He was dead meat.


Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3

          Jiang Cheng thought Lao-Xu was rather responsible as far as teachers went, but he really didn’t feel like saying anything, not to mention he had no idea what to even say. Even if he did try to explain himself, the one who started the fight because of someone else’s words was him. To expound on why exactly he did what he did, there was too much he needed to tell all at once, and too much he didn’t want to face.

          In comparison, he’d much rather just take the punishment, if only to make it all go away. Though he did feel a little bad for Lao-Xu, who genuinely cared about his students.

          Lao-Xu took up the span of half a class period trying to convince him, appealing to Jiang Cheng’s reason and dialling into his emotions. At one point he thought Lao-Xu was on the verge of tears, but he still didn’t manage to get anything out of him, and so had no choice but to let Jiang Cheng back to class.

          When Jiang Cheng arrived at the bottom of the stairs, the dumbass from Class-5 happened to also pass by after getting treated at the infirmary.

          His injuries didn’t look too serious, consisting mostly scrapes and bruises. The worst of it… was the swelling.

          Jiang Cheng had been punching him with his right fist the whole time, so the dumbass now had a left eye that was pretty much swollen to a slit. The left side of his face was also swollen, giving him an overall lopsided look. 

          When he caught sight of Jiang Cheng, he looked ready to shoot flames out of his remaining one and one-fifth eyes.

          Jiang Cheng halted in his steps and stood at a distance of three meters away from the stairwell.

          “What’s the matter?” The dumbass spat on the ground. “Weren’t you pretty fierce just a moment ago?! What, now you’re scared?”

          Jiang Cheng didn’t answer.

          The dumbass gave him another two and two-fifths eyes worth of glares, and went up the stairs all the while cursing up a storm. Jiang Cheng listened as his voice gradually disappeared, then continued forward slowly up the steps.

          It appeared that Lao-Lu didn’t bother with having a regular class today. When Jiang Cheng entered the classroom, he was standing at the podium in the midst of an angry tirade, the volume of his voice was making the ceiling tremor and rain down bits of plaster.

          “Oh here comes the hero!” As soon as he saw Jiang Cheng, Lao-Lu immediately aimed the pointer at him. “I’ve got a proposal for you Jiang Cheng!”

          Jiang Cheng turned to face him.

          “You should write an essay, the topic of which will be to discuss ‘how one leaps over two rows of desks to rush into the hallway and somehow manages to avoid getting injured in a brawl’!” Lao-Lu exploded. “After it’s done I’ll even print it out for you to hang in the classroom!”

          “… Ah.” Jiang Cheng answered helplessly and returned to his seat.

          “Not that I want to bother but,” Lao-Lu waved his pointer around and pointed it from right to left. “Every one of you! Only when napping in class do you seem a little more like an actual human being! When your eyes are open you’re just mounds of shit! Why can’t I see you do a single thing all day that doesn’t suck?! Your parents work themselves to death just to send little shits like you to fool around in school…”

          “Did you go to the Guidance Office?” Gu Fei kept his head down and asked as he played on his phone.

          “Not yet.” Jiang Cheng answered.

          “Then I guess they’ll bag us all after class.” Gu Fei said.

          Gu Fei must have had some experience in this department. A few minutes before class ended for the morning, the head of the Guidance Office, Lao-Xu, and the head teacher of Class-5 all barricaded themselves at the end of the hallway.

          Without exemption, everyone who participated in the brawl got taken to the Guidance Office.

          The Guidance director started off with a fresh storm of condemnations, then asked each of them to state their motive for fighting. None of them could come up with an answer. They had all joined because the others did. 

          At last, the Guidance director’s sights locked on Jiang Cheng and the dumbass.

          “He said you hit him first.” The Guidance Director watched Jiang Cheng. “Why?”

          “Right, of course there had to be a reason,” Lao-Xu said right away. “You know, Jiang Cheng’s marks would be top-ten of his grade even in a key high school…”

          “Mr. Xu, we know he’s an overachiever,” The Guidance director interrupted Lao-Xu. “Let me finish my questions.”

          Lao-Xu shut his mouth.

          But still Jiang Cheng did not answer.

          Just as the Guidance director was about to lose his temper, Wang Xu raised his hand, “I know.”

          “Go ahead,” The Guidance director gave him a look. “Never seen you this well behaved in class. So you do know how to raise your hand.”

          “He was calling him names at our door.” Wang Xu said. “Something like ‘Cheng-cheng, Cheng-cheng I’m gonna fuck your mom’. Obviously anyone would get mad at that, he was talking in a weird mocking voice too…”

          “What did you say?!” The dumbass immediately leapt up and yelled. “When did I call him names!”

          “During our morning self-study period,” Wang Xu glared at him. “Why else would an overachiever like him beat you up? He was clearly provoked.”

          “Fucking bullshit!” This enraged the dumbass, he was so furious that his left eye opened. “I…”

          “Listen to him, Director!” Wang Xu was in his element. “Listen to him! He’s cursing even now! He was even louder this morning, we all heard it, otherwise we wouldn’t have gone out and joined in! We’re a mediocre bunch, but we pride ourselves on group honour!”

          “That’s right, we all heard it!” The students from Class-8 all chanted their agreements.

          “That’s some bullshit!” The dumbass grew red in the face and turned to his own classmates. “Did you guys hear it?”

          “Nope! He never called any names!” The students from Class-5 also stuck together.

          “Of course you didn’t hear,” Gu Fei stood at the back of the crowd, leaning against a desk. “You guys were a whole classroom away. He said it while standing next to Jiang Cheng.”

          “Gu Fei!” The dumbass jabbed a finger at Gu Fei and struggled to get another word out.

          “Though they definitely heard you screaming after.” Gu Fei gave a little smile.

          “Enough.” The Guidance director leveled a glare at Gu Fei.

          Gu Fei pulled out his phone and started playing with it.

          The facts of the matter were clear. The dumbass made some snide comments and got beaten up, which started a brawl between the two classes. As much as the dumbass tried to protest, the director had no problem with this version of events.

          At schools such as the Fourth High, if a fight broke out among the students, no side was innocent.

          What came next was a debate between the two head teachers regarding the issue of who had the bigger blame, with each trying to push it onto the other class. Just as during his lectures, Lao-Xu’s mild mannerism didn’t afford him any advantage during the argument, but it was hard to out-talk a chatterbox who would blabber on and on once he got started. The other head teacher was a woman, who attempted several times to interject without success, and finally waved her hand and said, “Fine, I yield. Given Mr. Xu’s way with words, teaching really is a waste of your talent.”

          “Forgive me.” Lao-Xu nodded graciously.

          “Alright alright, you can stop arguing now.” The Guidance director was also visibly fatigued.

          The final verdict was that everyone who participated in the fight had to write a self-admonition of no less than 800 characters, and clean the two bathrooms in the school for one week. The two students who headed the fight, Jiang Cheng and the dumbass, had to read their self-admonitions aloud to the whole school at the next Monday morning assembly, as well as take one warning demerit point.

          As soon as they heard about the demerit point, both Lao-Xu and the head teacher of Class-5 became upset all over again.

          “Director, I don’t think this matter is so severe as to necessitate a demerit point as punishment.” Said the Class-5 head teacher. “Not to mention going by the level of injuries our class had…”

          “THAT’S RIGHT!” Lao-Xu exclaimed loudly.

          Jiang Cheng got the sudden sense that Lao-Lu had temporarily taken over Mr. Xu’s body.

          But Lao-Xu turned back to his old self immediately. “They are but teenagers, it’s normal for them to be a little impulsive at times. We as educators and guiding lights, cannot simply apply clear-cut punishments to them, what good will a demerit point do? It’s nothing more than a mark on their record, this method of interaction serves only to decrease us educator’s workloads! I for one disapprove of this method, I think we should use our love and care, our patience and…”

          “Mr. Xu, Mr. Xu! Lao-Xu!” The Guidance director reached out an ‘er-kang’ [1] hand with a pained expression on his face, at this rate his other hand should probably be clutching at his heart. “I get it, I understand your good intentions…”

          “We as educational workers, when faced with all these kids, definitely feel the struggle to keep up at times, but this is the career we chose…” Lao-Xu didn’t show any sign of slowing down. “Who among us didn’t have impulses at this age? Listen, we were classmates, right? When YOU were in high school…”

          “Xu Qicai!” The Guidance director yelled out. “I said I understand!”

          Jiang Cheng had been in a pretty dismal mood up until this point, but for some reason he suddenly felt much better. Lao-Xu’s words were amusing, but he was still moved. To meet a teacher like Lao-Xu once in his lifetime was fortunate for him. Even though due to his low emotional intelligence, Lao-Xu never did find a way to properly communicate with his students… 

          But Jiang Cheng really did feel like laughing in that moment, and he wasn’t the only one. He heard the sound of unsuccessfully repressed laughter from Wang Xu’s direction.

          “Fine.” The Director took two huge gulps of water. “No demerit points for now, but we’ll continue to observe. If there’s any sort of rule violation for the rest of this semester, the demerit points will be stacked, it won’t simply be a warning, this time it’ll go directly into your records.”

          “Excuse me,” Gu Fei said from the back. “Why do I have to write a self-admonishment?”

          “Were you not in the fight?!” The director slammed his glass down on the desk hard.

          Jiang Cheng got the feeling that he had been pushed to the edge.

          “I wasn’t,” Gu Fei said. “I was there to stop them.”

          “Yes, I asked him to.” Lao-Xu nodded and said.

          “You hit me!” The dumbass yelled out, virtually stomping his feet.

          “Did anyone see it?” Gu Fei narrowed his eyes and scanned the faces in the crowd. “Did anyone witness me hit you?”

          The dumbass was so furious that his hands were shaking, but couldn’t squeeze out a single word.

          “What are you doing here if you weren’t in the fight?!” The director shouted at Gu Fei.

          “You guys brought me here.” Gu Fei said.

          “You… write a letter of self-admonition.” The Guidance director said. “Write about how you were late to school this week and I caught you coming over the wall again! And read it out loud on stage with the rest of them!”

          Coming out of the Guidance Office, everyone from both classes seemed to be keeping quiet. Lao-Xu walked them all the way out the school gates to the parking shed where he clearly wanted to leave them with some words of wisdom, only he didn’t get a chance to open his mouth.

          That was because once in the parking shed, the whole bunch of them crouched down and sank into fits of unstoppable hysterical laughter.

          By the time he was buckled up in the little bun, Jiang Cheng was still suffering from the giggles. He cracked open the window and let the fresh air hit his face to clear his mind.

          “So we’re driving this to Ding Zhuxin’s?” He asked after a while.

          “Mhm,” Gu Fei nodded. “See, how convenient.”

          “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask, usually it’s the elderly who drives these cars, but you’re a grown ass person. Doesn’t the transportation police give a damn?” Jiang Cheng asked.

          “Give a damn about what, you think this place is the same as where you used to live?” Gu Fei said. “If they really did stop me I’ll just say I’m delivering this to my grandpa. Big whoop.”

          “Does your grandpa drive?” Jiang Cheng chuckled and asked.

          “No idea, he’s been dead for a long time.” Gu Fei said.

          “Ah…” At that, Jiang Cheng was a little stuck, so he stayed quiet.

          “He killed himself,” Gu Fei stopped at a red light, and said in an indifferent voice while leaning back. “By drinking pesticide.”

          “Why?” Jiang Cheng was taken aback.

          “Because he had a scumbag son.” Gu Fei was quiet for a while after that. The light turned green and they started moving again, half a block later he finally continued. “There are tons of fucked up things and fucked up people in this world, you’ve just never encountered them before now.”

          Jiang Cheng stared at the back of Gu Fei’s head without a word.

          “Don’t think about it too much.” Gu Fei said. “It’s easier if you just watch from the sidelines.”

          “Uh huh.” Jiang Cheng answered and closed his eyes.

          Ding Zhuxin wasn’t in her studio today, there was only a young woman buried in the midst of a huge pile of clothes, busy trying to organize it.

          “Xin-jie’s assistant, Xiao-Lu.” Gu Fei introduced them. “This is Jiang Cheng, our model today.”

          “Wow, you’re cute… Oh, I’m Lucia. It’s hard for him to pronounce so he simplified it.” Lucia smiled and pointed at the two rows of clothes on the rack. “These are for today, they’ve been put together already. I’ll do your makeup in a bit.”

          While Lucia put makeup on Jiang Cheng’s face, he stole a few glances out of the corner of his eyes at the clothes for today. He felt they were not dissimilar to the ones from yesterday, more of either the mage style or the beggar’s style. Though it wasn’t all knitted materials this time, most of them actually looked like burlap… so it seemed even more authentic to the beggar style.

          Though Jiang Cheng would much rather wear these. At least it wasn’t open on all sides.

          “All done, honestly you don’t even need very much.” Lucia backed up a couple steps and gave him a once-over. “A face like this must be really photogenic, you’ve got a really clear profile.”

          “Boy are you chatty today.” Gu Fei poked his head out. “Hurry up and change already, it’s so tiring to have to shoot till nightfall every day.”

          “Alright.” Lucia clapped her hands together. “It’s all up to you now, I have to go down to the stockroom. If anybody calls here please answer it and tell them to ring my cell.”

          “No problem.” Gu Fei nodded.

          Jiang Cheng waited till Lucia left before he walked to the rack to take a closer look, intending to choose a set he liked.

          “You’ve got to wear them all anyway,” Gu Fei leaned against the door frame. “It’s just a matter of now or later.”

          “… I know.” Jiang Cheng ended up picking a random one.

          As Gu Fei turned back to the other room, he studied the outfit he picked out. There were many layers to it; not bad, it would be warm.

          Although he wondered why Ding Zhuxin’s designs all looked so unisex, or rather, they all looked like women’s wear.

          This particular set included a pair of slouchy linen pants, but the top also happened to be a loose shift. After putting the whole thing on, Jiang Cheng felt maybe he needed a strand of rosaries to complete the look.

          “Hmm.” Gu Fei watched as he walked in and raised an eyebrow. “Not bad.”

          “Don’t make me insult your aesthetic.” Jiang Cheng planted himself in front of a bunch of lights. After a whole day of shooting the day before, he now felt relatively at ease on the set. At the very least he no longer felt the awkwardness of not knowing where to place his hands.

          “Just walk around for a bit. OK, now turn around. Look back.” Gu Fei pointed the camera at him. “You can choose to smile or not.”

          Jiang Cheng did a few laps in front of the camera, “How’s this?”

          “Great.” Gu Fei said. “Now let’s do a front facing close-up of your face, then you can change into the next one.”

          “Why do you need a front facing close-up?” Jiang Cheng looked at him.

          “You have a slight cut on your lip… did you not notice?” Gu Fei asked.

          “I did notice.” Jiang Cheng said. “What does that have to do with the close-up?”

          “It’s got a pretty good vibe.” Gu Fei pressed down on the shutter. “Alright, you can change now.”

          “No wait,” Jiang Cheng didn’t move. “What for?”

          “For my own collection.” Gu Fei said. “Not like I haven’t taken your photo before.”

          “… Alright.” Jiang Cheng walked out. His whole morning had been a chaotic mess, he didn’t have the spare energy to ponder over this.

          He grabbed another outfit off the rack. He didn’t pay too much attention to the top half, as long as the bottom half was still a pair of pants. He pulled the pants on first.

          He was a little speechless as he put them on; the hem cut off at an awkward point between his ankles and his knees. 

          He had a pretty good grasp of Ding Zhuxin’s style at this point, and for all the ones he didn’t understand he simply paired them with bare feet… 

          … But this top. 

          “Gu Fei,” Jiang Cheng came in holding a bundle of burlap material, topless, and wearing a pair of cropped pants. “You two grew up together, care to explain to me what this is supposed to be?”

          “Hmm?” Gu Fei put the camera down and took a few glances at Jiang Cheng, scanning him up and down. Jiang Cheng did have a pretty good figure, especially that scar on his flank… 

          Jiang Cheng shook out the bundle he was holding, “Is this just raw material? Did she forget to make it into a shirt?”

          Gu Fei looked at the large rectangular piece of burlap in front of him and started to laugh, “I got it. Hand it over.”

          Jiang Cheng threw the fabric to him. He caught it and gathered it up gently until it formed a long narrow piece, then set it on Jiang Cheng’s shoulders and wrapped it around a couple times. 

          “The fuck?” Jiang Cheng was amazed. “It’s a scarf?”

          “… No, but you can think of it as one.” Gu Fei tugged on the fabric here and there, making small adjustments to make it look as though it was just casually thrown on.

          “If somebody actually buys this then I’ll eat the whole thing.” Jiang Cheng said.

          “This isn’t necessarily for sale, it’s mostly to show off the design concept.” Gu Fei took a few steps back. “Good, very sexy.”

          “I feel like once I start moving it’ll just fall off.” Jiang Cheng held his arm stiffly in place in support of the fabric on his shoulder. “I can’t move.”

          “Just run across to the other side, don’t worry about it falling.” Gu Fei raised his camera.

          Jiang Cheng shifted his body over to the set like a robot. Though his movements were funny, his smoothly toned back was still rather pleasing on the eyes. Gu Fei pressed the shutter.

          Click.

          “What’s your problem?” Jiang Cheng tilted his head slightly, he couldn’t turn his whole head around for fear the excessive motion would cause the ‘scarf’ to fall off. “Is this also for your private collection?”

          “Correct. It’s not like your face is in it.” Gu Fei said.

          “Why are you acting like Wang Xu.” Jiang Cheng finally got into position.

          “When I take your picture, you’d only look better.” Gu Fei said. “When he takes your picture, it’s all dependent on your face.”

          “… Hurry up and shoot! It’s falling!” Jiang Cheng didn’t know what else to say.

          “Run.” Gu Fei said.

          Jiang Cheng darted across the set, his upper body stiff.

          “Was that OK?” He turned his head to look at Gu Fei, the fabric had already successfully slipped to the floor.

          Gu Fei held the camera and looked at him without a word.

          “OK, I know,” Jiang Cheng sighed. “Was it a bit…”

          “You ran like a chicken [2].” Gu Fei said.

          “Shit,” Jiang Cheng was a little vexed. “What the hell did you say?”

          “Have you ever seen a chicken run?” Gu Fei said. “Its head doesn’t move.”

          Jiang Cheng stared at him, then a few seconds later squatted down and cackled at the floor, “Fuck, I’m not shooting in this outfit anymore.” 

          “You’re getting paid by the piece,” Gu Fei also laughed and said. “Come on, be a professional.”

          Jiang Cheng had no choice but to stand up again, “Fine, I’ll try my best to not run like a chicken this time.”

          Gu Fei picked up the fabric and started wrapping it around him once more.

          Perhaps it was because he was topless, but when Gu Fei leaned in close, Jiang Cheng could feel Gu Fei’s breath directly on his shoulder… the sensation made his heart race.

          The feeling of breaths on the face or ears wouldn’t have solicited this warm and ambiguous feeling from him. But this time of year especially, the shoulders were a rarely exposed spot, so mentally speaking it was akin to a private body part.

          He felt a little uneasy, but clenched his jaw and refrained from moving or speaking. He could sense Gu Fei was being very careful when adjusting the fabric and avoided any contact with his skin. 

          He didn’t want to seem too fussy or sensitive in Gu Fei’s eyes.

          “Alright,” Gu Fei took one last look. “From here, run to that side. I should just be able to capture the scar as well.”

          “What’s with this hobby of photographing scars.” Jiang Cheng said.

          “Like a little monk…” Gu Fei raised the camera again, “Who had endured all of life’s hardships.”

          Jiang Cheng was just about to say something, but Gu Fei suddenly yelled out, “Go!”

          Without thinking Jiang Cheng dashed across to the other side. Since he didn’t want to have to go a third time, this time he ran without much care. He didn’t even pause when he sensed the fabric slipping off his shoulders mid-run. He raced to the other side in just a few long strides.

          When he turned around he saw the fabric had fallen down in the center of the set.

          Gu Fei stared at his viewfinder, “Amazing.”

          Of the shots he snapped while Jiang Cheng was in motion, there was one in which Jiang Cheng was suspended in mid-air, his legs stretched out in stride, the ‘scarf’ on his body was also in a suspended state between staying on and falling off. It was very dynamic.

          “I can change now?” Jiang Cheng asked.

          “Let’s do another still shot.” Gu Fei thought for a second, then pointed at the armchair toward the back of the room. “Sit there, and wrap the fabric however you want, just once around is fine, you can throw the extra length behind the backrest.”

          “Mm.” Jiang Cheng sat down.

          “Put your arms on the armrests, relax your body, the lazier the better.” Gu Fei looked at him through the lens. “Put one leg over the other.”

          “I don’t usually cross my legs.” Jiang Cheng folded his legs together. “Like this?”

          “Not like that, it’s too girly.” Gu Fei said. “Rest your ankle on the other leg.”

          “Oh,” Jiang Cheng stacked his legs together as instructed and leaned back into the sofa, his head tilted against the cushion, “Is this OK?”

          Gu Fei held the camera and didn’t move for a long while after he pressed the shutter. 

          “You done?” Jiang Cheng asked.

          “Done.” Gu Fei put down the camera. “Can I fix this one up and post it to my Friend Circle?” [3]

          “Huh?” Jiang Cheng was surprised. He knew Gu Fei posted photos often; there were some of Gu Miao, of scenery, and quite a few photos of people too, some he recognized and some he didn’t.

          “This one and the others from this set.” Gu Fei glanced at him. “May I?”

          “Uh… Sure.” Jiang Cheng nodded, then asked after a beat. “Do you often make money by doing photoshoots for people?”

          “Not ‘often’.” Gu Fei said. “I’ve always been.”

          “Oh…” Jiang Cheng suddenly felt a wave of unspeakable emotion wash over him. This gig was the first time in his life that he made any money. He didn’t even go last year when Pan Zhi wanted to drag him to hand out flyers and ‘experience life’ together. “You’re pretty impressive.”

          “Nope.” Gu Fei said simply. “My family has a lot of use for money, just relying on the store is far from enough. Gu Miao needs medicine too.”

          “Does your mom… not work?” Jiang Cheng asked.

          “She’s too busy, gotta go on dates.” Gu Fei laughed to himself. “She hasn’t been to work since my dad died.”

          Jiang Cheng didn’t answer. This was the first time he heard Gu Fei mention his father’s death. So he really was dead.

          Then… how did he die?

          He recalled Li Baoguo’s words, though he didn’t believe them. But… he couldn’t ask about it either, if only Gu Fei was willing to tell him one day of his own volition, just like how he felt about his own problems.

          It was time to change into the next ensemble. Jiang Cheng walked out and quickly came back in a new outfit.

          Gu Fei took one look and had to repress the sudden urge to laugh. He truly didn’t know what Ding Zhuxin was thinking this time.

          “Deranged caveman?” Jiang Cheng spun in a circle helplessly, then pulled out an object from behind his waist and waved it in the air. “She even provided a slingshot? I’m just saying, this has to be a dupe, I bet the shots go wide every time.”

          “Really,” This outfit was such that even Jiang Cheng’s figure and face wasn’t enough to salvage it. Gu Fei couldn’t hold it anymore, he put down the camera, and managed to say between fits of laughter. “Then use yours.”

          As soon as the words left his mouth, he and Jiang Cheng both went silent at the same time.

          The room became so quiet that even the sound of a bubble in the watercooler was like a thunderstrike.

          Gu Fei got a feeling. 

          He was dead meat.


Footnotes:

[1] er-kang hand = meme of this character reaching out his hand dramatically to stop something happening

[2] Chicken = slang for hooker

[3] Friend Circle = the ‘timeline’ of WeChat

Some Stats

* Raw character count: 6362

* TL word count: 4574

* TL time: 5:06:22

* Edit: 1:56:54

* Curse words: 6x fucks, 15x ass, 5x shits

TL Notes

The secret’s out!