Jiang Cheng had this quality, Gu Fei thought. But he himself might not.


Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3

         For several consecutive days, the attention of everyone in the Liberal Arts building of Fourth High was focused on Gu Fei’s head. But the only reason it was the Liberal Arts building, was because that was about the extent of Jiang Cheng’s radius of activity. He only ever left the building to go to the washroom, so he rarely passed by anywhere else. [1]

         There was a lot of commotion on the forum as well, it was bustling with all sorts of showing off of sneakily taken photos. However, aside from the other day when someone snuck a photo of Gu Fei when Lao-Xu forcibly took off his hat to inspect, since then nobody else had gotten a shot of the full view of Gu Fei’s head.

         Only Jiang Cheng got to appreciate the full view. Not only could he observe, but he could observe in detail. Not only could he observe in detail, he could even reach out and touch it whenever he had a chance.

         “I just want to know if you’re ever going to continue your homework?” Gu Fei was sitting at the edge of the bed, looking at Jiang Cheng with his right hand around a pencil writing, and his left hand on Gu Fei’s head. “Didn’t you say we’re going out to get snacks after you’re done.”

         “Relax,” Jiang Cheng said. “As long as you don’t disturb me, I’ll be done in a jiffy. These homework assignments from the Fourth High, it’s just about hard enough to shoo away a beggar.”

         “Don’t you still have to write the other set from the old Affiliated High.” Gu Fei said.

         “I can work on that tonight, and during the self-study period.” Jiang Cheng kept stroking Gu Fei’s head with his fingers. “Hey it’s only been two, maybe three days, and it’s already prickly.”

         “What did you think,” Gu Fei didn’t bother resisting further, and put his head down to play with his phone. “It’ll grow faster if you stop touching it all the time, I’m starting to worry you’re gonna make me bald.”

         “Hey,” Jiang Cheng turned to him. “Do you hate it when people touch your head?”

         “Dunno,” Gu Fei said. “Nobody really dares to touch my head, other than you and Gu Er-Miao.”

         “I’m the boyfriend after all, gotta have certain special privileges.” Jiang Cheng smiled, then turned around, held Gu Fei’s head, and planted a kiss on the very top. “Too bad you don’t take off your hat, otherwise I’d chomp out a teeth mark on here for sure.”

         “The one on my waist just faded.” Gu Fei said.

         “The one on my neck also just faced.” Jiang Cheng clucked his tongue.

         A couples teeth mark…… Jiang Cheng had given it more than a little thought. He even considered getting matching teeth mark tattoos, but never spoke it out loud to Gu Fei. He figured it was a little silly, and too much like a teenage girl antic.

         Not to mention the thing occupying his mind even more at the moment, was his upcoming birthday.

         He wondered how he should spend his birthday. Both he and Gu Fei’s birthdays are during Summer break, one at the beginning and one near the end. They could combine the two and celebrate it together, to force the born on the same day of the same month of the same year trope.

         Ever since he was little, his birthdays had been rather joyless. He was always forced to stay home on the day of, and his classmates were never invited to his home, because it would be too rowdy. If he wanted to go out with friends, it could only be before or after his birthday.

         But even though his parents insisted on celebrating it at home, there was never anything special either. It was always just a family gathering to have a bowl of noodles. They wouldn’t even buy a cake, because these kinds of sweet foods were not good for you.

         After that would be all sorts of reflecting on the past and looking to the future. Mom and dad would point out all the insufficiencies of the past year, and bring up expectations for the next. Even job reviews would have a segment for positive affirmations, but even on his birthday, Jiang Cheng had never once received any kind of affirmation. There was always something inadequate, insufficient, and improper; he always needed to improve, needed to progress, needed to work harder…… Every time, he felt like he had to repress his emotions. Every year on his birthday he would feel irritation in every cell of his body, and feel annoyed by anything and everything. Almost every year, he would have a giant fight with his family on his birthday.

         He wondered if there were anyone else like him, who through the process of being continuously put down, developed a whole body of thorns.

         This was the very first birthday ever that he could decide for himself. It was the first time he could confront this day head-on with such ease and lightness.

         Despite the very direct connection it now had with Li Baoguo, he didn’t mind. Only, he still felt a little down whenever he thought about Li Baoguo.

         He wasn’t very aware of the situation on Li Baoguo’s side, only that since leaving the hospital that day, Li Baoguo never went back to the hospital again. Instead, he’d gone twice to the community clinic to pick up some cough medicine.

         It wasn’t until half a month later that Jiang Cheng finally got a call from Li Baoguo again.

         “Your brother and your sister are both coming over tonight,” Li Baoguo said. “Didn’t you say to call them here.”

         “Mmn,” Jiang Cheng stood on the walkway, looking at the students on the field. “I’ll come over after school.”

         “Eat something before you come, I haven’t made any food.” Li Baoguo said.

         “Sure.” Jiang Cheng replied. When Li Baoguo spoke, his voice was still very loud, but it clearly didn’t boom as it once did.

         Jiang Cheng felt a little lost after he hung up the phone, like he was floating in mid-air with nothing to grab onto.

         There was no love lost between him and Li Baoguo, much less any father-son sentiments. But seeing this person growing quickly and noticeably weaker in the last half year, and knowing that he might very soon disappear entirely, still made him oddly unsettled.

         “That was Li Baoguo?” Gu Fei came to stand next to him, and they looked out onto the field together.

         “Mhm,” Jiang Cheng pocketed his phone. “He said Li Hui and Li Qian are coming over tonight, told me to drop by.”

         “Don’t get into any conflicts with Li Hui, just state your stance, that’s all. You don’t have to worry about what he wants to do,” Gu Fei said. “People like him, they’re somewhat of a local specialty unique to these parts, just all kinds of unsavoury.”

         “Got it,” Jiang Cheng smiled. “The way you worry, how unlike a 17 year-old.”

         “I’ve fully ripened a long time ago.” Gu Fei said.

         “Really?” Jiang Cheng peered at him sideways.

         “Uh huh,” After thinking about it for a moment, Gu Fei also smiled. “Just think of yourself as the magical de-aging pill.”

         “Ay……” Jiang Cheng stared at him for a long while, before saying quietly. “Sometimes I really want to just grab you and knead you, and ruffle you up. Sometimes I even want to grab a random person off the street and tell them, you know Gu Fei? Did you know that he’s not what he seems? Ha, ha, ha, ha, I’m the only one who really sees!”

         Gu Fei looked back at him, and after a pause, bowed his head and started laughing.

         “What the hell you laughing at?” Jiang Cheng glared at him.

         “To be honest, I kinda wanna do that too.” Gu Fei turned to him and said while laughing. “Nobody knows what the top of the grade is like in private, only I know.”

         “And at the same time I…… can’t really explain it, I’m just a little bothered that other people only know you as some badass head honcho, when you’re clearly so excellent…… Am I being kind of childish?” Jiang Cheng sighed. “I really wasn’t like this before, you must remember that.”

         Clearly so excellent.

         Gu Fei didn’t say anything else.

         It must be similar to the pride Gu Fei felt whenever he saw something extraordinary in Jiang Cheng. Jiang Cheng likely felt the same for him, even though Jiang Cheng didn’t know that he wasn’t keen about letting other people in on it.

         He couldn’t let Jiang Cheng understand what he was thinking, but he could sympathize with how Jiang Cheng felt.

         This handsome overachiever whose smugness was so through the roof that he saw everyone else as dumbasses: Only I know what he’s truly like beneath this facade. The real him was so clean that it was silly. A quick temper yes, but as long as you smoothed out his feathers there would be no temper at all……

         But at times, he didn’t want to think too much into it. The more he saw, the more he felt, the more he could feel the distance grow. 

         And the more he felt that a person like this shouldn’t be relegated to glowing in the mud. He shouldn’t have been in the mud in the first place.

         Gu Fei watched the smile that played at the corner of Jiang Cheng’s mouth and in his eyes. Only when he was looking at this smile could he briefly toss aside those other thoughts.

         He should be more like Jiang Cheng, he thought, and stop worrying so much. I like you. I want to be with you. That should be enough. And as to what happens after, well, after is not here yet.

         If ever comes a day, when ‘after’ becomes the ‘now’, still I will have nothing to fear. As long as I keep walking forward, there is nothing that can stop me.

         Jiang Cheng had this quality, Gu Fei thought. But he himself might not.

         In spite of all that, he was still willing to jump in, and live like Jiang Cheng for a while. Perhaps when that day comes, and Jiang Cheng leaves, everything would slowly fade away. But at least he wouldn’t feel regret, that he didn’t hold on tightly to Jiang Cheng’s hand once upon a time.

         “I’ll give him 2000 today, to start.” Jiang Cheng said as they retrieved their bikes after school. “I won’t bring up the hospital or the treatment anymore either, just say that it’s spending money for him.”

         “Mhm.” Gu Fei nodded.

         “Treat me to a bowl of cold noodles,” Jiang Cheng looked at him. “I have a craving.”

         “Let’s go.” Gu Fei got on his bike.

         The weather was growing warmer day by day. Even though the real Summer had not yet arrived, it was already the season when any casual movement would be enough to generate sweat. Cold noodles would be most satisfying at this time.

         “Tomorrow afternoon,” Jiang Cheng said. “Let’s go play a game with He Zhou.”

         “He hasn’t given up on dragging you into the school team?” Gu Fei sighed.

         “He gave up,” Jiang Cheng smiled. “This time it’s a rehearsal game with the technical college. He Zhou’s always wanted to team up with us for a game, he’s brought it up countless times.”

         “You go ahead then,” Gu Fei said. “I’ll…… sit out.”

         “Why?” Jiang Cheng turned to look at him. “If you’re not gonna play, there’s no point of me going by myself.”

         “I’ll go watch you, I really don’t want to play.” Gu Fei smiled.

         He never used to participate in school events, the last basketball tournament was already an exception. He didn’t actually wish to integrate into the student body, he had his own established rhythm and way of living. Letting Jiang Cheng into his life was already a completely unforeseen change.

         However, certain resolves must be kept utterly unchanged, bound, and in deep slumber, in order to stay resolute.

         Jiang Cheng didn’t mention playing basketball with him again. His mind was probably still occupied with Li Baoguo’s problem, and not really in the mood.

         Gu Fei went with him to withdraw money and watched as he put it in an envelope. They then went together to have some cold noodles.

         As they walked to the intersection together, Jiang Cheng looked at him, “Will you be at the store tonight or will you be home?”

         “I’m going home today,” Gu Fei said. “I have to work on Gu Miao before Summer break starts, gotta get her to agree to the therapy.”

         “She’s not willing to go to therapy?” Jiang Cheng sighed.

         “It’s not that she doesn’t want therapy, more like she doesn’t understand what it is.” Gu Fei said. “She’s just reluctant to go to places she’s not familiar with, I have to communicate with her in advance.”

         “Mmn,” Jiang Cheng nodded. “I’ll come with.”

         “What,” Gu Fei looked at him. “To experience life?”

         “I just want to see.” Jiang Cheng said.

         I don’t even know her as well as Li Yan.

         Gu Fei felt like laughing when he remembered those words. Jiang Cheng really was adorable when he was like that.

         “Then I’ll bring you along.” He said.

         “Also……” Jiang Cheng thought about it for a second, then waved his hand. “Nothing. I’m going to Li Baoguo’s now. I’ll call you when it’s done.”

         Jiang Cheng walked for a stretch toward Li Baoguo’s street, then turned around. Gu Fei was still on his bike with one foot on the ground, looking this way. To show that he wasn’t reluctantly seeing him home, Gu Fei even pulled out a cigarette to put in his mouth as Jiang Cheng looked back at him.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

         “Dumbass.” Jiang Cheng giggled. He wasn’t watching the road as he tripped on who-knows-what on the ground, and stumbled as he tried to keep from falling. He tsked. “Everyone must’ve realized by now, that recently, contestant Jiang Cheng’s has been acting a little different…… His effortless poise hasn’t been very well maintained. Even though he shouldn’t have any idol’s baggage to begin with……”

         Before he finished, when he was still more than 10 meters away from the stairwell to Li Baoguo’s place, he already heard the loud bellowing of Li Baoguo’s voice.

         Li Baoguo had sounded weak on the phone that afternoon, therefore at this moment, it must’ve been the sighting of the long absent Li Hui that stimulated him to a sudden burst of energy.

         Jiang Cheng sucked in a breath, and slowed his pace as he adjusted his mindset. He tried hard to reassure himself. Do not argue. Do not get angry. Do not get annoyed. Just give the money, that’s all.

         “Oyy, that youngest son of his is back too……” An auntie said excitedly out of a second floor kitchen window.

         This kind of people who took pleasure in gawking at other people’s business and saw it as their main form of leisurely activity, was a bizarre phenomenon in and of itself.

         And despite the fact that both were ‘watching from the sidelines’, even without the boyfriend-tinted lenses…… Gu Fei watched with such airy nonchalance, while these people watched in such crude ways.

         “If you’re done filling up your stomach then go pick your teeth,” Jiang Cheng said to the second floor window. “Finish chewing those leftover scraps in your mouth first before you get all up in other people’s business.”

         The auntie on the second floor froze for a few seconds, before letting out an “OYY——”

         After that she must’ve been at a loss for words again, and didn’t continue making any other sounds.

         Jiang Cheng didn’t bother waiting around to see what else came out, and walked into the stairwell.

         The door to Li Baoguo’s unit was open. No wonder he could hear him from far away. He was about to close the door after he walked in, but after getting a whiff of the smells in the apartment, he hesitated.

         Smoke filled the room. Li Baoguo and Li Hui both had cigarettes in their mouths. Judging by their stance, they had already finished who knew how many smokes. Jiang Cheng was a smoker himself, but even breathing the smell at this moment made him want to rage.

         “With your health like this, at least try to smoke a little less.” Jiang Cheng glanced at Li Baoguo. “Doesn’t it feel bad when you cough?”

         “I’m not even afraid of death, you think I’m afraid of some discomfort?” Li Baoguo started laughing, then accompanied the laughter with coughs.

         “Let’s talk about the issue at hand.” Li Hui sat on the side, looking at him with an expression of annoyance. “Now, don’t you have a big face, one word and we all have to gather at your behest.” 

         “Right now……” Jiang Cheng looked at Li Baoguo. He couldn’t bring himself to properly address Li Baoguo out loud, so he mumbled over it. “His condition, he’s unwilling to go to the hospital……”

         “I told you!” Li Baoguo cut him off. “I said I’m not going to the hospital! If you guys have any conscience at all, you’ll give me the money you were going to give the hospital!”

         “And let you use it on gambling?” Li Hui smirked.

         “You shut it with your wise-assery,” Li Baoguo glared at him. “You didn’t spend a single cent when I was in the hospital! It was all paid for by your sister!”

         “Then go admit yourself to the hospital right now!” Li Hui said.

         “I’ll go if you put up the money.” It was Li Baoguo’s turn to smirk. “You swam out of your old man’s dick, I watched you grow up. You think I don’t know what brand of shit you are?”

         Li Hui threw his half finished cigarette on the ground and started walking toward Li Baoguo.

         Li Qian had been sitting silently on the side, but now she immediately stood up as well, “Ge……”

         “You can stop fucking pretending to be a do-gooder,” Li Hui shoved her to the side and jabbed a finger at her. “You put up the money if you have so much of it!”

         Li Hui was about to continue forward, when Jiang Cheng stood in front of him.

         “What do you want!” Li Hui glowered at him. “Wanna throw hands with me? How many days have you been in this home, how fucking dare you?”

         Jiang Cheng felt like his temper had improved a lot in these last few months, nor was he covered in thorns all the time as he once was. Perhaps it was like Lao-Yuan said, in a new environment, his temper was no longer “completely uninhibited”. Plus, without the constant put-down, he was no longer anxious and unsettled all the time.

         But now, when he was here with his real ‘family’, when he was face to face with the older brother who was connected to him by blood, he felt the self that had been long absent stirring once again.

         The look on Jiang Cheng’s face and the look in his eyes must not have been cordial by any measure. After Li Hui maintained eye contact with him for two seconds, his fighting spirit was very clearly diminished.

         “I don’t throw hands with just anyone,” Jiang Cheng’s voice was cold. “You’re not even remotely within reach.”

         “I’m within reach,” Li Baoguo suddenly started laughing behind him. He coughed more as he laughed. “We even fought.”

         “I’m just stating my intent,” Jiang Cheng didn’t pay attention to Li Baoguo as he continued staring at Li Hui. “I don’t care whether or not he wants to go to the hospital anymore. I called you here today only to say that……”

         If he keeps living like this, he won’t be living for very much longer. Before he dies, he can do whatever the hell he wants. Whether it be gambling or whatever else, it’s only a matter of months.

         Jiang Cheng very much wanted to be blunt with his words, but at the end, he couldn’t manage to get it out. All he did was take out the envelope, and reached back to hand it to Li Baoguo, “There’s 2000 yuan in here, take this for now. If you want to get some medicine with this then go, and if not, that’s also up to you.”

         “Oyy!” Li Baoguo opened the envelope and peered inside, then pulled the bills out. He waved the stack in his hands as it ruffled. “Looky here! Look at this!”

         “Try to control yourself too,” Jiang Cheng looked at him. “It’s not like I can just spontaneously come up with the money at any point.”

         “Look at this! Look!” Li Baoguo didn’t stop repeating the words, as though he couldn’t hear him.

         “Then I’ll also……” Li Qian understood his intention, and counted out some bills from her bag, handing them to Li Baoguo. “Dad, you can take this first, but it’s still better if you go to the hospital……”

         “Look at this! Look at this!” Li Baoguo was still repeating loudly.

         “What are you sticking up for?!” Li Hui suddenly roared at Li Qian. “What the hell are you pretending to be a hotshot for! You’re the only high and mighty one, huh!”

         Li Qian shuddered at his sudden yelling, cowered a little to the side, and didn’t make another sound.

         “If you got so much money why don’t you buy a house for your dad!” Li Hui continued to yell. “If you got so much money why don’t you fix your own daughter’s squinty eyes!”

         “But nobody is forcing you to put up the money if you don’t want to!” Li Qian said with a tremor in her voice.

         Before Jiang Cheng had time to react, with a wave of his hand Li Hui suddenly landed a slap on Li Qian’s face, “DID I FUCKING SAY YOU CAN TALK!”

         Gu Fei had reminded him before, and Jiang Cheng himself also wanted to bear it down and leave immediately after he handed over the money. But never did he imagine that Li Hui could do something like this.

         After the initial shock wore off, all Jiang Cheng could feel was the rage rising all the way from the bottom of his feet. All the repression and resignation he’d felt toward this family exploded in a single instant.

         He swung a fist straight toward Li Hui’s face, it landed right on the bridge of his nose.

         Li Hui stumbled back and sat down on a nearby stool, then swayed again, almost falling to the ground.

         Jiang Cheng watched him without a word.

         Just as Li Hui covered his nose and stood up, Li Qian rushed over and pushed Jiang Cheng toward the door, “Why don’t you go now, Xiao-Cheng, go on.”

         Jiang Cheng turned around and walked out with big strides.

         Li Qian followed and ran after him. He turned around to look at Li Qian.

         “Where did you get the money?” Li Qian said. “Your old family gave it to you right?”

         Jiang Cheng didn’t answer.

         Li Qian took out her wallet, “You’re still a student, and not making any money. Let me make it up, you don’t have to put up money. Dad…… isn’t able to spend very much anyway, I’ll just give him some.”

         “No, it’s not necessary.” Jiang Cheng was suddenly bewildered as he backed up. “Don’t……”

         “It’s alright,” Li Qian smiled. “I never even thought you’d be able to come up with anything. You’re still in school, it’s not appropriate for you to put up money.”

         Jiang Cheng didn’t know what he should say. As soon as the breath he was holding had been released, he suddenly descended into awkwardness. At the end, all he could do was turn and run away.

         He didn’t hear what else Li Qian said behind him, just ran all the way to the intersection.

         After catching his breath, he pulled out his phone to call Gu Fei.

         He heard a whistle behind him as soon he unlocked the screen.

         “The fuck?” Jiang Cheng turned around. “I’m feeling pretty shocked and honoured right now, were you waiting for me again?”

         “Stop being shocked,” Gu Fei slowly glided over on his bike with a smile on his face. “I was coming out to wait for Li Yan. He’s bringing Er-Miao some snacks on his way home.”

         “Why wouldn’t you wait for me?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         Gu Fei opened his mouth, but no words came out.

         “It’s enough that you weren’t waiting for me, but you came out here to wait for Li Yan?” Jiang Cheng continued.

         “I…… fuck,” Gu Fei looked at him, a little speechless. “This is some next level overachiever logic huh?”

         Jiang Cheng glowered at him for a while, then giggled, “Do you yield.”

         “How about I just kneel down.” Gu Fei laughed and said.

         Jiang Cheng held onto the handlebar, and looked at Gu Fei. Seeing Gu Fei’s face after that clusterfuck of nonsense, he suddenly felt his mind empty, and his whole body felt lighter.

         Never had anyone given him this kind of feeling before. He felt high.

         “Let’s go get a tattoo.” Jiang Cheng said out of nowhere.

         “What?” Gu Fei blanked.

         “As in, I make a teeth mark, and you make a teeth mark. Then we’ll make a tattoo of it, one each.” Jiang Cheng said.

         Gu Fei didn’t speak for a long time, like he didn’t understand what Jiang Cheng said, but also like he was spacing out. Just as Jiang Cheng was about to open his mouth again to explain, Gu Fei finally nodded, “Alright.”

         Jiang Cheng looked at him and frowned, “Do you…… not want to?”


Footnotes:

[1]: Most high school students in China are sorted into two main streams: Liberal Arts, and Sciences. Once you’re sorted, all of your classes are spent pretty much in the same building, with the same people nearby. It’s never been mentioned explicitly, but clearly Jiang Cheng and Gu Fei are in the Liberal Arts stream (which is also considered the easier stream).

Some Stats

  • Raw character count: 6045
  • TL word count: 4318
  • TL time: ?
  • Edit: 0:50:30
  • Curse words: ?

TL’s Notes

░H a p p y N e w Y e a r ! ! ! ░