Jiang Cheng got up a bit late in the morning. When he opened his eyes, it was almost time for class.
The longest he had skipped class was two days, and he had stayed out all night for three days. But for some reason, he rarely arrived late if he planned on going to school. So when he saw the time, he jumped out of bed and ran into the bathroom, grabbing some disposable toothbrushes.
Normally when staying at a hotel, he wouldn't use these things. The toothbrushes were stiff and huge, the toothpaste usually didn't have a good flavor... While rinsing his mouth, he realized that either his left hand was brushing too hard or the toothbrush was too bad - his teeth were bleeding.
Raising his head to look in the mirror, he saw his own pale, sleep-deprived face, with dark circles under his eyes. Along with the toothpaste foam around his mouth...
"Ah..." He covered his chest with his bandaged hand, pointing at himself in the mirror. He panted painfully a few times, "Sh*t... poison... ah!"
After amusing himself for a while, he hurriedly splashed some water on his face to wash up, realizing he was almost out of time.
As he checked out and ran downstairs, he felt like the Home Inn across the street was laughing at him.
That's right, yesterday he had tried to find Home Inn according to Gu Fei's vague directions. But with only 500 yuan and a phone on him, wearing clothes that weren't even his own, he hadn't been able to check in.
Because he didn't have an ID, when he had asked the front desk to help him find a way, the clerk had even threatened to call the police. It was f*cking ridiculous.
In a small, broken-down city district, it was so difficult just to stay at a shop!
He was already wearing Gu Fei’s sweater, Gu Fei’s down jacket, using Gu Fei’s charger, and had eaten his food, smoked his cigarettes. He really didn't have the nerve to go back and ask Gu Fei to borrow his ID.
When he had thought about making do at an internet cafe for the night, he saw this small hostel across the street and finally got a reprieve.
He looked back again at the small hostel. Zhou Family Hostel, he made a note of it. He could come back and relive this moment when writing his memoirs in the future.
He bought some breakfast at the small shop downstairs, but didn't have time to eat it. Jiang Cheng stuffed the food into his pockets and sprinted towards school.
The distance from No. 4 High School wasn't exactly far or near. Just two small stops away. But walking and squeezing onto the bus took time too. It was still early morning and he couldn't get a cab.
When he arrived at the school gate, Jiang Cheng heard the warning bell ring. The people slowly gathering towards the school gate around him didn't react at all, continuing to eat and chat as they strolled into the school grounds.
He slowed down his pace, not wanting to appear like a nerd hurrying to class among the crowd.
If this was his former school, the teacher on duty would have already come over and scolded him based on his current state - arriving late with sleep-deprived pale skin and faintly visible dark eye circles. But the teacher standing at the No. 4 High School gate, whether easy-going or just used to it, only gently called out: "Hurry up! Walk faster! Later when the gate closes, anyone who climbs over will be registered and deducted points!"
Climb over? Jiang Cheng looked back at the school gate.
No. 4 High's gate was still majestic with two floors. The first floor was an electric half-height door, with two large iron gates inside, topped with spikes.
He suddenly recalled that Gu Fei had also arrived late yesterday and climbed over to get in.
Tsk. Just thinking about those spikes, he felt a cold draft blow through his crotch.
Someone called his name from behind as he went upstairs: "Jiang Cheng!"
He looked back to see Wang Xu holding a large fried pancake, taking bites as he ran over.
"F*ck, it really is you," Wang Xu looked him up and down, "I thought it was Brother Fei at first. Why are you wearing his clothes? Those are his, right?"
"Mm," Jiang Cheng continued going upstairs without a word.
"Did something happen?" Wang Xu looked at his hand again, "F*ck? What happened to your hand? Was it Monkey? You went to hide at Da Fei's place?"
"No, it's nothing," Jiang Cheng replied.
"You don't have to hide it from me," Wang Xu patted his shoulder righteously, "This happened because of me. I'll take responsibility, just tell me the truth..."
"Don't," Jiang Cheng turned to look at him, "pat my shoulder."
Wang Xu held up his hand.
"Or pat my back," Jiang Cheng added.
"F*ck," Wang Xu stuffed his hands back in his pockets, clearly annoyed as he strode ahead upstairs, "jerk."
Gu Fei didn't come to morning self-study. Jiang Cheng didn't know if he was late again or skipping class.
Lying on the desk, he slowly ate his breakfast, hidden behind Zhou Jing in front. At least five other people around him were also eating.
As he ate, he lamented to himself that after just coming for two days, he had already inexplicably assimilated.
His own breakfast was simple, fried dumplings and soy milk. He had purposefully chosen cabbage filling for the dumplings to avoid any smell during class.
But looking at the people beside him, there was scallion-filled baozi, scallion pancakes. Not only fragrant fillings, but someone even had a bowl of beef noodles that they were slurping down noisily.
The first class was English. As usual, Teacher Lu came in shouting, and even snatched away half of a baozi from the student who was eating the slowest - eating through morning self-study and into this class without finishing.
"Hey," Zhou Jing leaned his head over, "Jiang Cheng, Jiang Cheng."
Jiang Cheng glanced at him without responding.
"Jiang Cheng?" Zhou Jing called him again, "Jiang Cheng."
"Just say it directly if you've got something to say." Jiang Cheng suddenly understood why Gu Fei was too lazy to bother with him. This guy had to call your name until you responded before he would speak.
"Are you wearing Da Fei's clothes today?" Zhou Jing asked.
Jiang Cheng wrinkled his brow, looking at the down jacket hanging over the back of the chair. He felt like the clothes he was wearing were probably Gu Fei's most commonly worn ones.
Wang Xu could recognize them with one glance. Zhou Jing had also noticed. Probably half the class already knew he had come to school wearing Gu Fei's clothes.
Glancing down at the sweater he wore, he could only pray it wasn't one that Gu Fei wore often.
"The sweater is Da Fei's too right?" Zhou Jing continued, "Were you at Da Fei's house yesterday?"
Jiang Cheng ignored him, lying down on the desk wanting to sleep.
"Hey, Jiang Cheng," Zhou Jing didn't bump the desk anymore, "Why didn't Da Fei come today?"
"If you don't shut up, I'll hit you," Jiang Cheng said with closed eyes.
Zhou Jing sighed and fell silent.
The classroom was very warm and cozy, but it would be inappropriate to take off the sweater. Besides, he had nothing on underneath, he couldn't just bare his upper body to attend class.
This Gu Fei looked quite low-key, barely speaking two sentences at school, and never seeming close to anyone - even going to the bathroom alone. But everyone actually remembered what clothes he wore.
It really was f*cking magical.
The second class was Chinese. After class, Teacher Xu walked to the front of his desk: "Jiang Cheng, come out for a bit."
Jiang Cheng got up and reluctantly put on Gu Fei's clothes again to follow Teacher Xu out of the classroom. They stood in the hallway: "What is it, Teacher Xu?"
"Why didn't Gu Fei come to class today?" Teacher Xu asked.
"How would I know?" Jiang Cheng felt a little speechless.
"You don't know?" Teacher Xu looked at him, his expression clearly conveying disbelief, "You really don't know or you don't want to tell me?"
"We're not close at all, why would I cover for him?" Jiang Cheng said irritably.
"Oh, I see," Teacher Xu sighed, "I saw you wearing his clothes and thought you were together yesterday, so you'd know why he didn't come."
"......Oh," Jiang Cheng could only respond with that one word. He felt like a mouthful of old blood would spurt out if he said anything more.
"Jiang Cheng," Teacher Xu looked at him earnestly, "After interacting with Gu Fei these past two days, what do you feel about him?"
Jiang Cheng stared at Teacher Xu. If he didn't know that he was currently at school, facing his head teacher, and Gu Fei was just his deskmate, he really felt like he was facing a matchmaker.
"One day," Jiang Cheng corrected Teacher Xu's words, "to be precise, half a day."
"Right, he didn't come yesterday afternoon," Teacher Xu frowned, "So what do you feel..."
"I don't feel anything," Jiang Cheng interrupted him, "Teacher Xu, I don't have any impressions about this person."
"Gu Fei is quite smart, different from those other underachieving students," Teacher Xu stubbornly persisted, "If we could get through to him ideologically, his grades could improve."
"Me?" Jiang Cheng pointed at himself, almost wanting to ask if Teacher Xu was awake.
"No no, me," Teacher Xu laughed, pointing at himself, "Of course ideological work is done by the head teacher."
Jiang Cheng didn't speak. He could see that Old Xu was quite nice, but given his current standing in the eyes of the students, the difficulty of this task was a bit big - even Zhou Jing probably wouldn't buy it, let alone Gu Fei.
"In the past, I would ask Yi Jing to tutor him when she had time. Yi Jing is the class president, very responsible, but she's still a girl in the end, it's not convenient," Teacher Xu said. "So I hope that you can... without impacting your grades, care about your classmate a bit."
Teacher Xu looked very sincere, his tone suggesting he was asking for Jiang Cheng's opinion. This made Jiang Cheng unsure of how to respond.
He had always been amenable to soft tactics, not domineering ones, and to sincerity, not pretentiousness. But Teacher Xu's overly naive request was really hard for him to accept.
"Teacher Xu," he also spoke very sincerely, "I think you should get to know me first before considering whether I'm suitable for this. Grades aren't the only measure of a person. You saw that I didn't even bring my books today for class, right?"
The conversation didn't continue. The bell rang signaling the start of class.
Gu Fei didn't come to school at all in the morning. None of the teachers asked about his absence in class, seeming not to care whether he came or not.
Jiang Cheng was the first one out of the classroom when school ended. He had nothing to pack up, just taking the clothes on his back as he sped out of the school faster than those rushing to fight for food in the cafeteria.
Luckily when he exited the school gates, he saw a taxi dropping off passengers. He got in the front passenger seat before the riders had even fully exited.
"Other than the shopping mall in the city center, where else can I buy clothes?" Jiang Cheng asked the driver.
The driver thought for a moment: "The shopping mall."
"Which one?" Jiang Cheng asked.
"The one in the city center," the driver replied.
"......Oh," Jiang Cheng leaned back and closed his eyes, "Then go there."
The shopping mall was very dated. Jiang Cheng had casually browsed around when eating barbecue with Pan Zhi. He hadn't seen anything worth buying, but now he had no choice - as long as they were clothes.
He randomly entered a shop claiming to have slash-your-throat-and-jump-off-a-building sales, making it seem like the boss would just die if you didn't buy something. He grabbed a sweater and down jacket to try on. Feeling they were decent enough, he directly paid at the counter and had the clerk cut off the tags.
As he left the mall holding Gu Fei's clothes, he felt a sense of relief.
The style of the newly bought clothes was nothing special, but the quality was good - warm with reasonable prices. Though definitely not slashed-your-throat level, at most jump-out-a-first-floor-window level.
He ate something simple at the mall, then didn't know where to go.
Maybe head back to school directly. Find a dry cleaners nearby to wash Gu Fei's clothes.
He didn't take a taxi this time, and saw there was a bus stop up ahead as he walked.
Just as he was approaching, his phone rang.
It was Li Baoguo calling.
He reluctantly picked up: "Hello?"
"Chengcheng!" Li Baoguo's loud voice came through, "You're out of school now right!"
"Mm," Jiang Cheng continued towards the stop.
"Where did you sleep last night?" Li Baoguo asked, "Blowing up like that, the neighbors who don't know anything thought I did something to you!"
Jiang Cheng didn't speak, standing under the sign at the stop to see if any buses went to the school area.
"Still angry?" Li Baoguo continued asking, "Come back and eat, I bought dumplings, just waiting for you to come back and eat them!"
"I..." Jiang Cheng didn't want to go back, but was tongue-tied now and could only say, "I'm at the shopping mall."
"Not far! Just take bus 19 from the east gate of the mall and you can come back!" Li Baoguo immediately said, "It's at the bus stop on the east side of the mall!"
When Jiang Cheng returned holding the clothes to Li Baoguo's street, he discovered there was a dry cleaner not far away. It looked a little unreliable, but the display window had many clothes hung up. He hesitated, then brought Gu Fei's clothes inside and paid extra to have them washed and picked up that evening.
He stopped when he reached the building entrance. A pedicab was parked at the end of the hallway with sheets of glass loaded in the carriage. Li Baoguo was standing to the side, taking down several panes of glass and walking back with some difficulty.
This was probably to replace the window he had smashed yesterday. Jiang Cheng sighed and ran over, "Let me carry those."
"Yo, you're back!" Li Baoguo called out, "Don't move, I can carry them. It'd be expensive if they broke on the way back!"
Seeing they really would be hard to handle, Jiang Cheng took the keys from Li Baoguo's hands and went to open the door.
"Such teamwork!" Li Baoguo yelled upwards, not knowing who he was shouting at, "See that? This is my son! We have such teamwork!"
"Why didn't you just get some workers to come directly install it?" Jiang Cheng grabbed a broom from the kitchen, seeing the broken glass still on the floor, "This..."
"Get workers?" Li Baoguo's eyes widened, "How much would that cost! Let me tell you, even just getting these few panes of glass, I got them on credit!"
"On credit?" Jiang Cheng froze holding the broom.
"The glass shop on the backstreet, the boss and I play cards together. I asked him for them first," Li Baoguo said. "I'll go give him money after I win some hands in a couple days."
Jiang Cheng opened his mouth but didn't say anything. He didn't even have money for a few panes of glass? He had to rely on winning at cards?
"It's on the backstreet right?" He bent down, sweeping up the broken glass, "I'll go give money for it later."
"Good son!" Li Baoguo put the glass panes on the table with a slap, clapping his hands, "Knows to feel distress for his dad! Your mom's side gave you quite a bit of money right?"
Jiang Cheng glanced back at him without responding.
When Li Baoguo went to the kitchen to take out the dumplings, he grabbed his jacket thrown on the bed and took out his wallet. Opening it, he suddenly felt speechless.
The cash didn't seem to have been touched, but the card had been moved. He looked at the number again to confirm it was the original one before putting the wallet back in his pocket. Sitting on the edge of the bed, his entire being felt a little weak.
Gu Fei reached for his cigarette case, wanting to take out a smoke, before realizing a pack was already finished.
He furrowed his brow, crumpling the cigarette case into a ball and throwing it on the ground by his feet.
On the ground besides the cigarette pack was a cigarette butt.
Today was quiet. Old Xu had called several times this morning, and so did his mom, and Li Yan. He didn't answer any of them, eventually turning his phone off completely.
The world was quiet now, he could savor the fear from the depths of his heart alone.
The sky had already begun to darken, and the north wind blew harder and harder. The wind could pierce through his hat, earmuffs, and mask, scraping at his face again and again.
He turned around and walked out along the small path between the two rows of tombstones, grabbed a broom, and came back in to sweep up the cigarette butts on the ground. Then he stared at the photo on the tombstone.
This was the first time today he had looked at the photo after spending the whole day here.
In the dim light, the person in the photo looked especially unfamiliar, yet still carried a trace of something that filled him with dread.
"I'm leaving now," he said.
As he turned to leave, he always felt like someone was behind him.
But when he looked back, there was only a silent row of tombstones.
As he continued forward, his steps grew heavier. Gu Fei took a deep breath and quickened his pace.
The instant he put down the broom, a huge sound of water rang in his ears.
His breathing even stopped for a moment, and he felt the darkness suddenly close in around him.
It wasn't the sound of flowing water, nor the ordinary sound of splashing. This was...the sound of someone struggling desperately in water, filled with despair, agony, and tremendous noise.
The water splashed up, wave after wave, only to be smashed down again. In the spray, a pair of eyes stared fiercely at him.
"Why aren't you saving me! Are you itching for a beating?"
In a moment of terror, Gu Fei kicked fiercely at the trash can next to him. The clanging sound as it toppled over brought him back to reality.
He pulled at his collar and hurried down the deserted road toward the cemetery gates with his head lowered.
This wasn't the last thing he heard, but it was what had echoed repeatedly in the nightmare he couldn't wake from the night his father died.
His father hadn't had a chance to speak before he died, and couldn't speak. He only struggled desperately.
He didn't know why he would dream of these words, and didn't expect them to follow him for years to come, becoming a terror he couldn't face.
The feeling of standing soaked by the lakeside always felt so real. So real that every time, he had to grab at his clothes and check over and over that they were dry.
The side of the cemetery they were on was actually quite lively. Once he left the gates, it was a major street. Gu Fei practically jogged into a supermarket.
Once surrounded by the light, he finally began to feel some warmth, and the stiffness in his body slowly faded away.
He bought two packs of cigarettes and a bottle of water, and also got some food to eat in the seating area before going back outside.
He lit a cigarette in a sheltered spot by the road, but stubbed it out after just one puff, wanting to vomit.
His throat now felt completely coated in sand.
After getting on the bus and downing the entire bottle of water, he finally felt a little better. He took out his phone.
Missed calls, mostly from Old Xu, the others didn't have anything urgent and knew he had his phone off so they wouldn't keep calling. Only Old Xu was like a loyal, perseverant suitor.
After checking his missed calls, he went to his messages. There was only one, from Jiang Cheng.
-Bringing clothes at 8
Seeing Jiang Cheng's avatar, he remembered the pic he had sent Jiang Cheng yesterday and inexplicably laughed for a good while leaning on the window.