It was late into the night by the time the Shanghai 16 School Tournament Semifinals concluded. High School 13’s team walked out into the cold night air of Shanghai, while Ouyang rambled on about the amazing plays and how he’d totally helped the team make it to the Finals from the bench. “Listen, listen, listen bros and fembros! My heart was right up on stage with you guys, beating and pounding! I felt your nerves like my nerves, sizzling and frying! We were in it together!” The others walked on while politely nodding as Ouyang basked in the excitement of the win. They eventually reached a large town square and stopped. This was where they had to part company and go back to their own homes. The Finals were the next day, so there was no time for celebration tonight.
They said their goodbyes to each other and started walking off in different directions, a mellow closing to an eventful day. That’s when An Xin ran over to Lin Feng and grabbed his arm, “I can’t wait to see your place! Let’s go!” Everyone heard her words and froze in place for a picosecond. Ouyang was the first to react, his mind moved faster than the Flash whenever something like this came up. He thought he knew what was going down. An Xin had seen Lin Feng playing, and she was all revved up. He started grinning. My bro Lin Feng! No! Now he’s going to be my man Lin Feng! What a fucking champion! Wins the tournament, gets the girl. His grin got even wider and he positively beamed a pure, primal, pristine, and fading-virginity-by-proxy joy at Lin Feng. “MY MAN LIN FENG! REMEMBER, KEEP THE COVER ON THE STRAW WHEN YOU GET THAT JUICE!” Then he winked at Lin Feng.
Ouyang’s excitement and yelling was enough to spark understanding for Liu Yue. He understood exactly what Ouyang was saying, and he grinned right back at Ouyang before looking at Lin Feng. Then he said, “Lin Feng, I’m right with you in spirit! I got your back! But if you need any… uh… HELP, you call me. Any time! I’ll get up! No matter how late it is. You call me if you need to know anything, yeah? Encouragement, moral support, tips, anyt—”
Ren Rou was shocked when she heard An Xin talking about going to Lin Feng’s house. It was completely unexpected and out of the blue. She got over her shock at how scandalously forward An Xin was being just as Ouyang finished talking. Then she let out a small gasp and turned to look at Tang Bingyao, who was just staring at the ground. That’s when Liu Yue started talking, and she glared at Ouyang before motioning towards Liu Yue. Ouyang read her loud and clear. He grabbed Liu Yue and pulled him away before any more words could be said.
Ren Rou then turned to look at Tang Bingyao, who was staring at the ground. She heard… Poor girl. Ren Rou walked up to Tang Bingyao, who was chewing on her lips and ignoring everyone around her, and put an arm around her. Then she leaned closer to Tang Bingyao’s ear and whispered in a voice only the two of them could hear, “Hey, everything okay?” There was no response.
Lin Feng, meanwhile, had only just processed An Xin’s statement. And failed to understand what she meant. He looked at her, confused, and asked, “Huh? Why? What?”
An Xin knocked on Lin Feng’s head. “Why? You’re an idiot. Why do you think? I just said it. To see your place!”
Lin Feng rubbed his forehead in pain and said, “Uh… But, well, isn’t it late…? Look, it’s night!”
An Xin narrowed her eyes, smiling that terrifying smile of hers, and said, “Yeah. So? Got a problem with that?”
All the guys took a step back. They felt a cold chill running up and down their bodies. An Xin was a nice girl most of the time. But something always seemed to change whenever she talked to Lin Feng. She would start smiling that smile that could’ve come straight out of a horror movie. There was something incredibly disturbing about it, though they didn’t quite know what.
Lin Feng didn’t seem to notice what the other guys saw. He laughed and said, “Okay, sure! It actually works out perfectly! You’ll get a chance to try Su Xue’s food! It’s always so good! She’s probably busy making a late night snack for me right now!”
An Xin nodded and said, “That sounds yum! I’m looking forward to it.”
Lin Feng glanced at the time on his phone and said, “Since it’s already so late, let’s not take the train. It’s going to take forever, and it’s annoying. We’ll get a cab home!” Then he looked at Tang Bingyao and added, “Tang Tang, you can come with us too! We’ll just make a stop at your place and drop you off, your place is on the way anyway.”
Tang Bingyao didn’t look up at Lin Feng. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, but no words came out. All she could hear was the sound of her heart knocking violently against her ribcage. Her shoulders started trembling, but Ren Rou expertly helped her to hide it. “Uhm…” she mumbled, barely audible. She chewed on the inside of her mouth, fighting back the tears she could feel welling up. There was a strange feeling in her stomach, as if she were falling. She could feel seven pairs of eyes on her. They were burning. Her breaths came in ragged and uneven. Then she shook her head and said, “N-no, thank you.”
An Xin was surprised that Tang Bingyao refused to join them. “What? Tang Tang, just take the cab back home with us. Don’t you live really close to Lin Feng?” She paused for a moment, waiting for an answer that wasn’t coming, then added, “It’s so late already and you’re a pretty girl! I don’t think it’s smart for you to take the train home by yourself. What if something happens?”
“Yeah! What BunBun said!” Lin Feng chimed in. Then his eyes went wide. Oh, right! Money! I can’t believe I forgot that! He quickly added, “Don’t worry about splitting the cab ride! I’m paying for the whole thing.”
Tang Bingyao kept shaking her head, still staring down at the ground. “N-no, thank you,” she repeated. “I’ll take the train home.”
“But I said I’ll pay!” Lin Feng exclaimed. “You understand what I’m saying, right? I. Will. Pay! You don’t have to pay anything! It’s free! That’s like making money! Don’t you understand… I don’t understand… Are you sick again?” He reached out towards Tang Bingyao’s forehead, but was slapped away by Ren Rou who yelped, “Hey! Didn’t you hear her? She said no!”
Tang Bingyao tried to hide behind Ren Rou, who was still hugging her from the side, and mumbled, “N-no, thank you. I’ll t-take the train home.”
Lin Feng scratched the back of his head and complained, “Tang Tang always wants to save money. I’m saying that I’ll pay. Why would she want to pay for a train ticket home and wait for the train, when she could just get in a cab with BunBun and me? We’ll drop her off at her place! I don’t get it!” He looked at Ren Rou and continued, “Maybe she really is running a fever, Rou Rou. Right! Why’d you have to slap me away? I’m just worried for a friend! What did I even do?”
Running a fever? Are you really that stupid? Ren Rou shook her head. She could feel a trembling panic from Tang Bingyao and hugged her a little closer. Then she looked at Lin Feng and said, “Don’t worry about it. You go take a cab home with An Xin. I’ll take the train back with Tang Tang. She’ll be fine.” She then nudged Tang Bingyao and said, “That’s good with you, right?”
“Mhm,” Tang Bingyao said, nodding slowly.
Lin Feng shook his head, confused, and said, “Okay, If you say so. I’ll see you guys tomorrow then! Come, BunBun, let’s go find a cab.” He was completely oblivious to what was going on.
An Xin, on the other hand, was not as clueless as Lin Feng. She’d picked up on what was happening. She looked at Tang Bingyao and briefly considered if she wanted to say something, but decided against it. Not the right time for that. We’ll sit down and talk when it’s just the two of us. Another time, another day. She smiled at Ren Rou and Tang Bingyao, “Just be careful, alright?” Then she grabbed Lin Feng by the arm and walked away.
Ren Rou and Tang Bingyao lived a good 30 minutes apart from each other. They walked to the train station together in silence and waited for the last Line #4 train to arrive. The sky was dark. There was almost no one around. They jumped on the train when it arrived and were greeted by an almost empty carriage. There was someone sleeping in the back, who probably had already missed his stop judging by the drool on his blazer, and there was a small group in suits. The two girls stayed near the door, far away from the other passengers. Tang Bingyao was leaning back against the glass dividers, staring out the window at the city’s nightscape, lost in thought.
Ren Rou looked at Tang Bingyao and sighed. She wanted to say something to help her friend, but didn’t know how to breach the topic. Or even what she could possibly do. Finally, with only two more stops until she had to get off the train, she said, “Tang Tang, you know you didn’t have to do that, right?”
Tang Bingyao turned to look at Ren Rou and said, “Mhm huh? What? Sorry…”
Ren Rou shook her head, staring out the window, and said, “You know you didn’t have to do that, right? Back there, I mean, with Lin Feng and BunBun. It’s only a cab ride. Why didn’t you just go with them? You’re all going the same way anyway. Now you’re in this train that smells like piss… Is this really what you want?”
Tang Bingyao bit on her lips. Just the thought of Lin Feng and An Xin together pained her. It was a contracting feeling in her chest. She clutched it and said, “Uhm, I… I didn’t want to be the third wheel.”
Ren Rou sighed, you poor girl, and said, “How would you be third wheeling? You… Ah, you stupid girl. You really have no experience with dating, do you? Did you read this in some book? You’re all up in your head and imagining all sorts of crazy things. I guarantee you, nothing is happening between the two of them. BunBun even said so herself. She’s just going over to take a look at his place. And, come on, Tang Tang. They’ve been friends for years! It’s perfectly normal that they’re closer with each other than you are with Lin Feng. You two have only known each other for a few months.”
Tang Bingyao didn’t answer right away. She looked down at the carriage floor, chewing on her lips. Finally, she mumbled, “I know that, but…” Then she remembered how Ren Rou had saved her from the situation earlier. If it weren’t for Ren Rou, she would have run out of excuses. Lin Feng and An Xin would’ve convinced her to join them in the cab. She would’ve had to sit next to them, while they were doing things together. She would’ve had to listen to them doing those things together. She would’ve had to see them doing those things together. No! Ren Rou said it was only a cab ride… But that thought didn’t make her feel any more comfortable about the situation. She looked up at her friend and said, “Thank you, Rou Rou.”
“Please, what’s there to thank me for? That’s what friends are for!” Ren Rou replied, smiling. Then she looked at Tang Bingyao. She wanted to say something more. She wanted to tell Tang Bingyao not to give up on Lin Feng. An Xin was Lin Feng’s friend, they weren’t dating. But she couldn’t get herself to say the words. She shook her head and mumbled to herself, “Hah, what am I going to do with you?”
The train arrived at the fourth station since the two girls got on. Ren Rou gave Tang Bingyao a goodnight hug, said a few more supportive words, and then got off the train. Tang Bingyao watched the doors close before continuing staring into the distance. She still had to wait through another seven stops, which would take about 20 minutes. Shanghai’s scenery flashed by, but she didn’t see any of it. Her mind was a mess, with images of Lin Feng and An Xin together. Maybe they already kissed… The voice coming from the speaker above her head announced the next stop, pulling her out of her stupor. She hefted her backpack up to her shoulders and waited for the doors to open. Then she got off the train and left the station.
Tang Bingyao walked the familiar streets she always walked with Lin Feng. The warm glow of the street lamps illuminated the path ahead, casting long and slender shadows over the pavement. She carefully placed her feet over the cement blocks, playing her usual game of Don’t-Step-on-the-Cracks. Then she turned back to look behind her… He wasn’t there. His bright grin and messy hair. He wasn’t there. He always walked with her down this street. She would play her game and he would watch her. He wasn’t there. The street was empty. The only company she had was her own shadow. She felt a lump in her throat and her eyes watered. “Don’t cry. Don’t cry,” she mumbled to herself, rubbing her nose. “Don’t cry. There’s nothing to cry about. Stop crying. Stop crying!” She wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Stop it!” She forced herself to take a deep breath and looked back down at the cement blocks. She hopped around on them, a brief distraction. Then she turned to look behind her again. He wasn’t there. “Why are you not there?” she asked, her eyes red and tears running down her face. “I wanted you to be there.”
The cab dropped Lin Feng and An Xin off in front of the apartment complex where Lin Feng lived. They walked up the stairs together and stopped before the front door. Lin Feng fished in his pocket for his keys, but couldn’t find them. He felt around in another pocket, and then another, searching for them. “Uhh…” He turned to An Xin and said, “Oops! Looks like I forgot my keys!”
“Idiot. Still as forgetful as ever, I see,” An Xin complained, shaking her head.
“It’s fine, it’s fine! Su Xue’s home. She can open the door!” Lin Feng said. Then he laughed and added, “It’s not like this is my first or second time forgetting my keys!”
An Xin rolled her eyes back and said, “You sound proud of it. Don’t be.”
Lin Feng had stopped listening. He was knocking on the front door and shouted, “SU XUEEEE! I’M HOO–OOOME!”
The door didn’t open right away, so Lin Feng banged a little harder on it, shouting even louder, “IT’S-A ME, MARIO! I mean, LIN FENG! OPEN THE DOOOOOR!”
Su Xue still hadn’t opened the door yet. Lin Feng grew increasingly impatient, now slamming his fists into the door and shouting at the top of his lungs, “SU XUEEEEEEEE—”
“ENOUGH!” Su Xue shouted from inside the apartment. She swung the front door open a few seconds later and yelled, “What the hell is wrong with you? Are you trying to wake up the entire neighbourhood? And how did you forget your keys again? How stupid are you? Do you think I won’t let you sleep outside? Just watch, you little—” Su Xue abruptly stopped ranting. She’d finally noticed An Xin.
Lin Feng noticed that Su Xue was looking at An Xin. He scratched the back of his head and said, “Oh, This i—”
Su Xue slammed the door shut in Lin Feng’s face. Shit! Why did I close the door? FUCKING FIDDLESTICKS! I panicked… She leaned against the door and slid down towards the ground. What do I do now? I CLOSED THE DOOR ON THEM! Su Xue was embarrassed at her reaction, confused, and mostly mind-blown by how cute the girl standing next to Lin Feng was. He brought a girl home. A very pretty girl… I think? Was that really a girl? A ghost? Maybe it was a ghost! No, it wasn’t. I really saw her. Wait, no. I’m totally seeing things! That has to be a ghost! She pushed herself up and opened the door again. There was the girl. I’M NOT SEEING THINGS! I’M NOT SEEING THINGS! SHE’S REAL!
“Hey! Why did you close the door again?” Lin Feng shouted, indignant.
An Xin ignored Lin Feng and bowed towards Su Xue, saying, “It’s nice to meet you. I’m An Xin, Lin Feng’s friend. He invited me to come over.”
Lin Feng stopped badgering Su Xue with demands for an answer and turned to look at An Xin. It took him a moment to process what she’d just said, then he started complaining, “Hey! Weren’t you the one inviting yourse— YEOUCHH!”
An Xin silenced Lin Feng with a swift kick to the shin, while smiling kindly at Su Xue and continuing as if nothing had happened, “But all my friends call me BunBun, so please call me that!”
Su Xue blinked several times. Then she said, “Oh! You must be one of Lin Feng’s classmates then! Come in! Please, come in! Make yourself at home!” All the while, her imagination was running wild. He brought a pretty girl home late at night! Should I call his mother to make sure she’s ok with thi— Wait! What about Tang Tang? Wasn’t he seeing her? Where did this An Xin, BunBun, whatever come from? And she’s also really pretty! Are all high school girls so pretty these days? Su Xue glanced at Lin Feng as the two brushed past her. Don’t tell me this stupid kid is actually popular with the girls…