During the lunch break, the Gezhi Building was bustling with activity. The diligent students from the Experimental Class stayed in their classrooms to do their homework in an orderly manner, seemingly as if class was still in session.

On the other hand, over at the Zhixing Building, if there were more than ten students remaining in a classroom, it was a marvel of academic atmosphere. The students from that building dashed around the school like they were set free from a prison.

Three people were spotted walking from the basketball court. They crossed through the Experimental Class Building and walked toward the Teaching Building. Zhang Yukun held a basketball and enthusiastically circled around Nie Qingzhou, shouting excitedly.

"Wow, Zhou-Ge, those step-back three-pointers you just made were absolutely incredible. Even when Zhao Yan and the others double-teamed you, they couldn't defend against it!"

Lai Ning grumbled, "And Zhao Yan was even saying that Zhou-Ge avoids physical confrontation and that shooting three-pointers won't win games. As long as he can beat him, that's all that matters. He lost then what's the point of pointlessly going on and chirping about it."

Sweat trickled down Nie Qingzhou's neck, and he loosened his collar while fanning himself, "It's normal, the person who revolutionized the league with three-pointers isn't famous yet.

Lai Ning said in shock: "Zhou-Ge, who are you talking about?"

Nie Qingzhou fell silent for a moment, then waved his hand, "Even if I tell you, you won't recognize him."

Seizing the opportunity, Zhang Yukun handed Nie Qingzhou a bottle of cold water and said, "Zhou-Ge, you've been playing so hard these few days."

Though having Zhou-Ge lead them to victory and putting Zhao Yan in his place was satisfying, when Nie Qingzhou's expression turned serious, his demeanor was still a bit intimidating.

Accepting the water, Nie Qingzhou took a few swigs directly from the bottle, marveling at how resilient this sixteen-year-old body was. He started soaking wolfberries in the thermos to keep in good health when he was just 26. While thinking about it, he replied absentmindedly, "I'm bored during class, so I let off some steam."

Quickly following suit, Zhang Yukun added, "That's right, Zhou-Ge, I've noticed you've been suppressing yourself a lot lately, focusing on lectures and assignments, which isn't like you anymore."

Seeing Nie Qingzhou open another bag of Caiyuan (vegetable garden) cookies, Zhang Yukun added, "Also, Zhou-Ge, why have you been so fond of snacks lately? You start eating right after class. It wasn't like this before, after class..."

Nie Qingzhou shot Zhang Yukun a sidelong glance, causing him to trail off, swallowing back his words. He knew what Zhang Yukun wanted to say. In the past, when class was over, Nie Qingzhou would go to a secluded corner of the school to smoke.

"Do you and Lai Ning smoke?" Nie Qingzhou casually mumbled as he put a few pieces of the cookies into his mouth.

"We've smoked a few times before, but we're not addicted."

"Great, I'm quitting smoking. If you're my brothers, you'll quit with me. I won't smoke, and you guys shouldn't either," Nie Qingzhou pointed at the two of them and said solemnly.

These two weren't addicted in the first place, and Nie Qingzhou's words emphasized brotherhood, so of course they agreed very quickly. Content, Nie Qingzhou withdrew his hand, asking casually, "Yukun, did you get these snacks from the school supermarket?"

"Why would we spend money on snacks? It's Pi Xiao-Ge's tribute." Zhang Yukun's expression was quite smug.

Perplexed, Nie Qingzhou asked, "Wu Siyuan? Why do you call him that?"

"Hey, Pi Xiao-Ge, that's Little Piggy brother. Look at him all chubby and round, doesn't he just look like a pig? Pi Xiao-Ge has been slacking off with his assignments lately, always making a bunch of mistakes. How about you let me copy your homework, Zhou-Ge?" Zhang Yukun said playfully with a grin.

Recalling, Nie Qingzhou remembered that Wu Siyuan's grades were somewhere in the middle of Class 13. He was overweight, introverted, and had no friends, making him a soft persimmon who was easy to bully. One morning during self-study, Nie Qingzhou saw Wu Siyuan correcting his homework with a correction tape, and he corrected a large area.

At that time, Zhang Yukun and Lai Ning must have already copied his homework.

Did Wu Si Yuan deliberately give them the wrong answers to copy?

"Even a rabbit will bite when it's cornered, and it's not his physique..." Nie Qingzhou was about to have a serious conversation with Zhang Yukun and Lai Ning about their bullying behavior when he looked up and abruptly halted in surprise, exclaiming, "Xia Yi?"

Raising his head, he saw Xia Yi leaning against the railing on the seventh floor of the Experimental Class Building's corridor, talking face to face with a boy wearing glasses.

Xia Yi can actually have conversations with people?

Nie Qingzhou couldn't help but doubt his own eyes.

"Aiyou, isn't that Wen Zhong, the class monitor of Class 1, standing next to Xia Yi?" Zhang Yukun followed Nie Qingzhou's gaze and looked up, and said in a disgruntled tone.

"Wen Zhong? Shí jiàn lù, xī wǔ bù wén zhōng." (In the thick woods a deer is seen at times; Along the stream I hear no noonday chimes.) Nie Qingzhou mumbled.

[T/N: 访戴天山道士不遇(李白)- A poem written by Li Bai named as 'Visiting a Taoist recluse on Tianshan mountain but couldn't meet him' The Tianshan mountain range The Tian Shan, also known as the Tengri Tagh or Tengir-Too, meaning “Celestial Mountains” is a large system of mountain ranges in Central Asia bordering many countries along with XinJiang in China. The Tian Shan are a part of the Himalayan orogenic belt, which was formed by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates in the Cenozoic era. ]

Lai Ning looked puzzled, "What?"

"...It's nothing. Did Wen Zhong provoke you?"

With a snort, Zhang Yukun said with a look of displeasure on his face, "Why would he condescend to provoke us? He's the top student in our grade, his eyes are higher than the top."

Wen Zhong entered the school with the highest scores in the citywide entrance exam. He consistently held the top position in both preliminary and monthly examinations, reigning at the top in the grade ranking list.

"He's not much higher than the second place, but if you go further down, there's a wide gap in the scores. Can you guess who's in second place?" Zhang Yukun said excitedly.

Nie Qingzhou thought that if he knew a good student, he only knew Xia Yi.

"Who is it?"

"Xia Yi."


Meanwhile, on the seventh floor of the Experimental Class Building, completely unaware of the attention below, Wen Zhong leaned against the railing and said to Xia Yi, "The teacher asked me to recommend someone for the position of study committee member. I recommended you. Do you want to do it?"

He wasn't tall, and had a refined and gentle appearance, wearing a pair of thin-rimmed glasses. Instead of the usual short-sleeved school uniform for autumn, he had on a white shirt with delicate patterns carved on the collar button, giving him an overall elegant and meticulous demeanor.

Xia Yi responded concisely, "Sure."

Wen Zhong seemed accustomed to Xia Yi's demeanor, saying, "You're still the same as when you were a child—quiet and reserved. With your grades, you could easily attend No. 7 High School or Huazhong School in the city. Why did you come to Changchuan No. 1 Middle School? You're just not on the same level as the students here."

The pen in Xia Yi's hand marked the English reading questions, and said while marking, "The city is too far away."

"Education is like an investment. If you don't put in time and money now, how will there be returns in the future?" Wen Zhong's tone was somewhat mature. Pausing, he added, "I'm still taking lessons from Teacher Qiao. I mentioned meeting you at Changchuan No. 1 Middle School. He was really excited and asked me to pass on a message. He wants to continue teaching you piano and composition, free of charge."

Wen Zhong looked at Xia Yi with a probing gaze. Xia Yi paused her pen, and she said flatly, "Please thank the teacher for me, but I'm not interested."

Wen Zhong nodded in understanding and didn't try to persuade her any more.

Meanwhile, on the ground floor, Nie Qingzhou was puzzled, "With Wen Zhong's excellent grades, why did he come to Changchuan No. 1 Middle School?"

Zhang Yukun scoffed, "I heard that he originally set his heart on joining Province Capital's No. 1 Middle School's admission class. He even traveled a long distance for an interview. But who would've guessed that he stumbled in the waterloo amidst the high school entrance exam, and due to an issue with the voluntary filling, he ended up at our school. He wears this unwilling expression all the time as if someone begged him to come here. He walks around like he's too good for us, chin raised high like a goose. He doesn't even spare a glance for anyone in our regular class. How amazing does he think he is? If he's really so capable, he should have gone to No. 1 Middle School instead of coming here."

Nie Qingzhou didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He patted Zhang Yukun's shoulder and comforted him: "No. 1 Middle School is not as great as you think."

There were still many students on this road, a passing girl suddenly interjected in a snarky tone, "No. 1 High School is the key provincial school, the best middle school in the city. Anyway, since you guys won't pass the exam, whether it's impressive or not doesn't concern you."

Lai Ning glanced over and said, "Xu Zihan, why are you sticking your nose in?"

The girl with twin ponytails retorted indignantly, "Why can't I comment on our class?"

"Why does it bother you? We're talking about Wen Zhong, it has nothing to do with you. Do you like him or something?" Zhang Yukun hit the nail with precision.

Xu Zihan's face immediately reddened, and she protested, "It's not like that at all! You... just wait!"

Nie Qingzhou held the snacks in his hands. Seeing the girl running away, he asked in surprise, "Class One is so united? What is she going to do?"

"Tch, Xu Zihan is just all talk. She's known for being a bigmouth. Whatever she knows, the whole grade will know in no time," Zhang Yukun shrugged. "What did we say, isn't it just that Wen Zhong is like a big goose. If she wants to spread then let her spread it everywhere, it's not like we're at a loss."

Xu Zihan did indeed follow through on her words. This matter was soon known to everyone in the grade. She added a lot of oil and vinegar, and a mixture of spices to the story. Most importantly, she swapped the speaker of the original sentence from Zhang Yukun to Nie Qingzhou. Those from the regular class who couldn't stand Wen Zhong started calling him the "Big Goose" whenever they saw him.

Nie Qingzhou felt like he was unfairly saddled with another black pot.

That's a story for another time. At this moment, he looked up the corridor upstairs, where Wen Zhong had finished his conversation with Xia Yi and left. Xia Yi remained alone, leaning on the railing, gazing into the distance like a white dove perched on a blue pole.

A strange intuition welled up in Nie Qingzhou. Xia Yi seemed somewhat unhappy now.

—There was a period of time when I wasn't in a good state...

Suddenly, an alarm bell rang in his mind. He handed his snacks to Lai Ning, fixed his gaze on Xia Yi, and urgently said, "You guys go ahead, I have something urgent to do."

With that, he sprinted away, rushing towards the stairs of the Experimental Class Building.

Lai Ning stood still, holding the snacks, and muttered, "Zhou-Ge's sprinting speed is so fast."

Zhang Yukun smacked the back of his head, annoyed, "Is that the main point here? Don't you wonder why Zhou-Ge went away in a hurry?"

"How do I know what he's up to?"

"You're hopeless. He went to find Xia Yi!" Zhang Yukun hated iron for not becoming steel and said, "I'm telling you, my guess is spot-on!"

Zhang Yukun resolutely stated, "Zhou-Ge must be chasing Xia Yi!"

While Zhang Yukun's guess was wrong and right, it was not completely wrong. At this very moment, Nie Qingzhou was indeed desperately "chasing" after Xia Yi. His sprinting speed terrified the people passing by, who instinctively moved out of his way. In the blink of an eye, he had reached the seventh floor.

When he stepped on the flat ground, he bent over and supported his knees, panting uncontrollably. He struggled to catch his breath and shouted, "Xia... Xia Yi!"

His call resounded throughout the corridor, creating a chorus of echoes.

The seventh floor was empty except for Xia Yi, who was leaning on the railing alone. She wasn't wearing her uniform jacket, just a blue and white short-sleeved shirt that revealed her slender arms and the scars on them. An earphone was plugged into her ear, its cord disappearing into her pants pocket.

Clearly, Nie Qingzhou's shout broke through her music, and she turned her head to look at the unexpected visitor.

Straightening up, Nie Qingzhou was about to say something when he noticed Xia Yi holding an English reading practice book and a pen.

"You... you're... doing homework here?" He widened his eyes in disbelief.

Xia Yi gazed at him silently and nodded.

...Who would come to an empty experimental class building to do homework while leaning on the railing? Wasn't it uncomfortable to do homework here instead of in the classroom?

Nie Qingzhou breathed a sigh of relief, then heard Xia Yi ask, "Why are you here?"

His mind got stuck for a moment, and after a while, he said, "Uh... I saw you downstairs and thought... I'd come up to say hello to you."

Xia Yi's gaze fell on his sweat-drenched body and his heaving chest.

Nie Qingzhou forced a smile, thinking, Indeed, running up seven floors to say hello, what kind of dumbass would do this?

He took two steps toward Xia Yi, and the lollipops in his pocket, which had been swaying precariously all along the journey, finally fell to the ground one by one, emitting a crisp sound.


Feeling frustrated, Nie Qingzhou directly smashed the cracked pot. He picked up the lollipops from the ground and handed them to Xia Yi, saying, "I just happened to buy some snacks. Would you like some too?"

[破罐破摔 - (pò guàn zi pò shuāi) lit. to smash a cracked pot (idiom) meaning not only not mending one's mistakes but also actively intends to develop it in a worse direction. It metaphorically means to give up or act recklessly when facing difficulties or setbacks, often due to a sense of frustration or disappointment. It reflects a negative attitude towards a situation, where one abandons caution and abandons efforts because of a temporary setback.]


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