The shaved head peeking out from in front of the shelves belonged to Gu Miao. After having her head shaved completely bald, it was impossible to tell that she was a girl anymore. She was wearing a greyish-blue boys' down jacket, and if not for her eyes, Jiang Cheng would not have recognized her as Gu Miao.
Behind her stood Gu Fei, holding an electric scooter, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Seeing Jiang Cheng, he seemed a bit surprised and froze with the scooter in hand.
Gu Fei was dressed differently today compared to yesterday, in a pullover sweater and casual pants, looking comfortable and relaxed.
His looks, outfit and temperament made him stand out starkly from his four friends. He was the eye-catching type you could spot immediately in a crowd.
His whole body exuded an "I'm their boss" aura.
Jiang Cheng had always believed he didn't look like a bad person, although his temper wasn't great to the point that he even scared himself sometimes, making him feel like he was stuck in perpetual adolescence and just couldn't get over it... But when he was feeling calm and just wanted to buy a bottle of water, he was sure he looked completely harmless.
So when everyone in this makeshift grocery store stared at him in silence with expressions that said "You looking for trouble?", he felt it was rather unfounded.
During this process, some ash from the cigarette in Gu Fei's mouth fell onto Gu Miao's shaved head. She lowered her head and brushed at it for a long time.
Jiang Cheng had no intention of paying them any mind. He was a fearless youth who didn't shy away from "What are you looking at?", especially when he was both physically and mentally unhappy.
He walked to the shelves, picked up a bottle of mineral water.
When he looked up, Gu Fei had already walked over to the other side of the shelves. After another silent staredown across two rows of potato chips, Gu Fei said, "Welcome."
"This your family's shop?" Jiang Cheng asked.
"Yeah," Gu Fei nodded.
"What a coincidence," Jiang Cheng said.
Gu Fei didn't respond, and he didn't really feel like talking either, so he tossed the water bottle and turned to walk to the cash register.
"Two bucks," said a person who leaned against the table behind the register, staring at him.
Jiang Cheng glanced at him. It wasn't one of the four punks sitting there motionless. This was the man who had stood beside Gu Fei earlier.
Because of the dim lighting earlier, he didn't get a good look. Now under the lamp, he saw the man was quite handsome, with delicate features like a girl's, except for his narrow eyes. Other than that, compared to Gu Fei, he actually resembled Gu Miao's sister...brother more.
Jiang Cheng fished a 10 yuan bill from his pocket and handed it over. The man took the money and punched some buttons on the register, then looked at him again, "Friend of Da Fei's*? Haven't seen you before."
*T/N: 'Da' is a way of referring to someone as a boss.
"No," Jiang Cheng said. He took out some medicine from his pocket, popped two pills into his mouth, then twisted open the water bottle and drank a few mouthfuls.
"No?" The man's gaze went past his shoulder to look behind him. He put the change on the table. "Oh."
After taking the medicine, Jiang Cheng threw the half-finished water bottle into the trash can by the door. He flipped up the door curtain and walked out.
"Hey, wouldn't a small bottle have been better?" came the voice of the man behind him. "So wasteful."
"...Forgot," Jiang Cheng said.
He was right, why didn't he buy a small bottle? He wouldn't have been able to finish it anyway.
Probably because the achy feeling all over his body had intensified again, making his mind sluggish.
He stood on the steps outside the door, momentarily unable to remember where he'd been headed before entering the shop... Go back? Back where? To Li Baoguo's... No, his new home?
Thinking of the awful environment in the house and Li Baoguo's earthshaking snores, his chest tightened uncomfortably. Then he found himself unable to breathe at all, not one bit.
His vision blacked out and golden spots appeared before his eyes.
Jiang Cheng lost control of his body. Like a spinning sack, he sank down. With a sigh, he thought, how graceful.
Gu Miao felt her bald head and picked up her skateboard, heading for the door.
"Hat," Gu Fei grabbed his coat from a nearby chair and fished a rolled up green knit hat with little flowers from the pocket. He tossed it onto her head.
Gu Miao tugged it on properly.
With head lowered as she dragged her skateboard out the door, she quickly ducked back in and slapped the countertop twice.
"What's up?" Li Yan lay on the counter and tugged her hat. He glanced at Gu Fei, "Why'd you really knit her a green hat..."
"She picked the color herself," Gu Fei said as he put away the scooter. Looking at Gu Miao, he asked, "What is it?"
Gu Miao pointed outside.
"A dog?" Gu Fei kicked a chair aside and went to flip open the door curtain.
The big spender who bought water only to pour half out was sprawled on the sidewalk outside.
Hugging the ground with his face.
"Oh," Gu Fei walked out and gently kicked his leg. He didn't know the guy's name. "You okay?"
The big spender didn't move. Gu Fei bent down to look at his smashed nose. He carefully lifted his head so he could breathe properly, then called into the shop, "Hey, got a fainter out here!"
Li Yan came out first and was stunned by the scene. "He got stabbed?"
"You're the stabber here," Gu Fei felt a burning temperature on his face. "He's running a fever."
"Fevers make you faint now?" Li Yan seemed surprised. He looked back at the others who had come out. "What do we do? Call 120?"
"Let's not get involved," Liu Fan looked around. "If some nosey auntie calls the cops, they'll definitely say we did it. I just got out yesterday..."
"Drag him in," Gu Fei said.
"Drag him... You know him?" Liu Fan asked.
"He said drag him so just do it. Doesn't matter if Da Fei knows him or not, he touched him already," Li Yan said. "If some auntie really reports this, you think the cops won't question you?"
"Fainting from a mere fever, you guys are wasting your parents' money not being screenwriters," Gu Fei turned him over. "Hurry up."
A few of them went over to carry him inside, dumping him in Gu Fei's little resting room.
"I've never properly slept in this bed," Li Yan tsked after everyone had left. "Now some weakling gets to enjoy it."
"Go smash your face outside and I'll happily get you in bed in here," Gu Fei said.
"Shameless," Li Yan said.
"You're the shameless one," Gu Fei gave him a push. "Go outside."
"Ah," Li Yan said as he stood still, turning his head to murmur, "He said you weren't friends?"
"Mm," Gu Fei gave another push, making him stumble back a few steps as he closed the door, "He's the person who picked up Er Miao yesterday."
"Er Miao was picked up by him?" Li Yan was quite surprised, "What a coincidence."
Gu Fei ignored him and sat down behind the cash register, taking out his phone to start playing games.
"He's pretty handsome," Li Yan leaned on the cash register, speaking in a low voice.
Gu Fei glanced at him but he turned his head away and didn't say anything more.
Gu Miao walked over and held out her hand in front of Gu Fei's eyes, crooking her fingers.
"Eat up, look how much weight you've gained these past two months, no one wants to play with you anymore," Gu Fei took a 10 yuan note from his wallet and put it in her hand, "Your face is completely round now."
Gu Miao ignored him, lowering her head to put the money in her pocket, even patting it, before dragging her skateboard outside.
"With her bald head, no one would play with her even if she wasn't fat," Li Yan sighed.
"No one would play with her even without the bald head," Gu Fei continued playing his game, "Ever since she was small she had no friends, who would want to play with a mute."
"Don't say that about her," Liu Fan chimed in, "It's not like she's really mute, she just doesn't talk, what's the big deal about that."
"If this goes on what will she do in the future," Li Yan sighed again, "School is fine, she can just not go if she doesn't want to, but this habit of only talking to Da Fei..."
"If you didn't worry about the world, it would probably be destroyed," Gu Fei interrupted him, "Why don't you go write a report and apply for the Nobel Peace Prize."
"Damn," Li Yan slapped the table and went to sit in the chair next to Liu Fan.
The shop fell silent. Liu Fan and the others sitting by the radiator all had vacant, sleepy expressions, it was a little frightening, their faces drooping down like that. Even three people who wanted to come in to buy things took one look through the curtain and turned to leave.
"Hey you guys," Gu Fei knocked on the table, "Go away."
"Go where?" Li Yan asked.
"Go mess around," Gu Fei said.
"I don't want to go out," Liu Fan stretched lazily, "It's so cold out and there's nowhere to go anyway."
"You're scaring away all the customers coming in," Gu Fei lit a cigarette and held it in his mouth.
"When more people come in later we'll grab them for you," Liu Fan laughed and slapped the table, "Guaranteed none of them will get away."
"Get lost," Gu Fei said, "Annoying."
"Leaving, I'm leaving," Liu Fan clicked his tongue and stood up, kicking the chairs of the others, "Master Gu is having another episode, later he'll chop us up with a knife."
Several of them were reluctant but still got up to leave, grumbling under their breaths as they put on coats and filed out.
Li Yan lingered at the back. As he was about to leave, he turned and said, "There's still one inside, how come you're not kicking him out too?"
Gu Fei didn't respond, just looked at him.
Li Yan didn't say anything else either. He flipped up the curtain and left.
After smoking a cigarette, Gu Fei checked the time. The big spender had been lying there for almost 20 minutes. Fainting spells generally only lasted a few minutes, so he should have woken up by now.
He went over and pushed open the door to check inside. The big spender still hadn't woken up and was lying in the same position as before with eyes closed.
"Hey," Gu Fei gave him a shove. "Don't die in my place."
The big spender still didn't move.
Gu Fei stared at him for a while.
The big spender's face was a bit dirty, but he looked decent enough, with drooping eyes that gave him a casual arrogance.
By Gu Fei's standards of barely liking how anyone looked, he was handsome. It was just that when they first met yesterday, Gu Fei immediately disliked his prickly demeanor, although the prickliness was quite subtle, he could sense it.
After staring for a few minutes, he lifted the blanket and rummaged around in the big spender's pockets, taking out a wallet. There was an ID card and some membership cards stuffed together.
He put the wallet back, leaning in close to the big spender's ear and shouting, "Hey!"
"Mm." The big spender finally stirred, giving a low, disgruntled grunt. He sounded very unhappy.
Gu Fei kicked the bed again before turning to leave.
Jiang Cheng didn't know what had happened to him.
When he opened his eyes, it was as if he had amnesia. Who am I, where am I?
It took him a good while to recall the last scene he could remember, which was the extremely filthy ground rushing up to meet his face, mixed with snow trampled into mud.
He had actually fainted? That was a first.
He sat up and tossed aside the blanket covering him. Looking down at his mud-stained clothes, he quickly pulled the blanket back up to check. A few spots had gotten on it, but he brushed at them without getting the mud off.
Just as he was thinking he should find some water to scrub clean, he suddenly realized—
Who am I? Jiang Cheng.
Where am I? Don't know.
It was a small room, tidy enough, cleaner than the one Li Baoguo had given him. Letting the blanket fall, he went to open the door.
Seeing the shelves outside, it finally hit Jiang Cheng that he was still in Gu Fei's shop.
"You're up," Gu Fei was leaning against a recliner next to the cash register. He glanced at Jiang Cheng briefly before turning his gaze back to his phone.
"Yeah," Jiang Cheng brushed the dried mud off his clothes. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," Gu Fei kept looking at his phone. "Mainly didn't want trouble if I left you outside."
"Oh," Jiang Cheng looked back into the room. "The blanket...got dirty."
"There's a wash basin out back," Gu Fei said. "Go wash it."
"What?" Jiang Cheng was taken aback, and felt like losing his temper. But he couldn't find a suitable outlet since Gu Fei's words made perfect logical sense.
"Why ask if you don't want to wash it?" Gu Fei's line of sight finally left his phone and settled on Jiang Cheng's face.
Jiang Cheng didn't respond. He stared back at Gu Fei.
He was actually quite grateful that Gu Fei had brought him inside, but Gu Fei's current attitude made it hard to feel grateful. The only reason he didn't blow up was because he still felt unwell after fainting.
After staring for a while, Gu Fei lowered his head to his phone again.
Jiang Cheng turned and left.
The sun outside was nice, the only warmth in the northern wind, but it didn't help much. Still cold.
His headache was awful. Jiang Cheng took a ski hat from his pocket and put it on, pulling up his coat hood as well. He checked the time—he had been passed out for about half an hour, not too long.
Not that he had anything else to do anyway.
Standing by the roadside, he looked both ways. Finally he decided to keep wandering for a bit until he found the intersection two streets over. Then he'd head back from the intersection.
He didn't want to return to listen to Li Baoguo's snoring, but he had to change clothes.
Trudging through the muddy snow, he suddenly felt lonely.
In the past he had spent many days wandering outside like this, sometimes for days on end without going home. But he'd never felt lonely like now.
He didn't know why.
Maybe it was the acute feeling of abandonment and banishment, or the unfamiliar and rundown environment, or having no friends around, or maybe...just because he was sick.
His phone dinged with a message. Jiang Cheng took it out to look—it was from Yu Xin.
-I regret it now.
He sighed and replied:
-A person of their word can't go back on what they promised.
Yu Xin didn't message back. Jiang Cheng didn't know if she was angry, had no face, or was simmering and waiting for another chance to erupt.
He put his phone away and pinched the bridge of his nose.
Just now he noticed his nose really hurt. It was probably smashed into the ground when he fell.
He carefully felt over his nose from bridge to tip, making sure nothing was broken, before putting his hand back into his pocket.
After walking forward a few steps, he saw a small intersection ahead which was probably the one he was looking for.
Before he could look away, a green head darted out from the intersection, zipping by like the wind.
When Jiang Cheng saw it was Gu Miao speeding by on a skateboard, she had already flashed past him without giving him a clear look at her face.
He looked back. What a cool girl, except for her shaved head.
He wondered if that was her own brother. Would it be so hard to get her messy hair trimmed at a barber shop instead of shaving it all off? It's freezing out... Oh, a green hat?
Just as Jiang Cheng started to turn back to double check if his eyes were playing tricks, three rickety bicycles shot out from the intersection.
The rackety clanging rang loud and clear. But they were riding pretty fast.
"Damn, she's so fast!" someone on the bike yelled.
Jiang Cheng was taken aback. From what he said...Gu Miao was being chased and bullied again?
He didn't even feel sympathetic anymore, just inexplicably annoyed.
What the hell kind of place was this!
When he got back to his new "home", Li Baoguo was still asleep, though the snoring had stopped. But he started coughing heavily after Jiang Cheng came in, hacking painfully as if his lungs were being ripped out.
Jiang Cheng couldn't help going to check on him twice, but Li Baoguo kept his eyes shut, seemingly fast asleep.
He didn't have the skill to sleep cough like that. Any coughing would definitely wake Jiang Cheng up from sleep. This was probably one of Li Baoguo's special talents.
After changing clothes, Jiang Cheng found a towel in his suitcase. He wet it and wiped his dirty clothes clean.
Then he sat on the bed in a daze.
He didn't know what to do now.
Li Baoguo next door had stopped coughing, but started snoring again.
He had no words to describe his feelings. This man was his biological father, they shared the same blood flowing in their veins.
To be born into such a family, although he had not yet seen the other members of this family, Li Baoguo was already a big 'warning sign'.
He had avoided thinking about this issue for some time, but now sitting here looking at the dilapidated scene inside and outside the house, he really could not escape it anymore.
Long ago, he had discussed adoption with his parents.
It was meaningless, some things were encoded in genes, and nurturing in later life was still no match for them.
He could not remember clearly how his parents had answered back then, he only remembered his own words, and now those words were like slaps hitting his face hard.
His two younger brothers had personalities like Dad and Mom, prudent, taciturn, fond of tranquility and reading books, while he was completely different, although not much of a talker either...
Even the neighbors had said they did not seem like one family.
Yes, the misfit was encoded in his body.
Li Baoguo suddenly coughed violently, as if choking, and did not stop for a good while. He should be awake now. Jiang Cheng heard his grumbling voice.
After a while, the snoring sound rang out again.
Jiang Cheng was suddenly afraid.
An intense suffocating fear.
He stood up, went to the living room to get the keys, preparing to go out to duplicate a set, and find a hospital to see a doctor at the same time. He was really uncomfortable all over, probably having a fever.
Gu Fei squatted by the flower bed outside the shop door, watching Gu Miao passing flamboyantly in front of him for the third time, her face flushed red from the cold.
The fourth time she passed, Gu Fei waved to her. She made an emergency stop and turned around, slowly sliding up to him.
"Time to go home for lunch," Gu Fei stood up, "go put your stuff away."
Gu Miao dragged her skateboard into the shop.
Gu Fei lit a cigarette, pondering what to have for lunch.
A minute later, Gu Miao's screams came from the shop.
He threw away the cigarette and jumped up and rushed into the shop.
The screams were coming from the toilet at the back. He rushed out from the back door and pushed open the toilet door. Gu Miao was covering her eyes facing the sink, screaming nonstop.
Gu Fei reached out and turned off the faucet, then picked her up and carried her out of the toilet, gently patting her back, "Shhh....quiet, there's no more water, no more water..."
Gu Miao's screams stopped. Hugging his neck, she lay on his shoulder and said softly, "Hungry."
"Me too," Gu Fei held her in one arm and picked up her skateboard in the other, "Let's go have a big meal."