Visual animals are superficial like that.


          Jiang Cheng considered it a feat that he would pick such an inexplicable outfit without even thinking.

          Though if you ignore the coat, the outfit itself wasn’t half bad: slim pants and a loose black t-shirt. Even though it’s knitted, it’s at least the kind that won’t attract stares when worn outside.

          But as soon as he put on the coat, Jiang Cheng froze and looked back at Gu Fei. “Hey are you sure I didn’t grab the wrong clothes?”

          “Yeah,” Gu Fei was still looking at him from behind the camera. “What’s wrong?”

          “I mean, don’t you think this looks like a knit version of the Matrix coat? No no, more like a missionary if I wrap a woven rope around my waist?” Jiang Cheng pulled on the clothes and said quietly. “Is there a mirror? I’m starting to feel like a mage too…”

          Gu Fei didn’t say anything, only laughed and pointed at the back wall.

          The robe was very long, reaching all the way down to the calf. The material was relatively thin and soft, giving it a slouchy look when worn. It was the infamous lazy casual style. Though if it was worn by a shorter and skinnier person, they’d be caught and taken back to Qing Shan (青山) for sure. 

          “This one requires the right face, body, height, and poise.” Ding Zhuxin leaned against the door. “You wear this better than Da-Fei. He would just look like a delinquent wearing it.”

          “Oh he doesn’t need this to look like a delinquent.” Jiang Cheng stood in front of the mirror and took a look. It’s actually… okay. Even though he would never buy this for himself, he wasn’t picking clothes for himself right now.

          “Wonder who the designer is, I can only offer them a smiley face.”

          “It’s me.” Ding Zhuxin said.

          “… Huh?”

          Jiang Cheng froze, then saw Ding Zhuxin’s expression of ‘I know what you are thinking’ written across her face. The familiar feeling of embarrassment suddenly arose, shooting right out of the ground. He still didn’t regain the feelings in his legs to walk properly by the time he followed her into the room. 

          Ding Zhuxin smeared makeup on his face while Gu Fei turned on all the photography lighting.

          “Don’t be nervous, just do some casual poses.” Ding Zhuxin gave Jiang Cheng’s face a couple more sweeps with a brush. “Done.”

          Jiang Cheng stood on the spot as indicated. The set was actually pretty cool, but he didn’t know what to do after he got in place.

          “Let’s do a few steps back and forth.” Gu Fei trained the camera on him. “From left to right then from right to left.”

          “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng nodded.

          He turned around and walked to the side. As soon as he started moving, the camera in Gu Fei’s hands clicked, and he couldn’t help but turn his head.

          “Already? I think I was walking weird.”

          “Keep walking and don’t worry about me.”

          Gu Fei clicked the shutter again.

          Jiang Cheng took a breath and walked from left to right. There were only a few square meters of set, so it didn’t take many steps to reach the end. He pivoted again and walked back from right to left.

          “Walk with your head lowered.” Gu Fei said between clicks. “Go a little faster and take a big strides.”

          Jiang Cheng lowered his head slightly and walked across again.

          Gu Fei stared at him through the lens and took a series of continuous shots.

          Jiang Cheng’s figure was fixed in the frame: head lowered, legs making long strides forward, the corner of his clothing fluttering lightly behind him… dynamic and striking.

          “Put the hood on,” Ding Zhuxin said. “The hood also needs to be a distinguished design.”

          “Ok.” Jiang Cheng put on the coat’s hood and walked forward while fixing it in place. “Now I feel like the grim reaper’s here…”

          “Jiang Cheng.” Gu Fei called out to him.

          “Huh?” Jiang Cheng turned.

          Gu Fei clicked the shutter.

          Still that forward striding pose. The raised hand and the edge of the hood obscured half of his face, only visible were the straight nose and the eyes half hidden in the shadows.

          “That was great.” Gu Fei said.

          “Forward facing.” Ding Zhuxin said after a sip of tea.

          “No need to smile or make any expressions.” Gu Fei looked at Jiang Cheng. “No need for any movements either.”

          It would be difficult for the average person to hold this kind of straight stance with arms at the side, with no expressions or movements, and not look stupid doing it. Gu Fei didn’t know why he was asking this of Jiang Cheng, who was not just an amateur, but someone who didn’t have anything to do with modelling. 

          “Don’t I look like an idiot?” Jiang Cheng sighed and did as he said.

          “Nah.” Gu Fei answered simply and clicked the shutter.

          Jiang Cheng must have been vain growing up, Gu Fei thought, that he was able to handle a inane stance like this and not look like an idiot.

          He wasn’t all tensed up as if standing at attention, nor was he forcing himself to relax.

          His centre of gravity was shifted onto the right leg, shoulders set naturally… this was an important point. Those who didn’t know how to stand properly either had their shoulders overly pulled backwards or hunched forward.

          This kid definitely practices his stance in front of a mirror, to stand so upright but at ease… He looks both relaxed and leisurely with his long arms and long legs. 

          “Tilt your chin up a bit,” Ding Zhuxin said. “And a little more smugness.” 

          “Smug… how?” Jiang Cheng asked.

          “Like when you first walked into Class-8,” Gu Fei said. “Like that.”

          “I was annoyed.” Jiang Cheng recalled the experience of standing up there like a dumbass being inspected by the whole class, and immediately felt some of that annoyance come back.

          Gu Fei clicked the shutter.

          He put down the camera after a few more clicks, “You should consider doing this for a living if you ever run out of options.”

          “What’s that supposed to mean, why does he have to be out of options to consider doing this?” Ding Zhuxin laughed and said.

          “He’s an overachiever,” Gu Fei said. “Unlike you and your band of ex-dropouts.”

          “Move aside you.” Ding Zhuxin clapped her hands and thumped him once on the arm. “Jiang Cheng, go change into another one, the one piece.”

          “Which one?” Jiang Cheng took off the coat and asked as he walked out.

          “That one piece, the long pullover.” Ding Zhuxin said.

          Jiang Cheng walked out, but Gu Fei stayed back to look through the photos he just took shot by shot.

          If he must pick out something about Jiang Cheng that particularly appealed to him, aside from the whole overachiever, woodwind playing, and the slingshotness of it all, it was more this perpetual presence of effortless poise regardless of the situation.

          Some might call it delinquency, annoyance, or even contempt, but the confidence that radiated from his bones was very compelling. It was an air that came from knowing that he’s the best. 

          Compared to everything else, this intuitive and straightforward attraction was the most powerful. It did not require one to uncover or to perceive it. One needed only to watch.

          Watching was enough.

          Visual animals are superficial like that.

          Gu Fei sighed softly, all he could do was watch.

          He couldn’t remember how long it’s been, that he didn’t have the mood to spare a single glance at the people who came and went around him, the ones who left and the ones who stayed.

          Say no to early romance.

          He didn’t have the mood for it, but he also didn’t dare. All that he protected couldn’t withstand any disruption.

          “Excuse me,” Jiang Cheng came in holding a linen-coloured garment. “Is it this one?”

          “Yep.” Ding Zhuxin nodded.

          “I’m just wondering, how do you wear this?” Jiang Cheng held the piece out by the shoulders and shook it. “And what do I wear on the inside?”

          “Underwear.” Ding Zhuxin said.

          Jiang Cheng gave the clothing another shake, his face filled up with question marks of all sizes.

          Gu Fei turned his head and hid his face behind the camera, trying his best to hold back laughter. He could almost hear the cry in Jiang Cheng’s heart.

          It was a very thinly knitted pullover with a large neckline, with a hem that looked like it might reach down to Jiang Cheng’s knees. Gu Fei had seen this design before, but he always thought Ding Zhuxin made it with herself in mind. He was surprised that it was men’s wear.

          “Go change,” Ding Zhuxin said. “It’ll probably look good on you.”

          “There’s a hole in the centre?” Jiang Cheng couldn’t let it go.

          “That’s right,” Ding Zhuxin said. “You got abs? If not I can draw it on for you.”

          Jiang Cheng’s facial expression was incomprehensible.

          “Does he have abs?” Ding Zhuxin turned to ask Gu Fei.

          “Huh?” Gu Fei turned back around, he didn’t have time to put away the smile on his face. “I think so.”

          “Go on then, I thought you were self-conscious because you didn’t have abs.” Ding Zhuxin said to Jiang Cheng.

          “Mm.” Jiang Cheng nodded and walked out as if he made an important decision, then poked his head back in. “Xin-jie, I’m just asking, do people actually buy these?”

          “Of course,” Ding Zhuxin sipped on her tea. “All my designs sell pretty well.”

          “That’s awesome, what kind of people buys them?” Jiang Cheng said in a small voice.

          “Crazy people, probably.” Said Ding Zhuxin.

          Stripped down to only his underwear, with the clothing like a broken fish net pulled over him, Jiang Cheng felt no different than if he was naked. He quickly walked over to the mirror to take a look.

          Mother of—  

          Jiang Cheng was of the firm belief that if this piece sells, it could only be because his own figure was too fucking good.

          He gritted his teeth and walked back in.

          Gu Fei had his head down and was fiddling with his camera, but whistled as soon as he looked up and saw Jiang Cheng.

          “You shut up.” Jiang Cheng pointed at him.

          “Good thing the underwear is black,” Ding Zhuxin looked over him and said with satisfaction. “I was going to find another one for you if it wasn’t… Let’s get started.”

          “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng walked to the set.

          They had replaced part of the set and it looked much more refreshing than before.

          “Shoes off, barefeet.” Ding Zhuxin said.

          Jiang Cheng couldn’t find the energy to resist in these clothes. He took off his shoes and socks without a word and stood barefoot in the centre.

          “This outfit doesn’t require a lot of movement.” Ding Zhuxin said. “The piece is called ‘mute’. Try to get a feel for it.”

          Muteness.

          That’s the only thing related to the word that Jiang Cheng could think of at this moment.

          And as for the feel.

          He felt a little cold. After all, there were holes all over the clothes. Never mind that Ding Zhuxin could tell his underwear was black, she probably already saw what brand it was.

          But he still had to try. Ding Zhuxin was paying him for these photos, she was his employer. He’s gotta try to find this so-called feel. Not to mention, Gu Fei was still waiting with the camera pointed at him.

          Muteness.

          Okay, not muteness. Mute.

          No sound.

          Very still.

          Out of nowhere he remembered a Russian song he used to love. 

          “Тихо, тихо, тихо, тихотактаетвночи……”

          The song made one feel hushed.

          He often listened to it on his headphones after a fight with his family.

          Eyes closed, listening to lyrics he didn’t understand, he could hear the voices in his heart. 

          Wow, his thoughts wandered really fucking far, he went looking for this feeling in Siberia… 

          In the frame, Jiang Cheng closed his eyes and placed his right hand gently on the left side of his chest.

          Gu Fei clicked the shutter.

          Jiang Cheng in this moment felt very far away. His whole being surrounded by a dense feeling of distance. 

          Aimlessness and wilfulness spelled out in the silent composure..

          Gu Fei didn’t move for a long time after taking the shot, simply held the camera and stared at Jiang Cheng’s face through the lens. Until Ding Zhuxin gently cleared her throat.

          Only then did Jiang Cheng open his eyes as if suddenly awoken. His fingers caught on the collar on its way down and pulled lightly on the material. The collar pulled away and bounced back. 

          A series of shutter sounds came from the camera in Gu Fei’s hand.

          The somewhat lost look in Jiang Cheng’s eyes, his slightly opened lips, the pulled collar, fingertips traced across the body… 

          “This is great,” Ding Zhuxin said. “Very sensual but very sensitive too.”

          Gu Fei didn’t say anything. He looked down at the camera in his hands for the longest time, then finally took a breath and let it out slowly as if sighing. 

          “I’m gonna…” Gu Fei put down the camera. “Go to the bathroom.”

          Perched on the toilet lid, Gu Fei held a lit cigarette in his mouth, watching the smoke drift towards the window.

          Life… had always been full of the unexpected.

          For example, Jiang Cheng accidentally finding Gu Miao, Jiang Cheng accidentally kissing the ground outside the door to his store, then unexpectedly becoming his deskmate…

          These accidents were unexpected but not too surprising. But what surprised Gu Fei the most was that he, who always had everything well under control, would have a physiological reaction when taking photos. 

          This kind of thing was really unexpected.

          Really unexpected.

          Even as withdrawn as he usually was, he still had to hide in the bathroom to calm down.

          Following this train of thought, he couldn’t help but think if it was Jiang Cheng in his position… he would probably finish it off in the toilet… 

          When Gu Fei came out of the bathroom with a cigarette in his mouth, Jiang Cheng was standing in front of the rack of clothes having a fight to the death with another garment.

          It was a tenacious battle, he tore at the garment, but the garment had him by the throat.

          Upon hearing the sound of the door behind him, he raised his arm to peek through the gap in the clothing. Seeing Gu Fei, he didn’t even have the energy to be embarrassed.

          He managed to say in a strained voice, “Fucking, come help me.”

          “… What’s going on here?” Gu Fei quickly stubbed the cigarette and walked over. He reached out a few times with his hands but didn’t know what to pull on to free him.

          “Ok no,” Jiang Cheng still had his arms raised, half of his face peeking out from between the arm and the collar, expression angry and helpless. “This thing is not fucking meant to be worn by humans. This neckline, had to be made for toddlers!”

          “Hold on,” Gu Fei circled him. “Let me see.”

          “If you had come out any later, I would’ve ripped this thing apart. I’ll pay for the damages too.” Jiang Cheng said.

          “I think… ” Gu Fei picked up the material on his left side and looked at it. “Did you get into the sleeves?”

          “… When you say it like that,” Jiang Cheng froze on the spot. “It suddenly makes a lot of sense.”

          Gu Fei didn’t say anything and neither did he. 

          Two seconds later, he knew that they were about to start another round of the giggles. 

          By the time Ding Zhuxin came out the two of them were laughing like mad. Several times Gu Fei attempted to help Jiang Cheng pull the clothes off but without success, because his hands were weak from laughter.

          Whereas Jiang Cheng giggled until he felt like the sleeves would strangle him to death, but still couldn’t stop.

          “I’m sorry,” Ding Zhuxin pulled out her phone and snapped a picture. “I need to get this for my Friend Circle.”

          “What?” Gu Fei asked, leaning against the rack giggling.

          “My part-time photographer and my part-time model,” Ding Zhuxin said. “Went crazy.”

          “We’ll be ready soon, he’s gone into the sleeve.” Gu Fei finally collected himself. He pulled a little on the clothing and Jiang Cheng backed away, trying hard to make his arms and head become one, and they eventually got the thing off. 

          “Ayyy!” He squatted down. “I’m exhausted.”

          “Hurry up. Big sis will buy you guys takeout for dinner.” Ding Zhuxin turned and went back in.

          When they started, Jiang Cheng didn’t think much of 30 sets of outfits. After all, he himself sometimes had to fuss and try on a couple different outfits before heading out.

          But he realized today how annoying it was to put clothes on and take them off.

          Endless dressing and undressing, standing before the lights trying to figure out all kinds of feelings for the style. He couldn’t get over the soreness in his legs from the basketball game. Every time he changed he wanted to rip the clothes right off.

          The thing was that Ding Zhuxin’s clothes were all matching sets, not 30 separate pieces. It wasn’t enough to just switch the pants a few times. Each change had to be from head to toe.

          When it became dark outside, Ding Zhuxin offered to eat first, but Jiang Cheng refused. He felt that if he stopped to rest and have a meal, he wouldn’t want to continue even with the threat of death. He couldn’t muster up the energy even for extra money.

          So none of them ate. They churned until past nine o’clock, before finally finishing up the day’s work.

          “You must be hungry.” Ding Zhuxin transferred the day’s pay to Jiang Cheng. “Let’s go eat something downstairs, what do you want?”

          “I… won’t be eating.” Jiang Cheng felt his whole body relax in the comfort of his own clothes after changing back, then the sleepiness kicked in. “I’m heading back, I’m dying for sleep.”

          “Aren’t you hungry?” Ding Zhuxin asked. “Just have something to eat, what if you get hungry at night?”

          “Thanks, Xin-jie,” Jiang Cheng yawned. “I’m so sleepy that I’m don’t even feel hunger anymore, probably won’t even know if I go hungry tonight.”

          Ding Zhuxin laughed. “Alright then, will you still have the energy to come tomorrow?”

          “I’ll be fine after I wake up.” Jiang Cheng said.

          “Take a cab back then,” Ding Zhuxin said. “I’ll reimburse you the transportation fee.”

          “No need,” Jiang Cheng quickly replied. “There’s really no need. It’s not that much, I can do it.”

          Ding Zhuxin was about to say something more, but Gu Fei interrupted her. “Give me the money, I’ll take a taxi back with him.”

          “You’re not eating either?” Ding Zhuxin looked at him, a little taken aback.

          “Mm,” Gu Fei pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “My mom made food today and left some for me. I gotta to go back and finish it or she’ll cry again.”

          “Alright then.” Ding Zhuxin nodded.

          Jiang Cheng went to the side of the road to flag down a cab, while Gu Fei and Ding Zhuxin stood there quietly.

          “Da-Fei.” Ding Zhuxin opened her mouth when she saw a taxi approaching.

          “Mhm.” Gu Fei answered.

          “This is my first time seeing you laugh so openly like that.” Ding Zhuxin was looking at Jiang Cheng’s back. “I watched you grow up. Today was my first time seeing it.” 

          “What do you mean watched me grow up?” Gu Fei gave a little laugh, evading Ding Zhuxin’s words. “You’re only a few years older than me and you sound like my mom. I watched you grow up too.”

          “Go on, get in the car.” Ding Zhuxin said. “I’m busy tomorrow so I won’t be here. I’ll have the clothes ready to be photographed. My assistant will come over to do the makeup, and you can help with the rest.”

          “Sure thing.” Gu Fei threw away his cigarette butt and got into the car.

          Jiang Cheng fell asleep as soon as he settled into the cab, he felt himself dozing off like a pig. It took several shoves from Gu Fei before he finally realized it wasn’t the motion of the car and opened his eyes.

          “We’re here?” Jiang Cheng rubbed his face and opened the car door to get out. “I almost started dreaming.”

          “Ummm…” Gu Fei pulled at his arm.

          Jiang Cheng was just about to ask what’s going on, when he heard the racket coming from up ahead. Shouts of men and screams of women, and the sound of a woman crying.

          When his eyes finally tracked the source of the noise his whole being sank into a state of endless exasperation. In this instant, the combination of the afternoon and evening’s exhaustion was close to blowing the lid off his head. 

          Li Baoguo, Li Hui, and Li Qian. His own father, brother, and sister. He recognized them at a glance. There was also a woman with a limp who he hadn’t seen before. He didn’t know who it was.

          This woman was currently dragging her limping leg and wrestling with Li Baoguo, crying and hurling abuse. Though she seemed to be speaking in a dialect, her accent was too thick to be understood.

          Li Baoguo was completely different from his cowardly self of the other day, when he was on the ground holding his head and letting others kick and beat on him. He was now fighting this woman with an enthusiasm that couldn’t be curbed by either Li Hui or Li Qian no matter how they tried to pull him back. 

          “You bet that I can beat you to death!” Li Baoguo’s speech was for once clear and full of life. “You obviously haven’t seen enough of me! See if I will let you come out of this alive today!”

          Jiang Cheng suddenly felt out of breath and slammed himself back into the car. Gu Fei was about to follow him out of the car but got pushed back inside. Jiang Cheng closed the door.

          “Huh? Not getting off?” The driver asked.

          “Let’s take you back first.” Jiang Cheng said quietly to Gu Fei, his throat felt tight.

          “Sure,” Gu Fei didn’t say any more. “Shifu, please turn into Beixiao Street.”

          “Ok.” The driver turned the car around and drove to the next street.

          They passed Gu Fei’s store and continued on for another stretch of road. Gu Fei had the driver stop the car in front of a row of residential buildings. 

          “You going anywhere else?” The driver asked.

          “Just here.” Gu Fei handed over the money and pushed on Jiang Cheng. “Get out.”

          Jiang Cheng got out of the car. His brain felt a little numb. He looked at the building in front of him. “Your place?”

          “Mhm,” Gu Fei said, and walked toward the entrance. “Come watch me do photos.”

          “What photos?” Jiang Cheng hesitated then followed behind him.

          “Your photos, don’t you wanna see? Supes haught.” Gu Fei said.

          “Alright.” Jiang Cheng smiled.


Some Stats

  • Raw character count: 5687
  • TL word count: ~3821
  • TL time: 7:17:17
  • Edit: ~0:35:00
  • Curse words: 4x fucks, 1x ass