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Zhou Luoyang didn’t show the slightest hesitation when he spoke those words. Only once they left his mouth did he realize how they might have sounded, so he added, “We’re good friends already. We get along well. In no way would I feel like I’m sacrificing my own time to take care of my roommate—this is what I personally want.”
The vice president seemed to want to say something, but hesitated. Zhou Luoyang knew what she wanted to ask. You think of Du Jing as a friend, but what does Du Jing think? And so he immediately tacked on, “Du Jing thinks so as well. You can ask him.”
“Alright,” said the vice president. “None of us are doctors, but I trust the diagnostic records the hospital gave him.”
Truthfully, Zhou Luoyang had been worried that if too many people had raised complaints, the university would have Du Jing defer his studies and return home or send him to a psychiatric hospital in order to smooth things over. After all, this situation put a lot of pressure on the school.
But as it turned out, he had been worried for nothing.
The counselor said, “Then the two of you can look after each other. If anything comes up, you can notify me at any time.”
“When can the BBS post be deleted?” Zhou Luoyang asked. “That’s what I’m most worried about. I don’t want him to see it.”
“I’ll contact them and ask them to delete it as soon as possible,” the vice president assured. Then she turned to the counselor. “You’ll have to do some ideological work with the students.”
“I will, I will.” The counselor wiped the sweat off his forehead. Li Jianlan then turned to Professor Qi. “The students now are unlike those of the past. The internet is much too advanced. Any words, any actions will be spread across the internet at the speed of light.”
“People will always have to face challenges and setbacks,” Professor Qi said to Zhou Luoyang with a smile. “The human mind is like molten steel. It must pass through the furnace and go under the hammer over and over again in order for it to turn into a sharp blade. This is the steel smelting process.”
His words caught Zhou Luoyang off guard. After a beat of silence, he nodded and said, “Grandpa Qi, you’re right.”
The four people in the meeting room sat for another couple of minutes. The counselor asked Zhou Luoyang a few questions about his studies, and Professor Qi said, “He’s doing perfectly fine. That child Du Jing is, too. His grandmother was a talented girl, very intelligent. We were in the same class, and no one was better at their studies than she was. Everyone called her a miniature Lin Huiyin.”
“Heredity brings pain, but it also bestows natural gift. Almost all geniuses share this hardship,” Li Jianlan said.
“Yes,” Professor Qi agreed, looking as if he were immersed in many bygone memories. “The so-called geniuses’ burden.”
“Then I’ll…” Just when Zhou Luoyang stood up, ready to leave, someone knocked on the meeting room door. To his surprise, the person who entered was Du Jing. He was holding a white file envelope, the kind used by hospitals.
When Du Jing caught sight of Zhou Luoyang, he gave an obvious start.
“Why aren’t you in class?” Du Jing asked Zhou Luoyang, ignoring the other three people.
Professor Qi said, “It’s rare that I get the chance to come to campus, so I wanted to chat with Luoyang.”
“This is Mister Qi,” explained the vice president. “This should be your first time meeting.”
Du Jing looked at Professor Qi and respectfully greeted, “Hello.”
He hesitated for a moment. At last, he placed the file envelope on the table. Zhou Luoyang suspected that it contained his medical records, but he didn’t give it a second glance. He simply looked up at Du Jing and asked, “Weren’t you sleeping?”
“I went to see my doctor,” Du Jing said. “I went in the morning and didn’t tell you.”
“Did they draw blood?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
Du Jing showed Zhou Luoyang his arm.
“Had breakfast yet?”
As the two swapped question for answer, their dynamic completely natural, the counselor promptly put a halt to his wild visions of Du Jing spontaneously breaking into a psychotic episode and chasing people down with a knife. He said, “Luoyang said he really—”
“I’m starving to death.” Zhou Luoyang wouldn’t give the counselor the chance to brownnose. No need to tell Du Jing those things, lest anyone feel any unnecessary awkwardness.
Du Jing nodded at them. Zhou Luoyang knew that the three still had things to discuss, so he politely said goodbye to Professor Qi, closed the door, and left the meeting room with Du Jing.
“See the way his eyes were glued to Zhou Luoyang when he came in,” Li Jianlan mused. “And the first thing he does when he opens his mouth isn’t to greet us but to ask his roommate why he isn’t in class. Those two ought to be able to get along well.”
“Luoyang is a good child, he can handle it. I know the pressure of the grade is quite heavy, but you have to believe in him. Du Jing’s greatest wish is for others to treat him like a normal person instead of focusing too much on his disorder. Give him a chance to experience all the emotions we do—happiness, anger, grief, joy—and in the future, he can look back and feel that he’s done right by himself. Isn’t that right?” Professor Qi asked.
Li Jianlan nodded. “Mister Qi is right.”
12:00. The professors’ dining hall wasn’t open today; the students’ large dining hall slowly started bustling with activity. While Du Jing was off getting food, Zhou Luoyang took the opportunity to check his phone. The BBS post still hadn’t been deleted.
Du Jing’s expression was perfectly normal. He got Zhou Luoyang lunch and bought drinks.
“Was everything fine with your appointment?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
He didn’t even ask Du Jing what disorder he had. After all, he’d mentioned a visit to the doctor, so Zhou Luoyang just asked about that.
It was the last day before school was out for New Year’s, and every student was discussing where to go out that night. Next to them, the student sharing their table was video calling on speakerphone, and the ruckus made Zhou Luoyang very irritable.
Du Jing couldn’t hear him clearly. “What?” he asked.
Zhou Luoyang repeated himself louder. Du Jing nodded.
“They drew my blood in order to check the effects of switching my medication!” Du Jing said.
“Are you still going to do archery in the afternoon?!” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“Yes! Are you?”
Zhou Luoyang had always wanted to go see what it was all about; he just hadn’t had the time to go with finals right around the corner. He knew that Du Jing didn’t really like basketball or any other club activities that involved multiple people cooperating and coming into contact with each other. Previously, he’d always thought Du Jing’s mood wasn’t too stable; now he knew that because of his bipolar disorder, he was scared he would lose control of himself and get into disputes with people, so he chose to stick with archery, the most solitary of sports, instead.
“Can I?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
Du Jing couldn’t hear him clearly. He glanced at Zhou Luoyang, tense. Zhou Luoyang immediately repeated himself louder, drawing Du Jing’s attention back. Du Jing said, “Of course you can! What are you thinking?!”
“Let’s hurry and eat so we can go back!” Zhou Luoyang said. “It’s too loud in the dining hall.”
The two silently ate lunch. Zhou Luoyang picked up a chicken drumstick and passed it to him. “Eat this. I want to eat your carp belly.”
“You can have both,” said Du Jing. “I’ve been discriminated against once again.”
Zhou Luoyang looked at him questioningly.
“I’ve been discriminated against once again!” Du Jing pointed at his plate, indicating for him to look at the serving sizes. There were only three pieces of meat. Zhou Luoyang laughed.
Whenever Zhou Luoyang was the one to get food, he would return with heartily filled plates. But whenever Du Jing went to get food, he would always suffer the canteen aunties’ frenzied ultimate technique, and the pain of the meat dishes rapidly vanishing. In order to make up for that, Du Jing would typically ask for double servings. If he couldn’t finish, oh well.
Nearly ten minutes later, when they were halfway done eating, Du Jing suddenly asked, “You really what?!”
Zhou Luoyang was mystified. He looked up at Du Jing and noticed that his expression was a little off. Maybe he was fed up with the noisiness.
“I said! You really what?! Worry about me?! What are you worried I’ll do now?!” Du Jing demanded loudly, as if no one else were present.
It immediately dawned on Zhou Luoyang—the counselor’s words had made Du Jing sensitive.
“That’s not it!” Zhou Luoyang cried. “I wasn’t worried about you!”
“Really what?” Du Jing repeated. “Say it!”
Zhou Luoyang knew he had to dispel Du Jing’s doubts, so he had answer him conscientiously. He deliberated for a moment. Between saying “I’ll tell you when we get back to the dorm” and just telling him directly, he settled on the latter.
“I said I really like you,” Zhou Luoyang answered.
There was a hard edge to Du Jing’s expression. Doubtfully, he asked, “What?!”
“I wasn’t worried about you!” Zhou Luoyang said loudly to Du Jing, also as if no one else were present. “I like you! I said I really like you!”
In an instant, everyone went silent around them. In front of them and behind them, to their left and to their right, everyone stared at Zhou Luoyang and Du Jing, including the guy sitting at their table.
Zhou Luoyang: “……”
Du Jing: “……………………”
Du Jing flushed red instantly. Hoots and laughter erupted around them. Zhou Luoyang looked back at them strangely, but not even a moment later, everyone got over it and went back to making a racket and eating their food. They stopped their heckling, knowing that this wasn’t a confession.
The general vibes when a straight man told another straight man “I like you” were very noticeably different. This, at least, was something that could still be discerned.
Du Jing’s combativeness completely dissipated all at once.
In the afternoon, the two went back to the dorms. Du Jing went to feed the turtle while he himself took his meds. Human and turtle each ate their own fare. Zhou Luoyang looked stubbornly at his phone. That post had finally been deleted, thank heavens. Plus, the turtle was finally starting to eat—everything felt better now.
There weren’t many people at the archery org that afternoon. The org president asked Du Jing, “Why didn’t you come for lunch?”
“Forgot,” Du Jing responded.
Only now did Zhou Luoyang remember that Du Jing was originally going to go to the org lunch—but he’d ended up not going on a whim. He quickly apologized to the president. “I took up his time, it’s my fault.”
The president waved his hand. He obviously hadn’t held out much hope that Du Jing would participate in a group activity. In fact, without him there, everyone actually felt more at ease.
Du Jing said, “It’s no problem. I didn’t want to go anyway. I’ll teach you how to draw a bow and shoot an arrow.”
He put on a single-piece leather chest guard that ran across his left shoulder, as well as a forearm protector. He picked up a quiver and helped Zhou Luoyang put on his own equipment. Zhou Luoyang moved his arm around and looked at Du Jing.
Du Jing stood in front of him and demonstrated how to draw a bow. His movements were beautiful and impeccable, and his gaze was focused on the target across from him.
Zhou Luoyang was enraptured by Du Jing’s expression. The contours of his face were stark, and his eyes glimmered with liveliness as they stared at the target. Illuminated under the ceiling lights of the practice range, the scar that ran across Du Jing’s nose was especially distinct.
Zhou Luoyang thought of that “scar face” comment on the BBS that had made him angry. Right now, he couldn’t help but think, Scar face is pretty handsome.
Du Jing looked at him quizzically.
Zhou Luoyang nodded and attempted to draw his bow.
“Don’t move,” said Du Jing.
He began to correct Zhou Luoyang’s posture, placing his left palm on Zhou Luoyang’s right elbow. As soon as Zhou Luoyang drew the bowstring, he began to feel strain in the muscles of his arm, shoulder, and back. His left hand began to tremble of its own accord.
“Relax, don’t draw too tight,” Du Jing said. “Release. Make sure not to move your face.”
Zhou Luoyang released the arrow. To no one’s surprise, it missed the target.
“This is pretty fun,” he remarked.
Du Jing had Zhou Luoyang stand straight, then moved to stand behind him and began guiding him. He was so close his lips nearly brushed Zhou Luoyang’s ear. From behind, he circled his arms around Zhou Luoyang’s front and placed his hands over Zhou Luoyang’s. Together, they drew the bowstring.
“Relax a little,” Du Jing said quietly. “Don’t be tense.”
Zhou Luoyang was now practically in Du Jing’s embrace. As Du Jing spoke, his breath tickled Zhou Luoyang’s ear, which was starting to turn red. The position you took to teach someone to shoot was simply too suggestive, just like when teaching someone to golf.
“The archery org is a total ladykiller,” Zhou Luoyang joked.
If he were a girl, no way would he have been able to resist Du Jing.
He’d also noticed there were male students in traditional Han dress—even Ming dynasty feiyu uniforms—who’d brought their girlfriends here to teach them archery; they looked really handsome. Zhou Luoyang decided that once he joined the archery org next semester, he would have to purchase one of those uniforms too; they were way too cool.
From behind, Du Jing freed up one of his hands and used it to nudge Zhou Luoyang’s chin until he was facing the target and looking where he was supposed to look. “Focus on the target. Where are you looking?”
“Release!” Zhou Luoyang said.
Then he let go. Du Jing had used very little force. The arrow shot away from the bowstring and whistled toward the target.
“Sweet!” Zhou Luoyang exclaimed. “How long have you been practicing?”
“Not long,” Du Jing answered.
“Shoot a couple arrows for me to see?” Zhou Luoyang took out his phone. He wanted to take a video so he could study from them later.
Du Jing didn’t shy away from the camera this time. First, he held the bow in his left hand and released the arrow with his right; then he picked up a different bow with his right hand and released another arrow with his left. Both hit the bullseye. He switched bows, shot an arrow, switched bows, shot another arrow. Five or six shots in a row all hit the bright red bullseye.
Zhou Luoyang could tell that his posture was pretty flawless and began to grin. He wasn’t sure why, but the few people present at the archery range took notice of Du Jing’s actions, and one after another, they exclaimed in astonishment.
The crowd of onlookers began to applaud. Even the org president whistled and gave Du Jing a thumbs up.
Zhou Luoyang was puzzled.
Du Jing didn’t react at all. He motioned for Zhou Luoyang to continue with the practice bow.
Zhou Luoyang drew the bow and asked the president, “Why did you guys applaud just now?”
“He used both sides! Both sides!” Worship was written all across the president’s face. “How did you do it? I usually don’t see you practice, Du Jing! You’re so awesome! Holy cow!”
The president ran up to them. Prior to this, Du Jing had never really been on his radar. He asked Zhou Luoyang, “Are you his friend? Want to join our org?”
Zhou Luoyang hadn’t yet replied when Du Jing said, “He wants to join.”
“I’ll send in my application during recruitment next semester,” Zhou Luoyang added.
“Don’t get distracted.” Du Jing had only offered one short response before turning back to Zhou Luoyang. “Continue.”
Zhou Luoyang asked the president, “Can you record this for me? I want to see what I’m doing wrong.”
There were mirrors at the archery range, but Zhou Luoyang wanted to have it recorded so he could rewatch it later. He passed his phone to the president, and the president and Du Jing stood to the side and watched him. Zhou Luoyang shot a couple of arrows, and Du Jing moved behind him again, wrapping his arms around his front and correcting his posture when drawing the bow.
“Your entire body is too tense,” Du Jing explained. “Your hands are shaking.”
“I wasn’t tense before,” Zhou Luoyang said. “I only started shaking once you came up to teach me hands-on.”
So Du Jing let his hands slide down to rest on Zhou Luoyang’s waist instead. He turned to look at the target, then lowered his head ever so slightly to look at Zhou Luoyang. “Keep your line of sight level.”
Their positions were too suggestive. This was Zhou Luoyang’s first time being in such close physical proximity to another man. Inevitably, his heart began to pound. But this was a spontaneous phenomenon of the natural world, the aggression that arose when two male animals encroached on each other’s territories—once the other male went past the safe zone, an alarm would go off inside of you, and adrenaline and hormones would start pumping in overdrive, resulting in a mix of nerves, stimulation, and restlessness.
He had to split his attention between dealing with this alarm and aiming at the target. He couldn’t stop trembling, half from the excitement, half from the sense of danger.
Du Jing, however, was very relaxed, as if he’d already tacitly accepted Zhou Luoyang’s intrusion on his territory and was used to Zhou Luoyang being in his vicinity, and was even permitting him to draw even closer.
“Done,” the president announced. “You can rewatch it on your own later.”
Zhou Luoyang took the proffered phone and put it away. As soon as the president walked away, Du Jing released Zhou Luoyang and walked to the side, watching him unwaveringly.
Zhou Luoyang let out a breath of relief and concentrated on the target.
“Were you trying to look cool just now?” Zhou Luoyang was a little bit suspicious.
“You obviously were trying to look cool,” Zhou Luoyang said, finally snapping out of whatever daze he was in. “Shooting from both sides. I just hadn’t realized what I was seeing.”
“Who’s ‘You Obviously’?” Du Jing deadpanned.
“After the holiday I’ll buy a bow and arrow. This is pretty fun. We can practice together in the future. I don’t want to go to the basketball org anymore.”
“I’ll buy it for you. Why don’t you want to go? Were you bullied?” Du Jing asked.
“No,” said Zhou Luoyang, “I just haven’t really felt like playing basketball lately.”
Du Jing shot another arrow. “It’d better not be because you want to keep me company.”
Zhou Luoyang shot an arrow as well. Another miss. “Of course not. Why do you always think that?”
As Du Jing drew his bow, Zhou Luoyang studied his movements and drew his own bow. Suddenly, Du Jing said, “I was originally planning on telling you myself tonight, but I didn’t realize they wouldn’t give me that opportunity. I’ve always been very scared—scared that you would switch dorms, scared that you would distance yourself from me. So I was too afraid to tell you.”
“What?” Zhou Luoyang was at a loss.
“The fact that I have bipolar disorder,” Du Jing said seriously. “I found the BBS post a long time ago. I didn’t want you to see it.”
Zhou Luoyang eased his drawn bow back down. He held the bow and arrow in his hands and gazed at Du Jing. Du Jing eased down his bow as well and silently gazed back at Zhou Luoyang.
They stood quietly, staring at each other.
Zhou Luoyang realized then that he was much, much more important to Du Jing than he’d thought.
Later, after listening to Stan many, many times, he would slowly start to think he understood Du Jing.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.