Gu Fei drove towards Liu Fan's home. Halfway there, his phone rang and he put on his headphones to answer. It was Ding Zhuxin's voice on the other end: "Not bad eh, you're really not coming?"
"No, I..." Gu Fei suddenly remembered the message Ding Zhuxin had sent him earlier. "Forgot, I can come over now, where are you?"
"Don't worry about it, I was just singing casually," Ding Zhuxin said. "I called you earlier when I was at Wildfire, but now I'm out drinking with some friends, definitely not somewhere you'd come to."
"Mm," Gu Fei responded.
"As soon as I got here I ran into Xiao Bing and his crew," Ding Zhuxin said. "The lead singer changed again."
"They didn't ask you to go back?" Gu Fei said.
"Even if they asked I wouldn't go back," Ding Zhuxin laughed. "I'm too stubborn."
"You were at your best when you were with them," Gu Fei said. "Don't fight with them because of me, it's been three years, let it go."
"Have you 'let it go'?" Ding Zhuxin asked.
"I hold grudges. I'll resent this my whole life," Gu Fei said.
"Then that's fine," Ding Zhuxin said. "I'm not holding a grudge, I just can't stand... Oh right, when are you free to help me take some photos?"
"You?" Gu Fei took a turn and saw Liu Fan walking on the side of the road carrying two large bags. He stepped on the gas and honked.
"Damn," Liu Fan turned his head. "Just wondering which idiot would dare flirt with me like this."
"You walked to grab these?" Gu Fei asked.
"Had someone drop them off at the corner," Liu Fan saw he had earphones in. "On a call?"
"Yeah, Sis Xin," Gu Fei propped his leg up and tilted his head. "Hop on."
Liu Fan got into the back seat: "Drive slower, it's freezing tonight."
"It's not to take photos of me," Ding Zhuxin said. "The photographer I had found for the shop went back home to get married, I don't know when he'll be back. And the model I usually use also... Come help me out, I have a bunch of clothes that still need shooting."
"Okay," Gu Fei said. "Do you need me to find a model too?"
"Yeah, find a temporary one to shoot this batch, don't get Liu Fan though, he's got a good figure... " Ding Zhuxin said.
"Bad face?" Gu Fei laughed.
"Doesn't fit the requirements. This batch of clothes is a bit 'bad boy', Liu Fan looks too sincere, like an old rogue not a bad boy," Ding Zhuxin said. "Do you have someone suitable? I'll pay a lot more than usual because of the rushed timing."
For some reason, Jiang Cheng's face flashed in Gu Fei's mind as Ding Zhuxin said bad boy.
Of the people he knew, few were "bad", but for some reason, if it was "bad boy", he felt Jiang Cheng was the most suitable.
The school basketball tournament was a big deal. The games didn't start until the second period of afternoon classes, but aside from seniors, few first and second year students went to the first period. Everyone was gathered at the courts.
There were four courts, all surrounded by people.
Aside from those who had suddenly gained interest in basketball because of the tournament and were messing around on court, many classes had started warming up on court... Or rather, showing off.
The team uniforms Gu Fei had brought were clearly better than the prison uniforms and farm goods' market's clothes. The red shirts only had a number on the back along with a flaming "Fei" character designed like flickering flames.
"A team named after you?" Wang Xu ripped off his shirt and put one on. "Not bad."
Jiang Cheng quickly looked around. Aside from them, no one was left in the classroom. They had all gone to the courts.
"I suggest you wear a t-shirt underneath," Gu Fei looked at him. "The captain shouldn't freeze his ass off before the game starts."
"Everyone change, Jiang Cheng and Gu Fei bundle up properly," Wang Xu said as he changed. "Don't send them out first. Keep the secret weapons hidden, we'll put them in if it gets desperate."
Wang Xu had always wanted to save the "secret weapons" for last, but gave up yesterday when he saw the matchups. Their first knockout game was against Class 5, and Class 5's skill level was comparable to Class 2's. Class 2 had nearly won the tournament when they were sophomores, but had also nearly lost to Class 5 along the way.
"I feel like," Guo Xu said uneasily, "we shouldn't wait too long to put them in. If we let the score run away at the start it'll be hard to catch up. It's Class 5, such a strong team."
Wang Xu didn't reply. He thought about it miserably then slapped the table in frustration: "Damn, how'd they arrange these matchups? Even if it was random, it should be one strong team against one weak team at least, so the later games are exciting!"
"Captain, the drawing was fair," Gu Fei said as he finished changing and put a jacket on. "We're the weak team."
"We..." Wang Xu choked then sighed after a long pause. "Sigh."
Old Xu was also excited and came to the classroom to hurry them to the court.
The group walked out of the classroom with Jiang Cheng bringing up the rear. He felt they each walked with the wind at their backs, as if they were warrior monks who had been looked down on but were about to make a name for themselves...
"Their center is good," Gu Fei said as he walked beside him. "Much bigger than Lu Xiaobin, a tower. We basically have no chance if he gets the ball."
"Mm," Jiang Cheng nodded and glanced at Lu Xiaobin walking ahead. He imagined the center's build. "You just head for the hoop, I'll cover you..."
"Do I still need to see where you are to pass?" Gu Fei asked.
Jiang Cheng turned to look at him. After a while he said: "No need, I can get there."
Gu Fei gave him a thumbs up.
Class 8 had always had the image of a super weak team. The other classes caused a small commotion and drew looks when they arrived, but when Class 8 came, led by class president Yi Jing, only their own classmates waved.
The crowd took no interest in Wang Xu's team... that was inaccurate. There was still someone who interested them, Gu Fei.
To carry out Wang Xu's captain's "secret weapon" plan, Jiang Cheng and Gu Fei didn't walk with the team. When they reached the sidelines, several girls raised their phones and openly took photos of Gu Fei without any attempt at subtlety.
"Stay away from me," Jiang Cheng couldn't stand it. Girls at his old school also liked to gather and discuss who was hot, and he was often photographed, but the girls were a bit more bashful about it, at least pretending they were taking selfies.
Having a bunch of four or five phones raised like this made him uncomfortable.
"They're not all taking pictures of me," Gu Fei smiled nonchalantly. "Did you know someone was asking about you on the school forum the day after you transferred?"
"...You guys have a school forum?" Jiang Cheng was quite surprised, missing the point.
"Yeah, you can check it out," Gu Fei said. "Pretty lively, all kinds of gossip, picking fights, showing off, and showing off but failing."
"Oh." Jiang Cheng sat down on a bench at the sidelines.
"Get up, get up," Wang Xu walked over waving at him, face full of smugness. "That's where the players sit, spectators over there."
"The fuck?" Jiang Cheng looked at him.
"Secret weapon," Wang Xu gave him a meaningful look, trying to keep his mouth still as he spoke. "Play along."
"Ugh..." Jiang Cheng sighed reluctantly and went to find a seat at the back.
His old school had stands, but if you wanted to sit and watch the game here you had to bring your own chair. Luckily his team was hopeless but had strong logistics, and had brought many chairs over.
"If we're in trouble later, you go in first Jiang Cheng," Wang Xu said as he stretched beside him, keeping his eyes forward.
"No," Jiang Cheng said. "Gu Fei and I go in together, I'm useless alone since we can't coordinate. No point."
"Da Fei?" Wang Xu tilted his head at Gu Fei.
"Listen to him." Gu Fei said.
"Alright," Wang Xu bounced and hopped. "You two be ready, I'm a bit nervous..."
"Nervous about what?" Jiang Cheng almost laughed seeing his manner.
"Because I suddenly feel like you'll have to go in after less than 10 minutes," Wang Xu said.
"Make the most of your time in the spotlight then," Gu Fei said.
"Mm!" Wang Xu nodded vigorously and did a little skip as he went to stand at the sidelines, turning to the side to strike various warm-up poses.
Jiang Cheng glanced over and immediately laughed. A teacher with a video camera was circling the court, filming it.
The opening games today, likely to attract people, were between the two strongest teams. Court 1 had Class 5, Court 2 had Class 2, against league laughingstocks Class 8 and the slightly less laughable after comparing to Class 8, Class 3.
After the court selections, the games began.
Class 5's side was a mix of screams and applause while Class 8's momentum was clearly weaker, likely because the secret weapons were hidden too well and even their own class didn't have any hopes.
Only Old Xu stood with arms akimbo at the sidelines shouting at Wang Xu's team: "Play well! Show your skill! Let them witness your might!"
Jiang Cheng rather admired Old Xu. He could shout as if Class 8 was the future champions when everyone thought Class 5 was here for an exhibition match.
"Relax and play! Open up!" A loudspeaker voice suddenly came from behind.
The voice was quite loud. Jiang Cheng jumped in fright and everyone looked back to see Old Lu holding his lecturing mic standing in the back row.
"Teacher Lu!" Someone at the referee bench called out. "Teacher Lu! Don't use the mic, it'll disrupt the game!"
"The game hasn't started yet!" Old Lu said into the mic.
"Put that down, down," Old Xu pointed at Old Lu. "Watch the game properly!"
"Do you want to use this?" Old Lu still spoke into the mic.
Yi Jing got up, walked to Old Lu and said a few words with a smile. Old Lu handed the mic and speaker to her and went to stand arms akimbo with Old Xu at the sidelines.
"Old Lu is pretty confident in Wang Xu and the others?" Jiang Cheng said.
"He and Old Xu are close," Gu Fei said. "Longtime partners, if Old Xu was Class 5's head teacher he'd definitely favor Class 5 now."
The game began. Lu Xiaobin and the opposite team's Tower jumped for the ball.
Tower had a name but Jiang Cheng didn't catch it when Gu Fei said it.
When the ball was tossed up, Jiang Cheng knew Lu Xiaobin wouldn't touch it. Though Tower was big he reacted quickly, and was half a head taller than Lu Xiaobin.
As expected when the ball came down Class 5 got it, then quickly pressed it towards the hoop. Their side immediately erupted in shouts.
Jiang Cheng watched, rather speechless, as they easily brought the ball right to the hoop and scored 2 points with practically no defense.
"Zhou Jing," Gu Fei kicked the chair of Zhou Jing who was furiously slapping his thighs in front. "Go yell at them, tell them to mark their targets."
"Got it," Zhou Jing immediately clambered over several chairs, yelling at the court. "Mark up! Mark them! Get back fast! Fight harder for the ball!"
Zhou Jing shouted energetically for a bit.
But Wang Xu and the others were clearly very nervous as soon as they got on court, they couldn't relax. The other team scored in just over 10 seconds, immediately suppressing them. People on the sidelines were all yelling but they seemed deaf to it all, playing terribly.
Not even 5 minutes in and Class 5 had scored four goals already. Wang Xu and the others couldn't stop Tower from getting the ball, so of course they couldn't block shots. The one time they finally got the ball and brought it under their basket, Class 5 immediately booed. They didn't even get the shot off before it was stolen.
"Damn," Jiang Cheng looked at the time and score on the board. "They don't usually play this badly."
"Right now Li Yadong is just driving straight for the hoop, no one can stop him. Their movement is extremely bold," Gu Fei leaned on his chair hugging himself. "If the first half keeps going like this, it's even possible for Wang Xu and the others to score a big fat zero egg."
"You drive the midline later too," Jiang Cheng watched Wang Xu and the others playing increasingly tense. "Kill their momentum."
"I'm threatened from both sides going down the midline." Gu Fei said.
"I'm here." Jiang Cheng said.
When Wang Xu looked over at Gu Fei for the third time, Gu Fei stood up.
Wang Xu immediately gestured to Old Xu to call a timeout.
Though it wasn't timeout time yet, seeing Wang Xu's gesture seemed to inject the players with stimulants. They ran faster than before.
Within two seconds of Gu Fei standing the spectators on both sides and around had noticed. Someone immediately called out: "Holy shit, Class 8 has Gu Fei this time?"
"Gu Fei, Jiang Cheng, get ready," Old Xu said as he came over.
The class only reacted now and cheers broke out as they all stood and shouted.
Jiang Cheng inexplicably felt a bit excited looking at Gu Fei. He hadn't had this feeling even when playing for the school team before.
Probably from being brainwashed by Wang Xu going on about "secret weapons" this whole time. As he stood up he truly felt as if he and Gu Fei bore some major historical mission.
A timeout was called on court. As Jiang Cheng took off his clothes and pants he felt it was fucking annoying.
Gu Fei was a mysterious badass at school, wandering beyond the mortal realm. He had never fought anyone yet no one dared provoke him. He had never participated in any group activities before, yet was now going to play in a game.
All eyes turned to them, even the teacher in charge of filming came right up to them, and many phones were aimed their way.
And here he and Gu Fei were, taking off their pants between two rows of chairs.
It was a wonderful feeling...
"I'll serve," Jiang Cheng said. "Wang Xu come get the ball, move like we practiced before, mark them tight. Lu Xiaobin stick to that Tower, your stamina is good, wherever he is you should be there, ignore the ball."
"Tower?" Lu Xiaobin asked. He did have decent stamina and wasn't even panting now.
"Li Yadong," Gu Fei said.
"Got it," Lu Xiaobin nodded.
"Pass from below," Jiang Cheng said. "We don't have a height advantage against Class 5."
Wang Xu now had no complaints about Jiang Cheng taking over the captain's job. He stood aside nodding vigorously. When they went on court he didn't even care to give the usual prep talk.
The atmosphere on court changed entirely once Jiang Cheng and Gu Fei came on, from the players to the spectators on both sides.
Class 5 didn't know Jiang Cheng's skill level but they knew how Gu Fei played. The classes not playing had all squeezed into Court 1.
The sidelines were instantly packed, cheers from the cheer squads rang out, even Class 2 who saw Class 5 as their opponent was cheering for Class 8 now, the shouts blending together.
"Captain," Jiang Cheng called Wang Xu from behind.
Wang Xu immediately turned very happily: "What's up?"
"This ball is crucial," Jiang Cheng said. "We're relying on you."
"Leave it to me," Wang Xu said, face somber.
Jiang Cheng went to the sideline and took the ball from the referee, dribbling it a few times on the floor to test the feel. Still decent.
When the whistle blew Wang Xu shook his mark and charged towards Jiang Cheng's side. Jiang Cheng was about to pass it to him when Class 5's shortest suddenly cut diagonally in front of Wang Xu to block him.
This guy had a style like Li Yan's, fast and agile. He couldn't pass to Wang Xu anymore. Jiang Cheng glanced to the midcourt and saw Gu Fei tangled with Tower.
But Lu Xiaobin was finally doing his job and quickly squeezed over.
The instant Gu Fei broke free, he reached out towards Jiang Cheng who threw the ball to him.
Gu Fei got the ball and then as agreed before, turned around from the midline to start dribbling towards the basket.
The voices on the sidelines suddenly rose at least 20 decibels, shouting as if a wave had been stirred up.
Jiang Cheng accelerated to catch up, and Wang Xu cried sadly behind him: "Damn, why didn't you pass to me!"
"Follow him!" Jiang Cheng said.
Wang Xu was like he had been kicked, suddenly speeding up and rushing past Jiang Cheng, following behind Gu Fei and tangling with the two people from Class 5 who were marking Gu Fei.
Class 5's defense rotated back pretty quickly. Compared to Class 8's previous rotation speed, it was simply lightspeed. When Gu Fei dashed to the basket from the midline quite stylishly, their players had already compressed back into the 3-second zone.
Gu Fei's path to the basket was already double teamed. As he moved back out, he passed the ball back behind him. Jiang Cheng took a big step to receive the ball, drove past Li Yan 2 and another person, and when Gu Fei found an opening again, passed the ball back to him.
It had to be said, Class 5's Tower was stronger than their class's. Lu Xiaobin was almost hugging him, but still got shaken off.
When Gu Fei got the ball, he covered Gu Fei like a quilt.
Jiang Cheng quickly moved to prevent anyone from gluing themselves to him. He glanced at the timer; there was still time. Gu Fei should pass the ball out at this time.
But the next second, Gu Fei suddenly jumped up.
Damn! Jiang Cheng immediately prepared to rebound and get back on defense. Tower followed Gu Fei up like a heavy Mount Tai pressing down on him. If Gu Fei shot the ball, it would surely be blocked.
Or...if he pulled some tricks, there might still be a chance.
Sure enough, Gu Fei's hand suddenly sank in midair.
As long as he could hook it past Tower's arm, the ball might go in.
These 2 points were very important to excite Class 8's morale.
But Gu Fei's next move made Jiang Cheng curse silently, he actually passed!
Although when the ball flew towards him Jiang Cheng immediately understood Gu Fei's intention, he still couldn't help but want to curse.
"Damn!" He caught the ball, quickly took a step back behind the 3-point line, and without hesitation, shot the ball high into the air.
The moment the ball dropped into the net, another wave rose from the sidelines as Class 8 screamed until their throats nearly broke.
"Beautiful!" Old Lu had somehow gotten the loudspeaker in hand again. "That shot was beautiful!"
"Damn!" Wang Xu excitedly came over and yelled in Jiang Cheng's ear, "That was fucking awesome!"
This coordinated play and 3-pointer instantly got everyone high, and they sprang back on defense like they had springs on their feet.
"Any complaints?" Gu Fei said as he ran past Jiang Cheng.
"No complaints, just watching you mess around." Jiang Cheng said.
"We're already all in, might as well beat them to death." Gu Fei said.
"Mm." Jiang Cheng responded.
As he ran back, he suddenly remembered Pan Zhi's message from yesterday.
It really was...suddenly, he felt a bit of the old feeling coming back.