The dorm room went silent for a split second after Fang Yu's response. What followed was an explosive roar that scared the living daylights out of the students next door.
The neighbors opened their door and glanced sideways. They were just getting ready to head over and investigate when the door to the room in question slammed shut.
"What went down next door?"
"My vast experience tells me that odds are they lost as a team in an online game."
The others nodded in agreement. That sounded like a plausible reason.
They listened carefully. Nothing. It wasn't a fight, so they didn't probe further and instead went back to what they had been doing.
Meanwhile, in Fang Yu's room, Fang Yu had scrambled to shut the door after his roommates' exaggerated response.
"Hush!" Fang Yu signaled his roommates to quiet down. "Please keep this a secret."
Before he could finish his sentence, he was already being lifted by his three roommates.
"You sly bastard!"
"Fang Zhao, it's really Fang Zhao! Where is his autograph? Where is the picture of the two of you?"
"Boy can you keep a secret. If it were me, the whole campus would know by now."
Fang Yu's roommates finally put him down after an extensive interrogation. He caught his breath and said, "I'm under strict orders from my mom and dad not to be a burden to him. I never planned on telling anyone. You're the only people who know. Please keep it to yourselves."
"No problem, but you'll have to buy our silence. I'm not greedy. Oh, just a dozen or so signed photos will do," one of the roommates said with a sinister smile.
"Right, right. We'll keep this a secret, but as our roommate, you gotta help us out too. Deliver the goods!"
Fang Yu gave a resigned smile. "OK. I'll do my best."
The concert was completely sold out. Fang Yu couldn't possibly ask Fang Zhao to produce a few tickets. His three roommates were just posturing. Even if Fang Yu agreed, they would be too embarrassed to accept such expensive tickets from Fang Zhao. The three roommates weren't even related to Fang Zhao; they weren't that thick skinned.
But in terms of autographs and pictures, they would undoubtedly badger Fang Yu for a healthy supply, and if they could tag along when Fang Yu gamed with Fang Zhao, that would be even better.
Yanbei, the retirement home for former officials.
After dinner, Great-Grandfather Fang made his rounds, showing off the concert tickets Fang Zhao had sent him. It just didn't feel right if he didn't brag a bit.
When he was in his room, he repeatedly watched the TV commercials Fang Zhao had starred in every day. TV commercials had never looked better. He'd brag about those too.
There were video billboards inside the retirement home compound as well. After his evening stroll, Great-Grandfather Fang would sit down in the pavilion closest to the billboard and jabber away at someone. Whenever Fang Zhao's ad came on, he would start boasting, "Look, that's my great-grandkid Fang Zhao. He gave up a military career for the arts. He quit the army just to become a professional musician. There was no stopping him. P*ssed the hell out of me. He's about to hold a concert at that Golden... Golden Age concert hall. Don't leave, let me show you the concert tickets I just received. They're completely sold out. Let me show you his emoji pack too."
Great-Grandfather Fang's fellow residents at the retirement home were mighty jealous about his extended stay on Baiji. Several of them also had a grandkid or great-grandkid assigned to Baiji for military service, but those kids weren't yet of a high enough rank to be allocated family quarters. They still had to pay their dues. Not everyone could enjoy the perks Fang Zhao had. He was the discoverer of the grade A power ore, after all. But if Fang Zhao had chosen to remain on Baiji, his military rank would have been sufficient for him to receive family members as guests.
When they had learned that Fang Zhao was about to stage his first concert, Great-Grandfather Fang and Great-Grandmother Fang had wanted to do their part too. They had bought a bunch of online streaming passes with their savings. They had bought two for themselves and had given away the others to their friends in the retirement home. Lo and behold, Fang Zhao had sent them tickets to the live show. The two elders planned to attend with Fang Yu's family.
So the two elders also gave away the two online streaming passes they had saved for themselves.
Silver Wing had allocated to Fang Zhao a portion of the tickets it had reserved for internal use. Besides his immediate family, Fang Zhao also invited close friends like Su Hou and Su Feng from Muzhou.
After completing the media interviews and shooting the TV commercials, Fang Zhao shifted his full attention to preparations for the upcoming concert.
Fang Zhao was scheduled to work with an orchestra owned by Silver Wing. This was a professional orchestra, not a ragtag army. It was the same orchestra that had performed on Polar Light's debut "Period of Destruction" series.
Pang Pusong had been part of the backup vocals for the "Period of Destruction" series, but this time, he was excluded. The orchestra did everything in-house. The priority back then had been to promote Polar Light, but this gig was different.
But just as Fang Zhao was busy rehearsing with the orchestra, he was approached by the Silver Wing executive in charge of the concert with a suggestion.
Silver Wing was taking Fang Zhao's debut concert seriously. There were many details that needed to be attended to, but at the end of the day, Silver Wing was a diversified entertainment company that did not specialize in live concerts. They could bring in paid consultants, but what if those consultants weren't good enough? So the Silver Wing executive suggested that, as much backup as the company could offer, Fang Zhao had to take matters into his own hands and perhaps consult a veteran performer or two.
This was an issue that Fang Zhao had thought of too. The first person he thought of was Xue Jing, but Xue Jing was stuck in Huangzhou and had a few important conferences to attend. When they had last spoken on the phone, Xue Jing had said that he wouldn't be able to return to Yanzhou for another 10 days or so. He would answer any questions that Fang Zhao had then. If it was urgent, he could be reached by phone.
But Fang Zhao didn't end up bothering Xue Jing. Xue Jing was quite old, after all, and the conferences kept him busy. Ten days wasn't a long time to wait.
Now that Silver Wing had brought up the issue again, Fang Zhao reconsidered the matter. If Xue Jing was still out of town, he could consult another veteran performer first.
He couldn't necessarily trust a senior musician that didn't know him well, but apart from Xue Jing, there was another respected elder in Yanzhou he could turn to—Ming Cang.
So, that afternoon, after leaving rehearsal, Fang Zhao checked the course schedule at Qi'an Academy of Music to see if Ming Cang was teaching or attending any conferences these next few days. He followed up with a phone call.
Ming Cang was at home chatting with Ming Ye. The doctor had said that frequent interaction with Ming Ye would facilitate recovery, so whenever Ming Cang was free, he stayed home with Ming Ye.
When his bracelet sounded and he checked the caller ID, Ming Cang immediately answered with a smile. "Fang Zhao?"
"Teacher Ming, are you at home right now? Are you free? Do you mind if I intrude?"
Even though Ming Cang was no longer president of the music academy, he still lectured there from time to time, so the "teacher" honorific was appropriate considering Fang Zhao's current status.
The smile on Ming Cang's face grew. "Of course, of course. No need to be so polite. It's no intrusion at all. You're close by? Come over now."
Ming Cang's wife entered the room with a plate of fruit. She picked a piece and handed it to Ming Ye before, in a rather impatient tone, asking Ming Cang who was on the phone.
The couple had been receiving an increasing number of calls the past year. People who had never kept in close touch had started reaching out.
Who knew what the future held? Ming Ye's condition was improving, and he might fully recover soon. When Ming Cang and his wife returned to their careers, they were bound to scale new heights. They would wield even greater influence than before.
Take Ming Cang, for example. He had resigned from the presidency of the Qi'an Academy of Music because of Ming Ye. Now that Ming Ye was better, he might assume the presidency again when the incumbent's term ended. Plus, considering Ming Cang's seniority, it was simply a matter of time before he became chairman of the Yanzhou Music Association.
When they had been struggling, some people had stayed away. Now that they were back in the game, the same folks shamelessly befriended them again. That was why Su Tong was upset.
Ming Cang responded to his wife with a broad smile. "Fang Zhao is coming over. I think he wants some advice for his concert."
When she heard it was Fang Zhao, Su Tong's furrowed brows immediately relaxed. She enthusiastically said, "Terrific, terrific! He has a driver... or rather, a bodyguard, no? Forget it, I'll just prepare more dishes. It's not early. Why don't we keep them for dinner? Oh, what are some of Fang Zhao's favorite dishes?"
"I have no idea."
"You don't know? And you consider yourself his teacher?"
Ming Cang responded with a resigned expression, "That's not fair. What does being a teacher have to do with it? I've only had limited contact with Fang Zhao. We usually just speak via videoconference. I've only visited him at home once since he returned from military service. His schedule was so tight I only stayed half an hour so as to not be in his way. These are a young man's most productive years. We can't let him waste his time on unnecessary social calls. If we do, we would just be dragging him down, not repaying the debt we owe him."
"Full of excuses." Su Tong ended the conversation with her husband and started ordering groceries online.
Fang Zhao arrived half an hour later carrying a box full of fresh produce from Muzhou recently harvested from Dongshan Farm. He had just received them yesterday, just in time to bring Ming Cang's share over today.
Ming Cang didn't offer any pleasantries like "No, you shouldn't have," but after accepting the gift, he said, "No need to bring this much stuff next time." Wasn't Fang Zhao tired from hauling such a heavy box over? He had trouble just handling the box when he took it from Fang Zhao.
Fang Zhao responded with a laugh. His gaze bypassed Ming Cang and his wife and landed on Ming Ye, who was standing not far away. The young man knew who Fang Zhao was, and his expression suggested surprise and curiosity.
Ming Ye was 15 years old, but the Hull virus had stunted his growth, so he was smaller than his peers. However, Ming Ye's physical development would resume once his condition had receded. He had already grown significantly taller during the past two years of treatment. He had looked even more petite two years ago.
Ming Ye appeared to be in better spirits than before, but he was still a quiet boy. While not completely expressionless, his face was hard to read. That was normal, considering the fact that he had not fully recuperated and he still had to recover from all those years of being in a vegetative state. He never cried or laughed, but sometimes he grinned and wore other subtle expressions, which was already a major improvement.