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Off The Market

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She was worried about the first day of school. It wasn’t ideal, moving to a new town during her senior year. She had to make a whole new set of friends. By the time she was comfortable with them, it would be time to move on to college and she’d have to go through the whole process all over again! It really wasn’t fair at all. Unfortunately, all the whining in the world wouldn’t undo her dad’s job transfer, so she’d have to suck it up and deal. At least they were in a bigger, better city now.


She walked up the steps of her new school building, eyeing the other students around her. They seemed ordinary enough; it looked like they followed the same trends that she and her friends back home did, so at least she wouldn’t totally stick out. After entering the building, she made her way to the main office. The receptionist seemed friendly; she looked up with a smile.


“How can I help you?”


“I’m new here and it’s my first day. I was told to come in and pick up my schedule?”


“Ah yes! Here you go. Your assigned counselor is Dr. Hall. You’ll have a meeting with her during your free period, so don’t forget to come back here. And we have a guide here to walk you to your first class!” The receptionist gestured at a boy hovering politely at the side of the office.


“Hello! I’m Xiao Xingchen, your class representative!” He was very pretty, and he had a brilliant smile. She felt a little dazed.


Xiao Xingchen walked her to her first class, pointing out important locations along the way, and asked her about her hometown. He seemed like exactly the sort of person who you’d want to be your class representative, friendly but responsible, and quite obviously a star student, if the smiles that he got from teachers were any indication. Somehow she managed to hold up her end of the conversation like a normal human being, and when they reached the classroom, he made a point of introducing her to the teacher and wishing her well on her first day. He left with another one of those dazzling smiles.


Thankfully, the rest of the students in her class were exactly the right balance between friendly and disinterested. She quickly made friends with her deskmates, and agreed to sit with them at lunch so that they could tell her more about her fellow students.


At lunch, she sat with her new friends, who were happy to fill her in on all the gossip.


“So, I know you’ve only been here for half a day...but has anyone caught your eye yet?”


“Well, maybe,” she blushed, looking down at her food.


“Oooh, that was quick? Who is it?”


“The guy who walked me to my first class. The student representative, Xiao Xingchen?” The rest of her tablemates winced.


“Oh honey, no. You should pick someone else. Like, literally anyone else .”


“Why?” she asked, puzzled. There were plenty of decent-looking boys around, of course, but there was something special about Xiao Xingchen. He was so nice, so bright. Something about him just seemed pure and otherworldly.


“You’d have about as much luck going after a celebrity.”


“He basically is a celebrity in our school!”


“He gets asked out a ton, but he always says no. He’s really nice about it—”


“Of course he is, I don’t think he’s capable of being anything less than nice.”


“—but no matter who asks, he always turns them down. Always.


“So you might as well save yourself the trouble, and focus on someone attainable!” Well, that was disappointing. She really liked Xiao Xingchen.


“Did he say why he turns everyone down?” she asked.


“Apparently he’s already dating someone.”


“Well, he says he’s already dating someone, but we’ve never seen this mystery paramour around.”


“For a while, people thought he was dating Song Lan.”


“Who’s Song Lan?” she asked.


“Take a look at the table in the corner over there—you see where Xiao Xingchen is? See the guy with resting bitch face sitting next to him? That’s Song Lan.”


“They’re best friends, and also a classic example of how opposites attract.” She agreed; while Song Lan was just as good-looking as Xiao Xingchen, their attitudes seemed totally different. Xiao Xingchen was bright and friendly, while Song Lan seemed to radiate icy disdain. It lent him a certain brooding handsomeness, but she definitely preferred friendly people.


“After the first few times that Xiao Xingchen turned down an offer for a date, someone asked if they were together. They both said no, but not in a gross no-homo way. Xiao Xingchen said something about how Song Lan was his dearest friend but more like a brother, and Song Lan just glared at everyone like they were stupid. So apparently, whoever he’s dating, it’s not Song Lan.” She examined Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan more carefully; were they perhaps sitting closer together than most other boys in the room? No, not really, that was just her paranoid imagination. They definitely looked friendly (well, Xiao Xingchen looked friendly, and Song Lan seemed to glare at him less than he glared at anyone else), but they weren’t holding hands or anything.


“I still think he isn’t actually dating anyone.”


“Well, then why would he lie about it? It’s Xiao Xingchen , he’s too good to lie to people like that.”


“Remember last year, when people were asking him out every day? That was before he mentioned being in a relationship. He was flooded with requests! Then once he said he was taken, it slowed down to about once a week. I’m sure he just wanted a break from all the date offers, since he clearly doesn’t plan on taking anyone up on them.”


“Remember that time someone tried to ask Song Lan out? What a brave person! It didn’t go well for them, obviously.”


“Yeah, Xiao Xingchen is nice about saying no, but Song Lan is...not. Actually I have a theory that Song Lan’s niceness was somehow entirely transferred to Xiao Xingchen, and that’s why they are how they are.”


“You have to admit, it’s a reasonable assumption that they could be dating. They’re attached at the hip, and they’re even planning on attending the same college together. Xiao Xingchen is the only person that Song Lan ever smiles at. They’d make a good couple, if they didn’t keep insisting that they were more like brothers.”


At the end of the lunch period, she’d absorbed all the information about Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan, and resolved to keep an eye on the situation. It was her first day—she didn’t need to rush to confess to anyone. She had plenty of other things to focus on. But at the same time, some part of her couldn’t quite give up on the idea of Xiao Xingchen.


As the weeks drew on, she saw that her new friends were absolutely right—at least one person asked Xiao Xingchen out every week, and he always turned them down with the excuse that he was dating someone else. So far, nobody had been bold enough to push the issue of who that someone else was, particularly not with Song Lan glaring at them. She had even seen one daring soul attempt to ask Song Lan out with a bouquet of flowers, only to rudely receive the blunt response “Not interested.”


At the same time, she tried to see if there were any signs that Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan were actually dating each other. They were undeniably close, but no matter how much she looked, none of their closeness seemed romantic. She eventually came to the conclusion that they were, in fact, just very, very good friends.


Still, the rumor that Xiao Xingchen was actually single persisted. It was hard to believe that he was dating when there was absolutely no evidence of a significant other in the picture. He didn’t seem to interact with anyone in a romantic way, and the person he was closest to at school was Song Lan. So the mystery continued—who was Xiao Xingchen dating? Was he even dating anyone at all?


She was beginning to consider making her own attempt at asking for a date—obviously, much better planned and more subtle than the people who randomly accosted him in the cafeteria—when it happened.


She was walking out of school with her friends when she noticed Xiao Xingchen loitering near the corner of the parking lot with Song Lan. That was odd—normally they left school right away, or stayed inside for various extracurricular activities. They didn’t just hang around. Song Lan finished speaking with Xiao Xingchen, then walked off with a wave. That was even odder; normally they left together. Then she heard the rumble of an engine. A sleek black motorcycle pulled into the lot, drawing eyes from all around. Nobody at school had a motorcycle. The rider was decked out from head to toe in black leather gear with an opaque black helmet; he looked dangerous, and so did his bike.


The bike pulled up to where Xiao Xingchen was waiting. The rider pulled off his helmet and shook long, dark hair away from his face. He was quite handsome, if you were into bad boys, she decided. He smirked as he glanced around; everyone was staring.


“Hey baby,” he said, practically devouring Xiao Xingchen with his eyes. “I hope you weren’t waiting too long.”


“Of course not,” Xiao Xingchen replied with a smile. “Thanks for coming to pick me up!” And then he leaned in for a kiss. Not just a chaste kiss of greeting either, but the kind of kiss that went on for a full minute. She was pretty sure there was some tongue involved. Several jaws dropped all around her. Once the mini-makeout session was over, the bad boy rummaged somewhere behind himself and pulled out a silver helmet, which he handed to Xiao Xingchen. After donning the helmet, Xiao Xingchen hopped on the motorcycle and wrapped his arms around the driver’s waist.


“So I heard,” the bad boy said conversationally, “that some of you were doubting my existence. Well, that won’t do at all. The name’s Xue Yang, folks!” He grinned, baring sharp-looking canines. “I thought I’d come over, prove my existence, and make it clear once and for all that my boyfriend is off the market. Don’t expect that to change any time soon! Are we clear? Great, have a nice life.” With that, he put on his own helmet and pulled out of the parking lot at high speed.


“What just happened?” she asked in shock, not really speaking to anyone specific.


“I don’t know,” her friend responded, sounding shaken. “But I guess Xiao Xingchen definitely does have a boyfriend.”