Due to Xia Yi's words, Nie Yinghong's usually strong demeanor softened. She patiently listened to Nie Qingzhou's explanation with an apologetic expression on her face.

Though it must be said, half of Nie Qingzhou's explanation was fabricated.

He certainly couldn't tell his aunt that he had joined and subsequently left an organization. Instead, he could only say that he had provoked enemies from previous fights, and they had come back for revenge this time.

As Nie Yinghong applied ointment to Nie Qingzhou's injuries, she said, "Oh my, won't they come after you again in the future? I should call the police."

"Hiss... No need! Auntie, it's fine. This matter is already over, and they shouldn't come back again." Nie Qingzhou comforted his aunt, "I thought about it, you know. There's always a price to pay for the things you've done. I'll fight when I want to and won't when I don't. How can there be such a good thing in the world?"

"But you should always be prepared for the worst. Just in case, you..."

"Auntie, trust me. I'm fine. I said before that I'm going to be in the top 50 of my grade. Didn't I pass it too? I'm fine."

After a moment of silence, Nie Yinghong sighed deeply, a sign of her reluctant acceptance. She asked casually, "The girl downstairs…are you quite familiar with her?"

"Uh, her name is Xia Yi. Her grandma is very kind, and I've had a few meals at their place."

Nie Yinghong was momentarily stunned. She had been applying medicine to Nie Qingzhou's back and paused to say, "Xia Yi? Her name is Xia Yi? Oh, no wonder I found her familiar earlier. She's Yuanyuan's daughter."

In response, Nie Qingzhou suddenly turned his head, causing his injuries to sting, and he winced. He ignored the pain and exclaimed, "You know her mom?"

Nie Yinghong nudged his body back into position, saying, "This child, stay still so I can apply the medicine. What are you so excited about? You're not in love with that little girl, are you?"

"Where are you getting these ideas? I just didn't expect such a coincidence."

Nie Yinghong examined Nie Qingzhou with the wary look parents often had during this age. Seeing his earnest and helpless expression, she felt slightly reassured. She continued, "It's not exactly a coincidence. Changchuan isn't that big. Her mom is my former colleague. We even taught in the same class."

Xia Yi's mother, Jiang Yuanyuan, had been Nie Yinghong's colleague at the school where she worked as a music teacher.

Upon Nie Yinghong's arrival at the school, Jiang Yuanyuan's name was already well-known—she was the most beautiful female teacher at the school. Unfortunately, she was already married, with a son and a daughter, dashing the hopes of her male colleagues.

Rumors often surround beautiful people. Nie Yinghong had heard that Jiang Yuanyuan married her husband Lao Xia despite her family's objection, so she simply broke ties with her family and followed Lao Xia to his hometown Changchuan. This fact alone hinted that Teacher Jiang was a romantic person.

After she got in touch with Jiang Yuanyuan, she confirmed her opinion even more.

Time has not left many traces on Jiang Yuanyuan's body; she looked young and carefree, like a young girl. Jiang Yuanyuan enjoyed being the center of attention. Although married, she was never short of men offering her their affections. She didn't cross boundaries, but it was evident she enjoyed the attention.

She wouldn't touch the spring water with her ten fingers; she didn't cook or do housework. Jiang Yuanyuan's husband, Lao Xia, was often in Yuping city partnering with others in business. He spent half the month running outside, so he would use money to ask the neighbors and aunts to help. Their older daughter was easier to take care of; Jiang Yuanyuan often took her to the school cafeteria to eat. The younger son was more troublesome to manage; the neighbor's aunties often helped look after him.

"I asked her why she didn't let her mother-in-law help with taking care of the child. She said her mother-in-law hadn't retired yet, and when she got married, they agreed not to live together with the in-laws. She feels that having three generations under one roof isn't conducive to freedom. I think there must be some conflict between her and her mother-in-law."

What escalated the conflict was Xia Yan falling ill.

On the day Xia Yan fell ill, Jiang Yuanyuan was guiding the choir rehearsal at the school. She had been busy with the choir for a long time, often staying at school until late. Her phone ran out of battery, and she didn't realize it. Later, she found out that Xia Yan inexplicably had a high fever that day. The neighbor auntie had noticed it a bit late, and Jiang Yuanyuan didn't answer several phone calls. They took the child to the community hospital, which then said they had to go to the city hospital. Eventually, they called Lao Xia to return from the city and take the child to the city for treatment.

This delay took too much time. Xia Yan barely survived, but after recovering from the illness, he was left with sequelae, and one of his legs was not very flexible.

"Yuanyuan said Lao Xia didn't blame her, but her mother-in-law was very angry. She felt that Yuanyuan couldn't take care of the child properly, so she retired early and took Xia Yan to her place to care for him. The two of them live quite far apart, and they've been sulking for a while."

"During that time, Yuanyuan was quite depressed and couldn't muster enthusiasm for anything. She already cherished her daughter, but after that, she cherished her even more. It was as if she needed to prove that she could raise the child better than her mother-in-law, teaching her daughter this and that. Her daughter was also smart, a music prodigy I heard, and she also excelled in her studies. She even placed second in a piano competition in Yuping city, but unfortunately, only the first place could continue to the provincial competition. Ah, I still remember, the child who got first was named Wen Zhong, and he was also from our school."

Nie Qingzhou was startled for a moment and confirmed, "Wen Zhong?"

"Yes, that's right. This child transferred out after fifth grade. Before that, I often saw him playing with Yuanyuan's daughter." Nie Yinghong closed the medicine bottle.

"At first, Yuanyuan and her husband were quite affectionate, but who would have thought that later on, he would suffer losses in his business. I heard that he suspected his business partner of cheating him, went to confront him, and in the heat of the moment, accidentally killed the partner. Her husband likes to practice some kind of fighting or free sparring, anyway, his hands were heavy. So, you see, one shouldn't indulge in aggression and violence; one might end up ruining their whole life."

Seeing that Nie Yinghong was about to start educating him again, Nie Qingzhou interrupted her and asked, "And then? What happened later?"

"Later, her husband's lawsuit lasted for more than a year, and he ended up in prison. She was a proud person, so she resigned. Later I heard that she divorced Lao Xia and left Changchuan."

Nie Yinghong gestured downstairs and sighed, "I thought she would definitely take her daughter with her, but she left by herself. I heard that she sneaked away at night, and her daughter chased her to the station."

Nie Qingzhou was taken aback and suddenly remembered what Xia Yi had said years later— "Train stations are my least favorite places."

Xia Yi, who seemed calm and indifferent, would chase her to the train station in the middle of the night.

After Nie Yinghong recounted this unfortunate event that had been discussed and rehashed by their colleagues for over half a year, she sighed repeatedly. She closed her eyes and reminisced for a while, then sighed, "Yuanyuan used to dress her daughter so beautifully. The girl had grape-like eyes, shiny black long hair, and endless dresses that she could wear all year round. She looked like a doll. It's been so many years since I saw her daughter; I really didn't recognize her when I saw her today."

"But her daughter didn't like to talk from a young age, nor did she like to play with other children; she was very withdrawn. Yuanyuan said geniuses are bound to have some quirks after all. Haha, whoever criticized her daughter, she would get defensive."

Nie Yinghong finished packing the medicines and began to organize the clothes she brought for Nie Qingzhou. She steered away from the topic of Xia Yi's mother and instead began introducing those clothes to him, instructing him on how to match and wash them.

The tumultuous and poignant story they had just discussed seemed like casual conversation over tea. After sharing a few sighs of empathy, it was all in the past. No matter how others' lives were, their own lives took precedence.

Nie Qingzhou listened in silence as Nie Yinghong gave her instructions, and they finished organizing the clothes together. It was too late, so Nie Yinghong decided to make do in the guest room for the night and catch a ride to work in the morning.

Nie Qingzhou returned to his room. After closing the door, he put on his slippers, heading to the balcony.

Looking downward from the balcony, he could see the window of Xia Yi's room. The window was dimly lit, and the only table in the Xia family was placed by the window. At that moment, Xia Yi was seated there, bowing her head and writing something. The light shone on her brown sweater, making her look like a warm brown bear.

She always wore black, white, gray, or brown clothes, and he found it hard to imagine her wearing all sorts of princess dresses when she was young, looking like a doll.

Normally, by this time, the windows would be shrouded in darkness, and Xia Yi would have already fallen asleep.

Leaning against the balcony railing, Nie Qingzhou took out his phone and typed a text message.

—Still awake? Doing homework?

The phone by Xia Yi's side in the downstairs window lit up. She looked up from her book, took the phone, and quickly typed a single word.


In Nie Qingzhou's memory, Xia Yi was a fast worker when it came to homework, rarely needing to work on it after coming home. He suddenly remembered that when Xia Yi showed up to help him today, it happened to be the time of the experimental class's evening study session.

She left the evening study session early, so she hadn't finished her homework.

——My injuries are all minor injuries, no big deal. My aunt also believed my explanation. Thank you very much today, otherwise I would definitely be in a worse situation T ^ T.

Nie Qing Zhou typed this string of words, added the final emoji then clicked send. After Xia Yi picked up her cell phone to check it, she kept this action stiff for three seconds.

Nie Qingzhou couldn't help but burst into laughter. He had never sent an emoji to Xia Yi before, and in a playful whim, he had tried to tease her just now – and she had indeed been momentarily stumped.

His laughter seemed to have caught Xia Yi's attention. She lifted her head to look up and saw him leaning against the railing of the second-floor balcony.

Nie Qingzhou waved his phone to her with a gentle smile.

After watching him for three seconds, Xia Yi lowered her head to type.

—Will your injuries affect your walking?


—Come downstairs.

Nie Qingzhou was taken aback, but he quickly and discreetly opened the door to the living room. After confirming that there was no movement  in the guest room, he tiptoed downstairs, circled around the staircase, and hurried to Xia Yi's window.

"Where's your grandmother and Xia Yan?" He stood by the window, his voice lowered as he asked her.

"They're already asleep."

"Why did you call me down?"

Xia Yi blinked her deep black eyes. She still held a pencil in her hand and earnestly told him, "You go back and come down again."


"Go back to your doorstep, then come down, then go back up. Repeat this four times."

Nie Qingzhou, clad in a thick coat, stood in the early winter night breeze outside Xia Yi's window, wondering if he had misheard.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

Xia Yi nodded.

After glancing at her for a moment and realizing he wouldn't get an explanation from her just yet, Nie Qingzhou sighed deeply, resigning himself to doing what she said.

Once the familiar and rhythmic sound of footsteps echoed through the corridor again, Xia Yi lowered her head and moved her book aside, revealing the blue notebook that had been obstructed. The page of the notebook was spread out with lines drawn, made into the musical score format. Two lines of musical notes were also written on it. Her pencil hovered over the paper for a moment, then began to write down smoothly amidst the sound of footsteps.

After walking back and forth four times, Nie Qingzhou returned to her window. Leaning on the window railing, he peered inside and saw Xia Yi's pencil moving rapidly across the yellowed pages, creating a set of musical notes that he couldn't understand at all with grand undulating waves.

He was very surprised and dared not interrupt her. When she put her pencil down after filling two pages like flowing mercury, Nie Qingzhou spoke softly, "Are you composing a piece? Then why did you have me walk back and forth?"

Xia Yi looked up at him and said, "The sound of your footsteps on the staircase is a standard two-beat rhythm."

Nie Qingzhou choked, and said after a long time: "You used me as a metronome?"

Closing the notebook, Xia Yi began tidying her desk. She replied tersely, "Not entirely."

It was just that when she heard his footsteps, her blocked thoughts suddenly started to flow.

"So, you weren't doing your homework earlier, but were composing. It's so late." Pausing for a moment, Nie Qingzhou remembered something and continued, "Well, it makes sense. When you're inspired, melodies keep playing in your mind repeatedly, and you won't stop until you record them."

Xia Yi's actions at her desk paused for a moment. She looked at Nie Qingzhou, who was leaning on the window, and asked, "How do you know?"

Nie Qingzhou thought, of course you said it yourself many years later.

"Creators are all like this, I guess." He breezed through this topic in a sentence. Pausing for a moment, he looked earnestly into Xia Yi's eyes and asked, "Xia Yi, do you have any dreams?"

Xia Yi fell silent for a moment and repeated, "Dreams?"

"Like studying a specific major in college, maybe music?" Nie Qingzhou gently guided her.

"Studying music to become a music teacher?" Xia Yi counter-asked.

Nie Qingzhou didn't know whether to laugh or cry, "Studying music doesn't necessarily mean becoming a music teacher. You could become a singer or a music producer."

Xia Yi shook her head, as if such things were too distant and illusory to happen. She thought for a while and said, "In the future, I want to earn a lot of money, take Xiao Yan and Grandma out of here, and let them live a good life."

"Becoming famous in music can also earn you a lot of money. If you're looking for a stable path, you could study finance or computer science. But don't you like music?"

"Like?" Xia Yi was indifferent to that word.

Did she like music?

She fell silent for a moment, lifted her head to gaze at Nie Qingzhou, and honestly asked, "What is 'liking'?"

This left Nie Qingzhou utterly astonished. He had never considered that a musical prodigy, someone destined to become a renowned music producer and singer, could actually be uncertain about whether they liked music.

"I personally think liking something involves desire and joy. The desire to do that thing and the happiness felt while doing it, is liking" Nie Qingzhou tried to explain to her.

Xia Yi lowered her gaze, seemingly contemplating the meaning behind his words.

Looking at her side profile, bathed in the warm yellow light, and her expression of unwavering serenity, Nie Qingzhou eventually chuckled softly.

If someone were to tell him right now that he would become a highly acclaimed author in the future, he wouldn't believe it either.

During the time of Xia Yi's age, he had no idea what he would become in the future, only felt that he could do anything. Dreams change every day, which is essentially the same as having no dreams at all.

"Making a living by doing something you don't like isn't as simple as you might think," Nie Qingzhou said in a hushed voice, leaning against the railing as if engaged in casual conversation. "You'll feel like every day is meaningless, just getting a step closer to death. Crossing the road, you might even wish a car would hit you and send you to the hospital for ten days or more, so you wouldn't have to go to work."

"Being smart and responsible is great, but being able to do even the things you don't like well can seem like a curse sometimes. I think, in this world, the luckiest people are the ones who find something they genuinely enjoy, excel at it, and derive both joy and money from it. Who knows, you might become one of those lucky people."

Turning his gaze towards Xia Yi, Nie Qingzhou saw a touch of confusion in her eyes. She stood by the table, beneath the gentle glow of the lamp, resembling a lantern wrapped in bamboo ribs from across the railing.

"Have you never thought about these things before?" Nie Qingzhou asked.

Xia Yi hesitated before nodding slightly.

Nie Qingzhou smiled faintly. Under the bright moonlight, his youthful expression displayed a stability and gentleness beyond his age.

"You can start thinking about it now. Life is fleeting, so why not be a little bold and dream even bigger?"

"You don't need to be afraid of dreaming any kind of dream. You're still so young, and besides, you have me."


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