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Together Forever - Chapter 9


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

Chapter 9

I Can Hear You (1)


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During that last week of examinations, more and more people began to leave to head home.

Every year, for the winter and summer breaks, someone from the Beijing Students’ Association would be in charge of booking tickets back to Beijing, and so, a large part of the train car would be filled with familiar friends and people, all talking and laughing until the next morning.

This year, she had also reserved her ticket in advance. When Gu Pingsheng asked her whether she wanted to go back to Beijing together with him, she suddenly realized that he was returning to the same city as her.

With her pen, she crossed off the last day of this semester.

Nineteen weeks. One hundred and thirty-three days.

When Gu Pingsheng arrived, it had been the first day of a new semester and the first class of the morning.

She could still remember, that day, the weather had been very nice. The morning sunlight had shone in through the window, and he had been completely enveloped in its glow. Casually, he had held the chalk and written his name: Gu Pingsheng.

The tip of her pen slid over her yearly calendar and stopped inside one of the small grids. Inside the square for December 24th, she drew a heart, then used her pen and colored it in.

 

“Is Tong Yan there?” Someone suddenly knocked on the door. It was Wen Jingjing.

Shen Yao initially had grumbled about Wen Jingjing’s request to move to a different dormitory room, but eventually, it faded from her mind.

University was unlike middle and high school where they would all study together everyday from morning to night. Shen Yao and Xiaoru were both the type who did not really attend class, and as a result, because they were not staying together in the same room with Wen Jingjing anymore, they gradually drifted apart from her. In contrast, because of that night’s conversation where she had poured out her troubles, Jingjing was still very close to Tong Yan.

Tossing down her pen, Tong Yan opened the door and looked at her with a smile. “How did you know I’m here?

Wen Jingjing put on a mysterious, knowing smile. “Aren’t you like this every year? You always leave here a little later than other people.”

“I leave together with the people from the Beijing Students’ Association, so of course I have to wait until everyone has finished their exams.” Tong Yan turned around and walked back into the room. Rummaging around on her desk, she pulled out some tasty snacks. Right as she turned around and was about to hand them to her, she saw Gu Pingsheng and the teacher who was the sponsor of their class walk in together …

“Class Sponsor wants to check on and convey his regards to fellow students who haven’t left yet. He happened to bump into Teacher Gu, so they came together,” Wen Jingjing explained.

Though he was called the class sponsor in charge of their class, in fact, he was one of the former graduate students of their faculty who had just graduated and had remained at the school as one of the faculty administrative teachers. A boy with a shy smile, but yet, he walked in here now with an air of seriousness, inquiring on how she was doing. Tong Yan was holding a handful of lollipops and did not have a chance to set them down, but yet she also felt it would be inappropriate to give them to Jingjing right in front of Gu Pingsheng.

Gu Pingsheng’s manner was serious and proper as well, and he merely removed his black, leather gloves and casually slipped them into the pocket of his coat.

Tong Yan seemed to suddenly remember something. Hastily, she stuffed the lollipops over to Wen Jingjing, gesturing to her that it was for her to eat to quell any cravings. Then, she casually leaned against the desk, feeling around behind her until she found her own pair of light blue gloves and dropped them into the drawer.

These two sets of gloves were actually a matching his and hers pair and were a New Year’s gift from him.

 

“Your dormitory room … has always been this messy?” Class Sponsor cleared his throat, asking his question very discreetly.

Tong Yan’s eyes surveyed the room. When those two girls had finished their packing and left, they had also left behind an awful mess. Slippers had been thrown haphazardly everywhere, and the clothing they were not planning on wearing was piled on top of a chair. There was even an open thermos flask with its plastic stopper tossed on the table, and it was not known when the flask had been filled with the water that was currently inside …

“They left in a hurry and didn’t get a chance to tidy up.”

After she said this, she hastily stuffed a few articles of clothing into Shen Yao’s closet.

This was completely a raw, unedited shot of the scene immediately before the holidays. She was already long accustomed to it, but to have this sight seen by two male teachers was still very inappropriate — especially when he was one of them.

She supposed that the class sponsor had never been in a girl’s dormitory room before, and after talking for three minutes, he stood and said he needed to go look in on other dorms. As Jingjing and the class sponsor stepped out the door, Gu Pingsheng told them in a very neutral tone to leave first because he needed to head over to Administration. Tong Yan glanced calmly at him and after very politely stating, “Goodbye, Teachers,” she closed the door. However, she left it so that it was not completely latched.

Before ten seconds had passed, the door was pushed open again. She was still standing there in the same spot, beamingly watching as Gu Pingsheng closed the door behind him.

Smiling, he stretched out his arm and touched her face. His hand was so cold.

Tong Yan’s lips parted in a grimace from the chill, but she did not try to evade his hand. “Is it that cold outside?”

“Your phone’s not on?” he suddenly inquired.

“No, that can’t be, can it?” Tong Yan turned around to get her mobile phone, but he pulled her back and lifted her straight up into his arms. Scared of falling, Tong Yan threw her arms around his neck while her legs wrapped around his waist so that she hung from him like a koala.

“No need to look. Your mobile phone’s battery must be dead again.” He continued, “I’ve been standing outside for an hour, and your classmates have been taking turns asking me about their final exam marks. Aren’t you curious?”

“Lower your voice a bit. There’s just a single door.” She was nervous someone on the other side of the door would hear them, and in a quiet voice, she replied, “Even if I ask, it’d be no use. You definitely won’t be more lenient on me.”

He laughed, his dimple clearly visible.

“But, I studied very hard for your class.” Filled with confidence, she gazed directly at him. “It’s definitely ninety percent or higher.”

“Ninety-four percent.” Sure enough, he lowered the volume of his voice.

“Really?”

“Really.” While he was speaking, he had already walked further inside and set her down on top of the desk. “I specifically added up your marks a second time. It is indeed ninety-four percent.”

“Specifically added them up a second time?”

With an “mm,” he told her, “Don’t forget, in my class at the start of the school year, you didn’t even know what the general concept behind ‘commercial arbitration’ was …”

Because they were worried people outside the door would hear, their voices were very soft. As he spoke, he examined the random little decorations she had on her desk, and with great interest, he picked up a picture frame. This was a frame Tong Yan had made herself, and on it were seven or eight photo stickers of herself …

Looking at one of them where she had short, ear-length hair, Gu Pingsheng asked her, “How old were you in this one?”

“Thirteen. It was the year I met you.” He peeled that one off and pulled out his wallet. Inside, there was a photograph of Gu Pingsheng, and he stuck that childish photo sticker of her onto it.

Tong Yan was rather curious and taking it from him, she studied that picture of him. Lifting her head, she asked, “This was when you were in university in London?”

“It was when I was in Penn. The year I met you.”

She nodded, then tilted her head down again to carefully examine the “him” of that time. He wore a faded, white pair of jeans and a dark blue polo shirt, and his arm did not have a tattoo yet … It should have been taken before his mother passed away.

Tong Yan pulled the photo sticker of herself off of it again and handed it to him, but his photograph remained in her hand. “Could you give this to me?”

He gave a little laugh, not saying anything in reply.

 

Afterwards, the two of them went and ate something out in the city core, and then he accompanied her to the train station.

It was nearing the Lunar New Year, and hence, there was a sea of people at the train station. Worried that the schoolmates whom she was travelling with would see him, she could only say her goodbyes to him in an inconspicuous corner out in front of the entrance to the railway station.

When she was on the train, somebody asked her out of nosy curiosity, “Tong Yan, I thought I saw you just a moment ago. Did your boyfriend come to see you off?”

Tong Yan gave a vague “mm-hmm” in answer and took a seat.

The people in the train car, whether they were standing or sitting, were all familiar faces. The ones who were behaving particularly excitedly were first and second year university students, while in comparison, the third year or higher students were much calmer. Sitting beside her were several fourth year students who were all discussing matters regarding finding work, and the term most often brought up was the “Big 4[1].”

“Four years ago, when I had just entered first year university, it was still the ‘Big 5’ accounting firms. In front of her, someone from the Faculty of Management laughingly recollected, “Later, in that same year, one of those firms fell, and it became the ‘Big 4.’ Back then, I felt that this term seemed so distant, but when I started looking for a job, I discovered that it was actually very near and accessible to me.”

“Yeah. In this last year, I’ve grown numb from hearing about them in campus recruitment seminars.”


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“Tong Yan, you should be heading into internship, right?” somebody suddenly asked her.

Tong Yan nodded. “I have one more semester and then I’ll be on internship. I still don’t know where I’m going.”

Back in high school, you would always feel that, once you got into university, you had accomplished all that you needed to do. However, after hurriedly and busily studying your way through to third year, you finally realized that your student days, just like that, were coming to an end, yet you still had not found your direction for the days of your life that would be following.

Into the second half of the night, many people were asleep. A boy in first-year university had come with a guitar strapped across his back in a very artsy-youth type of style, and now, surrounded by several enthusiastic girls, he was lightly playing a tune.

The unique ambience that a train carries made such a scene seem so very romantic.

Gazing at the darkness outside the window, she remembered that many years ago, Lu Bei had done the same. At the Lunar New Year’s party that year, each class was reveling in its own festivities, but with a guitar slung on his back, he had walked in on her class, saying he was there to pay New Year’s greetings to his wifey’s “family.” The entire class had erupted into an uproar of teasing heckles that nearly overturned the entire high school campus …

Later on, she had thought it seemed fun, and so for a long period of time, she had learned the guitar from Lu Bei. However, she only learned to play a few songs that she liked to sing.

Talent is something that absolutely cannot be forced.

The boy seemed to have switched to play a different tune now. Tong Yan glanced at her mobile phone. It was past three o’clock in the morning already. He should be sleeping?

While she was thinking this, a text message suddenly showed up: Asleep? TK

Such a coincidence.

Tong Yan could not help smiling, and swiftly, she replied to him: Nope. A boy beside me, a junior schoolmate, is playing the guitar. He’s much better than me.

You know how to play the guitar? TK

Yup. Well, I wouldn’t say I know how. I just know a few simple accompaniments.

I have a girlfriend who can play the guitar? That sounds pretty good. TK

Once again, she could not hold back the smile that broke across her face. Beside her, a female senior schoolmate who had been in a half doze opened her eyes and happened to see her. Unable to restrain her gleeful laughter, she teased groggily, “You’re smiling so lustily. Kids that are smitten with love are so blissful.”

Tong Yan did not utter a reply. With her head resting against the icy glass, out of the blue, a thought popped into her head. She hesitated for several minutes before typing out a text message: Have you ever had a girlfriend before?

Immediately after she sent it off, she regretted her action. That question truly had not been filtered through the brain before she asked it.

A long while passed before he finally sent a reply back: Yes. Do you need a detailed account? TK

He was even offering a detailed account?

For a moment, Tong Yan felt amused exasperation but she could not quell her curiosity either: Yes.

How detailed?

…… Up to you.

She waited with her mobile phone in hand for a long time, but still, he did not reply.

Tong Yan was feeling a little jealous. Wait, no, she was very jealous.

Another while passed, but there was still no update from him. How much of a history did he have to have to need that much time to put together a reply? At last, she simply could not take it anymore and sent another follow-up question:You need to reminisce for that long?

This time, his response came very quickly: I was making coffee just now. TK

I thought you don’t drink coffee?

Occasionally I will have some. For instance, tonight, I need the energy to keep you company. TK

Such simple and ordinary words, yet Tong Yan read them over several times.

 

“Senior sister.” Those girls unexpectedly turned their eyes on her. “Do you want to sing a song?”

“Me?” Tong Yan shook her head.

“Senior sister, I honestly went silly with amazement when I heard your performance of ‘Without You’ that night at the Welcome Gala,” one of the girls suddenly jumped in to say. “How about a live version of it here?”

Tong Yan quickly shook her head in response. “We’ll just let that idea slide. If I end up waking them up, they won’t let me off the hook for sure.”

But before she had finished saying this, the fourth year female schoolmate beside her opened her eyes and blearily began to harass her in joking tones, “We’ve been sitting so long our backs are sore. Who can possibly sleep? Hurry, bring on some lullabies. We’ll just forget about ‘Without You’, though. The train attendants would lock you up for sure.”

After this senior sister had finished speaking, those nearby who had previously looked as if they were fast asleep all piped up and joined in with the heckling.

Unable to back out of it, Tong Yan had no choice but to set her phone down on the table and say, “Could you hand me the guitar for me to try?”

The boy looked at her in surprise and passed the guitar over to her. Tong Yan familiarized herself with it for a little while before saying rather apologetically, “I only know very simple accompaniments for a few songs, and I haven’t touched a guitar for many years now.”

She chose the song she was most familiar with, “My All”, and softly began humming. Fortunately, the people here basically all knew each other, and no one would file a complaint on her.

The hum of the train moving over the tracks was like an accompaniment. Even when she occasionally hit the wrong notes in some spots, nobody was really bothered by it. In the end, when Tong Yan handed the guitar back to the boy, he began asking her several questions in a row. Tong Yan hurriedly explained, “I honestly only know one or two songs. I’m absolutely incapable of doing a real solo or something like that. Please don’t ask anymore.”

“You definitely should not have studied law.” The senior sister gave a laugh and then pointed at her mobile phone on the table. “I think you got a text.”

Upon saying this, the senior sister picked up both of their cups and went to get some hot water.

Tong Yan picked up her mobile phone and took a look. Sure enough, there was one unread message: Are you mad? TK

No. I was forced just now to perform a show …

What sort of show? TK

Singing “My All” while playing the accompaniment.

The senior sister handed a cup of hot water to her. Tong Yan took it from her and took a couple of sips.

She opened up the newest unread text message: “My All”? I am thinking of you in my sleepless solitude tonight. TK

This was the first line of lyrics in “My All.” She thought he was trying to confirm whether this was the song, and she very naturally replied with “Mm-hmm.” But after she had sent it, she realized that this particular line of lyrics evoked a very lovely connotation …

 

 I Can Hear You (2)

I miss you, too.

She pieced together these words but then wavered for a long time before finally steeling herself and sending it out. Her cheek was pressed against the window, but this still could not suppress the bursts of heat that rushed upwards to her face. So really sappy. So sappy even she, herself couldn’t take it … Perhaps he had fallen asleep because he did not send any more text messages in reply.

 

Tong Yan leaned against the train window and also drowsily dozed off. When she awoke again, it was already past seven o’clock. She glanced at her mobile phone. Still no messages.

She found this rather peculiar. Normally, Gu Pingsheng’s routine was very healthy and regular, and he would usually be awake and out of bed at 6:30 a.m. …


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While she was staring at her mobile phone, lost in her own thoughts, the senior sister was already coming over with a cup of instant noodles she had made. “Determining whether a person is currently blissfully in love is so easy. Back when my boyfriend and I were first together, everyday, we’d have more than a hundred text messages, and even my thumb joints got inflamed.”

Tong Yan merely smiled and pointed at the noodles, saying, “So early and you’re eating such greasy food?”

“I’m hungry.” The senior sister offered with a grin, “Want me to share some with you?”

Her stomach was also growling hungrily, and only now did she remember that Gu Pingsheng had told her he had packed some food for her. Because she had been too lazy to carry it, she had stuffed it in passing into her luggage. Now, though, her suitcase was up on the overhead luggage rack and grabbing it down would be troublesome as well.

Caught between hunger and laziness, she finally succumbed to the latter and merely poured herself a cup of hot water to drink.

From time to time on this early morning train, someone would bring a towel and toothbrush and go to wash up. The several junior schoolmates who had played rowdily the previous night were all tired and were now curled up together, sound asleep, snoring and breathing heavily.

As she casually conversed with the senior sister, she would distractedly check her mobile phone. The train was already nearing the Beijing Railway Station when his text message suddenly popped up: Nearly there? TK

Tong Yan’s mood all of a sudden lifted and she replied: Mm-hmm. Almost pulling into the station now. Are you up and out of bed?

More accurately, I never slept. TK

Never slept? Tong Yan did not really understand. If he had not slept, what did he do the entire night?

Without waiting for a reply from her, he followed up with another message: Beijing Station only has one exit, right? I’ll wait for you outside the main doors. TK

Tong Yan was feeling somewhat stupefied by this, but then instantly understood the meaning of his words.

Through the intercom system, a train attendant was starting to speak, giving greetings along the lines of “welcome to Beijing.” The senior sister hurriedly tossed her instant noodles into the garbage bag a train attendant was holding. “Is anyone picking you up? Want to catch a ride back in my boyfriend’s car?” This senior sister’s home was very close to Tong Yan’s, and sometimes, she would drop Tong Yan off at home on the way back to her own.

Tong Yan quickly shook her head. “No thanks. I have a friend picking me up.”

“Friend?” The senior sister immediately broke out into a laugh. “No way, little Tong Yan. You have a sweetheart here in Beijing, too?”

Tong Yan was uncertain whether to laugh or cry at this, but she could not explain that it was actually the same person either.

 

After she had deliberately split away from their large group and hurried out the main doors of the Beijing Railway Station, dragging her luggage behind her, she very easily spotted him among the bustling throngs of people. Everyone was wearing thick down outerwear, and only he was still dressed in the coat he was accustomed to wearing in Shanghai. Step by step, Tong Yan walked over toward him, her heart pounding with its every beat. This felt so surreal it was frightening.

Gu Pingsheng soon noticed her also and stretched out his arms, motioning for her to come to him. Only when she was nestled in his embrace did he finally exhale a long sigh. “It’s so cold.”

She rubbed her cheek gently against his coat, her nose feeling slightly stuffed and tingly. After some time, she finally raised her head and stared up at him. “I thought you weren’t coming back until a few days later? And you’re wearing so little. You’re going to get sick for sure.”

He purposely touched his two hands to her face. They were frightfully cold. “You said you missed me, so I decided to come back earlier.”

Yanking off her gloves, Tong Yan covered the backs of his hands with her palms. “Teacher Gu, must you do something so touching?” When she said this, her eyes grew warm with moisture.

“Alright, I’ll tell the truth.” Gu Pingsheng smiled, “I’m the one who suddenly missed you.”

Pulling out a pair of gloves from his pocket, Tong Yan stuffed them into his hands, then also untied her scarf and stood up on her toes, wanting to wrap it around his neck. “But I can’t really spend time with you. I need to go home first. This afternoon …” She estimated out her time. “After I’ve had lunch, I’ll come out to find you?”

“There’s no rush.” He stopped her movements and then tied her scarf around her neck for her once more. “I will be in Beijing the entire winter break.”

She nodded, then suddenly grew quiet.

From the moment when she had dashed out and seen him, it had all seemed unreal, and only now was she at last vaguely feeling that this was true.

He looked at her in bemusement, but she merely pursed her lips into a smile and rose once again on her tiptoes, kissing him firmly on his icy-cold lips. If he could do something so ridiculously touching, then why couldn’t she give him a little kiss in front of the train station?

Gu Pingsheng’s raised his eyebrows slightly, a smile spreading up to his eyes, but he did not speak.

Here, there were no students or teachers.

Here, was the city they had first met. He was Gu Pingsheng, and not Teacher Gu.

 

When she returned home, she speedily bathed and changed into some clean clothes. As she stood inside the kitchen, watching Grandmother prepare lunch, she still could not hold back her smiles. She was beaming so much that even Grandmother found it extremely bizarre and asked her whether she had done especially well on her exams this year that she was so happy.

Leaning against the doorframe, Tong Yan bit down on her lip and grinned for a long time before finally replying, “Yup. I got ninety-four percent in Commercial Arbitration.”

For the entire twenty-nine days of the winter break, he would be in Beijing.

While Tong Yan was silently calculating out how many days she needed to stay at home and how many days she could spend with him, the sound of knocking abruptly rose at the front door. She offhandedly asked, “Who is it?” and heard a woman’s voice answer, “Yan Yan, it’s Mom.”

The entire space fell into quietness. She stood, stunned, for a long while, and it was Grandmother who, after wiping her hands clean, opened the door.

Even after her mother was seated and looking at her with a smile on her face, Tong Yan was still in a state of slight disbelief as she sat wordlessly on a small stool in front of the couch.

Many people had complimented her before that she was pretty, but in fact, she had only inherited the greater part of her mother’s looks. Looking now at her mother, who was already forty-five, forty-six years old, she could not even spot any differences in her from when she was in her thirties.

Grandmother seemed to have known ahead of time that her mother would be coming and very warmly chatted with her. Tong Yan still merely listened quietly, uncertain what she should say. In this last half a year, Mom had occasionally called her on the phone, but ultimately, the estrangement between them had existed over many years, and they had no common topics they could talk about.

 

“Yan Yan, do you have a boyfriend now?” Mom unexpectedly asked.

Tong Yan nodded. “Yes.”

“Is he a schoolmate?” Mom’s smile was very warm.

She pondered this for a moment, then nodded her head but did not speak.

Throughout the whole afternoon, this was the only dialogue between them.

Only after her mother had left in the evening did she all of a sudden remember that she had promised Gu Pingsheng she would go see him in the afternoon. However, looking at her mobile phone, there were no text messages. He had not tried to find her either.

Tong Yan burrowed herself in the couch and placed her mobile phone on her knees. She suddenly really wanted to see him. Actually, she did not know what she would say to him; she just really wanted to see him.

“These last few months, your mom has been visiting frequently.” Grandmother picked up a fully ripe persimmon, handed her a small metal spoon, and indicated to her that she should use it to scoop some out to eat. “Ever since she and your dad divorced, they’ve been fighting back and forth over the house. This year, I don’t know why but they have suddenly come to their senses and just let it go, saying that neither of them want the house and that they’re handing over the property rights to you.”

Tong Yan took the persimmon, not uttering a word. With the spoon, she scraped off a layer of skin and scooped out a spoonful of the fruit’s flesh.

A strong, rich taste. The taste of home. Grandmother hesitated, holding back the words on her lips and not continuing to speak.

Naturally, Tong Yan did not ask, either.

The year she was accepted into university was also when her parents’ battle over the property had been the fiercest. Her mother had pulled out the divorce settlement agreement they had signed in the past and stated that, at the time, they had agreed that the property would belong to the woman and the man would only take one hundred thousand yuan. However, in the short span of a few years, the property value had risen from two hundred thousand to more than eight hundred thousand yuan. How could her father possibly let himself get the short end of the deal?

Amid the terrible, earthshaking dispute, she had feared that her father would sell the property and use all the money to buy stocks, and then neither of her parents would have any money in their old age for their retirement. Hence, she had sided with her mother by making the one statement that their divorce settlement was legally enforceable … From then on, for the two years following, every time her father came across anyone, he would always vilify her to them and say she was this and that …

All sorts of the most harsh and cutting words had come from him, all because of that house. A house that had long since ceased being a home.

 

After she was done eating her persimmon, she took the remains to the kitchen to throw away, and as she finished washing the spoon, she heard Grandmother pick up a telephone call and speak in low tones. In the beginning, her manner was amiable, but later, she became more and more livid until, in a quivering voice, she rebuked, “Yan Yan is your daughter. How can you say that about her?”


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Tong Yan could guess that it was her father, and to avoid putting Grandmother in a difficult position, she did not immediately leave the kitchen. She simply picked up a cloth and began to meticulously wipe down and clean the kitchen.

At last, when the call was hung up, she pretended she had not heard anything and poked her head out to say smilingly, “I’m meeting up with a classmate. I’ll be out for two hours and then I’ll be back, okay?”

Grandmother nodded, uttered to her to come home soon, and then went back to her own room, secretly wiping at her eyes.

 

Walking along the street, she discovered that it truly was frigid.

A strong wind whipped against her face, stinging her cheeks, and although her scarf was pulled up to just below her eyes, she still felt the chill. In the end, she had no choice but to head into nearest building, a Parkson department store, and stroll through the cosmetics section on the first level, looking at the shiny display counters to pass the time.

Perhaps because it was approaching the Lunar New Year, the department store was packed with people. Aimlessly, she wandered around. And then, she came to a halt.

The other half of this level was the footwear department, and at every sales counter, there were many people trying on shoes. However, only those three particular people were so eye-catching. In that instant, her reaction was to avoid them, but Lu Bei had already caught sight of her first and, without even needing to think about it, had started walking toward her. Fang Yunyun, who was sitting and trying on shoes, quickly lifted her head and cast a glance in her direction, but then, as if she had not seen anything, she turned away to unhurriedly look over her own reflection in the mirror.

In contrast, Lu Bei’s mother was staring at Tong Yan with an expression of great surprise.

 

“Tong Tong.” Lu Bei extended out his arm, wanting to grab ahold of Tong Yan. “I’m here because my mom told me to come.”

Wordlessly, Tong Yan evaded his arm. “I’m meeting up with someone, too. Why don’t you go back over there and keep them company?”

“You’re off on winter break? I’ll come find you tomorrow, how about that?” Anxiousness tinged Lu Bei’s voice, as if he was afraid she might misunderstand something.

But clearly, of the four of them, only she was an outsider.

Pressing her lips together, Tong Yan smiled at him. “No. My boyfriend will get jealous, and your wife will also get jealous.”

The colorful and dazzling décor shone upon her smile and seemed to widen the distance between them.

“Lu Bei.” Behind him, Lu Bei’s mother finally opened her mouth to call him. Lu Bei remained motionless and only continued to gaze at her. Another call of “Lu Bei” came from behind again.

“I’m going now. You head back over there.” Seeing that he was still unmoving, she turned and walked directly away.

 

Worried that Lu Bei would chase after her, she swiftly pushed open the doors of the department store and stepped into the crowds outside. It was only after she had walked to a nearby bus stop did she at last sit down on the railing, and pulling out her mobile phone, she found Gu Pingsheng’s number and dialed it directly.

The call was very quickly answered, and Gu Pingsheng’s voice was very surprised. “What’s wrong? Message me and let me know.”

The wind carried his voice far away. Tong Yan bit down on her lip, but finally, she could not hold back her sobs any longer.

He asked her once more what was wrong, but afterwards, he did not speak again. Beside the bus stop, she sat and cried for a long time until even her scarf was wet. And still, he did not hang up his phone.

In the end, she was the one who pressed the button to end the call. He very quickly sent her a message: What happened? TK

With fingers that were frozen stiff, Tong Yan strained to type out the words: Nothing. My phone was left on the couch, and I accidentally sat on the dial button. Can’t believe I ended up calling you for so long … Why didn’t you hang up? Long distance is really expensive.

 

I Can Hear You (3)

He did not ask further and only casually conversed a little more with her.

These next two days, I have things going on. I’ll come pick you up the day after tomorrow? TK

Okay.

Tong Yan stared out at the dim lights of the nightscape, her mood significantly better. Perhaps it was because she had heard his voice.

 

The next afternoon, a woman who was around thirty-five, thirty-six years old came to pay a visit at Tong Yan’s home. She was a surgeon at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital and a former student of one of the homeroom classes Grandmother had been in charge of. Actually, at the time, Grandmother had mainly taught music and had only been a homeroom teacher for two or three years, but many former students, even when they reached their middle age, still remembered to come visit and give their greetings during the Lunar New Year celebrations.

“This is the card for the medical centre.” The auntie pulled out a card and set it down on the coffee table. With a smile, she advised, “In these recent years, you’ve entered into older age, and you should have physical examinations more frequently.”

Grandmother was holding a knife and paring an apple. “No need, no need. I’ve always consistently exercised, and my body is very healthy.”

“I know many elderly folks find it taboo to get physical check-ups and are worried that they might find out that there is a problem, but when people get old, it’s inevitable that there will be more or less some areas that just aren’t feeling all that well. It’s best to get a complete physical done every year and set your mind at ease.”

Smiling, Grandmother handed the apple over to that auntie. “Alright, alright. I will definitely go.”

When Grandmother went into the kitchen to check on the ribs she was stewing, Tong Yan suddenly inquired, “Auntie, did the cardiac surgery unit of your hospital once have an intern doctor whose surname was Gu?”

She was actually merely very curious about his past — that past in which he had been a cardiac surgeon — and when she asked the question, she had not held out much hope of getting an answer. After all, he had only been an intern, and in that large hospital that Peking Union Hospital was, why would anyone pay attention to what was going on in another department?

“You mean Little Gu?” The auntie really did seem to have some sort of impression of him in her mind. “The boy whose mom was also a doctor?”

“You really do know? I think he was only there for less than a few months.”

“If the one you’re talking about is him, then I know him for sure.” The auntie contemplated briefly before speaking again. “His mom was a very well known cardiac surgeon. I saw her, as the lead surgeon, perform a surgical operation on a little girl. On that heart that was only the size of an egg or so, she put in more than one hundred sutures. Someone simply born to be a surgeon.” The auntie shook her head with a rueful smile, giving a sigh as she uttered ”Such a pity,” but then did not carry on with the discussion on this topic of his mother.

“Why? Do you know Little Gu?” the auntie suddenly smilingly asked.

Tong Yan hesitated for a while before replying, “He’s one of my university teachers, my teacher for Commercial Arbitration Law.”

The auntie looked at her in astonishment. “He switched into law afterwards? Didn’t he lose his hearing?”

Tong Yan hurriedly nodded. “Yes. Do you know how he lost his hearing?”

“It’s not really a secret. Basically, anyone there at the time knew at least some of what happened.” The auntie picked up her teacup and took a small sip before continuing, “Do you remember the SARS outbreak that year?”

“Yes.”

She remembered that back then, the news everyday would report, for each district, the number of new SARS cases that had been discovered in that day, as well as news stories on various medical and health care personnel. It was as if, overnight, the city had been transformed into a city of danger. Who wouldn’t be scared of a disease you could become infected with simply by breathing?

“At the time, I was pregnant at home. After Little Gu’s mother passed away, he was already preparing to end his internship. And then, he happened to be there for the SARS epidemic. Peking Union Hospital took in more than two hundred SARS patients, and he actually volunteered himself up to work in the SARS wards. All medical personnel working in those wards were at high risk, and many ended up contracting SARS. He was infected, and his deafness later was a result of drug poisoning from the treatments.”

After the auntie finished saying this, she pondered for a moment, then added, “At that time, the drug treatment for SARS was very aggressive. Basically, anyone who survived and recovered was still left with many long-term side effects because of the large doses of hormones that had been used. This disease is just too terrible. In reality, the people who were treated were actually making a great sacrifice because they were doing it to prevent transmitting the sickness to other people. But such large doses. The great majority of people would not be able to handle that.”

Tong Yan had been somewhat stunned as she listened to all this, but that last part was very horrifying. “You mean, he still has other long-term side effects?”

“That’s hard to say,” the auntie answered carefully. “When I went back, he had already left the hospital. I only heard a young doctor in my unit say that he should still have other late effects.”

 

The auntie left shortly after. Tong Yan merely stared dazedly at her mobile phone. She wanted very much to ask him directly, but she was worried that it would give him the wrong idea. The television in front of her was playing the summer line-up of dramas, and this entire afternoon had been My Fair Princess. A plotline consisting simply of giggles and laughter that had been acted out so many years ago, yet it was still being broadcast.

Main cast of the drama, 《还珠格格》My Fair Princess (1998), which is also known as Princess Returning Pearl

There, she sat for the whole afternoon.

At dinnertime, she suddenly stood and picked up her down jacket, slipping it on while she glanced at her mobile phone. It turned out it was nearly out of battery, so she decided to simply pack up her charger with her. Jogging up beside the kitchen door, she said, “I suddenly remembered, I have a gathering with some classmates tonight.”

Grandmother was carrying the ribs out from the kitchen right then, and dotingly, she shook her head, saying, “Okay, okay. Hurry and go, then. I’ll leave the ribs for you to eat tomorrow.”

Tong Yan gave a hasty bow of apology. “I may be home really late. Don’t wait up for me.”

After saying this, she opened the door and dashed out.

That day when he had taken her home, he had told her that he was staying in the vicinity of Beijing Normal University.

When she stepped out of the metro station, it was very windy. She knew approximately where he was located, and as she headed in that direction, she pulled out her mobile phone to send him a text message: I really want to see you tonight.

A while passed before he returned her message: Okay. I’ll come find you some time past 10:00. TK

Mm. Tell me when you are heading out the door. I need some time to get ready so I can sneak out.

Alright. TK

She did not tell him she was nearby. It was merely out of intuition that she felt he was at the place he was staying.

Right now, it was only a little past six o’clock, and there was still a long time to go until ten o’clock. With the aim of finding somewhere to charge her phone, she went into many fast-food restaurants, but no power outlets could be found in any of them. Eventually, she found a bakery that was not far from Beijing Normal University and had power outlets in the section for customers. After buying the most inexpensive hot drink there, she sat down beside the window and stared out blankly while her mobile phone charged.

And in this way, she sat there alone until the store’s ten o’clock closing time.

 

With truly nowhere to go now, she had no choice but to find a place that was sheltered from the wind by the gates of Beijing Normal University and wait to hear from him. At approximately 10:20 p.m., he finally sent a message: I’m heading out now. TK

Hastily, Tong Yan replied to him: I’m at the entrance of BNU, the east gate.

Alright. I’ll be there very shortly. TK

Gripping her mobile phone, she smiled, her heart at last feeling settled. He had indeed been at home.

Soon, she saw a very familiar figure running toward her from afar. It was Gu Pingsheng. At this hour, she was the only person standing in this place, and he quickly reached her side and came to a stop. “Have you been waiting for a long time?”

She stretched her arms forward and stuck her hands into the pockets of his coat to warm them up. “Very, very long. I’m really hungry, and I still haven’t had dinner yet.”

His hands also slipped into his pockets and closed over her frozen ones. “What is so pressing that you didn’t even eat and had to come find me?” His hand was very warm, and his palm was slightly damp.

With a smile, Tong Yan leaned in toward him, wordlessly burrowing herself into his embrace.

What should she say? She actually did not want to question him on anything. She had merely felt a very strong desire to see him. It was evident that her heart ached for him and his sufferings, yet now that he was truly here before her eyes, she actually seemed to feel that he was someone born for others to depend upon.

Regardless of whether it was his beautiful smile or the voice in which he spoke, both radiated such warmth.

“Not hungry anymore?” There was a smile in Gu Pingsheng’s voice as he held her in his arms. “I am here the whole time. You can hug me whenever you want to. Let’s find a place to fill your belly first.”

Tong Yan arched her head up to look at him. “Okay. But it’s so late. There shouldn’t be any places nearby where we can have dinner, I’d think.”

“It’s really close to my home from here.” He squeezed her hand. “Come to my place to eat.”

“Your home?” She had thought that when he came back here, he would probably stay …

He would stay in a hotel? She truly had never thought about this question before.

“My [maternal] grandfather’s home.” While he was speaking, inside his pocket, he had enclosed her hand in his. Then, he led her back in the direction he had come.

His grandfather’s home?

Tong Yan suddenly halted her steps. When Gu Pingsheng tilted his head to the side to look at her, she finally told him hesitantly, “Let’s just walk around and see if there’s anything to eat around here, how about that?”

His grandfather’s home? That meant she would have to see the elder of his family?

Gu Pingsheng could perceive the unease in her expression, and chuckling, he closed his hand tighter around hers. “Don’t be scared. Pingfan is there, too.”

“I’m not scared …” Halfway through her sentence, her face began to grow hot. “I’m just scared that …”

In the end, she was still too embarrassed to finish what she had been saying.

 

By chance, when Tong Yan followed him into the living room, Gu Pingfan was also stepping out of her own bedroom. At the sight of Gu Pingsheng, she had wanted to say something, but after noticing Tong Yan, her words stopped at her lips. All of a sudden, she chortled, “How is it you guys can’t even last two days without seeing each other? It’s almost midnight already.”

Tong Yan had already been feeling tense, and now with these words, she felt even more embarrassed. Indeed, coming here at such an hour truly was not appropriate.

“Don’t be anxious,” Gu Pingfan immediately soothed her laughingly. “My [paternal] granddad went to bed long ago. Besides, he’s upstairs and he’s hearing impaired, so he can’t hear anything that’s said down here.”

As she spoke, an elderly housekeeper happened to come down from upstairs, and seeing Gu Pingsheng, she said, “Mr. Gu, you did not have dinner tonight. Would you like me to cook something for you to eat now?”

Tong Yan was taken aback by this. She did not expect that he had not eaten dinner either. Smiling, he stated that it was fine and he would make something simple himself, and then he brought Tong Yan into the kitchen.

While he was opening the refrigerator, Tong Yan had already come up beside him and noticed that there were handmade dumplings inside. She pulled out two eggs and some tomatoes, planning on making a soup as well.

After Gu Pingsheng had taken from her the items she had selected, she finally pulled the frosted glass kitchen door closed and gazed up at him to ask in a lowered voice, “Why didn’t you eat dinner either?”

Turning on the faucet, he began washing the tomatoes. “I was busy the entire time earlier on and didn’t get a chance to eat.”

Her heart inexplicably twinged once again. Walking over, she wrapped her arms around him from behind and rubbed her cheek against his back, murmuring in words only she could hear, “How busy did you have to be that you didn’t even eat? …”

His hands were dripping wet and holding a bright red tomato. Turning around, he lowered his head to look at her. “Why did you suddenly want to see me? And you didn’t even have dinner before you came over here?”

“I missed you,” Tong Yan stated, putting on an unabashed front and tilting her face upwards.

He gave an “mm” and smiled very, very attractively. “What else?”

“Nothing.” Gazing directly into his eyes, Tong Yan enunciated each word clearly as she repeated, “I missed you, so I felt that tonight, I positively, immediately, and absolutely had to see you.”

He did not speak and merely used the inside of his arms to encircle her in front of himself. And like this, with a glistening wet tomato still raised in his hand, he very quietly brought his head down and kissed her. A silent, yet exceptionally firm kiss.

Droplets of water fell off the tomato and onto the floor, merging together quickly to form a small puddle.

A while passed before he at last let go of her and asked, “Did you cry last night?”

“No,” Tong Yan automatically denied.

He set the tomato down on the marble countertop, pulled a clean, white towel down from a rack off to one side, and wiped his hands dry. “Many living creatures possess their own communication and voice recognition systems. Take, for example, the dolphin. If you were to slap the surface of the water to try to imitate the sound of a fish falling into the water, a dolphin would be indifferent to this. But, if you actually tossed in a fish, it would be able to very accurately catch the food. This is because dolphins rely on the ultrasound waves they emit to ‘hear’ the changes that are occurring in their environment. They also rely on this form of sound wave communication to interact with each other.”

Tong Yan rested herself against him, listening with interest but not understanding why he was suddenly talking about dolphins.

“Even in the vast ocean darkness, they can still find one another, because their language is not limited by distance and can even transmit as far as several thousand metres away.” He paused for several seconds, and then, his voice grew lower. “Communication does not require a true, physical sense of hearing. And so, I could hear you crying.”



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