Frostbite

Chapter 16

Lin Xigu woke early. He warmed himself a glass of milk and toast, and was downstairs with his backpack as soon as he had inhaled his meal. He figured he would have to wait at least thirty more minutes for She Xiao to arrive.

It was quite cold outside. Lin Xigu huddled against a tree, thinking he ought to start wearing long johns under his clothes. It seemed silly now to leave the house so early just to wait. 

But waiting was also a form of happiness in and of itself.

When the minute hand had crept across the face of his watch, he caught sight of She Xiao with his backpack coming around the intersection. Lin Xigu’s face split into a wide grin. That one fleeting moment was all it took for his heart to bloom with joy.

Lin Xigu had never before experienced such longing for any one person. At times, it was a cause for heartache; liking someone too much almost felt like an act of self-degradation. But most of the time, it felt nice, and comfortable, and it remade his heart into something soft and gentle.

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“She Xiao!” Lin Xigu waited until he was within earshot before waving enthusiastically. “Good morning!”

She Xiao looked at him, his eyes relaxed and calm. Lin Xigu thought he saw the corners of his mouth lift as he replied, “Good morning.”

Did She Xiao just… smile?

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Nkd Dktw qasgl, pvyakdt yv Fbl Dkys’p qynl, bkp xswvb ytyrl kd y pzktbvzu akeknwzswp lmralppksd.

Mbl nwahl kd Fbl Dkys’p zkrp clnyxl lhld xsal rasdswdnle. Tl alrlyvle, “Qsse xsadkdt.”

Mbkp vkxl, lhld vbl nsadlap sq bkp lulp nalyple, bkp lulp nwahkdt kdvs yanblp.

Nkd Dktw czkdjle, vbld dseele okvb yzz bkp xktbv. “Zlp, ulp, tsse xsadkdt, tsse xsadkdt! Fbl Dkys, tsse xsadkdt!”

Tl oyp ps lytla vbyv bkp hsknl dlyazu naynjle.

Nsae byhl xlanu – Fbl Dkys ynvwyzzu pxkzle yv bkx! Tkp pxkzl oyp ps ayekydv — bso nswze pwnb y qynl lhld lmkpv? Nkd Dktw qlzv yp vbswtb yzz vbl czsse oyp clkdt eaykdle qasx bkp cseu. Tkp blyav bye czssxle vss lyazu yv vbl pktbv sq Fbl Dkys nsxkdt yaswde vbl clde; dso vbl qzsolap olal cwapvkdt kdvs qkalosajp.&dcpr;

Mbl byzq bswa bl’e prldv oykvkdt vbyv xsadkdt bye dsv tsdl vs oypvl. Tye bl jdsod vbyv Fbl Dkys oyp tskdt vs alryu bkx okvb y pxkzl, bl oswze byhl pvsse yv yvvldvksd qsa lktbv bswap kq vbyv’p obyv kv vssj!

Xdl qykdv pxkzl qasx Fbl Dkys oyp ldswtb vs vbsaswtbzu kdnyrynkvyvl Nkd Dktw yde bl nswzed’v qsax nsxrzlvl pldvldnlp wdvkz vblu bye alynble vbl kdpvawnvksdyz cwkzekdt.

“Hey, Xigu!”

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Lin Xigu heard someone calling him from behind and felt the pat on his shoulder before he could turn around. That person had reached across his back to clap him on his right shoulder. Lin Xigu’s only immediate reaction was to hope that that hand didn’t touch She Xiao by accident. 

When he saw that all was calm and She Xiao showed no signs of open hostility, he finally turned to see who it was. 

“It’s you! What are you doing here? Aren’t you Senior Year 3’s over in the north building?” The newcomer was none other than Xie Yang. Lin Xigu smiled at him.

“I was over here looking for someone, then I saw that you were here too.” Xie Yang thumped him on the shoulder again. “I’ve gotta run. Call me if you need anything.” 

Lin Xigu nodded. “Okay, see you.”

Xie Yang ran off as Lin Xigu smiled at She Xiao in explanation. “My upstairs neighbour.”

”Mn.” She Xiao no longer looked relaxed as he had during their walk, his face reverting back to its usual aloofness.

Lin Xigu knew why; they were inside the building now and the hallways were teeming with students. She Xiao always seemed to detach when moving through a crowd. Lin Xigu didn’t mind; he had already seen She Xiao smile that morning.

Lin Xigu cleared his throat and followed She Xiao into the classroom.

He couldn’t think… shouldn’t think about She Xiao’s smile any longer. Every thought caused his heart to tremor and ache. This was a frequent condition as of late; whenever he recalled his favourite moments with She Xiao, his heart would convulse. 

And all because he liked him a little too much… At its extreme, a heart moved to emotion was a heart in pain.

Perhaps he had overextended himself with all of his big emotions because by late morning, Lin Xigu had started to experience the onset of exhaustion. It wasn’t the usual boredom-induced fatigue; it was a kind of drowsiness that was impossible to fight off. He felt as though he would fall into a deep sleep within seconds of laying his head on his desk.

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He shook his head to clear the fog, frowning in concentration as he took a sip of water. He glanced quickly to his left, admiring She Xiao’s perfect profile and jawline. Looking at She Xiao was a surefire method of dispelling his drowsiness. How could his skin be so flawless, with not a single mole or pimple? The corners of his eyes were wide — how pretty.

The more he looked at his eyes, the more he wanted… to give them a gentle kiss. 

His cheeks burned and Lin Xigu looked away, too embarrassed to continue staring. Since when did he become such a sleaze? He scared even himself sometimes. 

He was truly tired that day. Even peeping at She Xiao didn’t help to keep the drowsiness at bay. Luckily, third period was geography and since their class specialized in the sciences, they were allowed to do as they liked during these lectures. Typically, they read or got a headstart on their other homework. As long as he wasn’t disruptive, taking a short nap was likely acceptable as well.

There was no transition from wakefulness to sleep; he was out like a light in an instant.

He slept until the bell rang.

The teacher had already left and the classroom was buzzing and rowdy. He blinked, not knowing if She Xiao needed to leave his seat… He wanted to stand but the tiredness had sapped him of his strength and he closed his eyes, fading again.

She Xiao sat watching him from his inside seat, his brows raised. He shifted closer to get a better look. Lin Xigu’s cheeks were red and his breathing was laboured. 

She Xiao stood, using his chair as a stepping stool to lift himself onto the row of desks behind him, then hopped down into the aisle. He was light on his feet. There was almost no noise when he landed. 

This flurry of movement happened so quickly that the few people standing close by were left reeling in shock at what they had just witnessed; She Xiao was out the back door before they had a chance to properly react.

Fourth period was Chinese Lit. She Xiao did not reappear until three minutes after the starting bell when he returned through the back doors. Lin Xigu was still asleep; his position had not changed at all.  

She Xiao retraced the path he had initially taken, hopping back into his seat by climbing onto the final row of desks.

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Their Chinese Lit teacher had already started the lesson. Walking on desks was bound to be much more disruptive in a silent room where the rest of the class was already engaged in the lecture, and they all turned to stare at him.

She Xiao frowned and retrieved his Chinese textbook from his drawer, as though nothing had happened.

“What are you all looking at? Eyes on me, if you please,” their Chinese Lit teacher said, forcing the heads to turn reluctantly one by one back to their usual positions.

Top students were always given special treatment. Even a personality like She Xiao’s was not an exception to this rule. 

Dong Xuan turned back in his seat and hissed at Lin Xigu, “Oi… Class is starting.”

Lin Xigu rarely nodded off during class. Although his grades were average, he was a dedicated learner and was still a good student at heart. 

”Lin Xigu, Xigu…” Dong Xuan was persistent as he continued calling his name, his voice lowered. “The teacher’s looking at you.”

”Xi —“ His next words were interrupted by the sudden appearance of a book in front of his face. She Xiao had held up the book to block him from view. When he looked at She Xiao, confused, She Xiao shushed him, glowering.

They were always careful never to cross She Xiao. This person was impossible to read, and he fought like he had nothing to live for.

Dong Xuan sheepishly turned to face the front, thinking That’s right. Lin Xigu’s tongzhuo doesn’t even mind so why get your panties in a twist?

His own tongzhuo side-eyed him, “You deserved that.”

“Have you heard of a little thing called tongzhuo camaraderie?” Dong Xuan retorted.

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”You’ve already squashed whatever camaraderie we might have had,” his tongzhuo answered dispassionately.


Lin Xi didn’t sleep well in the end. Some part of him was still hyperaware that he was sitting in class and his mind never fully relaxed. He always had a nagging feeling that the teacher might call on him at any moment. The teacher never woke him, however, and he continued to drift in and out of consciousness for most of the morning.

When he at last woke in earnest, he was nonplussed at what he saw. Only a few students remained scattered around the room. All were sleeping on their desks, which meant that lunch break had already begun. He rubbed his eyes and looked beside him to receive yet another jolt of surprise – She Xiao was watching him quietly.

”I… slept through both classes?” Lin Xigu quickly touched the back of his hand to his mouth; She Xiao was looking, after all. Luckily, his hand came away dry – no drool.

“Mn.” She Xiao was still watching him.

“Ah…” Lin Xigu was mortified. “I don’t know why I’ve been so tired all day. I could hardly keep my eyes open.”

There was a styrofoam container sitting on the desk and She Xiao pushed it towards him. ”Finish it.”

Lin Xigu’s surprise grew. He glanced at his watch. It was already well past noon. Looking at the takeout on his desk, he suddenly fell silent, unsure of what to say.

Although he did have the urge to… sob.

What on earth was going on?

”Eat,” She Xiao repeated again.

”Okay, okay.” Lin Xigu sniffed. If anyone were to have told him at that moment that he wasn’t special to She Xiao, he would have pressed their head into his lunch and forced them to take a good, hard look. His voice had gone raspy as he asked, ”Have you eaten already?”

“Mn.”

Lin Xigu swallowed his lunch bite by bite, trying not to overthink about the series of events that must have taken place in order for him to be experiencing this meal. She Xiao must have called for delivery on his phone, had probably waited at the school gates for it to arrive and then had quietly set the food aside while waiting for him to wake.

Also, if he had been sleeping the entire time, how had She Xiao managed to leave?

Ah… he needed to stop thinking. Lin Xigu sniffed the tears back, his heart starting to quiver painfully again. 

How was it possible not to fall for someone like that?

It was always going to be inevitable.

Lin Xigu did not have much of an appetite, but he still finished every last morsel. He wiped his mouth with a napkin and mumbled a thank you to She Xiao.

She Xiao stood, not saying anything.

Lin Xigu quickly moved aside for She Xiao to collect their respective containers and carry them out of the classroom. Looking at She Xiao’s retreating back, Lin Xigu thought that he was never going to be able to extricate himself from these feelings.

His affections were piling up. Their relationship was careening out of control.

She Xiao returned ten minutes later. He had likely spent the time smoking because the scent clung to him. Lin Xigu realized he had reached a point of no return in his obsession; he even found the smell of cigarettes appealing when it hung around She Xiao.

She Xiao sat down and looked at the clock, then took out two boxes of cold medicine from his desk drawer. He shook out two pills from each, twisted open the water bottle on his desk, and held both things out to Lin Xigu. The entire process was orchestrated in total silence.

Lin Xigu looked down at the pills in She Xiao’s outstretched palm.

She Xiao’s hand was beautiful. Pale, lanky, clean.

It lay splayed open before his eyes, with four capsules lying in the centre of his palm — This, too, was She Xiao’s heart hiding beneath his glacial exterior, a soft and gentle thing unbeknownst to anyone else.  


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