Yibo stumbled back a couple of steps backward after being pushed. The heel of his foot tripped over a rock and he stumbled, losing his balance. His knees slammed painfully against the hard concrete floor, followed by his palms too—shooting out to brace his fall. He winced at the sharp sting of tiny, hard pebbles digging into his flesh, small tears forming at the corners of his eyes. He’d definitely scraped his knee.
“Aww, what’s wrong Yibo?” A voice above him crooned. “Is wittle, itty-bitty Bobo going to cry?”
Yibo glared up at the figure. “What’s your problem, Zhelan?” he spat, scrambling back onto his feet. It frustrated Yibo to no end, how he was still a couple of inches shorter than Zhelan, but at least when he was standing, he could pretend he was on equal footing as Zhelan.
“Ooooh, what’s my problem?” Zhelan repeated in his high-pitched, mocking voice.
Yibo rolled his eyes. Annoying.
Zhelan saw the eye roll and his mocking smile slipped off his face. “You’re my problem,” he snarled. “That, and your fucking annoying-ass attitude. Your lack of respect for me.”
He took a step closer to Yibo. Yibo reflexively took a step back and felt his back touch against the brick wall of the equipment storage house. Fuck. Yibo mentally cursed. Fuck this. Fuck Zhelan and his stupid-looking face. Fuck deciding to take a shortcut to get back to class. Fuck this stupid brick wall. Fuck everything.
Zhelan sneered and took another step closer to him. Yibo had his back pressed against the wall now and wished desperately for it to turn soft and mushy and envelope him in the safety of its cocoon. To take him anywhere but here, with Zhelan now pressing closer and closer like a hungry shark at the scent of blood.
“What’s the matter Yibo?” Zhelan slurred his words. His maniacal smile was back. “Outta places to run, hmm? Where’s all the spirit from yesterday?”
“Fuck you,” Yibo snapped, despite knowing full well it was a bad idea to provoke Zhelan further.
Zhelan’s eyes flashed with anger. “What did you say?”
In a flash, he trapped Yibo against the wall. He grabbed the collar of his shirt and lifted Yibo off the ground. “Say it again,” he hissed, giving Yibo a shake.
Yibo wrinkled his nose when Zhelan’s hot, smelly breath brushed against his face. Despite his feet dangling off the ground, Yibo stared straight into Zhelan’s eyes and smirked. “I said—” it was getting hard to breathe “—fuck you!”
Zhelan growled and his other hand that wasn’t holding onto Yibo formed a fist. Yibo tensed up, bracing himself for the pain.
“Hey!” a voice suddenly shouted, startling the pair. “What are you doing?” Yibo looked behind Zhelan and saw a boy carrying a cardboard box full of rackets in his arms.
Zhelan stared at the boy before making a split-second decision and dropped Yibo, who slummed against the wall in relief. Zhelan smiled at the boy and threw his arm around Yibo’s shoulders. He flinched in discomfort at its unwelcomed touch. “Just having a friendly little chat about homework, right buddy?” Sarcasm dripped like honey, but Yibo could hear the threat loud and clear: tell the truth and I’ll break your arm next time.
Yibo shrugged Zhelan’s arm off of him. “Yeah, okay, sure,” he mumbled and stuck his stinging palms into the pockets of his pants.
The boy frowned and said pointedly, “That didn’t look like a friendly chat.”
“Well, it was!” Zhelan growled, dropping his facade, “and I’m going back to class now, so. Later,” Zhelan stalked off angrily across the track field, in the opposite direction of the elementary building. Yibo has no doubt that he was not going back to class, but rather to one of his hideouts to smoke. Or find another victim to bully.
When Zhelan’s back disappeared out of sight, the boy focused his attention on Yibo. Yibo quietly observed him. He had pale skin and wore a pair of large round glasses that covered half his face, magnifying his eyes—making them look slightly bugged-eye. He looked a couple of years older and had several inches on Yibo. And, if the blue tracksuit he had on was any indication, he was definitely a junior high student from the building across the track field. An upperclassman then. That would at least explain why Yibo had never seen him before.
“Hey,” he said gently; carefully, “are you okay?”
“Fine.” Yibo snapped and glared at the boy. It grated on his nerves how the boy was treating him like some sort of defenseless, wounded animal.
“If you’re being bullied—”
“I’m not.” Yibo turned to leave.
The boy shifted the box into one arm and reached out to grab Yibo’s arm. “If you’re scared—“
Yibo jerked his arm away as if he had been burned. The spot where the boy’s hand enclosed around him felt warm. “Don’t fucking touch me,” he growled and marched away, ignoring the cries of the boy.
“I’m just trying to help!”
Well, Yibo thought viciously, I don’t need your help. And your glasses make you look stupid.
Later that week, Yibo found himself being grabbed and dragged in the direction of the junior high equipment storage house, his belongings spilling out of his arms and left behind. Not soon later, he was thrown against the brick wall, trapped, and facing off against Zhelan. Again.
This time Zhelan decided to bring his two friends with him—his two incredibly big, ugly, and stupid lackeys.
Yibo’s eyes darted left and right, looking for an escape route away from them.
“Haven’t you been taking dance lessons recently? Show us some ballet and maybe we’ll go easy on you,” one of the lackeys said mockingly.
“Fuck you,” and because he couldn’t resist, “and it’s hip-hop,” he bragged in English.
“Hip, hop, like a fucking bunny?” Zhelan shrugged off his backpack to one of his cronies. He cracked his knuckles, strutting closer. A dark shadow loomed large and menacing as it towered over Yibo. “God, you’re such a girl.”
Zhelan swung his right fist. With a loud crack, Yibo suddenly found himself on his knees and palms. His elbows trembled under his weight, nearly giving out as he tried to pull himself up. A warm, hot trail flowed like a steady stream into his mouth. It dripped into his mouth, seeping between the cracks of his lips and he raised a shaky hand to wipe it away. It came back a startling red.
Yibo jerked his head up to see Zhelan wiping his fist against the tail of his shirt, a sneer gathering in the corners of his mouth.
“‘Least a girl can fight back, you big baby.” Zhelan kicked him hard in the side, tossing Yibo onto the ground again. He grabbed him, “C’mon, fight back already. Where’d that fucking mouth go?” Yibo’s feet struggled for purchase as his knees dangled in the air. Zhelan was holding him up by the arm socket. It stung and burned like hell, tearing a rapid wildfire through his shoulders.
Yibo bared his teeth, holding back a snarl. He opened his mouth to retort, only to yap when another heavy-fisted punch hit him solidly on the other side of his face.
“Y’know, I changed my mind. I like it better shut.” Zhelan grabbed at his collar with his other free fist, digging it into Yibo’s windpipe. Yibo choked back the blood running down the back of his throat, neck twitching. He didn’t make a sound, looking into his eyes, challenging. He wants him to fight back? He could do that.
Yibo clawed at the fist on his throat, nails sharp and dredging deep to draw blood. Holding onto it tightly, he began to swing his legs wildly, aiming for a blind hit.
Zhelan sent Yibo flying back with a shove. “Fucking brat!” He was ready to go after Yibo again when one of his friends intercepted, latching onto his arm, yanking him back frantically, sniveling.
“Boss, Boss,” he gasped. “I think—I think someone saw us,” he whimpered, looking behind him fearfully before whispering urgently, “We’ve gotta go before anyone gets here.”
“What?” Zhelan said furiously, whipping his head around to look around the corner of the building. “Don’t be an ass, no one cares shit around here!” he yelled at the others. “—the fuck would still be here anyway?” Zhelan stomped away to look around the corner with his friends obediently behind him, heads bowed.
Blearily, Yibo’s gaze followed them from his crippled state on the concrete. He allowed himself a moment to breathe, heavily, sucking in short pockets of air into his heaving chest. His heart was hammering away in his chest. He closed his eyes to blink away the stars in his lightheadedness and heard blood whirring like wind in his ears.
He flopped himself onto his back, feeling battered and thoroughly humiliated. If he opened his eyes again, he was going to vomit. He felt tension seeping out of his bones like air in a deflating balloon, leaving him like a limp doll on the ground.
He furled his hands into fists, angry that he’d let himself be hit around like nothing again. He wallowed in a hot pool of shame and self-pity before he gathered his armor again. Suck it up and run away while he still can.
Yibo grits his teeth. He hated nothing more than to prove Zhelan right, that maybe. Maybe he is just a baby, a coward, but he has some self-preservation instincts to save this fight for another day. He can’t imagine it ending well for him in any case, but he’d rather save what face he had left.
Grunting, he picked himself up with haste from the ground. His legs were twin pillars of lead beneath him, quaking like the ground itself was buckling alive beneath his feet, and he tripped in his first attempt to walk. His hands shot frantically to grapple at the wall beside him for balance.
A hot ball of anger burned a black pit through his stomach. He let it guide him forward as he limped quickly to the door to the storage building. He tried the knob but it didn't budge. He twisted frantically, pushing and pulling, even kicking and throwing his body at it. His side—the one that’d been kicked at—throbbed in a dull warning that Zhelan will be back any moment now and it’s locked—the door is locked and Zhelan would be back any moment now and Yibo didn’t have anywhere else to hide, his eyes relayed back as they scoured the brick walls surrounding him, closing in on him from all three sides and yet he feels immeasurably small. His breath picked up and he willed himself to stay tough and reasonable. Maybe he could make a run for it while they’re gone—he was small, he could slip by between them no problem. His skateboard was just around the corner, an escape waiting, if they hadn’t taken and hidden it behind the school dumpster again.
He stopped short of the corner when he heard voices. One was unmistakably Zhelan’s, haughty and jeering. Loud and brash and absolutely in love with hearing himself talk all day. The other was more a little tighter and collected, soft but guarded with his words. Yibo held his breath, hoping to slip by them unnoticed.
He put forth a couple more cautious steps, careful in flatting one shoe ahead before lifting the other. The voices grew louder, reverberating and bouncing tightly around in the long column of space.
Yibo pressed himself tightly against the wall and poked his head out from the corner. He spotted the tall figure of a guy in a cream vest, back to the brick wall with his arms crossed. He was surrounded by Zhelan and his friends. It was that upperclassman from earlier that week, he recognized with a sharp intake, the one with the large eyes and stupid round glasses. Yibo scanned the surroundings and saw his fallen backpack and skateboard scattered carelessly on the ground a couple of feet behind where Zhelan was standing.
He considered the possibility of making a break for it, to retrieve his fallen items and skate away on his skateboard while Zhelan was occupied with the older boy. It would be so, so easy and it wasn’t his fault someone else got caught in between anyway, for getting their shoes dirty in his mess again. Yibo didn’t even think Zhelan had it in him to hit an upperclassman, no matter how big he talked, and especially didn’t have it in him to think he could beat up another guy who was taller and older.
“Why don’t you stop sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong?” Zhelan’s voice came out in a growl and it was followed by the sound of a sickening crunch—of flesh connecting against flesh—and a soft grunt of pain.
Okay, maybe not. Yibo pulled his head back, and leaned back against the wall, letting out a shaky exhale. He gritted his teeth, counting to three silently in his head. Okay. What could he do? He could just leave. Close his eyes, look away and forget what he’s seen and leave while he still could—what good could he do in fights anyways? His knees were buckling. A fresh trail of red slid down the length of his leg, disappearing into the cuffs of his socks.
Would that make him as bad as Zhelan?
“Oi, over here dipshits!” Yibo shouted, making his entrance. Four heads turn simultaneously to his direction. Yibo kept his eyes from wandering and checking on the boy on the ground. He puffed up his chest in false bravo, “Guess you’re not that strong after all, huh? You couldn’t even take down a baby,” he leers, hoping it sounded more confident than he felt.
Zhelan’s hands curled into fists. He took a turn of threatening steps in Yibo’s direction, eyes flashing dangerously, a promise of more pain. Yibo’s breath was caught in his throat, his entire body paralyzing in tendrils of fear. It was a different feeling, to be at the receiving end of the Zhelan’s dark, dark eyes. Maybe he should have run. His fingers twitched to protect his head. But before Zhelan could take another step, his pants leg was caught in a white-fisted grip.
“Stop!” The other boy on the ground cried, fingers snarling tightly into the fabric even as Zhelan tried to kick him off.
Zhelan’s foot broke free with one violent swing. He snarled, stomping the heel onto the boy’s fingers, hard. The shoe grinds harsh red prints on skin.
The boy cried out in pain, strength faltering. Spurred on by the agony of the other boy, Zhelan lifted his now free leg, hooking the tip under the boy’s chin, and sent him back with a sharp kick to the jaw. He didn’t try to get up after that.
“Boss…” One of the lackeys started hesitantly, staring at the fallen body. “You don’t think he’s dead right?” he asked dumbly, looking with anxious uncertainty between Zhelan and him, scooting away in discomfort. Zhelan opened his mouth and Yibo took advantage of their stillness to rush over and land a fierce punch.
Zhelan reacted quickly and grabbed the back of Yibo’s shirt, dragging him down with a heavy-breathed, You really don’t learn huh? and kneed him square in the nose. Yibo gasped from the pain of what felt like a broken nose as blood sprouted out and dripped down his shirt, another fresh bout of blood painting his shirt, probably already long past its point of return anyways.
“Hey, um, boss,” the other one said, grabbing onto Zhelan’s arm to stop him from landing another hit on Yibo. “I think that’s enough for today. It’s not worth the trouble if they end up going to the hospital.”
Zhelan glared at Yibo who was still hunched over, holding his bloody nose in an attempt to stem the bleeding. “Maybe you should try listening to him,” Yibo taunted, a hand raising to cover a pained grimace. “He sure sounds a lot smarter than you.”
“You—” Zhelan started and his friend tugged again in a warning. “Tch,” he finally spat at Yibo’s feet and kicked him once more for good measure. “Consider yourself lucky today,” he threatened with a lame glare, almost like an afterthought. Still, he didn’t leave without pouring more salt to the wound, “Wouldn’t have stopped if not for your little boyfriend getting in the way.”
After Zhelan and his friends had truly left and the bleeding on his knee had somewhat slowed, Yibo crawled over to the still unconscious boy.
“Hey,” he said, shaking the boy.
There was no response.
Yibo shook him even harder. He was a little ticked at himself for letting himself feel vulnerable for this reckless stranger. “Hey dumbass, wake up.”
Even still, the boy did not stir.
There were uneasy flutters in his stomach. Yibo stared at the unmoving boy for a couple of seconds, trying to map out what he should do now. He didn’t want to carry the boy all the way to the infirmary but at the same time, it didn’t feel right to just leave him here. Without warning, he lifted his hand and slapped the boy squarely on the other side of his face where Zhelan didn’t punch him.
Finally, there was a movement from the boy, who furrowed his brows and slowly cracked open his eyes. “Wha-?” he asked, dazed eyes squinting up at Yibo.
“Come on.” Yibo was already moving to stand on his feet. He wobbled over to his fallen belongings and grabbed his backpack, slinging one of the straps over his shoulder. He picked up his skateboard.
One he was done, he turned around to see the older boy propping himself up by an elbow, a hand extending to pat the ground around him. At some point in his scuffle with Zhelan, his glasses had flown off. Yibo saw his glasses close by and picked it up. There was a large hairline crack in one of the lenses, while the other was completely shattered. One of the hinges was bent at an odd angle. He handed it to the boy.
The boy took the glasses with a quiet thank-you and slid it back behind his ears. He tried to get up on his feet but found himself unable to even sit up, digging both elbows against the ground. Yibo watched him struggle and took pity on him. He deliberated whether or not to help before deciding it was the least he could do for some that’d just saved him. Kinda. He grabbed one of the boy’s arms with both hands, and with a sharp yank, managed to pull the boy up.
The older boy swayed at the sudden change in orientation. Yibo put one of the boy’s arms around his shoulder and wrapped one of his arms around the boy’s back. Yibo’s knees shook under the additional weight that was pressed against his body, but he mustered the strength to stay upright.
“Where to?” Yibo asked, slightly out of breath already.
“The junior high building,” the boy replied softly. Yibo didn’t bother to respond, saving himself some air, but headed in that direction. The two of them limped across the track field in silence. Once they were close to the building, the boy lightly tapped on Yibo’s shoulder.
“You can let go now,” he said, kindly. “I can walk on my own.” He removed his arm from around Yibo and Yibo quickly snatched his arm away as well. The boy was still a little tipsy in his stance but eventually managed to right himself. Once freed, Yibo turned around to leave.
“Wait,” a hand caught him by the shoulder. “Where are you going?”
“Home,” said Yibo curtly and placed his skateboard down, ready to head out.
The boy grabbed Yibo’s arm and then quickly let go as if remembering how Yibo flinched the last time he grabbed his arm. “But you’re injured! At least let me treat your injuries first.”
Yibo hesitated, but his body ached, and the sticky blood that was drying on his palms was getting uncomfortable. And there was blood all over his face and his shirt was stained with red splotches. It would be nice to at least wash the blood off his hands and face and bandage some of his more serious injuries so that his grandmother wouldn’t flip out again and nag at him for hours. So he relented, picked up his skateboard again, and followed the boy into the building.
The building was empty as most students went home for the day. Yibo scanned his surroundings as he trailed after the boy, walking slowly in an attempt to lessen the pain on his legs. He took in the long, gray hallway that seemed to stretch on and on for forever; the bulletin board with colorful flyers pinned against it; and the various classroom doors that were cut out from the walls. The boy led Yibo to a set of stairs and started climbing up the steps slowly, stumbling about every couple of steps. His foot missed the last step and he started falling forward and would have landed face-first on the floor if it hadn’t been for Yibo—who was still standing behind him—grabbing onto the boy’s wrist.
“Thanks,” the boy smiled wryly, straightening up. His glasses were askew on his face.
Like an electrical wire just popped in his face, Yibo dropped his hold on the boy like it had scorched him. He wiped his palm on the hem of his shirt, fiddling with it slightly, and let the boy walk on ahead. Yibo followed closely behind, carefully paying attention to him just in case he did bump into more things. Luckily, they made it to the infirmary without many mishaps, except the boy knocking his elbow into the doorknob of the infirmary door.
The boy pushed open the door with a flourish and gestured to Yibo to have a seat on one of the beds. Yibo hopped up onto one of the beds; his feet didn’t touch the ground. He watched the back of the boy as he stumbled around the room, rummaging for supplies.
“Hey, you, why were you even there?” Yibo offhandedly asked, swinging his legs back and forth.
The boy paused, and turned around slowly. His eyes focused on the swinging motion of his legs. The corners of his mouth tugged upwards into a smile. “Stop calling me ‘you’,” he said, “I have a name you know.”
Yibo stilled his legs. “What is it then?” His eyes squinted at the upper left corner of the boy’s uniform, where a name was stitched on neatly in black. Xiao… something
“Xiao Zhan,” the upperclassman clarified, and turned back around to resume his search.
“Okay, Xiao Zhan,” Yibo amended with a nod before pushing again, insistent, “So, why?”
Xiao Zhan’s shoulders rose slightly then fell in a shrug. “I heard some shouting and thought I should check it out.”
“Oh,” said Yibo, for the lack of a better word. “Why did you try to save me?” Yibo stared at Xiao Zhan’s back and watched it stiffen at the question.
After some seconds of silence, there was an answer. “I guess…” Xiao Zhan started slowly, “I guess I wanted to look cool,” he finished lamely.
Yibo snorted. “Yup, you sure looked cool trying to stop Zhelan and getting knocked out in the end.”
“Sorry,” Xiao Zhan apologized. Yibo scrunched his nose.
The pair fell into a comfortable silence. The only sound in the room coming from Xiao Zhan opening and closing drawers.
Yibo muttered under his breath, “You were kind of cool.”
“A-ha!” Xiao Zhan exclaimed, “found them!” He twisted around, holding up a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a roll of bandages triumphantly. “What did you just say?”
Xiao Zhan made his way over to Yibo and walked right into a dresser, banging his knee against it. “Ouch,” he hissed, bending down to grab at his knee. “I said,” Yibo choked out in between laughs, “you look stupid.”
Xiao Zhan looked up at Yibo with watery eyes. If Xiao Zhan was offended by that comment, he didn’t show it. “Let’s get you bandaged up then,” he said, gently dipping a cotton swab in the antiseptic as he took a closer look at Yibo’s banged up knees.
Yibo didn’t turn to look at him, trying to distract himself with the very fascinating squirrel perched on the tree out the window, nibbling on its food. It tilted its head, apple-seed eyes peering questioningly at him and he’s forcibly reminded of the uncomfortable situation he was in. What the heck was he doing? He was sitting in the infirmary after school hours with a guy he’s never so much as seen around the school before, joking around with him and cleaning up after Yibo’s mess like they’ve been friends for much longer.
“Whatever,” Yibo said grumbling. Then paused, hesitating, “This is going to hurt, isn’t it?”
Xiao Zhan lifted his brows, “You’re not scared, are you?”
Yibo clenched his hands into fists, digging his nails into his palms. He willed his legs to keep still, looking anywhere but at the cotton inching closer and closer. “No,” he denied and hissed when he felt the sharp sting of the antiseptic against the open cut.
Xiao Zhan’s eyes flickered up to look at Yibo’s face briefly and looked down once again, a small smile on his face. He tossed the dirty cotton swab away and carefully stuck a bandage on the cleaned wound.
“Are you sure you shouldn’t be the one sitting down?” Yibo asked and he reached out, brushing his fingers against the goose sized bump on the back of Xiao Zhan’s head.
Xiao Zhan winced and moved his head away from Yibo’s prying fingers. “Nah, I’m good,” he said and swiped another soaked cotton swab against a cut on Yibo’s knee, more quickly this time, but still as careful. He repeated the motion until all of Yibo’s numerous cuts and wounds were cleaned and bandaged.
“All done,” said Xiao Zhan, and stepped back to admire his handiwork. He tossed the last cotton swab into the trash bin and then turned around, heading to the direction of the sink. Yibo watched as he ripped off several pieces of paper towels and turned on the facet, wetting them.
“Here,” he said, walking back to Yibo and handing him the soggy clump. “Wipe off your hands and face.”
Yibo took it and began to obediently wipe the dried blood off his nose and hands while watching as Xiao Zhan picked up the bottle of rubbing alcohol with his left hand and clumsily poured some of it onto a clean cotton swab, spilling some on the floor in the process.
“Let me help,” Yibo said, reaching out to take the bottle from him. Xiao Zhan let him, and Yibo grabbed Xiao Zhan’s injured hand, carefully placing it over his as he dabbed away the dirt and grime from the open cuts. His fingers were slightly swollen and red, but other than that, it didn’t look too bad; at the very least, they weren’t broken.
Yibo grabbed the roll of bandages and, keeping his eyes downcast, began winding it around Xiao Zhan’s fingers. He felt Xiao Zhan’s bright gaze on him as he worked and Yibo’s ears burned red under the intense scrutiny. Yibo hurriedly wrapped the rest of the white bandages around the slender fingers and tied a clumsy knot.
Yibo leaned back to inspect his work with downturned lips at the messy sight. The bandages were crooked, crisscrossing in a haphazard manner. Really, they were already starting to loosen.
“S’alright,” Xiao Zhan said, noticing Yibo’s expression. He ruffled Yibo’s hair, “Thanks.” He stepped away from the bed, offering Yibo his unbandaged hand. “Let’s get out of here?”
Yibo ignored the hand as he hopped off the bed. “Okay,” he said simply as he picked up his skateboard and backpack from the bed. He walked alongside Xiao Zhan as they left the infirmary and out of the building, passing the black school gates in silence.
Xiao Zhan broke the awkward atmosphere with a gentle nudge. “Wanna grab something at the convenience store?” He jerked a thumb in the direction of the store near their school where the junior high students frequented during lunch.
“Sure,” Yibo said, shrugging.
He led the way to the store and once inside, made a cut for the freezers where they kept the ice cream. Yibo carefully scanned the various options—a mango bar, strawberry shortcake, watermelon popsicle—before eagle-eyeing his favorite chocolate bar. He made his selection and headed to the counter, with Xiao Zhan trailing behind him, having chosen his—the same as Yibo’s.
So, there was a tiny problem. He had no money. Yibo set down his chocolate bar on the counter in front of the cashier and began rummaging around his pockets as if he was searching for something. Still digging his pockets, he headed into the direction out of the convenience store. “I need to take this call,” he threw over his shoulder at Xiao Zhan, who was still standing at the counter.
“Hey! What—” Xiao Zhan called out, and was interrupted by the cashier, “15 yuan, will you be paying with cash?”
“Ah, yes,” Yibo heard a flustered Xiao Zhan say as the door closed behind him.
Once he was outside, Yibo quit his act and pulled his hands out of his pocket. He heard the door of the convenience store swing open behind him and the thudding footsteps of Xiao Zhan against the pavement. “Hello, grandma?” Yibo said, pressing one of his empty palms against his ear. “Yeah, I’ll be home soon, yub, sure, you don’t have to worry too much about me, ‘kay bye—”
“You—” Xiao Zhan said in mock anger, pulling Yibo into a headlock. “You—you little—!”
Yibo laughed gleefully and tried to struggle out of the grip. In response, Xiao Zhan tightened his hold. “Call me your senior and I’ll let you go,” he said, mussing with his hair.
“No,” Yibo cried out in between choked laughter.
“Call me senior,” Xiao Zhan repeated and tightened his hold even more.
Xiao Zhan hmph’ed in distaste and stopped, releasing Yibo, whose hand reached to flatten his hair. Xiao Zhan dug around in the plastic bag from the convenience store and pulled out Yibo’s chocolate bar with an sly grin. “Guess I’m eating your ice cream then,” he hummed.
“No!” Yibo cried and watched as Xiao Zhan began unwrapping it. He tried reaching for it, but the taller boy held it up out of his reach.
“Zhan-ge,” Yibo whined, finally relenting.
Xiao Zhan lifted his brows in amusement. “That’s not senior I’m hearing still,” but handed the ice cream bar to Yibo anyway. Yibo quickly peeled off the wrapper and took a huge bite out of it, worried that the boy would take it back. Xiao Zhan laughed and pinched one of Yibo’s stuffed cheeks, “Relax, I won’t take it from you.” Yibo batted the hand away.
The two of them seated themselves outside of the store on one of the plastic benches and ate their ice cream in peace.
“It’s getting late,” Xiao Zhan commented when they’ve finished their ice cream and settled into a comfortable silence, bathing in the warm rays of the evening’s orange sunset. “So, tell the truth. Are your parents really not worried?”
Yibo shrugged, “They’re used to me coming home late. Besides, I don’t live far anyway.” He tried to shoot the popsicle stick in the trash can a couple of feet away. He missed.
“Still…” Xiao Zhan said, trailing off in thought. “Let me walk you home then.”
Yibo made a face. “I’m not a baby, I can walk home by myself. I told you, I don’t live far.”
“What, you’re like six,” Xiao Zhan teased. “What do you mean you can walk home by yourself?”
“I’m eight!” An indignant Yibo shouted.
“So? Eight is still too young,” Xiao Zhan tsked, shaking his head and ignoring Yibo’s yelps. “I’ll walk you home.”
“No,” Yibo said, equally as stubborn. Xiao Zhan evenly matched his stare eye-to-eye. He really did look a little scary when he was firm and unyielding like this. Yibo looked away first, but an idea lit in him as he snatched up his skateboard from beside him.
“I’m leaving,” Yibo declared with an air of finality, standing up and slinging his backpack over his shoulder. He didn’t allow a chance for Xiao Zhan to stand as well, placing his skateboard flat on the ground, one foot already on it. “And don’t follow me! Or I’m going to call the police on you!” He pointed sternly at him to stay where he was.
“You don’t even have a phone!” Xiao Zhan said, also standing up.
“Whatever,” Yibo called over his shoulder, pushing off against the ground and placing the other foot against the skateboard. “I can scream loudly,” and pushed off.
He had made it halfway down the block before stopping to look behind him. Xiao Zhan was still standing in the same spot, staring at him and shaking his head. A warm breeze blew, ruffling his bangs, and he thought he saw Xiao Zhan’s mouth quirk into a laugh. The farther Yibo got, the more Xiao Zhan coalesced into the golden light until it looked like his entire body was glowing with the beaming sun behind him.
Yibo stuck out his tongue at him and turned back around, pushing off against the ground once again. The wind rushed at his face, causing his eyes to water slightly from the sting. Still, it didn’t stop a wide grin from spreading across his face. He was carried with the current, the steady bumps and thumps of the wheels rolling across gravel like the rhythm of his singing heart that rose in roaring waves— ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum.