Chapter 52 - Chapter 52

Although it was Saturday, Jiang Cheng still woke up around the same time as usual. He went downstairs to buy breakfast and took a couple laps around the nearby streets.  

There were a lot more people out this early in the morning compared to Li Baoguo's neighborhood, not just grandpas and grandmas but many young people too.

Deciding what to eat for breakfast was always a headache for Jiang Cheng. He stood in front of several breakfast carts with his hands in his pockets, pacing back and forth, unsure of what he felt like eating.  

"Why not have some dumplings," someone said from right behind him.  

The voice was very close, basically whispered right into his ear. Jiang Cheng was startled and reached for his phone in his pocket while turning around at the same time.  

When he came face to face with the person behind him, he realized the voice belonged to Gu Fei.  

Of course, not only was the voice Gu Fei's, the face was Gu Fei's too.  

"What the...?" Jiang Cheng took a step back in shock, looking Gu Fei up and down. He took out his phone again to check the time. "How is the sun rising from the west today...?"

He looked up at the sky again. "You must've not gone to bed last night, right?"

"Er Miao woke up early today and was making noise riding her skateboard in the house," Gu Fei smiled. "She woke me up so I came over."

"Have you eaten?" Jiang Cheng also smiled. For some reason, seeing Gu Fei smile made him want to smile too. "Wanna eat together?"

"Are you paying?" Gu Fei asked.

"You just conned 50 bucks out of me yesterday," Jiang Cheng glared at him.  

"Okay then," Gu Fei said. "Dumplings?"

"Wontons, dumplings, tofu pudding, fried dough sticks," Jiang Cheng quickly listed all the things he had been debating whether to eat earlier. "One of each, and the braised beef smells pretty good too."

"Go grab a table," Gu Fei said.

Although this area was also an old neighborhood, the residential buildings were quite concentrated so there were a lot of people at the breakfast carts right now. Jiang Cheng stood to the side watching for a bit before quickly snagging two empty seats at a small table, sitting on one and putting his bag on the other.  

Just as he was about to gesture at Gu Fei that he got them spots, he looked up to see two girls sitting across from him smiling at him. When he looked over, they quickly lowered their heads.  

"Here," Jiang Cheng snapped his fingers when he saw Gu Fei carrying two trays of buns.  

Gu Fei came over and set the food on the table. "I got everything you said, anything else you want?"

"That's it," Jiang Cheng said.  

The two girls across from them still had their heads lowered, giggling quietly and poking each other under the table.  

Jiang Cheng recalled Gu Fei's earlier words and felt like he understood what was going on with them.  

Gu Fei placed a bunch of plates and trays on the table, nearly taking up the whole surface.  

"Wang Xu called me," Gu Fei said while eating a dumpling. "He's there already, all by himself."

"Let me guess, he's complaining we're disorganized and undisciplined?" Jiang Cheng drank a spoonful of tofu pudding.

"Very stern reprimand," Gu Fei nodded.

The two girls had finished eating but made no move to leave. They took out their phones, heads still lowered as they laughed and surreptitiously aimed their cameras in this direction.

Jiang Cheng was about to turn his head away in case they took unflattering shots, but Gu Fei glanced at the two girls and said, "Don't secretly take pictures, faces can look distorted easily."

"Ah!" The two girls let out short, suppressed shrieks.  

"Then, can we take pictures openly?" one girl asked.

Gu Fei didn't reply but the girls held up their phones towards them anyway so Jiang Cheng had no choice but to also look at the camera with Gu Fei.

After taking the photos, the girls got up, laughing as they stuffed their phones in their bags. "We're going to post these on the No. 4 High School forum. Remember to go check it later, we'll edit them before posting..."

After the two girls left, Jiang Cheng glanced at Gu Fei. "Which class are they in?"

"Don't know," Gu Fei said. "Might not even be from our school."

"Huh?" Jiang Cheng was confused.

"Lots of students from other schools are coming to watch today's match too," Gu Fei explained. "Plus that video from the match against Class 7 has been passed around, people know about your skills now. Many want to come see."

"...Damn." Jiang Cheng felt a little overwhelmed.

"I asked Li Yan to come take photos today," Gu Fei continued. "I promised Wang Xu I'd get someone to take photos for him."

"He'll probably perform exceptionally well when he sees the camera," Jiang Cheng laughed.

"You have to perform exceptionally well too," Gu Fei said, turning his head to look at him. "This is the only match they've seen me play in since coming to No. 4 High School, lots of people are expecting a good show."

"Mm," Jiang Cheng nodded seriously. He thought for a moment then said earnestly, "If you weren't participating, I'd have to coordinate with Wang Xu, right?"

Gu Fei didn't reply, just laughed quietly for a long time.

The match didn't start until ten but students from their school and other schools had already packed the courts by nine. Jiang Cheng's team only warmed up and practiced for half an hour before they had to stop because of the crowd.

Looking at the people squeezed along the sidelines, Jiang Cheng felt like the students here really had nothing better to do. Back in his former school, barely anyone would have time to go watch a weekend intra-school basketball match from another school.  

No. 4 High made this final match quite formal, even bringing in bleachers to set up around the courts. By the time Jiang Cheng's team entered and sat in the rest area, the bleachers were already completely filled with people even standing.

Li Yan came at 9:30 carrying Gu Fei's photography gear and sat in the rest area. "With this kind of spectacle, if you didn't know better you'd think this was a city league match..."

"Take good shots of Wang Xu," Gu Fei said.

"That depends on how he plays," Li Yan said as he set up lenses. "I'm not like you, able to make even an ox look elegant. I'll shoot him however he looks."

"Take shots of the other team members too," Gu Fei added. "Our class rarely makes it to the finals."

"Got it," Li Yan lifted the camera, glancing around. "It's rare to see you so invested in something."

Before the match, Principal Liu even gave a simple speech, introducing the teams in that day's boys final to the audience.  

One was the undefeated championship team, the other was the dark horse team that rose suddenly.

Listening to Principal Liu's introductions, Jiang Cheng inexplicably started feeling nervous, especially with the cheer squads from both sides cheering loudly throughout the speech.

Yi Jing normally seemed quite gentle and a little introverted, but was very bold leading the girls cheer squad, able to yell out such embarrassing slogans with utter shamelessness.

"Class 8, Class 8, dark horse rising up!"  

"Class 8, Class 8, most handsome!"

Hearing these slogans, Jiang Cheng didn't even want to lift his head. He propped his elbows on his knees, staring at his shoes.

"Brother Cheng," Gu Fei called him and discretely slid his hand over from under the bench.

Jiang Cheng was mentally strategizing what to do during the match. Seeing Gu Fei's hand, he didn't react at first and just scratched Gu Fei's palm with his fingers.

"...High five," Gu Fei said.

"Oh," Jiang Cheng snapped back to reality and lightly patted his hand.

"Watch out for He Zhou," Gu Fei said. "He's a defender like you, pretty versatile and fast too."

"Mm, don't just drive straight for the basket today," Jiang Cheng nodded. Against a coordinated team like Class 2, Class 8's skill level meant their tactics would likely just get disrupted anyway. They'd have to rely on the rapport built up over this time and see how to proceed after starting the match.

"Roger that," Gu Fei said.

The team captains started vying for side selection. Wang Xu won and smartly chose the side with the sun at their backs on offense.

"Gu Fei, jump ball," Jiang Cheng said before going on court.

"Let's go!" Wang Xu yelled loudly.

"Let's go!" everyone else also shouted, taking off their jackets and stepping onto the court.

The feeling was exhilarating. Jiang Cheng didn't like being judged by a crowd but he didn't mind being the center of attention. Now, just standing in the middle of the court, he could even hear camera shutters amidst the cheers and shouts of encouragement from all around. He instantly felt a thrill.

Class 2's player for the jump ball was only slightly shorter than Gu Fei but Jiang Cheng noticed during their last match that the guy had incredible hops. Judging purely on jumping ability, no one on Class 8 could match him.

Sure enough, after the referee tossed up the ball, the grasshopper-like jumper reached a good palm's length higher than Gu Fei...and tipped the ball to He Zhou.

Based on Jiang Cheng's judgment, he could have intercepted the ball himself but right as he stepped forward to reach for it, He Zhou suddenly sped up and batted the ball sideways just as Jiang Cheng was about to touch it.

Somehow already past half court, the grasshopper caught the ball.

Damn! Jiang Cheng swore inwardly and exchanged a look with Gu Fei, who immediately sprinted after the grasshopper under the net.

Jiang Cheng didn't follow directly. He stayed close to He Zhou, partly to prevent him from getting the ball again and partly to assess just how fast the guy really was.

Class 2 executed a beautiful fast break, passing twice before the grasshopper shook Gu Fei and went up for a layup.  

Amidst shrieks from the audience, Gu Fei suddenly jumped up from behind him. Jiang Cheng's heart lurched, that positioning risked an easy foul.

But affected by Gu Fei's earlier block, the grasshopper didn't jump very high this time.  

Thank goodness!

Jiang Cheng temporarily gave up on He Zhou and ran over to Gu Fei's left side.  

Gu Fei jumped very high, leaping up from the grasshopper's back and cleanly batting away the shot before it left his hands. Amidst excited screams, Jiang Cheng jumped up to grab the ball and yelled, "Wang Xu!"

Wang Xu was at half court. Hearing Jiang Cheng's shout, Wang Xu pivoted and ran back towards their basket.

Jiang Cheng dribbled forward a few steps, catching He Zhou approaching from the corner of his eye. He suddenly swung his arm, whipping the ball in Wang Xu's direction.

Show some spirit, Captain!

Amen amen amen!

While running, Wang Xu jumped and reached to grab Jiang Cheng's high, long pass.

Class 8's cheer squad immediately leapt to their feet. Their rhythmic "Go go" cheers transformed into "Ahhh——"  

Class 2's defenders reacted quickly but Wang Xu seized the moment, going one-on-one under the basket by the time he arrived which gave him a high chance of scoring if he just shot.

But right as Wang Xu jumped to shoot, he hesitated and passed back out to Gu Fei who had just run past the three point line.

Gu Fei obviously came over to rebound so was completely unprepared for Wang Xu's sudden pass. He hadn't even adjusted out of his forward momentum.  

Hooking the ball backhanded, before Gu Fei even grasped it firmly, a Class 2 player wearing wrist guards on his arms tipped it away.

Then it was pass, fast break, and He Zhou sank a three pointer while Class 8 was still far from him.

The first goal ignited cheers and shouts from the sidelines.

Guo Xu got the ball to inbound and Jiang Cheng walked over to Wang Xu. "Can't rely just on me and Gu Fei this match."

Wang Xu nodded without speaking. His expression was twisted with frustration over that mistake, gripping his face and twisting it clockwise. Jiang Cheng patted him on the back. "You could've made that earlier shot."

"Yeah!" Wang Xu instantly snapped back into form. "That's what I thought!"

Guo Xu inbounded the ball. Jiang Cheng got the ball and pivoted but didn't rush to drive. He pointed left with his hand and Wang Xu immediately started running that way, ready to receive the pass. Jiang Cheng whipped the ball across to Gu Fei on the other side, then sprinted towards the basket.

Wang Xu's basketball IQ had also improved over this time. He didn't get shocked that Jiang Cheng used him as a decoy again but promptly cut to the basket.

Gu Fei was being closely guarded from behind by the grasshopper so he didn't dribble either. Pivoting in place, he protected the ball with his body and when Lu Xiaobin came over to receive it, he passed it instead to Jiang Cheng who was about to reach the three point line.

Jiang Cheng got the ball but the guard marked him. Jiang Cheng sighed internally, Class 2's ace wasn't top ranked for nothing. The defense speed now still didn't shake him.

No chance for another three from the line. He looked at the floor markings, a meter from the arc, and slammed the ball at the backboard.  

Gu Fei was unguarded, able to go for the rebound.

But just as Gu Fei rushed over, the ball slammed against the backboard with a deafening clang, bouncing into the hoop.

"Holy sh*t," Jiang Cheng was a bit shocked himself.

The stands erupted and Wang Xu's yell of "Jiang Cheng you f*cking rock" drowned in the noise.

Gu Fei ran over grinning, palms out for a high five when he reached Jiang Cheng's side. "So awesome, three point king."

"Again," Jiang Cheng returned the high five, bumping shoulders. "Right baseline."

"Got it," Gu Fei said.

Baseline threes were a difficult angle but defense might be looser than at midcourt.

Class 2 was unlike any teams they'd faced. The players were very evenly skilled, anyone could carry the game. Stealing was hard.

Jiang Cheng failed twice trying to steal from He Zhou who returned a three-pointer under the grasshopper's cover.

"Don't rush!" Old Lu's voice carried through the shrieking. He wasn't shouting through a megaphone this time, maybe because it was the finals. "Steady play! Class 8! Most handsome - "

Jiang Cheng didn't even want to turn to look. There were only two chants and Old Lu still picked the most embarrassing one.

Class 2's score fired everyone up, court and stands. Guo Xu passed to Jiang Cheng so hard the ball was like a cannonball.

He Zhou had already moved to block his passing lane as Jiang Cheng turned.

Quick reaction.

Jiang Cheng dribbled in place a couple times then charged He Zhou, pushing right up to him. As He Zhou moved to steal, he leaned as if to hug him, hooking the ball along his calf to pass behind He Zhou to Gu Fei who was already rushing under their basket.

The pass was too low, Gu Fei nearly tripped receiving it.

Jiang Cheng caught up but He Zhou marked him too closely for a return pass. Gu Fei decisively dished to the sprinting Wang Xu instead.

Wang Xu's IQ peaked in that moment, immediately whipping it back to Gu Fei as soon as he got the ball.

Just as He Zhou hesitated for a second, Jiang Cheng quickly shook free of him and ran from the right sideline straight to the baseline.

Before he even planted his feet firmly, Gu Fei fired the ball over.

From this position, Jiang Cheng was basically in a straight line with the backboard. Class 2's players quickly collapsed back into the key.

That was the intended effect!

Jiang Cheng fixed his eyes on the rim, raised his hand without hesitation, and shot the ball.

The crowd's screams almost exploded from right behind him, volume rising in sync with the ball's trajectory until it peaked when the ball sank into the net.

"Great shot!" Jiang Cheng yelled softly. He forcefully swung down the arm held up in the air, giving himself a round of applause. "F*ck yeah!"

These back-to-back three pointers ignited everyone's fighting spirit.

The game wasn't totally one-sided right now. Class 2's technique and coordination were clearly stronger than Class 8's, but since they'd never lost a match before, they wouldn't allow the championship to fall into someone else's hands this time either. The pressure on Class 2's players was immense while by contrast, Class 8 played completely freely without any pressure. Win or lose, they were already the dark horse so they could just play recklessly.

Even the normally quiet Lu Xiaobin was yelling as he ran, making Jiang Cheng constantly feel like the kid was some drugged-up madman who could swallow the defender whole at any moment.

Neither team called a timeout or subbed anyone off, both wanting to maintain momentum as long as possible while they had it to rack up points.

The score remained close, with Class 8 trailing but sticking right on Class 2's heels, never more than a point or two behind.  

With three minutes left in the first half, Gu Fei scored on a layup while taking on two defenders, putting Class 8 ahead by one point.

Amidst frenzied cheering from the crowd, Class 2 called a timeout.

As Jiang Cheng walked toward the bench, He Zhou stopped him: "You should join the school team."

"Huh?" Jiang Cheng was taken aback.

"You should join the school team," He Zhou repeated.

It took Jiang Cheng a few seconds to recover: "Wait, why are you telling me this now?"

"I wanted to tell you after we finished playing," He Zhou said, "But I got a little excited."

"...Let's talk after the game," Jiang Cheng said.

"How about we play another game after this?" He Zhou asked. "You, me, Gu Fei, Tang Xiwei, and Song Yu on one team."  

"Song Yu?" Jiang Cheng didn't recognize the name.

"Our class center," He Zhou pointed at the grasshopper, "What do you think?"

Jiang Cheng looked at the grasshopper in shock, wondering what his parents were thinking when they named him that. He wanted to call Pan Zhi right away and have Pan An come over to become sworn brothers with Song Yu...*

*T/N: Pan Zhi used to joke around and call himself Pan An. Ths historical figures, Pan An and Song Yu, were two famous sworn brothers in Chinese history.

"Let's talk after the game," Jiang Cheng said. "Let's focus and finish this game properly first."

"I'm already very focused..." He Zhou conceded. "Fine, after the game."

He patted Jiang Cheng on the shoulder.

Jiang Cheng clenched his teeth, barely resisting the urge to slap He Zhou's hand away.

"What did he say to you?" Gu Fei squatted at the sideline as Jiang Cheng jogged over.  

"He wants me to join the school team, and said we should play another game together after this," Jiang Cheng said.

"He's really excited," Gu Fei smiled. "But he's always been like this."

"Is he on the school team?" Jiang Cheng asked.

"Yeah, he's the captain," Gu Fei said. "Like you used to be."

Jiang Cheng shot him a look but didn't reply.

"Don't keep clustering together," Li Yan scolded, holding his camera. "Spread out, don't just look at yourself and your defender when moving, pay attention to where your teammates are so you're always ready to receive a pass."

"Got it!" Everyone nodded.

"If someone's being guarded, just one person go get open for the pass, don't all crowd over," Li Yan pointed at Guo Xu. "Especially you, if someone's going for the pass, get into position for the next one."

"Ok!" Guo Xu nodded.

Li Yan looked at Gu Fei and Jiang Cheng, then couldn't think of anything to say after pondering for a while. "You two just keep being awesome."

"Li Yan," Wang Xu looked at the camera in Li Yan's hand. "You've taken a lot today, right?"

Li Yan glanced at him. "Don't worry, there's enough for an album for you. You won't have any repeat shots even if you cycle through three photos every day for a month."

"Even though I'm the captain, you can't just take pictures of me," Wang Xu said. "Take some of Gu Fei, Jiang Cheng and the other players too..."

"Did you leave your brains in the hoop?" Li Yan impatiently cut him off.

Jiang Cheng laughed and turned away. He happened to see Yi Jing holding a bottle of water standing behind Gu Fei. He was about to call Gu Fei to catch it, but Yi Jing smiled and handed the water to him instead. "Here, have this."

"Thanks," Jiang Cheng took the water and drank, glancing at Gu Fei's clavicle area.

With Gu Fei playing so intensely, who knows how his injury is doing... He saw a small exposed corner of the gauze on Gu Fei's collar, with blood on it.

"Damn," he frowned, leaning in to pull Gu Fei's collar open wider to look inside. The blood seepage wasn't much, but there was a small patch. "You..."

Before he could finish speaking, there were screams from the girls around them.

Jiang Cheng snapped back to awareness and quickly let go, taking a step back.

"What happened, what happened?" Wang Xu rushed over to Gu Fei and yanked his collar open. "I..."

The girls' screams instantly intensified, then turned into laughter.

"Get on the court," Li Yan dragged Wang Xu away.

As Jiang Cheng walked onto the court, he felt many eyes on his back, burning hot and making him uncomfortable all over.

He did have many uncontrolled desires and urges to get close and affectionate with Gu Fei, but being surrounded by screams at every small action... it made him feel panicked.

After feeling awkward for a while, he could only thank the heavens for Wang Xu's presence next to him.

Thankful that brainless Wang Xu saved him from the clutches of extreme embarrassment...

"It's fine," Gu Fei said next to him.

"Did it tear?" Jiang Cheng asked.

"Maybe," Gu Fei said. "I didn't really feel anything."

"...Will it affect you when doing your lunatic jumps off the building?" Jiang Cheng sighed.

"It probably will a bit," Gu Fei said. "But for this, if I don't get a little hurt from jumping, Monkey won't let it go."

Jiang Cheng looked at him without responding.

"Jiang Cheng," Gu Fei called as he ran toward the center line. He looked back and pointed seriously at the Class 2 basket. "Crush them!"

"Damn," Jiang Cheng couldn't help laughing. He also pointed and yelled, "Crush!"


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