup of elderly health tea, sighing, "Young people are really passionate..."
Xie Yu didn't bring anything, anyway, he would be back at school in two nights.
Instead, Gu Xuelan was more attentive, "Just bring your backpack and bring all your homework and everything. Everything else is at home."
"I know, I'll manage myself." Xie Yu had nothing on him except his phone and some change, and that "in case of a miracle happens" piece of copied homework paper he forgot to throw away.
After leaving the school gate and making sure there was no Zhong family driver waiting in a luxury car, he walked towards the bus station.
"It's so hot outside, and yet you insist on squeezing into the bus instead of letting someone pick you up," Gu Xuelan complained. "...Be careful on your way back."
Xie Yu made a hum of agreement before hanging up the phone.
Xie Yu didn't really have a concept of birthdays. In his memory, birthdays were never celebrated with cakes or any kind of fanfare.
There was only a bowl of steaming hot noodles.
To save money, Gu would never celebrate her own birthday, but every year on Xie Yu's birthday, she would make him a bowl of noodles.
As he ate, he felt a warmth spread throughout his body, unable to explain the feeling but feeling content nonetheless.
Zhong Jie had come back for the weekend. Since starting college, he had either been at school or interning at the company with Zhong Guofei, who was preparing him to take over the business.
For three years, Xie Yu had been living with the Zhong family without causing any trouble. Everyone knew he was a useless person, and he kept a low profile and didn't make any waves. Zhong Jie was not only unhappy with him, but also secretly enjoyed the fact that Xie Yu was a failure.
"Rumor has it that you did well on the monthly exam this time," Zhong Jie asked Xie Yu in a sarcastic tone as soon as he walked in the door.
Xie Yu changed his shoes and leaned against the shoe cabinet, his expression unable to be seen clearly. "You flatter me," he replied.
Gu Xuelan walked out of the living room when she heard her son had returned. Since Zhong Jie also happened to be there, she personally cooked several dishes. "The food is ready, come and eat," she said.
Zhong Jie sat on the sofa and laughed once coldly, but no one knew what he was laughing at.
Perhaps influenced by He Chao, Xie Yu found that he had become much more patient. With a "you can't make me angry" attitude, they finished the meal peacefully.
Zhong Jie noticed that Xie Yu was becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. In the past, he would explode with cold words and retorts at the slightest provocation, but this time he completely ignored Zhong Jie, treating him as if he were invisible.
After dinner, Gu Xuelan pulled Xie Yu aside to cut up some fruit and bring it upstairs to eat.
Xie Yu helped her wash the fruit, and the two of them crowded into the kitchen. The water flowed over their fingers, feeling a bit chilly.
They didn't talk much, just asking and answering a few questions before falling into silence.
Xie Yu finished washing the last apple and handed it to Madam Gu.
"You take this plate up to your Uncle Zhong first," Gu Xuelan said. "He's been really busy with work these past few days and hasn't eaten much. He's been holed up in his study since he got back."
On the second floor study, Zhong Jie was also there. Xie Yu walked to the door and heard intense arguing inside - muffled through the door, especially Zhong Guofei's weak and angry voice.
"I want the best for you, what about you? Can't you give me some leeway too'?! Your Aunt Gu can keep me company throughout my days, I am very grateful to her."
Then came Zhong Jie's hoarse sentence: "What about my mom -?! Where did she go? In this family, what place does she have, and what about me?!"
It's unclear how this topic developed this time, but it had been going on for three years.
Xie Yu thought the two of them were speaking a bit loudly. He lowered his head and picked up a toothpick to eat a small piece of apple, which tasted a bit sour.
Hearing the commotion upstairs, Gu Xuelan didn't even have time to wipe her hands before going upstairs to mediate.
"Don't go in," Xie Yu stood at the door of the study, holding a fruit plate in one hand and gripping Gu Xuelan's arm with the other. "Let them argue, if they like to argue, let them argue to their heart's content."
But how could Gu Xuelan just ignore it? She hurriedly pushed open the door and went in.
It was another restless night.
Xie Yu stood under the shower, drenched from head to toe, closing his eyes and trying to ignore the noise outside.
He wiped his face with his hand, turned off the switch, opened the sliding door and walked out. Water droplets flowed down his hair, slid over his back, and finally gathered on the tiled floor, illuminated by warm light.
Before throwing his clothes into the laundry basket, Xie Yu habitually checked his pockets for anything he might have forgotten. That's when he felt the folded square piece of paper.
On it were the words of He Chao, slanted and full of energy, as if the strokes were about to fly off the page, a rare and precious sight.
Xie Yu stared at the paper for a long time, but couldn't recognize a single character.
He casually flipped it over and found a smiling face drawn on the back. The curved mouth slanted upwards, looking a bit mischievous.
As Xie Yu continued to gaze at it, he suddenly leaned against the edge of the pond and burst out laughing.