Chapter 17: P.
Setting Sun Trumpet Vine

My luck has always been sort of bad.

The first week of summer break was ordinary and unnoteworthy.
Professor Wang arranged for a few meetings and brought Ning Yixiao to all of them.
Afterwards, he also called another computer major student that was in the same batch but different class from him, called Feng Cheng.

Ning Yixiao found him slightly familiar to his eyes.
But he momentarily could not remember who he looked like.

The three-person group from before turned into a two-person group before reverting to a three-person group.
It felt like it had changed but yet not really.
Everyone silently accepted Su Hui’s disappearance, and only Ning Yixiao felt as though a fish bone remained stuck in his throat.

In the seventeen days that Su Hui vanished, Ning Yixiao attempted to call his phone, send him texts, but they seemed to have sunk into the sea.

He had prior trauma regarding sudden disappearances, but he could not do anything about it.
He could only subconsciously check he and Su Hui’s relatively empty conversation history again and again, staring at the kitten plush’s heart before sleep, and on a night where his painfully long part-time job ended, made an arduous long trek to that distant red factory just based solely on memory.

He couldn’t be found anywhere.

Until the eighteenth day, when Ning Yixiao discovered a missed call from Su Hui after the fact.

At that time, he was writing code in a lab where the air-conditioning was damaged.
While at work, he often forgot about the time.
Only when he remembered and checked his phone did he notice the call.
But when he called back again, he couldn’t get through.

This seemed just like a joke.
Ning Yixiao stared at the real and genuine two words, “Su Hui”, written on his call list.
A graduate student came in.
He had interacted with her a few times before.

“Yixiao? You’re here.
I thought you went to get your meal.” The senior said, “Someone is looking for you outside.
I think they’re from another faculty.”

“Looking for me?” Ning Yixiao stood up.
“Is it a guy?”

The senior grinned.
I thought you were at your dorm so I pointed him to your dorm.
But I wasn’t expecting that you’ll still be at work when it’s mealtime.”

“Thank you, senior.” Ning Yixiao didn’t say much, grabbing his phone and leaving.

He was hesitant at first.
He was not certain if he was the person he was thinking of, but gradually, his footsteps increasingly quickened and he finally ran through the tree-lined path to the dormitory, looking all around him.
Fortunately, Ning Yixiao spotted a figure similar to Su Hui’s in a rock garden behind the dormitory.

Having slightly calmed his heartbeat down, he feigned composure as he approached Su Hui.

When he came closer, Ning Yixiao could hear Su Hui quietly humming a light-hearted tune.

He was crouching by emerald greens and trees, donned in a water-blue top and a white fisherman’s hat.
The color of the setting sun was spreading.
His fingers were gently rubbing an ordinary leaf.
Tiny small dust particles danced in the air, making Su Hui seem like he was glowing.

There was the sound of the lighter.
It opened and then closed, repeating itself like this.
He stood up then, his cheeks shrouded in white smoke tendrils.

Ning Yixiao stood behind Su Hui.
He wanted to give him a scare, so he spoke up first.
“Long time no see.”

Su Hui genuinely received a fright, his shoulders jumping as he suddenly looked back.
His originally big dole eyes were widened even bigger.
This sight reminded Ning Yixiao of a blue butterfly that he saw at the ground floor of his dormitory.

“You’re smoking secretly again.” Ning Yixiao chuckled, walking to stand in front of him.

Su Hui’s index and middle finger clasped a slender cigarette that looked like it was just lit.

He leaned on the rock.
As like before, he would always lean on something, as though he would suddenly collapse once he lost his support.

“I haven’t even taken a drag.” Su Hui looked up, tone kiddish.

He hadn’t expected Ning Yixiao to show up.
After staring at him for a while, he felt very real, unlike an illusion.

He wasn’t used to it.
He didn’t know if it was because he was locked in for too long, and so he was not used to being shone on by sunlight — or if he was not used to Ning Yixiao just appearing in front of him like this, not requiring him to wait for a coincidence and being someone that he could find if he just searched.

Su Hui blinked.
But he had not expected Ning Yixiao to suddenly reach out and deftly snatch away the cigarette from his fingers.

He thought Ning Yixiao wanted to trash it, so he subconsciously said, “It’ll be a waste like that.”

But surprisingly, Ning Yixiao drew back his hand, putting the cigarette in his mouth to take a drag and exhaled the smoke.
His actions were not unpracticed.
It did not look like his first time smoking.

It did not fit with Ning Yixiao’s appearance of a good student.

“There’s even a burst bead.” Ning Yixiao’s lips tugged upwards amidst the smoke.

Su Hui could practically imagine his teeth crushing down on the mint bead.

“What’s wrong with burst beads?” He looked up.

Ning Yixiao took down the cigarette and held it between his fingers.
“Only kids would smoke ones with burst beads.”

“Then what do you smoke?” Su Hui asked.

Ning Yixiao looked into the distance as though he was remembering something.
Then he glanced at the black cigarette box in Su Hui’s hand.
“It’s not as expensive as Marlboro, and it’s just a few bucks per pack.
It’s white.
I think it’s called Jiao Zi, or Pride [1].”

Su Hui laughed.
“The name is a little weird.
It sounds like a brand that girls would smoke.”

“It’s certainly not mine either.” Ning Yixiao responded in a low voice.
“I stole it from my mother.
She liked to hide it in her pillow, and I only took one each time.
Since her memory is rather bad, she didn’t find out.”

Su Hui was very sharp.
He sensed something from his lowered eyes.

“What flavor was it?”

“Orange peels.
It’s very faint and has a slight moldy taste.
It might have been there for too long since my mother couldn’t bear to smoke it.” Ning Yixiao managed a smile.
“Oh, right.
Where did you go for this period of time? You didn’t even come to the group meetings.”

He changed the topic again.
Just like a hedgehog.

Su Hui debtly took the cigarette from his hand and took a smoke, exhaling a very irregular smoke ring under the sunlight.

“At home.”

Ning Yixiao looked up, seemingly asking, Was that really it?

Su Hui nodded with a smile.

Ning Yixiao didn’t ask further.
His phone vibrated a few times, so he looked down to check the messages.

“Have you eaten?” He replied to the texts as he asked rather casually.

“Mhm, I ate a little.”

Ning Yixiao looked up, raising his phone.
“The Book-and-Movie club members want to gather at the field later.
Do you want to go too?”

The sky was gradually darkening.
Su Hui put out the cigarette and nodded with a grin.

Nightfall arrived.
They came to the field, and a group was already standing at the center in a circle.
Someone had placed a searchlight in the middle, light yellow and velvety, like a night bonfire celebration without the bonfire.

Ning Yixiao had just walked over when someone noticed him.
Everyone slowly stopped to say hi to him.

Su Hui stared at Ning Yixiao’s side profile.
At a certain moment, he hid that air he exuded when he was alone with him.
That was a feeling that Su Hui could not describe.

Right now, he had changed into a smiling face with ample friendliness, very naturally interacting with this many people and their loud and soft shouts and voices.

What was amazing about Ning Yixiao was his ability to switch between modes effortlessly.

“Oh, right.
I brought Su Hui along too.”

Ning Yixiao, who had already taken a seat, turned towards Su Hui, introducing him to others.

But unexpectedly, a boy diagonally across raised his hand.
The searchlight had lit his face up.
“It’s my faculty’s handsome boy! Su Hui, come here!”

Su Hui glanced at him and then subconsciously looked at Ning Yixiao.
But failing to read his current composed expression, he nodded then, walking towards that student in the same major as him with a smile.

Just like this, they sat on opposing sides of the circle, thoughts hidden amidst the crowd’s laughter.

Su Hui did not know the boy next to him, but he said he was very famous in the faculty.
He thought then that it wasn’t too pleasant a reputation, so he just responded half-heartedly with a laugh.

The good thing was that the boy was humorous.
Just a couple of roasting of the teachers had made Su Hui break into laughter.

Su Hui was a very good listener.
He would hold his knees without realizing when listening to others, head tilted, eyes bright as he made a very serious and cute expression.

These were all things seen by Ning Yixiao.
Even if he too, was chatting pleasantly with others as well.

A tall girl arrived late, hugging a large paper box in her arms, seeming with much effort.

Su Hui saw Ning Yixiao stand up to help her and take the box.
And then he heard a girl next to them squeal, “This is great, we have cherries”.
And then he saw the muscles on Ning Yixiao’s lower arms surfacing from the exertion of strength.

Su Hui averted his gaze, turning to stare at the searchlight instead.
Under his direct gaze, numerous strange illusions appeared.

That girl’s mother had delivered her two large boxes of cherries, so she brought a box to share with everyone generously.
The cherries were so fresh they seemed to be freshly picked from the trees.
They even were attached with some branches and leaves.
After giving out the fruits, everyone each had a small bunch.

“What large cherries.”

“Mn! It’s really so sweet! Thank you, Miaomiao!”

“You’re welcome, you’re welcome.
Have some more!”

Ning Yixiao listened to the conversation between the few next to him and joined in every now and then.
Everyone began discussion on what sort of ice-breaker game to play next.
When a nearby club member inquired for his opinion, Ning Yixiao only gave a reply: “So long as it’s not too extreme.
Let’s get a girl to suggest one as much as possible.”

“Then how about we play Truth Or Dare?”

“Or a five-legged race with four people? If you lose… perform a talent of yours!”

“That’s so old-school!”

“But it’ll definitely be very interesting if we do it.
Believe me!”

“But what if you don’t have a talent?”

“Then… Then how about talking about something that left a deep impression on you?”

Everyone was talking noisily.
In this short while, Ning Yixiao turned his head, sharply noticing that Su Hui had disappeared.

“Yixiao, I just wrote on these.
Pick one.” A girl next to him extended a handful of rolled up paper.

“I’ll go take a call first.” Ning Yixiao stood up and left the crowd.

Just following his instincts, he searched everywhere, passing by the school drugstore midway and entering it to purchase some things.
In the end, he spotted him in the dark pavilion, separated by the bright red Chinese trumpet vine [2] that climbed upwards.

Su Hui sat languidly in the pavilion, bent over as though he was talking to something in quiet whispers.

“I’ll be really nice to you.
Don’t be scared of me.
I’m not a bad person…”

Ning Yixiao approached him bit by bit, managing to catch his words clearer now and see that gentle smile on his face.

It turned out that he was squatting in front of a stray puppy, patting its head.

“It was you the last time too, right? Do you still remember me?”

“Did you have a good day today? Are you hungry? I have cherries,” Su Hui spoke as he took out a cherry from his pocket.
He broke it in halves, removing the seed before offering it to the puppy.

But it seemed disinterested in fruits, only sniffing it before it wagged its tail and backed away slightly.

Su Hui tried a few more times, but the puppy still refused to accept it.
He could only push it into his mouth.
“…This one is a little sour.”

Seeing his nose wrinkled from the sourness, Ning Yixiao found it extremely adorable.
But he didn’t notice that Su Hui had raised his head and discovered him “spying” on him for a while.

Caught red-handed, Ning Yixiao walked over, feigning nonchalance.
He pushed aside the hanging vines and stepped into the pavilion.
“Why did you sneak away?”

Su Hui was very honest.
“That student kept asking me why I didn’t come to class.”

“You didn’t want to answer?” Ning Yixiao asked.

“I haven’t decided what kind of story to make up yet.” Su Hui shoved another cherry into his mouth, answering him slowly.
But he appeared to be in a relatively good mood.
“I ate too much medicine.
It clogs up my mind.”

Ning Yixiao stared at the small sickly person in front of him.
The road lamps outside the pavilion spilled their lights over, lighting up his red liquid-stained fingertips and lips.
They seemed like they would taste so sweet.

Not too far away, a singing voice came.
It was a very pleasant a cappella.
The lyrics were scattered by the summer night winds, allowing them to only hear some indistinct words related to love.
As if they were talking about love, but yet not.
Vague and indistinct.

“They’re playing a game.
If you lose, you’d have to perform something or talk about something that left a deep impression on you.
Looks like someone has already lost.” Ning Yixiao said, sitting next to Su Hui.

Su Hui turned his head with a smile.
“What game?”

“Five-legged race with four people?” Ning Yixiao wasn’t too certain what they ultimately decided on.
“Or games like that.”

Compared to being squeezed in a crowd, Su Hui much preferred himself to be found by someone after vanishing from the crowd.
And since this person was Ning Yixiao, his exaltation only deepened.

He laughed, turning to tell Ning Yixiao, “Since we’re the only two here, how about we play rock, paper, scissors?”

Ning Yixiao nodded in agreement.
But what surprised him was that this game ended much earlier than he imagined.
He had just thrown out rock when he saw Su Hui excitedly extend scissors.

Su Hui’s expression changed then, like a little flower that swiftly withered.
Ning Yixiao broke into laughter.
“Three rounds.
You’ll win if you win two rounds.”

He nodded immediately, and then said, “My luck has always been kind of bad.”

This sounded like an excuse to defend himself, but when Ning Yixiao gave rock again to go easy on him, Su Hui actually picked scissors again.
So, he had no choice but to believe him.

After losing two consecutive rounds, there was no possibility of making a comeback.
Su Hui leaned back on the bench, giving up.
“As expected.
I knew it.”

“Then do you have to accept the punishment too?” Ning Yixiao raised an eyebrow.
“Perform a talent of yours.”

Su Hui was quiet for a while.
Then, he suddenly laughed.

“What are you laughing at?” Ning Yixiao studied him.

Su Hui stood up, moving closer to him.
“I remembered that I do have a talent.” As he spoke, he took out another cherry from his pocket.
But he didn’t eat it, only plucking the cherry stem.

“I’ll tie a knot with a cherry stem.” Su Hui put the cherry stem into his mouth.
His voice was a little slurred.
“With my tongue.”

After he spoke, he pursed his lips.

Inappropriately, Ning Yixiao remembered the tongue piercing that he had shown him before.
Remembered the juice that stained him when he bit down on the cherry, and then thought of his soft mouth cavity and soft palate, the clean white teeth and tongue tip that curled backwards to reveal the hole that remained on the tip of his tongue.

He suddenly wanted very much to know how it would feel to touch it — when a tongue pin was put on, when it was not put on, if he clasped it between his index or middle finger, or if he stretched his fingers in.


The muffled voice pulled Ning Yixiao’s wandering mind back.

As he fell into a daze, Su Hui had already succeeded in his “talent performance”, spitting the tied cherry stem on his palm, pleased.
He moved it closer to show Ning Yixiao.

The bent cherry stem was tied in the middle.
Its shape looked just like the love arrow shot by Cupid.

Su Hui’s voice was even gentler than the summer night winds; it seemed just like the trumpet vine nearing its blooming season, drifting to rest on Ning Yixiao’s heart.
“How is this talent? Isn’t it amazing?”

Ning Yixiao smiled to cover up his heart that struggled to calm down and the lavish image in his mind that he could not remove from his mind.

“You’re so amazing.”

The author has something to say:

Sorry, I was outside the entire day today and my phone ran out of battery.
I just charged it.
Sorry for posting it late

Translator Note:

[1] 娇子 is comprised of Chinese characters usually used for a female name.
The cigarette brand is named Jiao Zi after the Chengdu panda.

[2] The Chinese word for Chinese trumpet vines is 凌霄 (líng xiāo), which, when broken up, could be read as ‘midnight/early morning’ ‘night’, which could be an intentional choice given that it has the same ‘xiao’ as Ning Yixiao’s name.

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