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Together Forever - Chapter 8


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

Chapter 8

To “Wash Her Hands and Make Soup”[1] (1)


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Since the semester had now entered into the weeks of final examinations, most classes were finished.

Tong Yan had spent this entire week inside the library. She and Gu Pingsheng both tacitly agreed that as much as possible, they would not have any noticeable interactions when they were at the university. People would talk, and gossip could be a frightening thing. She had never encountered such a situation yet, but she could imagine the consequences.

Her mobile phone suddenly lit up. A text message had noiselessly come in: Done your reviewing? TK

6:10 p.m. The time the two of them had agreed to. Everyday, from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 to 6:00 p.m., she needed to review and study, and text message communication between them was banned.

She picked up her mobile phone. Because she had been copying out concepts and notes, her fingers felt a little fatigued and weak. Still in this state, she began very slowly to type on her keyboard: Mm. Done studying now. What are you doing?

I’m waiting for you to finish studying. TK

Where are you?

Behind you. TK

Tong Yan paused in surprise and automatically turned her head to look back. Sure enough, she saw him sitting three rows behind her at the end of the table, except he was not looking in her direction. Instead, he was half-propping his head up with his hand while looking at the textbook the class prefect was holding up to him …

In the same instant she turned around, the class prefect also caught sight of her and said a few words to Gu Pingsheng. Then, Gu Pingsheng turned his head as well, his eyes filled with mirth as he looked at her, and nodding at the class prefect, he also spoke a few brief words.

Only after the two of them had walked over to where she was and had seated themselves next to her did Tong Yan grasp that their dear, respected class prefect was carrying out a great and worthy undertaking: attempting to find out final exam questions. From the moment he had taken his seat, Class Prefect had repeatedly signaled at her with his eyes, and the meaning behind it was very clear. He wanted Tong Yan to team up with him to try to get Gu Pingsheng to reveal in the conversation as many examination questions as possible …

“Tong Yan.” Class Prefect flipped through the Civil Procedure printed study material she was holding. “Tong Yan Wuji, don’t study procedural law now. The National Judicial Exam[2] is a long ways off still. We have this rare opportunity where we’ve run into Teacher Gu. Let’s ask a few more questions about this semester’s Commercial Arbitration.”

Tong Yan stole an inconspicuous peek over at Gu Pingsheng. His right elbow was resting on the table, and leaning sideways against it, he also took a glance at her.

“Teacher Gu, I personally feel that this particular concept is especially important.” Grinning, Class Prefect set down Tong Yan’s study material and continued with their previous topic.

“It is very important.” Gu Pingsheng also picked up the Civil Procedure study material and looked over the notes Tong Yan had written inside. While Class Prefect was waiting in eager anticipation, he added, “Actually, if you carefully review, you will discover that everything I talked about is very important.”

Tong Yan giggled in secret, watching as the class prefect opened and closed his mouth speechlessly and looked at her with a gaze of helplessness.

She had no choice but to put on an innocent, harmless front as she gave Gu Pingsheng an embarrassed smile. “Sorry, I still haven’t gotten around to reviewing for Commercial Arbitration …”

Class Prefect was utterly crestfallen now. Seeing that he had spoken to Gu Pingsheng for such a long time, yet still had not managed to glean any useful information, he very glumly gave the excuse that he needed to go for dinner and then left the both of them.

 

He set down the study material and then nonchalantly picked up her notebook.

“Preparing for the National Judicial Exam?”

She first gave an “mm-hmm” but then quickly added a nod of her head in answer. “I didn’t register to take it this year. I’m thinking of taking it in my fourth year of university. After spending four days reviewing for final exams, today I wanted to switch up what my brain was thinking on, so I pulled out Civil Procedures to read.”

He continued looking over the various notes she had written.

She had spent an entire afternoon studying already, and now her brain was rather sluggish. Sprawling herself over the table, she rested her head on her arm and watched him.

“In general, how many times do you need to read each article of law?” He pointed at the book of laws that was as thick as a brick.

She raised a solitary finger, proudly stating, “Once. I have a very good memory. For the more complicated ones, I’ll copy it down while I read, and for the most part, I won’t forget it for the next three or four years. If I come across something really important, I can even immediately state which specific book it came from and which page.”

There was amazement in his eyes, and she smiled even more proudly.

This sense of pride was different from the one that came from competition between fellow students. It was more similar to the time when, after memorizing her multiplication tables up to nine times nine, she, as a very young child had recited them to several mathematics teachers in the primary school Grandmother was teaching at, and then, she saw the smile within Grandmother’s eyes. The desire to be outstanding was only because she wanted the ones closest to her to be proud of her.

“Born to be a liberal arts student.” He made no attempt to hide his commendation.

Tong Yan smiled gently, bringing her hand down to secretly place it on top of his that was resting on his thigh. The instant she made contact, though, his hand turned over, caught her hand in his palm, and held it there firmly.

Behind him, there were still several male students who were studying. Even though, from this particular angle, the table was blocking their view so they could not see, she still felt extremely anxious. This action had originally been done in a half-joking manner … Gu Pingsheng was behaving as if nothing had happened, and with one hand, he continued to flip through that book filled with various laws.

“Which month is the exam going to be taking place in next year?”

“September.” Tong Yan’s heart was beating somewhat erratically. She tried to pull her hand back, but it was in vain. “Haven’t you taken it? It’s the same time every year … Shouldn’t have changed, right?”

He shook his head. “I’ve never taken it, and there seems to be little need for me to take it, either.”

Tong Yan remembered then that he was simply a university professor, and it seemed there was no requirement for him to have passed such a thing.

“I obtained bar admission to practice in three different states in the U.S., but now that I’ve come to China, there isn’t much use for that.” He seemed to think of something humorous and, with a chuckle, added, “Pingfan also had bar admission for two American states, but when she took China’s National Judicial Exam, she didn’t pass on the first try either. I think she had to take it twice.”

Tong Yan tried hard not to laugh but still was unable to contain her giggles. “Are you trying to help me not be anxious? …”

The entire time, he carried out a casual conversation with her. Subtly, Tong Yan shifted her fingers. She seemed to see him smile at this, but there was no indication that he intended to loosen his hold.

Normally, very few people would chat inside the library, but perhaps because it was dinnertime, both far and near, there were people conversing and laughing in low voices. Distractedly, she sat for another several minutes before finally begging for mercy. “Weren’t we going to have dinner? I’m hungry.”

He gazed amusedly at her. “No more putting up a fight?”

“No more …” She raised her white flag in surrender. Regardless of whether they were competing for the one with the greatest inner  composure or the thickest skin, she was completely trounced.

 

The two of them deliberately went to a place that was relatively further from the university, and only when they were nearly finished eating did she at last state the equivalent reward she wished to have for her one week of longsuffering studying. “I’ve been studying the whole week. I shouldn’t have anything to do tomorrow.”

It had been a full week since they had seen each other, so Saturday, she could just rest and spend some time with him. But in the end, though she believed she had thought through everything, she had not considered the possibility that she would merely be changing the location of where she would be studying. While she memorized from her books, he sat beside her and read.

He suddenly stretched out an arm to nonchalantly unwrap a milk candy[3], and holding the wrapper with the candy still on it, he fed the milky white sweetness into her mouth. “After we have dinner tonight, I’ll take you back to the school.” He seemed to notice that Tong Yan was happily enjoying the candy, so he unwrapped another one and popped it into his own mouth. A short while later, he said approvingly, “It does taste quite good.”

She threw a glance at the wrapper still in his hand. “What flavor did you eat?”

“I think it’s red bean.” He unfurled the wrapper and took a quick look at the name. “Since she was a kid, Pingfan has always liked eating White Rabbit candy. I remember that they were all white-coloured. I never knew that there were red ones now, too.”

She, too, had eaten them since she was a child, but she had never tried red bean flavor before … Turning around, she searched through the glass dish on the desk for a long time before giving him a resentful look. “You ate the last one. There’s yogurt and original flavour here but no red bean.”

White Rabbit milk candy (counter-clockwise from top): unwrapped milk candy (image credit), red bean flavour (image credit), examples of various flavours and packagings (image credit)

Smiling, he leaned against the edge of the desk. “No problem. You still have me.”


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After saying this, he pulled her over to himself, encircled her in his arms, and, lowering his head, began with great earnestness to help her “flavour” her lips …

They had both just finished eating milk candy, and their lips and teeth were coated with a saccharine sweetness. How could she possibly distinguish any flavour?

This place was not like the cinema. There was no beguiling lighting, nor a rapidly thumping heart that felt as if it was going to burst through the chest … Here, the two of them simply exchanged kisses, back and forth, enveloped together in that intense sweetness, with sometimes open eyes, sometimes closed eyes, but eyes that were filled only with the other person.

 

The sky had gradually fallen into darkness, and the entire room had grown dim.

Her lips were pressed together in a smile as she twisted her head away to the side. “I think I should go.”

“I bought a lot of food and ingredients yesterday evening. We’ll eat here at home first, and then I’ll take you back.”

Surprised, Tong Yan asked, “Who’s going to cook?”

With a chuckle, he countered, “You don’t know how to?”

“I do … but it doesn’t taste great.” Who springs a surprise like this on someone?

“No worries. It should taste better than whatever Pingfan cooks.” He finished saying this, but then added, “My cutting skills are very good.”

Who doesn’t know how to cut stuff up?

However, when she saw on the cutting board the julienned potato strips that were completely equal in width, thickness, and length, as well as the identically cut thin shreds of meat, she at last understood what he meant by “cutting skills are very good” …

“I’m used to using my left hand. Before, in order to improve the dexterity of my right one, I would purposely do some training.” Holding a relatively thin, long knife, he began to swiftly pare the skin from a luffa sponge gourd. “Everyday, I’d julienne twenty potatoes. That way, when I performed a surgery, I would be able to use both my left and right hands simultaneously to do things.”

His hands were very quick. Tong Yan thought of the sponge gourds she had pared in the past and how they had all been bumpy and irregular. But the skin of this light green one in his hand had been evenly removed, and it looked just right and completely flawless.

He had readied the ingredients for many dishes, but they ended up only cooking a small number of them.

After imperceptibly testing him by asking him a few questions, Tong Yan discovered that he, indeed, only knew how to do the cutting work and was not so all-competent that he could cook as well.

According to his own words, in the past, when he really wanted to eat Chinese cuisine, he would buy some hot sauce or something along those lines, throw it in with the other ingredients to cook, and that would be his dinner … But sometimes, when he came across Mexican chili peppers, his dinner would be much spicier than the spicy foods eaten in Chinese restaurants.

“At the time, I could taste absolutely nothing, just spiciness. Plus, there are a lot of hot sauces that have pepper extracts in them to make them even hotter.”

Listening to him as he spoke, she was not certain why but she felt that he very much needed someone to take care of him …

But yet, he plainly had so many outstanding qualities.

He was not a wasteful person and ate until all the dishes were completely clear of food before finally setting down his chopsticks.

Deliberately putting on a nonchalant front, Tong Yan began clearing the dishes while looking at him and saying, “From now on, every Saturday, I’ll come here and cook for you.”

He was about to pour her some hot water when he saw her say this, and abruptly, he halted his action.

“But I want to buy the groceries myself.” Though he could not hear, Tong Yan still unconsciously lowered her voice. “The things you bought are all stuff I’m not good at making …”

 

To “Wash Her Hands and Make Soup” (2)

When the final examinations for the multi-discipline common courses had ended, the Law Faculty took a one-week break.

Shen Yao took advantage of this one week of vacation time to fly directly to Changsha and spend a romantic week with Cheng Yu, leaving Tong Yan alone in the dormitory. Everyday, aside from studying, Tong Yan would go online to look up recipes, and after eliminating and discarding many, by Friday, she had gathered seven or eight different ones. None of them were very difficult, and building on her own foundation of cooking skills … her results this time should be a little tastier.

She had not expected that on Saturday morning, as she was preparing to head out, the door of their dormitory room opened.

That person who had rushed to Changsha for the sake of love had returned early.

“Why are you back? Didn’t you say you wouldn’t be back until Monday?”

“We had a quarrel.” Shen Yao’s lip turned down in a pout. “Where are you going? It’s Saturday today, isn’t it?”

With a vague answer that she was going to the library, Tong Yan picked up her bag and was about to run when Shen Yao unexpectedly pulled her back and looked at her grinningly. “Don’t rush off. I’m not questioning you.”

When she finished saying this, she pulled out a Nuan Bao Bao [Warm Baby] adhesive heat patch from her bag, ripped open the packaging, and, lifting up Tong Yan’s sweater, affixed it directly onto the blouse over Tong Yan’s stomach. “It’s so deathly cold outside. One of these will keep you warm for a whole day.”

Shen Yao liked to wear skirts and shorts in the winter, and she relied on this particular item to keep her warm and drive away the cold.

She had seen Shen Yao always use this. However, the price it sold at in the supermarkets was not cheap, so she had merely thought that it was interesting and had never considered using the item herself. Now that it was adhered onto her, though, she discovered that it actually was very warm and made a person feel much more comfortable.

暖宝宝 Nuan Bao Bao adhesive heat packs. Images fromnuanbaobao.com

 

On and off, rain fell for an entire week, and truly, it was extremely chilly.

The supermarket, though, was very lively.

Pushing a shopping cart, Gu Pingsheng walked beside her, and as she looked at the vegetables and fruit, he nodded at everything she showed him. After they had bought all the necessary ingredients, he very quickly led her over to the snack section.

Red, orange, yellow, and green packages. In the entire supermarket, this section was the most colourful.

The candied fruits and candy were sold at a separate counter.

An old Shanghainese lady stood there in front of a square display cabinet, and very enthusiastically she took a pair of scissors, cut the dried, salted dark plum in her hand, and handed the pieces towards Gu Pingsheng and Tong Yan. “It tastes very good. Hurry, give it a try.”

Seeing that she had already cut it, Tong Yan felt bad if she did not have any, and so, she took a small piece in her fingers and put it in her mouth.

盐津乌梅 “yan jin wu mei.” Dried, salted dark plums (image credit)

“Little girl, it tastes good, yes?” the old woman asked her.

With a querying look, she glanced at Gu Pingsheng and watched as he ate one and then answered offhandedly, “It tastes pretty good.”


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His words were spoken calmly and lightly, but his eyes were filled with obvious mirth. Tong Yan recalled the scene brought about by the White Rabbit candy and her cheeks flushed slightly, but before she could say anything, the old lady had pulled out a piece of dried mango and snipped off a corner for him to eat.

Ones that could be soaked in water, ones that could be eaten dry. He watched the elderly woman speak for a while and then, just like that, he weighed out seven or eight bags of candied fruit …

At his home, Tong Yan had basically not seen any snack foods, and she had not expected that he would actually like to eat these sorts of things. Tugging on his arm, she said, “I think that should be about good … There should be enough for you to eat for several months.”

“I’m buying it for you.” He could not hold back a chuckle. “I usually don’t eat these candied fruits or other candies. These last few days, when you were studying, didn’t you say you couldn’t absorb what you were reading? Eating these candied fruits, which have an intense flavour, can stimulate your sense of taste and will help improve your focus and concentration.”

She stared in surprise at the seven or eight bags of candied fruit in the cart. Ever since she was a child, she, too, had never had the habit of eating snack foods, and there were so many here that even when she graduated from university, they still would not be finished off.

“Young man.” Looking as if she was presenting a treasure, the elderly woman pointed at a glass box of lollipops and said, “This one has been selling really well lately, and they are all young girls who like to eat it. It’s made of brown sugar. When young girls eat it, it helps enrich and nourish their blood[1] and improves their energy. There’s also huamei[2][preserved plums] inside, so it’s a little sour, perfect for helping your girlfriend stay alert and refreshed when she studies.”

“Sure. Could you get me a jar of them?”

Gu Pingsheng took it directly from her and placed it into the shopping cart.

As she stared at that jar packed full of lollipops, not knowing whether she should laugh or cry, Tong Yan discovered that he was actually very easily roped into buying things people were trying to sell to him.

 

 

They had come here to buy ingredients to cook, but the end result was a cart filled with snack foods. While Gu Pingsheng was not paying attention, though, she truly could not stop herself and pulled out one or two items, randomly stuffing them onto shelves.

Unexpectedly, there was a couple that, like them, was also shopping without restraint. The boy was doing the same thing as Tong Yan, stealthily slipping a box of potato chips onto a display cart of items that were on discount, while the girl was looking nonstop at the fresh snack foods and placing some into their shopping cart.

Tong Yan and the boy glanced at one another, exchanging a smile, before she turned her head back to look at Gu Pingsheng, who was standing beside a shelf with lowered eyes and reading over food descriptions.

Such a stubborn fanatic who was so serious about things, such that, for everything, he liked to carefully read over their compositions. With someone like that around her, she reckoned that, after a long enough time, her own ability to think would probably decline.

Was this habitual dependence? Her heart all of a sudden seemed to soften. Walking over to his side, she suddenly spotted, underneath the shelf, a can that had an obvious, slight bulge, so she picked it up and tossed it into their cart.

Gu Pingsheng looked at her.

“It might have gone bad. I’ll take it to the front counter and have them recycle it.” She had a sudden desire to show off her knowledge. “A bulging can indicates that the food has already oxidized and gone bad, and it can’t be eaten anymore, right?”

When she read the newspaper in the past, in a corner, there would always be something written on general knowledge of everyday life, and she would occasionally remember the odd sentence or two.

However, he only smiled. “Do you want me to say you’re right, or that you’re not right?”

She paused in surprise. “That can’t be wrong, can it? I read it from the newspaper …”

“It is indeed unsafe for consumption.” He placed an attractive-looking package of whole-grain crackers into the shopping cart and very naturally began pushing it with both hands, explaining to her as they walked, “However, it is bulging outwards because of gas production from bacterial growth, and therefore, it is unsafe from a microbiological perspective and not because of oxidation causing the food to deteriorate.”

“Teacher Gu, are you all-competent?”

Patting her on the top of her head, he answered concisely, “I can’t cook.”

While they were lining up to checkout, the previous young couple coincidentally was standing in the adjacent line, their cart filled with snacks and frozen foods as well as beverages. The two were continuously selecting and picking items up and, amidst their little bickers and squabbles, continuously placing all sorts of jars and cans in an empty cart.

In the end, the boy glanced over in their direction and hissed, “Look at those people. They actually cook. We’re just buying frozen dumplings …”

The girl also took a glimpse at the shopping cart in front of Gu Pingsheng and giggled, “Then you go learn. When you were courting me, didn’t you say you’d make Sichuan dishes for me to eat?”

The two continued to murmur between themselves, and Tong Yan listened in on them, finding them amusing. Gu Pingsheng’s arm was around her shoulder as he mouthed the question, “What are they saying?”

Half-tilting her head up, Tong Yan grinned and also silently formed her words back at him. “The girl is forcing the boy to learn how to cook.”

Gu Pingsheng’s lips pressed together and curled up on one side as he put on a helpless expression. “Don’t force me.”

Gazing at the look in his eyes, Tong Yan suddenly felt a sense of accomplishment in herself, and slipping her arm through his, she copied his expression, saying, “Rest assured. So long as I’m here, there will not be a day that you will have to cook for yourself.”

 

During middle and high school, Grandmother’s health had not been very good and frequently had to stay in the hospital, but prior to her stays, she would leave a fridge full of food and ingredients for her. They were all things that could not possibly be any simpler to prepare and cook. At the time, the elderly woman loved to tell her that she must learn to cook so that when she was married, she would not be spurned. But back then, Lu Bei utterly spoiled her, and any time she mentioned cooking, Lu Bei had always said, “I’ll do it. I’ll do all the cooking.”

She had had no qualms or guilt about it then. Who does not like being spoiled and doted on? Now, though, she discovered that, to be able to spoil someone was actually a very nice thing also.

Before they left, she also deliberately picked up a soymilk machine and hugged it in her arms while unashamedly letting Gu Pingsheng pay for it.

When the two of them were finally home, it was already past one o’clock in the afternoon. There was not enough time to cook lunch, so she ripped open a plastic package and cooked some noodles that had been made fresh onsite at the supermarket.

Two heaping bowls of noodles were served up, each with plenty of Lao Gan Ma [Old Godmother] Spicy Chili Crisp sauce and green vegetables added in, as well as an egg and some luncheon meat. Watching him eat and seeing that the food seemed to appeal to his tastes, Tong Yan made up an excuse, saying she could not eat any more. With her chopsticks, she took plenty of her own noodles and put it into his bowl.

老干妈 Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp sauce (image credit)

The end result was, she was not full, and her studying did not even persist until four o’clock before she started to take the soybeans, which had been soaking for the last three hours, and put them into the soymilk machine. Grabbing one of those lollipops that supposedly enriched the blood and nourished the skin, she popped it into her mouth to help cut the hunger cravings.

After she had finished sautéing Sichuan peppercorn, star anise, and some other ingredients and had begun stewing the beef, she finally trotted back to the study to check in on Gu Pingsheng.

He was looking at his computer and reading some documents and reference materials.

Stealthily, Tong Yan snuck over, and from behind one side of him, she leaned forward over his shoulder to look at what he was reading. Because she was still holding her lollipop in her mouth, the white plastic stick on the end accidentally brushed against his ear. And then … she was caught.

“What are you cooking? It smells so good.” He casually pulled her onto his lap.

“Beef stewed with potatoes. Didn’t you say you like to eat spicy stuff? I’m making it the way they do over in Sichuan.” Her lollipop in hand, she could not help giving it another lick. “I don’t know if it’ll taste good or not, but at least when I was sautéing up the ingredients, it smelled really good.”

He seemed to be very interested, and since Tong Yan was also in the midst of preparing a table full of dishes and was terribly excited about it, she went ahead and gave a detailed description of what was on the menu for the night. It sounded very enticing, but at the very end, she added a caveat: “It’s my first time making them. I don’t know if they’ll taste good or not.”

She said this diffidently, but the person who was being treated like he was a lab rat was listening with great interest. As he adjusted her position on his lap slightly, his arm happened to rest across her stomach.

She was about to say more, but his brows suddenly creased together and he interrupted, “Right here, you seem to have something that’s emitting heat.”

She did not comprehend and looked at him puzzledly. It was only when he patted her on her stomach did Tong Yan suddenly clue in. “It’s a Nuan Bao Bao heat patch. It’s for … for girls to stick on themselves. In the winter, they’re used to withstand the cold and keep warm.”

If he had not mentioned it, she would have already forgotten about this thing that had given her warmth for an entire day.

He seemed to be amused by what he heard. “May I have a look?”


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Sure, he could have a look … But it was just a thing that looked like a white, medicinal patch stuck on top of her blouse … There really was nothing worth looking at.

Tong Yan lifted up her sweater self-consciously to reveal the Nuan Bao Bao heat patch adhered to her blouse. And it was a white, heat-emitting … little medicinal patch-like thingy.

When his palm covered that entire white area, however, she gave a start.

In this quiet room, for him to suddenly do this type of action … Tong Yan pressed her lips together. If he wanted to …

“How long have you had this on?” His tone unexpectedly changed, and he looked at her as he asked this.

“A day.” Her thoughts were still drifting and without much focus, she gave an estimate. “About ten hours.”

“Next time, if you’re really cold, stick it on this spot.” Gu Pingsheng had soon peeled off the heat patch and re-adhered it at a position below her left shoulder, explaining the reason in way that was easy to understand. “All your blood passes by this location as it flows out from your heart to the rest of your body. That’s why, if this spot on you is warm, your entire body will slowly start to warm up, too.”

She had read the instructions on the packaging of Shen Yao’s several large packs of Nuan Bao Bao heat patches, but they had either recommended the lower abdomen or the bottom of the foot. None had ever recommended adhering it onto this position.

Tong Yan gazed at him with a worshipful look. The all-competent treasury of knowledge was beginning to demonstrate his charm and allure again.

While her idolization of him was still continuing its upwards spiral, he suddenly reached out his arm in a very natural motion and lifted up the bottom of her blouse … Her belly instantly felt cool. All she could feel, however, was her entire body’s blood rushing up to her cheeks, and she nearly leapt off of him.

“It’s a little red.” His voice was warm and gentle and also somewhat resigned. “Next time, don’t keep it on for so long. At this sort of temperature, it’s very easy to get a low temperature burn …”

He logically spoke a few more sentences, his manner utterly and ridiculously solemn.

Embarrassed, Tong Yan sat there on his lap, and even when he had lowered the bottom of her blouse again, she still remained properly seated, her entire body stiff.

Other thoughts truly had not even crossed Gu Pingsheng’s mind, but seeing her eyes constantly evading his, he found this rather fun and amusing. “When you go to the hospital for your check-up, don’t you often have to remove your clothing?”

Was that even the same?

His teasing left Tong Yan even more tongue-tied, so she simply bit down on her lollipop and swiftly fled the scene. “It’s about time. I’m going to go check on the beef.” But she had just taken a single step when, unexpectedly, he pulled her back.

His voice was there beside her ear, low, and somewhat coaxing and reassuring. “Don’t go thinking in the wrong direction.”

 

To “Wash Her Hands and Make Soup” (3)

Aromas from the kitchen came wafting in in waves.

Turning her head away to the side, she stared at the light of the kitchen and murmured under her breath, “You clearly just did something bad, and then you go pretending to be innocent.”

He let his chin rest upon her shoulder and then exaggeratedly breathed in the aromas. “What are you saying behind my back?”

She shook her head, also feigning innocence.

Gu Pingsheng suddenly sniffed at the air again. “I think I smell something burning.”

Tong Yan cried out in alarm, and when she dashed over, she discovered that, sure enough, the beef was burnt.

And so, just like that, her first time stewing beef ended up as an offering to the garbage can.

Originally, she had wanted to simply remove the burnt sections, and, though it would be scraping by, there would at least still be some left. Gu Pingsheng, though, very adamantly educated her that eating burnt food could cause cancer, thereby successfully crushing all her thoughts of being able to manage the home diligently and frugally.

Fortunately, there will still a few other dishes.

In particular, there was something she was certain he would like.

Soft, silken tofu pudding with cilantro sprinkled on top and mixed with a “thousand year sauce[1].”

Tong Yan set it down in front of him. It definitely tasted pretty good. She had secretly had a taste.

Smiling, Gu Pingsheng picked up a spoon and ate a couple of spoonfuls. Then, he ate another couple of spoonfuls, all the while not lifting his head. Hence, she was not able to ask him anything and could only pull over a chair to take a seat and watch him in eager anticipation.

From this angle, she could see he was smiling, his dimple etched deeply on his cheek.

She propped her chin up on her hand and gazed at him until he had finished eating his entire bowl of savoury tofu pudding. When he lifted his head to look at her, she finally could ask, “Taste good?”

“Tastes very good.” He pulled out a napkin and wiped his mouth. “Extremely good.”

A single affirmation of “tastes good” caused her to be exhilarated for a long time. Even after they had finished dinner, when she was watching him wash the dishes, she still could not help secretly delighting in it.

 

Gu Pingsheng’s home was not far from the store where she worked her part-time job. ‘On Monday, he had already suggested to Tong Yan that she stay over at his home on Saturday night, and that way, she could sleep in a little longer on Sunday morning.

In the beginning, she had felt a little shy about this, but after thinking it over, she concluded that it was not a big deal.

However, when she was actually standing in his bathroom, hugging her clothing to herself and getting ready to take a shower, she at last realized that it really was a big deal. So nervous. Honestly, so nervous. Fortunately, the water temperature was warm enough, and he had prepared all the necessary things for her.

The entire showering process basically went smoothly, and no unexpected incidents occurred.

Only after she had put on all of her clothing did she face the mirror and breathe out in relief.

A foggy layer of condensation covered the mirror, and because the temperature of the room was very high, there were no indications at all that it would be dissipating. Stretching out her hand, she randomly drew a couple of scribbles on the glass, and then, somehow, as if guided by a supernatural force, she wrote the character of his surname, “Gu.”

Before she had the chance to actually admire her own calligraphy, in an instant, blackness fell before her eyes, leaving her in shock.

A power blackout? In this day and age, there were still power blackouts?!

Instinctively, she called out, “Teacher Gu,” but then immediately, she understood that it would be no use. After several seconds, her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and she moved to open the door. When her hand contacted the handle, knocking suddenly sounded out on the door. “Tong Yan?”

His voice was rather loud, and it seemed to contain a slight anxiousness in it.

Hurriedly, she opened the door and then saw, in the darkness, him looking at her.

“There might be a power outage,” he said.

“Can you see me speaking?” she asked.

It was quite dark here, and there was no natural light. It should be very difficult.

As predicted, when he realized that she was speaking, he at once told her, “Let me find some things that have a light source. Right now, if you speak, I won’t be able to see you.”

She nodded with a large, exaggerated motion, then turned around, picked up the towel on the bathroom counter, and wrapped it around her dripping wet hair.

In the same vein as how, in this day and age, power outages do not occur, most people also do not keep candles on hand anymore.

He searched for a long while but was unable to find any source of light, and finally, he could only pull out his mobile phone, turn on the flashlight function, and set it on the coffee table.

“Would you like me to get you some more dry towels?” He could see that her hair was still wet.

She had originally brought a hairdryer, but since there was no electricity, she could only rely on the most primitive method now. “Sure. One or two will be enough.”

In the end, Gu Pingsheng brought over one very large, white bath towel.

She took it from him and began very meticulously rubbing her hair, trying hard to remove all the water content. Due to the overcast sky, outside, it was shadowy and moonless. Inside, there was only the light from his mobile phone. While she massaged her hair dry with the towel, he simply sat there and stayed with her.

“Come, let me hold you,” he suddenly spoke up.

Tong Yan paused momentarily in surprise, then very obediently set down her towel, shifted over until she was beside him, and stretched out her arms to encircle his waist.

In the darkness, Gu Pingsheng took her into his arms. Tong Yan could hear that his heartbeat was somewhat uneven, but her heartbeat was possibly even more erratic than his. Slowly, the sound of the beating heart beside her ear started to become more regular, steady, and strong.

Separated from her by only a single shirt, his body temperature, which gave such a comforting feeling, and his scent, so faint that it almost did not exist, also caused her heartbeat to gradually quiet down.

“I was thinking about my mother.” The tone he used was rather neutral, but within his voice, a tinge of sorrow could be heard. “On the day of her mishap, I actually could have discovered even earlier that something was wrong. If I had been just a bit more aware, a bit more attentive, if I had truly listened carefully to the sounds that were coming from her room, perhaps she may not have left this world so early.”

He spoke very vaguely, omitting many of the details.

 

The sound of knocking at the front door rang out, and from outside the door, someone inquired, “Is Mr. Gu there?”

Tong Yan instinctively shifted slightly. Detecting her motion, he asked her, “What’s the matter?”

She hesitated for half a second before lifting her face to look at him. “Nothing.”

Upon saying this, she lowered her head again, burrowing her face against his chest and hugging his waist tightly.

For some people, to stir a chord in them such that they will open up and speak what is on their hearts is very difficult. Tong Yan felt that both he and she were such people. And so, she had not wanted to interrupt what he was saying.

The building’s management personnel continued to knock on the door a couple more times. It seemed someone was saying that Mr. Gu had returned home this afternoon and was likely asleep already, or something along those lines. Very soon, quietness was restored.

“From now on, when you’re here at home, if you’re in a certain room, turn on its light. Then, if you feel unwell or if there’s an emergency, just press the light switch. Once I see there is no light, I will come over,” he told her, changing the subject. “Okay?”

Something in her heart seemed to silently melt. Using her index finger, she wrote on his back, “OK.”

“Are you sleepy?” He seemed to be amused as he asked softly, “How come you’re not even bothering to lift your head and talk?” Tong Yan nuzzled her cheek against his shirt, not speaking.

He touched her hair. It was still wet. “I’ll help you rub your hair some more. If you sleep with it wet like this, it’s easy to get migraines.”

Still, she did not speak. She felt one of his arms loosen its embrace on her, and picking up the towel that had been tossed off to the side, he began to massage her hair with it. She was the one who was obviously being cared for right now, but echoing repeatedly through Tong Yan’s mind were the brief words he had spoken on that topic about his mother.

Unable to hold back a sense of heartache, she at last sat up slowly from his embrace.

He, too, had just taken a shower, but due to his hair’s short length, it was nearly dry. Because he was tilting his head downwards to look at her, his hair fell down softly across his forehead and partly concealed his eyes.

She remembered, many years ago, as he sat outside the doors of the ICU, it had been the same. Perhaps because he had been younger at the time, his hair had been even longer, completely concealing more than half his face, and no expression could be seen.            .

The “him” sitting before her seemed to superimpose itself on the “him” of the past.

Suddenly, she reached forward and cupped Gu Pingsheng’s face between her hands, closing her eyes and bringing her face up to kiss him.

But what followed after was somewhat of a blur in her memory. She had been the one to initiate the kiss, but in the end, his arms were wrapped around her waist and, with her body snug against his chest, he had taken all her breath away in a deep kiss.

There was the fresh taste of toothpaste in his mouth — mint — and even after they briefly separated, she could still feel a slightly cool tingling on her own lips.

 

“What are you trying to do?” Meticulously, he brushed kisses around the outline of her lips, as if he was having candy.

She only smiled, extending out the tip of her tongue and entangling it with his for several seconds before leaning back into the couch and breathing out heavily. “Don’t go thinking in the wrong direction.”

The same sentence he had spoken this afternoon she now threw back to him in its entirety.

“Alright, I won’t think in the wrong direction.” Gu Pingsheng was also smiling. He then took her into his arms, brushed the firm tip of his nose against hers, and, tilting his head to the side, brought their lips together, continuously deepening the connection. Tong Yan’s back was pressed against the couch, and the sounds of their two heartbeats blended together. She surmised that there was no force that could settle this tumultuous sound.

She was sharing a room with him, and hence, she dared not turn over in bed too much and was also unable to sleep. Suffering all the way through until past six o’clock, she finally managed to doze off for half an hour. However, before she had even seen the Duke of Zhou’s[2] shadow [truly fallen into a good sleep], he was already waking her up again …

 

The next day, while Tong Yan was sitting in the corner of a dining area eating leftovers from the previous night’s meal, she recalled something that he had said.

They had actually only been together as a couple for a very short period of time, but everything had happened so naturally.

Their first date. Their first kiss.

Last night, she had even thought that he really would do something.

But in the end, he had only let go of her and went to pour a glass of water. Only when they were about to sleep had he finally brought up that, although he was not a Christian or Catholic, he very much believed in one of their statements.

When she curiously asked him further, he sat down on the edge of the bed and in the darkness, told her this:

“God created sex and gave it as a gift to mankind, but only in marriage is it the most intimate expression of love. Outside of marriage, any type of sexual act is wrong.” He had given her another deep kiss before saying quietly, “Unless you very much want to … But at the very least, we still need to wait until you are no longer my student.”

Even as Tong Yan thought about it now, a slight warmth rose into her cheeks, and she stabbed at her rice with her chopsticks.

Have I ever shown that I very much want to? …



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