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Published at 10th of September 2017 07:09:35 AM

Chapter 31

Overgrown Grassland


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31 . Chapter 31

The autumn wind was very strong .

A young Zhu Yun followed her mother to school .

It was registration day . Zhu Yun didn’t need to take a complicated path; she was very familiar with the place . Her mother was a head teacher for the high school students . Her primary school hadn’t been far away, so she would often wait for her mother to finish work and head home together .

Her mother led her to the school gate . “Wait here for me . I’m going to greet your head teacher . ”

Zhu Yun obediently nodded .

Her mother was gone for quite awhile . In her boredom, Zhu Yun looked around, and then a figure suddenly appeared in her line of sight . It was a girl, standing by the flower bed in front of the school . Her head was lowered . A few seconds later, as if sensing someone was looking at her, she turned her head .

Zhu Yun quickly looked away . After a moment, Zhu Yun snuck a glance over to find that the girl had lowered her head again . So Zhu Yun kept looking at her .

The strong wind had swept away all of Zhu Yun’s thoughts .

Around them, other students walked around . Only she and that girl stood quietly at the front gate . As if killing time, Zhu Yun kept looking over the other girl . Finally, Zhu Yun was caught red-handed . Her heart thumped . She was about to turn away, when the girl waved to her .

?

Zhu Yun looked around, and then pointed to herself . “…Me?”

The girl waved again .

Looks like it was her .

The girl was a bit taller than Zhu Yun . She was thin with medium length hair . Her skin was very fair and her features delicate… Zhu Yun walked a bit closer and then realized that the girl was wearing makeup .

Pale face, dark black eyeliner, a slender and bright red flower petal in her mouth . It was the only color on her face . Zhu Yun stopped in her steps . It was her first time seeing a junior high student wearing makeup . It went completely against the teachings she’d grown up with .

The girl grabbed another bunch of petals from the flower bed and handed them to Zhu Yun . She accepted them carefully in her hands . The girl raised her chin and quietly said, “It’s sweet . ”

That was the first time Zhu Yun met Liu Xiaoyan .

They had only been able to exchange names when Zhu Yun’s mother called to her . Her mother’s complexion didn’t look good when she left the building . On their way home, she muttered, “How do they assign teachers? If there’s a chance to change classes…”

Zhu Yun hadn’t understood at the time . When she started school, she saw that her head teacher was a language teacher . She was a 30 something female, slightly chubby, and very kind . No matter what the students did wrong, she always spoke softly instead of loudly critcizing .

Zhu Yun really liked her .

In class, Zhu Yun met Liu Xiaoyan once again . When they made their self introductions, Liu Xiaoyan spoke very briefly . She finished and the class clapped, and then she returned to her seat . As she passed Zhu Yun’s desk, Liu Xiaoyan glanced down at her .

“Isn’t that girl too cold?” the boy behind her asked . Zhu Yun cast a sidelong glance . What was his name… Fang Zhijing?

“Who’d have guessed her entrance score was so high,” Fang Zhijing continued talking to his deskmate .

That’s right… Zhu Yun had also found it strange . This was the city’s best junior high . Zhu Yun’s class was also a special one, so for Liu Xiaoyan to rank 3rd in the class from the entrance exam, was no small feat .

In the days following though, Liu Xiaoyan didn’t give off a ‘good student’ aura at all . She never spoke in class, and she never asked the teacher questions after class . Whereas everyone else bought extra practice books, she would stop studying when she finished her homework .


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There was one class that she was more dedicated to though: English . Liu Xiaoyan was very diligent in English class . Whenever Zhu Yun was on duty for the day and went to clean Liu Xiaoyan’s seat, she always saw the desk covered with English books . Maybe she wanted to go abroad?

Liu Xiaoyan also had a diary . Whenever she had free time, she would write in it . Then she put it deep inside her desk .

After the first day of class, Zhu Yun hadn’t spoken to Liu Xiaoyan again . To be honest, no one in the class really spoke to her . Liu Xiaoyan was excessively individualistic . With just that bit of makeup, she became like a completely different species .

Zhu Yun’s mother caught wind of this unusual student, and she was very unhappy with the fact that Liu Xiaoyan wore makeup to school . Zhu Yun’s mother had asked their teacher to intervene several times, but even to the end, Teacher Wang didn’t try to restrict Liu Xiaoyan much .

The next time Zhu Yun spoke to Liu Xiaoyan, they were at the flower bed again . It was a free activity period, and Liu Xiaoyan was sitting on the steps, her head stuffed in her diary, writing something or other .

There was no one else around . Zhu Yun quietly walked up behind Liu Xiaoyan and watched her writing English in her diary . Her skilled cursive handwriting was very pretty . Zhu Yun’s English was also pretty good, but in comparison, she still had a ways to go .

Just as Zhu Yun finally made out the contents of the writing, Liu Xiaoyan turned around .

As if on reflex, Zhu Yun grabbed some red flower petals from the flower bed and put them in her mouth . She looked into the distance, towards the sports field, pretending she was just passing by, checking out the festivity .

Why did this petal feel so tingly? Zhu Yun felt it a bit odd but didn’t dare let it show on her face, lest she look unnatural . Liu Xiaoyan continued to watch her .

Don’t worry . Calm down . Zhu Yun brainwashed herself: I’m here to eat the scarlet sage .

“I can’t believe you can eat that,” Liu Xiaoyan said .

?

Zhu Yun felt someone beside her, and she cautiously turned to face Liu Xiaoyan . Confused, Zhu Yun asked, “What is it?”

A rare expression of awkwardness showed on Liu Xiaoyan’s face . “Hurry and take that out . ”

Zhu Yun spit out the flower petals . It would have been better if she hadn’t looked, because when she did, her hair all stood on end . Covering the flower petals were small ants . After being frightened, the ants started scattering away .

No wonder it felt so strange on her tongue!!!

Zhu Yun tossed aside the flower petals, her body trembling as she fell to the ground .

Liu Xiaoyan couldn’t help it as she started laughing from the side . Zhu Yun paused . It was the first time she’d seen Liu Xiaoyan laugh like this . In that moment, she’d even forgotten the ants in her mouth .

Forget it . If she ate them, she ate them . They were originally food anyway .

After that day, the girls became friends . It was also then that Zhu Yun found out that Liu Xiaoyan’s diary was filled with passages from the Bible . The text was much too difficult for junior high Zhu Yun to read . After flipping through it numerous times, she still couldn’t understand .

“Do you believe in this?” Zhu Yun asked Liu Xiaoyan .

“Not exactly . ”

“If you don’t believe it, why did you copy it down?”

“It’s not that I don’t believe it either . He and I don’t have that kind of relationship . ”

Zhu Yun didn’t really understand . But there was something that she knew—Liu Xiaoyan didn’t study English because she wanted to go abroad or because she wanted to do well in school . It was for that God, whom she couldn’t exactly say she believed in or not .

Zhu Yun was extremely intrigued by Liu Xiaoyan . This new girl had completely attracted her… Zhu Yun always sought out Liu Xiaoyan to play . They ate together, studied together, and sat on the stairs eating flowers together .


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The rest of the class seemed to have a misconception about Liu Xiaoyan . They found her arrogant and rude, but Zhu Yun didn’t agree . Liu Xiaoyan was indeed arrogant, but she wasn’t mannerless . In fact, she was very softhearted .

On one winter day, a blizzard came and school let out early . Everyone left for home, leaving behind only Zhu Yun who waited for her mother to get off work . She was watching the snow fall outside the window when Liu Xiaoyan returned to the classroom . She’d brought back a stick of sugar-coated hawthorn fruit .

They sat in the classroom together, zoning out . In this wintery cold weather, the sky and ground both looked bleak . Only this candied fruit was a shocking red amidst it all .

During the heavy blizzard, Liu Xiaoyan told Zhu Yun about herself .

Liu Xiaoyan’s parents had divorced, and she lived with her (maternal) grandmother . Just before school started, her grandmother fell ill . The illness had come unexpectedly, as if a mountain were to fall . The doctors told her, diplomatically but clearly, that the chance for survival was slim . Later, the hospital no longer allowed her grandmother to stay there, so Liu Xiaoyan brought her home . Every night, her grandmother was tortured with pain, and Liu Xiaoyan didn’t know what to do .

Occasionally, she would pray to God .

“Actually, I begged all kinds of deities,” Liu Xiaoyan said . “I did all that I could, but He gave me the deepest impression . Maybe it was because the day after I prayed to Him, my grandmother’s condition greatly improved . ”

“So you started to believe in Him?”

“It’s not that I believed . ” She stressed, “When I prayed to Him, I asked Him to help my grandmother . I promised that if He did, I would stay with Him forever . Since He did it, I had to keep my end of the deal . ”

“I get it,” Zhu Yun mumbled . “Rather than believing, you’re returning a favor . Right? My (maternal) grandma believes in Buddha, and she often lights incense to redeem her vows . ”

Liu Xiaoyan thought for a moment, and then she nodded . “It’s something like that . ”

The sun had set when her mother came to pick her up . On the way home, her mother urged her for the 200th time to stay away from Liu Xiaoyan . Zhu Yun was recalling the taste of the hawthorn fruit as she gave a halfhearted reply .

“Acting so unorthodox at such a young age, believing in such nonsense…” her mother grumbled . “And that teacher of yours, Zhu Yun, aside from what she says in class, don’t listen to that nonsense she has to say . ”

Zhu Yun was startled . It was true that Teacher Wang would share warm and meaningful words with the class when they had a break . But that was just like small talk . She didn’t understand why her mother would specifically bring it up .

Later on, as the class’ studies grew more intensive, the students’ English comprehension also increased decently . And because Liu Xiaoyan didn’t try to hide it, everyone gradually came to know Liu Xiaoyan’s story .

She was too different from everyone else . Her only friend was Zhu Yun .

Fortunately, their head teacher, Teacher Wang was very open-minded . Zhu Yun knew that Teacher Wang often spoke up for Liu Xiaoyan . Though some other teachers and parents remained disgruntled, Liu Xiaoyan’s scores hadn’t fallen, and she was instead one of the top students . So the principal just continued on his way, one eye open and the other eye closed .

On Christmas, Zhu Yun skipped class . It was a very meaningful thing for her; it was the first time in her life after all .

Liu Xiaoyan took Zhu Yun shopping, and the whole time, Zhu Yun had been scared witless and yet exhilarated . While they sat in the square eating roasted sweet potatoes, Zhu Yun nervously brought out the present she’d prepared for Liu Xiaoyan .

“Today’s very important, right?” Zhu Yun asked quietly . “I looked up some information . ”

Liu Xiaoyan didn’t speak as she opened the present .

Zhu Yun spoke nervously, “…I’m not sure if you’ll like it . It wasn’t very expensive . ” She hadn’t had ample reason to ask her parents for money, so she could only save up a week of allowance to buy the present .

Liu Xiaoyan turned around and lifted up her hair . “Help me put it on . ”

Zhu Yun’s fingers shook as she helped put on the necklace . It wasn’t even that cold out . Liu Xiaoyan’s neck was very pale and pretty .

“It’s done…” Zhu Yun whispered .

Liu Xiaoyan turned back around and gave Zhu Yun a kiss on the cheek . Zhu Yun didn’t dare to move . Liu Xiaoyan laughed and said, “I like it a lot . Thank you . ”

Zhu Yun’s spirits rose . While they chatted, Zhu Yun said, “It’s almost the end of the semester . ”


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“Mmh . ” Liu Xiaoyan didn’t sound very interested .

“Let’s work hard to shut them all up . ”

Liu Xiaoyan turned to her . “Shut who up?”

“The kids who sit behind me . ”

Fang Zhijing and his boys were always gossipping about Liu Xiaoyan .

“They’re always talking about you . Don’t you get angry?”

“Angry about what? He says that everyone has original sin . ” Liu Xiaoyan hooked a finger around the cross necklace that Zhu Yun had given her . Without much care, she said, “If they want to make me angry, they have to have the ability first . Would you believe me if I said that Fang Zhijing won’t be able to beat me in a single exam for this semester’s finals?”

Zhu Yun smiled at her .

Liu Xiaoyan slid over and asked, “What, you don’t believe me?”

Zhu Yun shook her head . “I believe you . ”

She liked looking at Liu Xiaoyan . Pretty and proud, like a peacock .

You will beat them…

Zhu Yun told her this, silently .

Later on, they did indeed beat the boys on the final exams . And then, the next semester, the girls beat them again… If not for that incident, the girls probably would have beat them on all the final exams after that as well .

The autumn of their second year of junior high (grade 8), a horrifying and shocking terrorist attack, that shook the entire world, occurred across the ocean . All the media reported about it, day and night, nonstop, and the entire world became shrouded in ominous clouds .

As a junior high student, Zhu Yun hadn’t payed much attention to the news . It was all too distant from herself . Compared to her, Liu Xiaoyan was much more interested in the unfolding events . Through the news, Zhu Yun had learned that this horrifying terror attack was related to religious beliefs . During those few days, Liu Xiaoyan’s words grew shorter .

What Zhu Yun had failed to notice was that, aside from Liu Xiaoyan, there was another person in their class who’d grown quiet .

Zhu Yun remembered clearly that it had been a Thursday . Liu Xiaoyan hadn’t shown up to that afternoon’s physical education class, so Fang Zhijing, as the PE class representative, went back to the classroom to get her . Liu Xiaoyan hadn’t noticed his calls, and then the two got into an altercation . Later that evening, after dinner, Liu Xiaoyan had returned to the classroom to find that someone had gone through her desk . And inside, there was a dark pile of something .

Liu Xiaoyan pulled it out and unwrapped it with shaking hands . It was a black robe, and inside was her notebook, all torn up . She looked over at Fang Zhijing, who looked back at her .

“Since you like God so much, you should die with them . You’ll be able to see Him when you’re dead . ”

At the time, Zhu Yun’s mother had called her in to the teacher’s office to go over her exam . When she returned, Liu Xiaoyan had already made her move .

The students in the classroom had all cleared a space to watch the fight . No one wanted to get involved, and no one wanted to help . Liu Xiaoyan had always been a bit cold and proud, and there were many students who hated her .

It was the first time she’d gotten this angry . She grabbed her English dictionary from her desk and started violently smacking Fang Zhijing’s head . But Liu Xiaoyan was a girl, and her strength couldn’t beat Fang Zhijing’s . He pressed her against the desk and used the black robe to cover her face .

At the same time, Zhu Yun was following Teacher Wang back to the classroom . Her face looked exhausted . But then, the moment that she stepped into the classroom and saw the scene before her, she ran forward to stop it . She pulled the kids apart, and after seeing how Fang Zhijing had beaten Liu Xiaoyan, how he’d wrapped the robe around her face, the warm and gentle Teacher Wang suddenly fell apart . She slapped Fang Zhijing and shouted, “Are you crazy?! Have you gone insane?!”

Their classes were put on hold, and the people involved were called into the principal’s office . Everyone else sat in the classroom, chatting excitedly .

“Didn’t you all know? Teacher Wang believes in that too . ”

“She believes in what the hijackers believe, right?”

“Yeah . The two of them are from rival groups . ”

“This is so interesting!”

“How did you find that out?”

“Haven’t you watched TV?”

“……”

Zhu Yun didn’t speak a word . She looked at Liu Xiaoyan’s empty seat . What was that on the ground? Zhu Yun walked over and saw the necklace she’d sent her .

Perhaps it had fallen off in their fight . Zhu Yun picked it up, wanting to help Liu Xiaoyan put it back on later . But Liu Xiaoyan didn’t come back .

She never returned to class after that . Zhu Yun heard from her mother that she’d transferred schools . At the same time, Teacher Wang stopped being their head teacher . Instead, a very strict male teacher led their class from then on .

Zhu Yun never looked for Liu Xiaoyan . The evening of the incident, on her way home from school, she saw Fang Zhijing returning a black plastic bag to her mother .

The young and ignorant Zhu Yun still had many things she didn’t quite understand . She just had a faint feeling—For the rest of her life, she would never again see that girl who had once eaten scarlet sage with her .

“Hey…”

“Hey . ”

“Hey!”

Zhu Yun was called back by a shout .

She turned and saw an impatient looking Top Score Li . He was holding the certificate he’d just received .

“What are you thinking about? You didn’t even hear when I was talking to you . ”

She turned back forward to see that Fang Zhijing had also received his award already . He didn’t return though, and was instead enthusiastically chatting with the organizers of the event .

Li Xun leaned against his chair, and casually said, “We’re finally done . After we pack our things later, I’ll take you somewhere fun . ”

Zhu Yun seemed not to have heard, and his words slipped past her . Instead, Zhu Yun pushed past Li Xun and grabbed Gao Jianhong . “Are you participating?”

Gao Jianhong didn’t understand . “What?”

“The competition . ” Zhu Yun looked at him suspiciously, “Didn’t you say before that you wanted to participate in the competition . Do you still want to?”

Gao Jianhong finally understood . “Yeah, but didn’t you say—”

“I changed my mind . ” Zhu Yun grabbed tightly to his arm . “Let’s work together . We’ll work on it this semester, okay?”

Gao Jianhong’s eyes slowly lit up . “Sounds good!”

Leaning against his chair, the bored Top Score Li finally seemed to react . Expressionless as Zhu Yun leaned over his legs, he asked ominously, “What did you say?”

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