Chapter 25 - Chapter 25

This room used to be the steel factory's reception room. It had a bathroom. Although abandoned, it still had an owner, and the water was always turned on. So when Li Yan first grabbed it, this was the room he took.  

The place looked quite desolate, but other than the lively area near the factory when it got warmer, this side was not completely unvisited either. There were also people like them who came to idle around and find a place to stay, just not as often as they did.

Gu Fei didn't come here often, but today he wanted to treat Jiang Cheng to a meal and didn't want to go too far from home. There were no decent restaurants around either, so when Jiang Cheng said he didn't care, Gu Fei thought of this place.

"There's no heating here, right?" Jiang Cheng sat on the sofa and stamped his feet.

"Make your own fire," Gu Fei took a lighter from the table and threw it over to him, "The bag next to the sofa has charcoal. Go outside and find some torn cloth strips or something..." 

"Do you know how to start a fire?"

"I do." Jiang Cheng got up and went out, then rushed back in after two seconds, holding a torn cloth with a stiff expression on his face.

Gu Fei was putting food into disposable plates and was about to divide it up. He was startled by Jiang Cheng's sudden movement: "What's wrong?"

"Damn," Jiang Cheng held the torn cloth between two fingernails. "I just picked this up... There was a dead rat under it! Scared the shit out of me!"

"Yet you're still bravely holding onto it?" Gu Fei didn't quite understand.

"I thought it would be useful, so I toughed it out..." Jiang Cheng threw the torn cloth into the brick stove, "It should be enough to start a fire."

"You could've walked ten more steps and found something else without a dead rat under it to start the fire." Gu Fei kept putting food into the plates.

"Too lazy when it's cold," Jiang Cheng squatted in front of the stove, "I think I'm hardened now after seeing cockroaches in Li Baoguo's pot." 

"He doesn't cook often anyway, he gets meals brought over when playing cards," Gu Fei said.

"I can tell," Jiang Cheng lit the cloth, "If he had to take care of the bed, he could probably sell this set of rooms."

"Can't sell them," Gu Fei took the pot to the faucet in the bathroom to wash it, then brought out a pot of water, "The rooms originally belonged to the steel factory. Most people here are so poor that they only have themselves left."

"...Oh." Jiang Cheng put two pieces of charcoal into the fire, staring at them as if lost in thought.

After the charcoal caught fire, Gu Fei put a pot of water on top, then smashed two pieces of ginger and threw them in, followed by a small package of prepared wolfberries and red dates.

"Making soup?" Jiang Cheng asked.

"Yeah," Gu Fei held the lid, "Do you prefer drinking soup or eating meat?"

"...What do you mean?" Jiang Cheng looked at him confused, "You cook a whole chicken, then only let me choose between drinking the soup and gnawing on the meat?"

Gu Fei sighed. "No, chicken goes into cold water to make the soup richer tasting. After the water boils, adding the chicken will make the flavor of the chicken meat stronger." 

"Oh," Jiang Cheng responded in surprise, "Why?"

Gu Fei felt Jiang Cheng's reaction perfectly embodied a true nerd's quality - no common sense but curious - yet he didn't feel like explaining it to him: "Just say which one you like."

"Soup," Jiang Cheng simply answered as he took out his phone.

"Okay," Gu Fei put the chicken into the pot and covered it, "The chicken's cooking. Let's eat BBQ first."

"Sounds good," Jiang Cheng looked at his phone while standing up, "What do I do?"

"Eat," Gu Fei replied.

Li Yan and the rest really enjoyed BBQ here, so everything was pretty well stocked. After Gu Fei set up the grill, he brought some hot charcoals over from the stove. The meat today was pre-marinated so he just had to put it on the grill. Very simple.

"Putting chicken in cold water lets the flavor slowly and completely draw out as the temperature rises, so the soup becomes very rich," Jiang Cheng sat by the stove, turning the meat while looking at his phone, "Dropping chicken in boiling water instantly cooks the skin, sealing the flavor inside, so the chicken flavor becomes stronger...right?"

"...Right," Gu Fei glanced at him, "Are you going to take notes too?"

"Memorization isn't required for this kind of thing, understanding the concept is enough." Jiang Cheng looked back at him.

Gu Fei turned his head and started brushing sauce onto the meat skewers. When Jiang Cheng talked like this, it was very nerd-like - the kind you can't continue the conversation with. 

“Do you guys always gather here? The stuff is so complete,” Jiang Cheng stood by the grill. “There's even sichuan pepper?” 

“Sichuan pepper, regular pepper, chili powder, it’s all here. Just don't know if it's expired, no idea when they bought it.” Gu Fei said.

“...Damn,” Jiang Cheng picked up a bottle to look. “Let me see...expires in 36 months, should be fine. You didn't come eat here 30 something months ago right.”

“How long is 36 months?” Gu Fei didn't even lift his head, taking the bottle to start sprinkling.

“Three years,” Jiang Cheng said.

“At most half a month ago,” Gu Fei said. “You're pretty picky, I generally just eat it if it doesn't smell off.”

“You can only eat like that because you can't calculate expiration dates right?” Jiang Cheng said.

“Yeah,” Gu Fei glanced at him. “Can't compare to a meticulous top student's lifestyle.”

The meat had only been grilling a short while before it started dripping oil. The smoke permeating the room took on a thick, appetizing aroma.

Grilling skewers didn't require much skill, and Gu Fei looked very experienced, so Jiang Cheng didn't help. He sat back by the chicken soup, warming himself by the fire. 

Outside was perfectly silent, the sky completely dark now. The open window was like a black cloth, giving a chilly feeling, but the stove and grill in front radiated bright firelight, very reassuring.

It was a strange sensation, like that day sitting in the little mantou car - outside was the cold, windy street, but inside the car was peaceful and quiet. 

Now outside the window was unknown darkness and unease, but right before his eyes was light and warmth.

Jiang Cheng quite liked this feeling.

All this time since coming here, weighed down by repression, anger, confusion and maladjustment, it wasn't until today, this moment, that he suddenly had a sensation of his feet on solid ground.

Although this feeling might be fleeting, just a sensory illusion, he couldn't help but want to quietly savor the experience right now.

"Can you handle spicy?" Gu Fei asked.

"A little is fine, not too much." Jiang Cheng said.

Gu Fei sprinkled on some chili powder and put several skewers onto a plate for him. "Try it. I like them a little burnt. These ones aren't burnt much."

"I also like them a bit charred," Jiang Cheng took a skewer and bit into it. "The flavor's pretty good."

"I thought you study gods don't like food burnt. You check expiration dates, how come you're not worried that burnt food causes cancer?" Gu Fei kept grilling the meat.

"Are you annoying or what?" Jiang Cheng ate and talked. "How much resentment do you have against study gods, so hard to let go?"

"After living nearly 18 years, first time seeing a real study god, of course there are complex feelings," Gu Fei glanced at him and smiled. "This study god's mouth is so cocky too."

Sitting by the fire eating BBQ on a cold day was extremely pleasant. Jiang Cheng didn't feel like bickering with Gu Fei for now and remained silent, just burying his head to eat.

"Want a drink?" Gu Fei rummaged through a paper box next to him. "I think there's leftover alcohol from last time."

"White liquor?" Jiang Cheng asked.

"You kidding? Beer on such a cold day," Gu Fei took out a bottle and put it on the wooden box. "At times like this, a bottle of Erguotou touches you and me."

Jiang Cheng looked at the bottle and hesitated before nodding. "Fine, I'll have some."

When Gu Fei poured, Jiang Cheng was shocked to see him casually fill a paper cup to the brim with liquor like it was beer, he hadn't drank white liquor like this before. But considering their potential to start roasting each other anytime, he didn't say anything and silently watched Gu Fei place a full cup in front of him.

"You probably think it's unnecessary to say thanks now," Gu Fei picked up his cup, "But I still have to formally say thanks again."

"You probably think it's unnecessary to say you're welcome..." Jiang Cheng also picked up his cup, "But I still have to say no need to be so polite."

Gu Fei smiled, clinked his cup against Jiang Cheng's, and took a sip.

Jiang Cheng looked at Gu Fei's cup. This bastard drank a mouthful of liquor like it was beer. He had no choice but to follow suit and take about the same gulp.

The alcohol burned from his throat all the way to his stomach, then travelled back up, igniting his neck and ears.

Gu Fei glanced at him. "You don't normally drink, right?"

"I don't drink white liquor like it's beer." Jiang Cheng said, lowering his head to take a bite of meat. Actually on such a cold day, a mouthful like this while sitting by the fire felt pretty good.

"Just drink a couple sips, you're still injured." Gu Fei said.

"Don't feel it today," Jiang Cheng pressed on the wound location. Indeed there was no feeling there. He hesitated then asked, "How's...Gu Miao doing?"

"At home for now," Gu Fei drank another sip, "That parent yesterday brought the parents of the other two to make a scene at the school."

"Fuck!" Jiang Cheng frowned. "Gu Miao must've reacted that way because they did something first. Normally she doesn't even look people in the eye!"

"They drew stuff in Er Miao's notebook," Gu Fei lifted the lid of the soup pot. The soup was already boiling so he tasted it and added some salt and MSG. "Er Miao wanted to handle it herself. I didn't go ask the school about this matter and didn't expect her to handle it like this."

Jiang Cheng could imagine what kinds of things would be drawn in the notebook. Kids this age, while adults still say "He's just a child", are often the cruelest. 

He still remembered in elementary school there was a child with slightly lower intellect who was ostracized and bullied by almost the whole class. He had even participated himself, afraid that if he differed from the majority he would be similarly treated.

"So the school had Gu Miao go home?" Jiang Cheng said. "No investigation of causes and results? Even if fighting is wrong, she shouldn't be barred from school!"

"The school didn't want to accept her in the first place. I begged the principal for a long time," Gu Fei paused and was silent for a while before glancing at him again. "Er Miao should go to a special needs school."

"...I see." Jiang Cheng had guessed Gu Miao likely had some issues but still didn't know how to continue when he heard Gu Fei say "special needs school".

"She's had some problems since birth," Gu Fei sprinkled more cumin onto a skewer. "Couldn't speak, didn't say anything until two or three years old, and even then only blurted a couple words unclearly. Also couldn't learn things, and seems like she doesn't know how to express herself. If she's hungry, thirsty, or uncomfortable she would just scream."

"Then she..." Jiang Cheng didn't finish his sentence. Gu Fei kept staring at what was in his hands looking completely unconcerned, yet Jiang Cheng could still sense his gloom.

Jiang Cheng didn't continue asking. Gu Fei also didn't elaborate further on what Gu Miao's problems were, or how she got that scar on the back of her head, or if what Li Baoguo said about her being dropped by Gu Fei's dad was true or not. 

He was curious about all of it but also didn't plan to inquire further.

The chicken soup tasted great. He didn't know if it was because hot chicken soup seemed especially tempting on such a cold day, but one sip made him feel dizzy from the warmth.

"This chicken soup is intoxicating." Jiang Cheng sighed.

"You think it's the soup?" Gu Fei drank some liquor and held up his cup in front of Jiang Cheng, swaying it. "It's what's making you tipsy."

"...Oh," Jiang Cheng paused and also drank some liquor before nodding. "Yes."

The alcohol content was high. Jiang Cheng didn't normally drink white liquor, but at the moment eating and drinking like this, he'd somehow finished most of a cup.

Maybe because of this, he suddenly felt an urge to laugh, just like when he was at Gu Fei's shop, when they started talking about the fight and laughed uncontrollably together. Right now he really wanted to laugh like an idiot.

"I..." He turned to look at Gu Fei.

Gu Fei was drinking soup and met his gaze for a second before turning away. Then he spat out the whole mouthful.

And that did it. Their laugh switches flipped open.

Jiang Cheng laughed so hard he couldn't hold his chopsticks. They fell onto the table and when he tried to put them down properly, they rolled onto the floor. He kept laughing while reaching down to grab them, and picked up a small stick which he put by his bowl.

Gu Fei was holding his bowl. Seeing the little stick made him laugh so hard soup splashed out and there was barely half left.

"I can't take it," Jiang Cheng laughed while pressing the wound on his ribs. "I'm injured...can't laugh this hard..."

Gu Fei didn't speak, just kept giggling against the wall for a while longer before finally exhaling deeply. "Almost couldn't breathe."

After this laughing spell, originally Jiang Cheng had felt a little cold earlier from the wind coming in the window, and now his back was drenched in sweat.

"Ah," Jiang Cheng fumbled in his pockets trying to find some paper to wipe his mouth but couldn't find any after a long search. "Tuckered me out."

"Looking for paper?" Gu Fei pointed at the table behind him. "There's some over there."

Jiang Cheng turned around. There were several paper rolls on the broken table behind him. 

He reached over and grabbed one. A sheet of paper floated off the table by his feet.

When he bent down to pick it up and put it back, he paused and stared at what was on it, surprised.

The brown staff paper, printed with musical staves, was torn from a staff paper book. This kind of brown staff paper was what he loved best, his favorite staff paper books were this color.

Nothing too odd about a sheet of staff paper. A loser like Gu Fei probably bought it thinking it was an English workbook...

But what shocked him was there was writing on the paper. 

Most of the page was filled with musical notation.

"Fuck," Jiang Cheng blinked his eyes trying to align the doubles he was seeing, then hummed a few bars. "Sounds nice. What song is this?"  

Gu Fei still leaned against the wall, staring at him for a while before saying, "You can read music?"

"No shit," Jiang Cheng also leaned back against the table leg holding up the music, waving it at him and humming some more. "Us study gods, we know everything...Whose song is this?"

Gu Fei didn't respond.  

Jiang Cheng looked at it a while longer before raising his eyes to look at him, even pointing at Gu Fei. "Yours?"

"Hm?" Gu Fei drank some liquor. "Why me? Do I look like someone who can write songs?"

"You don't, but..." Jiang Cheng flapped the paper. "But this flat sign, look at this B, it's just like how you write it, the stem is longer like someone standing with hand on hip."

"The hell." Gu Fei laughed.

"You wrote this? Or you copied it for someone?" Jiang Cheng held up the music waving it while pressing him. "Sounds pretty nice."

"Study gods will be study gods. You learned staff notation in middle school and can still remember it." Gu Fei didn't answer his question.

"Fuck, don't underestimate us study gods," Jiang Cheng stood up and slapped the music onto the table, feeling really buzzed now and speaking breezily. "Let me open your eyes."

"You're going to sing?" Gu Fei also seemed in high spirits, standing against the wall clapping for him.

"Wait," Jiang Cheng went to the sofa and grabbed his bookbag. "I don't remember if I brought it... Usually I do... Oh, here it is."

Gu Fei watched Jiang Cheng dig through his bag for a long time before pulling out a thin, translucent plastic case. A flute? 

Jiang Cheng could read sheet music, and he could hum it right away just by looking at it. That really surprised him, someone like Jiang Cheng, even if Old Xu called him a top student, without any scores to show probably few people would believe it. Fighting and harming people were his strengths, being good at basketball wasn't strange, but being able to read sheet music was truly unexpected.

Just like himself, even if the composition was written by Gu Fei, people unfamiliar would think it was forcibly snatched by beating the composer. 

Jiang Cheng was probably drunk and excited, about two and a half ounces of alcohol in one cup, and Jiang Cheng's cup was already empty. For people who don't usually drink much, drinking two and a half ounces at this speed, would probably lead to this kind of behavior.

"A flute? It's so slender." Gu Fei looked at the thin, long, black metal pipe in his hand.

"Yeah, a whistle," Jiang Cheng cleared his throat, "an Irish whistle, I quite like it, but usually don't blow it, didn't even blow it at home in the past."

"Why?" Gu Fei asked.

"Because it doesn't look as classy as a piano or something," Jiang Cheng smiled, "My mom... anyway she looked down on it, said it was noisy, she liked the piano."

"You can play the piano too?" Gu Fei looked at Jiang Cheng's hands. He hadn't noticed before, but now with Jiang Cheng's fingers over the whistle's holes, they were quite long, slender fingers with distinct but not protruding knuckles.

"Yes, want to kneel down? I see there's a cushion on the sofa, grab it over, just kneel here." Jiang Cheng pointed at the floor in front of himself with the whistle.

Gu Fei smiled and lit a cigarette to smoke.

He felt like he probably hadn't heard a whistle before, but after Jiang Cheng blew a short segment he reacted that for a period of time Ding Zhuxin really liked Celtic music, listening to it daily, which had various wooden and wind whistles, probably including tin whistles too.

He didn't know what Jiang Cheng was playing, but it sounded very familiar. 

Just as he was marveling that Jiang Cheng also played this, and played it very well, fingers nimbly dancing over the holes... Jiang Cheng suddenly stopped and turned his head to cough twice: "Sorry, again from the start."

Gu Fei had no choice but to clap again.

Jiang Cheng glanced at him, brought the whistle back to his lips, lowered his eyes, and notes slid out again between his dancing fingers.

This was Gu Fei's first time watching someone play a whistle in front of him, it gave him an indescribable feeling.

The dissatisfaction and irritability that Jiang Cheng usually had on his face disappeared the moment the first note leapt out, his lightly trembling lashes looked tranquil and steady.

In that instant, Gu Fei suddenly sincerely accepted the premise of Jiang Cheng being a true study god.


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