“Rub-a-dub-dub, hush little cub.”
Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3
Being at rock bottom of your pit of emotions wasn’t the worst thing, even worse than that was having your mood drop straight from the mountaintop to the rock bottom.
Jiang Cheng’s good mood had smashed into a million pieces from the fall, not leaving a single trace behind.
It had been a long time since Jiang Cheng felt such an intense lump in his throat. He sat with Gu Fei in the lobby for almost ten minutes, and still couldn’t manage to snap out of it.
Li Baoguo’s illness, he could pretty much determine what it was; it must’ve been lung cancer. Jiang Cheng stared down at his fingers. Li Baoguo’s lungs were in a poor condition, he coughed all day long, and now terms like “radiation therapy” were appearing.
Jiang Cheng felt like he was at the very bottom of a whirlpool, with chaos all around him, but eerie silence in his ears.
He understood very well why Gu Fei wouldn’t let him go over just then.
There was only so much money on that card of his. It was enough for tuition and day to day expenses, but he didn’t have any income. Before he can seriously make a living to feed himself, every single expense had to be taken out from this sum.
He didn’t know if Li Baoguo still owed the hospital anything, but if he did go over at the time, he could pretty much imagine how that would unfold.
This was different from Li Baoguo getting surrounded and beaten up. Back then, partly for venting, and partly to help Li Baoguo, he could rush over and get in a fight with other people, but what about now?
A security guard stepped out of the elevator, jogged to the entrance of the inpatient wing, brought two police officers with him, then entered the elevator again with the officers in tow.
“Let’s go.” Jiang Cheng rubbed his face hard a few times, then stood up. He didn’t want to stick around to see the officers escort Li Baoguo out.
Gu Fei got up and walked out of the hospital with him.
Coming out of the hospital, Jiang Cheng headed straight for the bus stop, but Gu Fei held him back, “Let’s take a taxi.”
“Oh.” Jiang Cheng stopped, and stood by and watched as Gu Fei flagged down a taxi.
“Coming to eat at my place?” Gu Fei asked him once they were in the car.
“Nah.” Jiang Cheng felt like his head was swelling.
“Then I’ll go with you to get some food later?” Gu Fei asked again.
“I don’t really have an appetite right now,” Jiang Cheng closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m going straight to Li Baoguo’s place later to wait for him. If he’s taken away by the cops, he’ll probably be back by evening.”
“Mmn.” Gu Fei looked like he was going to say more, but after taking in a deep breath, didn’t end up saying anything else.
The car stopped at the intersection, and the two of them got off.
Jiang Cheng glanced at the road that led to Li Baoguo’s home. Ever since he picked up his stuff from Li Baoguo’s place that day, he hadn’t been on that street again.
Looking down the street now, there was a sort of crumbling peacefulness to it. There were warm yellow lights that glowed within the buildings on either side, and what looked like units of peaceful families. Yet underneath all that, what the people were like, and what kind of homes they had, that was beyond imagination.
“I’m heading over then,” Jiang Cheng slung his backpack onto his shoulder, as if cementing his resolve. “You should go back to the store, I’ll call you when I’m done.”
“Alright,” Gu Fei answered. Jiang Cheng turned to leave, but Gu Fei called out again hesitantly. “Cheng-ge.”
“Hm?” Jiang Cheng turned around to face him.
“I don’t know what you’re thinking,” Gu Fei said gently. “This might not be suitable for me to say, but I still want to remind you.”
“Go ahead.” Jiang Cheng smiled.
“Don’t hand over money just yet,” Gu Fei said. “Li Baoguo really might not use the money for his treatment. You might not have met the kind of people who would put their own lives behind a lot of other things, but he’s one of them.”
Jiang Cheng looked at him, then nodded after a while.
“He has two other children,” Gu Fei said. “If you want to do something, consider it only after looking at your older brother and sister’s stances first. You have to…… learn to leave a path for yourself.”
“Understood.” Jiang Cheng walked back to the car and stood in front of Gu Fei, looking at him.
“Don’t think that I’m cold for saying this,” Gu Fei said. “I grew up here. These people, these things, I’ve seen way too much of it. I’m used to assessing things like this. You don’t have to be as extreme as me, but you can’t be too naive about it either.”
When Gu Fei was saying these words, there was an unfamiliar air about him, but it still made Jiang Cheng feel warm. He reached out and squeezed Gu Fei’s arm, “I got it.”
When Gu Fei returned to the store, the other guys had already finished preparing the food. Gu Miao had already eaten, and had been dispatched to the inner chamber by Li Yan to write her homework.
“What’s going on with Li Baoguo?” Luo Yu asked when he saw Gu Fei walk in.
“Dunno, lung cancer probably,” Gu Fei went out to wash his hands in the courtyard, then headed in to sit with Gu Miao for a while, before coming back out and sitting down at the table. “We drinking?”
“Of course we’re drinking!” Chen Jie picked up two bottles from the floor and set it on the table. “We’ve just been waiting for you to come back to start.”
“Don’t I have drinks here.” Gu Fei said.
“Li Yan wouldn’t let us.” Zhao Yihui laughed beside him.
“You just like taking advantage of people all the time.” Li Yan said.
“Go ahead and take advantage,” Gu Fei ladled out some soup for himself. “Never did pay you guys any salary for helping out here.”
“That’s a different matter,” Luo Yu opened a bottle, and started pouring into each cup. “How come Jiang Cheng didn’t come along?”
“How could he still show up here,” Li Yan tsked. “What, should he come and listen to us discuss whether Li Baoguo is gonna die?”
“Honestly, I never would’ve known. He just looks like that all the time, his face looks unwell too.” Chen Jie said. “I was here last week when I ran into him after a whole night of gambling, his cards are more important than his life.”
“Has Li Hui and Li Qian come back?” Li Yan asked.
“Haven’t seen them.” Gu Fei said.
It seemed like other than the card playing career he devoted himself to even through his struggling health, there really were very little else Li Baoguo bothered to keep up with. After lunch Gu Fei flipped through the notebook of the store’s owing tabs. Li Baoguo hasn’t been here since the last time he came by to buy yogurt.
It had been a long time, it would seem that his condition really was serious this time. Gu Fei closed the notebook. If it really was lung cancer…… he’d already been coughing for such a long time, long enough that Gu Fei couldn’t remember what he was like when he didn’t cough, though his voice had been hoarse through the better part of this past year. Based on his usual habits and way of life, if it was lung cancer, there was no way it was early stage.
He took out his phone and opened up his chat with Jiang Cheng. There was still no news from Jiang Cheng, though it had only been a span of a meal’s time, Li Baoguo might not even be back yet…… He kept scrolling through their messages until he reached the very top.
There weren’t that many messages between them. They sat beside each other during the day, and in the evenings they usually started talking directly on the phone after exchanging a few messages. However, for every message, Gu Fei could remember exactly how he felt at the time.
“Jiang Cheng has some money on hand right now?” Li Yan sat down beside him.
“Mhm, some, his adoptive mother gave it to him before.” Gu Fei said.
“Tell him not to be stupid and hand the money over to Li Baoguo for treatment,” Li Yan said. “That guy, he won’t put it to good use for sure. He’ll just use it to gamble.”
“I already told him,” Gu Fei tossed his phone onto the counter. “It’s up to him now.”
“Why do I feel like it’s likely,” Li Yan said. “The kid might look full of himself, but really he’s just a young master from a big city. Even in his wildest dreams, he can’t imagine the kind of person an environment like the Steel Works can produce.”
“What are you so concerned for,” Gu Fei glanced at him. “Even if he hands over money, it won’t be to you.”
“I’m reflecting on life,” Li Yan gave a smile, and raised his arms up in a stretch. “Just trying to share your worry. You’re not even playing your game anymore, just sitting here blanking out.”
“Go away.” Gu Fei said.
“Can I say another thing before I go away?” Li Yan said.
Gu Fei didn’t respond.
“If he really wants to give Li Baoguo money, don’t try to hold him back too much,” Li Yan said. “In case he thinks you’re too heartless. The way Li Baoguo is going, he’s just headed for death. Why leave a thorn in his heart.”
“Do you know why you’re so skinny.” Gu Fei said.
“I’m not skinny.” Li Yan grabbed some flesh on his own waist.
“If you don’t strain yourself worrying so much, you might grow some meat on those bones.” Gu Fei said.
Li Yan laughed, “Why the hell did I become bros with someone like you, can never get a good word in return.”
“Thanks.” Gu Fei gave him a smile.
The battery in his phone was down to 9%. Jiang Cheng glanced at the time, then took out his portable charger and connected it to his phone, and stuffed it back into his backpack.
He had already been sitting on the stone stump under the tree outside Li Baoguo’s apartment for two hours. Fortunately it was already past the evening rush, there were not many neighbours walking around.
He could make a trip back to his apartment, he hadn’t gotten rid of the key to Li Baoguo’s place. But frankly he would rather not sit by himself in that place that stank of mold, smelling the various bizarre smells that would drift past from time to time from the lack of tidying.
It was a place that was clearly inhabited, but lacked any sign of the living. Just thinking about it made him uncomfortable all over, and if he stayed there for a while longer, he’d feel depressed through and through.
Another half hour later, when the cigarette in his hand was almost out, he finally saw Li Baoguo’s silhouette approaching from the main street.
It was strange indeed, that he was able to recognize Li Baoguo simply from a backlit figure.
Li Baoguo was walking very slowly. When he passed the building he frequented to play cards, he looked up and shouted a couple of times at the second floor. Somebody’s head popped out, and he exchanged a few more shouts with that person. Jiang Cheng was only able to make out the words “I’ll be back later”, after which Li Baoguo continued walking this way.
Jiang Cheng stubbed out his cigarette and stood up. Li Baoguo’s eyes never looked this way, only when he stood up, did Li Baoguo shoot a startled glance toward him, then froze.
“You’re…… back, ah.” Jiang Cheng wasn’t sure how to open the conversation.
“You? Who’s ‘you’?” Li Baoguo was swinging a bottle in his hand, his words were aggressive right out the gate. “You you you you, who are you calling?”
Jiang Cheng didn’t answer, he could smell the stench of alcohol.
Li Baoguo let out a torrent of coughs in Jiang Cheng’s direction once he finished talking, it sounded heart-wrenching, and was furthermore punctuated by gurgles of phlegm stuck in his throat.
Jiang Cheng didn’t back away. He waited quietly for Li Baoguo’s intentional or otherwise bout of coughs to run its course, then said, “I wanted to speak with you.”
“Speak with me,” Li Baoguo smirked, then spat out a mouthful of phlegm at his feet. “How refined, I don’t understand what you mean by speak with me.”
Jiang Cheng was quiet again.
It wasn’t that he wanted to be quiet, but the way Li Baoguo was, he had no idea how he should begin again, nor did he know what his next sentence should be.
Li Baoguo didn’t say anything else. After another coughing fit, he turned and walked into the corridor.
Jiang Cheng walked around the phlegm on the ground, and followed him into the corridor, then into the apartment.
As soon as he entered and saw the bleak mess, he felt a wave of discomfort coming over him. He walked over and opened the closed windows.
“So your feathers have filled in huh, having a good time flying?” Li Baoguo plopped down onto the sofa. “Happened to fly past my place so you decided to drop in and check if I’ve died yet?”
“What’s going on with your illness?” Jiang Cheng asked him directly.
“Aha,” Li Baoguo started laughing, which was followed by another bout of coughing. “My youngest son finally found out I’m sick huh?”
Only under the indoor lighting did Jiang Cheng realize that Li Baoguo had lost a lot of weight, but his face and neck were a little swollen.
“Lung cancer, late stage.” Li Baoguo got up to pour some water. The water came out of the hot water thermos, but didn’t release a hint of steam. “Don’t have many months left, the bullshit doctor wanted me to have surgery earlier, I didn’t agree. What fucking surgery, what fucking good is surgery for cancer! And now they’re saying my body won’t be able to stand the surgery, wanted me to do radiation or something. Bullshit! They’re just going in circles trying to con my money!”
Jiang Cheng was so stunned that he didn’t even know how to respond. He didn’t know how long Li Baoguo had dragged this illness on for, that it changed from operable, to surgery no longer being an option due to the state of his health……
“I did some research,” Jiang Cheng picked up the kettle on the table and peered inside, making sure there were no spiders, cockroaches, or anything else in there, before filling it with water to boil in the kitchen. “For lung cancer, if you cooperate well with the doctor, it can extend……”
“Bull fucking shit!” Li Baoguo cut him off. “All that studying must’ve made you dumb! Right now, your old man can’t even sit still while playing cards, chest hurts like all hell, can’t even fall asleep. So fucking extend for what! And you wanna give money to the hospital! You’re a dumbass just waiting for people to scam your money in the future! If you have so much money why don’t you give any to your old man!”
Jiang Cheng braced himself against the table, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. It took a lot of suppressing to push his emotions back down, “Then what are you thinking?”
“I’m telling you!” Li Baoguo jabbed a finger at him. “My whole life, I’ve been living it the way I want, I get to curse at whoever I damn like, and beat up anyone I want! My life is carefree!”
Jiang Cheng looked at him, and couldn’t find the connection between these sentences and the current topic at hand.
“You don’t have to pretend to care and persuade me to get treatment,” Li Baoguo said as he began to cough again. After a while he spat another mouthful of phlegm on the floor, then rubbed it out with his shoes. “And I don’t have that kind of money to treat it. I have three kids, and not one of them has any conscience!”
There was practically a storm happening in Jiang Cheng’s stomach as he quickly turned his head, but unfortunately he still caught a glimpse of the speck of blood on the floor.
“You should have medical insurance, right?” Jiang Cheng said.
“You think having insurance means I don’t have to pay?” Li Baoguo glared at him. “There’s still a whole bunch of those out-of-pocket medications! Doctors are all fucking black-hearted, they only prescribe you out-of-pocket meds!”
“Doctors are trying to treat the condition, they’re not going to just……” Jiang Cheng felt it was impossible to communicate with Li Baoguo.
“What did you come here to say today?” Li Baoguo cut him off. “Talked a bunch of nonsense, what’s your point?”
“I just wanted to ask about your condition.” Jiang Cheng said.
“I thought you had a rude awakening and thought to give some money for your father’s treatment,” Li Baoguo chortled. “Turns out you’re just here to find out how long much longer it is until I die.”
Jiang Cheng closed his eyes and took a moment to ground his thoughts.
After a minute, he opened his eyes again and looked at Li Baoguo, “Give Li Hui and Li Qian a call, tell them to find a time to come back here and discuss……”
“YOU DON’T GET TO GIVE ME FUCKING ORDERS!” Li Baoguo screamed out, his voice was hoarse with phlegm. “It’s not up to you to……”
“YOU SHUT UP!” Jiang Cheng suddenly kicked over the table in front of him, and also screamed out while pointing at him. “You! Shut your mouth!”
Li Baoguo froze, and went quiet.
“If you want to treat this, call them back, and we can talk about what to do,” Jiang Cheng was still pointing at him. “If you no longer want to treat this, that’s up to you! If I’m giving money it’ll be to the hospital directly. Don’t even think about me giving you money so you can use it to gamble!”
Li Baoguo looked at him with a hint of a sneer, as though he’d said something extremely amusing.
Jiang Cheng didn’t pay him any more attention. He went into the kitchen, and after the water boiled, he poured it into the hot water thermos, then slammed the door as he left.
It wasn’t that he cared very much for Li Baoguo, he was only afraid that if he left just like that, Li Baoguo might turn around and forget about the kettle completely as he rushed out the door to play cards. Then either the kettle will dry up and set fire to the whole apartment, or the water will overflow and snuff out the fire, giving rise to some good old carbon monoxide.
It wasn’t after he went out the door and walked against the night wind for a stretch toward Gu Fei’s store, that the trouble that filled his head and heart finally dissipated somewhat.
He turned into the side street, and pulled out his phone as he walked.
A soft whistle sounded from the shadow of a tree on the left side of the road. He turned around, and saw Gu Fei leaning by a wall.
“What are you doing here?” Jiang Cheng walked over.
“Waiting for you.” Gu Fei smiled.
Seeing Gu Fei’s smile, Jiang Cheng instantly felt much lighter. All kinds of complicated emotions he couldn’t quite make sense of or explain all rushed up all of a sudden.
He went up and pulled Gu Fei into an embrace.
Gu Fei squeezed him in his arms, gently patted him a few times on the back, then backed up into the shadow of the tree with his arms still around Jiang Cheng, “How did it go?”
“Dunno how to explain,” Jiang Cheng knocked his chin against Gu Fei’s shoulder hard a few times, then tipped his head and bit Gu Fei on the neck. “You’ve been drinking eh, boyfriend.”
“Mhm, had one drink,” Gu Fei said while smiling. “I brushed my teeth before I came out, you can still smell it?”
“No shit, the smell is on your person.” Jiang Cheng said.
“Then shall I take my clothes off?” Gu Fei said.
“Try to be civil,” Jiang Cheng tsked. “I was just wondering, not repulsed.”
“Are you going home?” Gu Fei asked. “I’ll walk you back.”
“Li Yan and the others left already?” Jiang Cheng let go of him and straightened his clothes.
“Left a while ago,” Gu Fei said. “Went to sing karaoke. I closed the store down already, took Er-Miao back too.”
“How about,” Jiang Cheng let out a soft sigh. “You come hang out at my place tonight, I don’t wanna be by myself.”
“Alright.” Gu Fei nodded.
There was potential for it to be a very pleasant evening, a great opportunity for rolling around, rubbing around, nibbling around, kissing around, and feeling around. But since Jiang Cheng’s mood was even more decrepit than Li Baoguo’s home, he didn’t feel like moving after only a few laps of rolling around on the bed with Gu Fei.
“How about I help you,” Jiang Cheng reached a hand inside Gu Fei’s pants. “I……”
“Hey,” Gu Fei chuckled and grabbed his hand. “With how upset you are right now, even if it makes me feel good, it’ll make me wonder if I didn’t pay you enough or something.”
“Get out!” Jiang Cheng pulled his hand away and flopped backward on the bed. “Fuck! Come here and massage your Master Cheng’s legs.”
“Alrighty!” Gu Fei sat up, and set one of Jiang Cheng’s legs on top of his own, and gently kneaded it a couple times. “Master Cheng sir, is this pressure OK?”
“Continue,” Jiang Cheng waved his hand with his eyes closed. “There will be a bonus if you make me feel good.”
Gu Fei smiled and didn’t say anything more, just continued kneading his leg.
Jiang Cheng lay for a while with his eyes shut, before finally saying quietly, “Li Baoguo has late stage lung cancer. I looked up some information when I waited for him today, his condition looks pretty bad; he’s coughing up blood, and both his face and neck are swollen.”
“Has he decided to give up treatment?” Gu Fei asked.
“Mhm, pretty much, said he has no money for it.” Jiang Cheng knitted his brows. “He was still setting up card games when he came back.”
“Then how did your talk with him go?” Gu Fei asked.
“He still would rather have the money,” Jiang Cheng said. “But I feel like it’s not going to be used on the treatment. I’m thinking……”
Jiang Cheng opened his eyes, pillowed his arms under his head, and looked at Gu Fei, “Don’t tell me I’m an idiot, and don’t say I’m being a saint either.”
“I won’t.” Gu Fei nodded.
“I’m thinking, if he wants to treat it, I can contribute the fund along with Li Hui and Li Qian. He has medical insurance, the surgery is off the table now, but he can still do radiation or chemo, it’ll keep it under control.” Jiang Cheng said. “The costs shouldn’t be too high……”
“How much are you planning to give?” Gu Fei asked.
“Ten thousand.” Jiang Cheng said. “Regardless of how much Li Hui and the others give.”
“Mmn,” Gu Fei nodded. “Then you’ll have to be nicer to me, I can introduce you to some jobs that won’t take up any of your class time.”
Jiang Cheng laughed, “Why does that sound so wrong.”
“And what if Li Hui and the others won’t contribute?” Gu Fei asked.
Jiang Cheng looked at him, and drew a blank.
If Li Hui and the others don’t contribute? He hadn’t considered this possibility. At first he thought it was unlikely, he was their father after all…… But after thinking about it some more, he figured it wasn’t entirely impossible.
“So do you think…… If they don’t put in any money, what should I do?” Jiang Cheng covered his eyes with his hand, and sighed quietly. His brain was a mess, he couldn’t make sense of anything at the moment.
“First you tell me, what’s the reason for you giving him money.” Gu Fei said.
“I don’t want him to say that I don’t have any conscience, I don’t want him to bulge his eyes and go your old man this and your old man that……” Jiang Cheng said. “I told you, I really…… hate it, being scolded like that. Not to mention he’s my…… I can’t treat it like he’s a complete stranger……”
“Got it,” Gu Fei held his hand, and gently massaged his palm. “If it’s up to me, Cheng-ge, you just give this money to Li Baoguo. Don’t worry about whether Li Hui gives anything.”
“Why, so he can use it to gamble?” Jiang Cheng said.
“If he really wants to treat it,” Gu Fei looked at him. “And you give him the money, he’ll use it on the treatment himself. If he was never going to treat it, and you forcefully pay for those bills, he’s not going to be grateful either.”
Jiang Cheng didn’t respond.
“This might not sound very good,” Gu Fei said. “But he probably already gave up, just waiting to die now. If you must give money, then just give it to him directly. Let him do whatever he wants with it, whether it’s food, alcohol, or gambling, at least he’ll enjoy it. But don’t give it to him all at once, split it into installments of 2000 at a time.”
Jiang Cheng released a long dragged out sigh.
“Another thing, you must hand him this money in front of Li Hui and Li Qian. Li Qian is fine, it’s mainly about Li Hui.” Gu Fei said.
“Mhm,” Jiang Cheng answered, and closed his eyes again. “Got it.”
Gu Fei didn’t say anything else, just continued to knead his leg.
After a while, Jiang Cheng opened his eyes again, “Gu Fei.”
“Hm?” Gu Fei looked at him.
“Hug please,” Jiang Cheng said. “Why do I feel a little scared.”
“Coming,” Gu Fei smiled, lay down beside him, and reached over to pull him into a tight hug, then caressed his head. “Rub-a-dub-dub, hush little cub.”
Jiang Cheng closed his eyes.
Gu Fei then picked up a tuft of his hair and smoothed it out, “Rock-rock-rock, hush little cock.”
“Shit,” Jiang Cheng giggled. “Damn shameless.”
- Raw character count: 6352
- TL word count: 4520
- TL time: ???
- Edit: 0:42:10
- Curse words: 7x fucks, 5x shits, 1x asses
I want art of them embracing under the evening tree shade T__T