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Together Forever - Chapter 5


Published at 2nd of March 2016 11:24:44 PM

Chapter 5

The Real You and Me (1)


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One week after the gala, it was the week of midterm examinations.

By now, it was approaching late autumn, and the classrooms were frightfully cold. Consequently, the library, which was fitted with year round central heat and air, had naturally become a high-demand piece of turf.

Tong Yan’s upper body was slumped on top of the table as she studied for Jurisprudence, and her head was spinning from all the Latin terms. The teacher for this particular course insisted that if one was to study law, then one must learn Latin. He had directly handed out a self-written handbook that consisted completely of Latin terms with the corresponding English equivalent, proclaiming that half the final examination would be in Latin. Hence, Tong Yan had no choice but to plow through that handbook until she was about to go nuts.

“Philosophy, philosophia. This stupid one here cannot figure out the difference.” Tong Yan sighed, “Why is it that, even as I’m being tortured by the CET-6 English test, I have to memorize Latin, too?”

Shen Yao was sprawled on the table as she worked on advanced math practice test problems. “I think the most unlucky law students in the entire country must be us. Have you ever seen any law students have to re-take advanced math over and over again?”

Wen Jingjing pulled her head out from the International Commercial Arbitration textbook. “And let me add: out of all the law schools in the whole country, how come ours is the only one that teaches completely in English from third year onwards? I haven’t even passed my CET-4 yet …” After saying this, she rubbed away at her tears of misery.

When Tong Yan’s eyes caught sight of the textbook for International Commercial Arbitration that Wen Jingjing was holding, she unexpectedly thought of Gu Pingsheng. Last week, he had again said that there were matters to attend to in his family and had not given her any physics lessons.

Her gaze inexplicably brushed over the textbook in Wen Jingjing’s hand again, and suddenly, she really wanted to send a text message to Teacher Gu and ask him whether he was going to tutor her this week … But after taking a glance at her phone, she grew hesitant again.

Maybe, he was very busy.

 

The place they were seated was separated from a staircase by only the wooden railing, so when all of a sudden, a large number of people upstairs started walking down, their gazes were naturally drawn in that direction. It seemed that they were all teachers, and in groups of twos or threes, they chatted as they walked.

“Hey, isn’t that Tong Yan’s Goddess of Nightmares? She knows Teacher Gu?” Shen Yao’s eyes were sharp and swiftly caught sight of the potential for a love affair.

When Tong Yan looked over, Gu Pingsheng was walking side by side down the stairs with the Goddess of Nightmares, Zhao Yin. From somewhere within the crowd, someone called out, “Teacher Zhao.” Zhao Yin tapped the back of his hand lightly, motioning to him that somebody was looking for her.

As Gu Pingsheng looked over at Teacher Zhao, he also happened to see the three of them as well. But, it was only a brief, single glance.

After quiet was restored at the staircase, Shen Yao also put away her advanced mathematics papers. “I have advanced math at three o’clock this afternoon. I’m heading out first.” Wen Jingjing also abruptly took a look at her watch and then cried out that she was going to be late for her elective class.

Soon, they had both left, and Tong Yan was not in the mood to stay here any longer either. While she was considering going back to the dormitory room, someone suddenly set a paper cup down beside her hand. A cup of purified water with a faint white cloud of steam rising from it.

She turned around. It was someone who should have been long gone by now — Gu Pingsheng. It seemed as if, regardless of when or where, he always liked to give her water. Such a very healthy habit.

“Memorizing Latin terms?” He cast a glance at the handbook in front of her.

She nodded. “Our Jurisprudence exam questions are going to have Latin in there for sure. Not memorizing is not an option.”

He took a seat beside her. “Just now, I was letting Zhao Yin know about your progress. She’s agreed to help me out and continue your physics tutoring. Do you have her contact details? Email, or phone?”

Tong Yan was taken aback for a moment, but quickly, she answered, “Yes, I have her email.”

With a smile, Gu Pingsheng told her, “In terms of proficiency and qualifications in this field, she is the true physics teacher. Plus, every teacher has her own way of doing things. You’ve taken her class for such a long time now, and if you get her one-on-one help, next semester, you should pass easily.”

Because he needed to speak to Tong Yan, he had turned slightly to the side. He was completely swathed in the sunlight shining in through the window, which softened and blurred the outlines of his features.

Nodding, she said, “Thank you, Teacher Gu.”

Then, the two of them had nothing more to say.

Speedily, she put her books away. “I still have class this afternoon. Teacher Gu, if there’s nothing else, I’m going to go first.”

Gu Pingsheng nodded, then suddenly chuckled, “Remember, learn and study diligently, and not just for my course.”

When he said this, he had used a seldom-heard serious tone. Tong Yan gave an “mm” in reply.

 

As the two of them finished their conversation, they both rose to their feet at the same time. However, when they discovered the other person was leaving, they simultaneously halted their actions. For some reason, she sensed a strange awkward atmosphere between them. Fortunately, someone behind them addressed Gu Pingsheng, which gave her the chance to say quietly, “Bye, Teacher,” and dash down the stairs, hugging her books to her chest.

She ran very quickly, and her heart was beating very quickly, as well. But, she dared not reflect on the reason for this.

On the last step of the stairs, though, she unexpectedly tripped over herself, and her entire body tumbled onto the marble tile floor. The books in her arms scattered everywhere. This mishap that rose so abruptly stunned her, and for a long moment, she did not snap out of her shock.

A hand reached out and pulled her back up. “Hey, missy, what are you thinking about?”

Sighing, Ai Mi set down her own pile of books and began to help her gather her fallen ones. “Falling here in the library? Are you waiting for a hero to come rescue the fair damsel in distress?”

Tong Yan rose to her feet, rubbing her knees as she explained, “I suddenly tripped on myself.”

Ai Mi handed her books back to her. “I haven’t seen you in a long time. Hey, celebrity of the moment, what have you been up to these days?”

“Studying. Diligently studying.”

“I really admire you.” Ai Mi gave another lengthy sigh. “That night at the gala, it felt like a drama being acted out and, morever, definitely one of those trendy idol dramas … But now, everything’s back to normal. Everyday, besides going to class, it’s taking tests. Do you ever feel like it’s really hard to get used to?”

She laughed, “I’ve been used to it for a long time. It’s not as if that was my first time up on stage emceeing.”

“Not the same. It was not the same as any of your other times.” Ai Mi made an effort to examine the expression on her face. “Tell me in secret, do you and your Teacher Gu have especially good ‘rapport’ and click especially well with each other?”

“That day, we were co-emcees. Of course we needed to have rapport.”

Ai Mi put on a mysterious grin, gently pinching her arm as she whispered, “Just now, when I saw you fall and ran down here, someone else also ran down the stairs. Such a pity … You didn’t see.”

She felt an inexplicable sense of guilt, like she had been found out, but she forced herself to pretend not to understand. “Someone else?”

Ai Mi shushed her. “It was Great Beauty Gu.”

Right as Tong Yan wanted to say something, Ai Mi placed one hand on each side of her face and turned her head so that she could see, not far away, Gu Pingsheng just stepping out of the revolving glass doors. “I was correct, right? It’s Pretty Lady’s Bane, isn’t it?”

Within the revolving glass door, there was the glow of refracted sunlight as well as that very familiar figure.

Answering with an “mm-hmm,” she bowed her head to look at the books in her arms, wanting to inspect them to see if she had missed any. Her mind, however, was already in a slight state of chaos. From when he had stated that he would not tutor her any longer, to when she had taken her fall a moment ago, to Ai Mi’s teasing tone now, she had felt unsettled the entire time and did not know what she should actually be thinking.

Ai Mi carefully eyed her over, and then, her tone suddenly grew serious. “Tong Yan, a joke’s a joke. Don’t scare me for real. Five or six years ago, a teacher-student romance was definitely a taboo thing. Even though nowadays, the overall tone of the school is a lot more open, if you can avoid it, then avoid it. Didn’t you notice that, the couple in the Faculty of Architecture, their relationship didn’t come out in the open until graduation? And even so, the school wasn’t too happy about it and terminated the contract with that teacher.”

Tong Yan’s heart lurched, and she kicked Ai Mi’s foot. “Don’t talk nonsense. I still want to graduate without any hitches.”


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Another eleven weeks to go. Seventy-seven days. Half of the semester was over already.

 

On Saturday, the university held a conference on international environmental law.

The invitees were from internationally famous law schools or were part of the United Nations Environment Programme. Simply the list of participants was enough to cause the people in their class to clamour over one another for the chance to be a guide and host to the esteemed guests.

Naturally, with Shen Yao’s gift for languages, she easily obtained one of the dedicated host positions. For two days straight, she had had her eye on the person from the United Nations Environment Programme, planning on, by the end, having things completely taken care of with an academic recommendation letter in hand to provide to universities.

She had now turned her nose up at Wharton School of Business. Law — more precisely, only the law program at Yale Law School — was now Shen Yao’s dream.

Tong Yan was happily watching everything when she saw Gu Pingsheng, dressed in a very simple sport coat, accompanying several people and talking cheerfully with them as they walked into the conference area. She could not hear what they were saying, but from his expression, she knew that they must be his good friends.

When lunchtime arrived, Shen Yao very loyally ran out to keep Tong Yan company at the reception table, where they ate their boxed lunches together.

In reality, her job here was the most arduous, yet also most thankless one. The four students who knew two foreign languages had all been selected to be dedicated hosts and guides and could have direct contact with the various honoured guests. All the remaining students had found excuses to turn down the odd, little tasks. She, however, had been wheedled by the class prefect into being an unimportant receptionist in charge of check-in and registration.

The class prefect’s original words had been, “The conference centre is in the middle of a garden, so of course, the reception table will be set-up in the bamboo grove. It’ll set such a nice mood.” Sure, a rainy day in November had such mood that people could die from the cold.

“I’m telling you, this afternoon, when there’s nothing really going on at the reception table, you hurry on back to the school, head to the bathroom, and take a warm shower. The air in this bamboo grove is so damp and chilly, and you’re wearing a skirt, too. The class prefect wasn’t worried at all about you freezing to death, it seems.” Shen Yao’s shoulders were hunched forward from the cold as she very unashamedly took her chopsticks and plucked out an entire soy-sauced pork chop from Tong Yan’s boxed lunch. “Tell you some gossip. There are two people inside who know Gu Pingsheng. They say they’re his old friends. When people were chatting just now, I heard them say, the tattoo on Teacher Gu’s arm, he did himself with his left hand, and he didn’t even apply any anesthetic.”

Tong Yan was eating the soy sauce-stewed egg from her boxed lunch. The yolk was somewhat dry, and she grabbed her bottle of mineral spring water and took a drink. But then, the little bit of heat she had finally managed to accumulate in her body was forced back down again by this one mouthful of cold water.

Left: 红烧大排 Soy-sauced pork chop. Floured and pan-fried pork chop with a soy sauce-based sauce (image credit). Right: 卤蛋 Soy sauce-stewed egg. Hard boiled egg, shell removed, that has been stewed in a soy sauce-based liquid (image credit)

While Shen Yao was chewing away on her meat and sighing exaggeratedly, Gu Pingsheng happened to step back outside, seeming as if he was looking for someone.

Noticing the two sitting at the reception table, his gaze halted. “Why are you eating out here? There’s a buffet meal in the dining room.”

“I’m keeping Tong Yan company.” Shen Yao immediately took a drink of water. “She has to stay here and keep watch the whole lunchtime. Poor us, eh? Teacher Gu, considering that the three of us once collaborated on a song together, you should provide some feedback to the school and tell them to give us some extra credits or something for this …”

He glanced around at the bamboo grove, which was rustling sounds from the wind blowing through it, then looked over at Tong Yan. Before he could speak, however, she hastily jumped in, “It’s no big deal. There’s no real reception work that needs to be done this afternoon, so I’ll be heading back to the school.”

As she said this, a nipping wind suddenly gusted up. Her bare legs were pale from the cold.

He took a glance at his watch and said, “At this sort of hour, you don’t need to stay here anymore. I’ll take you both to have something hot to eat.”

Hearing this, Shen Yao instantly set down the boxed lunch that was still more than half uneaten.

Gu Pingsheng quickly stepped back inside, likely asking someone to call a taxi.

Tong Yan tugged on Shen Yao’s arm. “If you want to eat, just go inside and have the buffet. Why do we need to specifically go out somewhere to eat?”

“You’re so cold your bones are about to turn to ice. Buffet food won’t warm you up. The soups and other stuff in Chinese cuisine are what can warm up a person.” Shen Yao snatched the boxed lunch out of Tong Yan’s hands and tossed it into a paper bag. “In the future, whoever ends up marrying Teacher Gu can be considered to have no regrets in life. He’s so thoughtful.”

 

The Real You and Me (2)

Gu Pingsheng was not very familiar with Shanghai, so Shen Yao immediately volunteered to lead the way.

When they were near their destination, Tong Yan finally recognized that they were on Huaihai Road[1] near Shen Yao’s home, and she whisperingly asked, “Why’d we head over here to Huaihai Road? Are you trying to viciously swindle Teacher Gu with this meal?”

Her impression of this place: Expensive. Very expensive.

“The places open at three in the afternoon. I want to go home and change. Too bad you’re ten centimetres shorter than me; otherwise I’d lend you a pair of pants to change into.” With a wink at her, Shen Yao said, “The great beauty is offering himself up. If I don’t swindle him, it’d be such a waste.” Once she finished saying this, she turned around and addressed Gu Pingsheng, “Teacher Gu, my home happens to be nearby. Would you like to go there for a bit? I’m not dressed very warmly, and I want to go home to change.”

Gu Pingsheng had just taken the change the taxi driver had handed him. Casually slipping his wallet into the pocket of his trousers, he glanced over at the lane she was pointing to and gave a nod.

Shen Yao’s home was an old, four-level house that was built prior to the Liberation[2]. On Huaihai Road where “an inch of land is an ounce of gold,” its value was already sky-high.

They opened the narrow, red front door. On the first floor were the kitchen, dining area, and a bedroom. The two of them walked up the old mahogany staircase, following Shen Yao past the bedrooms on the second floor as she took them directly to the living room on the third level.

“Wait a moment.” Shen Yao made a cup of tea for each of them. “I’ll be back really soon.”

After saying this, she went back down the stairs with sounds of “thump, thump, thump,” leaving the two of them in the living room.

Since this was an old house, the room was not large and could only hold one sofa.

Side by side, they sat on it. Utterly bored, she could only focus her attention on the DVDs that had been thrown haphazardly on the table.

The topmost disc was Black Book, directed by Paul Verhoeven. Tong Yan remembered she had watched it before on Shen Yao’s computer. It was about a Jewish woman who infiltrated the Germans as a spy during the Second World War but ended up falling deeply in love with a Nazi officer. In the end, when the Second World War ended and the Germans were defeated, she could only watch as the one she loved was executed. It was the inspiration for Ang Lee’s film, Lust, Caution.

“You’ve watched it?” he suddenly asked.

“Yes.” She picked it up and looked it over. It was the German edition. She reckoned Shen Yao used it to practice her languages. “It’s really good. I watched it before on Shen Yao’s computer. When I finished, I was really touched, and it made me reflect on how the Jews truly were worthy of pity. So many of them died in World War II, but actually, they are a very smart and hardworking people.”

“Yes, the Jewish people are very smart.” He told her, “Before, when I was studying for my master’s degree, the person whose grades were better than mine was Jewish. Chinese people are also very smart. When I graduated from high school, there were more than two hundred people in my year, of whom nine were Chinese, but Harvard accepted only one person — a girl, Chinese. The person accepted into Yale was also Chinese. The other Chinese students went to Columbia, Cornell, and Duke, all very good schools.”

There was one other one. He went to the University of Pennsylvania.

She silently added that in her mind before replying with a smile, “So, smart nationalities have to endure relatively more trials and hardships.”

She was actually still talking about that movie, but she suddenly felt she seemed to be referring to him.

“Actually, for old movies, my taste is very uncultured. I like Legally Blonde.” Hurriedly, she changed the topic.

Leaning back into the couch, he pondered for a moment. “A story about a girl who cares only about clothes and dressing up, but because her boyfriend gets admitted into law school and breaks up with her, she miraculously gets accepted into Harvard Law School wearing a pink Barbie dress and goes to win her boyfriend back?”

Promptly, she corrected him, “The boyfriend is just a jerk. She and her university teacher end up together. I love this movie, and I’ve watched it more than ten times. Back then, I vowed I had to study law …”

She abruptly cut herself off. An old-fashioned grandfather clock suddenly sounded a deep, dull chime, reminding them of the time.

What sort of stupid topic was this? … Today was definitely not a day suitable for having a conversation.


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“It would seem idol dramas sometimes can also be inspiring.” Gu Pingsheng soon rose to his feet and stepped out onto the balcony. “When we got out of the car just now, I noticed that this place looked very familiar. Is there a road nearby called Yandang Road[3]?”

Secretly breathing out in relief, she immediately stood also. “It’s just on the opposite side over there.” She pointed out the window. “The perpendicular one is Yandang Road.”

A fine, delightful pedestrian leisure street that, if you followed it down, consisted completely of vintage dark gray, Western-style buildings. She remembered Miao Miao had once said that her wedding photographs in which she had worn a cheongsam[4] had all been taken along this road. It was a pity that the rain was pouring down in torrents, and they could not see any sort of view or scenery besides umbrellas of all colours floating within the misty rain …

Yandang Road (image credit left and right)

“Then this should be the place. Her family’s financial situation must be quite good, considering that she lives here.”

“Her grades are quite good, too.” Tong Yan sighed, “Since I’ve been in university, I’ve come to understand something fundamental: not every person who comes from an underprivileged background will end up astounding people with just a single achievement, and those with privileged backgrounds are not all ignorant and incompetent either.”

See? Those inspirational novels weren’t always true.

His right hand rested on top of the railing, and he turned back again to continue staring out at the endless streams of traffic beyond the balcony. “In terms of learning and studies, passing is something that can be accomplished by hard work, but to truly be able to astound everyone in just a single achievement, that does indeed depend on individual talent.”

“Are you just describing yourself?” she muttered under her breath.

He seemed to detect that she was speaking, and catching her off guard, he turned to her and asked, “Were you talking to me?”

Instantly feeling guilty, as if she had been found out, Tong Yan smiled sheepishly, “Yup. I’m hungry. Teacher Gu, what sort of food are you planning on treating us to?”

He suddenly chuckled, “I’m guessing that’s something I don’t need to think about. She should have already thought of the place where she will significantly lighten my wallet in order to reward you.” As he said these words, his eyes once again shifted to fall on the sights outside.

She suddenly recalled how, during their dormitory’s late-night conversations, they had discussed Gu Pingsheng’s handicap and praised it. It was so good how, when he spoke to you, he would look directly at you and would focus his attention on you only.

But, if he did not want to talk to you, it was very easy to do as well.

He needed only to move his gaze away.

 

Sure enough, Shen Yao lived up to everyone’s expectations by heading straight for Yandang Road and selecting a steakhouse.

The restaurant was a small, standalone Western-style building. No thought was even necessary to know that this place would indubitably be expensive. Before she even stepped through the door, she questioned Shen Yao, “Didn’t you say you wanted to have Chinese food?”

“It’s no problem. I’ll order you two orders of mushroom soup. I guarantee you that those will warm you up.” Shen Yao squeezed her hand with a look that seemed to say she was doing this for Tong Yan’s good. “Women need to eat beef. It’s good for the body. This place isn’t too expensive, just two hundred yuan on average per person. In Shanghai, that’s definitely not expensive. Trust me …” She stole a glimpse at Gu Pingsheng after saying this, then carried on, “Plus, I’m the one who’s swindling the teacher, not you. What do you have to be scared of?”

Walking ahead of them, Gu Pingsheng closed his umbrella and handed it to one of the hosts of the restaurant.

As she stared at his back, Tong Yan silently said the question in her mind: Why shouldn’t she be scared? He was now her biggest creditor. Have you ever seen someone who not only did not return money owed but also tried with all her might to swindle her creditor?

When the menu was in her hand, she utterly wanted to cry. Just a random mushroom soup was 138 yuan. How could it possibly be an average of 200 yuan per person?

He started with ordering appetizers first and then did not stop, as if he really was a lamb resigned to being slaughtered … Each time he said the name of a dish, Tong Yan would immediately peek at the menu and then throw a vicious glare at Shen Yao.

“T-bone, eight ounces.” He looked over at Tong Yan. “This young lady here will have a filet mignon, five ounces, cooked medium well. Shen Yao, what are you having?”

Her eyes speedily swept over the menu she was holding. A filet mignon was seventy yuan per ounce, and she, alone, was going to eat five ounces?

Under Tong Yan’s dagger-like glower, Shen Yao calmly stated, “Filet mignon, eight ounces, cooked medium rare.”

“You’re a blood-thirsty animal?” In a rare instance, a joke was heard from him before he closed his menu.

Shen Yao gave an embarrassed little grin. While he was confirming the sides and desserts, she whispered to Tong Yan, “Teacher Gu made a joke, did you see? When he jokes, the look in his eyes just melts your soul.”

Gritting her teeth, Tong Yan fumed at her, “Otherwise what? You want him to hug his wallet and cry?”

“I’ll add another order of filet mignon, eight ounces, cooked medium,” he told the server.

Tong Yan and Shen Yao exchanged a glance. Who else was coming?

“Zhao Yin — your Teacher Zhao — lives around here, too.” After the server had left, he provided them with a reasonable explanation. “So, I asked her to meet up with us.”

Tong Yan understood now. Picking up her glass, she took a drink of her hot water.

“Goddess of Nightmares?” Shen Yao’s question slipped past her lips. “You’re kidding, right, Teacher Gu? If you’d told us she was coming, we would have just taken care of our own lunches.”

Gu Pingsheng looked amusedly at Shen Yao. “You’ve had to re-take physics, too?”

“No.” Shen Yao shook her head. “The crux of the issue is, our school’s Teacher Zhao Yin was involved in revising the entire school’s physics learning materials, which all the students have to use. So, Teacher Zhao is absolutely the whole school’s Goddess of Nightmares …”

Two glasses of red wine were brought over, and he motioned that one should be set down in front of him and the other by the empty plate beside him. “It would seem I’m teaching the wrong subject. I’ve never seen all of you so scared of me before.”

Seeing that he had even specially ordered red wine, Shen Yao’s nosy nature completely exploded forth. “Teacher Gu, may I secretly ask you just one question of gossip? Is Zhao Yin our future shimu [teacher-mother][5]?”

Tong Yan had all along been listening to their conversation, and after Shen Yao asked this, she cast a glance at Gu Pingsheng. Indeed, they were true best friends. Shen Yao asked the same question she had also once posed to him.

“I recall, at the beginning of the school year, I gave each of you a chance to ask me any question. That doesn’t mean, though, that you can ask me any question at any time and any place.” A smile was on his face the entire time he said this.

“Oh, got it.” Shen Yao swiftly turned her head away, and with her hand propping up her head, she murmured to Tong Yan, “That’s indirectly admitting to it.”

Tong Yan did not utter a sound. Sensing that he was looking in their direction the whole time, she only nibbled on the edge of her glass and continued to hold her silence.

 

The instant Zhao Yin arrived, she and Shen Yao dared not joke around anymore, and setting down their glasses, they respectfully greeted her, “Teacher Zhao.” Ever since Gu Pingsheng had handed her over to Zhao Yin for her tutoring, she had fixed times twice a week when she would go to Zhao Yin’s office. However, though she could not offer an explanation why, she simply could not get close to this female teacher.

Since it was not a workday, Zhao Yin’s attire was considerably more casual than normal. But although it was casual, in subtle and indirect ways, there were indications that great care and attention had been paid. It was apparent that Shen Yao had experienced psychological trauma from Zhao Yin as well. The atmosphere, which previously had been lively and fun, had now grown quiet after this additional person joined them.

Overcome with boredom as she ate, Shen Yao offhandedly asked Tong Yan, “I still have to go back to the conference venue this afternoon. How are you going to get back to school?”

Without even needing to think, Tong Yan replied, “Take Line 1 of the metro, transfer over to light rail, and then walk the rest of the way back.”


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“It’s heavy winds and rain out there. After you get off the light rail train, it’s still going to take fifteen minutes to walk to the school’s main gates, and then from the main gates to the dorm, it’s at least half an hour. You were freezing for the whole morning already. If you walk back like that, even if you don’t die from it, you’ll end up making yourself half-crippled.”

“I’ll be returning to the school this afternoon. You can come with me,” Gu Pingsheng suddenly spoke up.

“Sure.” Shen Yao accepted the favour on her behalf first. “Thanks, Teacher Gu.”

Zhao Yin lightly touched Gu Pingsheng’s hand. Waiting until he had turned his head toward her, Zhao Yin reminded him with a smile, “Don’t forget the alumni party tonight.”

Shen Yao immediately pinched Tong Yan’s arm and whispered in her ear, “Look, she’s touching his hand.”

Tong Yan wanted to cry in exasperation, but because she could not allow herself to show any expression here, she simply hissed back, “That’s because Teacher Gu can’t hear.”

With wide eyes and her voice still lowered, Shen Yao countered, “It’s not like you’ve never dated anyone before. Is the hand something you can just touch if you feel like it? Would you touch Teacher Gu’s hand? At most, you’d just pat him on the arm.”

Tong Yan suddenly remembered, at Juyong Pass …

“Oh right, you have touched Teacher Gu’s hand,” Shen Yao was still carrying on.

Tong Yan’s heart gave an intense jolt, and she pressed her lips together nervously.

“You guys held hands that night at the gala,” Shen Yao clarified. “But that doesn’t count.”

Gu Pingsheng could not hear, but that did not mean Zhao Yin was deaf, too. Although Shen Yao’s voice was very light when she spoke, Tong Yan put on a serious manner and gave her a glare, warning her silently that she should not continue with her senseless chatter.

 

The Real You and Me (3)

The alumni party that evening, simply put, was actually just a small, private gathering. More than twenty people were present but only five or six were fellow alumni of the University of Pennsylvania.

“TK, China is still the best. Everywhere you go, there’re black hair and black eyes that give you this near and dear feeling. And there’s also the Chinese language, with all its multitudes of variations.” Luo Zihao put his arm around Gu Pingsheng’s shoulders. “Nong ho. Le se va?” [“Hello. Pretty awesome, eh?” in Shanghainese dialect][1]

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t understand the last part of that.” He was sitting on a sofa near the balcony.

Luo Zihao was his good friend since childhood. After graduating from high school, Luo Zihao was accepted into Yale University, but less than one year later, he withdrew himself from the school. At the time, Yale was planning on forcibly discharging a Chinese female student from the university on the grounds that this particular student’s English was not as good as an American. As someone who had a strong sense of patriotism, Luo Zihao immediately joined in with the protesters of this. When it was finally arranged for the individual with the grievance to transfer departments and continue her studies to obtain her doctorate degree[2], he, however, withdrew from the school with just a wave of his hand. He then turned and went to the University of Pennsylvania and ended up staying there.

And then, he met Zhao Yin and got engaged to her. And then after that, his affections shifted to someone else. All his talk about not wanting to return to China simply was his guilt speaking. He wanted to wait until Zhao Yin had married before he dared come back. But he did have some merits, considering that all the former torments and troubles between them had come to a point where now, when they met, a single smile exchanged between them had erased all the love and grievances of the past.

 

Outside, the rain was still coming down furiously, but out on the balcony, silhouettes could be seen.

From here, looking out through the floor-length windows, the Garden Bridge[3] was seen sparkling down below. The silhouettes on the balcony were a pair, and occasionally they would embrace one another and other times, they would separate again. He suddenly remembered that pair of eyes in the taxicab this afternoon.

Garden Bridge (also called Waibaidu Bridge) at night (image credit)

“Let me ask you, how come you and her still aren’t together yet? I miss the great land of my fathers — my homeland’s water, my homeland’s clouds. I’m just waiting for you guys to blissfully tie the knot and then I‘ll be able to truly come back to my home country with honours.”

“With whom?” he asked.

“Zhao Yin.” Luo Zihao handed him a glass of wine, but seeing him shake his head, he immediately waved down someone for a glass of iced water for him. “Didn’t I already tell you a long time ago? At the start, she had actually liked you, but she had no choice but to settle for second best and, in a moment of blindness, ended up choosing me. The end result, however, was us breaking up and going our separate ways. As her former boyfriend, I’m going to be very responsible and tell you, she’s been single these last three, four years.”

Luo Zihao’s parents were northerners, and hence, he spoke very quickly. With some difficulty, Gu Pingsheng managed to keep up with the pace of all of his words, and then, he smiled and did not say anything.

“Don’t just be silent.” Luo Zihao’s hand that was not holding his wine glass naturally wrapped around Gu Pingsheng’s shoulders, and when he saw Gu Pingsheng turn his head to the side to look at him, he continued, “You returned to China and on top of that, came to Shanghai. Isn’t that just showing your ‘desire to love but with a pretense of refusal[4]’ [you like her but you’re pretending to reject her]?”

“Have you ever seen me ‘desire to love but with a pretense of refusal’?” Gu Pingsheng automatically ignored the random, useless tidbits in his words.

Luo Zihao felt around in his pocket for his cigarettes, and clamping down on one between his lips, he stated in a muffled tone, “My heart is feeling plagued with guilt. You guys are the true match made in heaven.”

In this sort of lighting where he practically could not see facial expressions and words being formed, Gu Pingsheng did not want to discuss this with him. Back when he had not yet withdrawn from the University of Pennsylvania, he had once specifically attempted to communicate with Luo Zihao on the topic of male/female relationships.

His memories of that occasion were indescribably painful. Environments mould people, especially their views on marriage and relationships.

Leaning back into the sofa, he watched Luo Zihao speak for another little while before turning back to look out at the nightscape.

The couple that had been outside earlier was nowhere to be found. Thoroughly bored, Luo Zihao patted him on the arm. The instant he saw Gu Pingsheng turn towards him, he started to continue with his jabber again.

“So, the children of my motherland nowadays, are they fine to teach?” He was starting to ramble randomly, searching for anything to talk about.

“Their aptitude is quite good.”

“Any whose looks are quite good, too?”

And there he went again … Not even three sentences and he had jumped straight to his main topic again. Gu Pingsheng’s interest was waning.

“Out of all the women in the world, Chinese women are still the most beautiful. When you look at them, it’s like you’re looking at a subtle ink-and-wash painting[5]. Their noses aren’t too high, their mouths aren’t too big, and their eyes aren’t like you’re looking at a skeleton’s skull, where they’re so deep and sunken that if you saw them in the middle of the night, you’d think you were seeing a ghost.” Luo Zihao’s patriotic spirit erupted forth once again. “Did you know? Wait, no, you should know. I’ve said before the type of woman I like the most. For her eyes, the separation between the whites and her black irises should not be overly distinct. Right here,” he said, using his unlit cigarette to point at the inner corner of his own eye, “needs to curve deeply inwards. When she smiles, her entire eye will curve into a crescent shape. So wonderful.”

Tong Yan. He could only think of her. She seemed to be the type that Luo Zihao was describing.

“Have you ever fallen for your own student?” he suddenly asked.

“Oh yah. Can’t hold back your own feelings, you know?” Luo Zihao was about to launch into another recollection, but Gu Pingsheng had already risen to his feet. “Eh? You’re not going to listen?”

Luo Zihao was not exactly sure what this odd quirk of his was, but he especially enjoyed talking about women with this person who was overly cautious about male/female relationships and intimacy. He was certain that his own preferences were towards that soft and fragrant opposite gender, so why was he so stubbornly absorbed with Gu Pingsheng on this particular matter?

“I just remembered, I need to go back to the school to grab a book.”

“In this downpour? You’re going back to the school? Isn’t your school out in the suburbs?”

Before Luo Zihao had finished speaking, Gu Pingsheng was already politely bidding his farewells to the other people, and then quickly, he left.

 

When Tong Yan returned to her dormitory, she received a phone call. It was from her father.

Since entering university and leaving Beijing, she had not received a single call from her father. The general theme of this call was to borrow money from her. She presumed Grandmother had told him that she had found a part-time job, so in the ears of her father, that became another source of money.

The entire time, she was not willing to say much, and after stating that she still had classes to attend, she hung up the call.

Inside the dormitory room, there was only herself and Wen Jingjing. Jingjing was facing her computer screen, chatting online, and her typing was lightning-fast. As Tong Yan listened to it, she felt more and more miserable until finally, she left the room and strolled idly around the campus to help take her mind off her cares.

Due to the rainstorm, there were not many people out on the walkways. It was pitch dark, and everywhere was water. Later, the downpour simply became too heavy and even her skirt was basically soaked through, so she had no choice but to take shelter in Teaching Building No. 5. This was a newly built teaching building that was not open for students to use at night, and as a result, none of the lights in the building were turned on.

Closing her umbrella, she exhaled a lengthy sigh, and by the light of the moon, she said aloud to herself, “What should you do, Tong Yan?”

She really was not so strong that she could overcome any obstacle.

She merely made herself choose to selectively ignore some of the unfairness of life.

The sound of the rain was very loud, and she could not even hear her own murmurs to herself. But this noise also unexpectedly gave her a somewhat sense of security. She suddenly stepped out into that curtain of rain and yelled to herself, “I’m going to make money, lots and lots of money–––“

Before she was finished, she had already burst out into chortles. Tong Yan, can you get any better than that?”

The rain was truly intense, and in mere moments, she was thoroughly drenched through. Her mind also immediately cleared.

“Alright, Tong Yan.” She retreated back beside the column inside the entrance hall of the teaching building, and grinning, she reminded herself, “We need to pass physics first.”

With the mention of physics, her thoughts suddenly turned to Gu Pingsheng.

She could still clearly remember his eyes from several hours ago inside the taxicab, including the expressions they had held, from an inquiring look until they finally became tranquil. Throughout that whole process, however, he had wordlessly held his gaze on her.

What had he been thinking?

 

“What are you doing here?”

All of a sudden, a voice could be heard coming from beside her. Letting out a piercing shriek, she leapt away from the column that she had been leaning against. Her heart seeming as if it was going to pound its way out of her chest, she could scarcely believe her eyes.

It was Gu Pingsheng.

Many years later, as Tong Yan thought back upon this rainy night and this scene in Teaching Building No. 5, she would still find this very remarkable.

While your heart was silently thinking of a person, he suddenly appeared before you.

“… Teacher Gu?” Tong Yan’s breathing was ragged, and her chest was starting to ache from the fright she had received.

“I need to head over to the administrative office to grab a few books.” Gu Pingsheng’s hand was also holding an umbrella and water was dripping down off of it. “From afar, I thought it looked like you in here, so I came over for a look. What are you doing here so late?”

“I’m not doing anything …”

While he spoke, he pulled out a package of tissues from his pocket and held them toward her. “Why wet and rained on even though you have an umbrella?”

Feeling slightly embarrassed, Tong Yan took the package from him, pulled out a tissue, and wiped at the water on her face.

“This campus is too big. At such late hours, try not to go to teaching buildings that have nobody in them,” Gu Pingsheng told her. “It’s really dangerous.”

Nodding, she said, “I’ll head back, then.”

“Anything pressing you need to do?”

She looked at him puzzledly. “No.”

“If you don’t have anything pressing, then wait until after I’ve gone to Administration to get my books, and then I’ll walk you back to your dorm.”

She was taken aback for an instant. Gu Pingsheng’s expression was natural and at ease as he explained, “From here to Administration is just a three minute walk. It’ll take twenty minutes to get to your dorm, and there won’t be many people along the way. It’ll be safer if I walk you back.”

Very reasonable.

There really was nothing Tong Yan could say to that, and obediently she followed him to his office.

She had had several weeks of tutoring sessions with him here and was very familiar with each one of the furnishings in this place. When Gu Pingsheng went to get his books, she even started to think about the fact that she would not be having any more sessions with him and felt a little sad because of this.

“Teacher Gu,” she addressed him, putting on a nonchalant front as she looked at him, “why did you suddenly stop tutoring me?”

Smiling, Gu Pingsheng closed the glass door of his bookshelf and with his back to her, he answered, “My health has not been very good lately. All my additional time outside of class time, I need to go to the hospital, and I was worried this would hold up your tutoring progress.”

He spoke very simply. Tong Yan had not expected at all that this would be the answer. She very much wanted to ask further but did not know as whom and from what status could she do so.

 

The two of them left the Law Building, and then along the way, because they were each carrying an umbrella, there was not much exchange between them. When they reached the downstairs of her dormitory building, Tong Yan closed her umbrella, ran up the steps, and turned back to look at him.

Under that very wide, black umbrella, Gu Pingsheng was wearing a clean, white, button-up shirt, and nothing at all wrong with him could be perceived. Maybe … what he meant by “health has not been very good” was simply a cold or flu? Or maybe it was … an excuse?

But subconsciously, she was willing to believe that he had been telling the truth.

“Hurry and go in.” He could not help laughing. “Remember that there’s Commercial Arbitration tomorrow morning. Don’t be late.”

Perhaps due to the humid weather, his voice was surprisingly gentle and soft.

She gnawed lightly on her own lip and, with some hesitation, thought for a while before saying, “It’s quite hard to catch a cab from the school’s west gate. There are more cabs over at the east gate.” She paused briefly before finally saying what she most wanted to say. “Teacher Gu … Be careful on your way back.”

“Alright.” Gu Pingsheng gazed into her eyes as he said, “Goodbye.”

 

When she was back in her dormitory room, Tong Yan was still in a fluster, simply because of the one sentence she had said.

Back during middle and high school, dating was not allowed, but her whole heart and mind had been set on throwing herself into her early-age dating.

Now, she was in university and at last could rightfully and openly date, but she discovered that she had fallen for her own teacher … Tong Yan, can you get any better than that?



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