Gu Fei’s breathing paused for a moment


          “I meant…” Jiang Cheng’s “ah” seemed to throw Gu Fei off, and he didn’t know how to continue. “Do you want to make some pocket change?”

          “Huh?” Jiang Cheng looked at him, pocket change? For some reason that still sounded wrong.

          “Just … take some photos and stuff…” Gu Fei explained.

          Jiang Cheng knew that Gu Fei couldn’t possibly introduce him to anything weird, but at this moment right after a vigorous ballgame, his brain was having some trouble catching up.

          It took him a while to find his way out of the thought spiral of this is a trap of bad intentions, but he finally managed to blurt out, “I’m not an improper person.”

          “How is this an intelligence of an overachiever?” Gu Fei couldn’t help himself, “Did you go to a special-ed school?”

          “Ooh!” Jiang Cheng eventually recovered. “Take photos? What kind of photos?”

          “Nudes,” Gu Fei gestured grumpily. He lit a cigarette and kept walking. “We’ll talk about it when you’re awake.”

          “I’m awake now… ” Jiang Cheng glanced at the cigarette in his mouth and paused. He knew Gu Fei often smoked in the washroom between classes, but didn’t think that he would light one up like this in broad daylight, in the middle of the school field. 

          “Want one?” Gu Fei offered.

          “No.” Jiang Cheng refused decisively. Even though he and Pan Zhi also used to hide in the washroom to smoke, but generally speaking they were not improper people. 

          “What photos?” Wang Xu, who was walking ahead, suddenly turned his head. “Did someone take photos of us… ah of course they did, we were awesome today! Let’s check the forum tonight, there must be all sorts of poses… but hey it’s probably all of the two of you… “

          “I’ll get someone to come take photos of you exclusively for the next match.” Gu Fei said.

          “For real?” Wang Xu started to laugh. “Come on, don’t tease me …”

          “Gu Fei—” A voice called from behind them.

          “Oooh,” Wang Xu raised his eyes. “Your highness the class leader.”

          Jiang Cheng turned his head and saw Yi Jing running over with a small bag in her hand.

          “You called me?” Gu Fei also turned around.

          “This… ” Yi Jing handed the bag to Jiang Cheng. “I just got these from the infirmary, rubbing alcohol and stuff. You fell during the game right? You should take a look at it later.”

          “Oh,” Jiang Cheng was a little surprised. He did feel some burning on his elbow, but they all wore long-sleeve shirts under their jerseys today. His sleeve separated his arm from the ground when he fell, so it shouldn’t be too serious. He took the bag. “Thanks.”

          “You’re welcome.” Yi Jing smiled.

          “Why did you call Gu Fei’s name to give something to Jiang Cheng?” Wang Xu had a meaningful smile on his face.

          “I couldn’t remember Jiang Cheng’s name for a second.” Yi Jing brushed at her hair, a little embarrassed, and walked off.

          Wang Xu tsk-tsk’ed at her back. ”Only remembers Gu Fei’s name?”

          “She just didn’t remember Jiang Cheng’s name.” Gu Fei said.

          Lao-Xu and Lao-Lu were indeed generous, the game probably far exceeded their expectations. They even called up a few cabs to transport the bunch of them to the AYCE barbecue restaurant.

          “Xu-zong,” Gu Fei stopped Lao-Xu at the entrance. “This is too much, let’s just go to a normal restaurant. It’s just a gathering, doesn’t have to be anything special.” [1]

          “What gathering?” Lao-Lu said from the side. “We’re celebrating! Gu Fei, you go on in, don’t bother with this. Your Xu-zong and I can still afford this much.”

          “Good lad,” Lao-Xu grabbed Gu Fei’s arm, a touched expression on his face. “Good lad! You know to be considerate for your teacher! I knew you…”

          “… Can still be saved.” Gu Fei finished his sentence and turned to head into the restaurant.

          Jiang Cheng followed them in, trying to hold back his laughter.

          The restaurant had a private room that likely didn’t get much use normally, but was just right for the bunch of them. 

          “Go get some food first,” Lao-Xu propped himself up on the table as if in class. “You all can fully satisfy your hungers and cravings today. You can even get some alcohol, but I’ll have the last word on how much you drink.”

          Everyone squeezed out again in a bunch to grab food.

          Jiang Cheng took off his coat, and was just about to take a closer look at his elbow when his phone sounded.

          He pulled it out and peered at the message, it was a notification for the auto-payment of this month’s cell phone bill: a hundred yuan. He normally wouldn’t think much of this hundred yuan, but looking at the notification now he suddenly felt a little pain in his heart. Should he switch to a cheaper plan? But then the data wouldn’t be enough, and Li Baoguo didn’t have WiFi at his place… Install an Ethernet cable then? But that would also be spending money.

          He frowned. There was still money on his card, but this state of having no income made him a little uneasy. Li Baoguo only provided him with a bedroom and nothing else. Right now he had to buy groceries once a week to keep in the fridge, so he can cook food for himself from day to day.

          He let out a sigh and walked out to get some food.

          Gu Fei was in front of him, holding a plate in his hand and staring at the meat in the row of freezers.

          Jiang Cheng walked over to stand by him. He also picked up a plate and grabbed a pair of tongs: pork belly, fat beef, fat lamb, all piled up on the plates in just a few movements. Then he stacked his plate on top of Gu Fei’s, picked up a new one, and continued: pork belly, fat beef…

          “How do you keep your figure?” Gu Fei looked at him.

          “I go running when it gets warmer out,” Jiang Cheng said. “It’s not as if I eat like this all the time.”

          “Oh.” Was Gu Fei’s response.

          “What you said… about the photos,” Jiang Cheng looked around, and didn’t see any classmates. “What was that about?”

          “It’s Xin-jie,” Gu Fei hesitated for a long time holding his tongs, then picked up a few shrimps to pile onto the plate. “She has a shop that sells men’s wear. She’s looking for a model to take some photos.”

          “Ah,” Jiang Cheng thought about it. “Don’t these shops usually have their own models?”

          “Just one regular one, the others are all temporary hires. The regular one is busy.” Gu Fei said. “There’s new stock that’s come in these last couple of days, but no one to take photos of. She asked me to help her look for the right person.”

          “Is that so… ” Jiang Cheng hesitated. “I’m completely inexperienced, is that alright?”

          “No problem, you have a face and a figure, not to mention you’re very photogenic,” Gu Fei said. “Liu Fan helped out with the photos before too. If he can do it, it’s definitely not a problem for you.”

          “What are the clothes like?” Jiang Cheng asked.

          “I’ll show you in a bit.” Gu Fei pointed his chin at the food counter. “If you don’t mind, grab some vegetables too, I can’t stand it to be all meat.”

          “Ok.” Jiang Cheng took a small basket and filled it with leafy greens.

          When they returned to the room, everyone else was already back from getting food. The room was steaming up from the heat. 

          As soon as they entered, Lao-Xu stood up with a glass of wine. “Come on heroes, sit down, I have something to say.”

          When Jiang Cheng and Gu Fei sat down, Lao-Xu raised his toast: “Everyone worked very hard today. I had you guys from grade 10, some from grade 11… Our Class-8, we don’t even rank in daily exercise contests, today we finally hold our heads up high! It wasn’t easy! I believe with your current ability, getting into the finals is not a problem! Add oil! Come now, let’s drink!”

          Everybody picked up their glasses and cheered in a cacophony of clangs.

          They barely took a sip when Lao-Xu began again, “We also have to thank classmates Gu Fei and Jiang Cheng today for their efforts… ”

          “Lao-Xu, Lao-Xu,” Lao-Lu called out. “That’s enough, let them eat first, they’re all hungry. You’ll make yourself cry in a bit with all these touchy feelies.”

          “Drink!” Wang Xu tilted his head back and emptied the glass.

          Jiang Cheng looked at the glasses, they all contained beer. Only Lao-Xu and Lao-Lu’s glasses had liquor. 

          He joined with a couple of gulps.

          “It’s the girls’ competition tomorrow,” Wang Xu said. “I wonder how that’ll go.”

          “No chance. Don’t our girls always go in just to lose the match, to get it over with? The ball goes flying once they start to dribble, and no one likes to play basketball anyways.” Said Guo Xu.

          There was a chorus of laments all around for the girls team, then everyone went back to discussing the upcoming matches.

          “Look,” Gu Fei handed his phone to Jiang Cheng after some searching. “It’s mostly in this style, pretty niche.”

          Jiang Cheng swiped through the phone. There were a few photos of Liu Fan that looked pretty good. The ones after that were all of a different person, likely Ding Zhuxin’s regular model. He could see the difference when comparing them side by side. 

          “Steampunk?” Jiang Cheng asked.

          “Other styles too, all kinds of retro nostalgia.” Gu Fei said. “So how about it? The payment can be by piece or by day, based on professional model’s rate. She’s in a rush to shoot, so it might even be more than usual.”

          Jiang Cheng hardly hesitated, it was money after all. He nodded, “Alright.”

          “Then I’ll let her know. We don’t have matches in the next couple of days, so we can go shoot in the afternoon and evening.” Gu Fei said.

          “Mm.” Jiang Cheng went through the photos again. “Does anyone actually buy these clothes? They’ll get gawked at for sure if they go out like this, might even get beaten up if they’re especially smug about it… “

          Gu Fei laughed, “This is your worry?”

          “Yes, I’m nice like that.” Jiang Cheng said.

          The management at Fourth High was quite lax. Since there were games in the afternoon, those who wanted to watch didn’t even go to class. Everyone crowded onto the field. Those that didn’t want to watch the games, nobody minded when they left.

          However, Jiang Cheng still gave Lao-Xu a call to excuse his absence. The excuse being him needing to go to the hospital to check out his injury from the day before. Lao-Xu approved the leave and exclaimed that good students really do live up to their name. 

          In reality, Jiang Cheng never asked for leave in the past when skipping class. Only Lao-Xu is the mother-hen type of head teacher who liked to spread his wings and cluck at them all day. He would feel bad if he didn’t say anything. 

          “The place is a little far, but it’s a bus ride away,” Gu Fei took Jiang Cheng to the station. “It’s at her studio aka warehouse aka bedroom that also has a small photography set.”

          “Uh huh.” Jiang Cheng nodded.

          He was a little nervous. He wouldn’t even be nervous if told to take someone else’s tests for money, but modelling for photos… This kind of thing was a little too much out of his comfort zone, he had never even considered it before.

          He noticed when they got on the bus that Gu Fei was not carrying his schoolbag, but a heavy looking backpack.

          “What do you have in there?”

          “Camera and lenses.” Gu Fei went to sit down in the last row.

          “You’re… taking the photos?” Jiang Cheng froze.

          “Uh huh.” Gu Fei pulled on Jiang Cheng’s sleeve and dragged him down to the seat next to him before a man was able to squeeze over.

          “You’re taking the photos?” Jiang Cheng asked again.

          “Yeah yeah,” Gu Fei gave him a look. “I’m taking the photos. Is it that strange? It’s not like you haven’t been photographed by me before.”

          “That’s not what I meant, I just thought she would have a photographer.” Jiang Cheng said.

          To be honest, it wasn’t that surprising knowing Gu Fei is the photographer. He had seen Gu Fei’s photos. Gu Fei also shared them often in his Friend Circle. They looked very professional. 

          “Ding Zhuxin has her own photographer, but she asks me when it gets busy,” Gu Fei said. “I’ve always been taking photos for people.”

          “… Oh.” Jiang Cheng glanced over at Gu Fei.

          The bus started moving and Jiang Cheng didn’t speak again.

          The heated bus rolled forward slowly, next to him were sounds of laughter and talking voices. The people in the bus stayed in place, while the scenery outside the window constantly changed.

          This was the time when one would feel weighed down with an intense desire for sleep, especially so soon after lunch. Eyelids would start to close just from looking at the warm sunlight. 

          Gu Fei also stayed quiet. Jiang Cheng looked over at him and saw that he had his arms folded and his eyes closed.

          Sleepy.

          He could’ve held it off too, but seeing that Gu Fei was already asleep, Jiang Cheng suddenly could not keep his eyes open any longer. He pulled up the hood of his coat, lowered his head, and closed his eyes as well.

          Though, groggy as he was, it was still impossible to fall asleep just like that. He was in a daze the whole time, all around him were muddled sounds and shadows that constantly flitted by.

          Jiang Cheng didn’t know how long he stayed like that, until he felt a weight on his shoulder. He pulled off his hood, and found Gu Fei’s head leaned against him. When did that happen?

          Gu Fei’s lashes were long, but not as thick as Gu Miao’s.

          Jiang Cheng didn’t think he had any ideas about Gu Fei, especially with Ding Zhuxin possibly being Gu Fei’s girlfriend… But in this moment he still felt an inexplicable itch in his heart.

          This itch felt like down feathers that had been fluffed in the sunlight, spreading gradually from his shoulder to the rest of his body. 

          He closed his eyes again.

          The feeling of loneliness, he had always known the taste of it.

          From the day he realized that men were more appealing to him than women, and that he could only keep this secret in strict confidence to himself. This feeling of loneliness would appear from time to time. Pan Zhi knew his secret, but couldn’t relieve him of the pressure that came with it.

          When he had a family, parents and a brother, classmates and friends, though this loneliness still existed, he did not feel it as profoundly. It was only after coming here that it all overlapped and pressed together bit by bit.

          He didn’t need kindreds, didn’t need people of the same kind who would casually huddle together to keep warm.

          Though the attraction was an objective one.

          Gu Fei, and Gu Fei’s unconscious position at this moment, gave him the illusion of the ‘warmth of two people’.

          He couldn’t make out exactly what this sentiment was.

          “We’re here,” Gu Fei raised his head when the bus announced the stop. “It’s the next one.”

          He paused for another two seconds looking at Jiang Cheng’s shoulder, then said at last, “Sorry, got too sleepy.”

          “It’s fine,” Jiang Cheng stretched his shoulders. “You’re too tired from acting all cool yesterday.”

          Gu Fei laughed and stood up. “Let’s go.”

          Jiang Cheng followed him. He only dozed off for a while, but now his legs felt weak just walking… probably from overexertion yesterday. He hadn’t had this much exercise since winter started.

          The feeling of whole body weakness only subsided after they got off the bus and he felt the wind on him. 

          Ding Zhuxin’s studio aka warehouse aka bedroom that was also a set was located on a very hipster street. The kind with all sorts of graffiti on the street, a variety of manhole cover paintings, phone booth paintings, and matching electric box paintings. The kind of street that was lined on both sides with boutiques, decorated in ways that discouraged anyone who wasn’t experienced enough with pretentiousness, lest they showed their own fear upon entering.

          The street was neither long nor grand, but Jiang Cheng was still surprised that there would be a place like this in such a backwards and shitty little city.

          Gu Fei brought him into a building that was not unlike a small office building. It looked fairly old on the outside, though judging by the sign plates on the wall, the names of the businesses in here were striving hard in a direction of incomprehension.

          Jiang Cheng scanned the names of the businesses while waiting for the elevator, but wasn’t able to make out any of them. The ones with roman alphabet, he couldn’t tell what country they belonged to, though the Chinese characters also didn’t appear to have the typical arrangement at the first glance.

          “What is this place? Their ego must be reaching so high up to the sky that it can’t even be held back with cable wires.” He couldn’t help but blurt out in the elevator, when it was just the two of them.

          “This area’s called the ‘90’s Collect’,” Gu Fei leaned against the side and laughed. “It was meant to be a place where young people gather, the really trendy and fashionable type, but went a bit off base. No one but posers come here now, though the rent is cheap.”

          Ding Zhuxin was waiting in the studio and smiled as soon as they entered, “I knew you would call him over.”

          “Reeally,” Gu Fei threw his backpack on the floor. “We’re all acquainted here, so I won’t make introductions.”

          “Try some of this,” Ding Zhuxin brought over a pot of fruit tea and poured a cup for Jiang Cheng. “I made it myself and added a bunch of random stuff, it tastes pretty good.”

          “Thanks.” Jiang Cheng accepted the cup and looked around at the studio.

          It was very messy, with fabric and posters everywhere, along with some large unopened packages that probably contained clothes. He could tell through this chaotic mess that the base was still in the currently popular cold industrial style, with concrete walls, concrete lighting, exposed red bricks, and intersecting pipes.

          “Let’s get going.” Gu Fei laid down on the sofa. “Show him the clothes first.”

          “Come,” Ding Zhuxin took Jiang Cheng to a row of hangers and pointed to the clothes hanging on the rack. “The style this time is ‘back to the basics’, all knit…”

          “Knitted?” Gu Fei interrupted her. “You wanted me find a ‘bad boy’ type for this?”

          “Knit material,” Ding Zhuxin leaned on the rack. “But the design is bad-boy style, it can be a little difficult for the model…”

          Ding Zhuxin looked Jiang Cheng up and down, “…But he can handle it.”

          “Whatever you say.” Gu Fei sat up, opened his bag, and began to prepare the camera.

          “Let’s try for 30 sets today,” Ding Zhuxin said. “How’s that?”

          “… Ok…” Jiang Cheng looked at the clothes on the rack.

          Hanging there in a row like that, other than the so-called knit material he couldn’t make out much of anything, including the design Ding Zhuxin mentioned. Only that there were a lot of long garments. Not to mention he never before wore anything that he always associated with elderly men and middle-aged long-haired artists.

          “Get changed,” Gu Fei strode over and said. “The undergarments are all matched, you just need to change into them.”

          “You– ” Jiang Cheng turned around and, before he finished speaking, Gu Fei raised the camera and clicked the shutter towards him, clickety-clackety, “…little shit.”

          “Go change,” Gu Fei pointed to a room to the side. “We’ll be shooting in there. She will tell you the kind of sentiment she wants for the poses. I promise to make you look… very handsome.”

          “Ok,” Jiang Cheng answered and looked at the clothes on the rack. “Any one of these?”

          “Any one.” Gu Fei said.

          “Uh huh.” Jiang Cheng answered again, took off his coat and threw it on the chair to the side, but got embarrassed when he was about to take more off.

          It was one thing that Gu Fei was standing on the side with his camera up, but Ding Zhuxin was also standing there holding a mug and her elbow, staring at him while sipping tea.

          It wouldn’t be a big deal if it was just a jacket he was changing into, but looking at this pile of set after set, he basically had to strip down to his underwear for all of them.

          Gu Fei turned to look at Ding Zhuxin and gave her a little wave. 

          Ding Zhuxin smiled and turned into the room on the side, “Come in after you’re done changing. You have a good base, so some simple makeup will do, we’ll just have Da-Fei fix the photos later.”

          “I have to wear makeup?” Jiang Cheng asked, taking off his shirt.

          “Mhm,” Gu Fei pointed the camera at him and looked through the lens at Jiang Cheng’s well-proportioned torso.

          It was indeed an athlete’s body. Very well toned.

          “Can you not point that thing at me?” Jiang Cheng clutched his belt and looked at the camera.

          “From now until tonight,” Gu Fei was still holding the camera. “This thing will be pointed at you the whole time.”

          Jiang Cheng took his pants off begrudgingly, and said while changing into new clothes, “I’m telling you, it’s only for the sake of money that I’m not smacking you.”

          Gu Fei laughed. Jiang Cheng’s legs were quite straight, and were toned like his upper body. 

          He looked through the lens at Jiang Cheng who had already changed into the top, “You’re actually pretty suited for this style.”

          “No way,” Jiang Cheng looked down suspiciously. “I’ve been alive for almost 18 years, and have never worn anything like this before.”

          Gu Fei didn’t speak, but took a few steps back slowly with the camera.

          Ding Zhuxin’s eye for people was always spot-on. As soon as Jiang Cheng changed into these clothes, something about his whole person changed. He had always thought that regardless of gender, anyone who put on a long knitted coat could pick up a bowl and go begging on the street. 

          But when Jiang Cheng put the robe on, turned around and looked his way, Gu Fei’s breathing paused for a moment.

          This air about him, it was not something he normally saw in the people around him. 


Footnote:

[1] zong = boss

Some Stats

  • Raw character count: 5654
  • TL word count: ~3834
  • TL time: 5:51:12
  • Edit: ~0:38:00
  • Curse words: 2x shits