Chapter 21 - Chapter 21

Jiang Cheng didn't know what Gu Fei's favorite food was that he wanted to take him to eat. He also didn't ask. His mood right now meant that he didn't even have an appetite. No matter what he ate, it would probably all taste the same. 

He came to find Gu Fei because he didn't want to be alone. He didn't want to go back, didn't want to see Li Baoguo, didn't want to know what he looked like after being beaten, and didn't want to hear Li Baoguo's reason for being surrounded and beaten. He didn't want to think about it, piles and piles of unwillingness, enough to fill his empty head and heart to the brim, blocking him so much that he couldn't even breathe.

And in this city, other than Li Baoguo's home and school, the only other place he could go was Gu Fei's family store. Thinking about it, it was a bit pathetic, but there was no other way.

Gu Fei tidied up the store a bit, then closed the door, "Wait here for me, I'm going to get the bike."

"Oh." Jiang Cheng wanted to ask if it was a bicycle or motorcycle. If it was a motorcycle, he really didn't want to ride in the cold. He'd rather walk. But Gu Fei went straight into the small alley next to the store.

Whatever, it couldn't get that much colder. The spring basketball tournament was about to start anyway. Theoretically, spring was here. 

How magical.

The sound of an engine came from the small alley, but the engine sounded very weak and fragile, completely unlike Gu Fei's 250cc motorcycle.

Just as he was wondering, a small yellow car that looked like a regular or mini mantou bun emerged from the alley. 

Jiang Cheng watched in shock as the corn flour mini mantou swayed back and forth before stopping in front of him. Then a small door opened.

"Get in," Gu Fei said from inside the mini mantou. 

"What is this thing?" Jiang Cheng stared at the car. If he wasn't mistaken, this was a mini senior mobility vehicle.

"A car," Gu Fei said. "It keeps out the wind and rain, runs on gas instead of batteries like the electric ones, and has more power."

"...Oh!" Jiang Cheng walked to the door and stared for a long time. "How the hell do I get in?"

Gu Fei got out and looked back, "You have to... crawl in first."

Jiang Cheng hesitated. Gu Fei added, "Even if I drove a Volkswagen Beetle, you'd still have to crawl into the back, right?"

"I'd sit in the passenger seat in a Beetle!" Jiang Cheng said. 

"Hurry up," Gu Fei checked his phone. "They close at 9."

Jiang Cheng had no choice but to squeeze through the one-foot gap between the door and driver's seat. All his injuries ached as he squeezed in and he nearly cried. 

He had seen old men use these things to bring their old wives out. How did the old ladies get in?

Once seated, Gu Fei reached over and folded the driver's seat back, "You can put this down to make more room."

Looking at the suddenly much more spacious area, Jiang Cheng felt like getting out and fighting Gu Fei again. He pointed at Gu Fei, "Shut up."

Gu Fei closed the door and started the engine, driving out to the street.

The space inside was very small. Sitting in the back, Jiang Cheng felt no different than sitting on the back of Gu Fei's bicycle. 

But it did keep out the wind and rain. Looking out the tiny window, he had an inexplicable feeling of wandering the streets, begging all day before finding a cheap food stall to eat a bowl of noodles.

"This your family's car?" Jiang Cheng knocked on the plastic hull.

"Yeah," Gu Fei replied. "My mom bought it. It's pretty convenient for hauling stuff sometimes."

"...Oh," Jiang Cheng looked at his position, "What stuff can you haul in this little space?"

"Our shop doesn't have that much to haul," Gu Fei said. "Most gets delivered. We haul some ourselves."

Jiang Cheng didn't say anything more, watching Gu Fei drive over the bridge from that day. He guessed if there was any good food around, it had to be on the other side of the bridge.

What would it be? He saw many shops when he went to eat dumplings last time, hot pot, barbecue, Chinese, Western, many types, but he didn't hope Gu Fei would take him somewhere too expensive that he'd have to treat him back later. That would be troublesome.

The mini mantou drove past all kinds of big and small restaurants on the road but didn't stop, continuing straight ahead before turning onto a smaller side street. 

"Not there yet?" Jiang Cheng couldn't help asking, feeling they had left the restaurant area.

"Almost, just up ahead," Gu Fei said, turning the car onto another street.

Jiang Cheng looked out. Like Li Baoguo's neighborhood, it was an old shabby area with a very depressing down and out vibe.  

The car slowed and stopped in front of a few small shops. Jiang Cheng stared at them for a few moments. One sold buns, one sold noodles, and another was...

"Get out," Gu Fei jumped out and opened the door.

"No way," Jiang Cheng squeezed out, confused. "Why do I feel like these shops sell breakfast?"

"They sell breakfast too," Gu Fei closed the door and hit a remote.  

"Damn, this little mantou has a remote lock?" Jiang Cheng was very surprised.

"It runs on gas after all," Gu Fei said. "Even battery cars have remotes. Why wouldn't it?"

He walked into one of the shops, "Here."

Jiang Cheng looked at the shop, shabby inside and out, with dim lighting and a dubious environment. It looked sketchy.  

Seeing the sloppy handwritten four characters on the door that could rival his own bad handwriting, he froze.

"Wang Er Xian Bing?" He pointed at the sign. "You brought me out at night to eat pan-fried buns?"

"Super delicious," Gu Fei lifted the curtain. "Smell."

Jiang Cheng wasn't in the mood to smell. He was still shocked to be eating pan-fried buns for dinner with someone for the first time. But the shop was surprisingly packed. Business was booming.

When he followed Gu Fei inside and saw a server carrying a bowl of soup to customers, the shock multiplied and he nearly popped his eyes out.

"Da Fei, you came!" Wang Xu dumped the soup on the table and saw Jiang Cheng. "Damn, Jiang Cheng too?"

"Ah," Jiang Cheng responded dully, watching Wang Xu spill half the soup.

"Crap! It spilled out!" The customer said unhappily.  

"I'll bring you another small bowl later," Wang Xu wiped the table hastily and came over. "Go upstairs to the private room. It's empty."

"Private room?" Jiang Cheng didn't think he could recover from the shock. A pan-fried bun shop with private rooms.

The private room really was private, enclosed on four sides with wood panels, with a small AC.

"What happened to your face?" Wang Xu turned on the AC and stared at Jiang Cheng's face. "Did you fight with Monkey..."

"No," Jiang Cheng cut him off. Wang Xu could think of Monkey from the slightest disturbance. He felt he owed it to Wang Xu to go fight them again.

"Beef, marbled pork, mutton, donkey, bring a few of each," Gu Fei told Wang Xu. "And mutton soup. Have you eaten? if you haven't eaten yet, let's eat together." 

"Got it, bringing them," Wang Xu said. "I found two bottles of good wine Dad hid. We can drink some later."

After he left, Jiang Cheng looked at Gu Fei, "Wang Xu's family runs this?"

"Yeah," Gu Fei nodded. "Wang Er is his dad. Famous in the city. People come from the development zone across town to eat here."

"Oh!" Jiang Cheng responded. He couldn't think of anything else to say.

"I'll go grab soup," Gu Fei also left. "Drink some soup first."

Two minutes later he came back with three big bowls of mutton soup on a tray. Jiang Cheng felt like he could eat the bowls too when he smelled the soup.  

Shortly after, Wang Xu brought in seven or eight buns in a simple bamboo basket, "Just made, eat while hot. More later."

Jiang Cheng took a bite. He was moved. He swallowed almost without chewing. 

"This one is made of donkey meat," Wang Xu looked at him. "How is it?"

"Very," Jiang Cheng took another bite. "Delicious."

Wang Xu smiled smugly, "Of course it's delicious. Donkey is a must order. Everyone who comes has to eat at least two donkey buns. Da Fei can eat ten."

Jiang Cheng thought he could eat more than ten.

Wang Xu's buns weren't big, half a palm sized, with thin skin and huge chunks of meat filling, thick and soft. One bite was bursting with meaty flavor, oily but not greasy...

Wang Xu also secretly brought a bottle of wine his dad had hidden. No label, the bottle looked dirty. 

"Drink?" Wang Xu put a cup in front of Jiang Cheng.

Jiang Cheng shook his head. He wasn't used to drinking liquor. No one drank at home and he only drank beer sometimes with Pan Zhi.

"Boring," Wang Xu poured for himself and Gu Fei. "Nerd's pretty upright."

Jiang Cheng was too lazy to bicker since he was eating Wang Xu's delicious buns. 

It was a very enjoyable meal, all kinds of big meat buns, thick mutton soup, full and warm. It seemed to soothe his indistinguishable aches. The stabbing pains turned into dull ones buried in the meat.

Of the three, only Wang Xu kept talking, about class stuff that Jiang Cheng couldn't follow since he didn't know anyone. Gu Fei was also pretty quiet, just eating and nodding yes at times. Wang Xu's enthusiasm wasn't affected.  

"I heard Class 2 is getting some outside help," Wang Xu mentioned the basketball tournament. "Should we get one too? To win?"

"You want me and Jiang Cheng to bring in outside help?" Gu Fei said. "Where's the fun in winning like that?"

Wang Xu thought for a moment with a frown, "No fun. I probably wouldn't even get to play then?"

"With outside help, they wouldn't let you play at your level." Gu Fei said.

"Damn!" Wang Xu was a little upset. 

"I'll call some friends to practice with us tomorrow," Gu Fei said. "Can't expect to improve now, just get used to cooperating and familiarize with everyone."

"Right!" Wang Xu glanced at Jiang Cheng. "Don't pass to others again."

"I passed to my deskmate, not others," Jiang Cheng drank some soup. "My deskmate is on my team."

"...Quibbling," Wang Xu sneered.

"Dispute me then," Jiang Cheng said.

After eating at Wang Xu's shop for an hour, Jiang Cheng left feeling his injuries must have split open from his stomach being so full. 

"Come often!" Wang Xu's mom saw them off. "Discounts for Wang Xu's classmates!"

"Thanks Auntie," Jiang Cheng said, stifling a burp.

He really ate too much.

On the ride back he was half lying in the back seat.

"I'm driving drunk," Gu Fei started the car.

"Nonsense," Jiang Cheng said.

Though the meal was enjoyable, as he walked back to Li Baoguo's place on the cold windy street, exhaustion crept up again.  

He slowly trudged one step at a time until inevitably arriving at the entrance.

The lights were off when he opened the door. He felt around for the switch and slapped it on.

He didn't know why he could never get used to the light switch at Li Baoguo's place being a bit higher than his old home.

Li Baoguo wasn't home, whether at the hospital or playing cards, he didn't know. He took out his phone and hesitated before deciding not to call.

After a simple wash up, he went to his room. 

After finishing his homework, it was almost 11. 

Someone upstairs was beating a child. The cries and screams made him jittery, afraid the kid was being beaten to death.

He lay in bed, put on earphones and closed his eyes.

How determined Head Teacher Xu was to win at least one game became clear to Jiang Cheng. He actually informed the basketball participants that they could skip Chinese class today to train in the gym.

Gu Fei had no choice but to call the punks early to come in the morning. 

"You're not listening in class anyway," Head Teacher Xu said.

Jiang Cheng wanted to say he would still listen in class since he was a top student after all.

The morning gym was empty besides them. Jiang Cheng reflected that he had no confidence at all in this group winning any games. Victory depended completely on how bad the opponents were.

"Our special practice team will come soon," Wang Xu squatted on the sidelines. "Starters get on court first to warm up and find your feel."  

"If anyone asks, say Gu Fei brought people to help us practice," Wang Xu added. "Remember to sound really upset, make them feel like we begged forever to get this favor, and the guy has no team spirit."

Everyone nodded gravely.

Gu Fei sighed.

The no-good birds' timing was good, coming in after class started to avoid the crowds during passing period. 

Still, Jiang Cheng found it unbelievable that these guys with "Troublemaker" signs on their heads could just stroll into No. 4 High School when late students had to climb the gate. The school management was questionable...

"Let's start," Gu Fei said. "Make use of the time."

Jiang Cheng looked them over. Four no-good birds, plus Li Yan...? Li Yan was playing too?

"Liu Fan, Luo Yu, Zhao YiHhi, Chen Jie, Li Yan, get to know each other, doesn't matter if you forget, they're opponents anyway," Gu Fei rapidly introduced everyone in one breath. 

They took off jackets and got on court. Two substitutes blew whistles as refs, one brought over the scoreboard.  

Seeing the lineup, Jiang Cheng suddenly felt the long absent thrill of excitement. 

"I'll jump ball," Gu Fei said softly. "Liu Fan will guard tight."

"Liu Fan?" Jiang Cheng asked.

"The one with the big iron chain," Gu Fei said.

"Oh." Jiang Cheng glanced over at the "A" in "Not A Good Bird".

"That chain, is it real iron?" Wang Xu asked.

"How would I know, if not iron then silver, stainless steel, aluminum," Gu Fei looked at him. "Why don't you go ask?"

Jiang Cheng held in a laugh.

"Won't ask, I think it's stainless steel," Wang Xu said.

Gu Fei sighed, "Guard him and his steel chain tight."

Liu Fan was Gu Fei's jump ball opponent, a bit taller than Gu Fei, but height alone didn't determine things, reflexes and vertical leap mattered more.

Jiang Cheng watched the ball.

After it was tossed up and reached its peak without dropping much, Gu Fei and Liu Fan jumped simultaneously, but Gu Fei touched it first. 

Jiang Cheng found it amazing how Gu Fei always got to the ball first on synchronized jumps.

Though Gu Fei tipped the ball first, and it flew towards Lu Xiaobin, Li Yan swooped in as Lu Xiaobin touched it and flicked it away.

Jiang Cheng was a bit surprised. Last time when he saw them play basketball, if he remembered correctly, Gu Fei had considered Li Yan to be one of the "old, weak, sick and disabled" who were not allowed on the court.  

How could an old, weak, sick and disabled person sweep the ball away so easily!

Lu Xiaobin was clearly also shocked. He immediately chased after Li Yan quickly, looking furious as if he would pick Li Yan up and throw him out if not for the rules.

Jiang Cheng was in no hurry to chase. Li Yan's dribbling speed was not fast. It looked like he did not intend to dribble all the way to the basket either. When he slightly turned his head to the right, Jiang Cheng saw the stainless steel chain Liu Fan already stretching out his hand and running towards the right sideline.  

He suddenly accelerated and charged forward. When Li Yan passed the ball towards Liu Fan, he leapt forward to intercept it. 

But he did not get the ball in his hands. Instead, it bounced towards the waving-armed Lu Xiaobin.

This time, Lu Xiaobin reacted well and hugged the ball. 

"Give it to me," Jiang Cheng said.

With Li Yan coming over to steal the ball again, Lu Xiaobin smashed the ball right at Jiang Cheng's face.  

As Jiang Cheng caught the ball, he thought thank goodness this ball with the force of a cannonball did not smash into his face.

When Li Yan tried to come over to block him, Guo Xu stuck to him. 

The two fools' style of sticking to whoever had the ball worked at this moment. Li Yan was relatively weaker and got sandwiched between Guo Xu and Lu Xiaobin until he was almost invisible.

As Jiang Cheng dribbled towards their basket, he saw Gu Fei who had already shaken off his defender and was also running to the basket. Gu Fei was also looking at him.

Without hesitation, Jiang Cheng bounced the ball to Gu Fei, aiming ahead. The ball bounced off next to Liu Fan's foot and Gu Fei caught it steadily.

But these no-good birds were not weak opponents like their classmates yesterday. As soon as Gu Fei got the ball, either Luo Yu or Zhao Yihui instantly turned around and cut off Gu Fei's path to the basket.

Gu Fei brought the ball back and Jiang Cheng quickly squeezed through to get open. Not knowing whether he had too much faith in his teammate or was too careless, Gu Fei did not even look back and just passed the ball behind him.

Jiang Cheng caught the ball.

The no-good birds had probably played together for a long time. Their offense and defense were seamless. There was no way to get to the basket. With the ball in his hands, Jiang Cheng was forced out beyond the 3-point line. 

This fast break did not work. The opponents were all back defending the basket. In this situation, there was no way for him and Gu Fei to score.

Just as he was holding the ball, waiting for an opportunity, Gu Fei suddenly raised his hand. Jiang Cheng saw him hold up three fingers.


Fine, three points it is!

He charged forward vigorously with the ball. Liu Fan immediately came up to defend him. Pressing against the 3-point line, using his momentum, he leapt high. Liu Fan was like his shadow, also jumping up to block right away.

Jiang Cheng had to bring the ball back in and do a hook shot with one hand, shooting the ball past Liu Fan's left side.

As he twisted his waist, the wound on his stomach was ripped open and Jiang Cheng could not help but yell out.

It was so freaking cool!

"Damn!" Liu Fan landed and immediately turned his head. Seeing the ball go in, he looked at Jiang Cheng again, "Awesome."

"Nice shot," Gu Fei clapped his hands over his head and gave Jiang Cheng a thumbs up after making eye contact.


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