Gu Fei drove his motorcycle to the store entrance. Gu Miao hugged her skateboard and climbed nimbly onto the back seat, putting her arms around his waist and pressing her face against his back.
"Let me see your face." Gu Fei turned his head around.
Gu Miao raised her face looking at him.
"Still got tears, wipe them off." Gu Fei said.
Gu Miao wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, and wiped her nose with her sleeve.
"Ah," Gu Fei sighed, "If you were a boy you'd definitely be a rough one."
Gu Miao smiled and pressed her face back against his back.
Gu Fei drove the motorcycle out, heading straight for the downtown shopping mall. For Gu Miao, the so-called big meal referred specifically to the self-service barbecue restaurant in the shopping mall.
This little girl was stubbornly set in her ways about certain things. Going out to eat a big meal, she would only go to that one restaurant, which was one example.
The biggest advantage of small cities was probably that everything was centered in one place, and no matter which district you came from it didn't take long to get to the center.
But this was when the barbecue restaurant had the most people. When they arrived, there were basically no empty tables left inside.
"Any promotions today?" Gu Fei asked the server, taking out his phone to look for discount coupons, then flicked Gu Miao on the head, "Go find a table."
Gu Miao put her skateboard down on the floor and put one foot on it. He swiftly put one foot on it as well: "Walk."
"Do you want to leave the skateboard at the front desk?" The server asked with a smile.
Gu Miao shook her head and quickly bent down to pick up her skateboard, hugging it in her arms.
"She'll hold it herself." Gu Fei said.
Gu Miao ran inside hugging her skateboard.
"Damn, I already told you I'm hungry," Pan Zhi swallowed, "I'm serious, I'll come see you in a couple days, you can take me to eat there too, with the prices here we would never be able to afford so many dishes back home."
"Did your family go on a poverty alleviation trip this New Year's?" Jiang Cheng asked, holding his phone in one hand and meat tongs in the other, slowly picking up food, pork belly, beef, pork belly, beef... To him there wasn't much difference in what was available to eat, he only liked these few things.
"How can you compare them," Pan Zhi said, his tone somewhat low, "Last semester we said we'd go out for barbecue over New Year's, but not only did I not get to eat the meat, I didn't even get to see you."
"You can stay at a hotel when you come," Jiang Cheng put down the tongs and piled more meat onto a plate, continuing to pick things up, "And you'll have to book it yourself, I have no energy to do anything right now."
"I can just stay at your place." Pan Zhi said.
"No," Jiang Cheng frowned, with the room he was staying in now, even he didn't want to spend extra time there, "Book a standard room and I'll come over."
"...Are you not getting along with your dad?" Pan Zhi thought about it.
"We haven't established a relationship yet," Jiang Cheng said, carrying two plates of meat and going to grab a bottle of beer, "Can't say if it's good or bad yet..."
When he got to the table he was stunned.
A four person table, a skateboard on one chair, a little bald girl in a blue shirt sitting on another chair, and on the table there was also a... green knitted hat with little pink flowers.
"Gu Miao?" Jiang Cheng looked at her in surprise.
Gu Miao nodded, seeming unsurprised, and took the skateboard off the chair and put it under the table.
"You..." He set the plates on the table and pointed at Gu Miao, "Who did you come with?"
Gu Miao stood up and pointed toward the entrance. She waved her hand a few times.
When Jiang Cheng looked over, he saw Gu Fei, who looked just as surprised as him.
"Let's find another table," Gu Fei came over, "This brother is already sitting here."
Gu Miao looked around but remained seated without moving.
"The server just told me there are some tables open over there." Gu Fei pointed inside, "Let's go over there."
Gu Miao still didn't move, looking up at him expressionlessly. It was unclear what she was trying to express.
After a brief stalemate with her, Gu Fei glanced over at Jiang Cheng.
"Hm?" Jiang Cheng also looked at him.
"You're alone?" Gu Fei asked.
"Yeah." Jiang Cheng responded briefly and sat down.
The server came over and turned on the grill, laying down paper. Jiang Cheng put a few slices of meat on to cook and brushed on sauce.
"Then we'll..." Gu Fei seemed hesitant before finishing his sentence, "Eat together?"
Jiang Cheng glanced at him. To be honest, he really wanted to answer, you wish, go wash the blanket!
But with Gu Miao's big eyes also fixed on him, he couldn't get those words out. After brushing sauce on the meat a couple times, he nodded.
"Thanks," Gu Fei said, then gestured at Gu Miao, "Sit here and wait for me, I'll go get food."
Gu Miao nodded.
After Gu Fei left, Jiang Cheng layered two more slices of fatty beef on the grill, asking Gu Miao, "Which do you want? Pork belly or fatty beef?"
Gu Miao pointed at the fatty beef.
"The pork belly is also delicious, sizzling with oil... I could eat five or six plates," Jiang Cheng turned the meat over and brushed on some oil, "Do you eat spicy food?"
Gu Miao shook her head.
Jiang Cheng put a grilled slice of fatty beef on her plate: "Go ahead and eat."
Gu Miao hesitated, turning to glance in the direction Gu Fei had walked off in.
"It's fine..." Jiang Cheng didn't finish his sentence, suddenly noticing a clear five centimeter scar on the back of Gu Miao's bald head. He was a bit shocked.
Not seeing Gu Fei, Gu Miao turned back and lowered her head to stuff the fatty beef in her mouth, smiling at him.
"Want to try the pork belly?" Jiang Cheng asked her.
Gu Miao nodded.
He picked up a slice of pork belly and put it on her plate, casually moving the hat on the table to the chair next to them. He couldn't help clicking his tongue, "Who bought you that hat?"
Gu Miao continued eating without answering.
No speaking while eating.
This girl was probably the only person he'd met who followed that rule most perfectly.
Gu Fei quickly brought over some dishes, but his dish-carrying skills were clearly inferior. He only brought three plates in one trip, whereas Jiang Cheng could have easily managed six if he hadn't been on the phone with Pan Zhi earlier. After they finished eating, some fruit would just about wrap it up.
The four person table was against the wall. Gu Miao sat opposite them on the outside happily eating away. Jiang Cheng sat on the inside grilling meat while Gu Fei hesitated before sitting down next to him.
Jiang Cheng was quite unhappy and was about to take Gu Fei's dishes to grill them for him, when Gu Fei reached out and lightly poked Gu Miao on the head, "Go get a drink yourself."
Gu Miao stood up and headed over to the drink station. Gu Fei swiftly got up and sat down opposite him.
Jiang Cheng glanced at him and continued grilling pork belly and fatty beef.
A server came to open up the grill, laying down paper. He put a few slices of meat on to cook and got ready to brush on sauce.
"You're sick and still eating such oily food?" Gu Fei asked.
"Hm?" Jiang Cheng paused briefly, looking at the rice cakes he was grilling, "You knew?"
"My hand was scalded by you when I dragged you in, how could I not know." Gu Fei said.
"Dragged?" Jiang Cheng involuntarily imagined himself being dragged into the restaurant by Gu Fei pulling his hair like a ragged sack.
"What, did you expect me to carry you in?" Gu Fei put two more strips of bacon on to cook, with each person using half of the grill. It looked quite harmonious.
Jiang Cheng didn't know how to continue the conversation, so he ate a slice of pork belly.
Gu Miao soon came back hugging several bottles. She set beer bottle by beer bottle on the table, four of them, all opened, and there was even a glass of orange juice.
"You're pretty capable," Jiang Cheng looked at her in shock, "Didn't spill them everywhere?"
Gu Miao shook her head and sat back down at the table. She slid a bottle of beer and the glass of orange juice in front of him.
"I don't..." He was about to have Gu Miao drink the orange juice herself, but before he could finish speaking, Gu Miao had already poured some beer into her own glass from a bottle. "You..."
Gu Miao raised the glass and drank a large gulp, sighing contentedly. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
Jiang Cheng glanced at Gu Fei, only to see him completely unconcerned, not even looking in Gu Miao's direction as he wrapped a slice of pork belly in a lettuce leaf.
"She drinks alcohol?" Jiang Cheng couldn't help asking.
"Yeah, when eating barbecue," Gu Fei handed the wrapped lettuce roll to him, "Not usually."
Jiang Cheng looked at the lettuce wrap.
Gu Fei just held it there without speaking.
"...Thanks." He had no choice but to take it and bite into it.
"Don't you find it too greasy eating just pork belly?" Gu Fei asked.
"It's fine, I quite like it." Jiang Cheng said.
Gu Fei also wrapped two rolls for Gu Miao, then asked again, "You're not from around here right? I can tell by your accent."
"No, I'm not." Jiang Cheng answered. Being asked this suddenly made him a little annoyed, the irritation that had finally been suppressed by pork belly and beef was desperately trying to flare up again.
"Who's Li Baoguo to you?" Gu Fei continued asking.
Jiang Cheng was stunned. How did Gu Fei know about Li Baoguo? But this question was soon drowned out by the annoyance. He flung two slices of meat onto the grill, "What's it to you?"
Gu Fei glanced at him, smiling without responding. He picked up a beer bottle and lightly clinked it against the bottle in front of Jiang Cheng, drank some, then continued grilling meat.
Jiang Cheng had never eaten a meal face to face with someone he barely knew before. He hadn't wanted to talk to begin with, and now he was even more at a loss for words.
Gu Fei across from him also seemed to have lost interest in speaking. Gu Miao really did seem to be mute, eating meat and drinking happily without making a sound.
Amidst the silence, Jiang Cheng ate four plates of meat despite his pounding head. Gu Miao also seemed to have had her fill as Gu Fei had gone to get several more rounds of food.
Only after Jiang Cheng finished did she put down her chopsticks and lean back against her chair, rubbing her stomach.
"Full?" Gu Fei asked.
"You eat more than your brother." Jiang Cheng couldn't help summarizing.
Gu Fei also put down his chopsticks. "How did you get here? I can give you a ride back, it's on the way."
"Motorcycle?" Jiang Cheng asked.
"Yeah." Gu Fei nodded.
"Drink driving and even overloading?" Jiang Cheng asked.
Gu Fei didn't respond. He stared at Jiang Cheng for a very long time with an expression that was unclear whether it was mocking or something else. Finally, he patted Gu Miao on the shoulder, "Let's go."
After Gu Fei left with Gu Miao, Jiang Cheng got up and went to get another half tray of meat and a small basket of lettuce leaves.
The pork belly lettuce wrap Gu Fei had made for him earlier was pretty tasty, fresh and not greasy.
After finishing this half tray of meat, he felt like he should walk back to digest the food.
But it was too cold outside. He huddled behind the curtain at the mall entrance and took out his phone to call a car, but no one accepted the order after five minutes.
Instead, Pan Zhi called again: "There are two train stations here, and the times are different too. Which one should I buy tickets for?"
"East station," Jiang Cheng said, "That's the only one I know."
"Got it," Pan Zhi said, "Come pick me up at 4pm tomorrow. Send me your address later, I'll look for hotels nearby."
"Probably none around," Jiang Cheng thought back to the overall vibe of the area, it didn't seem like somewhere that would have hotels, "Just book wherever, it's not that big here."
After hanging up, someone finally accepted his order. Getting into the car, Jiang Cheng felt irritated all over.
This was probably culture shock. Usually he seldom even caught a cold, but after changing environments he had become a delicate flower, messing around all morning and even eating his favorite food yet showed no sign of recovering at all, nearly at his limit.
He sighed and closed his eyes.
It seemed like there were more cars on the road today with locals coming home for New Year's. The driver stepped on the gas and slammed the brakes. Ten minutes after setting off, Jiang Cheng felt his stomach start churning.
Although it wasn't a long ride, only half an hour, as soon as he saw the intersection near Gu Fei's place, he couldn't hold it in any longer. Unable to even speak, he patted the car door several times.
"Here?" The driver asked.
He nodded, patting the door again.
The driver stopped the car. He practically tumbled out the door and rushed to a trash can by the roadside, throwing up violently.
This disgraceful scene was unbearable even for him to watch.
After upturning heaven and earth, it finally settled down, leaving just a splitting headache. He braced against the wall trying to take tissues out of his pocket but couldn't find any after a long time.
Just as anger was rising from his feet, a small arm reached over from the side holding a few tissues.
He grabbed the tissues and covered his mouth, wiping a few times before glancing to the side.
What a coincidence this world was.
Gu Miao stood next to him wearing her green hat, with Gu Fei three steps behind looking on with interest.
"Thanks." Jiang Cheng nodded at Gu Miao. This kind of shameful situation that he couldn't just turn and leave from or curse at was quite suffocating.
Gu Miao reached out and grabbed his hand, pulling forward as if wanting to support him walking.
"There's no need." Jiang Cheng pulled his hand back.
Gu Miao grabbed his hand again, still trying to help him.
"Really, I'm fine." Jiang Cheng said.
When he tried to pull his hand back again, Gu Miao held on tight.
"Er Miao..." Gu Fei walked over.
Gu Miao still wouldn't let go.
Jiang Cheng didn't know how to communicate with her. Various irritations made him feel impatient. He shook Gu Miao's hand off forcefully, "I said I don't need help!"
Gu Miao didn't move, her hand still suspended in midair, stunned.
Before Jiang Cheng's guilt could spread, he suddenly felt a sharp tug at his neck as Gu Fei grabbed his collar from behind and yanked him into stumbling.
"Fuck..." He turned around, elbowing back at the same time.
Gu Fei caught his elbow, and his grip on Jiang Cheng's collar tightened. He had no choice but to stand closely against Gu Fei.
The choking hold made him want to vomit again.
"She really likes you," Gu Fei said softly by his ear, "But sometimes she can't read people's emotions well, please be patient with her."
Jiang Cheng wanted to say he'd never seen someone make a request in such a manner in his 17 years of life, but he couldn't get out so many words. All he could squeeze out from between clenched teeth was: "Gonna puke."
Gu Fei let go.
He dry heaved against the wall a couple times but nothing came out.
Gu Fei handed him a bottle of water. He accepted it, twisting the cap open and gulping some down. After settling down, he looked at Gu Miao, "I'm fine, don't need help."
Gu Miao nodded and retreated to Gu Fei's side.
"I'm going back." He tossed the half empty bottle in the trash and walked toward the intersection up ahead.
Walking in the door at Li Baoguo's place, Jiang Cheng immediately smelled the aroma of cooked food.
Li Baoguo was standing in the living room dialing his phone.
Jiang Cheng was about to speak when his own phone in his pocket rang. He took it out to see Li Baoguo's number: "You..."
Hearing his ringtone, Li Baoguo turned around and bellowed, "Oh! When did you get back? I was calling you!"
"Just got in," Jiang Cheng closed the door, "You... didn't hear?"
"Bad hearing," Li Baoguo pointed at his own ears, "Have to turn my head to hear clearly."
"Oh." Jiang Cheng responded.
"Where'd you go?" Li Baoguo went into the kitchen and brought out a pot of soup, "I've been waiting to eat with you for ages."
"I..." Jiang Cheng hesitated, not mentioning that he went to eat barbecue, "Went to the hospital."
"You went to the hospital?" Li Baoguo immediately started shouting, reaching over to feel Jiang Cheng's forehead and face, "Sick? What are you uncomfortable? Fever? Is it the change of environment?"
"Took medicine, it's nothing." Seeing the lunch prepared, Jiang Cheng tolerated his hands reeking of cigarette stench and filth without slapping them away.
"I'm telling you, if you feel unwell, you don't need to go to the hospital, there's a clinic in the neighborhood street nearby that's pretty good," Li Bao said, "It's just the entrance is a bit tucked away and not easy to see, next to the little supermarket."
"Oh," Jiang thought for a moment, "Little supermarket? Is it Gu Fei..."
"How do you know Gu Fei?" Li Bao turned his head, looking at him in surprise, "You just got here, and are already getting along with him?"
"No," Jiang was too lazy to explain, "I went to the little supermarket to buy stuff this morning."
"Let me tell you," Li Bao's voice grew louder, although his voice had always been quite loud, but it was especially loud now, "Don't hang out with him, that kid is no good!"
"....Oh," Jiang took off his coat and threw it into the inner room.
Li Bao looked at him, probably waiting for him to ask why, after waiting for a while and seeing he had nothing more to say, he moved closer, with the look of someone with a story to tell, "Do you know why I say he's no good?"
"Why?" Although Jiang didn't really have much interest in knowing these things, he still asked obligingly.
"He killed his own dad!" Li Bao said, leaning in a bit closer, specks of excited spittle spraying onto half of Jiang Cheng's face.
Jiang Cheng abruptly stood up to dodge away, wiping his face forcefully several times. Just as he was about to lose his temper, he suddenly reacted: "What? Killed who?"
"His own dad!" Li Baoguo half-shouted, "Drowned his own dad in the lake."
Jiang Cheng looked at him without speaking. Looking at Li Baoguo's excited expression, if he was willing, Li Baoguo could probably chat about this gossip for an entire afternoon.
Unfortunately, Jiang Cheng didn't believe it.
"If he killed his own dad, wouldn't he go to jail?" He sat down on the chair by the table, squeezing his throbbing temples.
"It was something from many years ago, why would he go to jail now," Li Baoguo also sat down, "No one actually saw it happen with their own eyes either."
"No one saw it happen huh..." Jiang Cheng laughed.
"Everyone knows what happened, when the police came his dad was in the lake, he was at the shore, his expression..." Li Baoguo made a series of tsk tsk sounds, "One look and you know he did it... Eat, try the dishes, see if they suit your taste?"
Jiang Cheng didn't speak, picking up a piece of pork rib.
"It was because of his family's Er Miao," Li Baoguo probably sensed his disbelief, and added an explanation as if to increase credibility, "His dad threw her and she split her head open, after being saved she couldn't even talk anymore."
"Ah," Jiang Cheng bit into the pork rib and responded lightly, recalling the startling scar at the back of Gu Miao's head.