“Oh.” Jiang Hong asked again, “Senior, where do you live?”
“In the East Building,” Lu Xiu said, “opposite the school.”
Lu Xiu pointed to another building in the distance. Jiang Hong realized that he knew almost nothing about Lu Xiu. “Did you move there when you were a junior?”
“I’m a graduate student,” Lu Xiu said. “I’m in my third year.”
Lu Xiu gave him a cup of coffee. He sat down opposite Jiang Hong at the coffee shop and asked, “Has your roommate been bullying you?”
“No, no,” Jiang Hong quickly said. “Why do you ask? We get along well.”
Lu Xiu looked a bit suspicious, but didn’t ask further. Jiang Hong took out a pair of headphones and gave them to him. “I bought them for you.”
It was a black and red wireless Audio-Technica over-ear headphone. Lu Xiu took it and said, “Thank you.”
Lu Xiu hung the headphones around his neck. Jiang Hong thought to himself, “He looks so cool!”
Lu Xiu lifted one side of the headphones and put it close to his chin as if listening to something, but he didn’t play any music.
“I really like it,” Lu Xiu said expressionlessly.
“I bought one for myself too.” Jiang Hong smiled. “Mine is blue. Now I find that red looks the best.”
“Want to trade with me?” Lu Xiu asked.
“No need,” Jiang Hong said regretfully. “The color of the headphones doesn’t really matter. What matters is the face.”
Lu Xiu: “…”
Lu Xiu tried hard to squeeze out a little smile, but failed. He could only say, “You’re not bad too.”
The two of them fell silent for a while. Lu Xiu took a sip of coffee and asked, “Are you getting used to living in the campus?”
“Yes.” Jiang Hong was lost in thought, trying to find a topic to talk to Lu Xiu. Upon hearing the question, he immediately replied.
He found it difficult to chat with Lu Xiu, as he couldn’t find a topic to start with. He was too quiet, and his questions were either too long or too short, making it seem like he was conducting an interrogation. He wanted to ask Lu Xiu what major he was studying, but he knew that it could be answered in just two or three words.
“Oh, this protective charm…” Jiang Hong suddenly remembered and took out the amulet, wanting to ask Lu Xiu where he got it and if it had been blessed.
“When you’re scared, hold onto it and call my name,” Lu Xiu replied.
Jiang Hong joked, “Can I summon you like that?”
Lu Xiu casually replied, “It depends on my mood.”
Jiang Hong chuckled, “Hahaha.”
The atmosphere fell silent again.
“Is the military training at this school tiring?” Jiang Hong asked, trying to make small talk.
“It’s okay.” Lu Xiu realized he was being too brief and added, “Don’t fight, and don’t encourage others to fight either.”
“I won’t.” Jiang Hong’s topic jumped again. “Your haircut looks really good. Where did you get it done?”
“Xi’an,” Lu Xiu said. “I’ll take you there next time.”
A guy looked his best right after a haircut, and Lu Xiu had a choppy cut that was just right, making him look gentle and clean.
“What are you busy with today?” Jiang Hong asked again.
“Nothing much,” Lu Xiu said. “I suddenly wanted a haircut, so I went and got one. Have you met your counselor?”
“No,” Jiang Hong replied.
“I know him. If you want to slack off during military training, let him know,” Lu Xiu said.
“I won’t slack off,” Jiang Hong laughed. “It’s not that tiring, is it?”
“Okay.” Lu Xiu finished his coffee, put on the headphones that Jiang Hong gave him, and took him back downstairs.
“That’s it,” Lu Xiu said. “I’ll come to see you again in a few days.”
“No need to trouble yourself.” Jiang Hong said, “I’ll treat you to a meal after military training.”
Lu Xiu, with a nonchalant expression, didn’t answer Jiang Hong and walked away in front of all the students in the corridor.
When Jiang Hong returned to the dorm, Di Di had already left, and there was a young man in his twenties wearing a white shirt and pants, talking to Jin and Zhang Xiting. Beside the young man was another man with a buzz cut.
“He’s back.” Jin signaled to the young man to look behind him.
“Hello,” Jiang Hong curiously said.
“I’m your counselor,” the young man said. “My name is Hu Qingquan.”
Jiang Hong politely greeted him, and Hu Qingquan handed him a QR code to scan. Jiang Hong asked, “How much do I need to pay?”
Hu Qingquan replied, “This is my contact information…”
Jiang Hong quickly apologized and said, “Sorry to trouble you, Hu Qingquan. If we have any questions, we’ll contact you through WeChat. Take care and let’s all get along well.”
Hu Qingquan patted the shoulder of the male student with a buzz cut, then left room 903 for the next dorm room. He even closed the door behind him as he left.
Silence filled the dormitory.
The male student looked at Jiang Hong, who was the first to realize something. “You must be He Jian,” Jiang Hong said. “I’ve been wondering when you would arrive!”
He Jian let out a long sigh. “The inevitable always happens. Do you really think I wanted to come?”
Jiang Hong was confused, but He Jian took a good look at him and at his roommates, Jin and Zhang Xiting. He had delicate features, large eyes with long eyelashes, and fair skin. He was the fairest of them all in the dormitory, with long, slender legs. He wore casual clothes that didn’t seem to have any brand, and his jacket had a complicated embroidery of a crane on the back, a traditional Chinese style. There were three large boxes beside him.
Wow, what a beautiful man, Jiang Hong thought. Is he a returning idol in a boy band who came back to school for further studies?
Even though it was relatively cool at night, He Jian was sweating profusely, but he didn’t want to take off his jacket. “What kind of place is this?” He Jian said.
Everyone looked at him.
“This school is so weird! What kind of architectural style is this? I can’t stand it! And why is it so hot here?”
“Why don’t you take off your jacket and come here to cool down?” Jiang Hong suggested.
“How come there’s only a wooden board on the bed? Is there no mattress?” He Jian said, as he pulled open the wardrobe. He threw the prosthetic hand inside it with disgust, then slammed it shut. “Why is it so dirty in here?”
“We’ve already cleaned it before you came,” Jiang Hong said apologetically. “Sorry, we forgot to wipe the inside of the wardrobe for you.”
“Never mind him,” Zhang Xiting whispered to Jiang Hong.
“Well, um…” Jiang Hong tried to comfort He Jian. “Take a deep breath and calm down, He Jian.”
Jiang Hong didn’t expect that the fourth roommate would have such a style. Complaining like this in any dormitory would likely annoy others, but He Jian’s criticisms touched on many of Jiang Hong’s own grievances – the small forest near the school’s back door, the strange window in the cafeteria, and the school’s peculiar architectural style. In just fifteen minutes, He Jian had criticized everything from top to bottom. Even the floor tiles were not spared. Although Jiang Hong felt that this was not good, he couldn’t help but find it really enjoyable! He also wanted to vent his own frustrations about this strange school!
He Jian said, “I didn’t even want to come. My mother forced me to come here. The food in the cafeteria is so terrible. Oh my god, I have to stay here for four years… It’s too hopeless! This is not a livable place. I want to go home, I want to go home!”
“I want to go home—! I want to go home—!!!”
“I want to go home—“
Zhang Xiting finally couldn’t take it anymore and shouted, “Enough!!”
Jin said, “Shut up!”
Jin’s shout gave Jiang Hong a feeling that his internal organs had been impacted. He was reminded of a certain martial arts skill called “Lion’s Roar” he had read about in a novel years ago. Jiang Hong almost spat out blood, and the window glass made a buzzing sound.
Suddenly, the entire dormitory fell silent. He Jian, a delicate and handsome young man with a buzz cut, had a subtle change in expression.
His thin but rosy lips pursed slightly, and his eyebrows furrowed.
This is bad… Jiang Hong thought. Is he going to cry? What should I do?
Jiang Hong quickly signaled Jin and Zhang Xiting with his eyes not to be harsh on their roommate anymore. He also moved a bit closer to observe He Jian and made a gesture, wanting to pat him or touch him to comfort him.
He Jian was too clean and delicate. Jiang Hong did not dare to touch him recklessly, so he just made a gesture of “stroking his hair” in the air.
“Okay, okay,” Jiang Hong said. “I also felt the same way when I first arrived yesterday. You’ll get used to it.”
Jiang Hong used all his experience in comforting people and sat down next to him. “Let me help you make your bed. Don’t be angry anymore.”
“Ah—” He Jian sighed softly again. Surprisingly, he did not care about being scolded or his roommates being harsh on him. He calmly said, “I just feel sorry for myself, sinking to this level.”
If it were someone else, they would have thought: what level? The level of living with us?
But Jiang Hong did not care much. He just thought that He Jian was really… gorgeous. Yes, gorgeous was the only word that could describe him. Such a gorgeous young man should typically appear in a high-end private school rather than an undergraduate program that barely made the admission cut.
“I didn’t mean anything bad about you guys,” He Jian said. “I thought this university would be different.”
Zhang Xiting and Jin completely ignored him.
Jiang Hong thought: I think this university is pretty good. At least it’s much better than my high school… Oh well, maybe I just haven’t seen much of the world.
“Where is your blanket?” Jiang Hong asked.
He Jian shrugged. Jiang Hong looked at the several large suitcases and asked, “Shall I help you unpack?”
Zhang Xiting’s expression once again became unbearable, looking like he wanted to pick up He Jian and beat him. He stared at Jiang Hong with eyes that clearly said: Are you his servant?
He Jian sat still and said, “Okay, thank you.”
Jiang Hong opened a box and found it full of clothes and pants, some of which he recognized as expensive brands.
“I can help you hang them up,” Jiang Hong offered.
Hei Jian replied dejectedly, “I can do it myself, thanks. You’re being too kind to me, even though we’re not related. I don’t know how to repay you.”
After saying this, Hei Jian finally stood up, changing his previously erratic attitude. It was as if a round of venting had restored his sanity.
Jin also got up and said, “I’ll help you.”
Hei Jian brought a lot of clothes, and the wardrobe could not accommodate them all. Jin put two of his own boxes on top of the wardrobe to make space. Zhang Xiting watched for a while and realized Hei Jian was a young master who had suffered a significant setback in life, leading to a mental breakdown. It wasn’t entirely his fault, so he went downstairs to buy toiletries for him.
“Thank you,” Hei Jian said, pulling out three small boxes from his suitcase. “These are my gifts for you guys.”
“Wow, thank you.” Jiang Hong was a bit surprised. This was their first meeting, and yet the young master brought gifts?
“Did you engrave them?” Jiang Hong opened the box and found an iWatch with his name engraved on the leather strap. He was amazed and asked, “How did you know my name?”
Hei Jian replied, “My family has been practicing the art of Qimen Dunjia (1) for generations. It was easy to look up a few names.”
Jiang Hong: “…”
“Just kidding.” Hei Jian smiled. “I found your names on the college website dorm list and had the butler prepare them in advance.”
Initially, Zhang Xiting didn’t want to accept the gift, especially since he had just scolded him, but the young master had gone through the trouble of engraving his name on the watch. If he didn’t accept it, he would come across as petty.
“Sorry,” Zhang Xiting said. “I have a bad temper. Please don’t take it personally.”
“It’s fine,” Hei Jian replied with a smile, seeming to not mind at all.
Then, Hei Jian pulled out a set of glass cups and a seemingly expensive glass teapot. He added some tea leaves and started making tea.
“Tomorrow is military training,” Jiang Hong said.
“Yeah,” Hei Jian answered, holding his cup.
“What about bedding? Do you need to buy a set from the supermarket before it closes?” Jiang Hong asked.
Hei Jian drank his tea, straightened his clothes, and lay down on the wooden bed without taking off his pants.
“I’ll just sleep like this. The bedding mailed from home hasn’t arrived yet, and I’m allergic to the ones sold outside.”
The other three: “…”
On the bed, Jin made a gesture and mouthed to Jiang Hong, “Don’t mind him for now.”
Jiang Hong nodded and lay down on the bed. He received a message from Zhang Xiting on his phone:
Zhang Xiting: “You’re a gentle person.”
Jiang Hong: “This is the first time we’ve all been so far from home and alone. I understand his feelings. He must have been holding it in for a long time and finally found someone to talk to. We are all our parents’ treasures.”
Zhang Xiting: “Your parents must also love you very much. A child raised with love.”
Jiang Hong responded with an emoji. He looked at Zhang Xiting and saw him reaching over from the bed railing to touch his hair, as if teasing a pet. Jiang Hong laughed and turned his head, not letting him touch his head, and pushed him away.
That night, He Jian surprisingly slept on a wooden plank all night. Jiang Hong couldn’t help but admire him – he was a true hero, brave enough to face a life without bedding.
The next day, they all changed into camouflage uniforms. Jiang Hong looked at himself in the mirror and thought the blue camouflage uniform looked pretty good.
“He Jian, I’ll go buy breakfast for everyone.” Jiang Hong saw He Jian standing on the balcony early in the morning, standing on one leg in the crane pose. “What are you doing?”
He Jian didn’t turn his head. “I’m accepting the spiritual energy of heaven and earth.”
Jiang Hong: “…”
Jin and Zhang Xiting cleaned up the dormitory, taking out the trash and packing their clothes. They were going to be away for fourteen days, and the doors and windows of the dormitory had to be closed.
“I closed the balcony door. Hurry up and change your clothes!” Jin said, urging Jiang Hong.
After breakfast, the whistle blew downstairs, urging the freshmen to gather. Everyone went downstairs with laughter and chatter, and it was chaotic outside the teaching building. Hu Qingquan and another man arrived. Jiang Hong recognized the other man as the dean, Xuan Hezhi.
“Everyone, when participating in military training, you must respect the instructors and not cause any trouble! Do you understand?” Xuan Hezhi lectured through a loudspeaker. “You, you, and you… Hey, are you an idol?”
He Jian: “…”
Xuan Hezhi said to Hu Qingquan, “Overall, your group is pretty good.”
“Let’s go!” someone impatiently shouted.
“Okay, okay,” Xuan Hezhi said without any airs. “I wish everyone a happy military training!”
After a brief conversation with Hu Qingquan, Xuan Hezhi left. Hu Qingquan cleared his throat and led the students to form two lines, trying to move as a dormitory unit. He took them outside the campus by bus.
“Ah – ah! Senior!” Jiang Hong accidentally saw Lu Xiu at the school gate. Lu Xiu was sitting at the entrance of a convenience store, drinking soda. He looked at Jiang Hong from a distance, but ignored him.
“Get on the bus, let’s go!” Zhang Xiting patted Jiang Hong and shoved him into the bus.
After Jiang Hong got on the bus, he finally saw Lu Xiu raise his hand and make a “salute” gesture towards him with two fingers, coolly walking away.
Did he come to see me off? Jiang Hong saw Lu Xiu and his day was off to a good start. He was in a good mood for the whole day.
It’s not as strict as he imagined. Jiang Hong had military training in high school and thought everyone would be serious, but it was as lively as a spring outing as soon as they left. In just two or three days, the dormitories had mingled together, talking and laughing. Jiang Hong even took out the snacks he bought yesterday from his backpack and shared them with the people in the neighboring dormitory.
Jin had no expression on his face, and He Jian beside him had a face of despair. Jiang Hong occasionally leaned back and teased He Jian, “Don’t be so low, be happy. It will be over in fourteen days.”
“Alas,” He Jian looked as if he had seen the ugliness of the world, “what else can we do? Life is all about accepting the ups and downs.”
The scenery along the way was beautiful. The bus traveled through the mountains, and the temperature suddenly became cooler. Jiang Hong, however, felt a faint worry…
“Is the military camp not near the city?” Jiang Hong muttered to himself.
Zhang Xiting, who was dozing off beside him, answered, “It’s in another mountain.”
Jiang Hong felt a creepy feeling of going from one horror movie set to another. He had just gotten used to the school in the deep mountains, and now he had to go to another isolated military camp. Oh my god, would there be phone signal?
Fortunately, the bus ride didn’t take too long, only an hour and forty minutes. It stopped in a valley. It was a river valley surrounded by three mountains, and there was mobile phone signal. The military camp was large, as if it had just been built, and the barracks were brand new.
Jiang Hong looked at his phone. The military training ground was deep in Qinling Mountains, even farther than the school.
“Come here to report!” The instructor who came to pick them up shouted in a rough voice. He kept blowing his whistle while they got off the bus, shouting, “Class leaders, come and take your soldiers away!”
Jin led his roommates to gather outside the barracks. The class leader did roll call. There were eight people in a class, and the 903 and 904 dormitories were grouped together.
The class leader was not tall, with a military haircut. He was often exposed to the sun and wind, so his skin was slightly darker. His cheeks were thin, and he had a masculine look.
“Everyone from Class Two gather here!” the class leader, who was also the instructor, said. “My surname is Zheng, and I’ll start taking attendance now. Answer ‘present’ when your name is called, and no nonsense!”
The students stood around in a chaotic manner, and Instructor Zheng called out their names and adjusted their positions. Jiang Hong stood in the middle of the formation, alongside He Jian.
“To be honest,” Instructor Zheng said in a rough voice, “I didn’t want to teach students from your school!”
The students’ faces showed a mixture of emotions, and Jiang Hong thought to himself, “Does our school have a bad reputation?”
“…It’s not a matter of being disorganized or undisciplined… It’s just that you guys…” Instructor Zheng looked troubled. He took off his hat and rubbed his head. “Don’t cause any trouble. Let’s all get through these fourteen days safely!”
Why is everyone telling us not to cause trouble? Jiang Hong was silently ranting. From yesterday’s Lu Xiu to today’s Xuan Hezhi, to the instructor in front of them, are we really all like delinquent troublemakers who like to fight?
“Some of you are really skilled,” Instructor Zheng said. “No, I should say that each and every one of you is a master! I admit it!”
Jiang Hong, who had no special skills, was confused: “??? “
“But military training is about training your organization and discipline!” Instructor Zheng’s aura was clearly not as strong as Jiang Hong had imagined, and he said, “During these fourteen days, I hope everyone can develop good habits. Your principal said that he wants to cultivate a sense of love and friendship among you. Friendship is the most important thing! Comradeship, brotherhood! We all have it now! Left – turn!”
Everyone turned around, and Instructor Zheng’s voice lowered: “Run ten laps around the track. Begin!”
Jin led the way and started running. Jiang Hong followed behind. Having frequently exercised during high school and even participated in youth marathons, running three to five kilometers was no big deal for him.
Wow, this military instructor is really gentle! And he only teaches a class of eight students?! Jiang Hong, who had gone through hellish military training in high school, could hardly believe his luck. Moreover, listening to the instructor’s tone, he had the impression that these students were not to be messed with.
“Can you run, He Jian?” Jiang Hong saw that He Jian was gasping for air.
“Can I fly?” He Jian was sweating profusely as soon as he started running.
Jiang Hong laughed out loud.
“Instructor!” He Jian turned around and said angrily, “Can I fly?”
“No unconventional methods are allowed!” Instructor Zheng shouted from afar. “If you can’t run, take a break! Don’t force yourself!”
Did I hear that correctly? You can rest during military training whenever you want? Don’t force yourself? Jiang Hong was shocked.
“Keep running.” Zhang Xiting patted He Jian’s back from behind. “We’ll stay with you.”
Jin slowed down and looked at He Jian with sympathy.
“Do you want me to carry you?” Jin obviously didn’t care about running.
Jiang Hong burst out laughing.
He Jian: “Thank… thank you.”
Jiang Hong: “……………………………..”
So Jiang Hong watched helplessly as Jin lifted He Jian and ran six laps.
Jiang Hong looked at a group of instructors chatting in the distance, then at He Jian being carried by Jin.
“It’s not…” Jiang Hong said to Zhang Xiting, “is this really okay?”
“Just run,” Zhang Xiting said.
“Thank you very much. I feel much better now,” He Jian said. “I’ll run the rest myself. Hong’er, will you accompany me?”
“Don’t call me that, it’s too strange!” Jiang Hong replied.
1. Qimen Dunjia – a form of ancient Chinese divination and metaphysics.