Jiang Cheng squatted on the floor of his room assembling a small bookshelf, sweating from the effort but still unable to get it right.
This was probably the most worthwhile thing he had bought with the money he had been sending to Daddy Ma Yun* for quite some time now.
*T/N: Jack Ma, owner of Taobao.
The five hundred yuan bookshelf felt heavy, and each piece he picked up conveyed a sense of quality unlike anything else. The main pieces were especially complex, and each was a different weird shape.
Jiang Cheng looked at the instructions for half a day before managing to attach the legs and bottom shelf, and there were still screws to be screwed in. His eyes weren't good enough, so he hammered them in instead, which was difficult...
"Did you buy this thing online?" Li Baoguo pushed the door open and yelled loudly.
From when he was little to now, no one had ever just pushed open the door and entered Jiang Cheng's room without knocking first. Li Baoguo's yell made Jiang Cheng's heart want to leap out of his mouth and stick itself to the wall.
The hammer in his hand slammed down directly onto his left thumb.
He gritted his teeth and endured the pain that exploded from his fingertip for a second before it started spreading.
"It's a bookshelf, right?" Li Baoguo asked again.
"Yes." Jiang Cheng squeezed the word out from between clenched teeth.
"How much was it?" Li Baoguo walked in and bent down to look at the pieces on the floor. "You have to assemble it yourself?"
"Yes," Jiang Cheng took a breath, finally recovering a little. He looked at Li Baoguo, "Can you knock on the door before coming in next time?"
"Knock on the door?" Li Baoguo was stunned for a moment, then laughed as if Jiang Cheng had said something hilarious. He laughed for a long time before slapping Jiang Cheng on the shoulder. "Why knock on the door! This is my son's room. I don't need to knock to enter my son's room! You came out of my dick!"
"Wha... what?" Jiang Cheng was a little shocked.
"Just joking!" Li Baoguo continued laughing loudly. He pointed at Jiang Cheng, "You silly kid, you're scared by this?"
"No." Jiang Cheng stared at the pieces on the floor, not wanting to lift his eyelids again, much less continue assembling the shelf.
"Let me tell you, our family doesn't have so many rules. We're just a crude bunch, can't pretend to be rich," Li Baoguo said. "Look at you, you can't even assemble a shelf... But it's fine, you focus on studying. Kids who study well just can't do things like this. All you know is book learning."
Jiang Cheng listened to his disjointed words silently, hoping to defeat Li Baoguo with silence and get him to leave after he was done talking.
But Li Baoguo didn't admit defeat. He squatted down next to Jiang Cheng. "Let me see."
Jiang Cheng didn't move. Li Baoguo picked up the pieces directly and looked at them, then at the picture of the finished product in the instructions: "Okay, just stay there. I'll do it."
"Hmm?" Jiang Cheng turned to look at him.
"This is simple," Li Baoguo sorted through the pieces, took out two, and grabbed a twisted piece of wood. He started assembling, "Let me tell you, this is just wasting money. I can make something like this for you in two hours with some boards from a construction site."
Jiang Cheng watched his skilled movements without speaking. At this moment, Li Baoguo seemed much more pleasing to the eye than his usual wide-eyed look at the mahjong table.
In less than half an hour, Li Baoguo assembled the bookshelf completely without even looking at the instructions.
"Done," he slapped his hands and looked at the bookshelf. "This thing is so ugly. You bought this..." He trailed off, then asked, "How much did it cost?"
"...Three hundred," Jiang Cheng had wanted to say four hundred, but hesitated and took some off after thinking about it.
"Three hundred?" Li Baoguo yelled in surprise. "Just this wooden shelf costs three hundred? You spendthrift!"
Jiang Cheng didn't speak. He didn't know if Li Baoguo would still yell if he said two hundred, or one hundred.
The shelf really wasn't cheap, but first, the quality was good, and second, Jiang Cheng really liked the design. In this room that didn't belong to him before and wouldn't feel like home later either, he needed "his own things" to feel secure.
But Li Baoguo couldn't understand that, and Jiang Cheng couldn't make him understand either.
"My son really spends like a tycoon," Li Baoguo sighed. "And I, his dad, have to buy things on credit."
"What did you get on credit this time?" Jiang Cheng was surprised.
"That day I bought a bag of fish balls, remember? You said they were pretty good," Li Baoguo said. "And that bottle of liquor... Eh, that brat's eyes are too sharp. If it wasn't alcohol I wouldn't have had to pay... But I did get other things on credit before, so a little more doesn't matter."
Jiang Cheng stared at him, feeling like his eyeballs were about to fall out. He wanted to catch them with his palms.
"Or..." Li Baoguo looked at him awkwardly, "Son, do you have money on hand?"
Jiang Cheng really wanted to say no, but he couldn't deny that the half hour Li Baoguo had busied himself assembling the shelf for him, he had felt a little touched, even moved.
Although now he felt like the only purpose of Li Baoguo helping him assemble the shelf was to get him to go pay off his debts... he still nodded, "I do."
"My son is really reliable!" Li Baoguo slapped his arm.
"Which shop did you get credit from?" Jiang Cheng asked. "How much in total? I'll go pay it back now."
"The small supermarket next street... You should know it, Gu Fei," Li Baoguo said. "That kid Da Fei, his family's shop..."
"What? Gu Fei?" Jiang Cheng didn't let him finish before interrupting loudly, his voice almost cracking.
"Yeah, he seems to know you too," Li Baoguo said. "He's also from your No. 4 High School, you should know him right?"
Jiang Cheng didn't speak. Amidst the shock, chaos, and indescribable embarrassment, he grabbed his coat and went out the door.
This was too fucking... humiliating!
His own dad! Got store credit at the shop of a classmate he had just fought with not long ago!
Actually getting credit wasn't that big of a deal, considering Li Baoguo's circumstances. But from his words, it sounded like he was stealing while getting credit!
And Gu Fei had caught him!
Why did he have to go pay the money himself?
Couldn't he just give Li Baoguo the money to pay?
That's right, why did he have to personally go embarrass himself, Jiang Cheng turned around to go back.
He had just reached the entrance to the apartment building when he heard Li Baoguo's voice, seeming to speak to a neighbor coming up the stairs: "My young son is really going places! As soon as he heard I still had unpaid bills at the supermarket, he immediately went to pay!"
"Oh," the neighbor auntie said. "You're lucky to pick up a son like this for free."
"What do you mean got him for free! He's my seed!" Li Baoguo yelled happily at the top of his lungs. "This kid is better than Li Hui. He didn't even let me go run this errand!"
"Look at you, grinning ear to ear," the auntie said. "You should live well. If you keep drinking like this, your son won't care about you in the future either!"
"Tsk! Of everyone in this building, you speak the most unlucky words. If people talked nicely, no one would just drop dead!" Li Baoguo said.
"Then why the hell are you bragging to me! If you didn't brag you wouldn't just drop dead either!" the auntie yelled back.
Jiang Cheng didn't keep listening. Now he knew why the neighbor was always arguing with someone. If they kept going like this, a fight breaking out was just a matter of time.
He leaned against the wall outside the building entrance, frustrated as he yanked off his hat to scratch his head.
After a five minute ideological struggle, he gritted his teeth and walked towards Gu Fei's shop anyway, mainly because it was too cold. His face was already numb after finishing his struggle.
It wasn't a big deal anyway. He was just going to pay money, not get things on credit, and definitely not steal...
He could even add interest if he wanted to!
After crossing the intersection, the entrance to Gu Fei's family's shop was basically right in front. At the intersection, Jiang Cheng immediately saw Gu Fei standing at the entrance, a cigarette dangling from his mouth as he looked down to play with his phone.
Probably because he had never done something so humiliating before, the second Jiang Cheng saw Gu Fei, all the gusto he had earlier about "adding interest if he wanted to" fled like refugees.
When Gu Fei looked up and saw him, Jiang Cheng felt like he was almost walking crooked.
Too fucking humiliating. How could Li Baoguo live so shamefully...
Gu Fei looked at him expressionlessly until he had crossed the street and was still walking towards Gu Fei. Only then did Gu Fei take the cigarette from his mouth and ask, "Here to buy a pot again?"
"...Let's talk inside." Jiang Cheng saw the pharmacy owner next door come out.
Gu Fei turned and entered the shop. Jiang Cheng followed him in.
"Hmm?" Gu Fei turned to look at him.
"Li Baoguo got credit here, didn't he?" Jiang Cheng asked.
"Yeah," Gu Fei nodded and leaned against the checkout counter. "But not too much. I don't have many expensive things here."
"How much?" Jiang Cheng took out his wallet. "I'll pay you."
Gu Fei looked at him, turned and extinguished his cigarette in the ashtray, then pulled open a drawer and took out a ledger, flipping through it as he asked, "Your own money?"
"What else could it be," Jiang Cheng said. "If he had money he wouldn't need credit, right?"
"He wouldn't need credit if he didn't gamble," Gu Fei handed the ledger to him. "Two hundred and sixty eight. Check if it's right."
"No need to check." Jiang Cheng didn't take the ledger, just directly took out 300 yuan and gave it to Gu Fei.
He really didn't want to look. That kind of life Li Baoguo had... No, that kind of life his mahjong buddies all lived, and were still able to keep living like that.
Gu Fei gave him change while leaning on the counter, looking at him. "Are you going to pay for him next month too?"
Jiang Cheng glanced at him, annoyed as he shoved the money haphazardly into his wallet. "None of your damn business."
"I mean he should pay it himself," Gu Fei said. "He can probably pay it back."
Jiang Cheng looked at him. Could pay it all back? But Li Baoguo's earlier words gave the impression that he couldn't pay anymore.
"But if someone pays for him, of course he won't need to worry about it himself," Gu Fei sat down on a chair. "You didn't realize that?"
"...No, my eyesight's bad," Jiang Cheng sighed. "I don't wear glasses to show off like you."
"These are nearsighted glasses." Gu Fei glanced at him.
"From playing too much Candy Crush, right?" Jiang Cheng said.
"No," Gu Fei laughed. "Where were you before this? The people there must have pretty good temperaments, right?"
Jiang Cheng looked at him without responding.
"With your temper, if you weren't my deskmate, no, if Er Miao hadn't taken the wrong medicine and saw you as especially cute," Gu Fei pointed at him, "I would've beaten you until even Xiao Ming's Grandpa didn't recognize you anymore."
"You?" Jiang Cheng sneered. "How would you beat me, by pinching my palm?"
"That's true, you're fiercer." Gu Fei pushed up his sleeves, showing Jiang Cheng his wrist.
Jiang Cheng glanced at it and saw a faint red mark.
"Damn," he was a little shocked. "Still not healed after biting it so many days?"
"Your teeth are pretty good. If I had known you could bite zipper pulls off, I would've been more wary," Gu Fei said. "You left me a string of blood blisters. The scabs just fell off."
Jiang Cheng didn't respond. He really hadn't expected to leave Gu Fei like this with a casual bite that day.
But if Gu Fei hadn't pinched his wound...
He suddenly felt an urge to laugh. He and Gu Fei had fought in such a silly way.
He held in his laugh and glanced at Gu Fei. Gu Fei's expression was clearly also trying not to laugh, with the corners of his mouth twitching up.
"Fuck," he said.
Then he and Gu Fei burst out laughing together.
This kind of silly laughter was like a contagious disease of silliness. The more you didn't want to laugh, the harder you laughed, and you couldn't stop.
Pan Zhi had said before that when the head teacher was scolding him furiously, he had been scared witless inside, but he just couldn't stop laughing. In the end when he was kicked out into the hallway, he went out guffawing heroically.
Right now Jiang Cheng also didn't want to laugh. He wasn't feeling good, his emotions were low, and he didn't want to laugh together with Gu Fei either.
But he couldn't stop.
Gu Fei leaned against his chair, and Jiang Cheng leaned against the shelves. They laughed for almost a full minute before Jiang Cheng really got angry from embarrassment and flipped the curtain up to leave the shop.
"Fuck!" He finally stopped the crazy laughter under the wind, and swore.
After swearing, he didn't go back into the shop. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and strolled towards the street corner.
He was pretty upset. Just this bit of silly laughter could only maintain his mood for such a short while. As soon as the laughter stopped, he went back to reality.
He suddenly felt a little panicked. If this continued, would he get sick from holding it in?
Jing Zhi had been right before about the spring basketball tournament.
When Old Xu called Jiang Cheng to the office, with one look at the basketball on Old Xu's desk, he knew what Old Xu wanted from him.
"I don't know how to play basketball," he said.
"Why are you like this," Old Xu brought over a stool, "Sit down, let's chat."
Jiang Cheng sat down. To be honest, he wanted to play basketball, but only if it was casually messing around with some people, not taking on any formal responsibility to win with Old Xu.
"You were on the school team before, right?" Old Xu asked.
"Let's not ask these kinds of false questions, Old Xu," Jiang Cheng sighed. "I feel like you've already researched my ancestors back eight generations."
"It's a versatile top student, of course I have to research more!" Old Xu laughed. "Actually when I called you over, I already guessed you would refuse. But I still wanted to try."
"Oh," Jiang Cheng responded.
"Our school has a basketball tournament every year, more than once. The principal loves basketball," Old Xu said. "Anyway, I've led our class every time, and no matter what competition, we've never won a match..."
Jiang Cheng felt a little surprised. He had seen Gu Fei play basketball. Even if no one in class could cooperate with him, they still shouldn't lose every match, right?
"Isn't Gu Fei pretty good?" He couldn't help but say.
"That kid," Old Xu sighed, "is very unreliable. He's never participated in any class activities. It'd be good if he didn't go help other classes play against us."
"Then what are you asking me for?" Jiang Cheng said. "I probably can't win a match by myself either."
"Be the team captain," Old Xu said. "I feel like you have the ability to..."
"What makes you feel that way?" Jiang Cheng felt a little helpless.
"From your spirit," Old Xu said.
"Ah," Jiang Cheng couldn't help touching his chest.
"If you agree," Old Xu smiled, "then I'll go chat with Gu Fei. With you two, plus Wang Xu, Guo Xu, and Lu Xiaobin... we can at least get five people. Then find time to practice everyday. I feel like we'll have a chance at winning.
Jiang Cheng didn't speak. He had no idea who these Guo Xu and Lu Xiaobin were.
But Old Xu kept discussing it with him sincerely, so Jiang Cheng couldn't immediately think of a reason to say no either.
"Head Techer Xu, I just have one request," he said. "I definitely won't be captain. You seem to have misunderstood my character. Pick someone else, I'll just play along."
With Jiang Cheng's agreement, Old Xu seemed to be injected with chicken blood, immediately coming to find Gu Fei during the self-study period.
"Gu Fei, come to my office for a bit," Old Xu knocked on his desk.
"I haven't been late or skipped classes lately," Gu Fei said, leaning his forehead on the desk edge playing his dumb match-3 game.
"It's not that," Old Xu knocked again.
"I don't play basketball," Gu Fei said.
"It's not that either," Old Xu said. "Come on."
Old Xu turned and left the classroom. Gu Fei insisted on finishing the round first before very reluctantly getting up and ambling out slowly.
"Hey, Jiang Cheng, Jiang..." Zhou Jing called out twice as if remembering something, then didn't continue. "Is Old Xu talking to you two about the competition?"
Jiang Cheng stayed silent.
"I could tell with one look you can play ball, right? You play basketball?" Zhou Jing asked again.
"Has your class ever won a competition before?" Jiang Cheng asked.
"Never won before," Zhou Jing said, "It's a liberal arts class, it's normal not to win."
Jiang Cheng glanced at him: "Bullshit."
Gu Fei came back to the classroom ten minutes later and took out his phone to continue playing games after sitting down.
Jiang Cheng thought he would say something, but he didn't make a sound. Old Xu probably failed.
He glanced at Wang Xu's side. If it wasn't for Gu Fei, being asked to play basketball with idiots like Wang Xu...would be pretty boring.
"I didn't expect Old Xu to be such an innocent old man but still lie to people," Gu Fei said softly beside him.
"Hmm?" Jiang Cheng turned his head, "What did he lie to you about?"
"He said it wasn't about basketball," Gu Fei said while playing, "He said you would play, is it true?"
"...Yeah," Jiang Cheng replied, "He sounded quite pitiful."
"You think everyone is pitiful," Gu Fei said.
"Yeah, I think you're pretty pitiful," Jiang Cheng glanced at him.
"Is it pitiful for me to play Candy Crush?" Gu Fei asked.
"It's pitiful you can't pass a single level after playing it for four days," Jiang Cheng said.
Gu Fei put down his phone and turned to look at him: "I find you very annoying."
Jiang Cheng smiled at him smugly: "If you can't talk back, you can shut up. Bickering is pointless anyway."
"What position did you use to play?" Gu Fei asked, lowering his head to continue playing.
"Defender," Jiang Cheng reflexively answered.
"Then let's try it," Gu Fei said, "I didn't say no to Old Xu."
"It's not that," Jiang Cheng felt a bit confused, "It's just basketball, why make such a big deal out of it? It's not like I'm asking you to sacrifice yourself."
"It's annoying," Gu Fei said, "Just think, even the likes of Wang Xu has to play."
"What's wrong with him playing?" Jiang Cheng glanced at Wang Xu, who had his arms crossed and was resting with his eyes closed.
"Every class has people like him..." Gu Fei threw his phone into the desk, probably because he failed to pass the level again, "Nothing will happen on court, but who knows what'll happen after. That's what annoys me."
"So are you playing or not?" Jiang Cheng asked, "I'm annoyed too. Let's just try and see. If you want to play then play, if not then drop it."
"Fine," Gu Fei said, "You play and I'll play."