Teasing Is A Skill
The 20 of us trekked along for a while. Just before the sun set, we finally reached level ground halfway up the mountain, where we would be setting up camp for the night.
After organizing things a bit, the team leader distributed tents, groundsheets, and sleeping bags. Then he gave a demonstration on how to put up the tents. Zhong Yuan and I put up our tent and tossed our things inside. Then we took a commemorative photo together. To be honest, I still had some complaints about sharing a tent with a boy, especially one I didn’t much like. But at the end of the day, we’d each be in our own sleeping bags, not paying the other any harm. This was a big group event, so I couldn’t just cause an uproar over such a small thing.
When everyone finished putting up their tents, we all gathered to have dinner together.
Although the area had been developed into a park, aside from the places selling water and a bit of food at the foot of the mountain, the land was basically uninhabited. We had to carry our food and cooking supplies up the mountain on our own. Since there was a lot of stuff to carry, our food and supplies were rather rudimentary. We decided against any barbecue equipment and just went with gas burners and pots. In the mountains, getting a fire started was the first and foremost matter, so we were very conscious of the gas burners. Everyone was in charge of preparing their own utensils. For food, we brought meat, fish balls, shrimp balls, vegetables, tofu, and such things that could be boiled, along with a large amount of noodles and some seasoning… It may sound simple, but out there in the wilderness, away from civilization, it was actually rather extravagant.
I crouched down at the side of the pot with my food container, the saliva nearly dripping down my face. From the bubbling soup, I grabbed some lamb and vegetable pieces. Then I walked off to the side, carefully added some seasoning, and then… offered up the food to Zhong Yuan.
Disgruntled groans sounded around us.
Zhong Yuan tasted it without reservations and nodded. “Not bad.”
Looking at his capitalistic face, I really wanted to grab the food out of his hands and pour it onto his head… But I had to endure it. For my precious Canon, I could endure it!
Aside from the noodles, the other food was basically a rare resource, which meant that everyone had their set share. In other words, if Zhong Yuan ate my portion, I didn’t get any more.
I was trying to figure out how to protect my lamb without angering Zhong Yuan, when Senior Ling Ling offered her portion to him. She said, “Zhong Yuan, I don’t like meat. You can have it.”
I looked over at them happily. Senior Ling Ling, good job!
But Zhong Yuan didn’t accept the lamb meat. Instead, he gave her a sweet smile and replied, “That’s OK. I’ll just eat Mu Er’s portion.”
Listen to this, listen! What is he saying?! He’s clearly exploiting and robbing me! How could he say those words so confidently?! It’s really true that a person needs to train their skin. I may have pretty thick skin, but it wasn’t even a tenth as thick as Zhong Yuan’s!
With a grumpy face, I scooped up more meat from the pot and added seasoning. And without waiting for Zhong Yuan’s words, I immediately gobbled the food. Unfortunately, I was in too much of a rush that my eyes popped out from my mouth getting burned; tears nearly streamed down my face. I had my mouth open, sucking in and blowing out air. I couldn’t bear to spit out the food, but neither could I just swallow it.
Zhong Yuan quickly caught on to this embarrassing scene. At least he had a conscience though. He immediately poured me a cup of water. And then, with that smile of his, he asked, “You didn’t go that far just for a few pieces of meat, did you?”
I gulped down a mouthful of water, which was very effective in bringing the temperature down, but I inadvertently ended up swallowing all the food like it was a pill of medicine. I wasn’t grateful to Zhong Yuan at all. He was the one who caused the entire problem with the meat in the first place. And he had this ill-intentioned expression on his face. He may as well have taped a sign to his head that said ‘rejoices in others’ misfortune’.
He looked really satisfied sitting on the groundsheet. Like a master to a servant, he commanded me, “Blockhead, go get some meat.”
I shot him an angry glare and then obediently went to get more meat…
After dinner, everyone got together to play games. We started by playing blind man’s bluff. One person is blindfolded and must tag another of the players, each of whom chooses a spot to stand at. However, the tagger must correctly call out the name of the person they tagged. Then that person becomes the new player to be blindfolded. If the tagger is unable to correctly tag another player within a set time limit, they’ll be dealt a penalty. The cultural committee member prepared a large box filled with terrifying punishments… I don’t know where the committee member found this game, but I personally thought it was super unfair. You should know, although my hair did grow back a bit, I still had the shortest hair of everyone present…
And just as I predicted, with my nearly-bald head, I was caught in the first round.
Our very noble, self-sacrificing team leader volunteered to be blindfolded first. He spun around several times where he stood, and after he recovered from his dizziness, he walked straight towards me. I couldn’t move, so I stood there, quiet and still like a ghost. When he touched my head, he laughed and gave me an amiable pat. “Mu Er, right?”
With a depressed expression, I undid his blindfold and tied the black cloth over my own eyes. I ran to the center and had a few spins. Then I picked a random direction and started walking.
I quickly bumped into someone. Even after I walked into them, they stood as steady as Mt Tai. Because I was worried this person might be female, and I might accidentally touch her chest, I sought out their arm and felt up from there. This person’s hand was coarser than mine, and harder too. Our group didn’t have a girl as powerful as this, which meant this was a guy. My hands found their way to his shoulders, which were about as high as my head. So he was probably between 178cm and 187cm tall. I thought about the heights of the boys in our group, and… There were five who fit that description? Which meant that I had just eliminated 14 people.
My hands moved past his shoulders, briefly lingering at his neck. He had an Adam’s apple, reaffirming the fact that he was male. And more interesting, his Adam’s apple seemed to move.
Following his neck down, I moved to his chin. Nothing out of the ordinary. Following his neck back, I found his earlobe. I remembered that one of the guys in our group had an earring… There was no earring here, so I eliminated another person. I moved back to his face. It was a bit hard, without the soft baby fat that my face carried. But his skin seemed pretty good, and he didn’t have any acne. OK, that eliminated another two guys.
The two remaining suspects were Zhong Yuan and a second-year student, who will be known as Senior A for the time being. Both guys had similar hairstyles. I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference by touch. I tried to recall the differences in Zhong Yuan and Senior A’s facial features, but my mind was a bit muddled and I couldn’t think of anything. If anything was to be blamed, it was my lack of attentiveness for others’ appearances. While I racked my brain for any little details, I carelessly ran my hands over his face. Eyebrows? Mm, very dense. Eyes? He had really long eyelashes; they even made my fingers itch a bit as my hand glided over them. Nose? Very straight. Lips? …Lips!
I suddenly realized that his lips were curved into a slight smile. A sinister smile flashed in my head. If I wasn’t wrong, then this person was…
Just as I was about to name him, a familiar voice sounded in front of me. In a slightly strained voice, he asked, “Blockhead, are you done feeling around?”
“Zhong Yuan!” I blurted out.
But I was a moment too late. Because Zhong Yuan had spoken first, everyone was certain that I only guessed correctly because I’d heard his voice. I tried to explain my train of thought, but no one believed me.
The cultural committee member held up the punishment box and, with a smile, taunted me to pick one. I glanced at Zhong Yuan. He had zero intention of moving. Fine, I’ll pick one.
I hardened my skin and reached into the box. Then I pulled out the sheet of paper and unfolded it. In a very humane move, there were two options to choose from.
The first was dancing. That was a definite pass. The second was… Thirty-degree tease.1 The subject must be male. This… What the hell was this???
‘Taking liberties’ was already a frightening phrase, but the person also had to be male? But I was concerned with what the ‘thirty degree’ part meant. I asked the committee member about it.
She very enthusiastically explained it to me. Apparently, the idea was to imitate a certain action from a movie. In the movie, there was a man who leaned forward and lifted a woman’s chin up. The scene was really funny because the man was leaning at a very wide angle.
I wiped away my sweat. I had to take liberties with Zhong Yuan? And I even had to lift his chin? This was too challenging an act… And what about that very technical thirty-degree lean? Are you trying to kill me here?!
My fingers pinched at the paper as a troubled frown appeared on my face. The committee member urged me to get on with it, so I could only glare at Zhong Yuan. “This is all your fault!”
He looked at me helplessly. “You picked it by yourself.”
He was so suffocating! I angrily crumpled the piece of paper and shouted, “You, come here!” Come let me harass you!
Zhong Yuan stepped in front of me in a show of cooperation. He even bent down a bit and tilted up his chin right in front of me.
Just then, the committee member respectfully corrected, “That’s not it. You have to give in to Mu Er and lean back thirty degrees.”
I took a bit of delight at his misfortune as I leaned forward and raised my hand to hold his chin.
Zhong Yuan leaned back slightly, looking at me with an ambiguous expression.
My fingers trembled a bit, but I managed to hold his chin.
Around us, everyone started roaring. The other photography committee member took advantage of the timing for a photo.
“No, no, the angle needs to be bigger!”
“Mu Er, you have to lean forward! Right, lean more!”
“Zhong Yuan, lean back or else Mu Er will end up right on top of you.”
“Don’t pretend to be bashful now.”
“Watch your expression! Mu Er, do you need to look so torn?”
“Zhong Yuan, why do you look so happy being harrassed?”
I felt very uncomfortable with all their shouting. I snuck a glance at Zhong Yuan, who actually looked quite happy and content. A smile hung on his face. The anger inside me started to rise. I decided to lean forward and pull back quickly, but Zhong Yuan didn’t cooperate. When I moved forward, I bumped into him, putting him off balance. And then he fell backwards to the ground.
What’s worse though, is that he pulled me down with him. On his way to death’s door, he dragged himself a companion. Don’t you think he’s treacherous?
And like that, the two of us landed on the ground.
Zhong Yuan lied on the ground with his arms spread out on either side, an innocent expression on his face. He blinked and then laughed. “Blockhead, you’re quite the passionate one.”
Zhong Yuan’s Evil Delight
Lying on the ground, Zhong Yuan said to me, “Blockhead, you’re quite the passionate one.”
I quickly got up, my face burning red. But this historical moment had already been captured on various phone cameras by the watching crowd. The photography committee member even got a high-definition close-up shot. And then these onlookers mercilessly posted those photos onto the school forum under the title ‘Gallant School Junior Takes Liberties With Zhong Yuan’…
The sky soon grew dark, and everyone gathered again to play Mafia.
I was an ordinary citizen in the first round, but I was unfortunately killed off on the first night. I highly suspected that Zhong Yuan had been the perpetrator, but then he dropped the line, “The two of us are kind of close. If I killed you, wouldn’t I be giving myself away?” easily winning favor with the rest of the group. Then, in the end, this guy was the last surviving mafia member, and he had a great laugh.
In the second round, I was, again, an ordinary citizen. However, it was Zhong Yuan who was killed in the first round, which gave me great delight. But when he was giving his last words, he looked around at us and claimed that I’d been the one to kill him. He even gave a clear and logical list of justifications. He said, “First, I killed you in the previous round, so now you’re getting your revenge. From what I know of you, this is a very plausible move. Second, you’re obviously having a hard time controlling your expression this round. That’s a problem many players who are mafia suffer from. Third, because in the last round, I said that we were close, so I wouldn’t kill you, it’s very possible that you would try to use the same reasoning this round. Too bad you can’t pull that trick every round… So, what do you have to say for yourself?”
I looked at him in disbelief. I wanted to say something, but in the end, I could only helplessly muster, “But I’m not a mafia member…”
When the result of the vote was revealed, I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry. Of the 20 persons present, everyone but the judge, Zhong Yuan, and me voted to kill me off… Damn. Even when I played as the mafia, I never got this many votes…
Feeling wronged, I sat off to the side and watched everyone else continue playing. Upset, I whispered to Zhong Yuan, “See? I wasn’t the mafia.”
Zhong Yuan replied, “I know.”
Angry, I asked, “Then why did you insist that I was?”
Zhong Yuan turned to look at me. With a smile, he answered, “Since I died, shouldn’t I bring along a companion?”
I was speechless.
I suppressed the anger inside myself and explained, “But then people will think that your deduction skills are bad. They won’t trust you in the future.”
Zhong Yuan asked, “Wouldn’t that make people want to play with me more?”
When it came to narcissists like Zhong Yuan, I decided to just stay quiet.
In the third round, I was, yet again, an ordinary citizen. I tried to sneak a glance at Zhong Yuan’s playing card, but it was too dark, so I couldn’t see. But then, Zhong Yuan generously waved his card in front of me, and I saw that he was also an ordinary citizen. Now relaxed, I showed him my card and warned him not to slander me.
Zhong Yuan looked around the circle of players and then indifferently replied, “You won’t have to worry about any slandering. You’re going to die in the first round.”
Zhong Yuan narrowed his eyes and looked at Senior Ling Ling sitting across from me. In an ethereal voice, like that of a fortune teller, he said, “See Senior Ling Ling’s death glare? Blockhead, you’re so dead.”
I looked over, and under the pale white glow of the lights, I saw Senior Ling Ling glaring at me with wide eyes. Then I felt a shroud of cold air surround me.
And just as Zhong Yuan predicted, I was killed in the first round. My claim that Senior Ling Ling was a mafia member went unheard. During the next discussions, Zhong Yuan played his swindling act, saying he was the detective or something. He said that he’d already determined that Senior Ling Ling was the mafia, etc…
And so, when the next vote came, Senior Ling Ling ended up forced out with the most votes.
Zhong Yuan’s performance must have gone too well, because in the second round, he was killed off by the remaining mafia member.
I tugged his shirt and asked with confusion, “Wasn’t that basically suicide?”
Zhong Yuan smiled and replied, “What I did was get revenge for you. Aren’t you going to thank me?”
I wiped my sweat. Where was this talk of avenging me when you killed me off as the mafia?
We played a few more rounds after that. Zhong Yuan’s most despicable move was cosplaying as a detective when he was the mafia. Then, the actual detective was killed off. When the round ended, everyone sighed incredulously: Zhong Yuan was too fucking treacherous…
It was past 10 when we finished our games and got ready to sleep.
I followed Zhong Yuan into our tent, and after clumsily laying the ground mat, I opened my sleeping bag. To be honest, it was my first time being in such a small space with a guy. As for spending the night together, I was obviously uncomfortable.
Zhong Yuan calmly laid out his sleeping bag and then took off his jacket. Then he grabbed his belt…
Hesitant, I spoke up, “Um… Senior Zhong, can you…” I coughed and finished, “…conduct yourself with dignity…”
Zhong Yuan tightened the belt on his pants and then looked up at me. “What did you say?”
I didn’t say anything out of embarrassment and shame. God, I’m actually very innocent, really…
Just then, Zhong Yuan called to me, “Blockhead.”
“Huh?” I looked over at him. His expression looked so serious. It was really strange.
Zhong Yuan was looking past me, and his expression was grim. He said, “Look behind you.”
His reaction made my hair stand on end. Trembling with fear, I turned around.
Under the dim light of the battery-powered lamp, I saw something reflect a sliver of light in the corner of the tent. Most of the creature was blocked by a backpack, and only a small section of tail remained visible. This small bit of tail was enough to send me into complete shock. That was a… snake!
I screamed, scared out of my mind, and stepped back in panic. I shouted, “Snake! It’s a snake!”
Because the tent was so small, I accidentally bumped into Zhong Yuan. But in such a situation, I didn’t have the wits to care about that. The only thing my mind could feel then was fear. I unconsciously grabbed onto Zhong Yuan, my whole body shaking.
Zhong Yuan, however, didn’t seem at all scared. He pat my back gently and smiled happily. “You don’t need to be scared.”
Don’t have to be scared, my ass! That’s a snake!
People from the tents around us came over to ask about the situation. The fierce Senior Ling Ling pulled open the tent and stuck her head inside. And then her delicate face darkened.
Senior Ling Ling angrily pulled her head out and then zipped up the tent. I heard her explain to everyone outside, “It’s nothing. They’re just flirting.”
The word ‘flirting’ suddenly struck a nerve. I pushed Zhong Yuan away from me, unable to look at him. But I was also too scared to go back to my spot because of the snake…
I moved behind Zhong Yuan, to get as far away from the snake as I could.
Zhong Yuan calmly walked over to the snake, and then he bravely picked it up by the tail!
In that moment, I felt that Zhong Yuan was a soldier from the heavens, a matchless hero…
And then Zhong Yuan swung the snake in his hand and walked over to me with a smile…
I shook my head as hard as I could, whimpering, “D-d-d-d-don’t… Don’t come closer. You…”
Zhong Yuan waved the little snake and laughed. “Can’t you tell? It’s fake.”
I took a proper look at the snake and realized that its body wasn’t moving. It only seemed to move because Zhong Yuan was shaking it. My tensed nerves finally loosened up.
Zhong Yuan held the snake in front of my face. “For you?”
I carefully took the snake. It was made up of small wooden blocks strung together and then painted with a snakeskin-like pattern. At first glance, it looked just like a snake. With some residual fear, I looked at this wooden snake. But then I got really angry. I threw the snake to the side and shouted, “Zhong Yuan! Do you think your practical jokes are fun?!” I didn’t look at him again. I went over to my spot, took off my jacket, and crawled into my sleeping bag, turning away from Zhong Yuan.
After a moment of silence, I heard a rustling sound. Zhong Yuan had come to my side and tapped me gently on the shoulder. “I didn’t know you could be that scared.”
I closed my eyes, ignoring him.
Zhong Yuan asked, “Are… you angry?”
I kept ignoring him.
Zhong Yuan said, “OK, I’ll apologize. I’m sorry.”
To the end, I ignored him… What’s the point of an apology? You’ve already created the scars. That can’t be changed!
Zhong Yuan said, “Blockhead, can’t you be generous? When you assaulted me earlier, I didn’t even say anything.”
My anger burst forth. I turned and glared at him. “Who assaulted you?! Who?! What do you have that I would assault you?!” You bottom!
Zhong Yuan lowered his head, his glistening eyes looking down at me. He said, “OK, you didn’t assault me. You were just overly enthusiastic.”
I glared at him. Fuck you. How could you talk about the pot that doesn’t boil!11
And then Zhong Yuan said, “OK, don’t be angry. If you stay angry, I might start to feel bad. And if I feel bad, I’m not sure what I might end up doing.”
My heart trembled. That was definitely a threat. But after how angry I got, if I gave in now, I would lose so much face. At that thought, I immediately turned away and closed my eyes. I’d ignore him. The bastard. He just does whatever he wants to do. I was done with his abuse.
When Zhong Yuan saw my lack of response, he added, “Blockhead, you can use the camera whenever you want.”
My fingers gripping my pillow started to shake… R-really?
Zhong Yuan said, “If you don’t want to, then forget it.”
I turned over and looked at him with wide eyes. Excited, I replied, “Deal!”
Zhong Yuan looked at me and a smile slowly appeared on his face. Like a lotus pond in July, the image penetrated deep into the heart.