When Xie Yu got home, the light in the living room was still on. A-Fang had been following behind him since the entrance, and he abruptly came to a stop: “If you have something to say, say it.”
A-Fang glanced towards the living room without changing her expression, then said quietly, “Madam’s been in a bad mood all afternoon and didn’t eat much at dinner. This time she really is angry. Second young master, when you go in, please don’t talk back to her too much.”
Gu Xuelan was in the living room watching television. Although she seemed to be her usual self on the surface, Xie Yu could tell from the back of her head that this night would be a difficult one.
The TV was showing a clichéd dramatic soap opera: bad acting, terrible plot. The male lead twisted his features to show his pain. “I love you, but I love her too… I really don’t know what to do. You and she are the two most important women in my life.”
Xie Yu walked over: “Mom.”
Gu Xuelan said nothing.
The only response was the sound of the male lead saying more and more ridiculous things.
“I’m sorry.” Xie Yu endured the theatrics of the brain-damaging TV drama and bowed his head, admitting his mistake. “This morning, I shouldn’t have left without saying anything.”
“Shouldn’t have left without saying anything.” Gu Xuelan turned off the TV, then slapped the remote onto the glass coffee table with a bang. “What, were you going to proudly walk out the front door? Xie Yu, I told you before. During this vacation, I want you to stay home. Don’t go to those sketchy places. Your most important task right now is to study.”
”Mom, I think I have the right to decide how I spend my vacation.”
Gu Xuelan’s voice became noticeably sharper. “—What right do you have? When you’re of age, then talk to me about rights. I didn’t raise you to let you dally about all day, eating and passing time and waiting for death. All you do all day is run around outside. Have you thought about your future? You’re still young. The things you can’t think about, Mom will think about for you. You don’t have enough self-control and if you can’t do something, then Mom will make the effort to watch over you and do it. In the end, it’s still my fault, is it?”
Xie Yu was silent.
Gu Xuelan took a breath and sat down. With shaking hands she picked up a cup from the coffee table. She said, “You might blame your mother now, but in future, you’ll understand. Mom is doing all this for your sake.”
”I know,” Xie Yu said. “I have my own plans. After the university exams, just watch and see if I get into Tsinghua or Peking University.”
“You’re saying that just to keep me quiet. What plans do you have? If you really have plans, your grades wouldn’t be like this. Tsinghua, Peking U… you’re dreaming.” Gu Xuelan’s chest was so heavy it hurt.
Since awkwardly seeing Mr. Huang off this morning, she had experienced many emotions. Now that Xie Yu was in front of her, with no consternation and not feeling at all that he had done anything wrong, all her feelings welled up at once. “Who did you learn from to become like this? Zhou Dalei? Xu Yanmei? You want to be like those people from Black Water Street, do you?!”
Xie Yu had intended to bow and admit his mistake, and good-temperedly humor Madam Gu so that she would stop being angry. After all, today’s incident was indeed his fault. If she really wanted him to cooperate with the tutor and study at home all vacation, then he would study.
But the last sentence made him suddenly look up. He spoke slowly, but his eyes were cold and piercing “Those people… what do you mean by those people?”
After saying the words, even Gu Xuelan felt she had spoken out of turn.
But she was currently angry and had no way of backing down.
The two faced off in silence.
”Dinner is in the kitchen. If you’re hungry, go and eat.” Gu Xuelan’s attitude softened some and helplessness enveloped her completely.
Xie Yu had a stubborn personality and often even Gu Xuelan wasn’t sure what kind of approach she should take to teach him.
She had brought her child up alone. She couldn’t help the lack of a father figure in Xie Yu’s life growing up, and she had no way of filling the role for him.
No one had taught her how to guide a child with a strong rebellious streak in his youth. He was no longer the soft baby who had lain in her arms and depended on her; he would no longer pester her to go out and play with him. When he walked, he was no longer unsteady on his feet. He wouldn’t walk halfway and then realize his mom hadn’t followed him, stop, and turn back to look for her.
Now, he was going his own way and seemed to have left her behind. They had less and less to say to each other. She didn’t know what he was thinking, and the light in the youth’s eyes had grown brighter and brighter; behind his eyes gradually formed a world she didn’t understand.
After Gu Xuelan went upstairs, Xie Yu went to the kitchen and poured himself some water. He saw a plate of fried egg with tomato placed neatly to the side and covered with a bowl. The egg had been fried to a golden brown, a light dusting of spring onion flakes sprinkled on top.
Madam Gu had made it herself.
He didn’t need to taste it, he could tell at a glance.
Xie Yu suddenly felt that what he had done today was really very dastardly.
The night deepened and the big house grew silent again.
Xie Yu showered, then remembered his phone was still set to airplane mode. He turned it off and a dozen messages flooded in at once: a seemingly endless string of chimes.
The messages from Aunt Mei were the most numerous. Asking where he was and saying not to let his temper get the best of him, and to go home quick, your mom is very worried.
Lei’s mom had sent two, too. The last was from Lei-zi, asking if he had gotten home.
Xie Yu: Got home.
Lei-zi: That’s good that you got home. The moment I got home, my mom grabbed me and asked if I knew where you went. Damn, it was like you had gone missing. She was so worried. It scared me.
Although Madam Gu’s words had been fierce, with the attitude of, ‘no matter how you argue I won’t listen,’ she hadn’t pressed the matter of the home tutoring. She had just left it at that.
Zhong Jie, who had not the slightest bit to do with this matter, seemed like a cock who had won a fight. His mood was great, and from time to time he would bring this up in conversation.
Xie Yu had ‘learned to be good’ and remained cold and polite. “Mm, yes, you did well. You’re great. You’re right. Happy now? Are you satisfied?”
Zhong Jie: “…..” The more he listened the more mad he got.
Without having to deal with home tuition, Xie Yu’s vacation time became much more leisurely.
The tournament period of Question King Tournament was during the holidays and stopped when school started up. Winter and summer vacations were the scheduled times for the tournaments. This summer vacation was this unpopular game’s first try at a tournament, and the one crowned Question King at the end would be the esteemed first-ever Question King.
“Ilovestudying”: Top Student X didn’t log on today? Is he sick?
“ForABetterTomorrow”: Why does it have to be illness? …Can’t you think on the bright side? People have lives.
“Ilovestudying”: In my eyes, as long as Top Student X still draws breath, he won’t give up on studying. He puts in so much effort. He’s talent and effort in one. Without pride and without frustration. Even at 5 a.m. he doesn’t sleep. He’s my studying role model.
“Top Student X, whose journey of studying even death could not stand in the way of” was currently playing cards with two old aunties.
Xie Yu: “One circle.”
Xu Yanmei: “Three plus one.”
Lei’s mom: “Don’t want it.”
Xie Yu played again: “Bomb.”
The underground’s elder sister of Black Water Street, Comrade Xu Yanmei, had recently become addicted to mobile game Dou Dizhu. All day she asked people in the chat group to play cards¹ with her.
Lei’s mom glanced at her hand of bad cards: “I’m not playing any more. I can’t win anyway. I have to make dinner.”
Xu Yanmei: “You always do that. If you can’t win, you leave?”
Lei’s mom was very frank: “I really have to make dinner, or do you want my son Lei to eat dirt?”
Xie Yu said: “I’m giving up, too. Against me, you’ll lose anyway no matter how you play. It’s terrible.”
Xie Yu was famously lucky and Zhou Dalei always called him “Boss Xie.”
Before, during the New Year, when everyone got together to play cards, Xie Yu would be held at bay by everyone else. No one wanted to match skills at a table with him. So Xie Yu’s life was like that of a pitiful old person who didn’t have children to take care of him in his twilight years: he sat alone at the side, watched television, and drank hot water.
At first, Zhou Dalei still tried to include his brother and pulled him to a table. “He’s not as great as you all think, really. His card skills are just ordinary, it’s just dogshit luck. If you don’t believe me, let’s see. This time he’ll definitely be so bad he can’t do anything.”
In the end, Xie Yu completely neglected Dalei’s trust in him. Not only did he win all the money he could, he even won four IOUs.
Xie Yu logged onto Question King Tournament again because he suddenly remembered that during there was a limited-time double-experience activity this weekend.
[Question King Development Team]: Tonight, Question Kings, rejoice! Is everyone ready! Not only are new question types being released, complete with content in every subject and with increased difficulty, we have even released a whole new spectator mode! You can watch from up close the top students doing questions and one-on-one PK! Competition is open and transparent, and only ability speaks. Cheating and hacking have nowhere to hide!
When spectator mode was released, everyone discussed it in a frenzy.
“Ilovestudying”: Great. Like this, I can see just how far away I am from other people, and how other people think about solving the questions. Maybe that will help open up new pathways of thinking. I can approach the same question from different perspectives and I will achieve double the outcome with half the effort!
“ServeTheHomeland”: Bless the development team. Spectator mode is really a great surprise. I’ve always wanted to watch the gods on the leaderboard do questions.
“StudystudystudythatsallIdo”: My summer vacation was only this fruitful because of you all. Every time I open this app, I know there’s an endless stream of questions waiting for me, and I feel especially blessed. I did many questions I could otherwise never have encountered, constantly challenged myself, and kept up my love for studying.
Xie Yu remained with both his ears closed to his surroundings. He started the app and immediately started answering questions. He didn’t notice that in the upper left corner a grey line of words had appeared, and the grey line kept changing.
“Ilovestudying”: Top Student X’s question speed is a bit scary….
“ForABetterTomorrow”: He’s X-God, all right? A god answering questions. No wonder he’s attacking the leaderboard so forcefully. I haven’t even finished reading the question and he’s already solved it halfway. 666.²
“StudystudystudythatsallIdo”: That diagram just now, did anyone understand it? He went up and drew five helping lines? Is that how?
“FightingUpstream”: Helping lines are annoying, but for this lot, they’re useful. He solved the first two sub-questions at once.
“ForABetterTomorrow”: Classmates, 666 is doing questions.
Xie Yu didn’t know that there were nearly a hundred crazy people watching him do questions.
He just knew that at 3:30 a.m., he finally pushed Shameless out of the first position on the leaderboard.
 Dou dizhu, a popular card game
 666： Slang for ‘impressive.’