When Wei Ying turned twenty-five, his aunt put her foot down.
“You’re a grown man,” she said, after an unprecedented lunch invitation. “We provided you with a roof over your head, debt-free education, food, and clothing. You’re not planning on working in the family business, so there’s no reason for your uncle and I to support you any longer.”
Her words fell harshly over him, inducing what could only be described as clinical shock. Aunt Yu picked delicately at her spring berry salad, as if her polite mannerisms could convince Wei Ying that she was not actually a sleeping tiger. “I—does Uncle Jiang know about this?” was all he could ask, his tongue useless in his mouth.
It was the wrong thing to ask.
Aunt Yu furrowed her artfully-threaded brows and steepled her hands in front of her mouth, consideringly. Wei Ying felt like she was about to whip him with the sheer force of her electric glare. “He will,” she said, “and don’t think that means he’ll come to save your hide again. I’m serious, Wei Ying. I’ve already separated your bank account from ours. Unless you’re in an absolute financial emergency, do not even think about asking him or your siblings for money. And don’t think you can rely on A-Cheng to cover your rent; you’ll both be paying your fair share.”
For the first time in his life, Wei Ying had been rendered speechless. Taking his lack of protest as a resignation, Aunt Yu nodded graciously and hailed the check.
As a final act of mercy, she paid for the both of their meals.
So, at twenty-five, Wei Ying had been cut off.
In all honesty, he should have seen this coming; Aunt Yu had been making what he falsely assumed to be jokes about this very situation since he turned eighteen. Uncle Jiang had always protested because of his age, his status as a student, his need to focus on his studies instead of getting a job. Uncle Jiang had always taken to heart the promises he’d made to Wei Ying’s mother—one of which having been to provide for his education.
“But you’re still a student,” Nie Huaisang said from his spot on the couch. He was completely sprawled out across the worn leather, his head pillowed in Jiang Cheng’s lap like he owned it.
“I’ve got funding,” Wei Ying sighed. “It’s a doctorate program; I’m not really racking up debt, but they still barely give me enough to cover the bills.”
Jiang Cheng nodded. “I was there when she told Dad about separating your account. He was pissed, but that was the same argument she used.”
Wei Ying contemplated flopping down right onto Nie Huaisang in defeat. “Guess I’ll live on rice and ketchup for the next three years,” he said. “Fuck. I’m gonna have to get another job.”
“You don’t have one to begin with,” Nie Huaisang helpfully pointed out.
“I do student teaching.”
“That’s literally a part of your program funding.”
“I’m just going to die,” Wei Ying groaned. “That doesn’t cost me anything. How will I even work? I’m in a lab or a classroom all day, and I have to have time to breathe and sleep, which I barely get to do already—maybe Jiejie can—”
Jiang Cheng levelled him a glare. “Stop fucking pacing. And Mom would literally kill you if you asked A-jie for anything, if she ever found out.”
“You know she totally would,” Nie Huaisang said. “She’d tell Jin Zixuan, he’d tell his mother…”
“This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” Wei Ying said.
“We’ll figure something out,” Jiang Cheng told him, and started nervously carding fingers through Nie Huaisang’s hair. It was a very cute, very disgusting nervous tic. “I’ll pick up some of your groceries, and if A-jie just so happens to start cooking for us a bit more…”
Wei Ying nodded morosely and collapsed into a heap on their very luxurious shag rug. At least, if he had to be poor, he got to be poor in an apartment also occupied by his rich brother, whose mother enjoyed buying him nice things. Like the shag rug. “If worse comes to worst, I’ll rent my room and live here. Right here. On this rug.”
He could hear his brother’s eye-roll in the sigh he let out. Jiang Cheng did not dignify Wei Ying with any more of a response, but Nie Huaisang let out an amused hum. When Wei Ying looked up to meet eyes with his friend, he saw a telltale twinkle in Nie Huaisang’s eyes.
Ordinarily, Wei Ying liked that twinkle. Nie Huaisang was an enabler to the core, and Wei Ying was a being often in need of enabling. But in that moment, something uneasy churned in Wei Ying’s gut. The amusement turned into a sly grin, and with all the guile of a viper, Nie Huaisang said: “Then, why don’t you get a sugar daddy? There are apps for that now.”
Jiang Cheng’s hand paused in its ministrations. Wei Ying watched all the color drain from his younger brother’s face, and he knew that Jiang Cheng’s fear was not misplaced; when presented with any sort of dare or outlandish suggestion, Wei Ying was typically inclined to accept. “Babe,” Jiang Cheng hissed, betrayed. “You can’t just give him ideas like that. Wei Ying, please tell Huaisang that you absolutely will not get a sugar daddy.” It was not a request.
But, the seed of mischief had been planted. Nie Huaisang feigned remorse, but his next glance toward Wei Ying was knowing, self-satisfied. The gears were certainly turning in Wei Ying’s empty, broke brain.
In his mind, he saw a glowing gift from the gods—that was—free money. Wei Ying was flirtatious by nature, good-looking, and liked to play the part of the vapid himbo. How much effort would it take to set up a profile on a website, talk to some random men, take a few tasteful nudes, and give them his WeChat for money transfers?
“Wei Ying, I swear on all that is holy—”
“No, I think he’s onto something,” Wei Ying said. “Let the man speak.”
“I really shouldn’t,” Nie Huaisang demurred, looking beseechingly toward Jiang Cheng, whose frown was really quite fierce.
Jiang Cheng only nodded. “Right. He shouldn’t.”
“Right,” Nie Huaisang agreed, “but if you’re really interested—”
“There’s a lot of Youtube storytimes about the whole process. They’re really very educationa—mph!”
Jiang Cheng’s hand over Nie Huaisang’s mouth put an end to any of his goading. “What, were you watching for education? I’m literally right here! I buy you things all the time!” Nie Huaisang let out a peal of laughter, delighted from getting a rise out of the quick-tempered man. “Seriously, don’t encourage him like this!”
Wei Ying grinned. Though he and Jiang Cheng had started dating, Nie Huaisang was still Wei Ying’s partner in crime.
“You’re the realest, Huaisang. I’ll leave you two to it, then.” Wei Ying stood from the rug, a man on a mission. Jiang Cheng looked fearfully toward him, as if he knew exactly what Wei Ying was about to tell them.
Unfortunately for Jiang Cheng’s sensibilities, Wei Ying turned with a conspiratorial wink, and said, “I have research to do.”