As Xia Yan shouted loudly to both sides, Grandma Xia's lips quivered for a long time, and she finally bellowed, "Fine then, all of you go! Go find your mother! Don't stay with this bad old woman!"

As she moved to slam the security door shut, Xia Yan's stubbornness also flared up and he said. "Fine, I'll just go then!"

True to his word, he spun on his heel to leave, and was immediately grabbed by the "upstairs neighbor" who ran up to him. Nie Qingzhou held Xia Yan back and whispered, "Where are you going?"

Then, he shouted loudly towards the half-closed security door, "Grandma Xia, please calm down! Xia Yan and Xia Yi can stay at my place tonight. Don't worry!"

Grandma Xia didn't respond. The security door slammed down, isolating the inside and outside of the small shop into two worlds.

Xia Yi stood still, clenching her fists in silence. Nie Qingzhou pushed Xia Yan upstairs, took out the key and unlocked the door, then turned around, saying, "Xia Yi, you too..."

But the space in front of the store was empty, and Xia Yi was nowhere to be seen.

Nie Qingzhou was stunned, rubbed his temples and pulled Xia Yan into the house first. Xia Yan was still struggling: "Let go of me!"

"Where will you go if you don't come to me? It's so cold outside, you'll freeze to death if you sleep on the streets!"

As soon as Nie Qingzhou finished speaking, Xia Yan's eyes welled up with tears. He turned his face away and stopped talking, allowing Nie Qingzhou to pull him into the house and push him down on the sofa.

Nie Qingzhou poured him some hot water. Xia Yan held the cup and raised his eyes to look at him. "Where is Xia Yi?"

"Your sister... She might need some time alone."

Xia Yan fell silent for a moment, then scoffed, "Why are you playing peacemaker? First, you helped Zhang Yukun and Lai Ning, those two idiots, then our family, and now you're here to smooth things over again. Do you think you're so great? Do you think you're some kind of savior?"

Nie Qingzhou crossed his arms and looked at the child, whose stubborn eyes made him look like a firecracker ready to explode.

"Go on," he responded calmly.

Xia Yan snorted coldly, "You're pretending to be an adult again? I hate that pretentious look of yours the most! Inexplicable and self-righteous, why do you have nothing better to do than meddle in our affairs? Do you think that by pitying our family, showing us some sympathy, you can appear especially kind-hearted and capable?"

Nie Qingzhou tilted his head, "Has your usual silence finally gotten to you? Now you're just letting it all out?"

He casually opened a bag of chips on the coffee table and placed it before Xia Yan. "Have some snacks to calm down. If I were really that capable, would I keep ending up in the hospital?"

"When I got injured, it was your sister who rode her tricycle to take me to the hospital and even paid for the medicine. Later, Grandma Xia always invited me over for meals. Your sister testified for me when I was wrongly accused and played the siren to help me when I was being beaten. Were they doing all that because they thought they were great and wanted to show off their kindness by pitying me?"

Nie Qingzhou sat beside Xia Yan, knowing that he was currently speaking out of anger and might not mean what he said, but he still explained carefully.

"Put yourself in others' shoes and repay kindness with kindness. It's as simple as that. I don't look down on you, but if you think that way, then you're looking down on yourself."

After he finished speaking, Xia Yan clenched his jaw and straightened his back, seemingly ready to get up and leave.

Nie Qingzhou held his shoulder, "But what you said downstairs was spot on. Grandma Xia and Xia Yi always avoided the issue, but you were willing to speak up, I truly admire you for that."

Xia Yan's shoulders relaxed. He turned to look at Nie Qingzhou, his eyes still red.

"Stop acting like an adult," he said stubbornly.

Nie Qingzhou smiled and leaned back on the sofa and said relaxedly. "Well, this 'adult' thinks you should always stand your ground like you did today, no matter what others say. The issues of the older generation are theirs to deal with. You are innocent and upright."

Face the suspicions of others as mere flickering ghostly lamps and boldly walk your own path through the dark.

Xia Yan lowered his gaze and fell silent.

Nie Qingzhou took out his phone. "Why don't you stay at my place tonight? Grandma Xia is still angry, so let's wait until she calms down before discussing anything. I'll call your sister."

While making the call, Nie Qingzhou observed Xia Yan. This thirteen- or fourteen-year-old child had finally calmed down. Sitting on the sofa under the light, he appeared thin and pale, with furrowed brows and a hunched back, clutching a water cup and curling into a ball. Despite his young age, he always had a troubled expression, showing signs of premature maturity, sensitivity, insecurity, and stubbornness.

But he deeply loved his sister, grandmother, his absent father, and even his mother, who had left him behind.

Xia Yi's call didn't go through. Nie Qingzhou hung up the phone, worriedly walked to the window and looked around, but saw no sign of her.

The streetlights were dimly lit. There were few pedestrians on the road, and gradually tiny shadows began passing through the lights.

Nie Qingzhou froze for a moment, realizing that it was snowing.

As time passed, the snowfall grew heavier. The sea breeze carried snowflakes, swirling in the air, but Xia Yi's phone remained unreachable.

Even Xia Yan grew anxious. He anxiously looked at the blizzard outside. "Where did Xia Yi go? It's so late. Should I tell Grandma?"

"It's snowing so heavily, grandma's health is not good, if she gets worried and rushes out to look for her, it could be dangerous," Nie Qingzhou said, grabbing his down jacket from behind the door. As he put it on, he added, "I'll go out and look for her. You stay at home, I'll call home to inform you when I find your sister."

Xia Yan anxiously asked, "Where are you going to look for ah? Will you be able to find her?"

Nie Qingzhou paused while putting on his clothes, and he recalled the incident he had written in his notebook—stopping Xia Yi from committing suicide. Because everything had been getting better and better over the past six months, he almost forgot about it.

Xia Yi won't... No, she shouldn't.

Nie Qingzhou tried to reassure himself, but anxiety gripped him. He stood frozen for a moment, then had a sudden realization. He kicked off his half-worn shoes, slipped on slippers, and dashed to his bedroom. He pulled the gray-covered notebook from his bookshelf and opened it, fingers tracing down the rows of recorded events and phrases, his gaze following line by line.

"Memorable events...... It was snowing heavily at night and I found Xia Yi by the seaside..."

The seaside...

Nie Qingzhou glanced at the blizzard outside, immediately dumped all the books in his school bag, stuffed all kinds of other things into it, and then put on the schoolbag and grabbed an umbrella. He told Xia Yan he was leaving and rushed out.

This spring snow fell heavily, and a thin layer of ice had formed on the ground. The entire field of vision was covered by snowflakes, making it impossible to ride a bike. Nie Qingzhou slowly walked along the road with his umbrella, leaving the jumbled residential area behind. The long coastline suddenly came into view.

There were no lights on the beach. Nie Qingzhou climbed over the roadside guardrail and walked onto the sand, calling out  Xia Yi's name, but there was no response, and his mood gradually sank. There was a small shed on the beach, resembling a bus stop. There was a bench in the shed for people to rest.

As Nie Qingzhou approached, he finally saw a figure under the dim light of the shelter.

Xia Yi didn't hear Nie Qingzhou's voice. The music in her head was loud, drowning out all other sounds in the world. She sat on the bench, hands resting on the seat, staring at the dark sea in a trance.

It wasn't until her line of sight was blocked by a black down jacket that she snapped out of her daze and slowly raised her head to see that familiar face.

Nie Qingzhou stood before her, chest heaving, holding an umbrella covered in snowflakes. Despite the cold, sweat beaded on his forehead from anxiety.

"Why didn't you answer when I called?" He looked very angry.

After a moment of silence, he furrowed his brow and answered his own question: "You probably had music playing in your head again and couldn't hear me. You didn't hear your phone either, did you?"

He reached out and skilfully pulled out Xia Yi's flip phone from her left pocket, opening it to see a dozen missed calls inside. Nie Qingzhou fell silent for a moment, his gaze shifted to Xia Yi's face. Her hair and clothes were wet from snow, making her shimmer under the lamplight. She looked at him quietly, her expression as blank as when she'd been staring at the sea.

With a deep sigh, he put Xia Yi's phone back in her pocket, turned around, and sat down on the bench beside her, opening his schoolbag. It was filled to the brim with various items.

He first took out a hand warmer and placed it in Xia Yi's hand. When he touched her pale fingers, they were indeed icy cold, not much different from the icicles hanging from the eaves.

The warmth of the hand warmer seemed to awaken Xia Yi. She blinked her eyes, slowly clasped the small furry warm thing.

"It's snowing heavily, so I'm here to take shelter from the snow," she said softly, as if explaining to Nie Qingzhou.

Nie Qingzhou snorted coldly and said angrily, "Didn't you bring your phone? Why didn't you call me to pick you up?"

Xia Yi lowered her gaze. "I didn't think of it."

Nie Qingzhou became even angrier, but felt helpless. The snow in the south turns into water as soon as it falls on the body, and looking at how damp Xia Yi's hair and clothes were, she should have been in the snow for quite a while before she thought of seeking shelter.

Sighing, he took out a dry towel from his bag and wrapped it around Xia Yi's head. Through the towel, he cupped her head, turned her face towards him, and began drying her damp hair.

Their distance suddenly closed in. Water droplets clung to the tips of Xia Yi's hair and snowflakes blown in by the wind stuck to her eyelashes. Her face was as pale as if touched by frost, making her look as if she were made of crystal.

She slowly raised her eyes, as dark as the night sky, and gazed at him intently.

For a moment, he felt like he was falling into her night sky.

Nie Qingzhou's actions of wiping her hair slowed down. Under his hands was her damp, warm head, like some fragile little creature, with a weak, fluttering heartbeat.

Outside the shelter, the blizzard raged. The world grew so quiet it seemed everything else had vanished into the river of time, leaving nothing to be remembered but this moment.

Before Nie Qingzhou could understand this subtle feeling, he noticed a very tiny, almost imperceptible tremor in her eyes.

She blinked slowly and said softly, "I didn't think that way."

"I just occasionally, very occasionally, think about her. I never thought about going to find her. I know grandma treats me very well, and I am very grateful to her."

Nie Qingzhou's heart hopelessly softened in an instant, his anger vanishing without a trace. He continued drying her hair and spoke gently, "I understand. It's okay. When the snow subsides a bit, we'll go home and explain everything to grandma."


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