When God Says Let There Be LightChapters List
Chapter 17: Long-Distance Running
A great weekend had passed, and Monday had come around again.
On Monday afternoon, during the physical education class, the autumn sunlight was bright and dazzling. The schoolyard was lined with sweet-scented osmanthus trees, filling the air with their fragrance. The sun's intensity caused Nie Qingzhou to furrow his brow. The PE teacher bellowed, announcing that their class would be tested on long-distance running the day after tomorrow. The girls were to run 800 meters, while the boys were assigned 1000 meters. During this class, they would practice, and those who were up for it could run to build their stamina.
As the announcement was made, a collective groan emanated from the students, with the girls' lamentations being especially loud.
During their school years, the PE class's most dreaded moments were undoubtedly the 800-meter and 1000-meter runs. Every autumn term brought this trial, pushing students to the brink where limbs felt like lead, their throats burned, and even led them to question their life choices.
However, Nie Qingzhou remained remarkably composed. Once the teacher mentioned free practice, he began stretching and warming up, preparing himself for an enjoyable long run class. Zhang Yukun complained about the upcoming long-distance running test while sitting beside him. But Lai Ning pointed to the other end of the schoolyard and yelled, "Hey, the boys from Class 1 are here! They're taking the 1000-meter test today!"
Zhang Yukun immediately jumped up, asking, "Where? Where?"
At the far end of the schoolyard, a PE teacher from Class One held a results board under his arm, a whistle hanging around his neck. He was briefing a group of boys gathered around him. The boys started shedding their jackets, tying their shoelaces, and then grouped in pairs or threes standing behind the starting line. Amidst this crowd, Nie Qingzhou saw the familiar gentle face wearing glasses.
"How's Wen Zhong doing in sports?" Nie Qingzhou inquired.
"Average, I guess," Zhang Yukun replied.
Nie Qingzhou smiled, took off his jacket, handed it to Lai Ning, and as the whistle blew, signaling the start of the class, he waved to Zhang Yukun and said, "I'll be back in a bit!"
Lai Ning watched Nie Qingzhou's departing figure, puzzled. The grass was teeming with a lot of people, the running track had been cleared for the test, and Nie Qingzhou weaved through the chaotic crowd. He slipped into the midst of Class One's running examination lineup as smoothly as a fish blending into water.
"Hey, what's Zhou-Ge up to?" Lai Ning turned and asked the person next to him.
Zhang Yukun scratched his head, watching Nie Qingzhou overtake a few runners before slowing down next to Wen Zhong, and suddenly he grasped the situation, "Is he here to settle the score with Wen Zhong? But how is he going to do that?"
After running more than half of the lap, Wen Zhong was adjusting his breathing, convinced that he could finish the run within four minutes this time. Suddenly, a voice came from the side.
Startled, he jerked his head to the side and saw Nie Qingzhou, appearing on his right hand at some point. They were running side by side, separated by less than an arm's length.
"Don't be nervous. We'll be tested on a 1000-meter run the day after tomorrow. I thought I'd get some practice," Nie Qingzhou kept his gaze forward, paused, and then said unexpectedly, "There's something I want to ask you. Did you see clearly that night? Was it really me who was stealing the test papers in the office?"
Only after he had finished speaking did he turn his gaze to Wen Zhong, observing his uncertain expression, and chuckled lightly, "It was really you who said that. Did you really see someone? Or did you just make it up?"
Wen Zhong's face stiffened, and a few words tumbled out of his mouth, "I saw."
"Are you sure it was me? In such poor lighting, the camera couldn't even capture the thief's image clearly. We aren't acquainted, yet you were able to identify me at a glance? Or do you know the real thief and want to protect him?"
"No!" Wen Zhong gritted his teeth.
"Then you didn't really see who it was and pushed it on me."
Running at the same pace, Nie Qingzhou spoke with a nonchalant tone, as if he was just playing around. His face showed no signs of fatigue. Meanwhile, Wen Zhong's complexion wasn't looking too good anymore, and he clenched his teeth in silence.
Nie Qingzhou continued to speak casually, "Is it because I snatched away your top rank, and you want to use this tactic to pull me down and get your first place back?"
Wen Zhong breathed heavily and said, "How dare you say... the first place is yours..."
"I earned first place myself."
"That's impossible... according to common sense..."
"Just because it goes against common sense, are you allowed to accuse me? Do you think you're always right? Even if we assume that I used despicable methods to claim first place, and then you use despicable methods to pull me down, what sets us apart?"
Wen Zhong was out of breath, and held his waist.
Nie Qingzhou glanced at Wen Zhong's awkward running posture and kindly said, "Running out of breath? If you can't speak, then don't."
"We had no grievances in the past, and recently, no animosity between us, except for the matter of your nickname being the only exception. This is a misunderstanding. I didn't give you your nickname, nor have I ever called you 'Big Goose.' This nickname has spread so widely, likely because the masses find it love it."
The moment the term "Big Goose" was mentioned, Wen Zhong shot Nie Qingzhou an angry look, but Nie Qingzhou didn't hold back. Instead, he poked at his sore spot even more.
"I remember you wanted to attend No. 1 High School in the province, right? Luckily, you didn't get in. It wouldn't suit you there. No. 1 High School is a place where chaos reigns, with demons and immortals fighting wildly. In exams, not just first place, even the top thirty are often shuffled. Can you handle that? Almost every year, a handful of students at that school drop out due to psychological breakdowns. Obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety are rampant. With your mental resilience, you'd probably end up depressed, and surely life is more important than marks, right? Oh, I have a friend in No. 1 High School's experimental class. He told me all this."
"But if the first place really matters to you, let's say if parents scold you or even beat you for not achieving it, you can tell me. In that case, I'll be more careful in the future and let you take the first place. If you don't tell me, then your position as number one in our grade may not be very secure."
Wen Zhong must have reached a point of great discomfort. His breathing was ragged, as if he were dragging his legs forward. The person who had always been dignified and proud was now showing a rather pathetic side. Nie Qingzhou reckoned that Wen Zhong's throat must have been tasting of blood by now.
"You... shut up..." he said with difficulty.
Yet, Nie Qingzhou remained fresh and composed, speaking without a trace of breathlessness.
"Looks like you're going to fail the run today, little friend."
This long torment finally came to an end as Wen Zhong crossed the finish line. He heard the teacher announcing his ranking—twenty-first. There were twenty-five boys in his class, and he was twenty-first, a clear failure. Wen Zhong stumbled a few steps, and the teachers called out, "Keep moving, don't sit down yet." He barely stood, hearing Nie Qingzhou say to the PE teacher, "Teacher, don't count me. I'm not in Class One; I'm practicing on my own."
"Practicing on your own? When practicing, you're not supposed to use lanes one, two, or three. Your teacher didn't tell you?"
"Sorry sorry, I forgot."
Wen Zhong looked up and saw that Nie Qingzhou hadn't broken a sweat, his breathing was smooth, and he was negotiating with the PE teacher in a composed and lively manner. Catching his gaze, Nie Qingzhou gave a faint smile and walked up to him. "Feeling uncomfortable? Are your lungs about to burst? You were already out of breath before even a quarter of the run. Shortness of breath, gasping for air, and then forcing yourself to speed up later, It’s hard to believe you're not uncomfortable."
"This is your exam, your race, and your life—not mine. You can't affect me at all. The things you do to me will only affect yourself."
Bending down, Nie Qingzhou gazed at Wen Zhong's eyes brimming with anger and said, "The future is long. Walk your own path and avoid unnecessary actions."
Having said this, Nie Qingzhou had no intention of speaking any further to him. Wen Zhong's current state made it impossible for him to respond. As Nie Qingzhou loosened his shoulders and was about to leave, he suddenly remembered something, turned back to Wen Zhong, and said, "Oh, by the way, stay away from Xia Yi."
Wen Zhong was momentarily stunned.
Nie Qingzhou approached him, enunciating each word, "If you dare to do anything to harm Xia Yi, I won't be as good-tempered as I am today."
Wen Zhong felt the flames in his chest grow more intense. His throat was sore enough to draw blood, leaving him to just glare angrily at Nie Qingzhou.
What was Nie Qingzhou? A troublemaker who suddenly emerged, using questionable means to turn into a model student? How long had Nie Qingzhou known Xia Yi? Wen Zhong had known Xia Yi for much longer, understanding her far better than Nie Qingzhou did.
"You... Do you like Xia Yi?" He forced out the words.
Nie Qingzhou shook his head firmly. After a brief pause, he pointed to himself and said, very earnestly, "I'm her die-hard fan."
Lai Ning watched as Nie Qingzhou jogged over from the group of people sprawled on the ground, waving his clothes to greet him. "Hey, Zhou-Ge, over here!"
Nie Qingzhou approached, took his clothes, and said, "Thanks."
Lai Ning often thought that Zhou-Ge had become exceptionally polite and courteous after falling in love.
Zhang Yukun said anxiously at the side: "Zhou-Ge, you're just letting him off like that? Giving that kid such an easy pass?"
While putting on his clothes, Nie Qingzhou said, "Believe me, he's probably feeling worse than if he had been beaten up. He didn't pass the thousand meters, so he has to run again."
As he finished zipping up his jacket, Nie Qingzhou saw a group of girls from Class One appear at the other end of the field. The teacher held a result board and was explaining something to them. Xia Yi wore a white hoodie beneath her school uniform, with the uniform jacket layered on top. She stood upright in the crowd, her head slightly bowed, as if she was attentively listening to the teacher.
Nie Qingzhou stopped zipping, and after a moment of consideration, he took out his phone from his pocket and typed a message. Xia Yi's figure froze briefly in the distance. She stepped back a few paces, distancing herself from the group, then retrieved a flip phone from her pocket. She checked it and pressed a few buttons.
Nie Qingzhou typed a few more words, and Xia Yi looked up, scanning the surroundings until her gaze locked with his at the other end of the field.
Nie Qingzhou then efficiently removed his jacket and tossed it to Lai Ning. He waved to Zhang Yukun and Lai Ning, saying, "I'll make another trip there."
Zhang Yukun and Lai Ning watched as Nie Qingzhou once again maneuvered through the chaotic crowd on the grass, reaching the starting line. This time, he positioned himself on the fourth lane in a regular manner, not encroaching on the exam lanes. When the girls went to take off their jackets and tied their shoelaces, stretching and warming up, he didn't pay them any special attention.
As the PE teacher blew the whistle, girls all rushed forward. Nie Qingzhou started running at the same time as them.
"Oh my goodness, Zhou-Ge is still running? Is Zhou-Ge a mule?" Lai Ning stood on his tiptoes and watched from a distance.
The girls quickly spread out into different tiers. Xia Yi took the lead, covering nearly half the distance in no time. Her raven-black hair danced in the bright sunlight, her pace was rapid, and her long legs moved swiftly, creating a powerful and agile beauty.
Nie Qingzhou, on the other hand, maintained a position in lane four, about three meters ahead of Xia Yi separated by two lanes in between. They ran at the same speed, matching strides. Wearing only a short-sleeved shirt, his loose clothes billowed with the wind, resembling a floating sail under the golden sunlight.
Zhang Yukun said excitedly, "Zhou-Ge is taking Xia Yi to run! Look, Xia Yi is following Zhou-Ge to adjust her speed."
The double bars by the field were draped with clothes. The school uniform with Xia Yi's name embroidered on the collar had a hidden pocket containing an old flip phone. Flip open the cover and the text messages exchanged between her and some 'Second Floor Neighbor' could be read.
Four days ago, 5:55 PM — Just picked up Xiao Yan, delivered safely home, no need to reply.
Three days ago, 6:00 PM — Just dropped off Xiao Yan at home, no need to reply.
Three minutes ago — How fast can you run the 800 meters?
Reply — Three minutes and ten seconds.
Three minutes ago — Do you want to run it in under three minutes?
Three minutes ago — Run with me later, I'll help you pace.
The two of them swiftly left the other girls behind, resembling two majestic wild geese breaking free from a flock. They were like two isolated islands detaching from the mainland, running as a gust of wind that dispersed the fragrance of osmanthus flowers across the meadow, and no one could stop them.
Xia Yi was the first to reach the finish line, and the teacher stopped the stopwatch, exclaiming joyfully, "First place, two minutes and fifty-five seconds! If we don't count the sports students, this might be the best score for any girl in the entire grade!"
Leaning on her knees to catch her breath, Xia Yi looked up and saw Nie Qingzhou in the distance. He smiled and gave her a thumbs-up gesture. He appeared even happier than the teacher, his grin revealing a set of bright white teeth.
Perhaps it was because he was smiling so joyfully, or maybe it was due to the dopamine released after exercise. Involuntarily, Xia Yi's eyes curved upwards.
After a long while, she found herself laughing along with him again.
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