Since there was normally no one in the bookstore in the afternoon, she hurriedly finished her lunch and then took out the bill and the booklist catalog before she started to compare them.
At that moment, the wind chime sounded, and a man pushed the door and walked in.
She looked up and thought that he was familiar-looking then looking at him a few times, she finally recognized him as the mechanic of the small repair shop across the street.
When she was bored, she would look out through the window and see him. He could be seen in his work clothes and a peaked cap, other times, he had on a pair of white cotton gloves as he opened the hood of a car, or squat near the wheels to work.
Now that he had taken off his work clothes and cap—the white T-shirt and neat short hair made him look more handsome than usual.
Unfortunately, there was a scar on the side of his face that discredited the degree of his handsomeness, deeming him ‘less reliable’.
However, she did not think that that was a problem. She once secretly felt that the scar made him appear more dangerous, giving the impression of a different kind of charm other than ‘reliable’.
She pretended to look at the bill, but the corner of her eyes was quietly following his silhouette.
The man walked slowly in between the bookshelves while his eyes carefully swept through a row of books. He turned into two more rows, still unable to find the book that he wanted, but he continued to look with patience.
She fixed her hair, stood up then coughed lightly and said to him: “Excuse me, sir, may I ask what book you are looking for?”
When the man turned to look at her, his eyes were distinctively dark and—truly clear.
“Are there any mathematics books here?” he asked.
“Mathematics? Textbooks or teaching aid? We have the newest set here…”
The man shook his head, “Not a textbook, a… just some basic things, nothing too complex.” He smiled, a bit embarrassed. “The kinds that are just for a casual look.”
She was still a bit confused, but because she had a favorable impression of him, she did not want him to think that she did not understand what he was saying. As a result, she let out an ‘oh’ and nodded before she pointed to the shelf that was labeled “Natural Science’. “You can go there and look for it.”
The man walked to the side of the bookshelf and carefully looked for it. From time to time, he would take out a book and flip through some of the pages.
After about ten minutes, he picked out a book titled “Interest in Mathematics: Little Knowledge” and went to pay.
The cover of the book had drawings of fancy cartoon designs and the lower left corner had a label written in cute fonts that read: “Suitable for Junior High School students to read”.
Taking advantage of when he handed her the book and when she passed the change back to him, she casually asked, “Is this for a child? We have a special set of ‘Pleasant Goat and Big, Big Wolf.”1
He seemed to be about thirty, and even if he had a child, they would not be in junior high school.
Sure enough, the man smiled and shook his head. “There’s no need. I… it’s for me.”
Her eyes widened slightly as she looked at him; she had thought that it was bought for a friend’s child or something of that nature.
For some reason, she suddenly felt that his image became more amiable. Was it not cute that a tall and strong man was holding a gaudy reading material for a youth?
She blushed slightly. Then as she watched him walked toward the exit, she quickly called out to him and pointed to the corner of the bookstore. “You can sit and read there if you want.” As if trying to convince him, she added: “We have air conditioning in here.”
The man glanced at the bright sunshine on the street, nodded at her, and sat down on the sofa in the corner.
For the next hour, he kept silent and reading the book with earnest—his expression was of utter focus. She wanted to pretend to give him a glass of water and take the opportunity to chat with him, but that kind of focus made her too embarrassed to destroy.
At a little over two o’clock in the afternoon, after several customers had come into the bookstore successively, the man looked at his watch. He expressed his thanks to her and then took his book back to the repair shop to work.
Several days after that, she would always look across the street whenever she had the time.
She saw him work, saw him talking to his workmate, and saw that when midday arrived, he would take off his gloves. Afterward, he would wash his hands and read that book, allowing her to see his concentrated expression.
She felt that he was not like a regular mechanic. His kind of steadfastness, calm temperament, and the many small habits made her imagination roam—she had guessed that he must have lived a very good and plentiful life.
More than a week later, he came to the bookstore again at noon.
This time, she boldly greeted him: “Did you finish the book? We also have a high school version here.”
He shook his head, “Do you have any kinds of mathematics related books that are not purely about mathematics?” He hesitated but continued. “It’s like this. I have a friend who really likes math. I just want to…” He seemed to not know how to word it, so he stopped.
“Do you want to have something in common with her2?” she asked, feeling slightly uneasy.
The man smiled, “Yes. Sometimes, when he2 says something, I don’t understand it. The book that I bought last time seemed to have little effect.
Looking at the man’s gentle smile made the subtle discomfort in her heart more obvious. She fixed her attention, smiled at him, and said: “Then I will help you find something else.”
She went to find a book with him; sometimes she would open a book and say a few words until she finally helped him pick a titled, “Mathematics Enthusiast.” The man accepted her recommendation, but she felt that he was still not very satisfied.
This time, she knew his name and had courageously asked for his phone number, promising to call him when there was a new math book available, and then she blushed because of his words of thanks.
Originally, new titles arrive at the end of the month, but she instead, called the supplier the next day. Then she looked through the ‘popular science’ column of the book for quite some times in search of some appropriate books.
Two days later, when the bookstore was about to close, she received a delivery of all the books she had ordered. Then unable to wait until the next day, she took a few deep breaths and dialed his phone number.
“Excuse me, is this Xiao Li?” she asked carefully, but her voice could not conceal her excitement.
However, another man answered instead: “Xiao Li can’t answer the phone right now.”
She did not know what to say and blankly let out an ‘oh’ with disappointment.
The man on the other line went silent for a few seconds before he asked, “May I ask who you are? What are you looking for him for? I can pass it on to him.”
She promptly said, “Can you have him call me back?”
After that man promised her, she hung up and waited with nervousness for nearly half an hour until Xiao Li’s call came through.
When she informed him of the news about the books, Xiao Li was obviously very happy, and his voice sounded very gentle. “Thank you, then I will pass tomorrow around noon?”
After she placed her phone down, she carefully put the two books into the counter, then went home and picked out one of her most beautiful outfits. The color of the dress was pleasing to the eye, and once she tried it on, it contrasted against her skin very delicately.
For the entirety of the next morning, she could not help but look through the window in search of Xiao Li’s figure. However, Xiao Li was as unaware as ever and only came to get the books after he had lunch.
She smiled at Xiao Li and joked with him as she looked for some small changes; she handed the two books which she placed in a beautiful bag to Xiao Li. Then when she invited him to go sit and read at the corner sofa, she deliberately rubbed his wrist with her hand.
However, it was not that Xiao Li did not notice her intention, he did notice it but remained unmoved. From the beginning to the end, his eyes did not stay on her clothes or skin for even a second. He obviously paid more attention to the book than to her, and as soon as he sat down on the sofa, he immediately took out his books to read.
She was a little discouraged, but when she saw how focus Xiao Li was on reading, she was a bit unwilling to give up. She bit her lips and summoned the courage to bring Xiao Li a cup of tea, and as she smiled at him, she leaned over, pretending to unintentionally show her chest.
At this time, the doorbell rang, and someone came in.
She straightened up and prepared herself to go and greet the customer, but the customer apparently did not come for the books. He simply stood at the door while his eyes rushed in the store and glanced straight at her.
This was a man with a slender figure and educated appearance, but his lips were pursed, his face was expressionless—not friendly. It was certainly not like the expression of someone who walked into a bookstore to buy a book.
As the man walked closer and closer, she could not help but take a step back.
Xiao Li stood up. She wanted to hide behind him, but before she could move, she heard Xiao Li speak. “How come you’re here? Did you come all the way from the Northern District?”
She knew that the Northern District was at the other end of the city and could not help but look up at the man.
The man glanced at her and looked back and forth between her and Xiao Li. He replied, “I suddenly wanted to see…”
After that, he did not talk. He saw the book in Xiao Li’s hand, “The Mystery of Mathematics”, and then he saw another book on the table, “A Collection of Mathematician Biographies”.
His expression changed and his tightened lips relaxed before a smile nearly launched immediately on his face. The smile made his face shine brilliantly—with that gentleness, he looked at Xiao Li. “What good is there in hiding this from me? You can just…”
He paused, feeling somewhat excited. Then he glanced at her with a bit of misgiving, reached out his hand toward Xiao Li and pulled him toward the door.
Xiao Li showed an uncomfortable expression the moment the man saw the book in his hand. When he was pulled away by this person, he was a little surprised and whispered for him to stop. “Qi Xiu Yuan!”
However, the man who was called Qi Xiu Yuan did not slow down even a tiny bit. He practically walked away with Xiao Li. Xiao Li could only look back with an apologetic look before he was taken out through the door.
She remained frozen at the same spit, unable to figure out what was going on.
Once she returned to her senses, she noticed the book, “A Collection of Mathematician Biographies”, on the table and quickly picked it up and chased after them.
There was nearly no one on the street during the noontime. She looked around left and right, but still, she could not find Xiao Li and that man.
Before, she had seen them taking a right turn after they left, so she also hurried to the right and walked around the area for a good while.
Seeing that she had already walked out for about forty or fifty meters and she was getting too far away from her bookstore, she hesitantly slow down and wondered if she should return first.
At that moment, she heard a vague conversation in the small alley ahead, so she stopped and picked up her ears to listen carefully.
“Really? Then where did you read up to?”
“The origin of absolute value.”3
“Was it interesting?”
“I didn’t finish reading it yet.”
When she heard Xiao Li’s voice, she breathed a sigh of relief and then took a step toward the alley, but then she heard the other man speak again. “Why didn’t you ask me? I can tell you what ‘absolutely erect’.4” His voice became low with a hint of vagueness and an ambiguous smile. “Is it erect? Hmm? Touch it?”
Xiao Li’s voice was also low, somewhat helpless, but it carried the same and vagueness and ambiguity: “You…”
She actually felt that something was wrong already. The subtle intimacy in the conversation, the sound produced from the softness of their clothes as it lightly rubbing against each other, Xiao Li’s incomplete words, and the incomprehensible breathing should have stopped her.
But the sun was enormous, and some things were just too unbelievable, so she did not react immediately, and almost subconsciously took two steps forward.
Then she stood still in a daze.
Xiao Li was pressed against the wall of the alley by that man—their bodies fit snugly together in the shadow of the wall as the man held his face in both of his hands while his own hands rested comfortably on the man’s waist.
They were kissing.
“The Mystery of Mathematics” was at their feet with the corner of the front cover stained with dirt. However, the two were so engrossed in kissing each other that neither cared much about it.
Her eyes widened; she was a bit confused, thinking: oh, so, it’s actually like that, it’s actually…like that.
When the man’s hand began to shift down, touching gently on Xiao Li’s body, she quickly turned around and quietly ran back to the bookstore.
She sat foolishly behind the checkout counter and recalled the time Xiao Li had come in to buy the very first buy until the situation she saw just now only to realize that many of the details connected. She could not help but laugh and thought again, ahh, it’s actually like that.
After about an hour later, Xiao Li came back to get the book, “A Collection of Mathematician Biographies” that he had dropped earlier. When he pushed the door open, she saw that the man was waiting for him at the door.
As her eyes quickly passed over his somewhat wrinkled T-shirt and a red mark on his neck collar that was not covered, she endured it and smiled at him to say her goodbye and welcome him back.
But she knew that he may not come again. Even if he does come, he probably will not buy a mathematics book anymore. After all, he has a “friend” who really likes mathematics, and this “friend” was extremely happy to teach him personally.
GIRRRRLLL, you had no chance to begin with bahahahah I’m actually glad to know that Xiao Li is living a normal life, just doing what he wants and being with the person he wants as well as wanting to learn more for himself and for Qi Xiu Yuan. And Qi Xiu Yuan is just as naughty as ever. Boiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.
1 Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf – Chinese animated anime-influenced television series created by Huang Weiming, and produced by Creative Power Entertaining. The show is about a group of goats living on the Green Green Grassland (Chinese: 青青草原), and the story revolving around a clumsy wolf who wants to eat them.
2 Her – 她 (tā) – here the girl is using tā in the female form while Xiao Li is using 他 tā in the male form
他 (tā): This is the most frequently used pronoun. Even though it’s used in place of “him,” it is somewhat of a gender-neutral pronoun. It can be used when the gender of a certain person is unclear. The most common forms in English are “he, she, and it.” In the Chinese language, those three become the following: 他, 她, and 他 (“he/him,” “she/her,” and “it/its.” 她 (tā): The female form, equivalent to “she/her.” 它 (tā): Equivalent to “it.” This often refers to objects or animals (even if the animal in question has a distinct gender.)
3 In mathematics, the absolute value or modulus |x| of a real number x is the non-negative value of x without regard to its sign. Namely, |x| = x for a positive x, |x| = −x for a negative x (in which case −x is positive), and |0| = 0. For example, the absolute value of 3 is 3, and the absolute value of −3 is also 3. The absolute value of a number may be thought of as its distance from zero.
4 Absolutely erect/straight (绝对直) – Qi Xiu Yuan is playing with the word 绝对值 (absolute value) since the character for straight 值, like a straight line used in absolute value, is similar to 直 as in vertical/erect. Not in the sense of erect as in erection, but just up and straight lol