Chapter 1: The Summer We Were Fifteen
It was a sweltering summer afternoon, the sun scorching, the air thick with heat. Su Mucheng walked to the small cold drinks stall at the side of the road, wanting to buy a popsicle to ward off the summer heat, but even the popsicle vendor apparently didn’t care that this summer day was the perfect time for selling cold drinks, and had hidden somewhere to avoid the heat.
After waiting for a while, there was still no one around, so Su Mucheng could only helplessly depart. She walked along the empty streets for a while before arriving at an Internet café. Pushing open the door, the blast of cool air caused her to let out a sigh of relief. Then, she heard a noisy racket coming from within.
What was going on?
The curious Su Mucheng looked toward the source of the noise. The manager of the Internet café saw this young girl walk in, but instead of treating her like just another customer, he waved to her cheerfully. “Little Mucheng is here?”
“Hi, Brother Cui,” she replied, greeting him.
“You’re bringing food for your brother again!” Brother Cui saw the insulated lunch box in her hand; he was quite familiar with this sight.
“Yup, where is he?” Su Mucheng asked.
“Over there.” Brother Cui pointed toward the area where the noise was coming from. “However, he might not have much of an appetite today.”
“He’s met an opponent,” Brother Cui laughed.
Su Mucheng was startled. Even though she didn’t entirely understand the video games that her older brother played every day, she understood one thing clearly: her brother was very good. When he played these sort of competitive games with other people, he rarely lost.
An opponent? That was to say, someone who was just as good as her brother?
Su Mucheng headed over toward the source of the noise. Two back-to-back computers had been surrounded by a crowd three layers thick, and with Su Mucheng’s short stature, even on her tiptoes she couldn’t see a thing of what was going on. She could only hear the crowd’s reactions – a gasp here, a shout there.
“Su Muqiu, you’re not doing too well today!” someone suddenly yelled.
Not doing well?
Su Mucheng was stunned. Not just someone who was as good as her brother, but someone whom her brother couldn’t defeat?
She desperately wanted to watch, and so she plunged into the crowd of people. Su Muqiu was a regular at this Internet café, thus Su Mucheng appeared often as well, and was quite familiar with the manager. A few people, after recognizing her, shifted aside to let her pass – everyone quite liked this pretty young girl.
Finally made it through!
Su Mucheng let out a breath. Lifting her eyes, she could see her brother on the far computer, face wearing an uncommonly intense expression.
And his opponent?
His opponent was on the computer closer to her. She could only see his back, but he seemed to be a teenager around the same age as her brother. Her eyes fell upon his hands – they were quite pretty, dancing expertly upon the keyboard and mouse. The crisp percussion of his movements was accompanied by the gasps of the surrounding people.
This person really was quite good!
Even though Su Mucheng didn’t entirely understand these video games, she still couldn’t help but arrive at this conclusion as she watched the other boy play. Just then, the spectators once again erupted with shouts, a mixture of shock and sympathy. Like that, the match was decided.
Su Mucheng didn’t need to look at the computer screens. Just by looking at her brother’s face, she could figure out who had won.
Sounds of mockery began to fill the air. In this crowd of spectators, quite a few had lost to Su Muqiu in the past. Now, upon seeing his defeat, they were quite gleeful.
Su Muqiu rolled his eyes, and though he felt a little awkward, he wasn’t angry. A lot of these people were his friends, after all, and the teasing was all in good fun. Normally, everyone here would win some and lose some, but Su Muqiu, with his high win streak, always had the upper hand. With his defeat today, could they let this rare opportunity to mock him go to waste?
“Su Muqiu, your little sister brought you food, better eat your fill and get your energy back before trying again!” someone yelled, causing the spectators to laugh. Su Muqiu looked around, finally seeing Su Mucheng standing just across from him.
“Alright, I’m stopping,” he said, pushing back the keyboard and standing up.
“Eating your fill before trying again?” His opponent said with a laugh.
The spectators were delighted. This kid knew what was up, even playing along with everyone’s mockery!
Su Muqiu glared at the other boy. “Come, come, have some food too, so that when you lose next time you don’t have an excuse.
“I don’t think I need to worry about that,” the opponent said, although he stood up as well.
The crowd laughed uproariously. Not only was this kid skilled, he had quite the sharp tongue!
“Come on, eat with us!” Su Mucheng said at this moment. She’d been standing behind him this whole time, so now she scurried forward to where the opponent could see her.
“You’re his little sister?” the boy asked, looking over at Su Mucheng.
“Do you play these games too?”
“You should learn, it’s fun,” he said.
“Mucheng, come over here, don’t talk so much with strangers,” Su Muqiu said, interrupting them.
Su Mucheng smiled and skipped over to her brother’s side. The Internet café had a lounge where customers could wait for an open computer, and Su Muqiu would often eat lunch here. The other boy wasn’t shy and followed the two siblings over here.
Su Muqiu took the lunch box from his sister and deftly split the food into three equal portions. After looking at it for a bit, he scraped some more food from one portion to another. He gave the larger portion to Su Mucheng, took the smaller one for himself, and gestured for the other boy to take the remainder.
“Brother, you should eat this bigger portion!” Su Mucheng said immediately. The meal was meant for two people. Splitting it three ways was already stretching it, and now that her brother had given even more to her, he probably wouldn’t even be half full with his portion.
“I can’t finish that!” Su Muqiu insisted, lifting up the lunch box.
“Hahaha, because you’re mad? You shouldn’t be, losing and winning is very normal. Composure, composure.” The other boy took the portion he was given, but his hands were fast – in the blink of an eye, he had dumped some of his food to Su Muqiu’s portion.
“I’m in a good mood, I don’t need to eat this much,” he explained.
“You…” Su Muqiu grumbled, but he didn’t want to bother with this any further.
“I’ve never seen you around before,” Su Mucheng took this opportunity to say. This time, her brother didn’t stop her with any warning of “don’t talk to strangers.”
“Oh, I was just passing by, just wanted to casually play a bit. Then I heard there was a skilled player here, and then…”
“And then?” Su Mucheng prompted.
“And then I went to see if I could learn anything from him. He really is a skilled player. Only a little worse than me,” he said.
“Hey, don’t speak too soon!” Su Muqiu shouted. “We’re going again after eating!”
“Haha, I can’t,” the other boy said.
“What, running away?” Su Muqiu said angrily.
“I don’t have any money left,” the boy said, patting his pockets.
This reason was too strong. Of course, without money, there was no way to use the computers in the Internet café.
“It’s on me!” Su Muqiu refused to let this go so easily.
“I eat your food, I use your money for the Internet café, and I beat you too? That’s not too good, is it?”
“Who said you were going to win for sure?”
“Well, of course I’ll lose once in a while, too,” the boy said, very naturally.
“…I’m done eating.” Now Su Muqiu really was too annoyed to eat.
“Why don’t you guys go home and play?” Su Mucheng suggested.
“At home… at home the computers aren’t the same, so you can’t really play games like this on them,” Su Muqiu said to his sister.
Computer configurations would affect the battle, and one of their computers was much worse than the other, making some PvP games unfair. Su Mucheng didn’t understand all this, and thought that as long as you had two computers then you could battle on them.
“But there should be other games where that doesn’t matter too much, right?” the other boy asked.
“Are you saying that you’re confident you could beat me in any game?” Su Muqiu said.
“Of course not, there are too many games out there! Only in the games I know how to play.”
Su Muqiu wanted to flip the table. “Stop eating! Stand up, we’re battling this out!”
“I’m already done eating,” the other boy answered, putting down his bowl and chopsticks.
“Let’s go! Mucheng, come join us once you’re done.” Without wasting a moment, Su Muqiu dragged the other boy away.
“See you in a bit!” The other boy managed to turn back and give her a wave as the two of them left.
“See you,” Su Mucheng answered with a smile.
She never would have imagined that this random stranger, crashing into her and her brother’s life, would end up walking alongside her for ten years and beyond.