Translate: Sae & Ice | Proofread: Anasofia
“Oh! Yeah! Thank you, thank you.”
“Contestant Jiang Cheng has decided to raise the difficulty again! He has once again decided to increase the difficulty! Wow—”
“Coach X, do you think that this was just a mistake, or are his skills not up to par?”
“I think his skills still have room for improvement…”
The room was still extremely quiet, but Gu Fei’s head was already filled with Jiang Cheng’s voice, all kinds of antics, all sorts of tones – he was completely immersed in the role.
He, who had always been good at handling stalemate situations, felt that what he was facing at that moment was a dead end – as if a broad road1 leading to “a round of beatings” had opened right before his eyes.
Nobody knew that Jiang Cheng had a slingshot; the only time he displayed his slingshot was precisely that time by the lake. The. Empty. Of. All. People. Lake.
He didn’t even have the chance to come up with an excuse so as to not admit anything.
Jiang Cheng didn’t say a word. He just stood across from him and stared at him without even a single expression on his face.
Since the sudden shock faded away, he had remained expressionless.
He couldn’t even guess what Jiang Cheng’s emotional state was now.
“That…” But he still had to open his mouth, “That day…”
Jiang Cheng didn’t speak – almost as if he was waiting for him to explain.
“I was passing by,” Gu Fei mumbled.
“There aren’t any paths by that lake,” Jiang Cheng said. “I walked an entire lap around it.”
“I really had something to do there.” Gu Fei finally found a somewhat mild way to phrase things, “I saw that you were playing with your slingshot and since we weren’t very close then, I didn’t go greet you and just left.”
Jiang Cheng gave him a look and tossed around the slingshot in his hand. When the slingshot fell back into his left hand after spinning two times, Gu Fei saw his right hand reaching toward the table by the side.
He knew that on that table there were quite a few accessories as well as… buttons.
Jiang Cheng was reaching precisely for the buttons.
Gu Fei turned around, wanting to run behind the backdrop beside them.
Those weren’t normal little buttons. Ding Zhuxin’s designs all made use of all sorts of “recyclable” materials, and that handful of wooden bead-shaped buttons were practically the perfect accompaniments for a slingshot.
“That is what you meant by ‘spectator’?” Jiang Cheng asked.
Gu Fei heard a swishing sound, following that was a burst of pain on his thigh – he had been hit by a wooden bead.
He turned around and saw that Jiang Cheng was once again pulling back the slingshot, standing in the same place with his eyes narrowed at him.
“You…” He didn’t even get to finish speaking before Jiang Cheng released his hand. He screamed, “Ah!”
The button hit him in his stomach.
Truth be told, Jiang Cheng didn’t actually put much strength into it. If he had put in as much strength as the day he was making pits in the ice by the lake that day, he probably wouldn’t even have the ability to scream right now.
“Didn’t you say that this slingshot was faulty and couldn’t shoot accurately?!” Gu Fei jumped over the sofa, hiding the lower half of his body behind the backrest.
“That depends on who’s shooting.” Jiang Cheng took another button and squinted at him, “I can hit accurately even with two fingers and an elastic band.”
“Don’t…” Gu Fei hadn’t finished speaking when Jiang Cheng released his hand yet again. The button hit his arm – now that really hurt. He vigorously rubbed his arm a few times, “Fuck!”
“The ‘spectator’ that you mentioned,” Jiang Cheng pulled taut the slingshot and looked at him from between the fork of the wood, “Is that kind of ‘spectator’, right?”
“It was just an example!” Gu Fei had gotten hit three times in a row; it really was getting hard to bear, so he raised his voice, “Do you have any sense of reason?!”
“What sense of reason?!” Jiang Cheng bellowed, his hand was shaking incredibly hard, “What sense of reason?! You look on with cold eyes without a care, how at ease you must be ah!2 What reason?! The world never had any sense of reason! Is there any reason for me being adopted?! What reason could there be for me to be sent to this motherfucking place right after I had just learned that I wasn’t a biological child?! What motherfucking reason?!”
“Cheng-ge.” Gu Fei stepped out again from behind the sofa, “I really wasn’t doing it on purp—”
He didn’t finish speaking – Jiang Cheng’s fourth button had hit his chest.
“Ah!” He jumped up and fell back onto the sofa when he retreated. He might as well not get up anymore. He directed a yell at Jiang Cheng, “Come on, come on, Master Marksman Jiang Cheng! Come on! Hit me till you’re satisfied! If the buttons here aren’t enough then there’s more outside! There aren’t just wooden ones, there’s motherfucking stone ones and even metal and copper ones! How about you directly use the metal ones?!”
“You saw everything.” Jiang Cheng glared at him for a while then dropped his hands and threw the slingshot and the buttons to the ground, “Right? You saw everything.”
“I saw,” Gu Fei answered.
“How much did you see?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“From when you were shooting holes in the ice, to Coach X, until you started crying,” Gu Fei mumbled. “I saw everything. I left the moment you started crying.”
“Oh.” Jiang Cheng sounded, leaning back against the wall.
He saw everything – a brilliantly performed schizophrenic act with an added bonus of a grown guy weeping dejectedly.
Jiang Cheng didn’t know what he felt at the moment.
From shock to embarrassment, to feeling that he had made a fool of himself, to being humiliated about his secrets being seen, to finally indignant.
And now, all those feelings had disappeared – leaving only the insufferable pain.
His back was against the wall as he slowly crouched down to the floor and held his sunken head with his arms.
This was the posture.
Ever since he was little, it was not only when he cried that he liked to use this posture but also when he was in pain, depressed, or unhappy – a posture where he strenuously made himself into a ball and shrank as much as possible as to not let any other see him…
… it made him feel secure.
It was the same as sticking your head in the sand – different in approach but equally satisfying in result.
It wasn’t that he actually thought others would not see him like this, he just didn’t want to see anyone or anything.
Being unable to see anything, hear anything… was enough.
“Cheng-ge,” Gu Fei called out to him, having walked up to his side at an unknown point and time.
“Cheng-ge, my ass.” Jiang Cheng muffled, burying himself between his knees and arms, “Are you fucking younger than me?”
“I’m younger than you by a month,” Gu Fei answered.
“You motherfucker.” Jiang Cheng was so shocked by that that he couldn’t even bury his head anymore, so he looked back up instead. “You even fucking know my birthday?”
“I saw your ID card when you fainted from the fever that day,” Gu Fei replied. “I brought a person back to my house without any rhyme or reason, shouldn’t I be clear about who that person is?”
“Don’t bother with me next time.” Jiang Cheng once again buried himself within his knees.
“Want one?” Gu Fei asked.
Jiang Cheng looked out from the cracks between his arms; Gu Fei was holding a box of cigarettes in his hand. He closed his eyes, then after a few seconds, he reached out and took out a cigarette from the box.
“You have to keep it a secret about smoking here.” Gu Fei also took out a cigarette and lit it up before handing over the lighter to him. “This studio forbids smoking since all the materials are flammable.”
Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything as he lit the cigarette and turned to look at the security camera at the corner of the wall.
“It’s fine. She normally doesn’t look at it,” Gu Fei said.
“Did you laugh?” Jiang Cheng asked; his voice was a little hoarse as if he had been greatly wronged. He cleared his throat uncomfortably, “… when you took a peek at me?”
“In my head,” Gu Fei said. “It was pretty funny at first, and even if I said I didn’t, you wouldn’t believe it anyway.”
“En,” Jiang Cheng sighed softly. “I often play alone like that, even when I played the tin whistle back then. ‘Next, let us welcome the musical performance of the nameless tin whistle player, Jiang Cheng’.”
Gu Fei laughed – so hard that the cigarette ash fell. He reached back to grab an empty beverage bottle and tap the ash inside it.
“You’ve never played like that before?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“No.” Gu Fei shook his head, “But there’s definitely a lot of people that relieve their boredom that way. Someone made a post on Si Zhong’s forum in the past, saying that they can’t sleep at night without having a full-blown performance, and many people replied below that they had the same interest.”
“Really…” Jiang Cheng laughed.
“But it’s also good that you now know that I saw you.” Gu Fei stuck up his thumb, “I finally have a chance to say, Contestant Jiang Cheng, you are the most amazing person that I have ever seen with a slingshot.”
“… thanks.” Jiang Cheng picked up the slingshot that was thrown to the side and looked at it. “This is probably just a prop that’s not meant to be used.”
“But wasn’t it still pretty accurate when you shot at me,” Gu Fei stated.
“It wasn’t. It was only enough to hit, that’s all,” Jiang Cheng said. “When it hit you on the leg, I was actually aiming for your ass.”
“Oh.” Gu Fei turned to look at him, “Why?”
“More meat on the ass,” Jiang Cheng said. “Less likely to get injured.”
“I’ve noticed that you’re always… highly self-aware. You don’t hold back your anger but won’t do anything major either.” Gu Fei tapped the cigarette ash in the container again.
“Us xueba are always conscious of what we’re doing.” Jiang Cheng held the cigarette in his mouth, “We never fling someone against a tree.”
“Fuck.” Gu Fei laughed again.
Jiang Cheng stared at the cigarette butt in his hand for a while: “What were you doing at the lakeside that day? It was fucking cold out, and there was no way through.”
“That day huh…” Gu Fei stopped, then continued after a long while. “That day was the anniversary of my father’s death. I went there to burn some paper money.”
“Ah.” Jiang Cheng froze in shock.
“That was where he drowned,” Gu Fei said, tapping his finger lightly on the container.
“Ah.” Jiang Cheng remained in shock, hesitating several times before he spoke, “I thought the water wasn’t that deep.”
“It’s not that deep. He was drinking that day. If he hadn’t,” Gu Fei’s finger stopped against the container, “It probably would’ve been me who drowned.”
Jiang Cheng suddenly raised his head and stared at Gu Fei.
When Li Baoguo said that Gu Fei killed his father, he didn’t believe it at all – not one bit.
When Gu Fei said that his father drowned, he had only thought “ah, so it really was an accident”. But hearing Gu Fei, himself, say those words, he was so stunned that he almost couldn’t believe his own ears.
“My dad was quite a bastard,” Gu Fei said very calmly. “I always wished that he would just die and get it over with. Even if Li Baoguo was my dad, I wouldn’t have thought that.”
Jiang Cheng remained silent, though his mind was a complete mess.
“Though he wasn’t that much of a gambler like Li Baoguo, he was much better with his fists than Li Baoguo.” Gu Fei laughed, “My mom thought he was handsome and married him at the time, and then came the beatings. He would beat us when he was drunk, and beat us even if he wasn’t. I’ve always thought that my dad’s only way of expressing himself was probably through his fist.”
“I heard Li Baoguo say…” Jiang Cheng recalled Li Baoguo’s words. “He beat Gu Miao too.”
“En.” Gu Fei bit his lips. He had been very calm before, but his expression immediately changed at the mention of Gu Miao. “Gu Miao had always been a bit different from other kids ever since she was born. Maybe, it’s because he was constantly drinking… of course, he would never think that. He simply thought that they gave birth to a large annoyance, an inconvenience who couldn’t talk fluently or learn properly.”
“So he just beat her?” Jiang Cheng’s anger rose as he listened.
“Yeah.” Gu Fei turned his face to the side, “He grabbed her and flung her on the wall. After that time, Gu Miao no longer talked.”
“What the fuck!” Jiang Cheng shouted, having the urge to dig up Gu Fei’s father’s grave and whip his corpse at that moment.
Gu Fei stopped talking, and the two of them both stared at the beverage bottle in silence.
After a long while, Gu Fei finally said quietly to himself: “The way I fling people against trees, I got it from him, probably…”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” Jiang Cheng cut him off immediately.
“That tone.” Gu Fei laughed, “Why does it sound just like Lao Xu huh?”
“What tone should I use then, Lao Lu’s? I already don’t have the strength to yell anymore.” Jiang Cheng leaned back against the wall and sighed. “This place is really fucked up.”
“Your adopted parents sheltered you pretty well, honestly.” Gu Fei said, “Even though it feels like you’re one of those bang snaps,3 you’re still really…. clean.”
“Probably,” Jiang Cheng said softly. He thought about it and tried to ask, “Why did Li Baoguo say that you… nevermind.”
“That I killed my dad?” Gu Fei finished.
“Ah.” Jiang Cheng suddenly felt that it was inappropriate for him to actually ask that at this time. “Don’t worry about it. I didn’t believe it. I was just… nevermind, take it as if I didn’t say anything. Don’t mind me.”
“It’s not straightforward at all.” Gu Fei stuck up his pinky finger at him, “It’s nothing really, just rumours, of all sorts. We have many rumours around here. I’ll tell you about them when I have the time.”
“En.” Jiang Cheng nodded his head.
“When my dad dragged us to the lakeside, someone saw us,” Gu Fei said. “And by the time someone came over, my dad was in the water, already motionless, and I was standing on the shore. It must have looked like the scene of a murder and the culprit wasn’t even crying, how savage.”
“That’s… you were probably scared.” Jiang Cheng frowned, not daring to imagine such a scene – how old was Gu Fei at that time?
“I don’t know, maybe.” Gu Fei lit another cigarette, “It might scare you if I say it.”
“Say it, scare me,” Jiang Cheng said.
“I couldn’t save him. I didn’t know how to swim, it was also freezing.” Gu Fei’s voice got lower, “But I also wanted him to die. I stood there and watched as he stopped moving little by little. I watched as he sank, just… looking on blankly.”
Jiang Cheng suddenly felt a bit breathless. He tried to take a couple of deep breaths but was unsuccessful as if he was tied up by something.
“Quite terrible, isn’t it?” Gu Fei’s voice was very low with a nearly imperceptible tremor, “I was terrified. If I saved him, I was afraid that he would still want to kill me, afraid that he would kill Er Miao, kill my mom… if I didn’t save him, then I just had to stand there and watch him die, little by little… Every year, on the day he died, I’ve always felt like a layer of myself has been stripped off, never able to get through this hurdle for the rest of my life…”
Gu Fei’s hand that held the cigarette shook tremendously, and even the rising smoke seemed to struggle.
“Gu Fei.” Jiang Cheng had never expected Gu Fei to have such a story and was already shocked and at his wit’s end. But seeing Gu Fei completely different from his usually calm and unconcerned nature toward all things, his hands trembled along – not knowing what he should do himself. “Gu Fei…”
Gu Fei turned to look at him.
He wasn’t crying.
Thank goodness. Jiang Cheng heaved a sigh of relief; even though he felt that Gu Fei was probably not like him, getting so easily emotional like a frail girl from just a little ache in his nose, he was still a bit worried.
With Gu Fei’s eyes now on him, Jiang Cheng suddenly became even more at a loss of what to do. He raised his hands and hesitated for a long while, then finally placed his hands on Gu Fei’s shoulders and hugged him: “Cheng-ge, hug.”
Gu Fei didn’t struggle. He only lowered his head and rested his forehead on Jiang Cheng’s knees… of course, the majority of people weren’t like him – feeling as though he had been stabbed with a knife from just a simple touch.
“To be honest… nevermind. I don’t know what to even say.” Jiang Cheng had never comforted anyone before; those that he wasn’t familiar with to a certain extent, he also didn’t want to comfort. Even Pan Zhi, who he had the greatest relationship with, didn’t need much comforting and had such a big heart that he could weather anything after eating, defecating, and having a good night of sleep. All he could do was keep on gently patting Gu Fei’s back and caressing it a few times. “Don’t worry. It’s all over now… it’s only normal for you to feel scared but that’s the past.”
Gu Fei kept his head down without moving.
“Then what,” Jiang Cheng held him closer by the shoulder and lightly rubbed his arms once more. “You’re also considered to be someone who has experienced a major event, right? Before, my mom… my adopted mom, she always said that in a person’s life, any experience is valuable, whether good or bad…”
Gu Fei still had his head lowered.
While Jiang Cheng cerebrated on the words in his mind, he was anxious that his knowledge of comforting people did not match up to his title as a xueba.
Just when he had no words to say, and could only incessantly caress Gu Fei’s back and arms, ready to say some sort of comforting childish words like “you’re safe, you’re safe, I’m caressing, caressing, caressing your hair, so don’t you be scared”4, Gu Fei finally moved and turned his face away.
“You…” Jiang Cheng hastened to look at him but was stunned with just one glance, Gu Fei’s lips were curved at the corners – laughing. He quickly yanked back his arm and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Are you even fucking human?! You’re actually laughing?!”
“Ah,” Gu Fei laughed even harder. “This is the first time that I’ve experienced such a clumsy attempt at comforting, I honestly couldn’t help it. I was pretty sad at first.”
“Fuck off!” Jiang Cheng roared and jumped up from the floor, “Believe it or not, I can beat you until you’re sad again right now!”
“Don’t, don’t, don’t…” Gu Fei also stood up and quickly kicked the slingshot on the floor to the side.
“No, I was really worried about you just now. I was so anxious, I almost caressed your hair, you know!” Jiang Cheng was simply speechless. “You must be having a lot of fun playing with me. Should I give you a round of applause…”
“Thank you,” Gu Fei said.
“You’re welcome,” Jiang Cheng shot back out of a conditioned reflex and when he returned to his senses, he was disinclined to bother, “… you fucking asshole.”
“Really.” Gu Fei raised a hand and lightly tapped his finger on his shoulder.
Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything and inexplicably glanced over at his own shoulder.
“Thank you.” Gu Fei came closer and hugged him, “Really.”
Unlike the celebratory hug on the court that day, Gu Fei’s embrace this time was very tight and his conditioned reflexes failed to emerge.
“Also,” Gu Fei said softly, holding him: “The ‘spectator’ that I was talking about, please use your xueba’s brain to think it over and not wallow in prejudice and use such a mindset to understand it.”
“My understanding, of course, isn’t muddled with prejudice,” Jiang Cheng said. He could smell the faint scent of tobacco on Gu Fei and suddenly felt that such a hug was quite comfortable. He couldn’t tell whether this sort of comfort was that of shamelessness, practicality, or something else. In short, he did not have the urge to push away Gu Fei. “When you saw me by the lake, you were thinking of yourself as a spectator, looking as someone cried, laughed, and broke into a complete nervous breakdown.”
Gu Fei laughed for a good while: “Alright, I ‘spectated’ for a moment, but I didn’t think anything else or made fun of you.”
“There it is,” Jiang Cheng said. “A bit of sincerity and this world brightens much more.”
Gu Fei patted him on the back then let him go: “I even thought that I was going to die by your hands today.”
“Not to such an extent…” Jiang Cheng sighed, “Although, I am a little worried now. It seems like I know too much…”
“No worries.” Gu Fei picked up the camera for a look, “I have photos of you in only your underwear.”
“What?” Jiang Cheng stared at him.
“I have. Photos. Of you. In only. Your underwear.” Gu Fei waved the camera, “With your face included, in high resolution and no pixelation.”
“You shameless bastard.” Jiang Cheng pointed at him, “I shouldn’t have comforted you. You’re such a pervert, do your classmates know this?”
“My deskmate knows,” Gu Fei laughed.
Jiang Cheng kept a straight face, but soon failed and burst out laughing.
He wasn’t too concerned whether Gu Fei had photos of him in only his underwear – after all, it was just underwear, and it wasn’t like he didn’t wear one. In comparison, he was more concerned about…
“And the photo of you running like a chicken,” Gu Fei said.
“Delete it now!” Jiang Cheng roared.
That’s right! He was much more concerned about the photo of him running like a chicken than of those underwear photos. If anyone saw that, it would really be humiliating.
“I can do that,” Gu Fei bluntly answered. “Just help me write the self-reflection paper for Monday’s assembly.”
Jiang Cheng glared at him then said a bit helplessly: “You can’t even write a self-reflection paper? With your behaviors, you must have written plenty since you were a kid, no?
“I really can’t. I had Li Yan help write them for me before, also Zhou Jing, and practically anyone else I could get my hands on.”
“Ay.” Jiang Cheng poured himself a glass of water and took a few sips, “Honestly, I really admire you. Just getting by as you do now, and even being reckless with your self-reflection paper what are you going to do about the university entrance exams?”
“You’re thinking too far ahead… there’s still more than a year to go,” Gu Fei said. “I haven’t thought about the university entrance exams. I just want to get my diploma.”
“Then it would be pretty nice if you study at a technical secondary school.” Jiang Cheng glanced at him, “At least you can be skilled in a specialized area.”
“I have.” Gu Fei waved the camera in his hand again, thought about it, and smiled. “When I was in middle school, I honestly thought about applying to a university, but later, I felt that it was meaningless.”
Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything. He felt that Gu Fei didn’t actually think that it was meaningless, however, considering the situations in his family, it was probably impossible for him to leave for school and there didn’t seem to be any reputable schools in the area to apply to…
“You’ll probably get into an awesome university,” Gu Fei said. “But will the two years in a crappy school like Si Zhong affect you negatively?”
“It won’t.” Jiang Cheng downed the whole glass of water. “It’s nothing else than what’s in the textbooks. They’re all the same no matter who teaches them.”
Gu Fei gave him a thumbs up.
“Perhaps, it’s to go against my mom… my adopted mom.” Jiang Cheng frowned, although she’ll never know, “That I’m not someone who would rot wherever I’m placed. I will go far away from here.”
“Yeah.” Gu Fei stretched his body, “This shitty place, no one wants to stay here.”
I love this chapter T_____T – Sae ❤
1 康庄大道 idiom literally meaning “broad road”, but actually refers to “bright prospects”. In Gu Fei’s case right now, the prospect isn’t actually very bright
2 云游天外 (You look on with cold eyes without a care, how at ease you must be): idiom meaning you’re there, you’re watching, but not actually caring/your focus/heart isn’t actually with the situation/person in front of you.
3 Bang snaps (摔炮) – alternatively, devil bangers, fun snaps, etc – type of small novelty fireworks
4 呼噜呼噜毛吓不着 (you’re safe, you’re safe, I’m caressing, caressing, caressing your hair, so don’t you be scared) literal: “caress, caress, caress your hair, so you don’t be scared” – it’s supposed to sound like a nursery rhyme help comforts kids that are scared