In the reception area, Xu Jingming sat and drank his water as he examined the gym. From the renovations and space it occupied, it wasn't bad.
"Brother Xu," said a familiar voice.
Xu Jingming looked up and saw Yang Qingshuo walking over with a smile.
It was said that Xu Jingming was young and had become the national team's linchpin at a young age, but in fact, Yang Qingshuo was a year younger and was the youngest one on the national team back then.
The once handsome youth had gained weight. Even his hair had turned slightly white, and his eyes were filled with fatigue.
"Shuo." Xu Jingming got up.
"Come, let's sit inside." Yang Qingshuo brought Xu Jingming into a small living room with a partition. He even brought over some snacks and a fruit platter and poured two glasses of water.
"Brother Xu, thanks for your help," Yang Qingshuo said as he sat down.
However, Xu Jingming noticed that his friend's right hand was wearing a glove. He asked in confusion, "What's wrong with your hand?"
It's summer, yet he is wearing a glove on his right hand.
Yang Qingshuo's expression froze, but he immediately smiled indifferently. He took off the glove on his right hand—it was a prosthetic limb. Although it was covered in bionic skin that made it resemble a real hand, one could still tell the difference from a slight observation.
"What happened to your hand?" Xu Jingming found it unbelievable.
"A prosthetic." Yang Qingshuo smiled and put on the glove. "It happened last year. A metal frame fell from a tall building under renovation, and a child was below it. I'm a professional gladiator after all—my reaction was specially honed. I immediately rushed over and grabbed the child, saving him. I blocked it with my right hand, but it was crushed by the metal frame. I could only amputate it."
"How did this happen?" Xu Jingming was a little stunned.
"I was lucky. Just a little more, and it wouldn't be this hand but my head." Yang Qingshuo shook his head and said, "If an iron frame were to fall on my head from almost 100 meters, I wouldn't even be alive. I exchanged a hand for a child's life—it was worth it! Besides, prosthetic technology is quite good these days. It can do simple stuff like carrying plates and pouring water."
Xu Jingming nodded slightly. "So you left the Sports Bureau?"
"It was an act of bravery," Yang Qingshuo said. "The Sports Bureau even awarded me and made me a role model. It's just that without my right hand, I'm ultimately unsuited to be a professional coach. Therefore, I was transferred to a desk job to do some administrative work. The salary for an administrative job is a little low—about 10,000 a month. I was in the global top nineteen once, so it's not difficult to find a job that pays tens of thousands a month. Hence, I came out to go at it myself."
Xu Jingming understood.
Most of the salaries earned at the Sports Bureau weren't high; only the good professional coaches had high salaries. For example, Liu Hai—the national team's head coach—received an annual salary of ten million. Being a professional coach in the provincial team usually earned 50,000 a month, but an administrative job made him an ordinary member of the Sports Bureau! His salary wouldn't be comparable to that of a professional coach.
"Shuo, if you need my help, just tell me," Xu Jingming said.
"You've already helped me a lot by lending me money." Yang Qingshuo smiled. "I want to see you get married early, Brother Xu. You're already 30 this year."
"29 by the Gregorian calendar!" Xu Jingming said quickly.
"Back home, we only count it based on the lunar calendar," Yang Qingshuo said.
Xu Jingming blinked. "Don't worry about my marriage. I'm getting married in a few months."
"That's good news! Who's the lucky girl?" Yang Qingshuo asked.
"Li Miaomiao," Xu Jingming said. "Keep it to yourself. You have to come when we hold the wedding in a few months."
"Li Miaomiao? Is it Li Miaomiao who sings very well, or is it someone with the same name?" Yang Qingshuo asked.
"That's her." Xu Jingming nodded. "Miaomiao and I don't know much about marriage and having children. You've been there and done that. In the future, get Xiaoyu to talk to Miaomiao."
Yang Qingshuo felt a little embarrassed as he lowered his head to take a sip of water. "Xiaoyu and I got a divorce."
"A divorce?" Xu Jingming was stunned.
"Yeah, about half a year ago," Yang Qingshuo nodded and said.
Xu Jingming somewhat understood.
Shuo became an invalid last year. He was a professional gladiator who used a spear! Now that his right hand was disabled, he couldn't use a spear anymore. He couldn't even be a professional coach, so his future income would only plummet. This was probably one of the reasons for their divorce.
"Divorce rates these days are high," Xu Jingming said.
"The divorce rate over here is almost 50%." Yang Qingshuo shook his head. "It's good to be single. It saves me a lot of trouble."
Xu Jingming nodded, but he could sense the bitterness in Shuo's heart.
"Oh right, I'll be leaving Binhai in the near future. I'll be settling down in my hometown." Xu Jingming started chatting with his good friend, talking about life and some gossip in the industry.
Half an hour passed.
Yang Qingshuo was very relaxed during the chat as if he had returned to university and his training days in the national team. Back then, he was carefree and only focused on martial arts.
"Brother Xu, I need to make a move." Yang Qingshuo looked at his watch and said, "I have to prepare my son's meal."
"Don't let me keep you." Xu Jingming got up too.
"It's rare for you to visit. I should have dinner with you, but…" Yang Qingshuo was a little embarrassed.
"Haha, I need to go to the capital anyway. Your son is the priority. Don't mind me," Xu Jingming said.
Xu Jingming kind of knew that Shuo had lost his father very early, and his mother was now hospitalized due to a serious illness. Now that he was a single parent… He definitely had many hardships.
"I'll make a move first." Xu Jingming sat in a smart car he hailed online at the entrance of Katy Gym.
Meanwhile, the backpack-carrying Yang Qingshuo watched Xu Jingming leave. Then, he put on his helmet and rode an electric bike home. Although unmanned smart cars were very common these days and could be bought without a driver's license, Yang Qingshuo had long sold his car.
Half an hour later, Yang Qingshuo—who had bought some ingredients from the market—returned home.
pαпdα-ňᴏνêι·сóМThis was a large single-floor apartment that occupied an area of 200 square meters. It was considered quite good in Jinmen City, and it had cost him five million yuan years ago.
"Dad." A boy wearing virtual glasses lay on the sofa. He excitedly took off his glasses and ran over to hug his father.
"Hey, buddy. Enjoying yourself?" Yang Qingshuo smiled.
"I can play to my heart's content during summer break," the boy said happily. "Besides, I played mathematics and Chinese games in the morning. I've already reached the 55th level for the addition and subtraction subject in mathematics. I've also cleared the 22nd level for the Chinese pinyin game."
"Not bad." Yang Qingshuo gave his son a kiss.
The boy hugged his father affectionately and enjoyed his days with him.
"I'll cook dinner for you," Yang Qingshuo said.
"Alright." The boy sat back obediently and wore his virtual glasses.
There was a robot beside the sofa—the robot was the only companion the boy usually had at home.
I can only afford the cheapest level-one smart bot. I don't usually have time to accompany my son and can only get the robot to accompany him. In the kitchen, Yang Qingshuo looked at his son, who was gaming, and felt quite guilty.
A level-one smart bot could only clean up the house and help watch over his son or have a simple chat with him—nothing else. Cooking a meal was too complicated for it.
All I can do is try my best to give my son the same life he used to have. Yang Qingshuo looked at the house.
After the divorce, his assets were divided equally!
Yang Qingshuo appeared to be living in this house, but he needed to give his wife 3.9 million in cash! All his available cash, including the property, was mortgaged for 2 million… All of it was given to his wife.
To make matters worse, his mother fell seriously ill and was unable to help take care of his child. Moreover, the medical fees were very high. He had already maxed out his property mortgage and had even sold his car.
He was deep in debt, but he had to hang on.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
Yang Qingshuo pressed his watch, and a projection appeared. It was a thin, fat woman in her fifties or sixties; she was Yang Qingshuo's mother.
"Shuo." Mrs. Yang's breathing sounded weak. "I've done a lot of research on the Internet. This is a genetic defect, a rare illness. The drugs only buy me time; it's no panacea. Let's not go through all that trouble. Let me come home and spend time with my grandson. Life will be happier, and it will be easier on you too."
"Mom, don't worry. I've signed a long-term contract with the company—I'll have the money," Yang Qingshuo said. "Just focus on your treatment and don't worry about anything else. I'll visit you around 8 a.m. tomorrow."
"Shuo." Mrs. Yang's heart ached for her son. In just slightly more than a year, he had been disabled, lost a good job, divorced, and became burdened with debt. Now, he was a single parent and even had to take care of her.
Mrs. Yang believed that she was better off dead, but she knew her son's character very well. If she wanted to be euthanized… It would probably torment her son for the rest of his life.
"Mom, I need to get back to my cooking. Tao Tao is waiting to have his meal," Yang Qingshuo said.
"Alright, alright." Mrs. Yang hung up.
Yang Qingshuo covered the lid and silently watched the flames rise from the stove.
How did my life turn out this way? Yang Qingshuo thought. He was once an elite! If I had listened to Brother Xu and Coach back then—focusing on martial arts and not falling in love and getting married so early… I would've definitely been able to go further in the World Martial Arts Tournament and earn more. I wouldn't be in such a predicament now.
He recalled the past.
He fell in love in his freshman year—it was his first love. After he joined the national team, he connected with his ex-wife over the metaverse and constantly interacted with her. When he was 22 years old—having just reached the legal age for marriage—he got married and had a child.
Although he put a lot of effort into martial arts, he had to admit that being in love, getting married, and having a child had diverted a lot of his energy, reducing what he could've achieved. He was a year younger than Xu Jingming. With age normalized, he was completely comparable to the latter.
"I'm not as focused as Brother Xu. I didn't suffer a serious injury during my time on the national team. Brother Xu broke his leg, yet he managed to get back on his feet after a few years and entered the World Martial Arts Tournament's top eight! His spearmanship is even acknowledged by the martial arts circle globally. He is known as one of the top ten spearmen in history and has earned the title of Spear Demon. I'm also a spearman…" Yang Qingshuo said softly. "I was content with my situation and wanted to spend more time with my wife and son. I didn't sacrifice as much as Brother Xu did."
"There are no second chances, so it's useless to feel regretful. I'll take it one step at a time." Yang Qingshuo lowered his head and touched his watch, producing a projection. He then tapped it and started making payments: water, electricity, gas, virtual internet fees, milk money for his son, monthly loans that had to be returned…
He couldn't see any hope in his career. He was debt-ridden, and he was sandwiched between his son and mother.
He could only rely on himself—he was the backbone of this family!
Yang Qingshuo looked up and saw the thin figure of his virtual glasses-wearing son, Yang Tao, sitting on the sofa in the living room. Tao Tao, Daddy can't give you much. But even if I have to give up my life, I will let you grow up happily and give you the ability to be self-reliant in society!
The aroma of the stewed meat gradually wafted into the living room.
"Dad, it smells lovely," shouted Yang Tao happily as he sniffed the air.
"I cooked your favorite pork ribs. It'll be done in a jiffy," Yang Qingshuo said with a smile.
Xu Jingming sat on the high-speed rail back to Binhai City and looked out the window.
How did this happen? Xu Jingming knew Shuo's current predicament. His heart ached for the latter, but he felt powerless. He's disabled, and his career is ruined. His entire family still needs to rely on him…
"All I can do is help, but Shuo has to fend for himself," Xu Jingming said softly. "All the best, Shuo!"
When life gave you lemons, one could only suck them up.