Jiang Cheng felt that he was pretty confused too. He had skipped classes, gotten into fights, and caused trouble all the time, but he had never knocked someone out in the snow and then just went inside to eat.
"Hey," he followed Gu Fei into the shop, staring at Gu Fei who sat back down in his chair. He didn't want to say it directly in front of Gu Miao, so he could only hint vaguely, "That...aren't you going to do anything about it?"
"Don't worry, it's nothing," Gu Fei glanced at him, "He'll get up and leave by himself later. At most his nose needs to be fixed... You're quite kind-hearted. When you met that Monkey gang, were you worried about them too?"
"Did I make them..." Jiang Cheng pointed at the door, carefully choosing his words, "fall asleep out there?"
Gu Fei looked at him without speaking, but Jiang Cheng could see he was suppressing a smile.
"Fine," Jiang Cheng sat down, "It's not even my business anyway."
Gu Fei lowered his head to continue eating. He didn't say anything else either, although he wasn't really sure if that guy outside could "get up" and "leave by himself".
Maybe it was the different environment, but the one he grew up in meant that no matter how much trouble he caused, there was always a "limit". But for Gu Fei, looking at this shabby old neighborhood, looking at the people around him, this kind of thing was probably no big deal to anyone.
Thinking about this, he really should thank Gu Fei for not letting him freeze to death lying in the snow by the door.
Eating with the Gu siblings in silence, he was getting a little used to it already. The previous two times they ate, Gu Miao didn't speak, he had nothing to say, and Gu Fei didn't seem to want to talk at all.
Eating like this saved a lot of time. They finished eating in about ten minutes.
As he put down his chopsticks, about to say thanks, pained cursing could be heard from outside. Based on the sounds, it was the one who had been "asleep".
Jiang Cheng breathed a sigh of relief and listened.
The man sounded like he was cursing with great difficulty. Probably because his nose was broken, or some other bones were broken too. Listening casually, his style sounded quite similar to Li Baoguo's neighbor when they were arguing.
It was probably part of the local culture.
But there was one particularly loud sentence that made Jiang Cheng glance at Gu Fei.
"I'll f*ck your mom, what are you gonna do about it!" The man's words were a little unclear, but you could still make it out.
After Gu Fei exchanged a look with him, he drank another sip of soup before saying: "That's my mom's boyfriend..."
"What?" Before Gu Fei could finish, Jiang Cheng was shocked enough to eat two pounds of lamb. Although that guy was quite disgusting, he looked around thirty at most. Gu Fei's mom must have been nearly forty if she gave birth to him at twenty.
"One of them." Gu Fei finished his sentence.
"Huh?" Jiang Cheng was confused.
"Eat your fill?" Gu Fei asked. "There's still meat left, add more if you're not full."
"I'm full, I'm full." Jiang Cheng quickly nodded.
"Er Miao, clean up." Gu Fei put down his chopsticks.
Gu Miao immediately stood up, very adeptly collecting the bowls and grabbing the chopsticks in one swoop. She headed out the back door holding them.
Looking at this, Jiang Cheng suddenly felt a little unhappy. It reminded him of what Li Baoguo said, "This is women's work." He reached out, ready to help clean up.
"Just sit," Gu Fei stopped him. "Let her take care of it."
"This is women's work, isn't it?" Jiang Cheng looked at him sideways.
Gu Fei was startled for a moment then laughed. "Did I say that?"
"Goes without saying, right." As Jiang Cheng thought about the chaotic scene with Li Baoguo's family that night, the anger that had finally subsided was rising again.
"I cook," Gu Fei pointed at himself, "Gu Miao washes dishes."
Jiang Cheng looked at him.
"Anything wrong with that?" Gu Fei asked.
"Oh." Jiang Cheng looked at him as the rising anger instantly turned into embarrassment.
"Hmm?" Gu Fei also looked at him.
"...Oh." Jiang Cheng really didn't know what to say anymore.
Gu Fei ignored him and walked away, sitting down behind the cashier counter and lighting a cigarette.
Jiang Cheng wanted to leave, but his upbringing meant he couldn't just get up and walk out after finishing a meal at someone else's place. He could only sit at the table and watch Gu Miao run back and forth two or three times to clean up the table.
Just as he was wondering if he could ask Gu Fei for a cigarette, Gu Fei stood up with a cigarette in his mouth and followed Gu Miao out the back door.
Only Jiang Cheng was left in the shop staring blankly at the empty table.
He took out his phone and sent a message to Pan Zhi.
-Grandpa! Chat for a bit?
Pan Zhi sent an audio: "Are you f*cking playing with me! I just got lectured by my mom and she didn't even let me eat dinner!"
As soon as Jiang Cheng heard it, he laughed and sent Pan Zhi a laughing audio for 20 seconds.
After laughing, he stood up, thinking of going to the back to see what the Gu siblings were doing. If nothing was going on, then he should get going.
Behind the back door was a small courtyard, probably shared by a few storefronts, with a toilet and a small kitchen.
As soon as Jiang Cheng stepped out the door, a gust of wind hit his face. He hurried into the kitchen.
Gu Fei stood with his back to the door. Gu Miao stood at the sink washing dishes with hot water, looking quite skilled at it. Her expression was also very focused.
Jiang Cheng watched for a while. He felt he didn't really understand why Gu Fei was standing here when he had told Gu Miao to clean up and wash the dishes. Was watching really necessary when she was the one washing?
"Um..." He cleared his throat.
Gu Miao seemed so absorbed in washing she didn't hear him, still washing the dishes attentively.
Gu Fei turned around: "Hmm?"
"I'm about to leave," Jiang Cheng said. "Do you have a coat you don't wear? Lend me one."
"I don't have any," Gu Fei said.
"Fuck, what do you mean by that?" Jiang Cheng looked at him.
"I have ones I wear daily," Gu Fei said. "In the cabinet inside, get one yourself."
"...Oh, thanks." Jiang Cheng turned to go get a coat.
"Brother Cheng," Gu Fei called out to him.
Jiang Cheng stopped. Gu Fei following Gu Miao to call him Brother Cheng made him feel a little strange, but strangely quite awesome too. He almost wanted to respond, What's up, little bro?
"Go after she's done washing," Gu Fei said. "Say bye to her."
"Okay," Jiang Cheng nodded. "You...give me a cigarette."
Gu Fei took out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from his pocket and handed them to him, then turned back to watch Gu Miao wash dishes.
Jiang Cheng lit a cigarette and retreated to the door to smoke, also watching Gu Miao wash dishes.
Although uncertain and not really appropriate to ask, he felt Gu Miao was probably not like a normal child, which was why Gu Fei had to watch even as she washed dishes.
But if he was so anxious, why did he also let her skateboard all over the streets alone and didn't seem to care much when she got bullied?
Everyone here was so strange.
Sometimes he even felt that everything was surreal - these streets, these scenes, the people he saw, the things that happened, they all had an unreal feeling. Only when he contacted Pan Zhi did he feel he had returned to the real world.
A different time? A different space?
Inside a painting?
He startled himself with a shiver.
Gu Fei happened to glance back at him. "It'd be better if you stayed in the room."
Jiang Cheng ignored him.
When Gu Miao finished washing, she tidied up the bowls and headed out of the kitchen. She passed by Jiang Cheng as if she didn't see him at all. Jiang Cheng followed her into the shop. Only when she turned around to look for someone did she notice Jiang Cheng.
"You're pretty capable," Jiang Cheng gave her a thumbs up.
Gu Miao rubbed her nose, a little embarrassed.
"Um," Jiang Cheng bent down to speak to her, "I'm leaving now."
Gu Miao looked at Gu Fei, then nodded at him.
"Bye?" Jiang Cheng waved at her.
Gu Miao also waved at him.
Jiang Cheng smiled. He had thought he could hear her say "bye" this time, but it was still a mute theater.
Gu Fei came into the room and took out a long down jacket for him.
"Thanks." Jiang Cheng took the coat and looked at it.
"Hat, gloves, scarf, face mask?" Gu Fei asked.
"...No need," Jiang Cheng said. It was only a few hundred meters. "Do you have a spare charger?"
Gu Fei went back into the room and brought out a charger for him.
"Thanks." Jiang Cheng took it and put it in his pocket.
"...If someone punched you, would you still reflexively say thanks?" Gu Fei said.
"Want to try it?" Jiang Cheng put on the coat, lifted the curtain and walked out.
Gu Fei stretched lazily, looked at the time on his phone, and gently patted Gu Miao on the head. "Let's go home."
Gu Miao very quickly shut the doors and windows. Hugging her skateboard, she waited for him outside the shop door.
He tidied up the money in the cash register, turned off the lights.
"We're walking home today. Sister Xin took our ride," Gu Fei locked up the shop. "Go straight to your room and do your homework when we get back. Come out only after you're done."
Gu Miao nodded, put down her skateboard, and kicked off. She slid about ten meters before tripping over something and falling off the board.
Gu Fei whistled and laughed.
Gu Miao ignored him, got up, stepped on her skateboard, and slid off again.
It was just past eight o'clock when they got home. The living room lights and TV were on, their mom's bedroom door was closed but light shone through the gap under the door.
After Gu Miao went in to do homework, Gu Fei knocked on the bedroom door.
There was no response from inside.
"I'm coming in after one minute," Gu Fei said.
He boiled some water in the kitchen and made himself a cup of tea. Then he went back to his mom's bedroom door, knocked twice, and unlocked it.
The door wasn't locked. It couldn't be locked anymore after he had smashed it when his mom had her suicide scare. It was never fixed.
"Get out," Mom sat on the small sofa by the window, holding her phone, eyes shooting daggers at him. "Get out! Who allowed you in!"
"Was that the call with the brat?" Gu Fei raised his voice. "Tell him, if you don't hang up now, I'll go find him tomorrow. Him and his job and the shop he works at, I won't leave a speck behind."
"You..." Mom glared at him and put the phone to her ear. "Let me tell you..."
"Hello? Hello? Hello! You bastard!" Mom slammed the phone angrily on the sofa.
"What is wrong with you! Mom's dating and you go on and on about it. Aren't you managing me a bit too much! You don't have anything to inherit! Afraid someone's going to steal from you two?"
"Pick someone from those losers of yours, one that's more reliable," Gu Fei drank some tea. "Let's see then if I'll manage it or not."
"What's unreliable about them!" Mom frowned. "So annoying."
"Which one's reliable?" Gu Fei looked at her. "Try not giving them money. See who still cares about you."
"Why wouldn't they care!" Mom slapped the sofa. "Am I ugly? If I were ugly, could I have raised you to be called handsome since you were little!"
"Hmm," Gu Fei picked up a small mirror from the bedside table and looked at himself. "Handsome."
"You..." Mom started but was interrupted.
"Everyone tells me how pretty and beautiful you were when you were young," Gu Fei put down the mirror. "Do you know what 'when you were young' means? Now there are so many girls prettier than you, younger than you, and dumber than you. Who in their twenties without your bit of money would date a forty-something..."
"Get out get out get out!" Mom jumped up from the sofa and pushed him out the door. "I have nothing more to say to you, get out!"
Gu Fei grabbed her wrist with one hand. "Don't take money from the cash register again. I know exactly how much is in there even without counting."
Mom didn't reply. She went back into the room and slammed the door shut.
Gu Fei flopped onto the living room sofa, drank some tea, and flipped through a few channels with the remote. At this time it was all hysterical mother-in-law daughter-in-law sister-in-law uncle dramas, or saintly dramas about using love to melt scumbag men with no consideration for the past.
He turned off the TV after a few glances and went into his room.
After turning on the computer, there wasn't a shred of hesitation in choosing to work on photos over homework.
Homework, he wouldn't be able to finish or pass anyway whether he did it or not.
He found processing photos quite interesting, much more so than going to class.
It's just that recently this music player had been organized too aggressively. The songs on his private station were more explosive than the last, making his mouse clicks seem electrified and fumbling about.
He switched the music to his own playlist on his hard drive and calmed down quite a bit.
After shuffling two songs, familiar guitar sounds rang out, followed by the piano, then the female vocals.
I miss a step, I'm about to take flight... Looking up I'm lost, looking down I hear you say this world is desolate...
Gu Fei moved his mouse and clicked on the next song.
It's been a few years, hadn't it? It didn't feel overly naive when it was written, but listening now it did feel a bit childish. The vocals are by Ding Zhuxin. She grasped it very well, lazy and husky with questions and struggles.
When he finished Jiang Cheng's photo, he glanced at the time. Nearly eleven. Time passed like this. When you needed it there was none, and when you didn't need it no amount of killing time made it go faster.
He stretched lazily, looking at Jiang Cheng's face filling the entire screen. The lighting was just right, the tune was just right, the disdainful expression of the youth was just right, the averted gaze was also great.
The mood was much stronger than the models from that shabby online shop Ding Zhuxin had paid to practice on back then.
He minimized the photo, checked that there were no major issues, then saved it before opening Meitu Xiuxiu*.
*T/N: A photo editing app in China.
Desaturate, darken, add filter, dreamy, starlight...
Finally he added text onto the image - Sad songs, reckless spinning, the night seems even more silent.
After arranging the composition, he sent it to Jiang Cheng.
stofthewilds, Jiang Cheng's ID seemed to suggest he was a top student, but although Gu Fei couldn't read this English any better than pinyin, he had heard this song before and really liked it, the metallic whistling wind.
Looking again at Jiang Cheng's avatar, a blurry back view and side profile, but the nose shape made it recognizable as Jiang Cheng himself...not bad for a self-taken shot.
There was no movement from Jiang Cheng's side for a few minutes before he responded.
-Are you sick...
-You must be a meme creator! Why don't you make me a middle-aged meme! Tonight, to our friendship, cheers, something like that.
-Want me to make one for you?
Gu Fei laughed for a good while, then sent another message.
-What, don't like it?
-Are you still human
Gu Fei sent the original photo while still laughing.
No activity from Jiang Cheng's side again, before responding after a few minutes.
-Just one? Any others?
-No more. The other shots weren't good so I deleted them.
-......You're really hard on yourself huh, can't you just send it and let me delete it myself?
-Didn't you say this afternoon you were going to delete it?
Jiang Cheng didn't reply.
Gu Fei put down his phone, got up to stretch his stiff arms and legs, and left the room.
Gu Miao's lamp in the room had already been turned off. He gently pushed the door open and took a peek inside. The little girl had already finished her homework and washed up. She was sleeping soundly, wrapped up in her quilt.
When he was busy with his own things, he didn't let anyone disturb him. Not only did Gu Miao remember this, even their unreliable mom knew it... his mom had gone out at some unknown time. She had left without making a sound, without disturbing him at all.
Gu Fei frowned and took his jacket that was hanging by the door. He checked his wallet and found that all the large bills were gone.
"Damn it." He muttered.
He went back to the room, took his phone, and called Liu Fan.
"Da Fei? Coming out? We're drinking right now," Liu Fan's cheerful voice came from over there, "Li Yan and the rest are all here."
"I'm not going, I'm tired and want to sleep," Gu Fei said, "Go out with me tomorrow, okay?"
"Where to?" Liu Fan asked immediately.
"That disc shop we talked about before." Gu Fei said.
"The one where the boss and all the clerks pretend to be music connoisseurs?" Liu Fan asked.
"The boss really is a poser," Gu Fei said, "I need to find that skinny cricket."
"I know, you don't need to go, it's not appropriate for you," Liu Fan tutted, "I'll bring people over there, what kind of result do you want?"
"An effect where he turns around and runs when he sees my mom." Gu Fei said.
"Okay." Liu Fan agreed.
After hanging up, his phone rang with a message from Jiang Cheng.
Gu Fei looked at his avatar and found that it had already been changed to the photo he just sent over.
-Changed your avatar huh?
-Yeah, pretty stylish
Gu Fei smiled and put down his phone, ready to go wash up. When he got to the door, his phone rang again.
He went back and picked it up to look.
-I might have to wear these clothes again tomorrow, won't have time to buy new ones until after school
-You're giving them back to me without washing?
-......Do you have a cleanliness obsession?
-No, just wash either the sweater or clothes, you pick one
-I'll wash the clothes and give them back to you
Gu Fei yawned. He didn't know if it was because he ate too much meat last night, but he was extremely sleepy.
After washing up, he flopped down on the bed and immediately fell asleep. In the middle of the night he woke up feeling cold and pulled the quilt over himself.
When he woke up in the morning, there was no one home. Mom was out all night, and Gu Miao had already gone to school herself. He looked at the time - forget morning reading, the first class was already halfway over.
"Ah--" he let out a long yawn and lazily stretched. He slowly got ready and went out.
As soon as he got downstairs, he got a call from Old Xu: "With how you've been this semester, are you trying to get expelled?!"
"I overslept." Gu Fei said.
"I don't care what excuse you have today," Old Xu said, "I'm going to have a talk with you at noon! I need to take responsibility for you!"
"......What have you done that you need to take responsibility for me?" Gu Fei asked.
"Don't play dumb with me!" Old Xu said. "I didn't know about your situation before, that was my negligence! Now that I know, I need to take responsibility!"
Gu Fei's footsteps paused: "What situation of mine?"
"Your father's situation," Old Xu said very sincerely, "As your head teacher, I hope you can open up to me..."
"Don't need you to manage my business," Gu Fei said, "I don't care who you are, do you believe I can open up then beat you up?"