Sponsored Chapter by: Susan
On the roadside, Yang Xuan rode his bike, and behind him sat a muffled Tang Junhe—hanging his head, clutching a basketball with his fingers mindlessly picking at its surface.
Without the morning’s soft, low hum behind him, Yang Xuan felt relieved.
The green path leading to the entrance of the district is empty and deserted – Zhou Lin did not come, or perhaps he is hiding. Tang Junhe somehow had a kind of inexplicable loss; obviously he used to be most worried about turning in and seeing Zhou Lin’s greedy gaze.
A few days ago, the dusk was too dark and he was in a state of extreme nervousness. The scene of Yang Xuan beating up Zhou Lin in his head was like a fog in the haze, hazy like a fantasy, so much that he could not tell which ones were real, and which ones are the figments of his imagination.
He wanted to see it again, he wanted to confirm that the Yang Xuan that evening was real.
Tang Junhe was enveloped by a double loss. Holding the basketball with little interest, he followed Yang Xuan back home.
Seeing Yang Xuan, Tang Xiaonian eyes flashed with surprise, but her attention was quickly drawn to the basketball in Tang Junhe’s arms: “Why did you come back with a basketball?”
“I picked it up.” Tang Junhe said as he put the basketball on the shoe cabinet and changed into his slippers.
“Look at how dirty it is, and you still put it on the shoe cabinet,” Tang Xiaonian picked up the basketball and turned her head to look around the house, seemingly thinking about where to put the thing, “What’s the point of picking up a basketball and taking it back, do you want to play basketball? Where did you pick it up?”
Tang Junhe took the basketball from Tang Xiaonian’s hand, carrying his school bag in one hand and holding the basketball in the other, and walked towards his room.
“Don’t put it in your room,” Tang Xiaonian chased after him, “It’s so dirty.”
“It’s not dirty at all,” Tang Junhe was so annoyed by Tang Xiaonian’s chanting that he couldn’t help but talk back, “Not only do I want to put it in my room, I also want to hug it to sleep.” After he finished, he put the basketball on the bed.
“It’s dirty!” Tang Xiaonian bent down and tried to slap the basketball to the ground, but she didn’t expect Tang Junhe to turn around and lie directly on the basketball, protecting it with his body as he buried his face in the quilt and said in a muffled voice, “Mom, you leave me alone.”
“What sort of attitude are you having?” Tang Xiaonian was furious and tried to smack him on the back. However, when her hand was raised halfway to the air, she lost her breath and glared at Tang Junhe for a while before she turned her head and walked out of the room, slamming the door shut.
Tang Junhe held the basketball in the bed on the floor for half a second before sitting up, looking down at it. It certainly is not new, but definitely not dirty at all. He squeezed the hand sanitizer to wash it carefully once more. He felt that Yang Xuan did not want it, probably because it is too dirty.
He stood up with that basketball in his arms, walked over to his desk, put it next to the two Transformers Yang Xuan had given him when he was a kid—which he had kept—and surveyed them.
They all faded, along with the faint scar on the corner of his forehead.
Time is unlikely to let go of any one thing.
Before going to bed, Tang Junhe walked back to his room after washing up and found that his bed sheet and quilt cover were changed to new ones—Tang Xiaonian changed them while he was washing up and went back to her room afterwards without saying a word to him.
Tang Junhe is a bit guilty, he feels that his action of putting the basketball on the bed is indeed a bit too much. But he doesn’t want to be wrapped up in Tang Xiaonian’s impermeable concern all the time where he can hardly breathe.
For three days in a row, Zhou Lin did not appear.
Tang Junhe was a little uneasy—Yang Xuan would not think he was lying to him, right? But a while ago, he did appear every day, either in front of the school, or on the path in front of the neighborhood.
As soon as he saw Yang Xuan, he hid? Then if Yang Xuan one day becomes impatient to go to and from school with himself, Zhou Lin will not suddenly appear again, is he?
Tang Junhe was not sure how long Yang Xuan’s patience would last since he always seemed impatient with himself, which made him start to be a little cautious, afraid of touching Yang Xuan’s scales and announcing that he would no longer care about him.
He began to wonder if he was really a bit obnoxious, perhaps the cold violence he had endured on campus before was not only due to Zhou Lin, but also due to himself.
He began to review whether his goodwill in the past few days was a bit abrupt, after all, as the son of Tang Xiaonian, he was indeed a part of Yang Xuan’s family rupture, whether intentional or not, he was the source of the “incident” that year, which is a responsibility that cannot be shirked.
“I’ll help you take your school bag to class, okay?” When they arrived at the school gate, Tang Junhe jumped down from the back seat of the bike and said as he followed Yang Xuan.
“No.” Yang Xuan indifferently refused, then carried his school bag and went to the basketball court without looking back. It was as if he had accomplished his mission by driving Tang Junhe to school and didn’t need to have any more interactions with him.
Tang Junhe stood in place for a moment, then exhaled and returned to his usual indifferent appearance, lifting his legs in the direction of the school building.
Similar scenarios have happened too many times in the past few days that he simply can’t keep getting more and more frustrated than he already is.
— “Do you need help from the math test papers from yesterday? I wrote the formulas, here, you can take it.”
— “Do good students still need to write these?” Yang Xuan spoke with mockery.
— “Maybe I should take it from here? Why don’t you let me ride the bike?” After an uphill climb, Tang Junhe kindly suggested.
— “You?” Disdain was evident in one word.
Whether it was an illusion or not, Tang Junhe always felt that since he had taken up the basketball, Yang Xuan’s attitude toward himself began to take a sharp turn for the worse, becoming more and more indifferent, as if he was physically conveying three words – “Don’t do anything.”
Tang Junhe felt he needed to make another effort and this time it was not by showing kindness but by showing his cards straightforwardly—he intended to ask Yang Xuan if he really hated himself.
Although the answer is likely to be a disheartening “you know but still need to ask” – Tang Junhe can practically picture in his mind the careless and cruel tone of the other’s voice when he says this yet he still decided to give it a try.
But what if the answer to his question was a moment of silence? Would that mean there is room for a little more effort?
But the question was never asked on that day. A sudden news disrupted Tang Junhe plan.
That afternoon, the second period was a math class, and the last twenty minutes were used to take a quiz in the classroom. Less than ten minutes after the test papers were handed out, the homeroom teacher suddenly pushed the door in and, without bothering to greet the math teacher, shouted directly to the back of the classroom, “Yang Xuan, Tang Junhe, come out for a moment!”
His name and Yang Xuan’s name appeared together, and Tang Junhe, holding the pen in his hand, looked up toward the door with some surprise, and then looked back toward Yang Xuan.
Yang Xuan was lying on the table, sleeping. The person next to him woke him up and gestured towards the door.
“Come out and stop writing for a while.” The homeroom teacher looked a little flustered and waved quickly at the two of them.
Her urgent tone drew the attention of most of the people in the class, many of whom looked up at the homeroom teacher and then back at Yang Xuan and Tang Junhe.
Tang Junhe put down his pen, got up and walked towards the door.
Yang Xuan also got up from his seat and walked out after him.
“What’s wrong?” The math teacher asked as she walked to the door.
“Something happened,” the homeroom teacher gave a slightly apologetic smile, “It’s okay, you go on with the exam.”
The two walked out, only then did they see a tall, thin young man standing by the window.
“This is Officer Yu, who came over to find out something about you guys,” the homeroom teacher introduced in a lowered voice, and then looked up to the man and said, “This is Yang Xuan, and this is Tang Junhe.”
The officer in plain clothes smiled at them and asked straightforwardly, “Do you know Zhou Lin?”
The two voices collide.
Tang Junhe’s heart was flooded with a strong sense of unease, but he did not show it on the surface.
While Yang Xuan was frowning, he really did not know which onion, Zhou Lin was, and he never connected the name with the man who always followed Tang Junhe.
“Hmm?” The cop raised an eyebrow and looked at them both with some surprises.
Tang Junhe gulped and tried his best to say calmly, “I know, he doesn’t.”
“Okay,” the police officer didn’t press the issue much, “but you both have to come with me and give a statement.”
“Who is Zhou Lin?” Yang Xuan looked at the policeman and asked, he was a little taller than the policeman.
The policeman looked at Tang Junhe, he thought the boy who said he “knew” would explain himself, but Tang Junhe didn’t say anything—he was cautiously reminded of Zhou Lin’s recent disappearance.
“He’s a teacher,” the policeman said to Tang Junhe, “your former teacher, right?”
Tang Junhe said, “En.”
Yang Xuan finally reacted, it was the perverted teacher who had been following Tang Junhe, the one he had beaten up a few days ago.
“He’s dead.” The policeman said in a calm tone, “He was hit by a car.”
Tang Junhe’s eyes flashed with a hint of shock, while Yang Xuan frowned for a few seconds without anyone noticing.
“The deceased showed signs of having been beaten,” the policeman observed their expressions and continued, “so there are a few questions to ask you.”