Before Xie Yu went to sleep, in a very good mood, he sent a text to his friend group chat: It’s over [/Smile]
This made Zhou Dalei’s imagination run wild again.
Zhou Dalei considered all the group chat messages this good friend of his had sent over the last week and a half. He had long since mentally patched in a story of world-ending tragedy, a loath-to-part, I-love-you-you-love-him, in-the-end-you-don’t-belong-to-me, if I can’t-have-you-I’ll-destroy-you story of puppy love.
The plot twisted and turned and rose and fell, mysterious and exciting.
Zhou Dalei carefully sent a text to show concern. “… Let bygones be bygones.”
Xie Yu didn’t quite understand where this inexplicable ‘bro, I understand everything’ attitude had come from. “What do you know?”
Zhou Dalei replied: “I get it… I really get it. Don’t be upset.”
Later, Xie Yu would ask himself more than once: if he had known then that this game would ruin so many things, and make him meet a crazy competitor who would relentlessly pursue him, would he have opened this game?
—He probably wouldn’t have.
He wouldn’t have.
He’d die before he played it.
The night Xie Yu pushed “Question King” off his pedestal, everyone celebrated.
Just like poor citizens who fought against forces of evil and had finally been released, they almost stood and loudly sang praise. Even their thought processes when they answered questions now flowed much easier.
“StudystudystudythatsallIdo”: 25th of July. I will always remember this day. The sky over the land of freedom is blue.
“ILikeMemorizingVocab”: One Question King has fallen, and thousands upon tens of thousands of citizens now glimpse hope.
”TopTenInClass”: I’m going to sleep. Sweetly. Tomorrow when I get up I’ll do ten more mock exam papers to express my joy.
But this group wasn’t happy for very long. Before “Top ten in class” had even finished his ten mock exam papers, on the second night, the missing person Shameless suddenly logged on. This guy kept doing questions until the morning, without sleep or rest or letting up, and snatched back first place.
The sky over the land of freedom was no longer blue.
When Xie Yu next went online, he saw the mournful cries that filled the chat, along with summons for X God to accept the challenge. This was really too cruel.
“EnglishClassRep”: You spectated the fight yesterday?
“ForABetterTomorrow”: …Yes. Shameless did a question halfway and found out we were spectating, then wrote in the answer zone, “No need to look, you don’t understand anyway.”
“ForABetterTomorrow”: He even made a side account just to observe the chat and humiliate us.
Xie Yu: “……”
Everyone was cheering for God X, but by now Xie Yu had gone several rounds with the Question King. One day one of them was in first place, the next the other. In order to keep their spot on the leaderboard, both of them hadn’t slept for several nights and were tired beyond belief. They might really die if they kept playing.
Xie Yu was pondering just giving up, going offline, and going to sleep. Fighting on was meaningless, but he couldn’t control his hands. After answering one question, he tapped to the next on autopilot. As he kept tapping, a system notification came up.
[Question King wishes to add you as a friend. Do you accept?]
Xie Yu refused it three or four times, but at the rate things were going, if he didn’t accept he probably wouldn’t be able to go on doing this question.
Question King: Are you tired?
Question King: Let’s talk. Truce. I have to sleep.
The two reached an agreement. Xie Yu was planning to log out, but by the time he had showered and climbed into bed, he unintentionally discovered that beside the online status of his good friend ‘Question King’ was written a small line [Doing questions].
Xie Yu felt that he might have been sabotaged.
In the blink of an eye, summer vacation was more than half over. As the start of school drew near again, Madam Gu Xuelan was even more worried than Xie Yu himself, as if she was the one going to school. “Have you finished your homework?”
“For second year, the students will be split into certain classes, right?”
Gu Xuelan put a piece of fried egg into Xie Yu’s bowl and used the gentleness tactic: “Who knows what class you’ll be placed into? This semester, rein yourself in a little. If something happens, don’t be impulsive. I won’t quibble with you about everything that happened before. From this semester on, do well.”
Whatever she said, Xie Yu answered, “Mm.” Gu Xuelan knew too well that after he had finished “Mm”-ing, it was guaranteed that he’d still do what he liked. She put down her bowl and chopsticks and didn’t say anything more. She sat across from Xie Yu and quietly watched him eat.
Xie Yu took a piece of fish and meticulously removed the bones, then put it in Madam Gu’s bowl. He looked up and said, “You’re not eating any more? You’re full just by watching me?”
Gu Xuelan looked at the piece of fish for many minutes. She wanted to say something but wasn’t sure how to say it. In the end, she said carefully: “In second year are you still going to live at school?”
Xie Yu’s hand paused.
He understood Madam Gu’s meaning.
Zhong Jie was about to enter his first year of university, and when that time came around they basically wouldn’t see each other at home. Xie Yu and Zhong Jie quarrelled on sight and neither of them could stomach the other. If they lived together without someone to restrain them, they’d fight every minute.
Gu Xuelan kept asking, “You don’t want to move back home?”
Xie Yu swiftly finished the few bites of food left in his bowl. “Probably not. It’s quite nice living in school, and the conditions aren’t bad. It’s convenient to go to class— the classrooms are just a few steps away. And it’s not like I don’t come home over the weekend.”
Gu Xuelan was going to say more but Xie Yu cut her off: “Mom, it’s nothing to do with you. Don’t think too much. I live at school, not because of Zhong Jie and not because of you. It’s my own problem.”
“Your own problem? What problem?”
Xie Yu didn’t want to say more; he wasn’t sure how to say it, anyway. “Nothing. I’m just living at school. I’m already grown, so you don’t have to worry.”
Liyang Erzhong was very supportive of students living at school. This would help students develop the skills for self-sufficiency.
On the first day of school, the principal had delivered a moving speech on the subject of “living at school:” School is a place where students learn, but to all you parents: throughout the different stages of your child’s development, you need to learn continuously, too. The most important lesson is letting go when the time is right. They already know how to run, and they are even running ahead of you. Will you treat them like the toddlers they were, who couldn’t walk and couldn’t eat on their own? Of course, this requires courage, too. You love them, but you must be brutal. You must let them fall, so that they will learn to get up on their own.
For some reason, this speech had left an especially deep impression on Gu Xuelan.
She had to admit the principal made a good point, but sometimes… even if she understood, so what?
”I’ll help you pack your things,” Gu Xuelan said. “Get your things ready, then let’s see what you don’t have yet.”
As the luggage bag grew more and more full, the vacation also drew to an end.
Also drawing to an end was the summer tournament of Question King.
Xie Yu and Question King had fought until they both couldn’t open an eye. Then they both decided on a final date on which to have a showdown. After making this appointment, they had—in tacit agreement—not gone online again.
At first, Xie Yu had wondered if this was another ploy of Shameless’s. But he waited several days and found that Question King really hadn’t logged in to do questions. This was rather surprising.
Now it had been almost a month since he had last logged in. Xie Yu opened the app with the Apple of Knowledge icon: the Apple of Knowledge spun twice on the screen before showing a line of words: “Due to investors withdrawing their investment, the game is temporarily offline.”
The game had really shut up shop?
And shut up shop so thoroughly at that?
Xie Yu could almost imagine what that group of study maniacs would say. “Withdrawn their investment? Studying is so interesting, how can it be that no one is playing? Why are there so few people who love studying?”
Xie Yu hadn’t yet recovered when he got Zhou Dalei’s phone call. “Boss Xie, are you coming tonight? Aunt Mei said to invite you over for dinner tonight to celebrate you going back to school. She said to give you some encouragement so that in the new semester you can dig up your learning potential… Boss Xie? If you heard me, say something? What have you been doing all summer break? You seemed to have been hypnotized every day.”
“Yeah, very hypnotized,” Xie Yu said. “Really damn hypnotized.”
Zhou Dalei had gotten up late. He yawned. He was only wearing a pair of pants, and held an iron bowl decorated with white and red flowers where the paint was flaking. He walked out of the house, put the washbasin under the tap, and turned the water on. As he listened to the water flowing, he said, “What time are you coming? I’ll go get you at the bus stop.”
Xie Yu: “It’s only a few steps. Come and get me, my ass.”
Zhou Dalei: “You’re my bro. I don’t care, I’m coming. If I stay at home I’ll be nagged by this group of women… Right, is Aunt Lan coming?”
“She’s not coming,” Xie Yu said. “She said she had something on.”
”I hadn’t thought about it until now, but we really haven’t seen each other in a long time.” Zhou Dalei continued, “All right, I’ll hang up first. Washing my face.”
When Xie Yu got off the bus, Zhou Dalei had a cigarette in his mouth and wore a pair of flip-flops. He was squatting by the road sign, smoking. The passersby who saw him all skirted around him, thinking he was some hooligan.
Xie Yu kicked him: “Are you done acting badass? Let’s go.”
Zhou Dalei put out his cigarette on the ground, extinguishing it in a couple presses. He dusted off his pants and stood up: “Not acting badass. Someone took away the bench that used to be here. I should have been sitting there very elegantly waiting for you.”
Xie Yu glanced over. Indeed, over by the sign there used to be a place to sit, reserved for people waiting for the bus. Now, only four lonely metal poles remained.
“Impressive, right,” Zhou Dalei said. “People will do anything. I’m really in awe.”
Recently, Guang Mao’s business had not been great. Xu Yanmei had free time and remembering that Xie Yu and the others were about to start school again, she suggested everyone get together for a reunion meal.
Xie Yu hadn’t come to this apartment building for a long time.
The walls of the two buildings were mottled, separated by only a narrow alley. If one household were to yell, anyone across the street could hear. In the past, Zhou Dalei’s mom used to spank him with his pants off until his buttocks were red. When she yelled, ‘Begin,’ Aunt Mei across the street would open the window, stand on the balcony and yell, “Lei-zai, what did you do now? Tell Aunt Mei and she’ll put in a word for you.”
In comparison, Madam Gu was more concerned with appearances. She lowered her voice when she got mad: her violence was the cold kind.
Electric lines crossed overhead the entire way as Xie Yu walked over. The whole environment seemed dirty and messy.
Xie Yu and Zhou Dalei hadn’t even reached the door when Aunt Mei pushed the window open. The greasy smell of fried food drifted out, mixed with the scent of home cooking. “Don’t come up! Go to the store and get some salt, we’re out!”
Zhou Dalei raised his head: “Got it, got it.”
“Have the jasmine flowered?”
Zhu Dalei was about to say, “Let’s go to the store,” but hearing this from Xie Yu, he turned around and followed Xie Yu’s gaze to the jasmine flower in the pot on his balcony. “Ahh—yes, that plant Da Mei gave me when he left. It’s just a few buds, and I thought it’d just be a decorative plant. But it’s quite the fighter.
“That guy isn’t reliable. He’s been overseas for almost half a year and still hasn’t been in contact. Only gave me a shitty flowerpot. When he left he even said something about this being his precious baby and told me to take care of it properly. Take care of it, my ass.” Zhou Dalei continued, “When he gets back, gotta beat him up.”