...yet year after year, nothing was ever the same.
Tan Ruikang still didn’t know what had happened, and so when the girl came the next day to return the book and told him her name was Chi Xiaojun, Tan Ruikang magnanimously said: “I’ll help you give it to Xiao Yuan, he’s my didi.”
“Ah.” Chi Xiaojun stood outside the classroom door, not knowing whether to go or to stay. She finally had a chance to talk to him, how could she let someone else return the book for her?
In the end Zhang Zhen helped her out big time by yelling out: “Milk Boy, your wife is here!”
The entire class went into an uproar, and Yaoyuan came over to take the English textbook, blushing. Chi Xiaojun’s face had also turned red, and said: “Here’s your book.”
“I’ll give you this to read.” Yaoyuan handed her Jimmy Liao’s When the Moon Forgot, Chi Xiaojun nodded, the two exchanged a few more words, and then she left.
“Is it Milk Girl?”
Immediately people were giving Chi Xiaojun a nickname, and Qi Huiyu, clearly jealous, said: “How do they know each other?”
“Don’t listen to their nonsense!” Yaoyuan’s ears were red. He went back to his seat and said: “You, don’t say anything stupid either!”
When school ended at dusk that day, another second year came up to the third year floor to look for Yaoyuan, telling him that Chi Xiaojun was looking for him. Yaoyuan then followed her downstairs to walk Chi Xiaojun home.
Yaoyuan and Chi Xiaojun chatted while they walked, he bought her milk tea, walked her to the bus stop, then went back to get dinner with Qi Huiyu and attend the evening self-study.
And so it went for a week. At night Chi Xiaojun would even call him on the phone, so the two of them were basically dating.
Very soon the whole class knew about Milk Girl’s existence, and when Zhang Zhen and them were in gym class they’d tease her, shouting: “Milk Girl! Where’s your husband!”
And Chi Xiaojun would yell back: “You guys are so annoying!”
After the second year classes ended, Yaoyuan would often also run into classmates on their way to get food whenever he walked Chi Xiaojun to the bus stop. He’d always been a generous person and didn’t like to avoid people, so he’d always greet them whenever they ran into each other. If it wasn’t busy he’d let Chi Xiaojun take the minibus home, if it was busy the two of them would sit by the flowerbed and talk, maybe buy something to eat. Bus after bus would pass by, Yaoyuan would be afraid that Qi Huiyu was waiting for too long, so after 6 o’clock he’ll call a cab to take Chi Xiaojun home.
Tan Ruikang, who lived under a rock, finally noticed one week later.
“Xiao Yuan, are you dating?” Tan Ruikang asked.
Tan Ruikang said: “They call Xiaojun ‘Milk Girl’…”
Yaoyuan: “I’m not, don’t speak nonsense!”
Tan Ruikang looked at Yaoyuan doubtfully, then looked at the notebooks spread out on the table. They were full of little notes and doodles, all of them little conversations between Yaoyuan and Chi Xiaojun. Yaoyuan quickly put away all the notebooks and said: “It’s really nothing, we’re just friends.”
Tan Ruikang nodded, and said: “Let me borrow the practice book, the Huanggang one.”
Yaoyuan gave him the practice book, which Tan Ruikang took back to his room with him. Yaoyuan put in his earbuds and listened to some Chan Yikshun songs, not in a mood to study at all. He spaced out for a while, holding his phone and debating whether or not he should call Chi Xiaojun. He wanted to call her, but was afraid her dad would pick up, which would be awkward.
Someone pulled out his earbuds, which made Yaoyuan jump. He said: “Can you knock first!”
Tan Ruikang said: “You didn’t do the practice exercises? What about your homework? Let me see.”
Yaoyuan replied: “It’s none of your business. If you want to do them just do them directly with a ballpoint pen.”
Tan Ruikang: “Are you dating prematurely?”
Tan Ruikang sat down by the bed and said: “Xiao Yuan, lately you’ve been spacing out during class and not studying after school. This isn’t good, there’s still the zhongkao.”
This touched a nerve of Yaoyuan’s, who said: “Efficient studying is more important! Don’t you get it! What’s the point of mindlessly doing practice exercises?”
Tan Ruikang insisted: “Take studying seriously, or I’m going to tell Uncle. Premature dating affects schoolwork.”
Yaoyuan felt crazy, shouting at him: “Get out! You, get out! It’s none of your business!”
He pushed and shoved Tan Ruikang out of his room and slammed the door. What a headcase, he thought. They really had absolutely no common language between them.
Yaoyuan really hated Tan Ruikang, not because he cared too much, since he only cared so much because he wanted the best for Yaoyuan. But sometimes he just really couldn’t communicate with Tan Ruikang no matter how hard he racked his brains, they really are people from two different worlds.
When he told Qi Huiyu about this the next day, Qi Huiyu sourly replied: “You’re the one putting hoes before bros.”
Yaoyuan said: “But I don’t even hang out with him usually… that’s not the point, ugh.”
He looked out the window in boredom. The leaves have all fallen from the parasol tree, leaving behind only the bare branches pointing towards the sky. The school Sports Festival was almost here. He passed a note to Tan Ruikang, on which he had written: “I have something to do tonight, go home by yourself.”
He’d decided not to walk with Tan Ruikang anymore. First he would cut down the number of times he went home, then gradually start going back on his own so he wouldn’t get nagged. Qi Huiyu would take him to the minibus stop anyway, this way the two of them can chat for a while too.
Tan Ruikang wrote “Got it,” then passed the note back. On the way back, Zhang Zhen intercepted it before passing it along, and added: “Your birthday’s almost here, how do you want to spend it? Invite your girlfriend, and we can go barbecue on the beach? Lend me some money to buy food.”
Yaoyuan hasn’t decided yet, he needs to ask his other friends, and gave Zhang Zhen 100 yuan. After class he walked Chi Xiaojun home like usual, and realized that he’d been spending more money since he got a girlfriend.
Before, he would spend two thousand a month as his living expenses. Now, he was buying Chi Xiaojun genuine CDs, and when they went to McDonald’s he’d buy her their giveaway stuffed toys, he’d also call her cabs and pay her phone bills, so he was actually a bit tight on money.
The last time he asked Zhao Guogang for money, Zhao Guogang asked him how come he was spending so much money this month. Yaoyuan had came up with some random excuse about needing to pay some school fees, but now that his weekly expenses have gone from 500 to 700, Zhao Guogang would definitely find it strange.
Not that he was afraid that Zhao Guogang wouldn’t give him more, Yaoyuan was just afraid that he'd become suspicious and ask Tan Ruikang about it, which would easily expose him… how troublesome. Moreover, 700 yuan wouldn’t necessarily be enough, it’d be better if it was 1000 a week; he’d be more comfortable spending it that way.
Could he borrow some from Tan Ruikang? Yaoyuan decided to abandon that thought. Tan Ruikang had the same living expenses as him, Zhao Guogang always gave him the exact same amount of money he gave Yaoyuan, how would he ever be able to spend it all?! Tan Ruikang never paid for others, he was stingy like a ghost, he never got others to pay for him either. He always bought bottled water that cost one yuan and ate the five yuan meals at the cafeteria. Two cafeteria meals and two bottles of water a day only totaled to twelve yuan.
Zhao Guogang was the one topping up their IC card, so Tan Ruikang only spent twelve yuan a day and 72 yuan for a 6-day week.
After the evening self-study, Yaoyuan walked alone on the way home, calculating Tan Ruikang’s expenses for him. His dad gave Tan Ruikang 500 yuan a week, he was saving about 400 of it, why’s he saving 400 of it?! For when he marries a wife? It was absolutely unfathomable, as if he’s never seen money before. If he couldn’t spend it all he should know to take less.
There were very little people on this street, a few were standing ahead of him, as if they came prepared to wait for him.
Yaoyuan slowed his steps. Everyone in the other party was very tall, looking like adults under the streetlamps. The public security around Sanzhong has always been great, there weren’t many gangs or thugs around. But Yaoyuan seemed to have such bad luck today that he just happened to run into them.
Muggers? Yaoyuan thought that there was no way he was giving them a penny, otherwise they’ll just continue to harass him from now on.
“You’re Zhao Yaoyuan, are you.” The leader said: “You’ve been hitting on my girl?”
Yaoyuan narrowed his eyes, and said subconsciously: “I haven’t, who’s your girl?”
“Chi Xiaojun.” That person said: “Don’t be so cocky. You’ve got money? Come on, come on, let’s have a chat.”
Yaoyuan said: “Chi Xiaojun? Since when was she your girl?”
The person said: “I’ve been together with her for two fucking years, teach him a lesson!”
A couple people came over to grab him, Yaoyuan struggled out of their grip and angrily said: “Don’t touch me!”
He backed away while glancing around, there was a parking lot about fifty metres away with a security booth, he just had to get there.
“Worthless trash.” The guy sneered: “Why don’t you run, if that’s all you got.”
Yaoyuan’s breathing sped up, somebody behind him shouted: “Just hit him, stop chatting!”
Yaoyuan backed up a few steps, then heard Chi Xiaojun’s voice saying: “Don’t! Don’t hit him!”
In that moment Yaoyuan’s lungs almost exploded in anger, Chi Xiaojun was also here! Her long hair was unbound and she wasn’t wearing her school uniform, looking as if she’d been called here at night by this group of people.
Her voice was carrying a sob, saying: “What are you guys doing…”
“Don’t touch me!” Yaoyuan snapped, knocking the hands trying to grab at him away, but somebody managed to grab his school bag and land a kick and a blow on his head. He struggled with all his might, but there were three people on the other side ganging up on him. Fists and feet entangled him, tearing off the buttons on his shirt.
“Explain yourself clearly! Chi Xiaojun! What’s the meaning of this!” Yaoyuan snarled as he withstood the blows from the group of hooligans.
Chi Xiaojun didn’t answer, Yaoyuan began cursing out violently, the anger from being deceived added on top of the beating made him fight back with no regard for his own life. He resisted ruthlessly and got a slap to his face, immediately after which a voice shouted in anger: “What are you guys doing!”
Tan Ruikang rushed over and shoved away the people surrounding Yaoyuan. When the others saw that assistance had come they immediately realized there was trouble, and ran back towards the leader of the group.
“What are you doing! Fuck!” Tan Ruikang was about to chase after them, but Yaoyuan held him back.
“Let’s go,” the guy in the lead said.
Yaoyuan was both worked up and furious with nowhere to vent his feelings, so he slammed his satchel onto the ground and sat down by the road, not speaking.
Tan Ruikang stood there in a daze for a while. Today after the evening self-study he had gone to ask about some questions so he was late coming out to the bus stop, where he just happened to run into this situation. He didn’t see Chi Xiaojun, he only knew that Yaoyuan had been attacked, and said in a quiet voice: “Xiao Yuan, what happened? They wanted to mug you?”
Yaoyuan waved his hand, his eyes red, and didn’t answer him.
Tan Ruikang went to buy a pack of Marlboros, handed one to Yaoyuan, and lit it for him.
Yaoyuan smoked a cigarette, then said: “Let’s go.”
Zhao Guogang was home, he smelled the smoke and saw that both of Yaoyuan’s eyes were red, so he didn’t scold him. Yaoyuan didn’t take a shower after getting home, he laid down on the bed in his uniform and went directly to bed. At 11 o’clock Zhao Guogang went in to take off his shoes and socks for him and tuck him in, then came out to talk to Tan Ruikang.
Yaoyuan heard Zhao Guogang lecturing Tan Ruikang intermittently.
“You have to set a good example for your didi, you can’t just go along with him all day long, spoiling him…”
Outside, Tan Ruikang nodded obediently, Zhao Guogang continued to say: “You have to watch over him, the zhongkao is next year, how come he hasn’t been in the mood to study lately…”
Yaoyuan was unspeakably exhausted. He still liked Chi Xiaojun a lot, Milk Boy, Milk Girl… she was very cute. He wanted to be with her.
The next day:
Zhang Zhen and Qi Huiyu heard two completely different versions of the story.
Zhang Zhen: “Somebody robbed you?!”
Yaoyuan replied: “No, don’t listen to Tan Ruikang’s nonsense.”
Qi Huiyu explained it to Zhang Zhen, and Zhang Zhen got mad right away, saying: “After evening self-study the bros will walk home with you.”
Qi Huiyu said: “Get Milk Girl to ask that guy to come. We’ll get a couple more people to show up, even the ones from the neighbouring class, and beat him up.”
Yaoyuan was so embarrassed, calling on people from the neighbouring class? He didn’t want to lose face all the way to the neighbouring class. He said: “I’ll deal with it on my own, if I can’t handle it then I’ll tell you guys. It’s nothing, don’t worry about it, it is what it is.”
Zhang Zhen went back to discuss it with Tan Ruikang, who at last heard the full story. Yaoyuan got up after the first class, and when he left Tan Ruikang said: “Xiao Yuan.”
Yaoyuan didn’t say anything, went down to the second floor, found a second year girl and told her: “Get Chi Xiaojun to come out for me, I need to talk to her.”
Chi Xiaojun was slumped over on her desk, and several girls were around, consoling her.
“She won’t come out, you should go back,” the girl said.
The class bell rang, so Yaoyuan could only go back to his classroom. After several classes had gone by, he still didn’t manage to catch Chi Xiaojun, she was gone right away during lunch and after class ended.
What does this mean? Yaoyuan was pissed, this continued for several days before they finally managed to catch her during the second years’ gym class.
Yaoyuan was with Qi Huiyu, Chi Xiaojun was with another girl.
“Explain yourself.” Yaoyuan said: “Who was that guy?”
As soon as Chi Xiaojun saw Yaoyuan she began crying, the girl beside her said: “Stop harassing her, okay! She didn’t want to either!”
Yaoyuan was practically speechless, he said: “That’s what I should say! If you want to break up just say so, why go through all the trouble! Fine, you guys didn’t do anything wrong, I’m the wrong one, okay!”
Chi Xiaojun went back to class, Yaoyuan’s anger was still coming from everywhere. Qi Huiyu was afraid to speak up, and led him back to the classroom by the shoulders.
That day the homeroom teacher had a chat with Yaoyuan, talking about how he’s been sleeping through his classes and looking dispirited, asking him if he’s dating prematurely and heartfeltly lecturing him on the dangers of premature dating. Yaoyuan felt even more frustrated, not knowing which big mouth had told her.
When he came back Zhang Zhen sidled over, and said: “I went to ask.”
“What,” Yaoyuan said, in a bad mood.
Zhang Zhen said: “That guy is still in high school, but he’s from another school. Chi Xiaojun said he’s her ex-boyfriend, she didn’t want to date him anymore but he’s still bothering her. Now it’s up to you, I know some people from that guy’s school from basketball, I can get people to beat him for you? We can just buy them each a pack of cigarettes.”
“Forget it.” Yaoyuan was annoyed now: “I didn’t like her anyway, I was just playing around.”
Qi Huiyu said: “Even if you’re just playing around that’s still not okay, let’s beat him, I’ll pay for however much that costs.”
Yaoyuan said: “I said forget it!”
Zhang Zhen knew he was in a bad mood, so only nodded and left. Qi Huiyu watched Yaoyuan for a bit, the two of them sitting without saying anything. Qi Huiyu bent down and put his hands under the desk, leant in next to Yaoyuan’s ear and said: “Ugh, seeing you break up like this makes me feel sad for you, but happy for myself.”
Yaoyuan got up to beat Qi Huiyu up, Qi Huiyu only laughed and didn’t hit back. And so his first love ended just like that.
From that day on, Tan Ruikang walked home with Yaoyuan everyday, he’d even very seriously stashed a metal rod in his satchel for fights.
Much later, Zhao Guogang would discover Tan Ruikang’s metal rod and discipline him for it.
Much, much, later, way after everyone had graduated from high school, Yaoyuan found out from Zhang Zhen that back then Zhang Zhen’s girlfriend had taken a couple high school girls to the middle school bathroom to bother Chi Xiaojun and grabbed her hair and cursed her out.
He felt rather terrible for Chi Xiaojun, and felt terrible about his own past as well.
After graduating middle school Yaoyuan had stayed in the high school division, and during the second year of high school he heard that after Chi Xiaojun graduated from middle school she had gone back to her hometown for school, and the two never saw each other again.
When they met again many years later, she was already married, and when they brought up the incident from that year Chi Xiaojun only smiled and said: “Did that happen? Zhang Zhen’s wife? I think I chatted with her the last time I went shopping, how are you doing now?”
Yaoyuan could only say: “I’m doing okay.”
The past had long since passed by without a trace; just like the parasol tree leaves in front of Sanzhong every autumn, year after year they turn yellow, year after year they cover the streets, yet year after year, nothing was ever the same.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Kapsoura.