“Cheng-ge, you know how it feels to be out of place here, don’t you?”


Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3

         Two beams of tracking spotlights shone down on Jiang Cheng and Wang Xu, so bright that it made it difficult to see anything around them. Jiang Cheng could feel the warmth of the light, so hot it almost burned.

         It took Jiang Cheng only five or six steps to walk from the edge to the center of the stage, but beads of sweat were already emerging from his temples.

         It was cold sweat.

         The applause, cheers, and screams from below excited Wang Xu. In a swathe of dizzying bright light, Jiang Cheng could see that Wang Xu’s steps were light.

         He walked to the piano with his back to the audience. He didn’t dare look back. In the span of one second his mind went through a whole quest of ice and fire, from heaven to earth, and to deep under the ground. He couldn’t even feel his own brain.

         His fingertips were a little cold and numb. But it wasn’t just his fingers. His whole arm felt stiff and weak. When he sat down at the piano bench, he almost couldn’t lift the lid up.

         In that instant, his peripheral vision was forcefully shut down, leaving only a circle of blinding light around him, as though blocking out all other sights and sounds.

         He couldn’t see, and he couldn’t hear.

         The only thing remaining in his mind was the empty seat he just saw.

         Gu Fei was not in his seat.

         It was not a trick of light. There were still lots of people walking about and standing in the aisles, but to him, even if there was only a corner of Gu Fei’s clothing, he’d be able to see it. He’d be able to tell.

         Gu Fei wasn’t in the auditorium anymore.

         He couldn’t tell what exactly he felt at this moment. His mind was in such a jumble that he had no way to guess or make judgment. Nor was he capable of forming any kind of thought.

         As he stared in a daze at the black and white keys before him, it seemed like everything else around him was stirred into a puddle of chaos by that empty seat.

         “Jiang Cheng,” He heard Wang Xu’s voice. “Jiang Cheng! Fuck! Are you okay, Jiang Cheng? What’s wrong! Jiang Cheng?”

         He lifted his gaze finally, and saw Wang Xu’s anxious face above the piano, “Are you not feeling well?”

         “Nah.” Jiang Cheng sucked in a breath, and the surrounding environment slowly became clearer. He could see outlines of things, and the sounds in his ears suddenly grew louder.

         The clapping had already stopped; the remaining cheers were also sparse. There were only the sounds of whistling that popped up every so often.

         “If you don’t feel well we can switch with the next act,” Wang Xu said quietly, unconvinced. “You don’t look that good. Is it nerves?”

         “I’m fine.” Jiang Cheng gave him a smile. “Get ready.”

         “Alright.” Wang Xu adjusted his guitar, and swept his fingers gently over the strings.

         With these notes, the mood in the audience was lifted once again.

         Gu Fei was no longer there. Jiang Cheng did not know why, nor did he know where Gu Fei was. He wondered if Gu Fei could hear him, or whether he still wished to hear him.

         Jiang Cheng took a deep breath. He could think about that later. He was the one who chose to participate in the concert. He chose Gu Fei’s song. He chose to let Lao-Xu know.

         And as for whether the MC heard it when Lao-Xu was quietly showing off to the other teacher, or why she saw fit to make that addition to the credits, it was no longer important.

         All this already happened. There was no point now in feeling annoyed, panicked, or disoriented.

         I’m still sitting here, he thought. Facing the music that couldn’t be more familiar to him if he tried. He wanted Gu Fei to hear it, but he also wanted himself to hear it.

         He rarely thought about “if”s and “what if”s. But once the “if” and “what if” were in front of him, he still would rather charge right on ahead without thinking too much.

         Jiang Cheng rubbed his hands together, then shook them out. The sounds of quiet laughter rang out from the crowd below.

         He turned and swept his eyes over the audience, curled his lips up in a smile, then lifted his hands and set them on the keys. As the first note sounded beneath his fingers, everyone suddenly went quiet.

         All the way until Wang Xu joined in on his guitar three bars later, Jiang Cheng didn’t look down at the piano, instead he gazed out at the audience below. He listened to their applause as they suddenly seemed to wake up from their trance just as the guitar chords started harmonizing.

         During the guitar interlude, he turned back and looked down at his fingers. There were no other sounds in his ears but the guitar strings.

         Wang Xu must be playing above his usual skill level. Jiang Cheng glanced at Yi Jing, who had already stepped onto the stage and was taking photos of them with the camera. Wang Xu took a couple steps toward her with the guitar. Jiang Cheng figured his expression must be as dazzling as the silver dragon on his shirt.

         After a well-executed glissando, the piano joined in once again.

         Another wave of applause and cheers rang out from the audience.

         Jiang Cheng smiled to himself. What would his mom feel if she found out that her so-called elegant and graceful piano music was being engulfed in such racket.

         He however, felt sufficiently at ease now.

         In this moment, the instrument he didn’t much care for, was producing music he liked very much, written by the person he liked very much. The piano that used to bring him such anguish and weariness, for the first time was bringing him a joyful experience.

         Except.

         Where did you go, you asshole.

         You’ve never heard me play the piano.

         I haven’t played the piano for ages. I thought I’d never play it again.

         This song was for you. But you ran away.

         The duet concluded as Wang Xu swept his fingers gently over the strings. Jiang Cheng closed the lid on the piano and stood up, then bowed to the audience.

         “JIANG CHENG I LOVE YOU——” Screamed a girl in the crowd.

         Jiang Cheng turned and walked off the stage as the noise from the audience started swelling up even more.

         Even the teachers and students backstage were clapping. 

         “BRAVO! THAT WAS STUPENDOUS! THAT WAS THE BEST PERFORMANCE IN FOURTH HIGH HISTORY!” Lao-Lu boomed in his thunderous voice as he clapped.

         Lao-Xu didn’t say anything. He only nodded forcefully when Jiang Cheng glanced toward him. There were tears in his eyes.

         Jiang Cheng sighed a little helplessly, “I’m……gonna go to the washroom.”

         “So?!” Wang Xu asked ecstatically of Yi Jing, who followed them off stage. “What did you think!”

         “It really was amazing.” Yi Jing smiled and said.

         When Jiang Cheng came out of the stage door, it caused a small commotion among the students who were sitting near the exit. Several of them raised their phone at him.

         He bowed his head and walked briskly out of the auditorium.

         There were still quite a few students waiting outside for their turn to perform. When he stepped outside, he was surrounded once again by a small crowd.

         “Jiang Cheng,” Someone called out to him. “Did Gu Fei really write the music? That’s hella impressive!”

         Jiang Cheng didn’t answer, nor did he look in the direction of the voice. He walked along the outside of the auditorium and quickly turned a corner, leaving the astonishment and discussion behind.

         His already somewhat calm emotions were abruptly thrown into a lurch again by those words.

         The panic and unease that he had temporarily pushed down, the tiniest trace of incomprehension, and the anger repressed in the vague echoes of irritation; all of that was now swirling up slowly and spreading through him.

         He didn’t need to go to the washroom, but he still went to the washroom.

         His hand was stuffed in his pocket the whole way, clutching his phone, but not pulling it out. There were no students on the field. He only saw a janitor walking past the edge of the field as he approached the washroom.

         Jiang Cheng only realized once he was inside and took his hand out of his pocket, that his palm was covered with sweat.

         He stood in front of the urinal for a while, and waited intently for the urge to pee.

         It didn’t come.

         There was only the disorientation and unease that was slowly transforming into anger.

         He turned and walked out of the washroom, and glanced at his phone again.

         Just as he expected, there was no message from Gu Fei. There was no unread message and no missed calls. No sign of notifications that could’ve come in earlier that he might’ve missed in the middle of all the ruckus.

         In that instant all of his feelings toward Gu Fei turned into fury.

         He sat down on a stone bench nearby, and took out his phone to call Gu Fei.

         The million times dog-fucker!

         If there’s a problem then just let it out! We can argue or throw fists, but what is this missing persons business!

         He only just pulled up Gu Fei’s number to dial, when he spotted in his newly recovered peripheral vision someone walking this way. His finger trembled a little above the phone screen, and stopped.

         It was Gu Fei.

         He had been dead set on having it out with Gu Fei. What he had done wrong, what Gu Fei was mad about; they could let it all out face to face. At worst they’ll beat each other up.

         But now that Gu Fei had suddenly appeared like this, he immediately felt another wave of nerves.

         What to say?

         How to say it?

         Who’s going to start?

         All of the questions that had been scattered earlier by irritation and anger were all settling back into place, clumping together in his throat like a ball of twine. He almost had to cough to clear his throat.

         “Cheng-ge.” Gu Fei walked up and stopped beside him.

         “Uh huh.” Jiang Cheng turned his phone in his hand and didn’t move, only stared at the weed growing out of the crack in the concrete in front of him.

         “Shall we talk?” Gu Fei said.

         “Whatever.” Jiang Cheng said. “If you want to talk we’ll talk. If not then just let it be.”

         “Come on,” Gu Fei said. “Let’s go for a walk.”

         Jiang Cheng put his phone back in his pocket and stood up. He didn’t look at Gu Fei as he walked right out of the back gates of the school.

         Gu Fei’s footsteps were right behind him, but there it stayed. He didn’t catch up and walk beside Jiang Cheng like he always did.

         At this time of day, the restaurant street behind the school wasn’t at its busiest. Only a few stalls had propped up their stands, with the owners lounging languidly on chairs.

         Jiang Cheng didn’t know where to go, only walked absentmindedly along the street. When he stepped onto the sun softened black asphalt road, he could no longer hear the footsteps behind him.

         He turned his head ever so slightly backward. Gu Fei quickly caught up to him and walked on his left.

         Thus they walked aimlessly all the way to the bridge. Jiang Cheng hesitated for a second, before turning onto the dirt path by the bridge that led to the river. They walked for a stretch on the uneven ground with a view of the dried up riverbed, before he stopped.

         “What did I do to you?” Jiang Cheng looked at Gu Fei.

         “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to play my song?” Gu Fei asked.

         “Is that it?” Jiang Cheng knitted his brows into a knot. “Then I will apologize to you, I didn’t think……”

         “No,” Gu Fei cut him off. “It’s not that. You can play it, change it, do whatever you want with it, but next time……”

         Jiang Cheng stared at him.

         He couldn’t see any emotion on Gu Fei’s face. The guy was always like that. No matter what anybody said, as long as he was not willing, it was difficult to get any information from his facial expressions. From his eyes.

         “Next time don’t say my name.” Gu Fei said.

         “What the hell kind of next time can there possibly be?” Jiang Cheng leaned back against a tree, but immediately felt something on the trunk poking him in the back. It was sharp, and it hurt. He straightened up right away. The pain made it a little hard for him to keep his temper. “Next when? Bro, we’re in our third year of high school. This is the only time. You think I have a lot of free time? You think I have more shows lined up?!”

         Gu Fei didn’t say anything, only let out a soft sigh.

         Jiang Cheng glared at him for a long time before circling back and realizing the key point in what he said. He had a feeling when he heard the MC announce Gu Fei’s name, but hearing Gu Fei say it out loud himself, he still couldn’t make sense of it, “What’s wrong with saying your name? What, you’re not willing to participate in events, and now you can’t have your name said aloud either?”

         “There’s nothing wrong,” Gu Fei said. “Nor is it……”

         “First of all,” Jiang Cheng took a step forward and stared directly into Gu Fei’s eyes. “I’m very sorry for using your song without telling you first. Second of all, I didn’t tell them to say the words ‘composer Gu Fei’. Only mine and Wang Xu’s names are listed on the program. Third of all, it’s my fault that I didn’t follow up and tell Lao-Xu not to spread it around when he guessed that the composer was you.”

         Gu Fei looked back at him without a word.

         “I’m sorry. I don’t know why you’re like this. I’m sorry. I don’t know why you can’t participate in these things. I don’t know why you have to keep everybody at arm’s length. I don’t know why you always have to linger at the fringe of a normal school life!” Jiang Cheng’s voice gradually grew louder. All the incomprehension and distress he’d been bottling up as a result of Gu Fei’s continued strange conduct were slowly blowing up. “So I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have imagined that I could go on stage with you! I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have single mindedly tried to give you a surprise when you didn’t want it at all! I’m sorry! Is that enough? I am sorry Gu Fei! I’m too fucking stupid to know what you want!”

         “Cheng-ge,” Gu Fei frowned. He reached out and grabbed hold of Jiang Cheng’s arm. “Hold on, don’t get angry.”

         “Don’t touch me!” Jiang Cheng shouted and shook off his hand. “I told you, if you fucking have a problem then just tell me! If you don’t want to tell me then don’t let me find out! These two are the only options! If that doesn’t work for you then just fucking forget it!”

         “Fine.” Gu Fei looked at him. “Do you think that I’m pretty awesome, that I’m pretty exceptional, that I’m better than most people around here?”

         “Don’t be so shameless!” Jiang Cheng said. “A few words of flattery to your face and you fucking believed it! You just have a prettier-than-most face and long legs, that’s all!”

         Gu Fei sighed. He turned around and pulled out a cigarette and put it in his mouth, then crouched down facing the riverbed.

         Jiang Cheng stared at his back for a long time, then eventually added, “Yes. I think you’re very exceptional, talented, and smart. Not only me, Lao-Xu thinks so too.”

         “So what?” Gu Fei asked around the cigarette in his mouth.

         “What do you mean so what? So, what?” Jiang Cheng asked, a little annoyed.

         “I’m exceptional, talented, and smart.” Gu Fei cocked his head. “So what?”

         “FUCK YOUR SO WHAT!” Jiang Cheng exploded. “I just want people to know that you’re more than what you seem, that you’re different from those Steel Works scum! I just want you to know! You’re different from anyone I’ve met since I came here! You’re ten thousand times better than them!”

         “AND THEN WHAT!” Gu Fei also boomed. He stood and walked up to Jiang Cheng, so that they were face to face, staring at each other. “And then what? Cheng-ge, and then what? Do you know what kind of life I’ve been living? Do you know the kind of life I’ve been leading ever since I can remember? Do you know?!!”

         Jiang Cheng was a little shook by the yelling. If he recalled correctly, this was the first time Gu Fei had lost control like this. It was the first time Gu Fei yelled at him, and at such a close range too. He was almost a little dazed from the impact.

         “What exactly did you want me to know? How great I am, how exceptional? Let everybody know how smart, how talented I am? And then what?” Gu Fei lowered his voice. “Cheng-ge, you know how it feels to be out of place here, don’t you?”

         Jiang Cheng stared at him.

         “If I’m asleep, then I won’t know anything.” There was a very small tremor in Gu Fei’s voice. “Why do you have to wake me up? You can leave. You must leave. But what about me?”

         Jiang Cheng felt like it was suddenly a little difficult to breathe. He wanted to say something, but couldn’t get a word out.

         How does it feel to be out of place here?

         After getting off the train, he had felt it from the very first step he took out of the station.

         That sense of hopelessness, the gloomy bleakness that filled his vision. Even now he remembered it clearly.

         It was also the reason why he had to leave no matter how hard he had to fight for it.

         “What about me? Cheng-ge,” Gu Fei said quietly. “I’m right here. I’m bound here by shackles. Who knows when I can take them off, maybe never. And so I have to stay awake and watch with my eyes open?  I’ll want for more, I’ll feel pain, do you understand?”

         Still Jiang Cheng stared at him.

         “I know I could not live like those people, but right now it’s all I can do.” Gu Fei squatted back down by the riverbank, and lit another cigarette. “I didn’t want to tell you all this. I figured if we’re dating, I just want you to be happy. To keep it simple. There’s no need to talk about all these things we can’t change and then sit here and sulk together.”

         Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything. He reached in his pocket but didn’t find a cigarette. He didn’t keep any cigarettes on him since he was going on stage today.

         Gu Fei reached back and handed him a lighter and a pack.

         Jiang Cheng paused, then walked over and took it. He lit one and put it in his mouth, looking at the smoke drifting up before his eyes. A few tendrils rose, twisted left and right in the wind like they were dancing, before quickly fading into nothing, turning from a faint blue into the invisible colour of the wind.

         All this about Gu Fei, were things he had never considered.

         Jiang Cheng always thought that Gu Fei was like an eagle tied up and forced to stand on a thin chain, but never considered that Gu Fei had thought so as well. And so he decided to close his eyes, bury his head, and throw away any thoughts other than what was necessary to keep his balance.

         Jiang Cheng couldn’t make sense of his emotions at the moment. There was a giant knot in his stomach. He suddenly felt regret.

         Although……

         It was only at this moment, after hearing these words from Gu Fei, that he suddenly found an answer to his confusion from their long-distance discussion the other day. When he sensed that something was wrong that he couldn’t quite put a finger on. 

         It would seem that Gu Fei did not have the will to fight. 

         “Is it Gu Miao,” Jiang Cheng squatted down behind Gu Fei. “And your mom…… No, it’s mainly Gu Miao, right?”

         “Mhm.” Gu Fei replied.

         “Have you tried?” Jiang Cheng bit his lips. He didn’t know how to accurately express himself. “To have her accept changes more gradually, a little at a time. Isn’t she going to those rehab classes already? You can try to…… Maybe she just can’t accept changes to her own things, maybe……”

         “Cheng-ge,” Gu Fei snubbed out his cigarette and stood up. “Let’s go.”

         “Hm?” Jiang Cheng blinked, but rose with him just the same.

         Gu Fei didn’t say anything else, so he also remained silent.

         Gu Fei led him back to his home. Only when the door opened did Jiang Cheng snap out of the gloomy mood and squeezed out a smile at Gu Miao, who was sitting on the living room sofa drawing a picture, “Er-miao.”

         Gu Miao seemed very happy to see him. She held up the drawing in her hand and waved it at him.

         “Let me see,” Jiang Cheng walked over and sat down beside her, looking at the paper in her hand. “Bunnies huh?”

         They were drawings of bunnies. A lot of them. Almost filling up the entire page. Every single one of them was green, just like Gu Fei’s display icon.

         Gu Miao grabbed another piece of paper and continued to draw. She persisted on using green, and drew the same bunny over and over again. It was clear that she was very practiced at it. The bunnies emerged one by one from the paper, and soon the page was full.

         Jiang Cheng watched her concentrated expression, and didn’t know what to say.

         “Er-Miao,” Gu Fei walked over and crouched down in front of her. “Brother wants to discuss something with you.”

         Still holding the pencil, Gu Miao glanced at him as she continued to draw, and quickly returned her gaze to the tip of the pencil.

         “Er-Miao, look at your brother.” Gu Fei said. “Brother has something to discuss with you.”

         Gu Miao paused, stilled her hand, then turned to look at him.

         “Tonight,” Gu Fei spoke very slowly. “Would it be alright if you sleep in mommy’s bed?”

         Gu Miao didn’t react.

         “You won’t be sleeping in your own bed tonight, or the sofa in brother’s room.” Gu Fei said. “You will sleep, in the bed in mommy’s room.”

         Gu Miao still didn’t react. Just as Jiang Cheng thought that maybe she didn’t understand Gu Fei’s words, she started to scream.

         The sharp sound pierced through the silence, and cut through Jiang Cheng’s eardrums like the tip of a knife.

         Jiang Cheng felt like he couldn’t breathe. The waves of enormous yet formless pressure generated by the scream made him want to cover Gu Miao’s mouth with his hand.

         Gu Fei watched Gu Miao quietly. After a while, he finally took a deep breath and started speaking softly to her.

         Jiang Cheng could hardly hear what Gu Fei was saying. He only felt a sense of suffocation. In his heart, in his head, and even in his ears.

         When Gu Miao finally stopped screaming, Jiang Cheng had a strong urge to let out a few roars himself.

         “I tried, Cheng-ge.” Gu Fei held his hand, his voice low. “But it’s been years, and nothing’s changed. She was born and raised here. Her accepted range goes only as far as the train station. That’s how far she’ll go on her skateboard. Her sleeping range is right here. Her bed. The sofa in my room. You can narrow her range of movement, but you can’t make her leave it.”

         Jiang Cheng looked at him and couldn’t get out a single word.

         “That rehab class, it doesn’t come cheap. I can’t afford to take her there long term, so I don’t know how much longer it will be until we can see improvement. One year, two, three to five years, or ten to twenty.” Gu Fei’s hand started to tremble ever so slightly. “Or forever. I don’t dare to think about it, I can’t think about it. All I can do is put my head down and keep going. I don’t know how much further it is until hope.”

         Jiang Cheng closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around Gu Fei, “I’m sorry, Gu Fei. I’m so sorry.”

         Gu Fei held onto Jiang Cheng’s waist and put his cheek against his chest.

         In the still air, in the midst of the scratching of Gu Miao’s pencil against paper, Jiang Cheng heard a very low muffled cry.


Some Stats

  • Raw character count: 6138
  • TL word count: 4208
  • TL time: 7:52:03
  • Edit time: 0:55:06
  • Curse words: 7x fucks, 1x ass

TL’s Notes:
Happy early knives 8))) This one took me longer because I had to pause for tear breaks

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