Chen Dong Lan was born in winter and his parents divorced in spring the following year.
He followed his mother. When he had just learned to say mama, his mother remarried and had a child with her new husband without stopping to rest.
His mother and stepfather loved him very much and each of them knew there was real affection behind it. But there were always some things in the world that couldn’t be changed——Mom just loved his younger brother a little more. She would scold him, because he always made her angry and even cry. But towards Chen Dong Lan, she seemed to only have the topic of living expenses to talk about.
Whether Chen Dong Lan cried or didn’t care, it wouldn’t change anything.
So, Chen Dong Lan grew up to be an inarticulate child.
Using inarticulate to describe him could be considered generous. Chen Dong Lan always walked with his head bowed and ignored anyone talking to him for half the time. Even if he didn’t ignore them, he didn’t chat and allowed the situation to become awkward for his male classmates, who would scold him in their hearts, then turn their backs on him.
Besides that, he was very tall but was always hunched. When he was called by the teacher to answer a question in class, he would always shrink. Even if it was a foolish question that could be easily answered, he would stutter and blush, unable to answer, as if the young female teacher, who was only as tall as his shoulder, would eat him up.
During the second year of junior high, classmate Yuan Yuan moved beside him and sat at the same table.
At the time, Yuan Yuan was the male student who was most well-liked by boys. Because boys liked to befriend the cheerful and bold, who could also carry [T/N: The word “carry” was originally in English. Here, it would mean that they could depend on him as an exceedingly outstanding player to lead them to victory] them on the basketball court and in games.
Moreover, his grades were good and they could borrow his homework to copy from time to time. He was also tall, powerful, sunny and handsome, so they could approach girls.
Yuan Yuan didn’t change his seat because of Chen Dong Lan. It was for a good friend who was seated across the walkway.
Chen Dong Lan was silent so Yuan Yuan paid no attention to him. Because there were no exceptions, Yuan Yuan also felt that Chen Dong Lan was very uninteresting, so didn’t make any effort to understand his interests.
In this way, Yuan Yuan and his good friends made a racket beside Chen Dong Lan for a semester.
After that, Chen Dong Lan had to move.
“After a long discussion with your uncle [T/N: This should be referring to Chen Dong Lan’s stepfather.], we’ve decided to stick with our decision to send Xiao De to a private foreign language junior high. This way, it’ll be easier to send him abroad in a few years. Dong Lan, this way, it’ll be further from your school, but we need to trouble you as it’s for your younger brother. If you would like to rent a place near school, it’s not a problem. I’ll hire someone to look after you.”
Mom said this to Chen Dong Lan.
She and Uncle had already been worrying about his younger brother’s schooling for a long time. Now that they had a lot of worries, Chen Dong Lan did not dare to add to the trouble. So he got up for school two hours earlier. In the evening, he would do some homework on the metro and it would be dark before he got home.
The first day he took the metro, he met Yuan Yuan.
The station where Yuan Yuan boarded was a peak station. The crowd surged and everyone was squashed into meat pies. It was a little late and Yuan Yuan was so anxious that he was perspiring. He lifted his head and saw Chen Dong Lan. Like seeing a saviour, he shouted, “Hey, give me a pull!”
Chen Dong Lan hesitated for a few second, or maybe more. The brief signal sounded and Yuan Yuan was left outside the carriage.
He lifted his head in astonishment and Yuan Yuan looked at him with wide eyes. The metro train pulled away with a whoosh.
In the end, Yuan Yuan was late.
“I wasn’t wrong. You’re my classmate!” After the first lesson, Yuan Yuan rejected the invite to play basketball and sat in his seat condemning Chen Dong Lan. “Why didn’t you give me a hand? In fact, if you had said earlier that you weren’t pulling me, I would have made all effort. But I was afraid you were going to pull me, so I waited.”
We’re sorry for MTLers or people who like using reading mode, but our translations keep getting stolen by aggregators so we’re going to bring back the copy protection. If you need to MTL please retype the gibberish parts.
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Chen Dong Lan repeated what he said.
“That wasn’t thoughtful of me…” Yuan Yuan scratched his head and laughed. “But your tone was so weak, I thought that you cried. That wouldn’t be good. After I graduated from elementary school, I never made any of my classmates cry again.”
Chen Dong Lan straightened his neck stiffly. “Next time, I will pull you.”
Yuan Yuan snapped his fingers and his smile widened. “Then let me thank you first.” With that, he ran outside to play basketball. Although there wasn’t much time left, he probably felt that it was good even if he could only touch the basketball twice.
Having promised to give him a pull, that night, Chen Dong Lan practised the scenario of pulling him onto the train. However, for the rest of the semester, Chen Dong Lan never met Yuan Yuan on the metro again.
Maybe they boarded adjacent scheduled trains, or maybe they were in different carriages, or maybe they were just a few people apart, but they never met.
In their third year, Yuan Yuan was the speaker at the opening ceremony of the first school sports meet. Among the thousands of similar students on the sport field, Chen Dong Lan was the most insignificant one. He bent his head observing the grass beneath his shoes, counting them blade by blade.
“Hello, everyone. I’m Yuan Yuan, a third year from Class Three. It’s a great honour to be able to address you here today.” Yuan Yuan stood upright, with a microphone in one hand and a manuscript in the other. There was a relaxed smile on his face, his voice natural and at ease.
In one glance, Chen Dong Lan had forgotten what he had counted.
“This spring, with the tall grass and birds in the air, we usher in the school sports meet on campus and in line with the ultimate goal of physical fitness, the school…”
Yuan Yuan spoke quite fast, but it was clear and his pauses were just right, making such a dull official speech particularly pleasing.
This was the reason Chen Dong Lan, who was fascinated by it, found for himself.
Chen Dong Lan had an event in the sports meet and that was the high jump. Although his physical fitness was average and his achievements were not ideal, people with long legs could not avoid being registered for this event by the sports committee.
The venues for the field and running events were different, but sometimes they were held concurrently.
When Chen Dong Lan was lining up, the gun shot sounded and the four hundred metre race began.
Yuan Yuan wore dark blue sportswear, breaking into a run in the leading position. His hair was very short, but because he ran too fast, it seemed like the short hair was made by the wind to stand.
That day, Yuan Yuan got second place in the four hundred metre preliminary race and broke the school record.
That day, although his results were dismal, Chen Dong Lan jumped the best that he ever had done in history.
After his last jump, knowing that he couldn’t possibly place, Chen Dong Lan took off his number to leave, only to find that among the crowd watching the competition, Yuan Yuan was looking at him with a smile.
Their gazes met by chance so Yuan Yuan raised his hand in greeting.
Chen Dong Lan was nervous and didn’t know how to respond. It took a while before he nodded like a rusty robot. Immediately, thinking that Yuan Yuan’s good friend had also participated in the high jump competition, he turned to leave in another direction.
Not even two steps away, Yuan Yuan jogged over and came close. “Where’re you going? I greeted you.”
Chen Dong Lan stopped and said, embarrassed, “I…I thought you came to see another student competing, so I wanted to leave first.”
Yuan Yuan was puzzled. “Can’t I also watch you when I come to watch other students? No, you’ve made me confused. Since we met, can’t we watch together?”
Chen Dong Lan bent his head and thought that what he said was reasonable. His ears heated up and he felt embarrassed. “No, I was afraid that I’ll disturb you and your friends.”
“What’re you saying? We’re all classmates.”
As Yuan Yuan said in his speech, it was a good day, with the tall grass and birds in the air. Yuan Yuan had just stepped off the running track, wearing a thin jacket with a hand in his pocket and it seemed like the power of his dash had not faded.
That day, from unfamiliar classmates, they became friends. Although they were still unfamiliar, this Chen Dong Lan had recollected this scene for a long time.
In the third year, the schoolwork load became heavy. Chen Dong Lan had been inarticulate for a long time and knew that he wasn’t very clever, so he spent more time on his studies. He would even study on the metro before and after school.
In the end, he fell asleep carelessly while studying.
The person who woke him was Yuan Yuan, whom he thought would never take the same metro train as him.
“We’re reaching the station.” Someone patted his shoulder.
Chen Dong Lan frowned and opened his eyes, meeting Yuan Yuan’s twinkling eyes.
Although he wasn’t good at being face-to-face with others, he didn’t know why but always felt that Yuan Yuan’s eyes were particularly bright. He pulled away his gaze and checked the station. It was two stations away from school.
Observing Chen Dong Lan’s line of sight, Yuan Yuan laughed. “I was afraid you would be difficult to wake.”
Although his face didn’t change, Chen Dong Lan’s heart itched. He never was difficult to wake. Since he started elementary school, he had been waking up on time every day without causing any trouble to his mother and uncle.
“I wouldn’t…thank you.” Chen Dong Lan touched the books on his knee, but came up empty.
“I’ll help you pick it up.” Yuan Yuan raised his hand and handed back the Chinese book. “Memorizing poems so early in the morning? No wonder you’re sleepy.”
“I…” Chen Dong Lan didn’t know how to reply, and after some thought, he said, “The problem is not with the poems.” Although it was partially due to the poems, the root cause was because he had gotten up too early.
“Anyway, the problem is with studying.” Saying that, Yuan Yuan yawned.
Chen Dong Lan didn’t know how to reply again.
Fortunately, Yuan Yuan was good at chatting. “Isn’t it strange to bump into me? I’ve haven’t taken this line for some time.”
Chen Dong Lan felt he should ask. “…why?”
Yuan Yuan yawned again. “Previously, my parents went on a business trip so I had to stay at my aunt’s house temporarily. My god, that was really far. Every day, my aunt wanted to beat up me and my uncle, urging us to eat like she was fighting a war, then urging my uncle to drive me to school. Not even a month had passed and my uncle was so haggard that he became thinner than my aunt.”
Chen Dong Lan wanted to laugh, but he held it in.
Yuan Yuan was puzzled. “So was this funny or not?”
Chen Dong Lan shook his head. “Funny…no, it was your description that was funny.”
Yuan Yuan was helpless. “If you want to laugh, then just laugh.”
Chen Dong Lan hesitated, then said, “…I was afraid you would think that I was mocking your family.”
“Pfff——” Yuan Yuan was amused. “Don’t be so serious! Why’re you always so afraid? There’s nothing to be afraid of, Chen Dong Lan.”
Chen Dong Lan stared blankly.
He had hit the target.
In his heart, the itch that had existed from the beginning became so intense that he couldn’t help tightening his fists and hiding them behind him.
The third year went by very quickly. During the year, Yuan Yuan reduced his frequency of playing basketball between classes, which made Chen Dong Lan feel like they had gotten closer.
Although this was only the feeling of a single party.
The two of them met regularly on the metro on the way to school, but half the time, they only had a short chat. Chen Dong Lan had the intention to speak to him, but hesitated somewhat with questions like “what should he say”, “what will he be interested in talking about”, and the opportunity was lost.
Anyway, even if Chen Dong Lan had the perfect topic to discuss with him, he wouldn’t dare to ask if Yuan Yuan wasn’t the first to speak.
For such matters, if he didn’t dare the first time, it would be increasingly difficult in future.
Every “good topic” was repeatedly analysed in his mind and finally thrown aside like a crumpled paper ball.
Logically, the two of them should be taking the same scheduled metro train home. But every night, Yuan Yuan played an hour of basketball with friends, and it was even longer when the weather was good.
For Chen Dong Lan, reaching home two hours later than his brother, he didn’t want his family to wait for him for dinner, so he ate at the canteen before heading home. He would already be home late and couldn’t delay any longer, in case his mother and uncle worry.
He had imagined walking with Yuan Yuan out of the classroom, out of school, walking into the metro station and then waving goodbye in the metro train.
But it had always been just an imagination.
After junior high graduation, they got into the same high school, but were assigned to different classes.
When introducing himself, Chen Dong Lan spoke in public for the first time, his back straightened and without blushing, a thundering heartbeat or stammering.
He remembered what Yuan Yuan told him——”Speak louder and raise your head a little.”
And, “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Chen Dong Lan.”