Chapter 16 - Chapter 16

As Jiang Cheng and Gu Fei walked out of the school gate one after the other, Jiang Cheng really wanted to say to Gu Fei, "I'm doing this for Gu Miao's sake, not yours." 

But Gu Fei never looked back, so he never got a chance to say it.

When they were standing side by side, he couldn't say it either, as Gu Miao was sitting on the handrail of the sidewalk swinging her legs, hugging her skateboard.  

Seeing them come out, she immediately jumped down, kicked her board forward, chased it for two steps, jumped on and slid up to them. Then she reached into Gu Fei's pocket and took out a bag of candy.

Jiang Cheng was stunned for a moment, watching Gu Miao pick out all the fruit candies from the bag.

He carries a bag of candy with him every day just for little Gu Miao?

After unwrapping a candy and putting it in her mouth, Gu Miao suddenly turned her head and rushed off on her skateboard, riding close to the edge of the sidewalk, presumably to avoid hitting people.

Jiang Cheng could only follow behind and keep an eye on her. Although Gu Miao was very agile and technically skilled, she was still an elementary school student after all... Moreover, her brother simply turned around, got on his bike and left without even glancing in her direction.

After sliding forward a section, Gu Miao stopped and looked back at him.

"What?" Jiang Cheng walked quickly to her side.

Gu Miao jumped off her skateboard and moved it aside.

Jiang Cheng really wanted to say, I'm still sore all over from fighting your brother yesterday, I don't want to skate. But Gu Miao stared at him with big round eyes, and he couldn't get the words out.

"Okay." He sighed, stepped onto the skateboard and slowly slid forward.

Fortunately, after turning a corner, this was not a main road and there were few people.

Gu Miao ran after him, and suddenly clapped her hands. 

When he looked back, Gu Miao accelerated towards him and made a gesture, indicating for him to get off.

"You're pretty good at this..." He understood Gu Miao's intention, jumped off the skateboard.

Gu Miao timed it perfectly, leapt onto the board as it came to her, used the momentum to accelerate, kicked a few more times, then looked back at Jiang Cheng.

"Ah..." Jiang Cheng felt really tired, but still ran over, "Why don't you get your brother to do this with you..."

Gu Miao jumped off the board. He immediately jumped on the still moving board and continued forward.

They just took turns like this, sliding segment by segment.

It was actually quite fun. Gu Miao didn't talk, and he didn't need to either. Just cooperating with her like this was enough. The key was that she was skilled, so Jiang Cheng didn't have to worry about her falling.

Gu Fei followed them about ten meters away the whole time, riding his bike. One leg was dragging on the ground as he slowly pedaled forward, head lowered as he played with his cell phone, not watching the road or his sister.

Jiang Cheng kept hoping he would crash into one of the uncovered manholes. 

But this shabby little city, while shabby, was quite well managed. Even the bricks on the sidewalk had no missing ones. Gu Fei rode all the way to their street smoothly and safely.

"Okay," Jiang Cheng jumped off the skateboard, sweaty from the ride, "I'm going back that way."

Gu Miao put one foot on the skateboard and waved goodbye to him.

He also waved back.

Gu Miao whistled, and Gu Fei looked up at her. He suddenly stomped hard on the pedals, and the bike shot forward. As it passed her, she reached out and grabbed the back of the seat, getting pulled along by Gu Fei like waterskiing.

"...Take off and fly." Jiang Cheng watched, a little speechless.

Gu Fei probably didn't have a father. His mother was also questionable. Gu Miao was likely raised by Gu Fei like a puppy. 

If this happened in his family, his mother would probably nag about it for half a year if she saw another child's brother treat his sister like this.

...Some things were like obsessive compulsions, uncontrollably coming to mind over and over.

Jiang Cheng looked up and took a deep breath of the icy air, feeling his heart lighten a little.

Returning to Li Baoguo's home, the card players were all gone. The living room was a mess, with unfinished card games and jars full of cigarette ashes on the table, just looking at it made one nauseous.

Jiang Cheng went into the kitchen. He couldn't keep ordering takeout. He had no allowance now, all spending and no income, he had to save money. Considering Li Baoguo's situation, not even asking him for money would be considered decent. 

As soon as he entered the kitchen he wanted to smash things. Yesterday after Li Baoguo made dumplings, he had just left everything as is, unwashed and uncleared. The pot still had half a pot of noodle soup.

Jiang Cheng wanted to wash the pot, but as soon as he picked it up, he froze in place.

A drowned cockroach was in the noodle soup.

The scene shocked him so much he couldn't even vomit. He just stood there holding the pot, feeling like multi-legged creatures had crawled all over him, itchy with disgust.

After standing there for at least two minutes, he gritted his teeth and poured the noodle soup into the toilet, then put the pot on the floor and rinsed it thoroughly with the faucet for a good while, scrubbing it hard with detergent. Finally he filled the pot with water and started boiling it.

Even after the water boiled, he didn't turn off the heat, just staring at the churning water surface until he felt like he had boiled away the last traces of the cockroach. Only then did he pour out the water and boil a fresh pot, planning to cook some noodles for himself.

There was a fridge in the kitchen. Opening it brought a wave of odor. Inside there were only a few small red peppers, looking at least a month old from their condition. 

No meat, no eggs, nothing.

Damn! Did Li Baoguo buy meat for the dumplings by weight? Not a penny more!

After spacing out at the pot of water for a while, he turned off the heat.

He struggled painfully between going out to eat, ordering takeout, and buying some ingredients to cook noodles. Finally he resolutely chose to go buy groceries.

Under the current circumstances, he was powerless to change them. The only thing he could do was try to adapt, although it was easier said than done.

He took his wallet and phone and went out to buy groceries.

He should go to the vegetable market, but... after coming here for so long, walking around the vicinity every day, he still hadn't found a vegetable market. 

He wanted to ask someone, but had walked all the way to the street entrance without encountering any pedestrians. It was cooking time now, so people were at home.

He frowned and glanced down another street.

Gu Fei's pseudo-supermarket. That must have vegetables. Even if no greens, at least processed meats, canned ham, fish etc... He didn't know if it was because he had been living too miserably lately, but when he thought of these things, he actually swallowed involuntarily, hungry.

Jiang Cheng, just look at yourself!

After this self-reflection, he still turned into that side street. 

Now, even lifting the curtain to Gu Fei's shop gave him a sense of awkwardness. Every time it felt embarrassing. After fighting this morning and barely exchanging three sentences all morning, coming to shop felt even more awkward.

As soon as he lifted the curtain, he immediately felt like a dense array of eyes were glaring at him.

It wasn't awkward, he was so startled he nearly tripped.  

Fourteen eyes from seven people - the Gu siblings, their not-a-good-bird friends, and Li Yan.

Gu Fei seemed a bit surprised. He turned back holding his chopsticks without speaking. When he didn't speak, neither the unsavory friends nor Li Yan made a sound.

Only Gu Miao stood up and waved at him.

He smiled at Gu Miao, then walked in, "I'm here to buy some things."

"Go ahead," Gu Fei said.

"Just... ham sausages and such. Where are they?" Jiang Cheng looked around. The Gu family shop was quite large, with several rows of shelves.

"Furthest in by the window on that row." Li Yan said. 

"Thanks." Jiang Cheng glanced at him and walked over.

The selection was quite comprehensive: ham, sausage sticks, sliced sausage, red sausage. He took a pack of each, and also a canned pork and a canned fish.

After taking two steps towards the cash register, he turned back halfway, grabbing some oil, salt, sauce and vinegar as well, as he harbored deep fears about everything in Li Baoguo's kitchen.

"Quite a haul," Li Yan said behind the counter as he rang up the purchases. "Cooking?" 

"Yeah," Jiang Cheng hesitated, "Do you have... pots?"

"Pots?" Li Yan was surprised and looked over at Gu Fei. "Do we have pots?"

Gu Fei was also surprised. He stood up, "What pots?"

"Just... pots for stir-frying, stewing..." Jiang Cheng said.  

"We do," Gu Fei said, "Though you can get better quality from the department stores."

"No worries, as long as they work." Jiang Cheng said.

Gu Fei looked at him, then turned and walked to the furthest corner. From a pile of buckets and basins he fished out two pots, one a wok and one a soup pot, and held them up towards him. "This size?"

"That works." Jiang Cheng nodded, going over to take them.

"Might as well eat together, it's just a matter of adding one more pair of chopsticks." Li Yan leaned on the counter.  

Jiang Cheng took out his wallet. Li Yan spoke enthusiastically, but his eyes held unfriendly provocation as he looked over.

What Jiang Cheng hated most was people inexplicably confronting him like this. He snapped his money out and slapped it on the counter, bracing his hand on it as he stared back.

"Your eyeballs are gonna pop out," Gu Fei walked over and sat back down, saying, "Take the money."

Li Yan stared at him a moment longer before looking down to take the money and counting out change after much deliberation.

Seeing that Li Yan had no intention of getting him a bag, Jiang Cheng glanced around the cash register and grabbed two from a stack of shopping bags hanging there. He put everything inside, then turned and left the shop.

"Are you sick or something?" Liu Fan looked at Li Yan.

"Not sick," Li Yan sat down and took a drink, "I don't know why either, I just can't stand looking at the punk."

"Can't stand looking?" Liu Fan said, "People who don't know better would think you're love at first sight, staring like you're about to lick him up."  

"Do you know how to talk?" Li Yan glared at him.

"Brother Yan's in a bad mood today, huh." Luo Yu smiled as he gnawed on a bone.

"None of your business," Li Yan slanted him a glance. "I made this meal, if you don't want to eat nicely then go cook noodles in the back courtyard yourself."

"Speaking of which, this big bone you bought today is really good," Liu Fan said, "Fresh."

"Had my mom buy it," Li Yan said. "When it gets cold I just crave meat all the time... Er Miao, wipe your oily mouth, you're still a little beauty, be aware of your image." 

Gu Miao took a napkin and wiped her mouth, bowing her head to continue eating.

"Right, that guy hasn't come around again, has he?" Liu Fan asked.

"Mm." Gu Fei put some greens into Gu Miao's bowl.  

Gu Miao quickly picked out the greens, trying to put them into Li Yan's bowl, but Gu Fei's chopsticks pinned hers down. "Your face is so dry it's peeling."

Gu Miao could only retract her hand and stuff the greens into her mouth.

"A dry, peeling face is from lack of skincare." Li Yan leaned over to look at Gu Miao's face. "Er Miao, have you been using that moisturizing cream I bought you?"

Gu Miao didn't answer.  

"She finds it troublesome." Gu Fei said.

Li Yan tsked. "Don't know who she got this rough temper from, not your mom or brother either..." 

He stopped mid-sentence, stuck for a long while, before putting a noodle in his mouth.

"It's fine." Gu Fei drank some soup.

Today's meal was cooked by the ingredients Li Yan had brought. One benefit of having a few jobless vagrant friends was that when his unreliable mom wasn't around, they would come help out.

When Gu Fei wasn't skipping school, his mom would come to the shop, but she would leave within half a day at least twice a week. Li Yan would come on those days, watching the shop and cooking.

He wasn't a great cook, just throwing various ingredients together into a messy pot, everything coming out tasting the same. But he was willing to buy plenty of ingredients, always cooking a full pot and calling people over to eat together.

After the meal, Liu Fan and the others left. Li Yan leaned back in his chair, head tilted back as he rubbed his stomach. "Er Miao, I'll do the dishes later. Gotta digest first, ate too much."

Gu Miao looked at Gu Fei with her skateboard in hand.

"...Go on." Gu Fei acquiesced a little helplessly. 

Gu Miao's love for skateboarding was like an obsession. She practically hugged the board to sleep.

"Da Fei," After Gu Miao left, Li Yan opened his eyes to look at Gu Fei. "It's warmer now, go out and have some fun."

"Where to?" Gu Fei asked.

"Dunno, maybe ask Sister Xin," Li Yan said. "Go out with her band."

"Forget it." Gu Fei lit a cigarette in his mouth. "I'm not going out these days. I'm still burdened with that demerit record." 

"You still care about that?" Li Yan laughed.

"Gotta at least graduate." Gu Fei said.  

"If you got a little closer with that top student, maybe you could even test into a good university." Li Yan looked at him.

Gu Fei gave him a glance. "Shit for brains."

"Actually," Li Yan thought for a moment, looking at the ceiling. "If that kid wasn't so cocky, he's... not bad."

Gu Fei didn't speak.

"I quite like this type." Li Yan added.   

"You'd be beaten to a pulp by this type," Gu Fei said. "Retard."

"Your pattern's growing out," Li Yan looked at his hair. "Trim it?"

"Are you that uncomfortable from boredom?" Gu Fei blew out some smoke.

"Yes." Li Yan nodded.

Gu Fei turned his chair, back facing him. 

Li Yan took out a toolkit from under the counter. "How long do you plan on keeping this pattern? Want a new one?"

"No." Gu Fei tilted his head back against the chair.

"Zhuxin really is your goddess." Li Yan carefully started fixing the pause sign on his left side.

"My goddess is Gu Miao," Gu Fei said. "Stop always linking me with Sister Xin, especially in front of her." 

"Got it," Li Yan nodded. "You're not her little follower anymore, don't look up to her either. Might as well not even like women now."

Gu Fei smiled a little. "Is she paying you a salary or something?"

"Nah, I just feel she's silly. Clearly knows you..." Li Yan sighed. "What's she thinking, still liking you." 

Gu Fei didn't speak.

Zhuxin's previous name was Zhuyin. She later changed it herself to Zhuxin.

Bamboo has no heart.

Right. What was she thinking.

When he was little he rather admired Zhuxin, thought she was cool and unrestrained. In those most confused and helpless years, Zhuxin's support meant much more than his mom's. He still greatly respected her now. He just hadn't considered that many things would change, alterations happening gradually until suddenly realizing everything was different.

Jiang Cheng used his phone navigation and struggled for a full hour before finally arriving at the logistics warehouse. 

When the staff rolled out his things on a pallet jack, he got a shock. Several huge crates were stacked into a small mountain.

"Check it against the list, all numbered." The staff gave him a sheet.

After Jiang Cheng signed, he hurried out to find a freight truck. The driver was unwilling to help carry the crates onto the truck, even for extra money. Jiang Cheng could only drag and haul the crates onto the truck himself with one hand and a half.

Now his whole body ached unbearably, like he had fought and run a marathon.

He closed the lid of the cardboard box. Mom probably mailed over every last book from his bookshelf. The box below was also full of books.

He didn't particularly like reading books, and he didn't have many books on his shelf, but with all the review materials added in, these two boxes were heavy enough to match his mood.  

After hesitating for a moment, he opened the smaller box next to it.

It was full of his little trinkets, various little decorative pieces and interesting toys that were on his desk and in the drawers, craftworks, alarm clocks, pen holders, small picture frames, and even an old lighter that was out of gas.

He closed his eyes, rubbed his face vigorously several times, and propped up his forehead, not wanting to move anymore.

Judging by this, Mom probably didn't leave anything of his behind. Other than the piano, she had likely shipped everything over in one go.

All this time, he had felt depressed, oppressed, unable to understand or accept, and also resentful and angry, but seeing these things now, he felt truly heartbroken for the first time.

Arguing with his family, being scolded by his parents, being sent back to his hometown by them, none of that had made him feel heartbroken. It was only when he saw that Mom had boxed up and shipped over everything indiscriminately, without considering whether he needed them, as if completing a task, that he felt a pain in his heart.

This heartbreak was stronger and more inescapable than any of his previous emotions.

When the driver stopped the car, he could barely stand up.

After all the big and small boxes were unloaded from the truck and it drove away, Jiang Cheng lightly kicked the boxes and sighed.

Leaning against the boxes, staring blankly at the snow on the side of the road that had been trampled into black mud, he didn't move until a junk collector rode by on his tricycle.

"These two boxes of books," Jiang Cheng pointed at the boxes. 

The collector looked them over. "We pay scrap paper prices for books now."

"Fine, take them," Jiang Cheng said.

After the collector weighed the books, Jiang Cheng opened the box of trinkets and took out the only thing he wanted to keep - a large black slingshot. Then he asked, "What about these?"

The collector rummaged roughly through the box, taking things out and looking them over. "These are useless, can't take them apart for anything... thirty yuan."

"Take them," Jiang Cheng said.

"That thing in your hand is worth some money," the collector said. "Twenty?"

"Not selling this," Jiang Cheng put the slingshot in his pocket. He felt this guy was pretty shameless, asking for twenty when it had cost over two hundred.  

The collector was still quite interested in the two boxes of clothes. "What about the clothes?"

"What do you think?" Jiang Cheng said.

The collector chuckled and took some money out of his pocket to hand to him, along with a business card. "If you have anything else to sell, give me a call. I live nearby and can come quickly."

"Okay," Jiang Cheng stuffed the card and money into his pocket.

Dragging the two boxes of clothes inside, they felt as heavy as iron. 

Or maybe he was just out of energy.

There was enough room in the house for the two boxes of clothes. He sat on the edge of the bed looking at them.

So many things, such effort to ship back, then sold for scrap, he couldn't help laughing. His brain worked great, truly a top student.

He took the dirty money out of his pocket. It was all small bills, but looked like quite a lot. 

Those heavy, huge boxes had turned into a few small pieces of paper.


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