“Class-8, Class-8! Dark horse at the gate!”


Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3

        Even though it was Saturday, Jiang Cheng still woke up around the same time as he usually did. When he went downstairs to buy breakfast, he also took the chance to run a couple laps around the neighbourhood.

         There were much more people around at this time of the morning than where Li Baoguo lived, aside from the grandmas and grandpas, there were quite a few young people around too.

         What to have for breakfast was certainly a dilemma. With hands in his pockets, Jiang Cheng walked back and forth in front of the breakfast stands, pondering over what he actually wanted to eat.

         “What about soup dumplings.” A voice said from behind him.

         The voice was very close to him, it practically came from right beside his ear. Jiang Cheng jumped, and reached for his phone and turned around all at the same time.

         It wasn’t until he was staring face to face with the person behind him that he realized the voice belonged to Gu Fei.

         Of course, it wasn’t just the voice, the face also belonged to Gu Fei.

         “The fuck?” Jiang Cheng took a step back in shock, and looked Gu Fei up and down. He took out his phone to check the time. “Did the sun rise from the west today……”

         He raised his head and glanced up at the sky, “Or maybe it just never set yesterday.”

         “Er-Miao got up early today, woke me up with the noise of skateboarding in the apartment.” Gu Fei smiled. “So I came.”

         “Have you eaten?” Jiang Cheng also smiled. For some reason, whenever he saw Gu Fei smile, it made him want to smile too.

         “Are you buying?” Gu Fei asked.

         “You just swindled 50 bucks from me yesterday.” Jiang Cheng glared at him.

         “Fine then,” Gu Fei said. “Soup dumplings?”

         “Soup dumplings, regular dumplings, tofu pudding, fried dough fritters,” Jiang Cheng listed out all the things he was hesitating over in one breath. “One of each, and the braised beef smells pretty good to me too.”

         “Go get a table.” Gu Fei said.

         This neighbourhood was situated in the older part of town, but because the residential buildings were all clustered here, there were a lot of people gathered at the breakfast stands at this time. Jiang Cheng stood at the side and watched for a while, then at the first opening, quickly nabbed two recently vacated stools by a little table. He sat down in one, and put his backpack on the other. [1]

         He was about to signal his location to Gu Fei, when he looked up and noticed that two girls were sitting on the other side of the table from him, and had been looking at him and smiling. When he looked over, they quickly put their heads down again.

         “Here.” Jiang Cheng saw Gu Fei take two trays of dumplings and raised his hand to snap at him.

         Gu Fei walked over and set the things down, “I got everything you mentioned earlier, anything else you want to eat?”

         “Nope.” Jiang Cheng said.

         The two girls across from them kept their heads down. They giggled as they went back and forth pinching each other on the arm and thigh.

         Jiang Cheng went over Gu Fei’s words in his mind, and felt as though he understood what they were going on about.

         Gu Fei continued to pile trays and plates onto the table, which was quickly running out of space.

         “Wang Xu called me,” Gu Fei picked up a soup dumpling and said while he ate. “He’s already there, and he’s the only one.”

         “Did he complain about our disregard for authority and order.” Jiang Cheng picked up a bowl of tofu pudding and took a sip.

         “Very sternly.” Gu Fei nodded.

         The two girls had finished eating, but didn’t seem to be leaving any time soon. They both had their heads down, while playing on their phone. To Jiang Cheng, it looked like they were simply peering across the table through their cameras.

         He was just about to turn his head away to avoid getting caught in all kinds of ugly distorted angles, when Gu Fei looked up at the two girls, “Don’t sneak photos, you’re going to distort the face.”

         “Ah!” The two of them let out a short and suppressed scream.

         “Then can we take photos openly?” One of the girls asked.

         Gu Fei didn’t answer, so the girl lifted her phone and pointed it at the two of them. Jiang Cheng had no choice but to follow Gu Fei’s lead and look into the camera.

         After taking the photo, the girl got up and said smilingly, while stuffing her phone back into her bag, “We’ll be posting it on the Fourth High forum, remember to check it out, we’ll be sure to process it first before posting……”

         After the two girls left, Jiang Cheng glanced over at Gu Fei, “Which class are they from?”

         “Dunno,” Gu Fei said. “They might not even be from our school.”

         “Ah?” Jiang Cheng was stunned.

         “There’s going to be a lot of spectators from outside our school at the game today,” Gu Fei said. “Not to mention, somebody uploaded a video of the match with Class-7. Lots of people know about that head-dunk moment of yours, they’re gonna want to come watch.”

         “…… Shit.” Jiang Cheng felt a little dazed.

         “I asked Li Yan to come take photos today.” Gu Fei said. “I promised Jiuri I’d find someone to take photos of him.”

         “He’ll probably unleash his hidden potential when he sees the camera.” Jiang Cheng chuckled.

         “You’ll have to unleash your potential too,” Gu Fei tilted his head and looked at him. “This is the only tournament I participated in since I came to Fourth High, lots of people are going to be watching.”

         “Mmn.” Jiang Cheng nodded solemnly, then said after some contemplation. “If you hadn’t joined, would I have had to partner up with Wang Xu?”

         Gu Fei didn’t answer. He couldn’t stop laughing while still holding a dumpling on his chopsticks.

         The game didn’t start until 10 AM, but the spectators filled the field long before then. Jiang Cheng and the others could only warm up for half an hour before there were so many people that they no longer had any space to practice.

         Looking out at the people that crowded the field, Jiang Cheng sincerely felt that the students around here were too idle. If it was his old school, he could count on one hand the number of students who would have time on the weekend to watch the basketball tournament of another school, played between their own classes.

         Fourth High had set up this final match rather formally. They even brought in bleachers from who-knows-where and placed them around the sides of the court. When Jiang Cheng and the guys headed in toward the rest area, he could see the bleachers were already filled to the brim with people, with quite a few of them standing from the lack of seats.

         At 9:30, Li Yan arrived at the rest area carrying Gu Fei’s camera bag, “Look at this setup, you’d think this is a legitimate city-wide competition or something……”

         “Make sure you get some good photos of Wang Xu.” Gu Fei said.

         “That will depend on how he plays,” Li Yan said as he assembled the lens. “I’m not you, you can make a cow look aesthetic. I’ll just make him look however he looks.”

         “And the other guys too,” Gu Fei continued. “Take lots of photos, it’s a rare occurrence that our class could make it to the final match.”

         “Got it.” Li Yan held up the camera and peered all around. “It’s also a rare occurrence for you to care about something this much.”

         Before the game started, as if he wanted to milk the moment for as much as it had, Principal Liu even gave a brief speech, introducing to the spectators the teams in the final game of the tournament.

         One is the reigning champion with no losses on their record, and the other is a dark horse that burst out of nowhere.

         Listening to Principal Liu’s introduction, Jiang Cheng somehow started feeling nervous. It didn’t help that the cheering squad from both sides didn’t stop chanting throughout Principal Liu’s speech.

         Yi Jing, who was usually soft-spoken and even a little shy, was uncharacteristically open and unrestrained as the head of their cheering squad; she was even able to call out the most embarrassing chants in the most righteous way.

         “Class-8, Class-8! Dark horse at the gate!”

         “Class-8, Class-8! Handsomest in the state!”

         The chant was such that Jiang Cheng couldn’t even lift his head up. He sat with his elbows braced on his knees and stared at his shoes.

         “Cheng-ge.” Gu Fei called to him, and very discreetly extended a hand to him from under the seats. 

         Jiang Cheng’s mind was full of the plays they were going to put on later, and upon seeing his hand, didn’t immediately make the connection. He reached out his own hand and dug into Gu Fei’s palm with his finger. 

         “…… Give me five.” Gu Fei said.

         “Ah.” Only then did Jiang Cheng collect himself, and lightly slapped Gu Fei’s hand with his own.

         “Pay attention to He Zhou,” Gu Fei said. “He’s their point guard. Like you, he can pretty much do everything, and he’s fast too.”

         “Mmn, make sure you don’t keep going in straight lines today.” Jiang Cheng nodded. He didn’t plan out a specific strategy for this game. When faced with a well-oiled machine like the Class-2 team, with Class-8’s current abilities, any strategy of theirs would immediately get messed up on the court. For this game, they could only hope to rely on the tacit teamwork they’ve developed over these weeks, and adjust as they go. 

         “Yes sir.” Gu Fei said.

         The captain on each team had started to pick sides. Wang Xu won, and in a rare moment of clarity, chose the side that faced away from the sun. 

         “Gu Fei does the jump.” Jiang Cheng said before they went on.

         “ADD OIL!” Wang Xu roared.

         “ADD OIL!” The rest of them followed suit and yelled out in unison. They took their jackets off and stepped onto the court.

         It was a rather gratifying feeling. Jiang Cheng didn’t like to be surrounded and gawked at, but was not against showing off. As they took their place in the center of the field, he could even hear the clicking sound of shutters among the cheering and screaming of the crowd. He felt an instant gratification.

         The player chosen to do the jump from Class-2 was about the same height as Gu Fei, but he noticed from the last game that this guy was exceptionally gifted at jumping. On this point alone, he had no match in anyone from Class-8.

         Sure enough, after the referee tossed the ball into the air, this grasshopper’s initial jumping height had exceeded Gu Fei by about a palm’s width…… and he hit the pall toward He Zhou.

         It was possible for Jiang Cheng, according to his own judgement, to cut in and intercept this ball. But just as he strode over and extended his arm, He Zhou suddenly accelerated, and in the same instant that his hand touched the ball, it was slapped away to the side.

         The grasshopper that at some point already left the midline now took possession of the ball.

         Fuck! Jiang Cheng cursed in his mind, and exchanged a glance with Gu Fei. Gu Fei immediately took off after the grasshopper in the direction of the basket.

         Jiang Cheng didn’t follow right away, but attached himself to He Zhou’s side. On one hand, Jiang Cheng wanted to keep him from receiving another pass, and on the other hand, he wanted to see just how fast this guy was.

         Class-2’s offense was very polished. After the ball exchanged hands another two times, the grasshopper brought the ball around Gu Fei and jumped to make a shot.

         Amidst a wave of screams, Gu Fei suddenly jumped up right behind the guy. Jiang Cheng’s heart almost skipped a beat. With this position, it was way too easy to commit a foul, he could hit the guy’s hand if he wasn’t careful.

         However, since the grasshopper had been briefly hindered by Gu Fei before the jump, his jumping height wasn’t exactly the best this time.

         Amen!

         Jiang Cheng temporarily abandoned He Zhou, and rushed over to Gu Fei’s left side.

         Gu Fei jumped very high. After he leapt up from behind the grasshopper, he landed a clean slap on the ball and swept it to the side. Jiang Cheng jumped up amidst a torrent of screams and caught the ball, he yelled out, “Wang Xu!”

         Wang Xu was at midcourt. After hearing this shout, he turned right away and started running back.

         Jiang Cheng walked the ball forward a few steps, and from the corner of his eyes saw He Zhou coming his way. He shot his hand out and lobbed the ball in Wang Xu’s direction. 

         Don’t let us down, captain!

         Amen amen amen-men!

         Wang Xu jumped up mid-sprint, reached out, and caught the pass that was long as well as high.

         Class-8’s cheering squad suddenly jumped up. The rhythmic “add oil” they had been chanting instantly turned into a chorus of “AaaHHHHhhhh——”

         Class-2’s defense was very quick, but Wang Xu took advantage of his head start. By the time he arrived at the other basket, there was only one person there to head him off. If he took a shot at this point, there was a high probability of scoring.

         However, Wang Xu hesitated at the last second, and instead made a backhanded pass to Gu Fei, who had just crossed the three-point line.

         Gu Fei’s purpose there was clearly to catch any rebounds and take up space under the basket. He did not anticipate it when Wang Xu’s pass suddenly came to him, he didn’t even have a chance to adjust his forward momentum.

         He received this ball with a backhand catch, and before he could get a firmer grip on it, it was intercepted by a player from Class-2, who wore his wristband on his bicep. 

         Next was passing, and quick attack. When He Zhou scored a 3-pointer, nobody from Class-8 had even had a chance to get close to him.

         This first score of the game had the spectators erupting in applause and screams.

         As Guo Xu got ready to make the rebound, Jiang Cheng walked to Wang Xu’s side, “This game can’t just depend on me and Gu Fei.”

         Wang Xu nodded in silence. It was clear that his mistake was heartwrenching to him, he almost wrenched his expression into a clockwise crumple. Jiang Cheng clapped him on the shoulder, “You could’ve scored that shot just now.”

         “Mhm!” Wang Xu gave his head a shake and immediately recovered. “That’s how I fucking felt too.”

         Guo Xu set the rebound, the ball was now in Jiang Cheng’s hands. He turned, but didn’t rush to move. He pointed to the side with his left hand, and Wang Xu immediately ran to the midcourt, getting ready to receive the pass. With a flourish, Jiang Cheng passed the ball to Gu Fei on the other side, then charged forward toward the basket.

         These days of practice had elevated Wang Xu’s intellect too. He didn’t act shocked that Jiang Cheng used him as a feint again, but ran straight up to the basket.

         The grasshopper had attached himself to Gu Fei’s back. Gu Fei didn’t move with the ball either, but instead turned in place with his arm out as a guard. As Lu Xiaobin came up to relieve him, he passed the ball to Jiang Cheng, who was just about to approach the 3-point line. 

         Jiang Cheng caught the ball, and immediately the arm-band guy came to intercept. Jiang Cheng sighed in his mind. Class-2’s reigning champion title wasn’t for nothing. Even after all that, he still couldn’t shake off their speedy defense.

         He already lost the chance to take a shot on the 3-pointer line. He glanced at the markings on the ground, clenched his jaw, and suddenly launched the ball toward the basket, while still standing a meter away from the 3-point line.

         Gu Fei was without a guard at the moment, he could go get the rebound, he thought.

         But just as Gu Fei rushed over, the ball impacted with a loud noise against the backboard, and bounced into the basket.

         “Fuck.” Jiang Cheng was a little surprised himself.

         The spectators on all sides erupted in waves of cheers, so loud that it swallowed the sound of Wang Xu charging up to him and shouting “Jiang Cheng YOU FUCKING BOSS” to his face.

         Gu Fei jogged up to him, a smile played on the corner of his mouth. As he ran past him, he kept his palm facing forward, and said, “You the boss, three-pointer king.”

         “Let’s do that again,” Jiang Cheng met him halfway and gave his hand a slap, even bumped his shoulder on the way. “From the right side to the baseline.”

         “Mmn.” Gu Fei answered.

         Getting a 3-pointer from the baseline was a little difficult, but the defense had to be more lax than at the center.

         Class-2 was unlike the other teams they went up against. For one thing, the abilities of their players were evenly spread out, every person could carry their own weight. It would be hard to intercept a ball from their hands.

         Two times Jiang Cheng had tried to cut off He Zhou’s trajectory without success. With the grasshopper providing cover, He Zhou returned the favour with a 3-pointer of their own.

         “DON’T RUSH IT!” Lao-Lu’s voice boomed from between the sounds of screaming. Perhaps because it was the final match, he wasn’t so brash as to speak through a megaphone this time. “HOLD STEADY! CLASS-8, CLASS-8, HANDSOMEST IN THE STATE——”

         Jiang Cheng was reluctant to even turn to face him. There were only two lines in the chant, yet Lao-Lu picked out the most embarrassing one to shout.

         This score from Class-2 had people both inside and outside the court in a state of excitement. When Guo Xu passed the ball to Jiang Cheng it was shot out with a force akin to a cannonball. 

         As he turned around, he saw that He Zhou had planted himself right in his path.

         Such a quick reaction.

         Jiang Cheng dribbled the ball in place a couple of times and charged straight toward He Zhou. He got all the way up to his face, then just as He Zhou was about to intercept the ball, Jiang Cheng leaned forward as if going for a hug, but his hand hooked over the side and he passed the ball to Gu Fei behind him, who had already begun running toward the basket.

         The pass was a little low; Gu Fei almost stumbled when he caught the ball.

         Jiang Cheng followed up right away, but He Zhou was hot on his trail. Gu Fei didn’t have a chance to pass the ball back, so without hesitation, he gave the ball to a madly approaching Wang Xu.

         Wang Xu’s brain was clocking at above average speed at this moment. At the same time as he caught the pass, he flung the ball back to Gu Fei’s hand.

         This one back-and-forth gave He Zhou a moment of hesitation. Jiang Cheng quickly shook him off and charged to the baseline from the right side.

         Before he managed to steady his stance, Gu Fei already threw the ball to him.

         From this position, Jiang Cheng was practically on the same line as the backboard. The players from Class-2 immediately swooped into the three-second area.

         This was exactly what he was going for!

         Jiang Cheng stared at the rim of the basket, lifted his hand, and without a moment of hesitation threw the ball out.

         The shouts from the spectators seemed to be coming from directly behind his back, the decibel of which shot up in an arc that followed the trajectory of the ball, finally reaching a crescendo as the ball landed in the basket.

         “Great shot!” Jiang Cheng called out in a low voice, he brought down the arm that was still in the air in a gesture of triumph, and cheered for himself. “Fuck!”

         The consecutive 3-pointers kindled everyone’s fighting spirits.

         There was no landslide difference on the court at the moment. Class-2’s skills and cooperation were indeed much better than Class-8, but since they’ve never lost a game and would never let the winning title go to anyone else, their players were also under much greater pressure. In comparison, the players on Class-8 were relatively freer in their play. Win or lose, they were already the dark horse. They were under no pressure, all they had to do was let loose and play.

         Even the usually quiet Lu Xiaobin was at the moment shouting loudly as he ran with the ball, like a door-spirit on drugs. Jiang Cheng kept thinking that he might accidentally swallow up the opponents around him if he wasn’t careful. [2]

         Neither side called for intermission or a change. They both wanted to keep up the momentum while the spirit was up to get as many points as possible.

         The scores were still practically head to head. Class-8 continued to be behind on the points, but never by much, they kept up the difference of one or two points throughout the whole game. 

         At three minutes before the end of the first half, Gu Fei charged up to the basket with two players from Class-2 blocking him, and successfully overtook the other team’s score by one point.

         In the midst of the crazed screaming from the crowd, Class-2 called for a break.

         He Zhou stopped Jiang Cheng as he was walking to the resting area, “You should join the school team.”

         “Hm?” Jiang Cheng drew a blank.

         “You should join the school team.” He Zhou repeated.

         It took a while for Jiang Cheng’s mind to process this, “What, I mean, you’re saying this to me now?”

         “I wanted to say it after the game,” He Zhou said. “But I’m a little overexcited right now.”

         “…… We’ll talk about it after the tournament then.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “What do you say we play another game after this is done?” He Zhou asked. “You, me, Gu Fei, Tang Xiwei, and Song Yu can be on one team.”

         “Song Yu?” Jiang Cheng couldn’t remember who this Song Yu was.

         “He plays center,” He Zhou pointed at the grasshopper. “How about it?”

         Jiang Cheng stared at the grasshopper in shock. Who knew the kind of expectations his parents had to give him such a name, but he had the urge to give Pan Zhi a call to tell him to get his ass over here and become sworn brothers with Song Yu…… [3]

         “We’ll see after the game,” Jiang Cheng said. “Let’s finish it seriously.”

         “I’ve been serious… fine then,” He Zhou clapped him on the shoulder. “Let’s finish the game first.”

         Jiang Cheng clenched his teeth and almost grabbed his own arm so as to not slap He Zhou’s hand away out of reflex. 

         “What did he say to you?” Gu Fei was crouching by the side of the court, and stood up as Jiang Cheng jogged over.

         “Wanted me to join the school team, and said he wants to play another match after this game.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “So eager,” Gu Fei chuckled. “Though he’s always been this way.”

         “He’s on the school team?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         “Mhm, team captain.” Gu Fei said. “Just like you were.” 

         Jiang Cheng gave him a look but didn’t say anything.

         “You guys need to stop running to the same place,” Li Yan said holding the camera. “Create some distance, when you run don’t just pay attention to the other team and yourself, keep tabs on where your teammates are, you have to make sure you’re open to receive a pass at any time.”

         “Mhm!” Everyone nodded their understanding.

         “If someone is in trouble, one person is enough to help out, don’t all crowd together.” Li Yan pointed at Guo Xu. “Like you, if somebody is already going to relieve them you just keep running and prepare to receive a pass.”

         “Got it!” Guo Xu nodded.

         “You two,” Li Yan looked at Gu Fei and Jiang Cheng, but after a long pause couldn’t think of what to say. “You two just keep on showing off.”

         “Yan-ge,” Wang Xu looked at the camera in Li Yan’s hands. “You must’ve taken lots of photos today huh?”

         Li Yan gave him a sideways glance, “Rest assured it’s enough for you to make an album of it. Three photos a day for a whole month without repeats.”

         “Even though I’m the captain, you can’t just take photos of me only,” Wang Xu said. “You can take some of Gu Fei ah, and Jiang Cheng ah, and our other teammates……”

         “Did you throw all your brain cells into the basket?” Li Yan interrupted him impatiently.

         Jiang Cheng laughed and turned his head, just in time to see Yi Jing standing behind Gu Fei with a bottle of water. He was about to speak up and let Gu Fei know, when Yi Jing handed the water to him with a smile, “Here, you take this.”

         “Thanks.” Jiang Cheng took the water, and while drinking, glanced over at Gu Fei’s collarbone.

         Who knows if his wound would be alright after a game… He saw the corner of the gauze peeking out of Gu Fei’s collar, there was blood on it.

         “Shit,” He frowned and leaned over to tug open Gu Fei’s collar and look inside. There wasn’t a lot of blood, but it was still more than a smudge. “You……”

         Before he even finished, a wave of screaming from the girls nearby sounded in his ears.

         Jiang Cheng remembered himself and immediately withdrew his hand and took a step back. 

         “What’s wrong, what’s wrong?” Wang Xu noticed the commotion right away. He pounced in front of Gu Fei and yanked at his collar. “I……”

         The sound of girls screaming instantly went up a level, then became a torrent of laughter.

         “Time’s up.” Li Yan dragged Wang Xu away with one hand.

         Jiang Cheng put down his bottle of water. He could still feel the eyes on his back as he walked onto the court, it burned into his skin and made him uneasy all over.

         It was true that he had lots of uncontrollable thoughts and impulses when it came to Gu Fei, wanting to get closer to him and be intimate with him, and maybe more. But this feeling from being surrounded and screamed at from a simple mindless gesture was still… a little panic-inducing.

         He struggled internally for a long time, and ultimately had to thank the universe that arranged to put Wang Xu beside him.

         He was grateful to Wang Xu, whose head was missing a whole instrument, for saving him from the frantic awkwardness…… [4]

         “It’s fine.” Gu Fei said beside him.

         “Did it tear?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         “Maybe,” Gu Fei said. “I didn’t even feel anything.”

         “…… Will it affect you when you’re doing the moronic building-hopping?” Jiang Cheng sighed.

         “A little, maybe,” Gu Fei said. “But when it comes to that, if I don’t get at least a little hurt by the end of it, Monkey won’t let it go either.”

         Jiang Cheng looked at him without a word.

         “Cheng-ge,” Gu Fei ran toward the center of the court and turned back to look at him, then suddenly pointed very solemnly at Class-2’s basket. “Screw them!”

         “Fuck,” Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but burst out laughing. He pointed as well. “Screw them!”


Footnotes:

[1] Some notes about breakfast stall culture in China (only if you want to know)

[2] hahahaha ok so if you remember, Lu Xiaobin is the super tall brickhouse, hence, “door spirit”.

[3] As mentioned previously, Pan Zhi liked to write his name as Pan An, who was famously the most beautiful man of ancient China. Well, Song Yu was a poet from the Warring States period who was also among the top four most beautiful men 🙂

[4] “His brain is missing a string” is used to refer to someone who’s not very smart, or easily gullible. The string here refers to the string of a qin instrument which typically has 7 strings. So you can guess what it means that Wang Xu’s head was missing the whole instrument XD

Some Stats

  • Raw character count: 6362
  • TL word count: 4666
  • TL time: 5:53:53
  • Edit: pending orz
  • Curse words: 7x fucks, 2x shit, 1x ass

TL’s Notes

if anyone was reading a few days ago while i was having an identity crisis over the blog themes, sorry! I went through like 20 and ended up right back where I started, just with some diff colours XD

there might be some bugs and mistakes, will do a thorough edit later when I have more time orz