Always By Your Side - Chapter 8
Chapter 8: Who is the Person in the Photograph
On the weekend of that same week, Yuanyuan moved out of Cheng Bai’s house. The house belonged to Cheng Shenghua’s friend and was located in the centre of the city. Yuanyuan didn’t want to worry her elders, so she didn’t go against her uncle’s reminders to take care of herself. However, she insisted on paying the rent by herself, having saved some money after working part-time jobs during her four years in university. Cheng Shenghua complied with her on this.
The house wasn’t big, facing the south with one bedroom, one living room, one bathroom, and a kitchen. The interior decorations and the configuration of the house were simple, and everything was neat and clean. On the day of moving, Cheng Shenghua was out of town. Yuanyuan, with the assistance of her mother, tidied up to help her get settled. Her mother left after lunch, and Yuanyuan went to the flower and bird market to buy two small pots of ball cacti. She placed them on the windowsill of the small room. At that moment, she looked up at the sky outside and suddenly felt extremely satisfied, as if a new life was setting sail.
Just as she was about to take a good rest, Cheng Bai called her. As soon as she picked up, he said: “You forgot something at my house.”
Yuanyuan twisted her eyebrows. She had checked the room carefully before she left, nothing should have been forgotten. Even if there was something, it was not a valuable object. This was because her laptop was beside her, and her mobile phone was in her hand—alright, she was poor, but these two things were the most valuable.
“Then I’ll trouble you to throw it away.”
The person on the opposite end was silent for two seconds, “It’s your underwear.”
Yuanyuan immediately made a “囧” face and said quickly, “Don’t move, I’ll come back and get it right away!”
Why did you drop your underwear? Really careless, how could you make such a low-level mistake? Yuanyuan repeatedly criticized herself while leaving.
Although it was not too late and there were still buses operating, Yuanyuan was in a hurry, so she took a taxi directly there. When she arrived at the Cheng house, Yuanyuan thought as she pressed the code at the door, Today, Uncle Shenghua is not here, and Auntie Zhu has gone home by now. In other words, only Cheng Bai was at home. Before opening the door to go in, Yuanyuan hit her head against the door twice.
“Ugh, leaving that wasn’t good, leaving behind that…”
No one was seen on the first floor. Yuanyuan had to run upstairs. She circled her room first, there was nothing. She went to the balcony to take a look and confirmed that there was nothing on the clothing hangers either. In the end, she had no choice but to thicken her face and knock on Cheng Bai’s door.
The door was opened quickly, and Cheng Bai was dressed in a white casual outfit. He looked handsome and refreshing.
“Where’s my thing?”
Cheng Bai tilted his body to the side, and Yuanyuan saw her underwear. A pink, conservative, small pair of underwear…lying quietly on the edge of Cheng Bai’s bed.
Yuanyuan walked in embarrassedly, seized it, and prepared to leave at once, but as soon as she picked it up, she found that something was wrong, “This…four years ago…before, it was inexplicably missing…” She looked at Cheng Bai suspiciously. “You, you hid it? Cheng Bai, are you a pervert?”
Cheng Bai walked to her side and whispered, “Say that again.”
Yuanyuan immediately bowed her head.
“Since your room will not be used in the future, I wanted to clean it up as a study room. Your underwear was behind that small sofa.”
Yuanyuan was incessantly ashamed. She tucked her underwear into her bag and wanted to leave, but Cheng Bai grabbed her hand. However, he let go after only a second. Yuanyuan was baffled by him, and a little panicked. Seeing her like this, Cheng Bai suddenly felt a little dejected in his heart. At this moment, a flash of lightning fell outside, and Yuanyuan was scared. As soon as she turned around, she was pushed by Cheng Bai, causing her to fall in a sitting position on the bed. Before Yuanyuan could react, Cheng Bai stretched his hand out and turned off the light. The room fell into darkness in an instant, and immediately Yuanyuan felt that she was held forcefully by him. When the next thundering clap struck down, the silhouette of the two pressed together in the room was projected on the wall.
“Cheng Bai, turn on the lights.” Yuanyuan’s voice was already trembling. She was not afraid of thunder. She was afraid of being with Cheng Bai in such an environment, and in such a strange position. There seemed to be a faint coldness in her breath, something that seemed familiar to her in a far-away memory, but she was now unaware of it. She inwardly struggled but it was useless, she could feel the heat he breathed on her neck. Yuanyuan’s hands were sweating, and she wanted to break the hands on her waist, but she was powerless like a child trying to break off an adult’s wrists.
“Didn’t you say that I’m perverted?”
Fortunately, after he finished speaking, he withdrew his strength. When the lights came on, Yuanyuan didn’t dare to look at him. She got up and ran out of the room.
After she ran out of the neighbourhood and called a taxi, it started to rain heavily, which dampened the otherwise sultry weather a lot. Yuanyuan opened the car window a little and the wind was blowing, but she still felt that her breathing was not smooth.
Cheng Bai stood at the window for a long time, recalling her angry figure that had left just now, and the scar on the back of her neck that was as long as a finger—that was the injury she had suffered for him back then.
There was thunder and lightning the previous day, and it had rained heavily. By the next morning, the sun came out and the sky was clear again. On a stiflingly hot summer afternoon, Yuanyuan and Wang Yue, who shared a similar taste in food, entered a restaurant near the office. Because Yuanyuan hadn’t eaten breakfast, she was so hungry that her chest was pressed to her back. As soon as she sat down, she beckoned to the waiter: “Please give me a bowl of white rice first, thank you.”
Wang Yue looked at her with amusement and said: “Who comes here just to eat rice?”
“No way, I’m just so hungry, the food is too slow, first I’m eating a bowl of rice to cushion my stomach.” As Yuanyuan said this, she saw a familiar figure not far away. She immediately seized a round plate from the table to cover her face. Wang Yue was flipping through the menu, but seeing Yuanyuan’s inexplicable behaviour from the corner of her eye, she raised her head and asked: “What’s wrong, Yuanyuan?”
“It—it’s nothing, Sister Wang, don’t look at me…but please help me see…five metres away on your right, among the people at the table by the window, is the man in the black shirt behaving abnormally?” She had forgotten that H University Affiliated Hospital was near their Journal Centre. It was not surprising that they’d met, and they could only acknowledge their bad luck.
Wang Yue heard her words and looked towards the table by the window. There were three men and one woman sitting at the table. They seemed to have finished their meal and were chatting. The man in black was facing them. With his back leaning against the chair, he held a mobile phone in both hands as if he was lazily texting.
“Nothing unusual.” Wang Yue looked back at Yuanyuan. “Is that your friend?”
“No,” Yuanyuan vetoed it decisively. She wasn’t wrong, she and Cheng Bai were not friends. When she was about to ask Wang Yue if they could change places to eat, the phone in her pocket rang. Yuanyuan took it out to look. It was a text message, and the sender’s number couldn’t have been more familiar.
Seeing me scares you like this?
Yuanyuan put down the plate and said firmly: “Sister Wang, the sweet and sour pork here is delicious, let’s order it!”
She told herself repeatedly that she no longer lived in his house, there was no obligation to face him, and she didn’t have to be afraid of him anymore. The sky was high and the emperor was far away, what could he do to her? Okay, he wasn’t actually far away. Ah, when would she be far out of reach from him?
Cheng Bai watched Cheng Yuanyuan follow a woman her age out of the restaurant. Seeing her looking at the sky along the way, he couldn’t help but sneer. She was lucky if she could walk like that without falling to her death.
“Doctor Cheng, what are you looking at?” someone asked with a smile.
Cheng Bai turned his head back. The doctors present were all his alumni who had entered the H University Hospital for an internship at the same time as him. “Wang Yang, what day is your ophthalmology department’s Director Tang doing rounds in the outpatient clinic?”
Wang Yang said: “Monday morning and Friday afternoon, why do you ask?”
“Nothing, there’s just someone who needs it. I’m helping them ask.”
But Cheng Bai didn’t intend to say any more.
The only girl present looked at Cheng Bai with a faint appreciation in her eyes. Cheng Bai was a reliable man, and he was serious about studying and working. She always remembered that some male students complained about the hardships of studying medicine. They were studying undergraduate and master’s degrees for seven years. At that time, Cheng Bai had said, “Our future level is directly related to human life, so hard work is both a duty and a moral.” Furthermore, Cheng Bai was a good-looking man and his family background was also good. Many female students privately called him “Gongzi Xiao Bai”, or noble son Xiao Bai. But nobody knew if Cheng Bai’s EQ was too low or too high. He had never been in love. Although many young girls had a favourable impression towards him, his heart was never moved. Last time, a male student had shrugged his backpack on his shoulders and told Cheng Bai that he was not too young anymore, so how come he still hadn’t found a girlfriend? Cheng Bai simply said he was too busy, he didn’t have free time. For medical students, this excuse was reasonable and fair.
Yuanyuan returned to the office sullenly, thinking that in the afternoon she would go to Professor Fu’s to discuss specific matters about the special column. Facing the window, she took a deep breath, trying to attempt a comeback—she half-crouched down, both hands clenched into fists, bending her elbows to her ears to do a twin peaks formation, and pulled up into a horse stance.
Wang Yue saw it as she was passing by, and suppressed a smile as she said: “In our office, you can now say you are the most stupid. Truly, no one dares to fight with you on this.” A circle of colleagues nearby nodded vigorously.
Yuanyuan was unmoved and continued to “practice”. Ever since she was young until now, whenever she was put in a gloomy mood by Cheng Bai, she would resolve all difficulties and leave all worries behind like this.
“It’s not that cold yet, how can you get a King Kong body now.”
In the afternoon, Yuanyuan went out to look for Professor Fu. It had been several days since she last saw him. She originally wanted to wait for Professor Fu to recuperate before going to him, but later, it was Professor Fu who had called her, saying that he had been discharged from the hospital and had gone home to take care of his health. The topic of the column could be discussed and finalized with him at his home any time.
She once again went to Professor Fu’s home in Fuxin Xinyuan. Yuanyuan knocked on the door, and the one who opened it was Shen Yu. After entering the house, she found that there were two people she didn’t know in the living room, discussing something with Professor Fu. When Fu Jiasheng saw her, he enthusiastically greeted her to come over and sit.
They should all be Professor Fu’s students, Yuanyuan thought to herself, and greeted them one by one.
“Then first, get to here. You guys go back and modify it. When you’re finished, send me an email.” Fu Jiasheng gave the concluding remarks of his guidance work, then turned his head to Yuanyuan and said, “Sit down for a while first, drink some water.”
Yuanyuan burst into a smile and said: “It’s okay, it’s not urgent. You have other priorities.”
At this time, Shen Yu sat beside Yuanyuan, secretly gave her a wink, and whispered: “It’s Professor Fu and Mrs. Fu’s one-on-one time again.”
Mrs. Fu? Yuanyuan was puzzled. She looked up and saw Fu Jiasheng take three incense sticks from a counter, bow to the wall, and then insert them into the incense burner.
“That’s Mrs. Fu’s funeral portrait,” Shen Yu said softly. “There are times when I really envy Mrs. Fu…”
Yuanyuan poked her head out ever so slightly. Last time she had come, she hadn’t noticed that there was a black and white photograph hanging on the wall there. The woman in the photo was very young, approximately in her thirties, with kind brows, pleasant eyes, and a gentle smile.
“The story of Professor Fu and Mrs. Fu is indeed a story that has spread far and wide in our school. When Mrs. Fu was alive, she was a Peking Opera singer. In order to pursue his wife, Professor Fu learned how to play the qin. After the death of Mrs. Fu, no matter how busy Professor Fu is, he will take the time to go to his wife’s grave and play a piece for her to listen to.” A student on the side also came over and gossiped with Yuanyuan: “These days, Professor Fu’s legs are an inconvenience, so he plays at home.”
Hearing this, Yuanyuan couldn’t help but be moved. She saw Fu Jiasheng remove a jinghu qin from the wall and peacefully sit on the edge of a chair to start tuning. In an instant, the raspy and sweet sound of the qin slipped out of his fingertips.
As Yuanyuan listened, it was like returning to her childhood. At that time, her father was still there, and her parents had rented a two-story building to open a small hotel in the ancient town. One time, a Peking Opera troupe from a neighbouring county had stayed in the small hotel. Because they were playing the show in the countryside, the troupe stayed in her family’s hotel for a whole month. That Peking Opera troupe was small, with only one qin player who was an older sister in her twenties.
Yuanyuan remembered that the qin she played was very nice to listen to, with a scent of old records. Therefore, whenever she was free, she’d go to see the qin sister and listen to her talk a lot about the Peking Opera, as well as stories pertaining to the huqin. Her mother once said that she thought her daughter was going to leave and follow the Peking Opera troupe. In fact, Yuanyuan really had asked her father secretly if she could learn the qin from the qin sister…
“Why do you listen so earnestly?” Shen Yu patted Yuanyuan, pulling her out of her memories in an instant.
“Because it’s pleasant to hear,” Yuanyuan exclaimed in admiration from the bottom of her heart.
“You think it sounds good? Are you serious? I think the huqin’s sound is too ear-piercing, it’s noisy and gives people a headache.”
Another student on the side heard this and said softly: “Be careful that the teacher doesn’t beat you.”
“Senior brother, stop using the teacher to scare me. Anyway, none of us are friends. Since early on, this teacher has had no choice but to accept us.” Shen Yu didn’t take it seriously.
At this time, the qin’s sound swayed to a stop. Fu Jiasheng looked at the wall where his wife smiled, and also exposed a smile.
“Great.” Yuanyuan couldn’t help but clap her hands twice.
Fu Jiasheng carried the huqin up, and facing Yuanyuan, sighed with sorrow: “For so many years, no one has given me a ‘great’.”
Due to their previous interaction, Yuanyuan also roughly understood Fu Jiasheng’s temperament. Therefore she didn’t intend to console him, instead teasing him: “But, you’re displaying your deep love towards your wife with ‘At the Dressing Table’ in front of all of us, this is to make us die of jealousy, ah.”
“Little girl, do you actually know what ‘At the Dressing Table’ is?” When Fu Jiasheng heard her words, his eyes released a light.
Yuanyuan nodded her head embarrassedly.
“Professor Fu, at long last you’ve encountered a bosom friend,” Shen Yu said with a smile.
“That’s not it. Like you all, everyone is learning to play Western music, like the piano and violin. We are losing everything from our ancestors.” Fu Jiasheng sighed deliberately. “But it’s better than my son, he can’t even complete the entire pentatonic scale.”
“Haha, Professor Fu, you’ve once again laid out our senior brother. Under your propaganda, probably even the cat in our ancient bookstore knows that the five tones are incomplete, right?”
Just after this was said, by chance Fu Beichen happened to open the door and come in. As a result, when everyone in the room saw him, they laughed unanimously. Shen Yu clutched her stomach and fell into Yuanyuan’s arms. Yuanyuan also pursed her lips and smiled. The two male students quickly suppressed their smiles with flushed faces.
Fu Beichen glanced at Fu Jiasheng, already aware of what was happening, and said quietly: “You guys take your time laughing, I won’t bother you.” Before going into his room, he looked at Cheng Yuanyuan in particular.
Shen Yu watched his back, then looked at the girl next to her. There was an unspeakable emotion in her heart.
The door to his room partitioned the noise in the living room. Alone, Fu Beichen sat down at his desk and took out a portfolio from the drawer on the right. Opening it, there was a stack of sketches inside. The sketches at the front were of a girl in ancient clothing, and her figure from behind.
After Shen Yu and her two seniors left, Fu Jiasheng and Yuanyuan talked for more than half an hour, deciding on the topic of the column’s tenth issue. Afterwards, the fellow enthusiasts talked about the Peking Opera.
“Can you play the qin?”
“I can’t.” Yuanyuan smiled and shook her head. “The time they stayed at the hotel was too short, I didn’t have enough time to learn the fundamentals.” Yuanyuan had just talked to Professor Fu about how she had become attached to the Peking Opera.
Yuanyuan was thinking about how to say goodbye to Professor Fu because he had just been discharged from the hospital and shouldn’t have been chatting for too long. Suddenly, Fu Beichen came out of his room and interrupted their conversation, “Dad, you don’t want to accept students again?”
Yuanyuan turned her head to look, and saw that Fu Beichen had changed his clothes and seemed to be going out.
“Do you have an engagement?” Fu Jiasheng asked his son.
“En. Tonight there’s a tea party.” Fu Beichen finished speaking and walked to the hallway.
“At night?” Fu Jiasheng glanced at the clock. “Then you’re leaving so early?”
Fu Beichen picked up his car keys from the top of the shoe cabinet, then looked towards Yuanyuan. Professor Fu looked at his son, then looked at the little girl beside him who had stood up. He understood clearly and smiled, saying to Yuanyuan: “Alright, then come and sit with me often. I finally found a bosom friend.”
Yuanyuan repeatedly promised.
After Fu Beichen waited for Yuanyuan to come over to him, he said to Professor Fu: “I’m staying at my place tonight. You rest early.” Fu Beichen was afraid of coming back late and disturbing his father.
Professor Fu smiled and nodded. As his view of their back figures got blocked by the closing door, he muttered to himself: “Beichen seems to be a little different towards this little girl.” Professor Fu had been asked about his son’s marriage by countless colleagues and relatives, but he didn’t have the heart to urge his son—every time he recalled the incident that happened when his son was an undergraduate, and that female student named Zhao Jue, Professor Fu was full of sighs. After that incident, Beichen had become more introverted.
Cheng Yuanyuan followed Fu Beichen downstairs. Because it was an old house, the corridor was a little dark even with the lights on.
“Thank you, Fu Beichen,” Yuanyuan said, tilting her head to the side. As a result of not being careful, she accidentally stepped on an empty space. Fortunately, Fu Beichen was at her side and caught her, “Be careful.”
Under the conditions, Yuanyuan also reflexively grabbed his arm.
Fu Beichen only felt an ice-cold touch on his arms, and the coldness threaded into his skin. As his blood reached all the way to his heart, warmth returned unexpectedly.
After she stood firmly, Yuanyuan embarrassedly let go.
Fu Beichen also retracted his hands and said: “Did you say thank you because you expected that I would save you?”
Yuanyuan smiled and said: “Because of you, my work is very easy, and I’m always getting rides from you, and you didn’t let me trip and fall just now. The favour of a drop of water should be rewarded with the gratitude of a fountain of water. I happened to move to a new residence, and I would like to express my gratitude by inviting you over for a housewarming dinner. I don’t know if Mr. Fu Beichen is willing to attend?”
The corner of Fu Beichen’s mouth raised into a smile, and he didn’t mind her meticulous planning and careful accounting. “Where did you move?”
Yuanyuan answered obediently: “Hongfeng New Village.”
“Then, when are you planning to invite me?”
Yuanyuan thought for a while, then said: “What about tomorrow? Tomorrow night, that old Guiji roast duck restaurant at H University’s back gate, how about it?”
After going downstairs, Fu Beichen took out a flat wooden box from his trouser pocket, “Last time I said I would give this to you.”
Yuanyuan hesitated before accepting it. The wooden box was not big. It was even a bit old, with a wintersweet flower engraved on the lid of the box. “Can I open it right now?”
At this moment, the two of them were standing under an old camphor tree, and the setting sun was shining a layer of warm orange light that spread over them quietly.
Placed inside the box was a piece of irregularly shaped porcelain. There were no specific patterns on the surface, but the glaze seemed to include countless colours, rose purple, begonia red, verdant green…brilliant lights and vibrant colours. When she took a closer look, there were still some ice cracks on the surface of the porcelain. It was simply beautiful, and nothing more beautiful could be imagined.
“What is this? It’s so pretty,” Yuanyuan couldn’t help but exclaim in admiration.
“It’s a broken porcelain fragment from the official Song Dynasty jun ware kiln.”
“Is it the official kiln where Brother Ru Guan fixed jun ware? I saw it in the information last time.”
“Then it must be very expensive?”
“No. It’s just broken porcelain.”
Yuanyuan lightly caressed the porcelain, it had an ice cold feeling that seeped into her bones.
“How beautiful this should have been!”
“Be careful with your hands. This is the raw surface, so the edges are relatively sharp. If you want to make it into a pendant or a small decoration, you can find someone to polish it.”
Yuanyuan carefully put the porcelain shard back into the box and looked at Fu Beichen, “I will treat it well.”
Fu Beichen smiled slightly, “Okay.”
At home Yuanyuan took a shower, then took out the piece of jun ware porcelain that Fu Beichen had given her and looked at it again. She felt that the colours changed ten thousand times. “The sky is full of smoke and stars, and the setting sun suddenly turns into a haze.” She couldn’t help reciting these lines. It was from a poem that was praised by the ancients for its description of how beautiful the colour of jun ware glaze was. It’s just that she thought, no matter how beautiful it was, it was broken, and who knew what the piece originally was, but what a beautiful work of art it would’ve been.
The next day, before Yuanyuan got off work, she received a phone call from Fu Beichen saying he wanted to come and pick her up.
“Right now is the peak time to get off work. Traffic is so severe, don’t take a detour just to pick me up. I can take the subway, it’ll only be two stops. Maybe I’ll get there before you because there’s no traffic on the subway.”
Fu Beichen smiled from the other end of the phone: “Okay, then pay attention to your safety.”
Guiji Lao Yabao was a part of a series of restaurants targeted towards the students at the back door of H University. It was considered a relatively-high end restaurant. Generally, H University students would only choose to eat there for teacher appreciation banquets or graduation meals. During normal times, there were relatively few students who went there, with mostly office workers around.
In the end, Yuanyuan arrived first, but Fu Beichen got there soon after. Yuanyuan had already found a seat. As soon as she saw Fu Beichen in a Western-style suit and leather shoes, she waved. When he sat down, she picked up the menu with both hands and gave it to Fu Beichen, saying: “Today I invited you, so order whatever you want.”
Fu Beichen took the menu and smiled as he asked: “I can really order as much as I want?”
Yuanyuan purposely creased her brows and implored him: “Fu Beichen, you don’t want to eat to make me poor, do you? I’m indeed so poor, so poor…Today’s treat, of course I’ll clench my teeth and stomp my foot, and dip into next month’s paycheck!”
Watching her performance and listening to her speak, Fu Beichen’s smile was as deep as the night.
When Yuanyuan was watched by Fu Beichen, she suddenly became a little shy.
In the next moment, the two both felt a gaze cast towards them.
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