Xie Min didn’t say anything wrong. The weather in Yuhai was indeed different from the traditional Yuanguang.
Yuhai didn’t have many extreme rainy or snowy days, nor did it have spring or autumn. Winter was simply cold, and summer was pure heat.
Usually from May onwards, it felt as if the entire city of Yuhai had been set on fire underground. The whole city was roasted in the summer.
Sui Yang had lived in Yuhai for nineteen years and was familiar with every corner of the city, except for visiting the downtown train station a few times.
The downtown train station was very old. The high-speed trains had been planned to be routed to a new train station in the suburbs a few years ago, leaving only slow green trains in the downtown area.
The waiting hall wasn’t big, with passengers crowded together. The floor was filled with large and small luggage, and there was a mixed salty smell in the air, coming from sweat and the nearby snack bar cooking tea eggs and instant noodles.
In the midst of the heat and crowd, Sui Yang looked up and saw Xie Min carrying a hiking backpack and dragging a suitcase.
The indoor lighting was good, illuminating the floating dust in the air clearly. The noise coming from all directions felt like loud white noise. The second waiting hall was like a new world for the third-class cabin passengers, as if Noah’s Ark had opened its doors.
It was a vivid and noisy scene that one could never forget.
Xie Min wore a gray cap, revealing his fair pointed chin. He cleared his throat and said to Sui Yang, “Found you.”
His backpack was tightly packed, and even from Sui Yang’s seated position, he could see its bulging thickness.
“Why are you daydreaming?” Xie Min proudly raised his hand, waving the ticket he held. “Idiot.”
In just a few days, Xie Min had noticeably slimmed down, as if he could evaporate in the heat. The T-shirt, usually the right size, hung loosely on him. His wrists became thinner, and his complexion turned pale.
Sui Yang stood up and offered him the seat.
Xie Min didn’t bother with niceties. He took off his backpack and placed it on his lap, embracing it.
Sui Yang noticed a slight stiffness in Xie Min’s sitting posture, as if his knees lacked strength. He leaned down and pressed Xie Min’s knee.
Xie Min’s expression changed, and he quickly furrowed his brow. He forced himself to say, “We’re in a public place, what are you doing?”
“Why did you come?” Sui Yang didn’t respond to his words or joke with him. He simply asked, “Xie Min?”
“Oh, I had a fight with my dad and couldn’t stand being at home.” Xie Min revealed a mix of stubbornness and guilt in his expression. “I also wanted to go to Yuanguang.”
“…Please stop fooling around.” Sui Yang tried to take the ticket from Xie Min’s hand, but Xie Min quickly pulled back, and he missed it.
“I’m not fooling around,” Xie Min raised his chin, his eyes filled with an innocence that almost made Sui Yang feel sorry for him. “I’m serious. I checked the schedule, and this is the only train from Yuhai to Yuanguang. I came here yesterday too. Do you think I’m joking?” Xie Min tightly hugged his backpack, looking displeased. “You don’t even read my messages.”
“What about your studies?” Sui Yang asked him.
“Hmm,” Xie Min said. “There’s nothing worth studying, so I’m not going to study anymore.”
Sui Yang remained silent, his gaze fixed on Xie Min’s eyes. After a few seconds of being looked at, Xie Min averted his eyes, shifting around, trying to find a topic. “Will there be any food on the train? I’m starving.”
Sui Yang looked up at the clock hanging on the wall and said to Xie Min, “Ticket inspection hasn’t started yet, and even when it does, we’ll have to wait in line. Let me take you to buy something to eat first.”
He led Xie Min to the nearest convenience store. Xie Min glanced down at the pot of boiled eggs for a few seconds, seemingly lacking appetite. He took a small step back and said to Sui Yang, “I’m not that hungry anymore.”
There was a refrigerator behind him, and when his back bumped into it, he turned around. He saw rows of chilled carbonated drinks inside the fridge. Xie Min seemed a bit tempted and said, “I’ll have a cola.”
Sui Yang fetched a bottle of ice-cold cola for him, paid for it, then they walked to a less crowded area.
In a corner of the gray and old hall, Xie Min sat on his suitcase without any worry, handing the train ticket to Sui Yang. He took off his cap and hung it on his wrist. Opening the cola, he started to drink.
They sat next to the window, with sunlight streaming through the tall glass and illuminating Xie Min’s face and body. Xie Min had a soft layer of fuzz on his face, a subtle glisten of sweat on his temples, lips stained with cola, and large eyes that seemed a bit weary.
Sui Yang squatted down and rolled up the cuff of Xie Min’s right jeans, revealing his bruised and slightly swollen knee.
“I tripped accidentally,” Xie Min began fabricating a story. “Because you didn’t answer the phone, I was walking and not paying attention to the road.” Xie Min’s voice was crisp and carefree, never having experienced or needed to understand the true difficulties of life.
Sui Yang thought that for Xie Min, eloping seemed to be merely a physical journey, without any other implications. Even if they reached Yuanguang, they would still have their studies and food to sustain them, a bright future and promising prospects.
Sui Yang didn’t respond to his words. He gently touched Xie Min’s knee and asked, “Did you apply any ointment?”
Xie Min made a hissing sound and said, “No.”
Sui Yang asked Xie Min to wait while he went to a nearby pharmacy and bought a box of spray. He helped Xie Min apply the medicine to both knees. The spray had a strong medicinal smell, which made Xie Min’s face wrinkle. “It stinks.”
Sui Yang helped him pull down his pant legs and put the spray back into the backpack. Xie Min looked at him again and said with a smile, “Sui Yang, you’re so considerate.”
The ticket gate had a long queue, stretching all the way to where they were, but no one paid attention to them.
Sui Yang couldn’t force a smile. He glanced briefly at Xie Min’s face, a moment that felt short but lingered in his memories.
“Xie Min,” he called out Xie Min’s name. Xie Min made a sound of acknowledgement and said, “Shouldn’t we start now?”
Sui Yang said, “No,” and then told Xie Min, “You should just go home.”
Xie Min’s expression changed, becoming unhappy as his face puffed up. He said to Sui Yang, “Are you crazy or something?”
The station announcement sounded, and their train began the ticket inspection process. The line started moving. Xie Min tried to stand up but was held back by Sui Yang’s hand on his shoulder.
“Go back home.” Sui Yang lowered his head, wanting to touch Xie Min’s face, but he refrained. “Stop making a scene.”
Xie Min was genuinely angry. He slapped Sui Yang’s hand and said, “What scene am I making?”
It was difficult for Sui Yang to bear the questioning gaze from Xie Min. He wanted to fulfill all of Xie Min’s requests. Maybe there was only one time when he didn’t avert his gaze, looking at Xie Min and saying, “You don’t have to act like this. I’m not going to Yuanguang to live a life of luxury. “There’s a mess back home. I can’t take care of you.”
Xie Min’s gaze turned icy, stubbornly staring at him. “Do I need you to take care of me?”
Between the two of them, there had to be someone who remained rational. Xie Min had lost his rationality, so Sui Yang had to be the one. “Then why did you come with me? I can’t afford to hire any help at my place. If you stay at my house, what do I tell my mom? Should I tell her that we’re dating and we eloped?” Sui Yang looked into Xie Min’s bloodshot eyes, which were fixed on him. He felt a mixture of pain and numbness as he asked Xie Min, “Do you think that’s realistic? Would my mom welcome you?”
“Who said I want to stay at your place?” Xie Min gritted his teeth and cursed, “I’ll go to Yuanguang by myself. What does it have to do with you? Don’t flatter yourself.”
“If you’re not following me, why do you want to go to Yuanguang?” Sui Yang said.
Xie Min tightly pressed his lips together, silent, staring straight at Sui Yang.
At that moment, Sui Yang felt that Xie Min hated him. But being hated was still better than abandoning everything to be with him.
Xie Min was impulsive, childish, had a bad temper, and was stubborn. Even in his dreams, Sui Yang wished he could protect Xie Min’s innocence, to keep him from ever growing up. But he didn’t have the ability to do that.
“Xie Min, let it go,” Sui Yang said. “We can’t be together.”
“Why can’t we?” Xie Min suddenly laughed and asked him, “Is it because you’re useless?”
Sui Yang said, “Yes,” and said, “It’s because I’m useless.”
Xie Min stopped laughing.
They faced each other in a stalemate. Suddenly, Xie Min said, “Fine, you go your way, and I’ll go mine. Give me back my ticket,” reaching out to snatch the ticket. Sui Yang grabbed his wrist.
“I bought the ticket myself. Who are you to take it?” Xie Min pushed him, but Sui Yang didn’t budge.
“Don’t act like a child,” Sui Yang heard himself say.
The ticket inspection line became shorter, and the announcements urged passengers to board the train.
“Get lost,” Xie Min muttered under his breath, “Give me back my damn ticket, or I’ll report you to the police.”
Sui Yang really didn’t want Xie Min to continue clinging to him in this place that didn’t belong to him. Holding onto Xie Min’s hand, he stuffed the remaining cash of over 180 yuan into Xie Min’s pocket. “Consider the ticket bought by me.” He crumpled Xie Min’s ticket before throwing it into the trash bin.
Xie Min fell silent, and Sui Yang no longer looked at him.
“I’m sorry,” Sui Yang apologized to Xie Min.
Xie Min didn’t move, so Sui Yang released his hand. Xie Min didn’t push him like before, but Sui Yang felt even more hurt.
It was hard to say how much time had passed, probably not a long time. Xie Min asked him, “Do you like me?”
Xie Min’s voice was low, feeble, sounding pitiful as he pressed Sui Yang for an answer, “Then do you like me, Sui Yang? If you like me, let me go with you. I really don’t want to stay at home anymore. I’m not afraid of hardships.”
Sui Yang didn’t respond, he simply said, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s getting late. Go home quickly. I’ll repay you the money,” Sui Yang told him. “Forget about anything else.”
Xie Min looked at him for a while and said, “Sui Yang, I didn’t know you were so useless. On your birthday, it was you who kissed me first.”
Sui Yang couldn’t recall exactly what chaotic words he had exchanged with Xie Min in the end. He had dreamt about this day too many times, to the point where he confused dreams with reality. All he remembered was that all his explanations and apologies were ugly and cheap, like a villain appearing in a low-quality romance film in the past tense of memories. Xie Min, of course, didn’t accept them, but Sui Yang had to leave.
Because ticket inspection was about to end soon.
Finally, Xie Min didn’t follow. Sui Yang walked into the ticket gate and turned to look back when going downstairs. He saw Xie Min with a backpack on his back and dragging a suitcase, walking towards the exit of the waiting hall. Xie Min must have been in pain in his knee, limping as he walked. The large backpack covered Xie Min’s back.
Soon, Xie Min left the second waiting hall, unable to find what he wanted to eat at the convenience store.
When Xie Min had just started graduate school, Sui Yang’s life finally began to improve. He obtained his driver’s license and made the down payment for his first home, moving out of the factory.
He went on a business trip to the city where Xie Min was studying. That city was exceptionally beautiful, with fresh air.
Xie Min’s school was located by the lake. It had a long history and magnificent architecture. Students moved around the campus, holding books or carrying backpacks, looking like they had received a good education within an ivory tower, free from worries.
Sui Yang saw Xie Min with his classmates, seemingly someone had told a joke, and everyone burst into laughter, including Xie Min, who looked genuinely happy.
A tall female classmate handed her phone to Xie Min. Xie Min took photos for her, and an elderly professor they knew happened to pass by, leaning in beside Xie Min to give guidance on selecting the angle.
Each person basked in the sunlight, and Xie Min was no exception. He displayed the happiness he should have, just like everyone else.
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