When Pan Zhi called, Jiang Cheng was still sleeping like he was about to hibernate. His phone rang for a good while before he groggily picked up: “...Hmm?”
“Fuck, I knew it,” Pan Zhi said. “Open your dog eyes and see what time it is.”
“It’s four o’clock?” Jiang Cheng woke up and brought the phone to his face, wanting to check the time, but his eyes were still blurry.
“It’s three thirty!” Pan Zhi said. “I knew you’d be like this, that’s why I called early.”
“There’s still time,” Jiang Cheng sat up. “I’ll go wait for you at the station exit later.”
“Which exit?” Pan Zhi asked.
“There’s only one exit,” Jiang Cheng looked out the window. Through the dirty glass that looked fogged over, he could see that the weather was nice today, bright and sunny. “I’m hanging up.”
After getting dressed and getting out of bed, he felt much more comfortable, except that he was a little short on sleep. The awful irritable feeling from yesterday, when he wanted to grab anyone he saw and beat them up, was gone.
Counting the time, he had slept from yesterday afternoon to now, a whole day. His steps were a little unsteady.
Li Baoguo wasn’t home, he didn’t know where he had gone.
Jiang Cheng felt this “home” was very strange. When his mother wanted to rescind the adoption, Li Baoguo had stubbornly gone to visit several times, even though he himself didn’t want to see him.
Now that he was here, Li Baoguo didn’t have that desperate attitude of wanting to bring his son back anymore.
As for his legendary older brother and sister, he still hadn’t seen them after two days.
Jiang Cheng didn’t have any interest in or expectations for this new “home”. Every time he woke up, no matter what time it was, he was alone in this lifeless house. It didn’t feel too good.
If this house wasn’t an apartment building, he would have thought it was a hundred-year-old house, inside and out it exuded decay beyond saving.
This was also why he didn’t want Pan Zhi to stay here. Compared to his previous elegant and clean room with a piano, Pan Zhi would probably howl for two or three days here.
Even if he didn’t come to live here, just seeing the train station would probably make Pan Zhi howl for a while.
“Fuck,” Pan Zhi dragged a large suitcase and carried a big backpack. As soon as they met, he sighed, “This place is a little hard for me to accept!”
“Then go back,” Jiang Cheng pointed at the ticket office. “Hurry and buy a ticket.”
“Where's the brotherhood!” Pan Zhi said. “I dragged all this stuff from far away to see you! Shouldn’t you be touched?”
“Very touched,” Jiang Cheng said.
Pan Zhi glared at him. After a while, he spread his arms, “I really missed you a bit.”
Jiang Cheng went over to hug him. “I didn’t have time to miss you.”
“Do you know why you only have me as a friend?” Pan Zhi let him go.
“I know,” Jiang Cheng nodded. “Because you’re an idiot.”
He had a lot of friends, but they were all dispensable. They fooled around together, wandered around together. When they got into minor trouble, they banded together. When they got into big trouble, they scattered like birds and beasts.
Only Pan Zhi, although they had only known each other since third year of middle school and was in the same class in high school, not even three years, he was loyal.
After coming to this small broken city, the only person he had missed was Pan Zhi.
“Sir, do you know this place?” After getting in the taxi, Pan Zhi immediately asked the driver.
“Of course I know it,” The driver laughed. “It’s the best hotel in our city.”
“Not bad at choosing,” Jiang Cheng glanced at him.
“No need to choose. Their rooms are the most expensive,” Pan Zhi rummaged in his pocket for a long time before taking out a lighter and handing it to him. “See if you like it?”
Jiang Cheng looked at the lighter. It was the style he liked, smooth with no decorations. Only two letters were engraved at the very bottom. He brought it closer to look carefully. “What is this engraved? Police?”
“J, C, the initials of your name,” Pan Zhi said. “Cool right?”
“...Really cool,” Jiang Cheng put the lighter in his pocket. “How long are you staying?”
“Two days,” Pan Zhi sighed. “School is starting.”
“Why are you sighing about school starting?” Jiang Cheng said.
“Annoying,” Pan Zhi frowned. “Classes, exams, homework. I wish I could learn everything effortlessly like you, not go to class but still test in the top ten. Then I wouldn’t be sighing.”
“Who said I don’t work hard,” Jiang Cheng glanced at him. “Don’t you know when I pull all-nighters to study?”
“The key is no matter how many nights I pull, it’s useless,” Pan Zhi dragged out his words and sighed again. “Fuck, I know why I miss you so much now. With you gone, there’s no one to let me copy test answers!”
“Just drop out,” Jiang Cheng said.
“Where's your humanity!” Pan Zhi glared at him.
Jiang Cheng laughed and didn’t reply.
Pan Zhi wasn’t satisfied with this small city, but he was satisfied with the hotel. After entering the room, he inspected the bed, under the bed, bathroom, and toilet: “Still alright.”
“Let’s go eat something,” Jiang Cheng looked at the time. “Go eat barbecue?”
“Okay,” Pan Zhi opened his suitcase. “I have other gifts for you too.”
“Oh?” Jiang Cheng was sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Guess first?” Pan Zhi rummaged around in the suitcase.
Jiang Cheng glanced in the suitcase. It was full of all kinds of snacks in different sized packages, no room for anything else.
“A tin whistle,” he said.
“Fuck,” Pan Zhi laughed. He took out a long black case from the very bottom. “Was it too easy to guess or are we too in sync?”
“Too easy to guess,” Jiang Cheng took the case and pulled out the black whistle to look at it. “Pretty good.”
“Susato, D,” Pan Zhi said. “I didn’t buy the wrong one right? It’s the same as your old one?”
“Yea,” Jiang Cheng blew a couple notes randomly. “Thanks.”
“Don’t break this one again, it's a gift from me,” Pan Zhi said.
“Okay.” Jiang Cheng put the whistle away.
He actually didn’t have the habit of getting angry and breaking things. After all, he had been “disciplined” for over ten years, so he could get in fights and hit people, but he rarely broke things.
The last time he broke the whistle was only because he had nowhere to vent his anger, it wasn’t like he could get in a fight with his dad.
He hesitated about whether to send Li Baoguo a text or call him since he wasn’t going home tonight. In the end, he chose to call. It took Li Baoguo a very long time to pick up. “Hello!”
From the noise, he could tell Li Baoguo was playing mahjong. Jiang Cheng felt a little speechless, he didn’t know if his mother knew about this habit of Li Baoguo’s, but... compared to the way his presence destroyed their family's atmosphere, this wasn’t such a big deal.
“A classmate came to visit me, I won’t be home tonight, at a hotel,” Jiang Cheng said.
“A classmate came huh?” Li Baoguo coughed a few times. “Then go play with your classmate, why even call me? I thought it was something.”
“...Then I’m hanging up,” Jiang Cheng said.
Li Baoguo didn’t say anything else, just directly hung up.
“What kind of person is your dad?” Pan Zhi looked at him.
“Don’t know, just smokes, coughs, snores, plays mahjong,” Jiang Cheng summarized.
“You smoke too, everyone coughs...snores...not a big deal...” Pan Zhi tried to analyze. “Snore...”
“Annoying or not?” Jiang Cheng interrupted him.
“Let's go barbecue,” Pan Zhi waved a hand.
The barbecue itself wasn’t anything special, but Pan Zhi ate with great enjoyment. Jiang Cheng himself couldn’t eat as much as yesterday. After all, he was a delicate flower freshly recovered from illness.
But when they left the barbecue restaurant, he did feel he had overeaten.
“You’re in a bad mood,” Pan Zhi said. “The pork belly today wasn’t bad, how could you only eat that little...”
“Good observation,” Jiang Cheng nodded. His mood wasn’t bad enough to make him unable to eat, but he didn’t want Pan Zhi to know about his fever and vomiting yesterday.
“Let’s take a walk,” Pan Zhi patted his stomach. “Any fun places around here?”
“No,” Jiang Cheng said, then added after thinking about it, “Don’t know.”
“Oh, where’s your new school?” Pan Zhi suddenly said. “Let’s go take a look?”
“Now?” Jiang Cheng pulled his collar. “No.”
“Then tomorrow. We’re on break anyway, and you’re alone. Let’s go take a look at the school, right?” Pan Zhi put his arm around his shoulder. “Didn’t you go take a look when you were handling the paperwork and stuff before?”
“Don’t you know if I went to take a look or not?” Jiang Cheng felt a little irritated.
“Oh right, you just got here,” Pan Zhi laughed.
The new life and environment made him feel vexed, but Pan Zhi still brought him some comfort. Amidst the unknown and unfamiliar, at least there was a familiar person by his side.
Jiang Cheng didn’t sleep much that night, chatting with Pan Zhi, but he couldn’t remember what they talked about. Anyway, it was just like when they used to sit at the edge of the sports field and chat, rambling about random things. What they talked about wasn’t important, what was important was having someone to chat with like this.
The two of them dozed off for a bit near dawn, then were woken up by a truck honking downstairs at around eight.
“Fuck, isn’t this downtown?” Pan Zhi hugged the blankets. “How can big trucks drive right to the hotel entrance?”
“Don’t know,” Jiang Cheng said with his eyes closed.
“Is there breakfast? Should we get some sent up now?” Pan Zhi asked.
“Whatever,” Jiang Cheng said. “Are you going back to sleep?”
“Maybe,” Pan Zhi laughed. “Any plans for today?”
“Let’s go take a look at the school later,” Jiang Cheng said. “Then check if there’s anything fun to do here, though in the winter there probably isn’t anything even if there is usually.”
“No problem, I’m someone who values spiritual enjoyment,” Pan Zhi said. “I came to see you, seeing you is enough.”
“Then I’ll sleep and you can pull up a chair to sit and watch, that works too,” Jiang Cheng said.
“Hey,” Pan Zhi leaned in to stare at him for a while. “You haven’t really talked to anyone for the past couple days right?”
“What do you mean?” Jiang Cheng yawned.
“I feel like you’ve been holding it in,” Pan Zhi said. “You've been speaking more than usual.”
“...Maybe,” Jiang Cheng thought about it. That was true, he had no one to talk to and nothing to talk about.
Looking on the map, the transfer school wasn’t too far from Li Baoguo’s home. As for what kind of school it was, Jiang Cheng hadn’t looked into it and had no interest in finding out.
Transferring in high school required a lot of paperwork. From the time when his mother and father had stubbornly handled the paperwork, he had lost interest in everything. He didn’t even have the energy to go get into fights.
It was as if something had been drained out of his body, he was like a pile of mud, content to just lie in a suitable hollow.
After Pan Zhi looked up the route, he dragged him onto the bus.
“You know, the most authentic vibe of a city can be seen on the bus,” Pan Zhi said.
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng glanced at him.
“That sounded really philosophical right?” Pan Zhi asked a little smugly.
“Yeah,” Jiang Cheng kept looking at him.
Pan Zhi stared back at him for a while. “Oh, that’s something you said.”
Jiang Cheng shook his hand.
There weren’t many people on the bus. Getting around was clearly much more relaxing in a small city. No one shoving anyone, no hair in your face, no situation of not being able to get on, and no being shoved off either.
“Sitting on this bus is way more comfortable than back home,” When they got off, Pan Zhi expressed his satisfaction. He looked at the map on his phone. “Number 4 High School, just go straight for another 500 meters and turn at the intersection.”
“They probably won’t let us in,” Jiang Cheng pulled his collar.
“Then let’s just look around outside, walk around the area. This will be your main turf from now on,” Pan Zhi held up his phone towards him and snapped a picture.
“What are you doing?” Jiang Cheng glanced at him.
“Taking a picture,” Pan Zhi said. “Yu Xin knew I was coming. She cried, begged, and knelt to ask me to take a close-up shot of you for her. I feel like, it’s hard to reject a girl’s request...”
“She paid you right?” Jiang Cheng said.
“Yes,” Pan Zhi nodded seriously.
Jiang Cheng smiled, unable to hold it in. “Shameless.”
“You two really broke up huh? I thought she was pretty good,” Pan Zhi held up his phone towards him and snapped two more pictures.
“No point,” Jiang Cheng said.
“Is it because she’s a girl, so no point?” Pan Zhi continued holding up his phone towards him as if interviewing him.
Jiang Cheng glanced at him without replying.
“I think, it’s still best to get a girlfriend, finding a boyfriend is too much trouble. The wider environment still isn’t good,” Pan Zhi put away his phone. “Don’t get misled by the crowds of rotten girls* online. When you actually encounter them in real life, they’re gone.”
*T/N: Fujoshis, who love seeing BL.
“You’ve also been holding it in for a long time without talking right?” Jiang Cheng said.
“Ever since the break started and I haven’t seen you, I basically haven’t talked much,” Pan Zhi clutched his chest. “I’ve been holding it in so much I changed from an A to a B.”
“I’ll get you a bra as a gift before you leave,” Jiang Cheng said.
“We’re here,” Pan Zhi pointed forward. “Number 4 High School...not bad, looks bigger than our school.”
The school gates were open. When they walked in, the guard glanced at them but didn’t say anything.
“Not going to stop us?” Pan Zhi said.
“What, you’re not happy if they don’t stop us?” Jiang Cheng glanced sideways at him. “Masochist.”
“Let’s walk around,” Pan Zhi waved an arm and stretched lazily.
“It’s...pretty big,” Jiang Cheng looked around.
“Of course, our school in the downtown doesn’t have space to expand even if they wanted to,” Pan Zhi said. “This school is so nice, the sports field must be huge too...let’s go check out the basketball courts?”
“Okay,” Jiang Cheng agreed.
The courts were probably the only thing he and Pan Zhi cared about the most. Their previous school only had some indoor basketball courts. The soccer field had been leveled to make space for classroom buildings, even though neither of them played soccer, it still felt stifling.
In contrast, the facilities here at No. 4 High made them much more comfortable.
There was a soccer field. Surprisingly, some people were even playing in this cold weather.
Next to it were two outdoor basketball courts, with space for volleyball too.
“There’s an indoor one, let’s go in and see?” Pan Zhi nudged him with his arm.
The gloom that had been plaguing Jiang Cheng for days was significantly alleviated by this open campus compared to Li Baoguo’s home and the street Li Baoguo lived on. Like he could finally breathe freely here.
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then slapped Pan Zhi’s shoulder: "Let's go see."
The indoor court wasn't too big, but had areas for volleyball, badminton, and basketball, all in the same space.
Both basketball courts had people playing in them. They all looked over when they entered.
Pan Zhi paused in his steps. Jiang Cheng ignored the looks, casually sticking his hands in his pockets as he strolled over to sit in the chairs by the court.
He hadn't played ball in a long time, so he planned to enjoy watching others play.
After eyeing them for a bit, the players on court resumed their game.
"Are they the school team training?" Pan Zhi sat next to him and asked.
"Doesn't seem like it," Jiang Cheng said. "Enthusiast level."
"Want to go play together?" Pan Zhi said with a smile. "We can coordinate."
Jiang Cheng lifted his feet in front of Pan Zhi and wiggled them. He was wearing casual sneakers today.
"Ah," Pan Zhi leaned back, pillowing his head on his arm. "No idea when we'll get to play ball together again."
"Don't change your style, it doesn't suit you," Jiang Cheng said. Someone on court made a beautiful three pointer and he called out in a low voice, "Nice shot."
The player glanced at him and smiled, giving him a distant fist bump.
Although not getting on court himself, sitting at courtside with Pan Zhi watching others play still gave him a brief moment of tranquility, cutting out all the irritating parts of life.
As long as he didn't think about how once Pan Zhi left tomorrow, he'd go back to a dreary existence.
He watched the players intently. He didn't notice when more people entered the court, not coming back to himself until the players all stopped, looking towards the door with indescribable expressions.
"Looks like there's going to be a show to watch," Pan Zhi said excitedly in a low voice beside him.
"What..." Jiang Cheng turned to look, startled, "A show?"
One, two, three, four, five, six, six people came in.
Jiang Cheng was so surprised he almost dislocated his jaw.
Not, a, good, bird, all four of them, and even the one who collected money from him in the back, Gu Fei wearing a baseball cap walking last, the cap covering the musical note on his head.
Jiang Cheng was a little impressed by his own facial recognition skills, even when dizzy with fever he could remember all these faces.
In a strange city, a strange school, meeting six strangers he had seen all at once was really a miracle.
Jiang Cheng felt like he had been infected by Pan Zhi, watching them slowly walk over with an expectation of a great show about to start.
It looked like they came to play basketball, Gu Fei was wearing basketball shorts and shoes, and one of them was carrying a ball.
"Da Fei?" someone on the court said.
"Ah," Gu Fei responded.
"What are you doing here?" the person asked.
"Here to play ball," Gu Fei said very calmly, without any gunpowder smell at all.
"...all of you?" the person hesitated and asked again.
"Only the old, weak, sick or disabled won't play," Gu Fei said, taking off his coat and turning to throw it over. Then at a glance he saw Jiang Cheng sitting on the chair and choked on his own spit, staring and coughing for quite a while.
Jiang Cheng put away the "wanting to watch a good show but the show ended before it began, how disappointing" expression on his face: "What a coincidence."
"Good morning," Gu Fei said.
"You're together?" the person on the court asked.
"No," Jiang Cheng answered.
Of the six people including Gu Fei, three stayed to play basketball, and the other three came to sit next to Jiang Cheng and Pan Zhi.
The one who collected money sat next to Jiang Cheng and reached out his hand, "I'm Li Yan."
"Jiang Cheng," Jiang Cheng patted his hand, and pointed at Pan Zhi, "My buddy Pan Zhi."
"All from No. 4 High School?" Li Yan looked them over, "Never seen you two before."
"We will be from now on," Jiang Cheng didn't want to explain too much, "You're all from No. 4?"
The two people behind both laughed, maybe not on purpose, but with a habitual mocking in their voices. Li Yan glanced back at them, "Do we look like students to you?"
"Who knows," Jiang Cheng was a little annoyed, "I don't have the habit of staring at people."
Li Yan's expression instantly turned unfriendly, he turned his head to look at the people on the court, and ignored him.
The people behind probably didn't sense the atmosphere between them, one of them said, "Da Fei is in 10th grade."
"Oh," Jiang Cheng responded.
What a coincidence indeed.