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Like you and me

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“Pass the chicken, Xinxin?”

Cheng Xinyan handed Ying-mei the sticky carton of sweet and sour chicken, takeout from a restaurant that had opened just a few weeks ago near their apartment, and helped herself to more of the spicy noodles. “This is really good.”

Ying-mei flashed her a grin. “I told you. But I will cook next time, I promise—maybe at the weekend.”

“You’re feeding me. That’s what matters.” Cheng Xinyan leaned into her side. Ying-mei’s intentions were always good, but her boss was a hard taskmaster, insisting she stay late at the consulting firm most nights. By the time she got home, she was too tired to do anything but take off her makeup, pull on some sweatpants and lounge on the couch, watching TV and eating junk food.

Which suited Cheng Xinyan just fine. Reluctantly, she left her chopsticks in the noodle container and set it on the coffee table. The food was good, but she couldn’t eat another bite. She elbowed Ying-mei, who also seemed to be running out of steam. “You have to clean up, though.”

“Later.” Ying-mei took her hand and stroked lightly across her knuckles. “Tell me about your day. Did the new resident trip over his shoelaces? Did your patients try to set you up with their grandsons? Did you save dozens of lives?”

“No life-saving today.” Cheng Xinyan leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “Shen Wei came to see me.”

“Shen Wei—is that the one who’s always busy when your college friends get together?”

“He doesn’t drink.” It wasn’t surprising he didn’t want to hang out in noisy bars while the rest of them got drunk and rowdy, even if it was a chance to catch up. He’d never liked that kind of thing. Which meant Cheng Xinyan hadn’t seen him in years. She’d never officially come out to him, and Ying-mei had never met him. “He’s a professor now, so he probably was busy. Anyway, he brought a friend to see me today, but there was nothing I could do to help him.”

“A friend, or a friend?” asked Ying-mei.

Cheng Xinyan had strong suspicions on that point, but she was a doctor; she should be discreet, even if the question was unrelated to Zhao Yunlan’s medical condition. On the other hand, she trusted Ying-mei not to gossip. “You might know him, actually. He’s your age, and his records say he went to your high school. Zhao Yunlan?”

“You’re kidding.” Ying-mei laughed. “Zhao Yunlan, really? Is he still a total weirdo?”

“I liked him.” Cheng Xinyan sounded more prim that she intended. She opened her eyes to see Ying-mei’s expression, the warm amusement on her face. “How was he weird?”

“How wasn’t he?” She tucked her knees up so she was facing Cheng Xinyan. “He dressed like a rebel, like he was trying to be tough, but he was a total comic book geek. One time I heard him swear that monsters were real, and he sounded completely serious. I don’t think he had any friends. Oh, the weirdest thing was he kept bringing his cat to school, and he’d sit with it at lunchtime and talk to it.”

“Was he queer?” Cheng Xinyan thought of the way Shen Wei had looked at him that morning. Shen Wei hadn’t had close friends either, until they’d become lab partners and she’d introduced him to her group.

“Aha, you do think they’re a couple!” Ying-mei poked Cheng Xinyan in the side. “Are they cuter than us?”

“They’re so cute,” said Cheng Xinyan, humouring her. “Seriously, though.”

“I don’t know.” Ying-mei wrinkled her nose, as if trying to remember. “Mostly he was just kind of angry. I heard his mum died in an accident and he saw it happen.”

“Ouch.” Cheng Xinyan winced on Zhao Yunlan’s behalf. “What kind of accident?”

“There were rumours, but they were all pretty strange — like, someone heard aliens had shot her with lasers, and someone else said she was struck by lightning. That kind of thing. I don’t think anyone knew the truth.” Ying-mei picked up the empty chicken carton and stared mournfully into it for a moment, then sighed and put it back on the table, her silky hair falling forward as she did. She pushed her hair out of her face, sprawled on the couch and groaned. “Can you believe it’s only Tuesday? How does that make sense? It should be Thursday at least… Oh, that’s right! I almost forgot about Zhao Yunlan being a secret superhero.”

“What?” With his open grin and casual manner, he hadn’t seemed like someone with any secrets at all, especially compared to Shen Wei, who’d always been extremely private. But then, high school was years ago — maybe Zhao Yunlan had grown out of whatever it was.

“It was just one time. The school bully, Liu Zhilu, held Zhang Xiaoqin’s little sister over the stair rail and threatened to drop her. I can’t even remember what he wanted now, but he was furious about something, and we just stood around watching, too scared to do anything. His parents donated so much money to the school, they practically owned it, and for some reason, the teachers never noticed when he acted like a total psycho. But that day Zhao Yunlan came racing out of nowhere and grabbed Zhang Xiaoqin’s sister. He even punched Liu Zhilu in the face. Then he glared at everyone and ordered them not to tell.”

“Did they?”

“Are you kidding? We were kids. And Liu Zhilu reported him. Zhao Yunlan was suspended for a couple of weeks. I’d forgotten all about that.” She shivered. “Liu Zhilu was vile, but I don’t think he really hurt anyone after that.”

“And Zhao Yunlan became the school hero?” guessed Cheng Xinyan, hoping for a happy ending, knowing that kids — and life — were more complicated than that.

Ying-mei shook her head. “He was still weird. And he wouldn’t talk to Zhang Xiaoqin or his little sister afterwards. He just ignored them. I don’t know.” She shrugged, then narrowed her eyes at Cheng Xinyan. “He was weird, but he wasn’t a bad kid. Will your Shen Wei be good to him?”

Cheng Xinyan pulled Ying-mei into her arms in an awkward bundle of elbows and knees while she considered. Shen Wei was weird too, though in a more indefinable way, but she felt too loyal to him to admit it even to Ying-mei. Which was part of his weirdness, actually. But when she thought about the very personal concern on his face as he’d looked at Zhao Yunlan, and the fact that Zhao Yunlan had taken the trouble to load Shen Wei’s class schedule into his phone—

She hoped Zhao Yunlan’s sight would come back, wished there was more she could do, but she couldn’t even determine why he’d lost it in the first place. Unless there was something they weren’t telling her, more traumatic secrets. Anyway, even if he never saw again—

She kissed Ying-mei. “I think they’ll be good to each other.”

“Like you and me,” said Ying-mei fondly, and kissed her back.