When she came out of the music classroom, Zhang Man walked down the corridor connecting the two school buildings with her guitar, a cold wind blew past her so she tightened her uniform jacket, shivering a little.
Just like last night, it was raining outside, which was neither like summer thunderstorms, nor like the spring season where the rain comes with vigor.
It was a gloomy day.
Meeting Senior Qin Shuai again made her heart stir a little.
In her previous life, Qin Shuai confessed his love to her, just after she and Li Wei had parted ways.
At that time, she switched seats, and they were very far apart, almost at opposite ends of the classroom, so she hardly spoke to him at all on weekdays. On weekends, she stopped going to his home to take extra classes, and the two of them completely had no contact with each other.
The pain of her first love was buried deep in her heart at such a distance that she numbed it with studying or some other things. As long as she didn’t think about him, the intense pain in her heart would feel better.
After a long time, the peace and tranquility brought by the numbness made her even have an illusion of relief, and she thought she was gradually recovering.
The quiet young man always blocked her at the door of the classroom or at the entrance of the school gate when school was over, as if he still had a lot to ask her.
However, at that time Zhang Man could not be bothered with him anymore.
She felt that he was simply unbelievable. Since he already had a girlfriend and didn’t like her, there was no need to lie and pester her with questions so she made up her mind to never talk to him again.
Disregarding him and ignoring any of his moves, Zhang Man treated him like air.
This continuous indifference made the young man become more and more gloomy and paranoid and finally exploded completely one day.
It was Friday, and she went to her teacher’s office in the afternoon before school ended. Before she went home, she saw Chen Feier sending her a text message, saying that Li Wei had been standing in front of the school, apparently waiting for her.
Zhang Man wanted to talk to him for the last time, so she packed her things and headed downstairs.
Just then, she ran into Qin Shuai in the hallway.
Qin Shuai was a senior one year ahead of them, so normally they would not have crossed paths, and Zhang Man can’t remember where or how he met her. But on that day, Qin Shuai found her, took out two movie tickets from his pocket, and asked her if she could go to a movie with him later.
Zhang Man wanted to refuse directly, but she had a sudden change of mind when she thought of Li Wei waiting at the gate.
She felt that she did not have the ability to make him stop pestering her through words, so perhaps she could be more direct in her actions.
Plus, she also had her own selfish thoughts.
At that time, Zhang Man, who was 16 or 17 years old, had always been upset by Li Wei’s lies.
The fact that he deceived her made her have strong doubts and disappointments about herself and the world for a long time before. No matter what she did, as long as she thought of him and the relationship that ended without a trace, she found it hard to get over it.
Therefore, it was a perfect opportunity for her to finalize the matter without much time to think about it, and she was eager to return the grievance to him.
–It was as if by giving it back to him, she would no longer feel bad.
So she agreed to go to the movies with Qin Shuai and walked out of the school with him.
On Friday afternoon, there were a lot of people in front of the school, some snack vendors pushing their carts back and forth, and students gathered around the booths eating skewers and hot pancakes for a dollar each.
There were many parents standing outside the school gates, waiting to pick up their children while rubbing their reddened hands in the cold, breathing heavily.
However, she spotted him right away in the middle of the bustling street.
In the cold early winter, the teenager, wearing a thin school uniform, stood under an evergreen camphor tree at the corner of the street.
His hands were in his pockets, his back was against the tree, his cheeks were thin, and he looked rather unwell.
He had lost a lot of weight, and his whole body was so thin that he seemed to blend in with the surrounding bleak winter days.
The moment she saw him, Zhang Man’s heart felt as if it had been scalded, and the emotions she had been suppressing for days swept over her again, making her almost unable to stand.
The young man also saw them.
He narrowed his eyes, slightly straightened his back and stood still, but he stared directly at them with his dark eyes, looking at them with an expression that was hard to understand.
When he looked at her like that, Zhang Man’s heart suddenly felt a little flustered for some reason, and she immediately turned to the side, not daring to look at him again.
She squeezed her hand, her heart screaming with jealousy and frustration as it continued to spill over, and said to herself, “He lied to you and he doesn’t like you at all. You’re doing the right thing. At least you’ll get him to stop pestering you after this.”
She thought to herself, standing a little closer to Qin Shuai, trying to raise her smile and talk to him with an intimate face. Qin Shuai was telling her about the movie she was going to see later, and she listened to him with a cooperative attitude, nodding her head and smiling at him from time to time, her expression so rigid that her palms were sweating with nervousness.
–She thought to herself that lying was a really hard thing to do, and wondered why it was so easy for him to do so.
To get to the movie theater, they would have to walk across that street, so they would definitely pass him.
She said to herself in her heart that she would just let go of her feelings for him once and for all after passing him by this time.
But the young man didn’t let her have her wish.
The three of them were getting closer and closer, like a slow-motion shot in a movie.
When they passed by him while laughing and joking, the young man suddenly walked over quickly from under the tree and grabbed her wrist, looking gloomily at her, as if in the next moment his eyes would drip water.
“Zhang Man, where are you going?”
The voice was as hoarse and hard as an ice ridge hanging upside down from the eaves in the waning moon.
When she looked at his face, she felt conflicted, as if she had a thrill of revenge, but more than that, she felt an indescribable sense of panic and distress.
The aggravation in her heart came back to haunt her again, giving her the courage to continue on.
She tried to pretend to be very happy and tried hard to pull back her hand, with a warm smile on her face she looked at Qin Shuai next to her for comfort, then turned around and said to Li Wei in an extremely cold manner, “I’m going to the movies with senior.”
With such a stark difference in treatment, she thought she had done well.
The young man fell silent, but he didn’t let go.
He looked at her, and then at Qin Shuai beside her, his eyes, which were usually calm and unruffled, swirled up into a strong storm, and in just a few seconds, his eyes actually turned red.
He took a deep breath, as if trying to calm his mood, looked directly at her, and asked softly: “…can you not go?”
His voice was so weak and the tone was so low that Zhang Man could even tell that he was pleading faintly.
—At that moment, he let go of all his pride, like most ordinary teenagers who wanted to keep their hard-won love.
Zhang Man almost softened at that moment, but in the next second told herself he would lie to her again sooner or later. So she hardened her heart and scoffed, “What’s it to you if I’m dating a senior?”
When the young man heard her response, he completely lost control.
The veins on his forehead were bulging, his teeth were clenched, and even his facial expression was somewhat distorted, as if he had briefly lost his mind. He squeezed her wrist so hard that no matter how much she struggled, he wouldn’t let go and his strength was so great that Zhang Man couldn’t help but cry out in pain.
Zhang Man kept telling him to let go of her wrist, but he kept staring into her eyes and just wouldn’t let go.
The whole process took nearly a minute, and her wrist was pinched so hard that it hurt very badly.
She was so frightened by his stare that she mumbled in a shaky voice, “Let…me go, I’m… in… a hurry…”.
Qin Shuai also came over to help her and tried to break his grip on her hand.
His paranoid look was unlike anything Zhang Man had ever seen before, like a lone wolf in the wilderness who suddenly confronts you in the thick of the night—it’s such a frightening sight.
In front of the school, many people started to look at them.
At that moment, she suddenly remembered the rumors about him, so she got scared, urged by the boundless fear and grievance; she spoke with a trembling voice: “Li Wei, are you crazy? Get off of me, it hurts so much!”
She cried out, her voice breaking into tears, and she was overwhelmed by his paranoia and obsession with her 16 or 17-year-old self.
The young man’s dark expression began to fall apart when he saw her tears, and the storm that had been growing in his eyes at that moment was forced to subside, turning into an indescribable pain.
As if he had been burned, he let go of her hand and moved his eyes from her face to her wrist.
—When he saw the shocking red marks on her white wrist, he staggered back a step.
Zhang Man could never forget the look on his face at that moment.
Regret, pain, fear, sadness …his eyes became more and more red, and his fine eyebrows seemed to be unable to stretch because of the red mark on her wrist.
A long while later, the young man clenched his fist in frustration, as if he wanted to go forward and explain himself to her, but she shrank back a few steps in fear.
It was those few steps that blocked out all his thoughts and movements.
The young man finally left her without saying anything and looked at her carefully for a long time, as if he wanted to remember every detail of her face by heart.
Afterwards, he turned around and left.
The moment he turned around, Zhang Man who was seventeen years old, heard the sound of her heart breaking. She instinctively tried to raise her hand to grab the corner of his clothes but stopped herself from moving.
The movie that day seemed to be a comedy, but by the end of the movie, she had tears streaming down her face.
After that time, she and Li Wei never spoke to each other again.
The young man slowly became his old self, even worse than before. He hid himself in a corner, no longer interacted with people, and became more and more depressed day by day.
Later, he got a guaranteed admission to University B and didn’t come to school any more.
One day before she transferred to another school, he unexpectedly came to the school, walked up to her seat and asked her if she had seen the things he had put on her desk some time ago.
Zhang Man thought he was asking about the Physics book he had left on her desk one day, but she never opened it and just threw it in a drawer instead.
So she just said coldly, “I saw it.”
After hearing her indifferent answer, the young man stood beside her seat for a long time, until her indifference became untenable, and then bowed his head and walked away.
This was the last conversation between the two in their previous lives.
From then on, the young man who gently held her by the streetlight with reddened ears, the young man whose eyes sparkled like stars when he looked at her, disappeared after that cold winter.
Time never stops for anyone, but one day, after a long time, it will reveal some blurred truths of old memories.
It was only after many, many years that Zhang Man realized that the original question he asked at the time was the love letter he had written to her, which was carefully placed inside his Physics book.
Love is hard to find, hard to keep, and hard to forget.