Jiang Cheng sat with his arms crossed and his legs stretched out, feeling a bit unhappy.
The few people who were just playing basketball on the court weren't very good. If he had worn sneakers and gone up with Pan Zhi for a two-on-five, it probably wouldn't have been a big problem. But it was still quite fun watching them play, giving him a sense of superiority.
But now that Gu Fei and his two friends were on the court, the whole atmosphere had changed.
Because Gu Fei played basketball...extremely well. Back at their original school, he would have definitely enjoyed the screams of many girls during the city high school league games. The level of the "birds" in the not a good bird combo were also not bad. The person doing a combo with him, who usually had a lazy punk look sitting in the grocery store, was also surprisingly good. The remaining two people on their side looked a bit redundant in comparison.
So for Jiang Cheng, watching this kind of ball game didn't give him that sense of superiority anymore.
He didn't particularly dislike Gu Fei, but definitely didn't have any affection for him either. At this moment, one part of him thought, wow, this guy plays pretty good ball; another part forcibly corrected himself - good my ass, just a flashy show-off...
"This guy plays ball pretty well," Pan Zhi said tactlessly, "How do you know him?"
"Just average on our old team," Jiang Cheng said.
"Oh yeah?" Before Pan Zhi could speak, Li Yan next to him cut in, his tone provocative, "Why don't you let one of the guys on the other side switch out and you go up?"
Jiang Cheng turned his head and looked at him: "No."
"No?" Li Yan was stunned, thinking he would readily take up the challenge. He didn't expect the refusal. "Why?"
"You guess," Jiang Cheng said, standing up and walking toward the gym door.
Pan Zhi lazily stretched and followed him, leaving behind several bewildered people.
"What's this nameless anger burning you up for," Pan Zhi shivered as they exited the gym, "You got a grudge against that guy?"
"I just got here three days ago," Jiang Cheng said.
"That's true. Not enough time to form a grudge against anyone," Pan Zhi sighed. "Anyway, right now whoever you see, you don't like."
"Look who's talking," Jiang Cheng glanced at him.
Pan Zhi laughed. "Really though, how do you know him? He's from the same year?"
"......Neighbor," Jiang Cheng answered simply.
"Same building as you?" Pan Zhi asked.
"Next street over," Jiang Cheng replied tersely.
"Ah," Pan Zhi responded.
Jiang Cheng actually felt Pan Zhi might not fully grasp the concept. They had both grown up in gated communities. Neighbors were only two kinds - same building, or same complex. Nodding acquaintance for the first, glance and forget acquaintance for the second.
Neighbors from the next street over, they hadn't had much contact with that kind of neighbor.
Jiang Cheng sighed lightly, feeling as if he had actually come to participate in an alternate reality show.
"Any mountains around, let's go look at snow?" Pan Zhi clapped his hands together.
"Climb mountains in this cold? You're not afraid it'll freeze your brain even more, since it already doesn't work too well," Jiang Cheng said. "Never seen snow before?"
"Bigger snow here than where we're from," Pan Zhi leaned his arm on Jiang Cheng's shoulder. "Cheng'er, bro will take you out to get some air. No big deal just changing schools, no big deal just changing parents, that's...that one's a bit much, let me think how to say it..."
Jiang Cheng laughed. "Fine, let's climb the mountain. Fuck it, no big deal."
After playing a game of ball, Gu Fei felt pleasantly warm. The lingering sleepy feeling the past couple days had finally disappeared. He put on his jacket and glanced back at the few people on the court whose eyes showed their delight that he'd finally decided to leave: "Thanks."
"Not playing anymore?" Someone asked out of habit.
"Want to go another round?" Gu Fei said.
No one made a sound, looking awkward.
Gu Fei laughed and zipped up his jacket. "Let's go."
After leaving the court, Liu Fan bounced a couple times. "Boring. I said we should rent a court at the sports center. You just had to come to your school."
"Then how exciting did you want it to be," Gu Fei said.
"What's the point playing with high schoolers," Liu Fan said.
Li Yan slanted a glance at him. "You're only two years out of high school yourself."
Gu Fei flipped the bird right in front of Liu Fan's face. "One-on-one, you can trash talk me after you win."
They all laughed.
"Fuck off," Liu Fan swatted his hand away. "Let's go eat, I'm starving."
"I'm not going," Gu Fei looked at his phone. "I'm going home."
"The shop?" Li Yan asked. "Isn't your mom at the shop today?"
"I'm taking Er Miao for a physical. Got the form earlier. Set it up for today," Gu Fei said. "She needs half a day of coaxing for a trip to the hospital. Too time consuming."
"We'll come over and hang out tonight," Liu Fan said.
"We'll see," Gu Fei took out his car keys. "I'm off."
"You always did just take off whenever," Li Yan said. "Feels weird you're being so enthusiastic today."
"You're asking for it," Gu Fei turned and left.
When days are dull, they pass excruciatingly slowly. But when there's even a tiny bit of spirit, they whoosh by unstoppably like a waterfall.
The relaxation and cheer Pan Zhi brought quickly slipped away.
"You're not taking all that food back?" Jiang Cheng stood in the transit lounge watching the scrolling information boards.
"If I said I was taking it, will you go back to the hotel now and bring it to me?" Pan Zhi said.
"Don't take it seriously. Just making conversation," Jiang Cheng glanced at him.
"I brought all that food for you to eat, afraid you wouldn't be able to find anything right away," Pan Zhi sighed. "Say it. Are you going back on May 1st or should I come again?"
"I'm not going back," Jiang Cheng said. "I told you I won't go back again."
"Being stubborn for no reason," Pan Zhi said. "Then I'll come over. I'll bring our class' dumbasses to come play too. What do you think?"
"We'll talk about it then," Jiang Cheng leaned against the wall. "Hard to say now if we'll be close enough months from now for them to still want to make the trip out. Not like this is a tourist spot."
"Yeah, we'll figure it out then," Pan Zhi nodded.
They were silent for a bit. Pan Zhi, who had been sitting the whole time, suddenly stood up directly facing Jiang Cheng, staring at him.
"What the hell!" Jiang Cheng jumped, pointing at him. "Don't kiss me! I'll hit you."
"Hug," Pan Zhi opened his arms.
"Fuck off," Jiang Cheng felt a bit speechless, but opened his arms for a quick hug.
"Don't forget me," Pan Zhi said seriously. "I mean it."
Jiang Cheng sighed lightly. "Come see me on May 1st and I won't forget."
Pan Zhi smiled. "Good."
In the days before school started, Li Baoguo cooked one meal. Every other mealtime he wasn't home.
Jiang Cheng had initially thought about trying to cook some noodles himself, but after stepping into the kitchen and seeing all the messy pots and dishes strewn about and ingredient bottles caked with grime, he instantly lost all motivation.
These past few days he had tried all the restaurants within a kilometer radius on the food delivery app that looked interesting by name. Finally school started.
On the first day, his new head teacher gave him a call, which surprised Jiang Cheng a bit.
"Your dad hasn't been picking up his phone," the teacher said.
That wasn't too surprising. He was hard of hearing and always at the mahjong table.
Jiang Cheng had passed by the building a few times where Li Baoguo played mahjong. Even from downstairs, loud ruckus could be heard from above.
The teacher's surname was Xu. Sounded like an older man. Quite warm. It lessened Jiang Cheng's anxiety about the new environment a little.
It started snowing early morning on the day he went to report to the school. Indeed, like Pan Zhi said, he hadn't seen snow this heavy before.
Felt pretty great.
Glancing around at the other students walking in the school gate, he felt they looked about the same. But still all high schoolers, still many unfamiliar faces, the feeling of unfamiliarity was especially strong.
He deliberately looked around for Gu Fei's face but didn't see him.
"Jiang Cheng, nice name," Teacher Xu was indeed an older man. Sounded like he might have had a drink this morning too. "My surname is Xu, I'm Xu Lin, your head teacher. I teach Chinese. The students all call me Old Xu, Head Teacher Xu."
"Teacher Xu...Director," Jiang Cheng very properly bent slightly at the waist in greeting. Felt strange no matter how he addressed him.
"Let's chat first. Chinese is the first period after the morning reading. I'll take you over," Old Xu pointed at the seat next to him. "Have a seat."
Jiang Cheng sat down.
"Not too many transfer to second year," Old Xu smiled. "Especially coming to our school...I saw your previous grades. You did very well!"
"Decent, I guess," Jiang Cheng said.
"Not just decent. Very good. Don't be modest," Old Xu laughed. Then sighed softly, "Coming to our school is a bit of a waste."
Jiang Cheng stayed silent, looking at Old Xu.
His previous head teacher had said the same thing. Waste of your talent...their school's teachers, student quality, and teaching quality were all lacking...Jiang Cheng was quite surprised to hear Old Xu say the same thing.
"I see your science grades are better than humanities," Old Xu said. "Why did you choose humanities?"
Jiang Cheng felt this question wasn't easy to answer. His parents had both hoped he would choose science. He couldn't bring himself to give that kind of sophomoric response. Although he had already done it, saying it out loud still made him feel like a sparkling rainbow.
After hesitating half a day, he finally said, "I like our head teacher. He oversees the humanities classes."
"I see," Old Xu was stunned for a moment. "Well, hopefully you'll like me too. Switching to sciences now would be troublesome."
"Oh," Jiang Cheng looked at his face.
After mutually staring for a while, Old Xu laughed. Jiang Cheng laughed along for a bit. This head teacher was pretty interesting.
After the preparatory bell for first period, Old Xu grabbed a file bag and tucked it under his arm, then took a USB stick and put it in his pocket. "Let's go. I'll take you to class."
"Okay." Jiang Cheng swung his backpack over his shoulder and followed him out of the office.
From Old Xu's description, No. 4 wasn't a great school, but the campus was quite big, just the layout of the classroom buildings was a bit unique. The second and third year humanities classes were placed together in a three story old building, divided by the stairwell in the middle. Second years on the left, third years on the right.
Jiang Cheng felt he was nearly becoming a believer in fatalism. Even a school transfer landed him in a dilapidated building. The floors were still wooden boards. Worn so much the original color couldn't be seen. The ancient floors made him worried two stomps could send him crashing straight from the third floor to the first.
"This is an old building," Old Xu explained. "Don't underestimate it. The design is very scientific. Teachers in the classrooms don't need mics or to raise their voices. Students in the back rows can hear very clearly."
"Oh," Jiang Cheng nodded.
"Our class is on the third floor," Old Xu went on. "Can't see too far from there, but there's still a view of the track field."
"Okay," Jiang Cheng continued nodding.
"Our school..." Old Xu spoke as they walked. As they turned the corner on the stairs, he suddenly called out softly, "Gu Fei! Late again!"
The name made Jiang Cheng's eyebrows twitch involuntarily. He looked up to see a person walking slowly up the stairs ahead turn around, still chewing on a carton of milk.
Although backlit, Jiang Cheng recognized Gu Fei in one glance. It wasn't just someone same name.
"Morning, Teacher Xu," Gu Fei mumbled unclearly with the milk carton in his mouth. He swept a glance at Jiang Cheng's face, probably just as unsurprised by the encounter as Jiang Cheng was.
"Late again, and you're still dawdling! Get up there!" Old Xu pointed at him. "First day back and already so lazy!"
Gu Fei didn't respond. Just turned and strode up the remaining stairs, disappearing onto the third floor.
This No. 4 really couldn't compare to his previous school. Class bells were ringing and teachers had all entered classrooms, yet many students showed no intention of going to class, leaning against the railings chatting.
The second year side was lazy and lackadaisical. Jiang Cheng looked over at the third year side. Also a mess. He looked closely but didn't see Gu Fei who had just come upstairs.
Old Xu entered a classroom near the stairs. Jiang Cheng peeked at the sign by the doorframe. Year 2 (8).
8. Not bad. Finally something auspicious. Though he didn't know how an 8 could make him strike it rich.
Outside classroom 8, many students lined the corridor too, not moving even though they saw Old Xu enter. Spotting Jiang Cheng following him in, they finally seemed to enter out of curiosity to size up the new kid.
Old Xu stood at the lectern, gazing patiently at the dozens of students who wouldn't settle down. He seemed content to wait for total silence.
During this process, Jiang Cheng stood by the lectern the whole time, bearing all sorts of looks and hushed discussions.
He felt awkward being stared at like this. Usually he would stare right back at anyone who looked at him. "Whatcha looking at" had no deterrent effect for him. But now a few dozen people were all staring at him. He felt a bit lost, too many targets causing him to lose focus. All the faces blurred into one mass.
Irritation writhed inside him. He shot an impatient look at Old Xu, who still had a serene expression waiting for the dozens of students to quiet on their own.
Jiang Cheng suddenly felt his assessment of the head teacher was mistaken. He wasn't kind. He clearly had no control over the students.
After waiting a while longer, on the verge of erupting, Jiang Cheng couldn't stand it and asked, "Waiting for for total silence?"
Old Xu turned to look at him.
At the same time, the dozens of students who had been buzzing like mosquitoes suddenly all fell silent.
Once Jiang Cheng was riled up, it was hard to restrain himself. He generally tried to restrain it before it got out of control. When he couldn't restrain it, fuck it all.
Just standing here like an idiot for at least three minutes, stared at and gossiped about by dozens...for him it was like detonating a pack of explosives between his legs.
Balls exploded, he was no longer in this world.
"Alright, let me introduce..." Old Xu smiled and clapped his hands.
"Jiang Cheng, transfer student," Jiang Cheng cut him off in a low voice. "Can I sit down now?"
Old Xu was stunned.
Someone in class whistled. Immediately shouts rose up again, mixed with yells of "Pretty badass!"
"Then have a seat, you can sit..." Old Xu looked to the back. "There, Gu Fei raise your hand."
From the first row to the last, heads turned back domino-style. Jiang Cheng's gaze followed to the back.
Saw Gu Fei in the last row, still chewing on a fried doughstick, feet up on the bookrack.
Jiang Cheng suddenly felt a force within him yelling encouragement to go write a book called <King of Coincidence - All the Coincidences in the World Belong to Me>.
Gu Fei very perfunctorily raised a hand.
Jiang Cheng used to sit in the back row too. Seats rotated weekly so everyone could sit up front, but he always switched back to the last row.
He liked the back row. It was quiet. Undisturbed. Easy to sneak a nap or slip out the back door.
But sitting in the back row now made him uncomfortable.
Desks and chairs were all askew. It was a tight space, the back practically touching the wall. And no one around him was quiet.
Chatting. Playing on phones. And with the one slowly eating fried doughstick next to him.
Jiang Cheng was a bit speechless. Although he had never pleased his teachers with anything other than grades back in school, he had still been in a school that could compete with key high schools in college entrance rates. He had never experienced such a casual classroom atmosphere like a friends' gathering.
He took out his book and opened it, feeling like he would look like a nutcase to the other students here if he tried to listen to Old Xu's lecture.
Gu Fei didn't chat with others or sleep, just put in earbuds and started listening to music.
The guy sitting in front of them started rocking his desk back, turning his head and calling out, "Da Fei."
The desk shook.
The desk shook again.
"Hey, Da Fei."
Jiang Cheng stared at the words in his book, debating between slapping this guy on the head or smacking his head with the book. Finally he reached out and yanked the earbud from Gu Fei's ear.
Gu Fei glanced at him, but Jiang Cheng just stared back without speaking.
"Da Fei, yo, Da Fei," the guy in front rocked his desk again.
"Yeah," Gu Fei responded, still looking at Jiang Cheng.
Jiang Cheng met his gaze indifferently.
"Can you lend me your camera for tonight? I'll give it back tomorrow," the guy in front said.
"No," Gu Fei turned his face away.
"F*ck, don't be stingy, I just want to take a couple shots."
"Piss off," Gu Fei said simply, then put his earbuds back in to keep listening to music.
"Just for one night," the guy rocked his desk again, "I'll return it first thing tomorrow morning."
The desk shook again.
"Dammit, Da Fei, Da Fei..." The guy kept rocking the desk.
Jiang Cheng really didn't understand why this had to be discussed during class, or why the guy had to keep shaking the desk, or why he was so stubborn after being rejected, or why Gu Fei was unwilling to lend a camera and had such an arrogant attitude, or how he could tolerate a desk having a seizure.
He lifted his leg and kicked the guy's chair hard.
It made a loud bang.
The guy was kicked violently forward into his desk.
"The f*ck?" He whipped around.
The surrounding students all stared over.
"Please don't shake the desk," Jiang Cheng looked at him with a mild tone. "Thank you."
The guy seemed stunned speechless, just gaping without responding.