“You know if I am.” Jiang Cheng watched him. “Right now it’s me asking you.”
The building where Gu Fei lived was newer than Li Baoguo’s. Even though it was also right by the street with no exterior fence or management, and was likely also public housing, it looked much easier on the eyes.
It didn’t reek of the inner city, and the corridor walls were still white, with a distinct lack of cobwebs.
But it was also similar in that it too was a low rise without elevators. You gotta climb the stairs all the way up. By the time they got to the fifth floor Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but ask, “What floor do you live on?”
“Seventh, the top floor.” Gu Fei turned back and gave him a look, a subtle smile played at the corner of his mouth. “What, can you not go on anymore? Do you need me to carry you?”
“Nevermind, you’re not much better. Took three whole minutes just to go pee,” Jiang Cheng said. “Your kidneys must be deficient.”
Gu Fei looked at him wordlessly for a few moments, then turned and continued up the stairs.
There were four units on the seventh floor, Gu Fei’s place was the furthest one in. Jiang Cheng gathered his thoughts as Gu Fei opened the door. Gu Fei’s mom’s temper tantrum the other day was still fresh in his mind.
The first thing he saw as he passed through the door was Gu Fei’s mom standing there in the living room talking on the phone, a cigarette in one hand. Upon seeing the two of them enter, she shot a somewhat shocked look over Gu Fei’s shoulder toward Jiang Cheng’s face.
“Hello auntie.” Jiang Cheng said quickly.
“Put it out.” Gu Fei said.
“Why so late?” Gu Fei’s mom put out the cigarette, hung up the phone, and looked them up and down. After a while her eyes landed on Jiang Cheng’s face once more. “Was that you at the store the other day?”
“Yes,” Jiang Cheng nodded and wondered if he should take off his shoes. “I’m Jiang Cheng.”
Gu Fei got a pair of slippers from the cabinet and threw them at Jiang Cheng’s feet, then turned to face her. “Is there still food?”
“Yeah, I put aside a bunch, enough for the two of you.” Gu Fei’s mom responded.
“Have a seat.” Gu Fei said then walked to a door beside the living room and opened up a slit to peer inside.
“He’s checking on Er-Miao.” Gu Fei’s mom explained. “When it comes to our Er-Miao… her older brother worries more than a father.”
Jiang Cheng just smiled and kept quiet.
“Not asleep yet?” Gu Fei leaned against the door frame and said into the slit. “Cheng-ge is here, do you wanna come and say hi to him?”
A few seconds later the sound of slippers shuffling against the floor could be heard from the other room, followed by the sight of a Gu Miao in pajamas running out the door.
“Good evening.” Jiang Cheng smiled and said.
Gu Miao’s face was blank, but she seemed to be in a hurry to run to his side and sit down on the sofa next to him.
“You’re not asleep yet? It’s almost 10 o’clock.” Jiang Cheng looked at her and tidied the mess of hair on her head. “You’re gonna get dark circles around your eyes tomorrow.”
Gu Miao rubbed her eyes and smiled.
The little girl’s hair was much longer now. Even though it still stuck out wildly in all directions, but compared to the shaved boyish look from before, this was a marked improvement.
The siblings both took after their mom, especially Gu Miao. Jiang Cheng thought. When she grows up and with a little more polish, she’d be a right beauty for sure.
“Are you two eating now?” Gu Fei and his mom walked together to the kitchen. “I’ll heat it up for you.”
“Mhm.” Gu Fei answered. “Got any rice?”
“Yeah,” Gu Fei’s mom said as she turned to take another look at Jiang Cheng. “Is that kid Li Yan’s boyfriend?”
She wasn’t being particularly loud, but Jiang Cheng still heard it, and proceeded to raise his head in utter shock.
Niania?! The wind’s too strong, I couldn’t hear properly, come again?
“…No,” Gu Fei said. “What’s going on in your head anyway.”
“But he has makeup on?” Gu Fei’s mom said.
“What does wearing makeup have to do with Li Yan, it’s not like Li Yan wears makeup… Ding Zhuxin asked him to take some photos for her today, he didn’t get a chance to take the makeup off. Oh, right,” Gu Fei poked his head out from the kitchen and yelled. “Jiang Cheng, why don’t you go wash your face with my mom’s makeup remover.”
“Alright.” Jiang Cheng stood up.
Gu Fei’s mom took him to the bathroom and handed him the makeup remover. “Here, use this. It gets the stuff off pretty well. You can use the face cleanser at the top there, it’s Da-Fei’s.”
“Oh… thanks auntie.” Jiang Cheng stared at the makeup remover.
“Cotton pads are in that pink box,” Gu Fei’s mom looked at him. “You know how to use it?”
Jiang Cheng wanted very much to say yes, that way she could soon stop staring at him and walk away. But if he said “I do” then he might once again become “Li Yan’s boyfriend” in her eyes, even though he didn’t know what exactly Li Yan had to do with makeup… At last he answered honestly, “No I don’t.”
“Er-Miao!” Gu Fei yelled from the kitchen. “Go help your Cheng-ge remove his makeup!”
Gu Miao quickly rushed in. After Gu Fei’s mom left, she stood on her tip toes and took down the pink box that contained the cotton pads, took out two of them, and poured out some makeup remover. She waved her hands and gestured for Jiang Cheng to squat down.
“Now what?” Jiang Cheng squatted.
Gu Miao looked at him and shut her eyes hard, then opened them and stared at him.
“Close my eyes right? Alright.” Jiang Cheng closed his eyes.
Gu Miao started to wipe at his face with the cotton pad.
Outside in the kitchen Gu Fei and his mom didn’t continue their conversation from earlier.
But the phrase “Li Yan’s boyfriend” still resounded in Jiang Cheng’s ears. The way Gu Fei’s mom said it, it was as casual as if she had been talking about Li Yan’s girlfriend.
Li Yan… IS? And it sounded like it’s common knowledge??
If that was the case then Gu Fei, who hung out with Li Yan every day, must be very understanding of this. Then… FUCK. Jiang Cheng all of a sudden opened his eyes.
Gu Miao was still holding the cotton pad. She frowned and shook her head.
He quickly shut them again.
If Gu Fei had people like that around him, had been familiar with this…… then the other day when he kissed Gu Fei like that, there was now another possible explanation for his actions!
Maybe Gu Fei wouldn’t simply interpret it as drunken madness like people normally would.
If that was the case, then this was now very awkward.
Gu Miao left after she finished removing his makeup. He picked up Gu Fei’s face cleanser and looked at it, ‘Refreshing and not tight!’…… bullshit. He had used this brand before, it still left your skin tight. There was no way for it to be refreshing without making the skin tight.
His face already felt tight immediately after washing, but by the time he saw Gu Fei his face felt so tight he could hardly keep his eyes open.
“You got some lotion or cream or something?” Jiang Cheng asked. “My face is gonna crack.”
Before Gu Fei even opened his mouth to respond, Gu Miao flew to her room and brought him a bottle of moisturizer for kids.
“Ooooh,” Jiang Cheng accepted it. “You’re rather vain aren’t you, how do you even have this?”
“Li Yan bought it for her. She pushes it on people all the time, but can’t be bothered to use it on herself.” Gu Fei said.
“Do you know Li Yan?” Gu Fei’s mom asked, looking pointedly at Jiang Cheng.
“…Not well.” Jiang Cheng answered while rubbing his face, a little exasperated.
“They’ve only met a couple times, and Li Yan doesn’t even have a boyfriend.” Gu Fei didn’t know what else to say. “You should go to sleep… Er-Miao, you go to bed too.”
Gu Miao was very good about going back to sleep in her room. Gu Fei’s mom took out her phone again and started dialing, and only went back to her room and closed the door after stealing more glances at Jiang Cheng.
Gu Fei’s mother’s cooking was surprisingly good. It was still delicious even though it had been left out and reheated, especially the ribs. Jiang Cheng ate five pieces in a row, and stopped only when he realized and got embarrassed.
“You can have all of it.” Gu Fei said. “I was hungry for too long that I’m past it now.”
“I’m also…” Jiang Cheng hesitated, but then picked up another piece.
“My mom’s cooking is pretty good huh.” Gu Fei smiled.
“Mhm.” Jiang Cheng nodded. Then thought about it and sighed. He looked at the dishes in front of him. “I think it’s been a long time, since I had a home-cooked meal.”
Gu Fei was quiet.
Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything more, just kept his head down and ate.
Ever since he came here, he pretty much ate take-out exclusively, that or something similar on the streets. Recently, to save money, he was cooking for himself, but usually just plain noodle soups.
But now all of a sudden he got to taste a rather delicious ‘home-cooked meal’, Jiang Cheng felt his heart clench unexpectedly. He was trying hard to not be so emotional, but he couldn’t contain himself, he even felt his nose start to burn.
Fortunately Gu Fei picked this time to gather up the dishes to take to the kitchen, this gave Jiang Cheng a chance to wipe his eyes. He took several deep breaths and finally managed to calm himself down.
He didn’t even fight with Gu Fei to wash the dishes after. He didn’t want to move.
“You can take my bed if you’re sleepy.” Gu Fei opened a door to another bedroom. “I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“That’s not necessary.” Jiang Cheng stood up and followed him into the room. “I can sleep on the couch, I can fall asleep anywhere…… This room of yours, not bad.”
Their living room was clearly in the style of ten or twenty years earlier, and hadn’t been maintained or updated. Though it was better than Li Baoguo’s place which would’ve been met with disdain even fifty years ago, still it was the look of a very plain and not well-to-do home.
Gu Fei’s bedroom was a surprise.
The room wasn’t big, and had no special treatment other than a coat of white paint. But he could see that each piece of furniture was chosen with careful consideration.
A bed, bookcase, desk, chair, rug, a recliner, and a hammock by the window. There were a lot of stuff, but it didn’t feel messy. There was a sense of warmth and comfort.
“Tea?” Gu Fei picked up a small kettle on the desk and put some tea leaves in. “Or water?”
“Water.” Jiang Cheng sat down on the recliner. “I can’t sleep if I drink tea.”
Gu Fei put a wedge of lemon in the mug and poured him some warm water.
The hot lemon water, the soft couch, a warm and cozy room that he hadn’t experienced in such a long time. Jiang Cheng leaned back against the recliner with the water in hand, and didn’t feel like saying anything.
“My mom’s dense like that, she doesn’t think before she speaks.” Gu Fei sat down in front of the computer and inserted the memory card from the camera. “Don’t take her words to heart.”
“Uh huh.” Jiang Cheng responded, paused for a moment and couldn’t help but ask. “Li Yan… “
“Li Yan really doesn’t have a boyfriend.” Gu Fei said, then looked at him and smiled. “Although Li Yan really does… like men.”
“Oh.” Jiang Cheng held the mug in his hands and allowed the rising steam to conceal his face. “Does everyone know… about him?”
“Friends know. I’m not sure where my mom got it from, though she won’t go out and spread it either.” Gu Fei said while transferring the photos to his computer. “This kinda thing, nobody wants everyone to know, right?”
“Yeah…” Jiang Cheng sighed in agreement.
Not even a second later, the realization suddenly dawned on him. He bolted wide awake and quickly cleared his throat in an attempt to cover the sigh.
Gu Fei gave him a look but didn’t say anything.
There was no way Jiang Cheng could keep himself from overanalysing Gu Fei’s look. The kind of awkward tension that had long ceased to exist between the two of them encompassed him again.
All he could do was stand up and stroll back and forth around the room with his mug of water.
But it wasn’t a big room, and so his stroll was limited to about three steps in either direction. He felt he was just flopping around blindly, this was even more awkward than just sitting still.
At last, he stopped in front of the bookcase.
“Mind if I look at your shelf?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“…I don’t even know how to answer that.” Gu Fei turned to look at him. “What’s wrong with looking at it, why would you even have to ask?”
“Ah,” Jiang Cheng chuckled softly. “Just a habit.”
“Your old… upbringing seems a little too strict.” Gu Fei said.
“Perhaps… The whole family was very strict. Rules, courtesies, manners.” Jiang Cheng looked over the books on the shelves. “I must’ve been dense, should’ve known from the start that I didn’t belong in their family. A family of four, and I was the black sheep…”
“You’re pretty good.” Gu Fei watched the progress bar of his photo transfer.
“Here maybe, I’m pretty good.” Jiang Cheng remembered what he saw earlier with Li Baoguo’s family and that woman with a limp. Yeah… in a place filled with that kind of life and lifestyle, only then can someone like himself be considered ‘good’.
“Some things don’t need to be compared to be seen.” Gu Fei smiled, poured himself some tea and took a sip. “Whether a person is really ‘good’, one only need to look at the person. It doesn’t matter where he is, or who’s around him.”
“… Why, you…” Jiang Cheng stared at him. “You suddenly don’t seem like the type to turn in a blank test paper.”
“Bullshit. When did I ever turn in blank papers? I always made sure to fill them up first.” Gu Fei said.
“Uh huh.” Jiang Cheng couldn’t help laughing.
Gu Fei picked up the camera and pointed it at him.
“You’ve been shooting the whole day, not tired of it yet?” Jiang Cheng said.
“Not if it’s of you.” Gu Fei said. “You look good… when you smile.”
Jiang Cheng’s smile froze on his face. Gu Fei held the camera and cursed himself in his head.
The first sentence was already out of his mouth before he realized how inappropriate it was, especially so fresh after Li Yan’s sexual orientation was ‘exposed’. Words like these was bordering on flirting.
But to cover it up he added on another sentence, one that he regretted before he even finished. One more inappropriate than the next, but he had no choice but to finish what he said, or it would seem even more conspicuous.
So by the time he closed his mouth, both he and Jiang Cheng were frozen in place.
He hid his face with the camera, unsure of what to say to ease the tension in the air.
For somebody who never felt any kind of embarrassment, second hand or otherwise, and who rarely bothered to care what others thought of him, the fact that he would find himself in this thorny situation alone was enough to render him speechless.
“After this shoot, Ding Zhuxin will probably ask you to do some other ones.” Gu Fei continued. He was still holding the camera, staring at Jiang Cheng’s face through the lens. “If you think the rate is appropriate, you can work with her long-term. She’s always unsatisfied with her models, but she was pretty happy with you today.”
“Oh.” Jiang Cheng looked to the left, to the right, then at the camera. “Erm…I’m just wondering, just that, uhh… If uhhh…Xin-jie is your…you know, you and her…uh, she’s your…”
“Girlfriend?” Gu Fei interrupted him. “She’s not, I think I said before. She’s my childhood friend, I call her big sister.”
“Oh!” Jiang Cheng answered in a loud voice, in an effort to free himself from the awkward tension.
“All this effort.” Gu Fei couldn’t help but let out a breath of relief on his behalf. “I thought you were going to ask about me and Li Yan.”
“Huh?” Jiang Cheng looked at him stunned. “You and Li Yan? You’re…??”
“No!” Gu Fei set the camera down. “Ayy… Li Yan and I are just friends, do we look like a couple to you?”
“I don’t know,” Jiang Cheng leaned on the bookcase. He seemed to have a hard time adjusting to this topic of conversation. “I guess not? He looks more likely to be with Liu Fan.”
Gu Fei leaned on the chair and laughed for a long time. “Liu Fan would get mad if he heard that.”
“…Really.” Jiang Cheng gave him a look and smiled without saying any more.
‘Not A Good Bird’ along with Li Yan and Gu Fei, they seemed like a close bunch. They hung out together all the time, and even had their own little clubhouse in the Steel Works.
But according to Gu Fei… even close as these guys were, still there was someone who couldn’t fully accept it.
Yes… Pan Zhi was right.
Tolerance and acceptance only existed in 2-D media. Real life was still ruthless.
But what about Gu Fei?
Jiang Cheng leaned his head back slightly against the glass door of the bookcase and watched as Gu Fei played with his camera.
His attitude was actually clear as day. He wasn’t disgusted, he accepted it.
But was there anything more?
The kiss he landed on Gu Fei’s face the other day, Gu Fei didn’t have any reaction to it. Pan Zhi would at least be shocked, then proceed to make fun of him.
Though Gu Fei was someone who rarely displayed his emotions externally, that kind of calm and composure still seemed a little unusual between two people who were not close enough to be on a drunken rampage together.
Now that he thought about it, his reaction the next day was also far too calm.
Jiang Cheng took a sip of the lemon water.
Gu Fei might be a slacker student, but he was a smart slacker.
Jiang Cheng suddenly felt a sense of helplessness as if he had already been seen through.
Gu Fei might know everything. He was having some trouble processing this new information. So much so that he couldn’t even calmly continue their conversation.
The photos were done transferring. Gu Fei created a new folder, marked the date, and started to process the images.
His cursor swept over thumbnails. He didn’t like to process photos in order, he preferred to pick and choose.
The cursor finally stopped at the one of Jiang Cheng when his fingers got caught on the collar.
He leaned back slightly when he opened up the image. Compared to the glimpse through the lens on set, the frozen moment that suddenly popped before his eyes in sharp definition was much more striking.
His elbow on the armrest and his fingers supported the corner of his head, Gu Fei whistled softly.
“And what about you?” Jiang Cheng suddenly asked.
Reflexively Gu Fei thought his whistle would be met by a “you shut up”, but by the time he realized what Jiang Cheng said, he didn’t even dare to turn and face him.
“Hmm?” He zoomed out of the image so it filled the screen and adjusted the white balance. “What… about me?”
“Are you?” Jiang Cheng asked.
To be honest, Jiang Cheng got embarrassed so easily that Gu Fei never imagined in a million years that he would suddenly be this blunt. His tone of voice didn’t allow for any evasion.
“Are you?” Gu Fei turned to face him.
“You know if I am.” Jiang Cheng watched him. “Right now it’s me asking you.”
Gu Fei didn’t want to answer this question.
He actually didn’t ponder too much about whether Jiang Cheng was. Whether he was or wasn’t didn’t have any effect on Gu Fei. Even if he did have any ideas about the matter, he would keep it to himself.
But what Jiang Cheng wanted to know, he was afraid to answer.
If neither knew about the other, or at least feigned ignorance, it would be easier for them to get along in their relationship. But if all of a sudden everything was out in the open, all of the attraction and attention suddenly had a defined intent, now that was a little panic-inducing.
At least, he was like that. He never intended to do anything. But once things became transparent, his every word, every look, could all be interpreted to seem as though he intended on doing something.
“Nevermind.” Jiang Cheng picked up the mug and sat down in the recliner. He leaned his head back and let out a drawn out breath. “You don’t have to say it, I understand.”
Gu Fei only looked at him.
“Da-Fei,” Jiang Cheng tilted his head back but maintained eye contact. “I really don’t mean anything by it, I only wanted to tell you that, if you know… please keep it a secret. I… don’t want others to know.”
“Mm.” Gu Fei nodded. If he recalled correctly, this was the first time Jiang Cheng didn’t call him Gu Fei.
“Just like how you don’t want others to know either.” Jiang Cheng took a sip of water.
“Was that a threat?” Gu Fei laughed.
“Yep.” Jiang Cheng chuckled too and nodded. “I’ve got leverage on you.”
“I will keep it a secret.” Gu Fei said.
- Raw character count: 5642
- TL word count: 3778
- TL time: 5:06:31
- Edit: 1:35:08
- Curse words: 2x fucks, 2x shits, 1x ass