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181 The Unspoken Rules of the Elite Circle

 Unfortunately, her body language and attempts at signaling were wasted on Gu Nianzhi, who merely lifted her cup to sip at her cappuccino.

"Anyway, I just want you to understand that I'm not actually Xiawen's girlfriend. My existence has no effect on your future relationship with him." Jiang Hongcha was forced to put on a sincere and honest expression, as though she were BFFs with Gu Nianzhi and would never lie to her.

Gu Nianzhi was still entirely unmoved. The only thing she felt was vague bemusement: Why don't I feel anything?

Jiang Hongcha was unnerved by the calm, unperturbed expression on Gu Nianzhi's face-where was the resentment, the helpless frustration, the anger? Jiang Hongcha hesitated, before venturing to ask: "Miss Gu, do you know what an open relationship is?"

Gu Nianzhi could not resist laughing at this. "Oh, right, I don't actually understand what you mean by that. Please, enlighten me."

Jiang Hongcha sighed inwardly: that explained Gu Nianzhi's lack of a reaction. She launched into a patient and careful explanation: "An open relationship basically means a relationship where both parties are free to find other sexual partners. You haven't agreed to be Xiawen's girlfriend, which means he's still technically single, and free to do whatever he wants."

"Including having sex with you?" Gu Nianzhi asked nonchalantly as she rested her chin in a hand, a faint smile on her face.

Jiang Hongcha blushed. The young girl before her was really vulgar-how could she speak of sex so openly, and to someone she had just met?

She let out an amused sigh. "You don't have to be like that. There's such a thing as an open marriage too, you know. In our circle, everyone obeys the rules of open marriages. Husband and wife are free to find other sexual partners, without fear of jeopardizing their marriage. You don't have to worry-I'm in an open relationship with Xiawen, but it doesn't mean that I have to marry him. We're free men and women, free to do whatever we like."

"Okay, I understand now. This so-called open relationship and open marriage basically boil down to this: it doesn't matter if you're married, you people just want to be able to f*ck whoever you want. Is that it?" Gu Nianzhi lowered the hand that had been propping up her chin. She was no longer interested in further conversation with Jiang Hongcha. "You don't have to tell me about these things. You can sleep with whoever you want, it's none of my business."

"This is a beautiful thing-why must you make it sound so vulgar?" Jiang Hongcha was furious now. She was from a wealthy and distinguished family, and had studied at Juilliard, one of the most prestigious schools in existence. She had never had a friend who was not her equal in status; Gu Nianzhi's blunt, outspoken manner confused her.

"That's because these things are vulgar, full stop. I can't dress it up with fancy words." Gu Nianzhi stood up and shrugged. "Anyway, I'm very busy. I don't have the time to listen to your sexual history. Can I go now?"

"You-!" Jiang Hongcha had to restrain herself from throwing her cup of milk in Gu Nianzhi's face. "I'm here today to tell you, so you don't end up getting the wrong idea. Xiawen and I aren't in a relationship. He can have however many girlfriends he likes, I don't mind. We've agreed not to interfere with each other's private lives."

Gu Nianzhi sat back in her chair when she heard this. She was amused. "Miss Jiang, the first thing you told me when we met today was that you were sleeping with the man who is trying to date me. Now you're telling me not to 'get the wrong idea' about your relationship with him-are you stupid? Or maybe you think I'm stupid?"

"Can't you accept the facts?" Jiang Hongcha shook her head. She smiled as she said: "You have to. This is how we do things in my circle. You have to turn a blind eye to things like this, it's completely normal. If you don't think you can get used to it, then you won't be able to fit in-not in my circle, anyway."

Gu Nianzhi made an exaggerated show of sudden realization. "I get it now-you're here to persuade me to leave Mei Xiawen, aren't you?"

Jiang Hongcha snorted. She did not reply, but the look on her face said "took you long enough."

"If you want me to leave him, I'm okay with that. How much are you willing to pay me?" Gu Nianzhi cupped her face in her hands, her large eyes glittering like brilliant gemstones as she stared at Jiang Hongcha.

Jiang Hongcha's eyes bulged in surprise. She said, incredulous: "I've been discussing this with you in a respectful and logical manner-and you want to talk about money?!"

Gu Nianzhi arched a cheeky eyebrow. "Well, you don't have to respect me. And anyway, you were being respectful? Really? I honestly couldn't tell. Let's skip all the abstract nonsense-I'm just a lowly pleb, I'm practical. You're supposed to be part of this wealthy, elite circle you won't stop yapping about-why do you even care about logic? Shouldn't you be writing a check for a crazy amount of money, and shoving it in my face? That's what usually happens on TV, anyway!"

Jiang Hongcha's lips trembled. She did not have the chromosomes for it, but she felt as though she had been kicked in the balls, all the same.

Why was this girl being so difficult?!

"...What, you're not going to pay me to break up with Mei Xiawen?" Gu Nianzhi clucked her tongue condescendingly. "Your circle isn't all that, then. Those rich upstarts on TV, they usually try to get rid of undeserving girlfriends by paying them one million yuan-minimum. But you, you're just looking for a free ride, eh?"

A flash of anger streaked across Jiang Hongcha's eyes, but she quickly calmed down. She surreptitiously turned on the voice recording function on her phone as she said pleasantly to Gu Nianzhi: "Miss Gu, I was just giving you some advice, out of the goodness of my heart. How could you turn around and ask me for money?"

"I never asked you for money." Gu Nianzhi was extremely particular about semantics, and never admitted to things she had not said. "You were the one who came to me and told me to leave Mei Xiawen because I wasn't right for him. All I'm asking now is how much you want to pay me-I'm just playing by the rules of your elite circle, that's all."

"How much do you need, to consider leaving him?" Jiang Hongcha asked, smiling. It was a loaded question.

"That depends on how sincere you are about this." Gu Nianzhi nodded slightly. "Your offer directly reflects how important Mei Xiawen is to you. It's vulgar to talk about money, but it isn't a universal equivalent for nothing: you can use it to appraise the value of many, many things."

"I see. You're only with Xiawen because you want his money." Jiang Hongcha was sure that she had enough evidence now to get rid of Gu Nianzhi, once and for all. "Miss Gu, I believe we have nothing more to say to each other. I've recorded everything you just said-it's all here." She waved her phone at Gu Nianzhi.

"If you keep your distance from Xiawen and stop contacting him, I'll pretend none of this ever happened. No one will ever know about this recording. But if you continue to string Xiawen along, well, I'll have to take extreme measures. I'll send this recording to Xiawen, and upload a copy to your university's forums. You'll have to quit the B University graduate program-it would be too embarrassing for you to stick around once your schoolmates hear this!" Jiang Hongcha gloated triumphantly, as though she had won the debate.

Gu Nianzhi looked at the phone. She extended her hand. "Give me your phone."

"Give it to you? Do you think I'm stupid?" Jiang Hongcha laughed heartily, her long hair rippling with every loud guffaw. She had dropped her dignified act, and was full of lively sarcasm. "I already saved it to my cloud storage. Take my phone if you want, you can't do anything."

Gu Nianzhi looked at Jiang Hongcha as though she were an idiot.

She waited until Jiang Hongcha was done laughing, before saying impassively: "Miss Jiang, first of all, you have violated my privacy by secretly recording our conversation without my permission. Secondly, you are trying to blackmail me with what should have been a private discussion, for your own personal gain. Depending on how much you stand to gain from this act of extortion, the severity of your crime may range from a misdemeanor, which would result in a fine, to a felony, which would result in either detention or imprisonment. Thirdly, I don't care if you make the recording public. It won't affect me in the slightest, but it'll most likely end in bankruptcy and jail time for you. Miss Jiang, I advise you to think this over carefully. I am a law student, and my professor is He Zhichu. If you want to fight me in court, you'd better go home and ask your family whether they're okay with that."

Jiang Hongcha's pupils constricted.

This girl was now casually discussing legal issues with her, as though she were nothing more than a disinterested observer!

Jiang Hongcha stared at Gu Nianzhi for a long moment. She suddenly remembered what Ai Weinan had told her: Gu Nianzhi's did not love Mei Xiawen...

"I get it now. You don't love him, you really don't." Jiang Hongcha shrugged. "I played the villain for nothing." She unlocked her phone and deleted the voice recording then and there, in front of Gu Nianzhi, before logging into her cloud storage and deleting the backup file. "There, you see? I deleted everything."

Jiang Hongcha stood up. She grabbed her Hermès Platinum bag, nodded to Gu Nianzhi, and turned to leave.

Gu Nianzhi called out to her. "Miss Jiang, what's your phone number?"