“Hurry up and return the money.” Ding Ji pulled Liu Jinpeng to stand on the side of the street. “And do it neatly. Don’t leave any unfinished business to bother us later.”
“Mm, I’ve got the numbers.” Liu Jinpeng nodded. “With this plan…he’s really not bad, huh? He didn’t make you write an IOU, and he didn’t give you any conditions?”
“Nope.” Ding Ji looked back and glanced at Lin Wuyu, who was still sitting at the table eating egg waffles.
“And if you can’t return it?” Liu Jinpeng said. “He doesn’t have any evidence either.”
“Am I that kind of person?” Ding Ji tsked.
“This whole affair can be considered temporarily resolved. You should settle down and study,” Liu Jinpeng said. “I’ve got an eye on Lao Liu…are you two getting dinner later?”
“Mm.” Ding Ji nodded. “Come with us, it’s around that time.”
“No thanks,” Liu Jinpeng said. “I’m uneasy eating dinner with him. It’d be uncomfortable.”
“What is there to be uneasy about?” Ding Ji looked at him.
“It’s just that we’re not from the same world. At a glance, you can tell that he’s super smart and civilized.” Liu Jinpeng tsked a few times. “What’s more, you know how I feel when he looks at people?”
“Hm?” Ding Ji chuckled.
“For someone of my standing, he can read me from cover to cover with one look,” Liu Jinpeng said. “Being with him always makes me feel like I’m hurting my self-esteem.”
“So sensitive.” Ding Ji patted his back. “Alright, whatever you say.”
It was easy to lose your appetite in the summer, so treating Lin Wuyu to a meal became very challenging. For the restaurants he usually loved going to, just thinking about them made him lose his appetite.
Ding Ji brought Lin Wuyu to wander the streets before the mini-plaza and hospital.
“Are you planning to take me to a buffet?” Lin Wuyu asked.
“What?” Ding Ji paused. A buffet would be easy. They had just passed a rather well-known seafood buffet, with good ingredients, and moreover it was fresh, with good surroundings. Other than being a little expensive it didn’t have any shortcomings.
“Let’s walk off those egg waffles first, then try and eat back to that level,” Lin Wuyu said.
Ding Ji cracked up: “Then have you walked those egg waffles off?”
“More or less.” Lin Wuyu rubbed his stomach.
“C’mon.” Ding Ji waved. “Buffet.”
Lin Wuyu was the natural enemy of buffets.
Ding Ji looked at the four once-again empty plates in front of him. This was the first time he had eaten at a buffet with such a sense of accomplishment, like he’d made a profit.
“Watching you eat is incredible,” Ding Ji said.
“Don’t talk like you haven’t eaten anything,” Lin Wuyu said.
“But don’t eat till you’re too full,” Ding Ji said. “You’re about to take the entrance exam. You can’t get sick.”
“Then calculate it for me.” Lin Wuyu stretched out his hand in front of him. “Will I have unexpected turns when I take the test?”
“Hey!” Ding Ji batted his hand away. “I won’t! There absolutely won’t be any!”
“Are you afraid of seeing something bad come?” Lin Wuyu laughed.
“There’s nothing bad!” Ding Ji glared at him. “Where is there anything bad? Don’t talk nonsense.”
“Oh.” Lin Wuyu gazed at him, laughing noiselessly for a good while.
Thinking about it, Ding Ji smiled too: “I sounded a lot like my grandma just now…”
“When’s your grandma getting discharged?” Lin Wuyu asked.
“In a couple days,” Ding Ji said. “She’s coming home to recover.”
“Then when you go home it’s still…” Lin Wuyu asked again.
“I’m going back to my grandparents’ house. Before the exam I don’t want to have any sort of conflict with my parents,” Ding Ji said. “It’ll affect my status.”
“Planning on becoming the zhuangyuan?” Lin Wuyu smiled.
“Forget it, there’s you.” Ding Ji propped his chin up. “To be honest, in all three years of high school, I’ve only gotten first in my grade two times. For the first and second mocks I was only third and fifth.”
“You haven’t been studying well this whole time, but with just a bunch of effort in this last stretch you can get first…” Lin Wuyu paused. “A formidable opponent, you are.”
“You sure know how to encourage people.” Ding Ji cracked up. “Hey, lemme ask you. Second place at your school, what’s his name again? Is he good?”
“Xu Tianbo ah.” Lin Wuyu eyed him. “In reality, for those who can be in the range of the top five or top ten, who’s not good? You don’t need to use other people as reference either. Everyone’s circumstances are different. Just use yourself as a reference.”
“Then from this point of view, I’m already super impressive,” Ding Ji said.
“Yep.” Lin Wuyu nodded.
The meal had gone on for pretty long. The two of them chatted until Lin Wuyu’s homeroom teacher called to scold him, ending this banquet.
“Did he yell at you?” Ding Ji stood at the restaurant door with him, waiting for a car. “I heard him shouting pretty loudly.”
“Mm.” Lin Wuyu chuckled. “He checks the dorms every night now. He doesn’t force us to study, but we’re not allowed to run off in case something happens.”
“That’s better than our homeroom teacher,” Ding Ji said. “Ours is an old jiejie, super fierce. When I see her I take a detour, and if she catches you it’s a scolding. She really has the same manner as my parents.”
“Do you dislike her?” Lin Wuyu asked.
“Nah, I don’t dislike her. In reality her scoldings are the same as saying, ‘You’re so smart, you should be better right from the start,'” Ding Ji said. “Whether they’re sincerely worried for you, you can feel it. My parents are just, ‘You should,’ while our old jiejie is ‘I’m worried.'”
Lin Wuyu nodded.
Ding Ji was a very exceptional person. Among the people he had interacted with, there wasn’t anyone slightly similar to compare him with.
When he was with Ding Ji, it was like he was on an adventure. With every turn and every slope, he could see a completely different landscape.
He could sit at the mini-plaza telling fortunes for people whether it was real or fake, he could squat in front of a watermelon stand…he couldn’t think about that, whenever he thought about it he would laugh…hahahahahahahaha…
He could lie through his teeth without changing his face and dive deep into his role in order to get out of trouble, and he could also beat up a thug till he was scrambling at the ground and begging forgiveness as he ran, yet he would think about how that thug’s father lived a hard life.
After you started to accept that he was a shockingly insightful hooligan, you would discover his simple and rough persona, and before you adjusted you would unwittingly perceive this person’s kindheartedness and sensitivity.
This was really.
…A multifaceted little chicken ah.
This transaction was probably the last time he would see Ding Ji before the exam.
Carrying four big boxes of chicken wings, when Lin Wuyu returned to the ground floor of the dorms, Lao Lin was sitting in a chair in the empty space in front of the dorm entrance.
“What is this? Lin-ge?” Somewhat shocked, Lin Wuyu walked in front of him.
“…Are those chicken wings?” Lao Lin moved next to the bag and sniffed it. “Give me one first.”
Lin Wuyu opened the box, and Lao Lin took out a wing to gnaw on it.
“You didn’t eat?” Lin Wuyu said.
“I didn’t take it into consideration, I’m not as free and unfettered as you,” Lao Lin said.
“I just…went out to take a walk and had dinner with a friend,” Lin Wuyu said.
“Before the exam you should be a lonely person. Have all your friendships in spirit, don’t meet up anymore.” Lao Lin stood up, wiping his mouth as he said, “When I told you all to relax and not be too tense with studying or you would put yourself under too much pressure, I wasn’t saying you should stroll about outside. What if something happens? What if you get sick from food? What did you eat today?”
“A seafood buffet,” Lin Wuyu said.
“What if you had an allergic reaction to seafood?” Lao Lin said. “What if it was too cold and you got diarrhea?”
“Got it, I won’t go out.” Lin Wuyu let out a sigh.
“There aren’t many days left. Straighten up, No Fish.” Lao Lin patted his shoulder. “I believe in you, but I’m also anxious as hell. Today four of you went missing at once, I went up and down looking for you all…”
“Why don’t you have a few more wings?” Lin Wuyu quickly took the box out.
“No need, I’ll go to the dining hall and ask the aunties to make me some dumplings.” Lao Lin patted his arm. “Go back to the dorm, okay?”
The wings were well-received. Lin Wuyu felt like buying two boxes for each dorm wasn’t enough.
At the moment, there weren’t many days before the exam, and they were more or less done studying. The things they needed to memorize, recite, and do had mostly been sorted out, just like those days when a death penalty had been decided and everyone was peacefully waiting to die, suddenly having peace of mind.
Everyone’s appetites grew in size.
Chewing on a wing, Xu Tianbo lightly bumped against Lin Wuyu’s shoulder: “C’mon.”
Lin Wuyu walked out of the dorm with him, standing at the end of the corridor.
“Let’s not talk around this,” Xu Tianbo said.
“Mm.” Lin Wuyu nodded.
“Are you dating someone?” Xu Tianbo asked.
“Hm?” Lin Wuyu was taken aback. “I’m not.”
“Oh.” Xu Tianbo continued to gnaw on his wing. “Today Lao Lin was asking me, and he was super concerned. I felt like you probably weren’t, but once he asked, I started thinking about whether you really were…”
“I’m really not,” Lin Wuyu said.
He and Xu Tianbo had been close since first year, and he could tell that Xu Tianbo was truly worried, afraid that if he had something going on it would impact the exam. If they hadn’t still been in that awkward stage, with Xu Tianbo’s personality, he absolutely wouldn’t have asked if he was dating anyone.
“Thanks,” he said.
“What do you mean, thanks?” Xu Tianbo glanced at him. “I’m mostly afraid you’ll yield being zhuangyuan to me, and I’d be too embarrassed to just take it.”
Lin Wuyu cracked up: “That’s impossible.”
“It’s not impossible.” Grandda leaned against her bed, stroking Ding Ji’s face. “But if you don’t care about being zhuangyuan or not, then just take it as you please.”
“You’d better give him some encouragement.” Grandpa stood aside making tea, a little dissatisfied when he heard this. “At a time like this, when he’s worked for so long, you’re pulling out his valve. How is that okay?”
“He doesn’t like hearing those things!” Grandma glared at him. “Don’t be like his parents, always blindly encouraging him, encourage my ass! If you encourage him any more he’ll explode.”
Holding a book, Ding Ji leaned against the bedside laughing.
“Stinky boy, only knowing how to laugh like a fool!” Grandma swatted his back.
“It’s okay, Grandma.” Ding Ji raised his head backwards to look at Grandma. “Right now I’m just going for the top three. It’s not that I’m not willing to work hard, it’s just that it depends on who I’m working hard for.”
“Of course it’s for us,” Grandpa said. “You eat mine, wear mine, use mine, who else would you work hard for.”
“Right-o,” Ding Ji said, smiling. “I have to work hard for you, so I can let certain people see my grandparents’ ability.”
His grandparents’ relationship with his parents was a little strained right now, but it wasn’t because of their attitude before Grandma was hospitalized. It was because of him.
The old man and old lady really didn’t have much culture, and from childhood they hadn’t had many requirements for him, just hoping that he could be happy. Ever since Mom and Dad had returned, it was like they’d ruined someone else’s child…now whenever Grandpa mentioned his son he would always sigh.
Ding Ji stifled his anger. Lin Wuyu wasn’t his goal. This person was smarter than him, had more plans; putting his target on Lin Wuyu wouldn’t be very realistic. His goal was just to be in the top three. If it really didn’t work out, being in the top five would more or less satisfy him.
No, it still had to be the top three, the top five wouldn’t be enough to give his grandparents face.
As he grew closer to the exam, Ding Ji increasingly felt like he was floating, unable to touch ground.
Picking up a book, he felt like he knew everything, and there weren’t any problems he couldn’t work out, but when he put his book down he would frequently shudder suddenly, always feeling like he’d missed something and wanting to pick up his pen to do a few more tests.
For a long time, he wasn’t in the habit of making deep connections with people. He basically recognized all the people who hung around the mini-plaza, and he could talk and joke with them, but Liu Jinpeng was his only close friend. Thinking about his classmates, there weren’t any that he was super close with. After Dad didn’t let him stay at school, his classmates were really just classmates.
Now, when he felt unsteady and wanted to find someone to chat with, he couldn’t find the right candidate.
He decided to withdraw his false assessments of Lin Wuyu being a softhearted person. This cold-blooded person, after eating a banquet that day he hadn’t contacted him again, and even his Moments were a patch of blank space.
…He had actually fallen to the point where he was hoping for his creditor to contact him?
He could only grit his teeth and hold it in.
Every day he felt like his head was heavy, just looking forward to after the exam when he could take a breath of fresh air.
But the assessment that he had withdrawn quickly was given out again.
Two days before the exam, his cold-blooded creditor gave Ding Ji a call.
“Taking my money, not even writing an IOU, and you’re just disappearing like this?” Lin Wuyu said.
Ding Ji cracked up.
Possibly because he had been shut indoors for too long, when he heard Lin Wuyu’s voice, his entire body relaxed quite a bit, to the point that he thought Lin Wuyu’s voice sounded really nice, like a big grainy watermelon.
“Do you know what dodging creditors is?” Ding Ji said, laughing. “Debts have to be avoided, and creditors have to be avoided even more.”
“You’ve more or less finished studying, right?” Lin Wuyu asked.
“Just waiting to step on everyone at San Zhong and beat up Fu Zhong’s academic god,” Ding Ji said.
“After the exam let’s compare answers,” Lin Wuyu said. “I wanna see how you’ll beat me.”
“Just wait,” Ding Ji said.
The exam is getting closer and closer to you all!
He had heard these words countless times already, day after day. Every teacher hung this phrase next to their mouths.
Only when the day finally came did he suddenly discover that there weren’t actually many days after days.
Ding Ji was pulled out of bed by Grandpa, and when his feet hit the ground he felt like he was sleepwalking.
But after he stood up he sobered up instantly.
Fuck! It’s today!
“Your parents are downstairs waiting for you,” Grandpa said. “I fixed breakfast for you. Your grandma says to eat light, and when you finish hurry on down.”
“Mm.” Ding Ji nodded.
After showering, he finished eating breakfast in two or three bites. Grandma had instructed Grandpa how to boil congee last night, and she’d also made dumplings.
It was just that Ding Ji hadn’t thought that the dumplings would also be so light. The filling was unexpectedly pure cabbage.
Laughing the whole way, he ran downstairs.
His parents didn’t have too much to say. They hadn’t been seeing each other these days, and the atmosphere seemed to be more at ease than when they’d been seeing each other every day. It might’ve also been because they were afraid to affect his mood, so his parents had some semblance of self control.
“Relax and take it,” Mom said. “You don’t need to think at all. You can definitely do well.”
“Mm,” Ding Ji responded, head lowered as he looked at his phone.
When he saw a few taxis tied with red ribbons  drive past, he suddenly thought of Lin Wuyu.
— Are you going to the testing center?
He sent Lin Wuyu a message.
— I’m on the road
— How are you going? Taking a cab?
— My academic god specialty car, the chauffeur is our homeroom teacher
Ding Ji cracked up, but then quickly felt some anger.
Even if they didn’t hold Lin Wuyu in good regard and were unsatisfied with him, for an important day like the exam, his parents went so far as to show no interest like this?
— When you finish call me
Ding Ji sent another message.
— What if I leave the center early
— Let’s not show off like this academic god, steady yourself
“Do you want us to keep your phone in a bit?” Dad asked.
“We’re all handing them over to the homeroom teacher,” Ding Ji said. “She’ll be waiting at the entrance from beginning to end.”
“Alright,” Dad said.
“Give me your phone.” After parking, Lao Lin’s first move was to stretch his hand out in front of him. “Don’t put it in your pocket and bring it in.”
“That won’t happen.” Smiling, Lin Wuyu placed his phone in his hand.
“Don’t leave the center early.” Lao Lin pointed at him.
“Hm?” Lin Wuyu looked at him.
“Looking at your relaxed energy right now I think you’re very likely to do this sort of thing!” Lao Lin was very on guard.
“I promise I’ll do well,” Lin Wuyu said. “Relax, I’m not going to show off when it comes to my own prospects.”
“Add oil .” Lao Lin patted his arm.
There were many people outside the testing center, from students to parents to teachers to police.
Lin Wuyu had a flash of disappointment.
Seeing all the parents hugging their children’s shoulders and cheering them on, for a moment, his heart felt ill at ease.
“You came so early!” Xu Tianbo’s voice came from behind him.
“I came in Lin-ge’s car.” Lin Wuyu turned around. “I suspect he got up at four o’clock.”
“Maybe he didn’t sleep,” Xu Tianbo said, laughing. “I just saw that his dark circles were super severe.”
“You’ve got dark circles too.” Lin Wuyu looked at him.
“I didn’t sleep well last night, not very solid.” Xu Tianbo patted his face. “I almost overslept this morning.”
“Add oil and do well,” Lin Wuyu said.
“Add oil.” Xu Tianbo smiled.
He’d forgotten to tell Ding Ji to add oil just now.
Lin Wuyu subconsciously patted his phone, then remembered that it had already been taken away by Lao Lin. He guessed that Ding Ji’s phone was already not on him either.
He hesitated for a second, turned around halfway, and at lightning speed, he held up a peace sign towards San Zhong’s center.
There were cicadas chirping outside the window.
The chirping in the sun seemed especially peaceful.
Ding Ji didn’t remember when the cicadas started chirping this summer. Many things happened when he wasn’t paying attention, even mindlessly passing.
But today he remembered the chirping particularly clearly. He reckoned that in the years that followed, whenever he heard chirping, he would remember this day. On a sunny day, he was lying on his desk, tensely yet calmly answering questions.
— Little prodigy, are you out yet
— I’m out, just got my phone back
— When I came out I calculated it, you did pretty well ah
— Isn’t that supposed to be my line? What calculating abilities do you have?
— I calculated it in my head
Ding Ji laughed for a good while, calling Lin Wuyu: “Wanna compare answers, academic god?”
“I’m gonna eat first,” Lin Wuyu said.
“Where are you going?” Ding Ji asked. “Are you eating out?”
“Mm, am I supposed to go back to the school dining hall to eat?” Lin Wuyu laughed.
“Where are you resting this afternoon?” Ding Ji quickly asked.
“I’m not resting, I’m not in the habit of afternoon naps,” Lin Wuyu said.
“Alright.” Ding Ji furrowed his brows. “Then let’s talk as you walk, go eat first.”
“…I thought I’d have to hang up and finish eating to call you back?” Lin Wuyu said, laughing.
“I just finished and I’m super dizzy.” Ding Ji let out a sigh. “Talking with you, I feel…steadier.”
 Some taxis tie ribbons to signify that they’re giving free rides to students on their way to the exam. ↩
 加油, an expression used for cheering someone on. ↩
You may have noticed this is in a different place than usual! Previous chapters will still be up on melpricot.carrd.co, but from now on, all new chapters will be hosted here on doge balls. Thank you Ami for helping me transfer!