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    Shen Li sat in the driver’s seat, the car still parked in the parking space in front of the barbershop, holding his phone and waiting for a long time for Lu Changting’s reply.

    Finally, a message came through: “Shen Boss, have you ever been on a blind date? Do you have any experience to share?”

    He had been on one before, only to be scammed. The other party even brought a male companion intentionally, wanting to disrupt the blind date. So he spoke up, and everyone dispersed.

    Where could he get any experience to pass on to Lu Changting?

    He calmly opened the search engine, typed out a string of words on the keyboard, and then sent all the links he found to Lu Changting.

    Something splattered on the screen of his phone, blurring his vision.

    Shen Li laughed bitterly at himself, wiped away the watermarks on the screen, and then opened a chat window with Jiang Chifeng, sending a message.

    “Come out for a drink.”

    Half an hour ago, Jiang Chifeng received a message from Shen Li, just four words followed by a location.

    First High School in City S.

    On a Saturday night at ten twenty-seven, Jiang Chifeng didn’t know what Shen Li was up to. He handed a pack of cigarettes to the security guard on duty at the school gate, successfully using the excuse of reminiscing about his youth to sneak into the school.

    Reminiscing about his damn youth. Missing the mark by a few points on the entrance exam to City First High was a pain he’d carry for life. His family suggested pulling strings to get him in, but he refused. He was rebellious back then, too proud to accept that he hadn’t made it on his own merits. Paying for admission through connections would have been humiliating. In the end, gritting his teeth, he went to Second High.

    Though he was more mature now, the memory still rankled. If it weren’t for Shen Li’s invitation, he probably would never have set foot in City First High in his lifetime.

    Their school here doesn’t do the whole extra classes thing. They have Fridays off and come back on Sundays, so Saturdays on campus are as dead as can be. Jiang Chifeng couldn’t find his way around the huge campus, wandering aimlessly while sending a voice message to Shen Li.

    “Where are you? This school is massive. You expect me to find you through telepathy?”

    Shen Li replied promptly and succinctly: “By the small building next to the basketball court.”

    The lights by the basketball court were bright, contrasting with the darkness of the small building behind it. Tall evergreen trees cast thick shadows, making the surroundings seem eerie and mysterious.

    Jiang Chifeng used his phone as a flashlight, climbing the wooden stairs. When he saw Shen Li at the top of the stairs, his heart, which had been hanging in suspense, finally settled.

    “Here you are, at this late hour, enjoying the tranquility.” Jiang Chifeng wasn’t one for formality, casually sitting down beside Shen Li at the stairwell and opening a bottle of liquor. “How did you manage to sneak this in?”

    “Through the side gate,” Shen Li replied.

    Jiang Chifeng took a few sips of the liquor and, illuminated by the moonlight filtering through the branches, glanced at Shen Li. “Come on, spill it. Pour out your troubles.”

    Shen Li took a drag of his cigarette, lifting his gaze through the smoke, the weariness and sadness in his eyes blending into the night.

    “Do you have any legends at your school?”

    “What kind of legends?” Jiang Chifeng took another swig of his drink, sounding nonchalant. “Is it one of those stories where the dormitory is built on top of a mass grave?”

    Shen Li suddenly laughed. He also opened a can of alcohol, not drinking, but pouring some out at his feet as if in homage. “This small building used to be the equipment room, then it became a storage room, and all the doors are locked now.”

    “I heard a girl died there, suicide by wrist-cutting, blood flowing all over the floor.”

    “Damn,” Jiang Chifeng licked his lips, feeling a chill run down his spine. “Ghost stories aren’t scary, but your actions are.”

    “And then the haunting began, with ghostly apparitions and the girl’s crying…” Shen Li’s gaze wandered unfocused into the distance. “On the first day of school, during the evening self-study session, this bizarre ghost story spread throughout my class.”

    “At that time, we were young, full of curiosity. After school, a group of us gathered and decided to go see the small building.”

    “There were too many people, from every class. As soon as I went upstairs, I heard a scream, a sharp one. Fear pierced through my ears instantly, and everyone started running back. I didn’t know what was happening, completely dumbfounded.”

    Shen Li stubbed out his cigarette and took a sip of his drink. He spoke slowly, these memories replaying countless times in his mind, but it was the first time he had shared them with anyone.

    “He was there that night too, the first time I saw him. In the confusion, someone pulled me, and he dragged me downstairs, avoiding the crowd, running to a brightly lit place, then he let go and walked away,” Shen Li said. “Sometimes I wonder, if I had stopped him back then, how things would have turned out.”

    He fell silent for a while before continuing, “The next day, those caught by the patrolling teacher were criticized school-wide. Because he had pulled me, I luckily didn’t end up on the school broadcast.”

    “He was in Class 13, I was in Class 16, just one floor apart,” Shen Li lit another cigarette. “I used to deliberately pass by their classroom, just to take a peek inside.”

    “At the New Year’s Eve party, he wore a black suit and played the piano on stage. After his performance, he quietly slipped out of the auditorium to play basketball on the court.”

    “He looked particularly handsome when he played the piano, the spotlight couldn’t even dim his radiance,” Shen Li said. “The same when he played basketball.”

    Shen Li fell silent, and Jiang Chifeng didn’t interrupt. He knew Shen Li didn’t need comforting or advice; he just needed a sounding board.

    The story wasn’t over yet.

    Shen Li took a drag of his cigarette, exhaling slowly. “During the sports meeting, he participated in the 3000-meter race. I wrote a lot of cheering messages for him. At that time, I was in the school’s broadcasting station, abusing my power, and only his cheering messages were broadcast throughout the venue.”

    “Later, when he came to the podium and asked who had read the cheering messages for him, I hid,” Shen Li slowly curved his lips upward. “At the time of the reading, the atmosphere was high, and no one felt anything wrong. But thinking back, it was really embarrassing.”

    “He liked cats and often went to feed the stray cats at school.”

    “Sometimes I really envy those little cats, being able to bask in his arms and sleep in the sun,” Shen Li reminisced about those fragments of memories from years ago, feeling a flutter in his heart. His smile softened. “Those cats were so cute, and he holding them was also adorable.”

    “I loved watching him play basketball because I could blend into the crowd and cheer for him openly,” Shen Li continued.

    “There was one time he forgot the time while playing basketball and didn’t eat lunch until the lunch break bell rang. He rushed to the store then,” Shen Li tilted his head back and took a gulp of his drink. “It was scorching hot, noon, and then he fainted.”

    “Heatstroke and low blood sugar.”

    “I carried him to the school clinic and then rushed to the store to buy him food,” he tossed the empty beer can aside, smiling bitterly. “When I came back, I saw him smiling, thanking a girl.”

    “He was holding the chocolate I had left by his bedside.”

    “I made it myself.”

    “Later, they got together.”

    “I still secretly followed him afterwards, but I never had the urge to get to know him or confess my admiration again. Sometimes I would see him having dinner with his girlfriend, holding hands, hugging, and I would just watch from afar.”

    “And then I would tell myself over and over again, forget it, you’re not meant to be.”

    “And then, they graduated.”

    “After parting, recalling our meeting, our souls intertwined in dreams.”

    In the period just after graduation, he would dream of Lu Changting almost every day, in strange and surreal dreams. Sometimes he dreamt of the first night they met, where he stopped Lu Changting, and they became friends, chatting and laughing together; sometimes he dreamt of Lu Changting knowing his feelings and coldly rebuking him; sometimes he dreamt of Lu Changting with Tang Yao, which for him was a nightmare, often waking him up in the middle of the night…

    Gradually, he dreamt of Lu Changting less and less, even his longing faded.

    This relationship, from beginning to end, was his overflowing affection, his love and hate, all by himself.

    It had no beginning and no end.

    Until now, Shen Li never mentioned Lu Changting’s name, but Jiang Chifeng knew “he” was Lu Changting. All of Shen Li’s love and hate, all his unresolved feelings, were directed towards Lu Changting.

    “You’re talking about you,” after a long silence, Jiang Chifeng’s throat tightened, sighing, “What sins did you commit in your past life?”

    “Love is voluntary, no regrets after the fact,” Shen Li sighed deeply, “After saying it out loud, I do feel much lighter.”

    “Don’t you want to fight for it?” Jiang Chifeng took out a cigarette from the pack, then a lighter, igniting it. The sporadic sparks carried the scent of tobacco into the night breeze.

    Even as the listener of the story, he felt conflicted… If it were him, he wouldn’t be able to do what Shen Li did, hiding and enduring all that love.

    Even if love was futile, he would still tell Lu Changting. Perhaps it was precisely because Shen Li never said anything, never heard that rejecting “I’m sorry” and “thank you,” that he could love so silently.

    “No,” Shen Li shook his head with a smile, “This path is too difficult. I can’t bear to drag him into it.”

    “I won’t persuade you,” Jiang Chifeng clinked his glass with Shen Li’s, “I’ll just drink with you.”

    That night, the two of them drank at the school until dawn, finishing off the entire case of beer Shen Li had brought.

    After cleaning up the empty beer cans, the school gates were already locked. The two stumbled around the campus, eventually climbing over the wall next to the boys’ dormitory.

    Wei Wenxing was waiting for them outside the school.

    Although Shen Li was a bit drunk, he exercised regularly, so he agilely climbed over the wall. Jiang Chifeng, on the other hand, was more hesitant. He hadn’t done any wall climbing in years, and with his head spinning from the alcohol, he hesitated to jump down from the wall. Wei Wenxing had to coax him.

    “Come down, I’ll catch you.”

    Jiang Chifeng eventually jumped down and was caught by Wei Wenxing, his heart pounding fiercely.

    “Damn, why is the wall of First High so damn high?” He raised his hand to show Wei Wenxing, revealing a shallow red mark from the broken glass embedded in the wall. “And there are broken glass pieces, that’s too harsh.”

    Wei Wenxing held his wrist and kissed it. “Does it hurt?”

    Jiang Chifeng glanced at Shen Li standing nearby, feeling a bit embarrassed as he withdrew his hand. “It’s fine, let’s go, let’s head home.”

    Shen Li glanced down at the scratch on his palm, clenched his fist, and concealed the bleeding wound.

    He looked back at the school wall, took out his phone, and snapped a picture.

    Getting home around midnight, Shen Li took a shower, dried his hair, and sobered up from the alcohol.

    He rummaged through the bedside table for the first aid kit, disinfecting the wound with alcohol and then applying a band-aid to the cut on his palm.

    Lying in bed, he opened WeChat, posted a moment, then slipped his phone under the pillow out of habit, wrapped himself in the blanket, and fell asleep.

    Alcohol Seller: Look at this wall, how high it is. [image.jpg]

    Author’s Note:

    After parting, recalling our meeting, our souls intertwined in dreams. —— From “The Partridge Sky” by Yan Jidao

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