Chapter 18: P.
Cherries and the Sea

Ning Yixiao, you don’t have to pretend.

“I finished all the cherries.”

Su Hui touched his pocket.

“I still have some.” Ning Yixiao gave his to him.
Every single one in his pocket.

“You don’t like them?” Su Hui cocked his head.

“Yeah.” Ning Yixiao said.
“I don’t quite like them.”

Then let’s have another rock paper scissors match.” Su Hui raised his fist to his shoulder, already ready to throw it out.
“I don’t believe that I’ll still lose.”

So, Ning Yixiao could only have another match with him.
Perhaps it was because he was still lost in his earlier thoughts, he was a little distracted and actually did lose to Su Hui.

Paper against scissors.
Su Hui had taken his late victory through perseverance.

“Let’s not have three rounds this time?” He began to act shamelessly.

This made Ning Yixiao nearly laugh.
“Alright then.
But I don’t have any talent.”

Su Hui looked as though he was surveying a liar.
“Those words don’t sound convincing.”

“I’m not lying,” Ning Yixiao said as he took out the medicine that he bought from his pocket.
He crouched down.
“Roll up your pants.
Let me see how your knees are.”

“Ning Yixiao, you really know how to change the topic.” Su Hui sucked in his cheeks and lowered his head.
His cap had left a small shadow.
His tone was soft.
“Then say something that left a deep impression on you.”

“Let me look at your knees.” Ning Yixiao changed the topic, voice very gentle.
“You can’t even walk properly.”

Su Hui could only obediently do as he was done, bending down to roll up his pants and exposing his bruised kneecaps.
Ning Yixiao did not ask him what happened and only quietly doused alcohol on the cotton buds.
Then he said, “The bruises are very dark.
If I press down, the remedy would be more effective.”

Su Hui nodded.

Ning Yixiao’s gentle fingers pressed on his injured knees, rubbing and spreading the alcohol as gently as he could.
But he could still hear Su Hui’s quiet sucking in of breath.

“Does it hurt?”

“A little.” Su Hui answered truthfully.
“You… Go slower.”

Ning Yixiao’s head was lowered, fingers pressed on the bruised area as he responded, voice low, “Alright.
If it hurts, just tell me.
I’ll stop.”

The winds seemed to have stilled.
The sweltering air shrouded the two.
Su Hui had his lips pursed, feeling warm.
The alcohol smell was gradually intensifying, suppressing the sour sweetness of the cherries, mixing into an odd sickeningly sweet air.

Ning Yixiao could feel himself approaching the most dangerous boundary step by step.
And what was scary was that he was aware of it and he was willing.

This was out of a motive to warn himself or perhaps to let Su Hui know clearly how big the distance between the two of them was.

“Su Hui, do you still want to hear it?”

Ning Yixiao’s abrupt words left Su Hui in some bewilderment.

“The punishment earlier.”

“Oh.” Su Hui realized then.
“I do.” The pressing was a little painful now, so he shrunk back instinctively.

Ning Yixiao paused for a moment before he began, “I remember you said you like the sea.
I grew up by the sea.
But it’s probably different from what you imagine.
It was a very dangerous sea.
Sometimes, the men who set out to the sea didn’t come back.”

Su Hui’s imagination grew.
He seemed to have been suddenly pulled to the blue seaside, the waves nearly swallowing him up.

“Would your father head out to the sea?” He was a little curious.
“Have you gone before?”

Ning Yixiao chuckled.
That was a laugh different from all of the previous ones.
It was very cold, very bitter — the taste of alcohol-stained cherries.

He spoke with a chuckle, “My family was just me and my mother, so I’ve never gone out to the sea.”

In these few hours he spent together with Su Hui, a bizarre, yet despondent thought constantly surfaced in Ning Yixiao’s mind — he didn’t know when he’d see this person again.

Perhaps urged on by such a feeling, he allowed a rare act of opening himself up.

It was considered a form of warning to himself too.
What kind of a place he hailed from, all these heavy burdens on his shoulders — all things he was unable to forget just because of a temporary happiness.

Ning Yixiao got up, sitting beside Su Hui again, continuing with a very calm voice, “I grew up in a fishing village.
My mother gave birth to me there.
Because I don’t have a father, I was always bullied by the older kids there.
That was a very small, very ragged fishing village, and underdeveloped.
Most people relied on the sea to make a living.
Going out to sea to fish was the largest productive force in the entire village.
Those who could fish had the right to input their opinion.
My family didn’t have the right to speak.”

His mother was frail and had a beautiful face that was utterly unbefitting of her ill fate.
There was absolutely no way for her to stay on those fishing boats together with those men, who practically wanted to eat her alive, and tolerate the erosion of the waves.
She could only rely on selling eggs and making fishing nets to make a living.

“There was only one school in the village and didn’t differentiate the kids into different grades.
All the children attended elementary school together despite having different ages.
I was one of the youngest ones.”

Ning Yixiao gazed at the students playing and laughing from not afar, his thoughts drifting to a place far, far away — back to that rough, poverty-stricken village.

“I still remember it was around this season.
I think I was eight then.
There was a boy five years older than me, whom the rest called Dacheng.
Dacheng’s uncle worked in the cherry garden outside the village.
When he returned to visit them, he’d bring a box of cherries back.
So, Dacheng would bring a net full of them to class to share with everyone.”

For some reason, Su Hui seemed to have guessed what happened afterwards.
Those imagined scenes seemed exceedingly real, as if he had experienced it too, right next to the little Ning Yixiao.

“He gave all of the good and big ones to the rest and gave me rotten ones.”

Ning Yixiao was so calm that it seemed as though he was telling a fictional story.
“Of course I didn’t want to eat them.
It was a very hot day and the rotten cherries had a stench.

“But they forced me.
Two of them grabbed me and pushed me on the brick wall while another person used a fishing net to tie my struggling legs in place.
Dacheng shoved those rotten cherries into my mouth one by one, forcing me to swallow them.

“I threw them up right there.
So, they went to complain to the teacher, saying that I was wasting food.” Ning Yixiao chuckled lightly.
“No matter how I explained it, the teacher believed them and made me stand under the hot sun for two hours as punishment.
After that, I had a heat stroke, so my mother had to carry me back home.”

Ning Yixiao’s eyes were lowered.
“Until now, I still can’t forget that rotten smell.
As long as I take a bite, I’ll remember it.”

After finishing the story, he asked Su Hui, “Is this considered as something that left a deep impression?”

Su Hui was staring at him, dazed too, not speaking a word.

The night was like tranquil waters.
Ning Yixiao saw his gradually reddening eye rims and wet eyes, and he could not help but laugh.
He instinctively reached out to touch the tip of his nose, but suddenly realized that would be overstepping, so he just pointed.
“Why do you look like you’re about to cry?”

Su Hui shook his head.
His hands pat all around his body before pulling out his cigarette pack and offering it to him.
“Do you want one?”

Ning Yixiao found him very interesting and told him, “Su Hui, I’m not upset.”

“You are.” Su Hui looked into his eyes.
“You’re upset right now.”

Ning Yixiao could not keep meeting his eyes like this.
A few seconds later, he surrendered, looking down and taking a cigarette from his hand.
He stared at the blueish-green glow on the black cigarette box.

“Ning Yixiao, you don’t have to pretend.”

Su Hui’s voice seemed to have a certain type of curse.
He seemed just like the sweetest trap in the world.
Even if Ning Yixiao had received warnings from countless people, even if he knew that they were not of the same world, he still could not help but be defenseless to this lure.

“What am I pretending?” Ning Yixiao tossed the pack up into the air, and the box fell back into his hand.

Toss it up.

“Even though you clearly don’t like to smile, you smile every day.”

It fell back.

In the warm wind, Su Hui’s voice was soft and gentle, yet firm.
“Even though you clearly detest your current life, you still pretend you accept it passionately.”

Toss it up—

“Actually you don’t like to be in the loud and enthusiastic storm of a crowd, you don’t like too many people crowding around you, you don’t like to gain the teachers’ favor, you don’t like to work such a tiring life…”

It fell back.

Ning Yixiao gripped the box hard.

He did not smile.
He took out a cigarette lighter, lit the cigarette up and took a drag.
He exhaled it and then turned to Su Hui, tone languid.
“Then, tell me, what do I like?”

That stumbled Su Hui.
This beautiful face emitted vibrancy under the street lamps, shrouded by the tobacco smoke.

“You’re actually really cold.
You might not like anything at all.”

He took out a cigarette too, asking him for the lighter but was rejected.
Ning Yixiao’s hand that held the lighter was raised afar, but his face was facing him.

Su Hui did not try to snatch it.
He just put the cigarette between his lips and bit down on the cigarette bead.
The spicy mint assaulted his mind.
He moved closer, tone soft and gentle.

The slim, long and white cigarette met Ning Yixiao’s burning one like a substitute kiss.
It let the transferred fire, mint flavor soaked in and amorous breathing be sucked into Su Hui’s lungs.

After moving away, he asked Ning Yixiao, “Why are you willing to tell me about yourself?”

Ning Yixiao stared at Su Hui’s expensive sports shoes and expensive cigarette box in the gray smoke, answering vaguely, “Because I lost.”

The coldhearted interior that had been exposed.
That enigmatic night ended with an almost unpleasant separation.

After smoking a cigarette each, the two quietly returned to the bonfire gathering without an actual bonfire and participated in social interaction that they did not care for.

Su Hui continued conversing with that male student, occasionally responding with a bright, unrestrained smile.
Ning Yixiao continued to feign nonchalance.

But in the many days after this, the situation was different from what Ning Yixiao thought.
Su Hui did not disappear because of his coldness.
It was the opposite; he showed up every day.

Each time Ning Yixiao returned to school from the company he was interning in and headed to the self-study room or lab room, Su Hui was almost always there.

What surprised him even more was that Su Hui would bring him different cherry desserts every day.
There were cherry almond tarts, cherry cakes, or cherry cream puffs, cherry pound cake, cherry banana parfait.

After a week, Ning Yixiao finally saw Su Hui again.
He was holding a delicate small dessert box, humming as he waited for him under a tree by the campus’s lovers’ slope.

It was a very beautiful night.
Fire-burnt clouds filling the sky reflected against the vast, empty field.

On the field was even a pair taking wedding photos.
They wore purple academic dresses.
The girl had a white veil and was holding a small bouquet of lily-of-the-valley.

Perhaps they were too blissful.
The contrast only made Su Hui, who stood alone not too far away, seem a little pitiful.

After meeting up, Su Hui asked him where he wanted to eat.
Ning Yixiao was too exhausted, so he suggested they just sit on the field.
Thus, the two ate the desserts as they looked at the newlyweds taking photos.

Ning Yixiao took a bite and thought he had improved.
It was no longer like at the start, with egg shells still in the cake.

“They look so cute even without wearing wedding gowns and suits.” Su Hui leaned on the tree bark and said with a smile.

“Does it make you want to get married now?” Ning Yixiao teased him.

Su Hui laughed.
But after that, he very seriously answered, “I probably won’t get married.”

“Why?” Ning Yixiao asked.

On the grass fields, the photographer ended a portion of the filming, telling the newlyweds “congrats on your marriage”.
The bride giggled shyly.

Su Hui watched, gaze honest.
“Because no one can tolerate being with me forever, I guess.”

Ning Yixiao put down the box in his hand.
He wanted to say something, but Su Hui quickly did it first.

“But seeing others get married really makes me feel so satisfied.
Weddings too.
When the bride and groom do their vows at their wedding, it’s probably their happiest moment.
I just find it a little sad that I’ve never attended a single wedding before.
If only I’m not sick.”

Ning Yixiao looked at Su Hui, watching him very attentively stare at the newlyweds taking their photos.
He looked very relaxed, happy but yet very sensitive too.

“What about you?” Su Hui suddenly asked.
“What kind of wedding do you like?”

Ning Yixiao was a little expressionless and answered curtly, “I don’t like weddings, nor marriage.”

After answering, he habitually changed the topic.
“Why did you make so many desserts?”

“You don’t like them?”

Su Hui looked at him.
His usual gentle tone was colored with a little bit of complaint.
“These are all things I learned from tutorial videos by patissiers.
Making desserts is really too hard.
It takes too much time.
I don’t even get enough time to sleep.”

This time, Ning Yixiao wasn’t beguiled by his reply that did not answer him.
He instead repeated, “Why do you bring some for me every day? Don’t tell me you recently have plans to start a dessert shop, so you want me to help you taste-test?”

Su Hui shook his head.
He borrowed his spoon and took a bite of the parfait that was about to melt.
“Ning Yixiao, do you think this tastes good?”

Ning Yixiao nodded.

“Then that’s good.” Su Hui put down the scoop, leaning on the tree, relaxed, his smile faint but sweet.

“I just want you to think of a delicious taste when you think of cherries in the future.”

That startled Ning Yixiao.
His heartbeat seemed to have stilled for a moment.
The almost sunken red sunlight lit up Su Hui’s ample cheeks bright, just like a blissful peach.

“But I too know that it’s not easy to change one’s memories.”

Su Hui’s voice was very soft, just like the one he used when he patted the stray dog and spoke to it quietly.
“I kept thinking these few days.
If I grew up together with you and lived in that seaside village, then we’d be very, very similar.

“Because I also don’t have a dad who can bring me out to sea.
I don’t even have a very healthy body.
So, they might even like to bully me more and tie me up too.
If that really happened…”

As he spoke, he laughed.

“Ning Yixiao, I’ll eat the rotten cherries with you.”

Cai: Su Hui is coming for NYX’s heart (Cao: and mine YIHUI!)

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