“You’ve worked hard, boyfriend.” He planted a kiss on Gu Fei’s lips.

Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3

  Jiang Cheng felt very satisfied and very delighted by the post-practice exam barbeque feast. Gu Fei could not stop him from bringing plates upon plates back to the table, because if he did, Jiang Cheng would glare at him and look as though he would throw a fit. As if the guy had been eating only leafy greens and drinking only water for the past five years.

  Fortunately, they didn’t get the runs. The only side effect was that Jiang Cheng did not have much of an appetite for the next few days. Not because he was still too full from the feast, but because nothing else tasted as fulfilling as grilled meats.

  Because of this scary side effect from barbeque, Gu Fei did not take him out for a feast again before the exams. When they ate at home, there was not much to pick from whether he liked the food or not.

  Although Jiang Cheng was very good at adapting. Probably because he was too deeply entrenched in his studies, he could finish anything given to him regardless of whether it was fun to eat.

  This continued on until June, when the exam countdown changed to single digit.

  “I need to go get a haircut today.” Jiang Cheng said, his eyes still on the teacher at the front of the room, who had already stopped mentioning words like “study” and “exam”.

  These days, the teachers were recommending that students take a break. They no longer gave out question banks to do, they just wanted everyone to try to relax, and to review by themselves the points that they had memorized for so long.

  “Will you still get the design director civet to do it for you?” Gu Fei asked.

  “Mhm,” Jiang Cheng tugged at the hair on his forehead. “What he did last time was pretty good…… Oh and I want to skateboard with Er-Miao for a bit this afternoon.”

  “Sure, I’ll tell her to come and wait for us.” Gu Fei took out his phone. “She’ll be so happy.”

  “It’s been a long time since I played with her, I’m worried that she won’t want to hang out with me anymore.” Jiang Cheng grabbed at his hair. “She even knows how to multiply 7 by 9 now, and I haven’t praised her yet.”

  “You don’t need to,” Gu Fei laughed, but his laugh carried a hint of resignation. “She just found a multiplication table to fiddle with that one time, she can’t even tell you what 1 times 1 is.”

  “Really,” Jiang Cheng glanced at him. “It’s okay, at least if she knows to ask you that, it’s worth commending.”

  “Go ahead then, will you buy her something to eat?” Gu Fei turned to him.

  “Did you say that she liked the jelly pudding cups we got last time?” Jiang Cheng asked.

  “…… Last time?” Gu Fei blinked.

  “Last……” Jiang Cheng thought about it, then chuckled. “Oh yeah, that was during New Year’s. Shit, it’s been that long?”

  “Uh huh,” Gu Fei stretched his legs out. “It’s been months since you plunged head first into the great rapids of studying. Don’t you know, one day in the rapids is three months on earth.”

  To Jiang Cheng, it did not even feel like much time had passed at all before the semester was already over.

  The last semester of high school passed by just like that, amidst the days and nights of incessant studying. He did not even get to properly savour the taste before it disappeared.

  Once time started to sprint, it really was… impossible to catch up or hold it back.

  Those stretches of time that felt so gruelling and difficult, it was only when you occasionally turned back that you realized, they were already behind you.

  Those feelings of pain, of being lost; of struggles, surprises, and happiness; of the reluctance to part; all of those emotions that you thought you would never get over at the time were suddenly already behind you. Some of those feelings had passed, while others were stuck in an infinite loop.

  For example, the times of happiness and feeling settled whenever he was with Gu Fei. 

  Jiang Cheng slumped over his desk and turned his face aside to watch Gu Fei.

  The happiness of each day would pass, but there would be new happiness emerging, in every minute and every second.

  Where he was concerned, pain and confusion was only a straight line, with every step forward, there was one step less. But happiness was a circle.

  That afternoon before school let out, Lao-Xu came to the classroom again to encourage everyone, and to remind them to relax in these next few days, to sleep early and not study so intensely as before.

  Looking at the tired expression on Lao-Xu’s face, that like everyone else’s, was tinged with nerves and excitement, then looking at the single digit countdown above his head, Jiang Cheng yawned.

  Let it go then. He had already fought for so long. Jiang Cheng was never one to look back and feel regret, but even if he were to regret, there was not much to regret in this past year.

  He could finally relax and give his nerves a break.

  And play on the skateboard with Gu Miao or something.

  As soon as they came out of the school gates, they spotted Gu Miao outside, looking like she had been waiting for a long time and was clearly bored out of her mind.

  Gu Miao was sitting on the railings by the sidewalk, and as usual wore a blank and cold expression. She sported that extremely metal haircut of hers, courtesy of Li Yan, and her skateboard was leaning beside her.

  When she saw them walk out, Gu Miao kicked once on her board, jumped down, and dashed right up to them.

  “Er-Miao!” Jiang Cheng leaned down and grinned at her. It was only when he bent down that he realized with a start—Gu Miao seemed to have grown taller. He did not need to bend at quite so steep an angle as before. He turned to Gu Fei and asked, “Did she get taller?”

  “Mhm,” Gu Fei nodded. “Just this past half year alone she grew almost 10 cm. Can’t even fit into last summer’s clothes anymore.”

  “I’ve been too busy studying these days,” Jiang Cheng looked back at Gu Miao. “That I don’t even have time to play with you. I didn’t know that you’ve grown so tall…… Looking dashing in these cropped pants huh.”

  “Those are long pants that got too short for her.” Gu Fei chimed in beside him.

  “…… Still very dashing.” Jiang Cheng snapped his fingers and gave her a thumbs up.

  Clearly in a good mood, Gu Miao returned the greeting. She then rolled to the side on her skateboard and beckoned him.

  “Hold this.” Jiang Cheng tossed his backpack to Gu Fei and ran after her.

  The weather had been nice recently, it was the kind of early summer day when it was comfortably warm, but before the scorching heat. As he glided forward on the skateboard, Jiang Cheng felt a sense of complete ease wash over his whole body. When he closed his eyes, he could imagine the shape of the gentle breeze slipping over his skin.

  He took turns with Gu Miao on the skateboard, and by the time they had raced all the way back to their street, there was sweat all over Jiang Cheng’s head, and Gu Miao’s face was covered with sweat and streaks of dirt from when she wiped her face haphazardly.

  “Here, give it a wipe.” Jiang Cheng hopped off the board and handed her a napkin, then looked back the way they came.

  With one hand still holding onto Jiang Cheng’s bike, Gu Fei came pedaling up slowly on his bike.

  “Having fun aren’t you?” Gu Fei put his foot on the ground. “What do you think of this logistics manager?”

  “I forgot,” Jiang Cheng laughed as he took back his own bike and got on. “Er-Miao, how about I give you a tow?”

  With one foot on the skateboard, Gu Miao cocked her head and looked at him.

  “Let’s go!” Jiang Cheng stepped on the pedals and shot out.

  Gu Miao quickly caught up from behind, dashed in front of him, and even looked back and gave him a whistle.

  “Hey little twerp!” Jiang Cheng tutted and pedaled hard a few times to pass her.

  The instant his bike passed her, Gu Miao grabbed hold of the frame on his back seat, pushed down with the momentum, and glided forward for a stretch while keeping head to head with his bike.

  “Awesome!” Jiang Cheng shouted. “Shall we go buy some jelly pudding cups!”

  Gu Miao’s eyes twinkled as she turned, then quickly decelerated as she held onto the back seat and stopped dashing forward.

  The two of them took Gu Miao for a stroll inside the supermarket. When they got back to the store after buying a bunch of snacks, they found Li Yan sitting behind the counter, asleep, with his head titled back.

  Li Yan opened his eyes when he heard them come in, “Masters! Can you show a little sincerity when asking people for a favour!”

  “Sorry,” Jiang Cheng set the pile of snacks on the counter and handed a pudding cup to him. “We went to buy food for Er-Miao.”

  “And to think that I stupidly brought over a bunch of groceries,” Li Yan accepted the pudding cup. “But ended up having to watch the store.”

  “Where’s my mom?” Gu Fei asked. “Shouldn’t she still be here for the afternoon?”

  “She went out with her boyfriend right after I got here.” Li Yan opened the pudding cup and handed it to Gu Miao. “Hey, hasn’t this one lasted a pretty long time? She hasn’t switched yet?”

  “Mhm,” Gu Fei answered. “Will you stay here and eat?”

  “Nah, I have a date after I give master Jiang here his haircut.” Li Yan said.

  “Oho.” Gu Fei looked at him.

  “What?” Li Yan gave him a side-eye. “Is it very ‘oho’ of me to have a date? You’ve been tormenting this single dog for the past year, can the dog not fight back?”

  “Haircut.” Gu Fei said before taking Gu Miao to the courtyard in the back to wash her face.

  Li Yan was very skilled at cutting hair, comparable, if not better, than the ‘Tony’s, the ‘Jim’s, the ‘Kevin’s, and the ‘Peter’s in the fancy looking salons.

  “They’ll probably offer you a master stylist position at any random salon you walk into.” Jiang Cheng said with his eyes closed.

  “Offer my ass.” Li Yan was working on Jiang Cheng’s fringe. “I’m not done playing yet.”

  “Oh.” Jiang Cheng thought that that was a perfectly valid reason.

  “You have pretty good skin, Jiang Cheng.” Li Yan said. “How come you don’t get any acne even with all this stress?”

  “Just goes to show that I’m not that stressed.” Jiang Cheng said.

  “Sure, keep boasting.” Li Yan said. “The way you’ve been memorizing stuff with every second of every day, I feel like your eyes can’t even focus anymore. Last week I ran into you on the street, did you see me?”

  “Nope, you didn’t call out to me?” Jiang Cheng smiled.

  “I didn’t have the heart to, seeing you like that, all dazed.” Li Yan said. “But you seem okay today, is it because the exam is soon, so you can relax a little more?”

  “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng answered.

  “Ace this test, and get an amazing score.” Li Yan said. “In all my life here I’ve never heard anyone from this place get a good score, they thank their ancestors just for getting into second tier universities.” [1]

  “Alright.” Jiang Cheng nodded.

  “Don’t move, or I’m gonna leave a gap in your haircut.” Li Yan considered for a while, then sighed. “Though when I think about it, you don’t really count as being from here. If you really do get a top score, it’ll be the Steel Works neighbourhood and Fourth High that lucked out.”

  “If I’m not from here, then where am I from?” Jiang Cheng gave a little smile.

  Li Yan did not answer, just continued to snip away at his hair little by little.

  After a long time, he finally spoke up again, “Gu Fei really is a very good person.”

  “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng answered.

  “He’s had it pretty hard since he was little. He has it hard even now.” Li Yan spoke quickly, probably trying to finish his speech before Gu Fei came back in. “I don’t know why he would…… Anyways, I just want to say that if you went off to school and started having second thoughts, we won’t let you off easy.”

  “Hm?” Jiang Cheng opened his eyes a tiny slit.

  “We’ll team up and demolish you.” Li Yan said.

  “…… Got it.” Jiang Cheng was momentarily stunned, before he chuckled. “I got it.”

  The handful of days before the exam went by slower than the earlier days of endless studying. Perhaps it was because by this time, for better or worse, everyone was counting the seconds and hoped for the 7th to arrive sooner.

  The more they hoped, the slower the hours passed.

  But once it came time to pay a visit to the examination halls, the atmosphere was suddenly once again overrun by nerves.

  “It doesn’t matter anymore to me. I want it to come faster, the sooner we die the sooner our souls will move on.” Wang Xu said, his face resolute.

  Wang Xu always hoped he could be in the same examination hall as Jiang Cheng or Gu Fei. According to him, seeing them made him feel a little more settled. However, he didn’t get his wish. And so he would repeat that sentiment at least five times per day—pretty much every time he saw Jiang Cheng and Gu Fei.

  Jiang Cheng might not have said anything, but his feelings echoed Wang Xu’s. The difference was that his wish only included Gu Fei, and not Captain Wang Jiuri.

  However, even though the city was not large, and there were not many high schools within it, the chances of it happening was still very low. Which was why when Jiang Cheng eventually found out that he and Gu Fei were assigned to two different examination halls within the same center, his mood was overall still cheerful.

  Visiting the examination halls were akin to painting a new layer of nervousness onto everyone’s hearts; the silent peers, the stern-faced teachers, the patrolling staff guarding the examination halls, and the strange environment. It was probably because they had led the same monotonous lives for such a long time, that when faced abruptly with a completely unfamiliar battleground, everything about it unnerved them.

  “You’ll have to watch over me tonight and not leave my side for even a second,” Riding their bikes on the way back from the examination center, Jiang Cheng suddenly squeezed on the brakes. “I’m a little scared.”

  “Mhm, I’ll watch over you.” Gu Fei nodded.

  “Are you scared? Panicky?” Jiang Cheng looked at him.

  “No shit, of course I’m scared.” Gu Fei smiled. “Which is why I also want to stick to your side. It’ll make me feel more grounded.”

  “I said before, I can prove myself, no matter where I am.” Jiang Cheng said. “And right now, the only way I can prove myself is to ace this test. I must ace it.”

  “You don’t even have to perform above your usual levels, you only need to do it like you always do.” Gu Fei said. “All this time, and you still don’t know yourself?”

  “No,” Jiang Cheng frowned. “Do you?”

  “Somewhat.” Gu Fei smiled at him.

  “That’s enough. As long as you know me, I don’t have to worry about anything else.” Jiang Cheng continued forward. “As long as you know.”

  “You’re not gonna study tonight, are you?” Gu Fei caught up to him.

  “Mmn, I won’t touch the books.” Jiang Cheng said. “I will meditate.”

  “Meditate on what?” Gu Fei asked.

  “I want to sort through everything once in my mind.” Jiang Cheng said. “Sit there with my legs crossed, and whoosh! Play the whole thing through like a movie, so it’s easier to look for things during the test tomorrow.”

  “Then I’ll meditate too,” Gu Fei said. “Sit there with legs crossed, and whoosh! Play back the images of you memorizing stuff for the last year once over in my mind, so it’s easier to guess at the answers tomorrow.”

  “What if you… perform above your usual level tomorrow.” Jiang Cheng smiled.

  “Alright.” Gu Fei nodded.

  That evening was not very different from the rest. Gu Fei went home first to see Gu Miao, then played with her for a while, before heading over to Jiang Cheng’s place.

  Jiang Cheng had already taken the vegetables out of the fridge, and had very diligently washed and chopped them already.

  “What do you think?” Jiang Cheng said with one hand on his hips, and the other hand gesturing grandly over the vegetables. “Is it flawless or what!”

  “Yes, very flawless.” Gu Fei hugged him from behind and nuzzled against his neck. “Just one question, we got celery, cabbage, onions, and bell peppers, how do you plan to put them together?”

  “Celery and meat stir-fry, cabbage and meat stir-fry, onions and meat stir-fry, bell pepper and meat stir-fry,” Jiang Cheng didn’t even bat an eye. “Then we’ll have a cabbage and mince soup. Four dishes and one soup, a good balance of veggies and meat.”

  “Alrighty sir, let’s do what you said. It’s not a bad idea to keep it light tonight.” Gu Fei released him, walked to the counter, and got to work.

  Jiang Cheng stepped back and leaned against the wall, watching Gu Fei’s back.

  He actually had not been thinking very much about the exam in the last couple of days. Conversely, there would often be thoughts flitting through his mind about what would happen after this summer.

  A new school, a new environment, a new life, and the new unsettled feeling of not having Gu Fei by his side.

  Jiang Cheng was not one to feel unsettled easily. But too much had happened in this past year, that if it was not for Gu Fei, he did not know what he would be like coming out the other end. Besides, he was used to the state of ‘having Gu Fei by his side’. He only needed to look up to see Gu Fei, turn around to see Gu Fei, reach out to touch Gu Fei, and whether his eyes were open or closed, there was Gu Fei.

  If this kind of stability were to be broken, he did not know how long he would need to get used to it.

  And as for the warm comfort of the present, he did not want to miss even a second of it.

  Gu Fei’s cooking really wasn’t that great. Even after such a long period of practice there still was no improvement. Just by his movements as he cooked, it was clear that this was not a person who cooked well. Tsk tsk. Jiang Cheng thought, how did he persist in eating only his cooking for such a long time and thoroughly enjoyed it too?

  So it’s true, the power of love can take away a person’s taste buds.

  After dinner they did not bother to do anything else, but went straight into the bedroom, opened the curtains, then sat on the bed facing the dark night sky outside and started to meditate.

  Completely serious, with eyes closed and legs crossed. At first Gu Fei even pressed his palms together in front of his chest, but it took only one look in Jiang Cheng’s direction before he burst out laughing, “Oh, so meditation isn’t the same as praying to buddha?”

  “…… If you want to pray that’s fine too.” Jiang Cheng cracked up. “I may have said meditating, but it’s really just closing my eyes and quietly going over everything I studied in the last year.”

  “Alrighty.” Gu Fei rested his hands on his legs and closed his eyes.

  Jiang Cheng continued to think through every point of knowledge, reviewing them one more time in his mind subject by subject. 

  A brain was a contraption that turned very quickly, but to go through every single point in a subject still took a lot of time.

  Jiang Cheng had just started in on History, when he heard a “thump” beside him, and immediately after that, the mattress bounced a few times.

  When he turned around to look, he found Gu Fei fallen over on his side, asleep, with one leg still bent in his cross-legged pose.

  “Oh shit.” Jiang Cheng burst out laughing at Gu Fei for a while, then kept laughing as he pulled out his phone and took several photos.

  Even with him laughing like this, Gu Fei still did not wake up at the end; he was sleeping soundly.

  Jiang Cheng put his phone away and let out a soft sigh. He reached over and stuffed a pillow under Gu Fei’s head, then pulled a thin towel blanket over him.

  “You’ve worked hard, boyfriend.” He planted a kiss on Gu Fei’s lips.

  Gu Fei might not have spent very much energy on studying in the last several months, but Jiang Cheng knew how much energy he spent on taking care of him while he studied. Now that the exams were tomorrow, Gu Fei’s last thread of tightly wound nerves was finally able to relax.

  It was his first time seeing Gu Fei falling immediately asleep, and so soundly at that. Jiang Cheng stared at him for a long time.

  So handsome indeed. Tsk tsk.

  Jiang Cheng also slept very soundly that night. He felt grounded, as if he had been sharpening his blades for a thousand days and was about to finally take out the enemy with his own hands.

  Perhaps because he was overly grounded, he did not even hear the alarm on his phone go off in the morning. It was not until Gu Fei shoved and flipped him over, that he suddenly jolted awake and bounded straight from the bed onto a standing position on the floor.

  “…… How limber of you, young hero?” His movements startled Gu Fei, who sat stunned at the edge of the bed.

  “Are we late?” Jiang Cheng stared at him.

  “Nahh babe,” Gu Fei stood up and pulled him into his arms, and rubbed his back for a long time. “We have enough time to wash up, eat breakfast, and even walk to the exam center.” 

  “Oh,” Jiang Cheng let out a breath of relief and leaned into Gu Fei’s embrace. “Damn it scared me.”

  Gu Fei had already brought back the breakfast he had bought; there were meat buns, fried dough fritters, and tofu pudding. To prevent any possible mishaps, he had gotten the usual things they ate all the time.

  When they finished breakfast and were about to leave, Jiang Cheng’s phone rang. It was a call from Lao-Xu. “Don’t rush, I’m already waiting for you guys outside the examination center. Don’t forget your IDs, and don’t stuff yourself at breakfast, don’t eat any cold foods……”

  “Mhm, got it.” Jiang Cheng said. “Lao-Xu, are you calling everyone one by one to remind us?”

  “Yeah,” Lao-Xu said. “Teacher Lu is also at the other examination center doing these calls. Every year we have people forgetting one thing or another.”

  Forgetting things was out of the question. Jiang Cheng had prepared all of his and Gu Fei’s things the night before. Even though it was only an ID and a small bottle of water with the label ripped off, he still checked over everything at least three times.

  “Will you still bring a book to review on the way there?” Gu Fei asked him at the door.

  “Nope.” Jiang Cheng pulled open the door and bounded out. “I can’t take in any more information at this point, it’ll just disorient me.”

  “Okay,” Gu Fei locked the door. “Let’s go, we’ll take a cab over.”

  The two of them strolled together to the intersection. Jiang Cheng was just about to check to see if there were any taxis coming in the distance, when he heard someone call out from behind him, “Jiang Cheng?”

  He was confounded for a few seconds. The voice did not sound familiar, yet he somehow felt that he had heard it before. He turned around and with shock, saw Li Qian standing a few meters behind him.

  “What…… are you doing here?” Jiang Cheng said.

  “I’ve been hanging around here for a while. You changed your phone so I don’t have your number.” Li Qian gave him a little smile. “I’ve been hanging around here since a couple days ago, but never did run into you, and I didn’t think it’d be appropriate to ask Da-Fei.”

  “Is something wrong?” Jiang Cheng asked.

  “No, nothing.” Li Qian was holding a bag in her hand, and after some hesitation, handed it to him. “You’re starting the exams today, aren’t you? I brought this for you, to cheer you on.”

  Jiang Cheng was a little surprised. All of a sudden, he could not get a word out.

  “Thank you.” Gu Fei accepted the bag for him.

  “Thank you.” Only then did Jiang Cheng come back to his senses.

  “You guys should hurry to the exam then.” Li Qian said. “Hey Xiao-Cheng, I hope you do well, break a leg okay?”

  “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng answered.

  It was not until they were in the taxi that he opened the bag Li Qian had given him. Inside was a box of North American ginseng slices. [2]

  “You should put one in your mouth now, wake you up.” Gu Fei said.

  Jiang Cheng smiled and put a slice in his mouth, then handed a slice to Gu Fei. “I really didn’t expect Li Qian to come look for me.”

  “Li Qian never even went to high school. Li Baoguo only cared about Li Hui and Li Hui only.” Gu Fei said. “At the time, she wanted to go to a vocational school or something, so she could leave this place, but Li Baoguo didn’t let her…… Seeing you write your way out, it’s probably a kind of solace for her.”

  “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng did not say anything more, only took Gu Fei’s hand and squeezed it tightly.

[1] In China, second tier universities, or 二本, is only a concept that exists in popular rhetoric, and not a physical (or written) difference between schools. The difference is only that when sending out acceptances after the exams, some universities get first pick, so they’re called first tier (一本). The universities that get second pick of students are called second tier (二本). When students graduate from these universities, they all get a bachelor degree, and of course their diploma would not specify whether it came from a first or second tier university, except that for the more prestigious institutions, their names speak for themselves.
[2] Last time it was Shi Quan Da Bu, this time it’s N. American ginseng slices. These are all common supplements based in TCM that Chinese people like to take in every day life.

Some Stats

  • Raw character count: 5959
  • TL word count: 4535
  • TL time: 5:48:12
  • Edit time: 51:06
  • Curse words: 3x shits

TL’s Notes:

Thanks for following along and sharing in this story! Just so everyone knows, we’re only ⅔ of the way through. The entire novel including the extras comes to exactly 150 chapters, so hang on tight :)))

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