Chapter 46: The Festival
At eight o’clock in the evening the next day, someone knocked on Shu Jun’s door. Haze really came. All of Shu Jun’s happy preparations weren’t made in vain.
Shu Jun didn’t have a lot of friends at school. They usually spent most of their time studying or training, and at most, they only played online games together at night. Perhaps because he lived alone, no one ever came to his house to play. But as he gradually got used to it, Shu Jun didn’t think that was a bad thing.
That said, Haze was different. This was the first time he had met such a special friend — a friend who could make noise together with him in his free time.
“You’re here.” Shu Jun opened the door with contentment.
Haze stood at the door, his posture much more relaxed than yesterday, but he still seemed a bit restrained.
“I asked for this month’s pocket money and bought enough snacks to fill the whole cupboard.” Shu Jun straightened his chest, as if he was a rich man with millions of dollars. “You can eat whatever you want.”
“I brought a thank you gift.” Haze whispered and took out a small book from his pocket. “It’s a tactical textbook that I studied before. We can read it together.”
Then he put on a slightly embarrassed look: “I only have this one. I didn’t get to study more after this.”
“Come in first, come in first.” Shu Jun pulled Haze through the door and opened a packet of snacks. “When can you play until? Will your mother come to pick you up?”
Haze was sitting on the sofa at the moment. Hearing this question, a shade of grey suddenly cast over his face.
“My mother isn’t in good health. She goes to bed promptly at 7:30 in the evening and will sleep until the next afternoon. I come to accompany her every afternoon, spend the night alone, then in the morning I… go to other places…”
Haze kept staring at the tabletop: “But she doesn’t care if I make friends with you. When we have enough fun, the babysitter will come to pick me up.”
That said, the two of them playing till the early hours of the morning and Haze staying overnight certainly had become a no-brainer.
Having no other choice, Shu Jun could only glance at the time in a daze. Although Haze had a reserved personality, the two had such a fun time chatting together, as if they were born to know what the other person was thinking.
Shu Jun hadn’t been so happy in a long time.
When Haze taught him tactics earlier, Shu Jun helped Haze strengthen his training. He stared at Haze’s movements until the two were worn out from playing intense-activity games. They planned to have an intermission, and thereafter, they would put their strategising skills up for competition.
“You don’t train in your school?” Shu Jun gulped down his drink.
“I don’t go to school. I have a private teacher at home.” Even when he was drained, Haze’s sitting posture remained proper. “They only teach etiquette, literature, arithmetic, etc… There’s no physical training.”
“But you’ve had a strategy class.” Shu Jun opened the small book and saw that Haze had studied it very seriously, with many notes written along with the paragraphs. “Why didn’t you continue?”
Could it be that something happened with his class that made Haze’s mother object to the idea of strategic planning so badly?
Haze had been very relaxed, yet this question made him tense again: “I don’t know either. According to my father’s arrangement, I should’ve entered school, but she didn’t agree with that… My physique, personality and grades are both not good. Father didn’t like me, so he left.”
Shu Jun: “……” The more he heard about Haze’s family, the stranger it seemed.
“As for the reason, my mother mentioned it once — she said that some talents won’t just disappear. As long as some ‘branding’ is marked on my brain, for my whole lifetime, it won’t be removed.”
“I don’t get it.” Shu Jun said, absolutely confused.
“Me neither.” Haze sucked his drink clumsily and choked. He coughed dryly, making the drink almost topple over. “Cough cough… But she also said that if I still want to follow my father when I turn 16, she won’t stop me.”
Shu Jun took out a handkerchief and helped Haze wipe his mouth: “Your family is so complicated. But I also face similar things at school. The teachers don’t like me that much.”
As his drink had spilt, Haze was wiping the table awkwardly. Hearing Shu Jun’s words, he turned his head around in sheer shock.
“Because I don’t obey their words.” Shu Jun grunted with dissatisfaction. “If I come up with a non-standard strategy, my points will be deducted. If my strategy isn’t effective, my points will be deducted twice. My strategy performance has been poor, and the outcome now all depends on a single battle. If I fail the final simulation test, they’ll try to make me withdraw.”
“To the normal-stream course. In that case, I definitely won’t be able to enter a good team. But if I play according to those standard tactics, it feels very boring… A Yan, your tactics are much better than those!”
This praise didn’t make Haze blush too much. Rather, only his ears reddened and he stayed silent for nearly half a minute.
“Then let’s start quickly.” Half a minute later, Haze shook his clothes that were soaked in the drink. “Can I borrow your bathroom? I want to take care of these clothes first.”
“Oh, oh, oh, no problem. I’ll get you a clean one.”
Shu Jun pulled out a T-shirt from his closet and brought it into the bathroom, only to find that Haze was staring at the corner of the bathroom in a daze.
On the sink was a small vase with a bunch of flowers in it. With the aid of new technology, these flowers could bloom for a long time. The manager would also change the type of flower every week. Shu Jun had only been using it as a decorative item.
Holding his breath, Haze stretched out his finger and poked the delicate, velvety petals very lightly.
There were balloon flowers in the vase this week. Shu Jun threw the T-shirt at Haze: “Do you like flowers?”
“Where I live, they are very rare.” Haze hadn’t taken off his dirty clothes. He hugged the T-shirt carefully, fearing that he might stain the clean piece.
“I’ve heard people say that there’s a huge sea of flowers outside the city, and a viewing tower has also been built there.” Shu Jun said enthusiastically. “When I become a member of the team, I’ll be able to leave the city. Then we can take a look at it together.”
As Haze turned around, that strange expression appeared again — he seemed as though he was enduring some pain, and there was a hint of sorrow in his eyes. Then he turned the other way and Shu Jun couldn’t see his face anymore
“Uhm.” He replied vaguely. “You go out first, I’ll change my clothes and come find you later.”
From that day on, Haze became especially serious about strategy games, and Shu Jun also cherished this friend of his more and more. The way children expressed their affection was very simple — I remember everything you say, and I share everything I like with you.
At first, they just shared some snacks together. Later, the pies in the school cafeteria were so delicious that Shu Jun would save a piece from lunch and take it home. But regretfully, Shu Jun had no experience keeping food, so by the time he got home, the pie had turned cold and greasy.
But Haze ate it all up without saying a word.
Haze’s tutor was quite strict, so he wasn’t able to bring Shu Jun any practical gifts. He could only bring his brain and tactical knowledge every time he came. Shu Jun had never heard of those battles, and the school would never teach them any analysis on large-sized battles. He was always happy to hear them.
Later, Haze’s overnight stay became the norm — every time Shu Jun was out from school, his secret friend would turn up soon after to play with him. And every time before school, they would have breakfast together.
Shu Jun was no longer alone. Now he could say “see you tomorrow” with a smile. If it hadn’t been for Haze to ask him to keep this secret with such seriousness, Shu Jun would have wanted to talk about this miraculous friend of his all over the school.
They had never even quarrelled.
Shu Jun thought that he really wanted to have such a great brother, but after they had each other’s company for half a year, something eventually went wrong.
It was a festival, the time when the whole city was having a grand celebration. Shu Jun loved this day a lot. The streets were crowded with people, and the night was lively — after Haze appeared, he was looking forward to this festival even more. He had never stayed with his friends until these late hours to watch the mesmerising fireworks bursting all over the sky.
As soon as Haze arrived that night, Shu Jun lifted two backpacks.
“I’m all ready!” Pointing upwards, his nose was this close to reaching the sky, and written all over his face was ‘praise me’. “A Yan, let’s go to the river. I know a particularly good viewing position.”
Haze gaped with his mouth wide open, feeling a little hesitant.
“It’ll be okay. A lot of people will be there, but it won’t be too crowded.” After half a year, Shu Jun had learnt how to read his friend’s temper. Haze didn’t like places where there were too many people, and he had taken this factor into account way early on.
And the other boy had always believed in him. Sure enough, Haze nodded obediently and carefully carried the bag on his back.
Shu Jun grinned delightfully, then he put a few more flowers into Haze’s bag.
Recently, Haze seemed increasingly unhappy. Even though he was trying his best to hide it, Shu Jun could still see through him. Maybe if I take him to a vibrant place, it’ll make him feel better.
He also specially prepared a small firework, intending to pull a surprise.
At night, the river was packed with people, and Shu Jun wriggled around like a monkey. Indeed, he took Haze to a relatively empty, small lane. In the end, pushing themselves up using the cracks in the wall and the window sill, the two climbed onto a small house beside the river. As the big crowd squeezed together below, the two boys sat on the eaves — Shu Jun happily propped both hands against the surface and swung his legs energetically. Even though Haze never had good physical coordination, he had his knees held close together with both hands on his knees.
“When it’s exactly midnight, the sky will be full of fireworks. It’s very very pretty.” Shu Jun enjoyed the cool breeze for a moment, then gestured with excitement. “This is my special viewing position. The view is good here!”
Haze didn’t look up at the sky, instead, he lowered his eyes and gazed at the bustling crowd below.
“Oh, there are usually no people outside at night. This must be the first time you’ve seen so many people. Look over there, that is my classmate, the one in blue! She and her family are here.”
The girl was holding her mother’s hand with one hand and cotton candy with the other, looking at the sky expectantly.
Very subtly, Haze’s expression turned a tad bitter. Or perhaps it’s too dark at night and I’ve read it wrong, Shu Jun thought.
“Those two are also my classmates, they are brothers. Hey, I’ve tried to take control of my strategy scores. I’m going to score with flying colours in the next simulation test and startle them! When I get the first place, I’ll treat you to a big meal.”
His two classmates were playing happily, their laughter reverberating across the night, so much so that Shu Jun could hear them clearly.
“Ah, did you see that person over there? That’s the Blackbird captain I especially admire, Xu Kan!” Shu Jun stretched his neck. “A Yan, look over there — Captain Xu just retired. I heard that he wants to take his family abroad for a long vacation. Look, isn’t he handsome?!”
Xu Kan was standing by the river, and sitting on his shoulders was a little girl of about eight years old. He was talking and laughing with his wife, his eyebrows brightened by the festive lights.
“His daughter is from our school. She’s going to have a — super long vacation. I’m so envious.”
From time to time, there was a cheerful smile amidst the crowd. Half a minute later, colourful fireworks blew up the night sky. Just like previous years, everyone made their wishes.
The content of their wishes was very simple, mostly hoping for family harmony and good health.
But Shu Jun had no family, and he never had to worry about his health. He had decided on his wish long ago — he hoped he could be a long-term friend with A Yan.
Not knowing what Haze wished for, Shu Jun turned around and gazed at Haze sitting next to him.
Haze’s eyes had turned red.
There were spots of lights in the crowd, and everyone was smiling. The evening breeze was gentle, the river was delicately crashing against the shore, and the whole city was dazzlingly lit up. Without a doubt, everything was remarkably beautiful.
Then the fireworks burst.
As brilliant colours pounced in the air, people lifted their heads and their smiles became even happier. Xu Kan’s daughter was yelling with excitement and the two boys were shouting at the sky. The crowd turned noisy and countless families started dancing, gently knocking into each other.
Shu Jun didn’t look at the sky. Instead, he looked at his friend with worries.
The fireworks illuminated both the entire night sky and Haze’s face that was drenched in tears. His body wasn’t trembling in the slightest, and not a single sniff could be heard. Even the change in his breathing wasn’t too obvious, but his tears kept falling down.
Haze tried to wipe the tears away with his hands, but they seemed to be endless. Finally, very softly, he started to sniff.
“Are you feeling uncomfortable?” Shu Jun had lost the mood to watch the fireworks. He wanted to make Haze happy, but he never expected the opposite effect to happen.
“There’s… one thing I want to ask you.” Haze’s voice was a little hoarse. “If everyone tells you that a certain behaviour is right, but you feel that it’s wrong… What would you do?”
“Ouch, I don’t know.” Shu Jun was scared silly by Haze’s tears — during these six months, he had never seen Haze shed even a drop of tear. “But, but since you don’t feel that it’s right, you should think about it again carefully?”
“Uhm, I’ve thought about it a lot.” Haze said softly, his tears not stopping still. “I’ll continue to think about it.”
“Also… also, you are the strongest person I’ve ever met. If you feel it’s not right, you must have your own reason.”
Shu Jun had dug into the deepest corner of his brain to figure out what was appropriate to say.
“How about we stop here today? Let’s go home first.”
On the way home, Haze remained quiet the whole time. Before sleeping, Haze suddenly leaned over and kissed the top of Shu Jun’s hair.
Shu Jun was stunned.
“This means ‘good night’.” Haze said with a timid voice. “I’ve read it in books. This is a way to say good night to ‘very important people’.”
“Our teacher said that kissing means you ‘like’ the person.” Shu Jun solemnly pointed out.
“That’s the kiss on the cheek.” Haze rolled over. “Go to sleep, good night.”
“Good night… A Yan, are you okay?”
Haze didn’t answer.
But Shu Jun’s memories ended here and descended into that unusual darkness once again.
Translator and reviewer at Strictly Bromance blog. In essence, she lives to indulge in plot-driven stories sprinkled with camaraderie and slow-burn drama-free romance, especially more so if they belong to adventure, mystery or supernatural genre. A trope that she always thirsts after: “Comrades who go through life and death together”.