Chapter 27: Girlfriend
Translated by Fefe of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
When he was less than ten meters away, Tang Heng gradually slowed down.
He was sure that person was Li Yuechi, but he suddenly didn’t know if he should rush over or not. Now was when he realized that Li Yuechi had not used his full power when they’d encountered A-Zhu that night—probably not even half of his power.
He’d never seen Li Yuechi be so aggressive before. Four men circled him, but they could only manage to be at a tie with him—they couldn’t get the upper hand at all. It was a fight to the death. He watched as Li Yuechi grabbed the neck of a tall, thin guy and slammed him down—Thud! It was the sound of a body crashing into the ground. Two more people tackled him at once, one twisting Li Yuechi’s neck, one sending a punch to his forehead—but Li Yuechi’s body turned, dodging it, and grappled the throat of the guy twisting his arm.
Of course, countless punches and kicks still landed on his body. He was like a steel plate welded together with the ground. He sometimes stumbled but never fell. Until a man tackled him from the back and he fell to his knees with a muffled grunt, his arms pinned behind his back.
“Son of a bitch, keep fighting, huh! Keep fighting!” The tall, thin guy kicked him. “I’ll fucking kill you today!”
He pulled something from his pack. It glinted with silver light in the night. This was when Tang Heng charged and, imitating Li Yuechi, used the crook of his elbow to grab someone’s neck and quickly drag him back—without the restrictions behind his back, Li Yuechi shot up and grabbed the tall, thin guy’s knife!
“This way!” Jiang Ya yelled. “Yes, yes, keep driving forward! You’ll see them soon!”
By then, a few passersby had stopped to watch with their phones up. It was unclear if they were filming videos or calling the cops. Tang Heng suffered two punches, heard the tall, thin guy curse in Wuhan dialect, and the four men retreated. They ran into the distance and disappeared without a trace.
“Ah, good, good, thanks for all your help,” Jiang Ya said cheerily to the passersby. “Thank you, thank you!”
Li Yuechi sat on the ground, not moving.
Tang Heng walked over and saw his face was covered in blood.
“Don’t be scared,” Li Yuechi murmured. “It’s a nosebleed.”
Jiang Ya came over too. “Hey! I’ll call the ambulance.”
“No need.” Li Yuechi hung his head as if he didn’t want them to see how pathetic he looked. “I’ll go to the Central Hospital. Thanks guys.”
“Hey, we’re all bros, but you…” Jiang Ya looked back at the shocked girl and asked Li Yuechi, “Are you alright by yourself?”
“Yeah,” Li Yuechi said.
“Okay, then we’ll—”
“Jiang Ya, you can go,” Tang Heng said. “I’ll go with him.”
“Yeah, yeah, Tang Heng, you go with him. Having someone around would be good.”
Li Yuechi didn’t answer, like it was tacit agreement.
The passersby scattered and Jiang Ya went into a cab with the girl in his arms. Tang Heng offered some napkins over. Li Yuechi messily grabbed a few to stuff into his nose. He was still sitting on the ground, his body covered in bloodstains and mud, his head hanging. Like a dirty ball of crumpled paper.
After a long while, Li Yuechi took out the blood-soaked napkins. “It stopped bleeding?” Tang Heng asked.
“Mn.” Li Yuechi’s voice was very, very soft. He probably didn’t have the strength. “Thanks.”
Tang Heng stood before him and extended a hand. “Can you get up?”
Li Yuechi gave a short laugh, grasped his hand, and stood up.
His blood got onto Tang Heng’s hand. It was sticky.
“Let’s go to the hospital,” Tang Heng said.
“Seriously no need.” Li Yuechi tugged his t-shirt. “Does your phone have battery?”
“I need to find something. Help me turn on the flashlight.”
Tang Heng knew that nobody could convince this guy to do something he wasn’t willing to do. All he could do was turn on his phone’s flashlight and ask Li Yuechi, “What are you looking for?”
“A bag.” Li Yuechi walked forward. “Follow me. It shouldn’t be hard to find.”
So, the two of them walked together, bent over and with their heads bowed, one providing light while one searched. Li Yuechi was extremely focused in his search. He’d step into the puddles without any hesitation. This part of town was populated by stores—the various signs reflected in the water, patch after patch, like a colorful yet hazy dreamscape. The incoming passersby along the way were all taken aback by how bloody Li Yuechi was and looked back.
They turned two corners and finally, at the entrance of some alley, Li Yuechi picked up a white plastic bag.
The bag had the words Wuhan Central Hospital printed in big font. Li Yuechi shook off the water and carefully pulled out an X-ray print. He held it up to the streetlamp and muttered under his breath, “Fuck.”
Tang Heng couldn’t remember ever hearing him curse, whether it was when the interviewees refused to open the door or when he got beaten to pulp.
It was the X-ray of a person’s bone, but he couldn’t tell which bone it was.
“Mn.” But Li Yuechi still carefully wiped away the water on the surface and turned to face Tang Heng. “Don’t tell anyone what happened tonight, okay?” he asked seriously.
“Fighting outside the campus,” Li Yuechi said. “I’ll get punished.”
“I’m not asking about that.”
“Then, what are you asking about?”
“Fine.” He laughed again, sounding a little helpless. “Let’s find somewhere to sit and talk.”
They couldn’t go into a restaurant in their state, so Tang Heng entered a small supermarket to buy alcohol wipes and two bottles of iced cola. When he was paying, he suddenly saw Li Yuechi standing outside the door. He was slightly hunched over and seemed to be spacing out. He abruptly thought of that night. Li Yuechi had hunched over like this when his back had been wounded by the beer bottle. Did he get hurt often?
The owner slowly bagged everything and handed him the change.
“Li Yuechi,” Tang Heng called out. “Come here.”
Li Yuechi didn’t move. He pointed at his t-shirt as if saying, I can’t, looking like this.
“Come here,” Tang Heng called again.
So Li Yuechi lifted the curtain and came in. The owner’s eyes widened and his expression grew cautious. Tang Heng ignored him and asked Li Yuechi, “Are you hungry?”
Which meant that he was hungry.
Tang Heng walked to the snack shelf. Other than stuff like chips and dried fruit, there were only two pieces of bread with meat floss left. “Do you want bread?” he asked.
Li Yuechi nodded. Under the supermarket’s incandescent light, Tang Heng realized that his face was deathly pale.
In the end, he bought the two pieces of bread, a bag of beef jerky, and a pack of cigarettes. Tang Heng didn’t smoke and he thought Li Yuechi didn’t smoke either—he probably wasn’t willing to spend money on cigarettes.
But then Li Yuechi pulled out a five-kuai bill from his pocket and a copper 50-cent coin. “Give me a Huangguoshu.”
The two walked out and Li Yuechi lit the cigarette. He lowered his head slightly when smoking, his eyelashes lowered too as he inhaled slowly, exhaled slowly. It was a focused expression. Tang Heng thought of the blade that glinted silver in the night sky. He still felt fear.
They walked to the edge of the Yangtze River, walked down the embankment and sat onto the damp steps. If they took a few more steps, it would be the black river water. Li Yuechi seemed exhausted. He propped his elbows on his knees, left hand supporting his chin, right hand holding the cigarette. The orange tip flickered slowly as he breathed.
“It was… very dangerous,” Tang Heng said hesitantly. “They had a knife.”
“I know, but they wouldn’t dare to actually kill me.”
“They’re here for money. Who’ll repay them if I’m dead?”
“Money? You borrowed money?”
“Mn.” Li Yuechi was silent for a moment. “Loan sharks.”
“Medical treatment. You saw it, that X-ray.”
“Medical treatment for who?”
Li Yuechi stopped talking. After a long while, he extinguished the cigarette in his hand and murmured, “My girlfriend.”
A freighter cruised slowly in the black river, the long horn sounding like a cry. It was too slow. The freighter in the deep night was so slow, and even the river slowed down. It was like everything had slowed down. One second after another, it was like a century had passed. The moist river water and the dry tobacco wafted in the air. There seemed to also be a metallic smell from Li Yuechi—it was the smell of the dried blood.
Tang Heng turned to look at Li Yuechi, but he couldn’t see his face clearly. He lit another cigarette, the orange tip blurred into a haze with the lights from the distant Yangtze River Bridge. At that moment, Li Yuechi seemed to be so far from Tang Heng, far like the bridge.
“You have a girlfriend,” Tang Heng said. “Never heard you mention her before.”
“She’s always in the hospital. There’s no point mentioning it.”
“What’s the disease?”
“Cancer.” Li Yuechi’s voice was almost covered up by the horn. “It already spread.”
Li Yuechi couldn’t say anything. He had too many questions to ask, like how could someone get cancer at such a young age, how did Li Yuechi find a girlfriend with cancer, how long have they been dating? But he couldn’t ask these questions. It turned out that Li Yuechi was working like crazy for her medical treatment. He was willing to borrow from a loan shark, he was willing to get beaten up, just to save her. He must really love her.
Li Yuechi finished the second cigarette and pulled out the bread from the plastic bag. He wolfed it down. He finished the iced cola quickly too. He must not have eaten dinner, Tang Heng thought.
He finished eating and smiled at Tang Heng. “Thanks for today.”
“You’re going back now?”
“Back to the hospital to accompany your girlfriend.”
“No… Her family is with her.”
“Don’t tell anyone about today, okay?”
“I already agreed.”
“How much money did you borrow?”
“I thought it’d be 800,000.” Tang Heng gazed at the pitch-black river, not knowing what he was thinking about. “I’ll give you money. Pay off those loan sharks.”
Chapter 28: I’m Not Gay
Translated by Fefe of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Li Yuechi was silent for a few seconds. “Giving to me, or lending to me?” he asked.
“How much interest?”
Why? Tang Heng thought, The answer will scare you.
“Because I’m rich.” Tang Heng’s voice was casual. “Eighty-thousand isn’t that much.”
“It’s a lot to me. This isn’t suitable.” Li Yuechi got up as he spoke. “It’s late. Let’s go back.”
“…You don’t want it?” Tang Heng found it hard to believe.
“I said, it’s not suitable.”
“What kind of relationship do we have?”
Tang Heng blanched. He didn’t know the answer. Indeed, he and Li Yuechi weren’t even friends, but they were at least both from the sociology department, so they could count as…
“See, you’re not my shidi either,” Li Yuechi said patiently. “I can’t take your money like this.”
Right, he wasn’t a shidi either. Tang Heng had denied this with his own mouth.
Tang Heng gritted his teeth. “But you’re my xuezhang.”
“Xuezhang?” Li Yuechi laughed again as if he’d heard a strange new word. “I’ve never heard you say this before.”
Tang Heng’s cheeks burned. His Adam’s apple bobbed, but he couldn’t say anything. Now he knew what the saying Lift a rock and hit your own foot meant.
It was actually just a common title. Why was it so embarrassing at this moment? He’d been called xuezhang by others before and never thought much of it—plus, he was the singer of a band and could scream his heart out under the eyes of hundreds. How come he couldn’t say anything in the dark now when faced with only Li Yuechi?
Li Yuechi just treated it as a joke and said, “Alright, let’s go.”
Tang Heng stood up too, but he didn’t move. A few seconds later, he squeezed the two syllables out of his throat: “Xuezhang.”
Li Yuechi, arms crossed over his chest, said with half-laughter, “Xuedi, do you want to give me money this badly?”
“I have money.” Tang Heng lowered his eyes, not looking at him but staring at his blurry shadow. “I’m bored and want to do charity. Is that not allowed?”
“Do you want it or not?”
“I have ways to make money. Her family is gathering funds too.” Li Yuechi lowered his voice and said, “So I really don’t need it, but still, thank you.”
It was like this again. Again. Why was he always rejecting him? Every time, it was a rejection.
“When you guys find enough money—do you think you can wait until that day?” Tang Heng snapped. “Would you still be standing here if not for me and Jiang Ya today? Don’t tell me you didn’t know that guy pulled his knife out. Even if he didn’t want to kill you, if he just slashed up your arms and legs—would you still be standing here right now? Would you still be able to make money?”
“I’m lending it to you, not giving it away for free. Plus, won’t it affect our project if you keep getting beaten up every other day?” Tang Heng was speaking faster and faster. “Just treat it as me paying money to get rid of bad luck, okay? I’m applying to go abroad soon and I’m going to write this project into my CV. I don’t want anything to go wrong.”
Tang Heng’s heart sped up after saying all that in one breath. He knew he was lying, but what else could he do? Lower himself and beg Li Yuechi to accept his money? That was too absurd. Plus, begging wouldn’t work with Li Yuechi.
A freighter’s horn sounded in the distance. There seemed to also be some rumbles—a train going across the Yangtze River Bridge.
Tang Heng felt that his heart was like the freighter and train, steering, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, toward this expressionless man before his eyes.
Why wasn’t he saying anything? Was he pissed, scared, or was he seriously considering accepting the money?
The river breeze brushed past Tang Heng’s moist palms. He didn’t know when he’d started sweating.
Half a beat later, Li Yuechi said, “Tang Heng… I like girls.” His voice was so soft.
Tang Heng was taken aback. “Like what?”
“Like, girls.” Li Yuechi’s voice was a bit hesitant, as if he was very apologetic. “I’m not gay.”
Tang Heng almost said, What a coincidence! I’m not either!
But he stopped himself. His remaining bits of sanity told him that this lie wasn’t necessary.
Li Yuechi knew.
Alright, indeed, Tang Heng had fallen for him at some moment. Because he liked him, he wanted to give him money; because he liked him, he couldn’t bear to see him get beaten up; because he liked him, even though he had a girlfriend—he accepted it. He just had bad luck.
Growing up, he’d always been the one getting pursued. Because of Li Yuechi, he knew for the first time how liking someone was something that could destroy your own dignity.
But what did Li Yuechi mean? Was this a clear rejection to make him give up all hope? Or did Li Yuechi think that Tang Heng wanted to use money to buy him? The laughable thing was that the most he’d thought of was to pay Li Yuechi to take some pictures with him, so he could prove to Fu Liling that he really was gay. But it turned out that Li Yuechi had thought more than him, braver, more shameless thoughts. Maybe he was just this type of person in Li Yuechi’s mind? Did Li Yuechi fucking hate the rich?
In just one or two minutes, the sweat on his palm turned clammy. Tang Heng snorted. “You could tell?”
Li Yuechi was silent.
“Yes, I just wanted to spend money for some entertainment,” Tang Heng said. “It’s summer break. I’m bored.”
Li Yuechi still didn’t speak. It was too dark and he couldn’t see his face clearly.
“Actually, I never planned on having you repay me. Of course, you’d have to give me something else.”
“What do you want?”
“What do you think you have?”
“If you don’t speak, I’ll take it as tacit agreement.” Tang Heng didn’t know what he was doing anymore. There was only one thought left in his mind: Li Yuechi is straight, so he’ll never have a chance, right?
Since he didn’t have any chance, why not take this chance and get what he wanted?
He wouldn’t get another opportunity like this.
This wouldn’t happen again.
He’d drank half a bottle of Tsingtao beer in the live house. Only half a bottle. Usually, this wouldn’t even count as drinking. But as the warm river breeze blew this moment, the alcohol seemed to evaporate and come out of his body, making him intoxicated and dizzy, as if he’d gotten drunk. He was hurt and felt unbearable.
Tang Heng slowly moved a step forward.
He was already an asshole in Li Yuechi’s mind, right?
Then he could be even more of an asshole. Just this once. He didn’t have any delusions. He knew that Li Yuechi had a girlfriend and he wasn’t gay.
Their bodies were almost pressed against each other. Li Yuechi still smelled faintly of copper blood. Tang Heng lifted a trembling hand, first the fingertips of his right hand, then his palm, until his entire hand had fallen onto Li Yuechi’s shoulder. He knew that after this, he wouldn’t even have the chance to be friends with Li Yuechi anymore. This was good though. He didn’t know how he could have this thought—since he couldn’t be lovers with Li Yuechi, then it’d be best if they never interacted. He couldn’t stand having Li Yuechi in his sight as anything other than his lover.
Li Yuechi’s shoulders were thin. His collarbone stuck out, grating against Tang Heng’s palm like the hard back of a knife.
Tang Heng’s lips started trembling too. Should he press on? If he wanted to kiss Li Yuechi’s lips, where should he start? He’d never kissed anyone before. The chin, or the corner of his lips? They were so close that he could see the bits of unshaven hair on Li Yuechi’s chin and the slightly swollen corners of his lips. Did it hurt?
Tang Heng was hesitating. He had no clue if it was because he didn’t know how to, or he didn’t dare, or he couldn’t bear it.
The next second, he suddenly saw Li Yuechi arch his brows.
Then a palm pressed against the back of his head, until he was pressed towards Li Yuechi’s face—he touched Li Yuechi’s lips.
His dry, cool lips.
Translator’s note: Shidi/shixiong etc. are students who study under the same teacher. Xuezhang/xuedi etc. students who study in the same school.