Chapter 24 - Chapter 24

After spending nearly two hours at the police station, the matter was finally resolved. 

The boy who was beaten did not admit that he had provoked Gu Miao. He only said that Gu Miao had chased and beat him for no reason. Gu Miao did not say anything, just lay on Gu Fei's shoulder with her eyes closed, so there was no way to verify what the boy said.  

Jiang Cheng did not believe the words of the little boy. With Gu Miao's ondition, she would be bullied in any school.

However, the main point of this incident was not the reason why Gu Miao beat someone up. Even if the little boy had bullied her, the police could not do much. The key was that Gu Miao had split open the other boy's head, requiring two stitches.

Fortunately there were no other major issues. The other party's parents had demanded compensation aggressively, but Ding Zhuxin had forced them to back down through half reasoning and half threats. In between, she had been warned by the police several times to watch her language.

Gu Fei had not said much the whole time, only paying attention to Gu Miao.  

Li Yan and the others just stood there with their arms crossed, putting on stern faces to assist Ding Zhuxin's threats, displaying an attitude of "If you dare make trouble, we will definitely retaliate since we clearly don't look like good people anyway."

Jiang Cheng finally breathed a long sigh of relief when the police let them leave after reaching an agreement.

His stomach only woke up now, growling loudly with hunger, but he had no appetite for food.

After leaving the police station, it was quite cold outside with wind blowing.

"You guys head back yourselves, thanks for the help," Gu Fei said after glancing at Jiang Cheng, "Let's grab a cab, along with Wang Xu."

"Okay." Jiang Cheng nodded.

After splitting up into the cars, no one spoke during the ride. Jiang Cheng felt a little depressed, and Gu Fei probably wasn't in the mood to talk either. Even Wang Xu the chatterbox had barely opened his mouth, just cursing and sighing. After Gu Fei glanced at him, he fell silent.

"None of you have eaten yet right?" Gu Fei asked as the car neared the street corner.

"Don't worry about us, hurry back," Wang Xu said. "No need to detour, I'll get off here. Just a turn and I'll be home... Jiang Cheng, want to come over and eat some meat buns?"

"I'll pass, I don't feel like eating now." Jiang Cheng said.

When the car reached the street corner, Gu Fei got off holding Gu Miao, while Jiang Cheng carried her skateboard. After walking several steps, Gu Fei looked back, "Thanks for today."

"No need for thanks," Jiang Cheng looked at Gu Miao, "Let her take a couple days off these next two days. I saw three little boys today, the other two who didn't get hit might..." 

"She may not even be able to go back to school without taking time off," Gu Fei sighed. "Help me ask Old Xu for a leave tomorrow morning. I have to go to Er Miao's school."

"Okay, what reason should I give?" Jiang Cheng nodded.

"I have a fever," Gu Fei touched his own forehead, "Burning hot, from this afternoon until noon tomorrow."

"...Fine." Jiang Cheng smiled.

Watching Gu Fei's back as he walked away holding Gu Miao in one hand and her skateboard in the other, Jiang Cheng felt somewhat emotional.

Previously, he had always felt that Gu Fei lived quite carefreely, carefreely letting his sister skate all over the streets, carefreely skipping and being late for class, carefreely playing basketball, doing whatever he wanted without a care. 

But now he felt that might not be the case. It seemed like Gu Fei was the only one handling everything in his family. How could someone like that possibly live as he pleased?

No one could live solely as they wished, not Gu Fei, nor himself.

Just like how he did not want to stay at Li Baoguo's home, did not want to stay in this unfamiliar and shabby city, did not want to face his current life, yet he had no choice.

Every change would affect everything.

Even something he used to do frequently like staying out all night, he could no longer casually do anymore.

Because he had nowhere to go.

Hardly anyone could truly ignore everything and just "be themselves".

That night, Li Baoguo did not go out to gamble. He coughed loudly all night, snoring and smacking his lips between coughs, lively as can be.

Jiang Cheng glared wide-eyed in the room with practically no soundproofing, able to clearly hear whether footsteps upstairs were slippers or sneakers. 

When he got up in the morning, he felt so groggy that he staggered while walking.

"Do you want to go to the hospital and get checked out?" he said to Li Baoguo who was putting on his shoes to hurry to his morning mahjong game. "Your cough is really severe, could it be pharyngitis?"

"Look at this, my own son!" Li Baoguo said very cheerfully in a loud voice. "No worries, I've been coughing for years, just an old problem. No need to go to the hospital, nothing wrong at all!"

Jiang Cheng wanted to say there was something wrong with what he just said, but before he could speak, Li Baoguo had already rushed out the door.

Damn, just stay sick then, Li Baoguo's manner made him feel like an oversensitive weak woman.

On the way to school, Jiang Cheng bought a box of ginseng lozenges from the pharmacy. Eating them could slightly perk him up. He often took them when cramming for exams before. 

At least now he could keep from sleeping like the dead during class after taking them. He didn't want to start snoring during lessons, it would be too embarrassing.

As expected, Gu Fei did not show up for morning classes. After the morning self-study period ended, Jiang Cheng went to Old Xu's office and relayed Gu Fei's reason for being absent.

"Burning up badly, been running a fever since yesterday afternoon until this noon." Jiang Cheng finished speaking and felt his lack of sleep was severely impacting his intellect.

However, Old Xu did not seem to notice his odd phrasing, immersed instead in the joy of Gu Fei asking for leave instead of simply skipping class.

"Look, I said he could still be saved!" Old Xu said excitedly. "You see, he asked for leave! I just knew that communicating with you kids requires technique..."

But Gu Fei did not wait until the afternoon to show up. During the last language arts class in the morning, he came into the classroom.

Old Xu looked at him with concern, "Aren't you sick with a fever? You could have come in the afternoon instead."

"I'm better now." Gu Fei said.

Old Xu nodded and rapped the lectern with his hand, saying spiritedly, "Let's continue where we left off last time..."

"You didn't sleep?" Gu Fei asked after sitting down next to Jiang Cheng.

"......That obvious?" Jiang Cheng was half sprawled on the desk, unable to fully open his eyes.  

"Yeah," Gu Fei said. "Can't even look at you, someone who doesn't know better would think you were the one with a fever burning for a day."

"Didn't sleep well last night." Jiang Cheng yawned.

"Sorry," Gu Fei said softly, "to keep you tied up for so many hours."

"Wasn't because of Gu Miao's thing," Jiang Cheng waved his hand. "Li Baoguo... didn't go gambling yesterday. Coughed all night, couldn't sleep from the noise."

"Oh," Gu Fei fumbled in his pocket and took out a small paper box, placing it in front of him. "Have some?"

"Wha..." Jiang Cheng opened the little box. Inside were a handful of candies. He was rendered speechless for a moment. "Milk candy?"

"Yeah, don't you like eating them?" Gu Fei popped a mint candy into his own mouth from his pocket.

"I didn't say I like them. I was just hungry that day." Jiang Cheng said.

"Is that so," Gu Fei looked at him with an exaggerated expression of surprise, then his expression flattened as he took back the candy. "Then give them back to me."

"Hey, I find you very interesting, you know that?" Jiang Cheng stared at him.

"You can just say whether you want them or not." Gu Fei said.  

Jiang Cheng opened and closed his mouth a few times before finally saying, "Give me a mint one to pep me up."

Gu Fei glanced at him, rummaged in his pocket for a while, grabbed a handful out and sorted through them with his fingers. "None left. Want to try this one instead? It's also stimulating, extremely so." 

"Oh." Jiang Cheng took the small round candy he was pointing at from his hand.

The candy was tangerine flavored and did not have any particularly stimulating taste. Jiang Cheng rolled it around his tongue. How was tangerine flavor supposed to be stimulating, it needed to be lemon at least...

Before he could even finish the thought, his tongue suddenly detected a hint of sourness. Maybe it was from the tangerine coating dissolving to reveal something sour inside?

Before he could react, the sourness abruptly erupted in full force.  

His eyes widened in shock.

Sour, sour, sour, sour, sour!

Damn, mouth full of sourness so bitter it struck the soul and tear ducts!

The unbearably sour taste making him shudder involuntarily in agony!

"This is..." Gu Fei started to say something after seeing him abruptly sit up straight.

But he didn't finish as Jiang Cheng had already spat the candy from his mouth forcefully with a pfft.  

The candy shot out like a bullet, hitting Zhou Jing's neck in front.

"Ah!" Zhou Jing yelped in fright, also immediately sitting up straight and reaching back to touch his neck while lowering his voice to ask, "What the hell? Something fell into my clothes!"

Jiang Cheng was unable to speak. Although the candy was no longer in his mouth, its legacy still lingered. The unbearably sour and bitter taste still remained, making him unable to stop shuddering.

"Sit properly." Gu Fei said.

"Zhou Jing, pay attention to classroom discipline." Old Xu called out from the lectern.

Although hardly anyone in this class paid attention to classroom discipline, Zhou Jing still sat properly.

After two seconds, he turned his head again, "Damn, it's sticky? What is this stuff?"

"Candy." Gu Fei said.

"...Are you guys nuts?" Zhou Jing said grievously as he pulled open his clothes and shook them for a while before the candy finally dropped onto the chair. 

"Sorry about that." Jiang Cheng said. After finally recovering, he turned to look at Gu Fei.  

Gu Fei was lowered his head playing with his phone, but Jiang Cheng could see his barely suppressed grin.

"Looking to die?" Jiang Cheng said in a low voice.

"You said you wanted to pep up." Gu Fei swiped at his phone screen with his finger. "Still feeling drowsy?"

"Fuck off!" Jiang Cheng swore. 

"Not drowsy anymore right?" Gu Fei tilted his head to look at him.

"Want me to write you an award certificate or something?" Jiang Cheng said.

"No need," Gu Fei turned back to his phone. "I can't read your handwriting anyway."

Jiang Cheng had to admit he was wide awake and alert now. The drowsiness was completely gone. 

But the urge to whack Gu Fei with a stick a couple times made him not even want to ask about how Gu Miao's school planned to handle the incident.

When the bell for the ending class rang, Gu Fei put down his phone. "Let me treat you to a meal, thanks for your help yesterday."  

Jiang Cheng looked at him without speaking.

"Lunch or dinner, whichever is more convenient for you," Gu Fei added. "Do you have time?"

"...No need to be so polite." Jiang Cheng said.

"It's not just politeness," Gu Fei said. "Without you yesterday, who knows what would have happened to Er Miao. Thinking about it still scares me."

Jiang Cheng was silent for a while. "Then dinner. I need to catch up on sleep during lunch."

"Okay." Gu Fei nodded.

Afternoon was self-study class for basketball practice as usual. This self-study period was probably the most beloved class for Wang Xu and the others recently.  

During lunch, Jiang Cheng went to the hospital to get his wound redressed. The doctor applied some imported adhesive that was supposed to be good.

In the afternoon, they mainly practiced coordination without playing formal matches. The wound still felt fine and did not hurt.

"I feel we have a shot this time." After practice ended, Captain Wang Xu squatted by the edge of the court, poking the floor repeatedly with one finger. "Just keep up how we are now... but secrecy is still important. Need to keep everyone underestimating us like before."

"Then you better not go shooting your mouth all over the place." Jiang Cheng said.

"No worries," Wang Xu said unconcernedly. "As long as your and Gu Fei's participation stays hidden, it doesn't matter how much I boast. No one will believe me anyway."

"...Oh." Jiang Cheng looked at him, for the first time feeling that Wang Xu was truly sincere. And also a little shocked that he could face the cruel reality so straightforwardly.

"Da Fei," Wang Xu turned to look at him. "When you're free, get those brothers to come have a practice match with us again. I feel it was pretty effective."

"Mm." Gu Fei made a sound of assent. 

"Alright, dismissed." Wang Xu waved a hand. "Other classes will be coming soon. Remember our motto!"

"Motto?" Lu Xiaobin was puzzled. "We have a motto?"

"Oh right, I didn't mention it huh," Wang Xu said. "Our motto is - We Have Secret Weapons!"

Jiang Cheng still hadn't reacted even after he finished speaking, stunned for a moment before barely holding in the urge to burst into mad laughter and turning his head away.

Everyone silently looked at Wang Xu.

"We Have Secret Weapons!" Wang Xu repeated once more, then waved his hand again. "Dismissed!"

When they walked out the school gate after class ended, Jiang Cheng habitually looked around. He did not see Gu Miao who was usually waiting there holding her skateboard like a little gangster. 

He glanced at Gu Fei, but Gu Fei did not explain. He just shoved his hands in his pockets and headed down the road.

"Not riding your bike today?" Jiang Cheng saw he did not go get his motorbike and asked.

"Yeah," Gu Fei tugged at his collar. "The piece of junk's wheel warped into a square halfway through riding this morning." 

"What?" Jiang Cheng did not understand at first. "How did the wheel got warped? No one beat it up..."

"...You're so cute," Gu Fei looked at him. "The wheel really did warp from round to square on its own."

"Oh." Jiang Cheng was also quite impressed with himself.  

"Made me take a hard fall." Gu Fei sighed.

Jiang Cheng looked at him without speaking. If it was Pan Zhi, he would definitely applaud vigorously and celebrate.  

"What do you feel like eating?" Gu Fei asked as they walked.

"Don't know, nothing in particular I really want to eat. Don't need to make it too formal," Jiang Cheng said. "Just eat however you normally do with friends. It's not an award banquet or anything."

"How I eat with my friends is..." Gu Fei smiled. "Pretty interesting. You might not be able to take it."

"Eat shit?" Jiang Cheng absently asked. He had these childish, habitual conversations with Pan Zhi. Sometimes he felt they acted no older than seven.

"We don't eat that," Gu Fei said solemnly. "But I can arrange it for you if you want."

"Let's just eat normal stuff." Jiang Cheng sighed.

Just thinking of Pan Zhi now made him sigh. What a strange thing.

Lately, Pan Zhi's grandfather was hospitalized so their whole family took turns accompanying him. The two of them hadn't been in contact much. Sometimes when Jiang Cheng saw his silent phone, he would feel very lonely.

"Let's go to the supermarket first." Gu Fei said.

"Supermarket?" Jiang Cheng was startled. "Buy what?"

"Buy food," Gu Fei said. "Ingredients and such."

"Making it yourself?" Jiang Cheng was very surprised.

"Yeah," Gu Fei nodded. "I normally make it myself with friends. Or we could just..."

"No need," Jiang Cheng felt it was best to just go along with Gu Fei's habits. He hadn't expected to be treated to a meal by Gu Fei for yesterday's happenings anyway. "But I have to say first, I can only make instant noodles when cooking. 

“No problem, it's simple, just a barbecue,” Gu Fei said.

Jiang Cheng was astonished again. Barbecue in this weather? Where were they going to grill?

They walked around the supermarket and Gu Fei bought a chopped chicken, some prepped beef and lamb for grilling, and two bags of dumplings.

“How do you grill dumplings?” Jiang Cheng couldn’t figure it out.

“Dumplings get cooked,” Gu Fei explained patiently, completely serious. 

“I know dumplings are cooked, I just...nevermind, I’ll see when we eat,” Jiang Cheng said.

“What do you want to drink? Beer or soda?” Gu Fei asked. 

“Nothing,” Jiang Cheng pictured them standing freezing in the bitter wind watching a pathetic fire that could go out any second. The thought of drinking anything made him feel cold already.

After buying everything, Gu Fei led him in the direction of home.

Although he felt a bit uncomfortable with the idea of going to Gu Fei's home for a barbecue...he had been interacting with Gu Fei a lot recently, but still did not feel very familiar with him. Going to someone's home would be quite awkward - he didn't even want to go to Pan Zhi's home.  

When he arrived at Gu Fei's shop, Gu Fei didn't stop but just glanced inside as he continued walking forward.  

Jiang Cheng also glanced inside. Through the glass he could see a woman standing at the cash register - judging by her hairstyle it was probably Gu Fei's mother.

Continuing forward, this street met up with the street where Li Baoguo lived.  

Jiang Cheng had been to this area before. It was quite desolate, and after passing the abandoned factory up ahead, there was a road that went all the way to a lake that had little water left... He shivered, thinking that if Gu Fei wanted to have a barbecue by that lake, he would probably suggest they go eat at a restaurant instead.

But Gu Fei walked directly into that abandoned factory through a small door.  

"Here?" Jiang Cheng followed him inside, "Was this a factory before?"

"Yeah, a former steel factory," Gu Fei said, "It closed down a long time ago... Many people around here used to work at this factory, including Li Baoguo."

"Oh," Jiang Cheng looked around.  

After entering the gate he realized the factory was very large. The factory buildings and such were still there and looked quite sturdy, but it had become completely overgrown and clearly hadn't been cleaned in a long time, with uncleared ice covering the ground.

Gu Fei kept leading him further inside. After passing a few basketball courts, they entered a building that looked like it used to be an office building.  

"I come here with... the not-a-good-bird bunch," Gu Fei said as they went upstairs, "When we don't want to stay at the shop we hang out here."

"There's no electricity here right?" Jiang Cheng looked at the messy stuff on the floor.  

"We connected our own line," Gu Fei said, "Actually in the summer it gets quite lively here, with lots of open space outside for the old folks to do their square dancing activities and stuff."

"Square dancing?" Jiang Cheng repeated.

"Yeah, and dance battles, very fashionable, right at the cutting edge," Gu Fei said as he went up to the third floor and unlocked a door with a key.  

Jiang Cheng looked inside - surprisingly it was a very tidy empty room. Bricks were stacked in the middle to make a stove, with many low stools and cushions around it, and a sofa with no legs. 

Against the wall there was a barbecue grill and an induction cooker, and even pots and bottles of oil, salt, etc.

"Wow?" Jiang Cheng was very surprised, "You could live here already!"

"What do you think, pretty fun right," Gu Fei put the ingredients on the table, "We made the lock ourselves, I can give you a key if you want. You can hang out here sometimes when you don't want to go back home and have nowhere else to go. Li Yan and the others usually come on weekends, there's no one else most of the time."

Jiang Cheng didn't speak, just leaned against the wall watching Gu Fei. He felt a bit gloomy that Gu Fei had so easily pointed out his frequent state of having "nowhere to go".  

Although unhappy, he surprisingly didn't feel angry. He just felt it was kind of... funny, that even a classmate could see his circumstances so clearly.


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