Therein lies the difference.

Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3

         As soon as Valentine’s Day was over, the last trace of lightheartedness in the air disappeared along with it.

         Without subjects that circled around which two were a pair or which pair would go out and celebrate the day together, even the conversations felt a lot more hollow.

         The atmosphere in the classrooms slowly sank down. Overachievers were studying; the middle of the range students who wanted to seize this one last opportunity were gritting their teeth and listening to lectures; the ones who wished to give up but couldn’t quite resign themselves to it would listen at times and sleep at other times; while a few of the ones who had given up entirely would not even come to class.

         Jiang Cheng would see Lao-Xu lingering around and outside the classroom all day long. His face appeared at the front door, the backdoor, the windows; every time he looked out, eight out of ten times there was Lao-Xu’s face 

         People talk about the overachievers losing weight, but Jiang Cheng thought that even Lao-Xu had lost a lot of weight—his face was looking very thin.

         “Did Lao-Xu get a face-slimming shot,” Jiang Cheng said quietly. “He looks like he’s lost so much weight.”

         “From all the worrying of course,” Gu Fei glanced toward the front door. “He’s been busy doing home visits and chasing down slacking students to have a chat with them, soon it’ll be the overachievers’ turn.”

         “There’s nothing to chat about with me,” Jiang Cheng said. “Hardly anyone in this whole city is grinding as hard as I am.”

         “He’s under greater pressure than you right now,” Gu Fei smiled. “He’s just about going to follow you into the exam himself.”

         Jiang Cheng glanced at the half of Lao-Xu’s face showing by the front door. Lao-Xu cocked his head and gave him a nod, his face suddenly overtaken with a feverish enthusiasm. Jiang Cheng immediately nodded back, afraid that if he responded too late that Lao-Xu would shoot his hands up and start cheering.

         About one week before the first practice exam at Fourth High, Pan Zhi sent him the questions from their first practice exam at the Associated High. In order to achieve the greatest accuracy, and prevent Jiang Cheng from accidentally seeing the questions, this time Pan Zhi sent it to Gu Fei’s phone. 

         The Associated High had created their own questions for the first practice exam. Even though Jiang Cheng figured he was putting in enough effort at studying, he still wanted the comparison.

         “I’ll go and print it out then?” Gu Fei said.

         “Mhm,” Jiang Cheng nodded. “I’ll start on them in the next couple of days.

         “Will it be too much pressure to do them all in a row?” Gu Fei asked. “Besides…… if your two scores are different, will it affect your mindset?”

         “Are you afraid that if my scores for the Associated High tests are lower than the ones from Fourth High tests, that it’ll affect my mindset?” Jiang Cheng smiled.

         “Mhm,” Gu Fei glanced at his phone. “I took a look at the geography one, it looks pretty hard.”

         “It’s alright,” Jiang Cheng stretched. “We’re already here, which means it’s time to face the difference head on. How can I keep charging on if I don’t know how much further I have to go.”

         “Aren’t you already charging hard enough?” Gu Fei turned to face him.

         “My whole life, my biggest strength has been to work hard.” Jiang Cheng patted Gu Fei’s shoulders. “Cheng-ge will show you what charging looks like.”

         Gu Fei gave him a smile, and didn’t reply.

         To be honest, perhaps it was because he grew up in this kind of environment, but Gu Fei had never met anyone like Jiang Cheng before. And it wasn’t just the overachiever aspect.

         It was his entire being. It was the courage to charge forward, to look straight ahead and face whatever came at him, and the powerful air about him when he let it all go and threw himself into a task.

         Like the hottest summer sun, the kind of air that ignited everything.

         Gu Fei had never seen someone like this before, nor had he ever thought that he would one day meet someone like this. Even more so, he hadn’t expected for someone like this to leave behind such a deep imprint on his life.

         Jiang Cheng didn’t leave school after class ended. These days, teachers would come into the classroom during the evening self-study periods to go through questions. Even though Jiang Cheng never really asked any questions himself, he would still sit there until the end of the evening self-study sessions every single day.

         He would go from the end of last class to the end of the last self-study session, then go back and continue studying until around 2 a.m.

         Gu Fei went to print out the practice exam after school. When he passed by the drugstore, he went in to buy a few boxes of ginseng tea. In the last few days, among the more hardworking students in the class, there were quite a few who fell sick. Some had fevers, while others caught colds. Jiang Cheng might have a good constitution, but his state of constant battle had extended from last semester until now—he was too tightly wound.

         “Ah Mr. Xu, I’d still recommend that you rest more, your health is important.” Gu Fei heard this as soon as he entered the store. He turned and saw Lao-Xu, standing over by the Chinese medicine counter.

         “Well I’m teaching the senior year right now, there’s just a few more months left. I can relax after they finish their exams.” Lao-Xu said.

         “Don’t mind my nagging, but in all of Fourth High, even with you worrying like this, there’s not gonna be that many who make it.” The drugstore owner said as he prepared the herbs for Lao-Xu. “Just look at my son, look at that score he brought home last year, and he didn’t even want to take it again this year.”

         “Ayy, you can’t force it with kids.” Lao-Xu smiled. “But in my class this year I have a good seedling who’s definitely going to make it into one of the top universities. He’ll place first in the city for sure, and maybe even the province.”

         “Mr. Xu, I never knew you were so good at talking big.” The owner handed the packed herbs to Lao-Xu.

         “No way am I talking big,” Lao-Xu waved his hand. “You just wait and see.”

         “If it’s true, then would he be the first in Fourth High history to make it into a top school?” The owner asked.

         “Absolutely!” Lao-Xu lifted his chin with pride and walked toward the door with his medicine.

         Gu Fei hesitated for a second, then walked after Lao-Xu and called out, “Xu-zong.”

         “Yeah,” Lao-Xu answered first before turning around. “Gu Fei? What are you doing here…… You’re sick?”

         “Not sick, I’m here to buy some Shi Quan Da Bu.” Gu Fei looked at the medicine in Lao-Xu’s hands. “Is that yours?” [1]

         “Ah, I’m fine,” Lao-Xu smiled. “There’s always something or another when you’re getting old.”

         “You’ve only just passed fifty, you’re calling that old?” Gu Fei said.

         “It’s just a little insomnia,” Lao-Xu sighed. “It’s my nerves, a little stress and I can’t fall asleep, so I’m getting some herbs to do a little tune-up.”

         “If they can make it they’ll make it, and the ones who can’t, even if you lose sleep over it they still won’t be able to get in.” Gu Fei said. “Why are you troubling yourself so much over it.”

         “It’s not like I want to worry,” Lao-Xu looked at him. “Take you for example…… Ayyy you kids, you never understand our pains. I’d give anything to take the exams for you, but every one of you just doesn’t take your future seriously at all.”

         “You should hurry home,” Gu Fei turned to go into the drug store. “Go take your medicine.”

         “Ah Gu Fei,” Lao-Xu called out to him. “Are you still studying with Jiang Cheng these days?”

         “…… Mhm.” Gu Fei answered.

         “How’s he doing right now? I was planning to talk to him after his first practice exam scores are out, otherwise I’m afraid of putting too much pressure on him.” Lao-Xu said.

         “He’s been working pretty hard this whole time, you don’t have to worry.” Gu Fei said. “You…… try to relax okay, you’ve been looking like you got a face-slimming shot lately.”

         “Face-slimming shot?” Lao-Xu blinked. “What’s that?”

         “You get a shot on your face, and then your face will poof and become a whole chunk smaller.” Gu Fei said.

         “That powerful huh?” Lao-Xu chuckled. “Then I should tell teacher Lu to go get a jab, he’s been putting on weight recently.”

         “You should go home and eat.” Gu Fei said as he walked into the store.

         “A face-slimming shot? I can’t believe such an incredible thing exists.” Lao-Xu laughed as he walked away.

         After buying the Shi Quan Da Bu pills, Gu Fei went to print out the practice exams before having them bound, then went to order some meat pies for take-out from Wang Xu’s place.

         “You gotta hurry on your bike,” Wang Xu said. “Otherwise the outside will get soggy, and it won’t taste as good.”

         “Mhm.” Gu Fei answered.

         Ever since that night before Valentine’s Day, Wang Xu had suddenly become a lot more mature, steadfast, and reticent, as if he’d taken some fast-growing pig hormones. Even when he talked, it was without the flagrant boasting tone he used to speak with.

         Gu Fei couldn’t tell if that counted as growth or depression.

         “You want to take some lamb soup too?” Wang Xu asked. “I’ll get you guys a thermos.”

         “Sure.” Gu Fei nodded.

         Wang Xu put the soup in the container and handed it to him.

         “Are you……” Gu Fei paused. “Going to the self-study period?”

         “Da-Fei,” Wang Xu looked at him. “Don’t you think that’s a very cruel question to ask me?”

         “…… Oh.” Gu Fei looked back at him, feeling like Wang Xu could come up with a broken-hearted poem in the next second, so he quickly grabbed the food. “See you later.”

         Behind him, Wang Xu let out a sigh.

         When Gu Fei arrived in the classroom, it wasn’t yet time for the evening self-study. There were only a handful of people sitting in their seats, poring over books.

         Jiang Cheng was buried behind a giant pile of study materials taller than his head, and he didn’t even notice when Gu Fei walked up to the desk.

         Gu Fei opened the bag of meat pies and placed it on his own side of the desk.

         A few seconds later, he saw the furiously scribbling pen pause for a moment, before Jiang Cheng quickly whipped his head around.

         “Got a pretty good nose there.” Gu Fei chuckled and said quietly.

         “Shit,” Jiang Cheng gulped and grabbed a meat pie. “I was so hungry my hands were getting icy.”

         “Did the crust get soggy?” Gu Fei sat down.

         “Nope, it’s delicious.” Jiang Cheng ate half the meat pie in two bites. “You printed out the tests?”

         “Got everything,” Gu Fei waved the thick file folder in his hand. “Which one do you want to do first?”

         “I’ll do it according to the standard order,” Jiang Cheng said as he munched. “What’s in the thermos?”

         “Lamb soup.” Gu Fei said.

         “Quick,” Jiang Cheng’s eyes positively sparkled. “Gimme a bowl.”

         Gu Fei poured some out into the thermos lid for him. Jiang Cheng’s hands were almost shaking as he accepted the bowl. Gu Fei found it amusing, “Are you being serious?”

         “The meat pies and soup from Wang Xu’s place are the most delicious things on this earth.” Jiang Cheng  said.

         At this, Yi Jing, who had been sitting with her head down in the front row memorizing passages, turned and looked back.

         Gu Fei met her gaze, and she gave a little smile.

         “The shit?” Jiang Cheng noticed Yi Jing’s movement, and said quietly as he continued to chip away at the meat pies. “Did the spineless Wang Jiuri tell her??”

         “I don’t think so, she probably just caught the food smell.” Gu Fei picked up the meat pies and waved it at Yi Jing, who shook her head and turned back to continue studying. “Wang Xu is pretty reliable when it comes to these things. If this was war time, he’s gotta be one of those who gives up only after a whole week of beatings.”

         “Ones like him who look like they don’t know anything useful would be dead within a week from the beatings.” Jiang Cheng sighed. “Is he still like that? All heartbroken?”

         “Mhm,” Gu Fei picked up a meat pie and ate it slowly. “I don’t even know how to talk to him now.”

         “He should take some lessons from Pan Zhi.” Jiang Cheng glanced in Yi Jing’s direction. “Look at our Master Pan, year after year he dumps and gets dumped so often it’s as normal as eating and drinking to him. If he doesn’t tell you, you can’t even tell when he’s dating and when he’s broken up again. That scum.”

         “Sooner or later someone will come along to handle him.” Gu Fei laughed and said.

         “I’m just waiting for that day,” Jiang Cheng said. “If one day he gets in the dumps from a breakup, I will be on the side laughing for 180 days straight.”

         Gu Fei couldn’t stop laughing as he ate.

         Jiang Cheng used his evening hours to do the first practice exams from the Associated High. He would return one period earlier from evening self-study every day, and Gu Fei would invigilate for him.

         “We will be handing out the papers now, everyone please remain quiet, and do not talk to one another.” Gu Fei said as he pulled out the last of the English exams from the file folder. “You have 120 minutes to complete the test. Do not be nervous, read the questions carefully, organize your time well……”

         He placed the papers in front of Jiang Cheng.

         Jiang Cheng took the papers and first wrote down his name, then began to quickly leaf through the pages.

         Gu Fei sat down beside him and started the timer on his phone.

         That was the last of the Associated High exam set. He had already scanned and sent the completed ones back to Pan Zhi, who would print it out and have the teachers there mark it for him.

         At times, Gu Fei could feel the pressure Jiang Cheng had on him. Simply completing a set of practice exams from the Associated High already involved so many people. Jiang Cheng’s old head teacher Lao-Yuan even called him a few times about it.

         The expectations of these people were all pressure added on his back.

         Although, Jiang Cheng seemed okay. His confidence in his own academic abilities was able to withstand this pressure.

         Damn impressive, boyfriend.

         Gu Fei held up his phone and took a picture of Jiang Cheng’s hardworking back.

         The questions from Associated High’s first practice exam were rather difficult; Jiang Cheng felt a little apprehensive after he finished. He was relatively calm however, because no matter how he did on these questions, it would at least tell him the gap he had to overcome. As long as the university entrance exams didn’t begin tomorrow, then he still had time.

         One day before Fourth High’s first practice exams were due to start, Pan Zhi sent Gu Fei the results of each subject and the total score.

         “Wanna look at it after you finish these ones?” Gu Fei asked.

         “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng nodded.

         “Pan Zhi said it was pretty great.” Gu Fei continued.

         “He’d say that as long as I scored higher than him,” Jiang Cheng smiled. “Mostly I just wanted to see how far behind I am after spending a year here. I can only catch up if I have an idea of the difference.”

         “Mhm,” Gu Fei turned to Jiang Cheng from his position slumped over the desk, then pulled out two small yet different bottles from his desk drawer. “Come on, chug these.”

         “Why does it feel like I’m taking these several times a day,” Jiang Cheng accepted them and gulped it down. Gu Fei had been buying him boxes of supplements meant to nourish the brain, benefit the immune system, and boost energy, and making him drink them every day. “Didn’t I take it just this morning?”

         “These are twice a day, okay.” Gu Fei said. “Looks like you really do need it, your brain is only good for studying these days, can’t even fit another thread in there.”

         Jiang Cheng laughed for a while at the little bottles in his hand, “Can you fit a lot of threads in your brain?”

         “Nope,” Gu Fei sighed. “My brain is all filled up with things about you now. The other day Er-Miao was asking me what’s 7 times 9, and I had to start reciting all the way from 4 times 9 to land at the correct answer.”

         Jiang Cheng put away his smile, reached out a hand discreetly, and touched Gu Fei’s leg, “You’ve been working hard.”

         The arrival of the first practice exams finally instilled an air of tension at Fourth High. The school didn’t simply pull the desks apart like they did for regular tests, but instead mixed the different classes together.

         Jiang Cheng was surrounded on both sides by people he didn’t recognize. When he looked to the right, he couldn’t see Gu Fei’s familiar profile, nor the way he rolled dice on the answers. He was not used to this.

         On the other hand, these practice exams used the standard tests used across the city, and with the Associated High’s tests he wrote before, Jiang Cheng felt that these were relatively easier.

         Therein lies the difference.

         That was the phrase echoing around Jiang Cheng’s mind as he worked through each problem.

         There were people leaving early for every subject—they had already given up and only came to show their face and confirm that they really couldn’t answer the questions.

         Jiang Cheng had sufficient time remaining after he finished, but he still stayed in his seat and checked back and forth until the last second. There was no need to show off this time.

         He was also delighted to see that in the classroom next door, Gu Fei did not hand in his test early either, nor did he roll the dice on the questions.

         “Really?” Jiang Cheng looked at him.

         “Really.” Gu Fei said. “Have to give my boyfriend some credit, don’t I? Since I kept you company for so long while you studied, it would be embarrassing, wouldn’t it, if I still have to roll the dice during the test?”

         Jiang Cheng didn’t answer, only narrowed his eyes.

         “Am I wrong?” Gu Fei smiled. “The way you’re on my back day in and day out, making me quiz you.”

         Jiang Cheng clicked his tongue, but still didn’t say anything.

         “Did you think you were being discreet?” Gu Fei asked.

         “Uh huh,” Jiang Cheng didn’t know what to say. Judging by Gu Fei’s reaction, he seemed to have noticed a long time ago, but didn’t seem to feel displeased about what he did either. Though it didn’t mean that he would admit it so easily. “Isn’t quizzing each other a normal thing to do?”

         “Cheng-ge,” Gu Fei reached his arms up into a stretch, and rotated his shoulders. “The way you were treading so carefully……”

         “When did I ever tread carefully.” Jiang Cheng cut him off.

         “The way you were treading so carefully, it was really touching.” Gu Fei insisted on finishing his sentence.

         Jiang Cheng paused, then sighed, “Fine, so I was treading carefully. It’s my boyfriend after all, if it was anyone else I wouldn’t have the energy to bother.”

         “To be held in someone’s heart like that,” Gu Fei slung an arm over Jiang Cheng’s shoulder. “Is a pretty special feeling.”

         “Yes.” Jiang Cheng nodded.

         Gu Fei was talking about himself, but Jiang Cheng felt the exact same way.

         To hold someone in your heart is actually a very difficult thing.

         Everyone longed to have it, but not everyone would receive reciprocation.

         “Your score from before,” Gu Fei pulled out his phone. “Wanna see it now?”

         “Mhm,” Gu Fei’s words pulled Jiang Cheng back to earth. “Is it higher than 630?”

         Gu Fei didn’t answer right away, he frowned and said, “Pan Zhi’s words really can’t be trusted.”

         “It’s 628, which is already really good.” Gu Fei tapped play on the voice message Pan Zhi had sent, and put the phone next to Jiang Cheng’s ear. “Here, you can listen to what he said.”

         “Lao-Yuan said, you’re not done with revision yet, plus this time we marked all the tests harder. His test was also marked by a stricter standard. I checked the rankings, his total score places him in fourth, only 2 points less than the third place. Compared to his abilities before, he’s stayed about the same, and didn’t fall back. Also, he wasn’t deducted marks for neatness this time. You remember his shitty writing before? Well it actually doesn’t look like shit anymore. He’s been practicing his handwriting even as he studies, don’t you think that’s really impressive of him.

         Jiang Cheng tsked audibly and handed the phone back to Gu Fei.

         “What do you think, the tests were already on the hard side, and they were strict with the marking.” Gu Fei said.

         “What did the first place get?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         “637.” Gu Fei glanced at him.

         Jiang Cheng tsked again.

         After a while, he tsked yet again, then as if a dam had been opened, he tsked all the way from the classroom to the front gate of the school, at least 80 times, drying out all his saliva.

         “Is your tongue still okay?” Gu Fei sighed.

         “That’s a whole 10 points difference.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “Nine points.” Gu Fei corrected him.

         “Ah nine points, that’s a whole question’s worth.” Jiang Cheng furrowed his brows. “Therein lies the difference.”

         “There’s more than two months left.” Gu Fei said.

         “Charge!” Jiang Cheng flung his arm up.

         Only Gu Fei understood the weight behind Jiang Cheng’s “charge!”.

         After all, Jiang Cheng’s total score for Fourth High’s practice exam was 648—first in the whole city. Standing at the lectern, Lao-Xu was so excited that his lips were trembling.

         Only Gu Fei knew that to Jiang Cheng, their tests were not that difficult. Even if they were in the best high school in the city, it couldn’t compare with the Associated High where he was from.

         By Jiang Cheng’s standards, he still needed to charge forward.

         It was a very simple word, but to put it to action was a little scary.

         Gu Fei thought that Jiang Cheng was already working very hard, but didn’t know that he could go even harder.

         As a matter of fact, Jiang Cheng didn’t increase the time he spent on studying every day, but it was clear that his attention was more focused than before, and the times he would sneak glances at Gu Fei throughout studying had decreased drastically.

         Even while he ate his night time snack, his eyes would stay glued to the books.

         Jiang Cheng in this state surprised Gu Fei, but he also felt proud. However, slowly with the passing of each day, Gu Fei felt more and more anxious.

         Therein lies the difference.

         Those were the words Jiang Cheng had said.

         To Jiang Cheng, the difference was those points.

         But to Gu Fei, the difference was much more complicated.

         If he were to trace the source of the difference, he’d have to go deeper and deeper, until the realization that the difference was right there at the start.

         These differences, with the lengthening of time, with the change in surroundings and the people around them, would gradually grow bigger. It might take one year, two years, or three…… Perhaps it would end up becoming a great chasm, unable to be filled merely by the affection of two high school students leaning on each other.

         “Gu Fei.” Jiang Cheng set his book down.

         “Hm?” Gu Fei looked at him.

         “Will you massage my neck?” Jiang Cheng smiled.

         Gu Fei walked up behind him, and gently kneaded the back of his neck, “Here?”

         “Mhm,” Jiang Cheng put his head down, and his hand was back on the book. “Feels good.”

         “Why don’t you rest for a bit?” Gu Fei asked.

         “I’m resting now,” Jiang Cheng drew his hand back. After a while he cocked his head and said, “Hey, I wanted to ask you.”

         “What?” Gu Fei stroked his cheek with a finger.

         “Have you been in a bad mood lately?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         “Have I?” Gu Fei smiled. “You got time to think about these things?”

         “Is that a no?” Jiang Cheng turned back to look at him.

         “No,” Gu Fei said. “I’m just…… a little nervous.”

         “Nervous about what?” Jiang Cheng was a little lost.

         “I can’t tell exactly,” Gu Fei thought for a moment. “I guess after all, I’m also someone who’s about to write the university entrance exams.”

         “Shit,” Jiang Cheng paused for a beat, then turned away and couldn’t stop laughing. “Why does it sound not at all believable coming from you.”

         “Then what is believable?” Gu Fei also laughed.

         “You saying you like me,” Jiang Cheng leaned his head back against Gu Fei’s stomach. “That, I believe.”         

         “I like you,” Gu Fei looked down at him. “Superduperthunderandlightning much.”

[1] Shi(ten) Quan(complete) Da(big) Bu(tonifying) Wan(pills) [十全大补丸]: an old and renowned patented Chinese medicine formula meant to supplement qi and blood, one of those that are common enough that people often buy it over the counter without seeing a doctor first..

Some Stats

  • Raw character count: 6135
  • TL word count: 4298
  • TL time: looong
  • Edit time: 40:19
  • Curse words: 5x shits

TL’s Notes:
Sorry for the long wait orz (no schedule but the pace should pick up in October)

If you haven’t yet, this is a good time to buy the novel on jjwxc; 撒野 is the title to search for if you’re using the app, and here is a step-by-step tutorial from Cuchallain to guide you through it! If you run into any problems, feel free to dm me on twitter @amidstwoods :3

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