When you see this post, Future Me will be trekking through the wilderness in some far off country. I wanted to leave you guys with a chapter to tide your over before I left. So, sorry if there are any huge glaring mistakes as Present Me is rushing around getting ready before my flight. I will be sure to edit them once I get back…Unless my super duper awesome editor gets to this chapter before it’s posted. No picture for now! 🙁
I like how we (and Xiao Qiu) gets a little more of a glimpse into Li Chuan’s world. I must say, it’s a pretty glamorous one.
I still punctually arrived at five in the evenings to the café for my shift. The night shift was still the three of us, Xiao Tong, Xiao Ye, and me. I leave at eight o’clock, Xiao Ye worked until twelve o’clock, and Xiao Tong worked until early the next morning before getting off. Xiao Tong slept in the morning and often skipped class. Yet, he smoothly sailed through to become a sophomore. It was truly amazing. Xiao Tong said that it was all green lights for his studies because he spent a lot of time investigating the teaching customs and reputations of the professors. For example, one professor likes to catch those who cheat and was known as one of The Four Detective Guards. His classes must not be chosen. One professor was too strict when grading exams and would frequently give them failing grades, so could not be chosen. One professor like to check for attendance, so could not be chosen. One professor didn’t get chosen to become an associate professor, wasn’t in a good mood, so could not be chosen. The best professors to choose were the ones who would tell everyone on the first day of class that it was hard to get an eight-five in the class, but it was also hard to fail.
There are many cons to working at the café, but there was one pro, which was being able to practice conversational skills. Even though it was only a few phrases, it wasn’t easy to get them perfect. If you had some free time and came across a foreigner who like to chat, as long as the boss wasn’t there, no one would care if you chatting for even up to ten minutes. Xiao Tong turned a blind eye. He also liked to chat.
There was a group of students from England in the caré. It was a rare opportunity. Xiao Tong and I seized the change to practice our conversational skills. The time passed really quickly. Afterwards, I was continuously busy at the cash register. When it was almost eight o’clock, Xiao Ye suddenly came over and said to me, “Haven’t seen him in a long time.”
I didn’t get what she was saying at first, “It’s been a long time since seeing who?”
“That Mr. Wang.”
“That’s true.” I said.
Ever since that dispute that day, Xiao Ye had never voluntarily spoken to me again. Xiao Tong said that she was waiting for me to take the initiative and reconcile with her. He implied that I should find a suitable moment and let her off so that she doesn’t have to lose face. But I’ve never given her that moment. Xiao Ye didn’t care to take notice of me. All her thoughts were on her unrequited love and she wasn’t in the mood to care about any employee in the caré. If she really took notice of me, then there was only one reason. She wanted to get news of Li Chuan.
“Have you seen him since coming in?” She asked.
“No,” I said, “I heard he was sick.”
She gasped, “Oh! What illness?”
“Pneumonia.” I wasn’t in a good mood and didn’t feel like fending off others.
“How do you know?”
“He told me.”
“Didn’t you say you didn’t see him?”
“Can you give me his email address?” She fixed her eyes on me. I thought, if I said no, she would definitely strangle me to death.
I wrote down Li Chuan’s email address for her.
I didn’t care because I thought since Xiao Ye came from an well-educated family, she wouldn’t randomly just write a letter to a stranger.
“Thanks. Last time he came to have coffee, he left his notebook here. I’ll ask him when it’s convenient for him to pick it up.”
I was speechless. A girl in love was really intelligent.
After getting off work, I changed and walked out. The wind at night was piercing cold, it was already winter weather. The ground was covered in a thin layer of ice. I wore a goose down filled jacket. It was thick and large. It was originally to be used for getting through the coldest days of the year after the Winter Solstice. Before coming to Beijing, I bought this jacket to manage through the winter. The store didn’t have it in small nor medium. They only had it in this large size for half off. So I bought it and this was my first time wearing it. The space inside completely engulfed me. Even if I wore my backpack on the side, no one would be able to tell.
Like always, I went to the bus stop to wait. The bus hadn’t arrived yet, so I sat down on the ice cold metal bench to memorize vocab. I hadn’t sat there for even five minutes before a car screeched to a stop. A familiar voice called out to me, “Xiao Qiu.”
I raised my head and saw Li Chuan’s SUV.
I’ve never carefully taken a look at Li Chuan’s car. First of all, I was never interested in cars. Second, his car always appeared at night when it wasn’t easy to see it clearly. Separated by the windows, I looked on in confusion, hesitant to move forward. None of it seemed real. I suspected I was dreaming and was afraid that a sudden gust of wind will blow, and this entire scene will disappear. Was it really Li Chuan? Wasn’t Li Chuan in the hospital?
He jumped out of the car and leaning on his crutches, he opened the car door for me.
It was as if he had just come back from a banquet. He wore black jacket. Inside was an well-ironed charcoal colored collared shirt with an exquisite green necktie. There was a faint CK cologne smell. The only thing that was different from before was that he wasn’t wearing a prosthetic leg, so he only had one leg.
He leaned over and fastened the seat belt for me, asking, “Cold?”
He shut the car door, turned on the heater, and started the car.
After all those moments of heated pasion, it had been a month since we’ve seen each other. He was still so perfect, so handsome. Looking at him from any angle caused my mind to become scrambled.
“Are you mad at me?” He asked.
I didn’t say anything.
“Even if you are mad, you didn’t have to curse at me like that right?” He laughed grimly, “In any case, I also helped you correct your proposal. You are really getting more and more fluent in English. No one has ever cursed at me like that.”
When he said, “no means no,” I replied with two words. Curse words.
“Stop the car, let me off.” I was ashamed into anger.
“You have quite a temper.” He ignored me, speeding the car.
“Stop the car! Otherwise, I’m going to call the cops!”
“Here is my cell phone. You can dial 110.” He handed the cell phone to me and continued driving.
It wasn’t fifteen minutes before the car reached the school. Li Chuan got out of the car and opened my car door.
Even though, Li Chuan made a huge effort to keep his balance, his handicapped body looked absolutely helpless. All at once, my heart softened and lightly said, “How come you are already discharged from the hospital? Was it because I cursed at you?”
“I’m not discharged yet, I snuck out.” He handed my backpack to me.
“Hey, I merely cursed at you. It’s not worth it to get so angry to come out of the hospital to settle it with me.”
“You’re right, I did come to settle it with you.” He took my hand and pulled me in front of him.
“Do you know how worried I was about you?” I hugged him and buried my face against his chest.
“I”m sorry,” he embraced me tightly, “you don’t actually have to worry, I can take care of myself. There are also nurses.”
“I won’t cause trouble anymore. I swear.” I kissed him. Like a leech seeking the arteries on his neck, I kissed my way over. He lowered his head and kissed my face. The cold sweet breathe crossed in front of me, “Why are you wearing such a huge gown? It’s so big it can fit two of you.”
“I like big. Big is comfortable.” I put my hands into his jacked and gently caressed his waist, “Are there injuries here? Does it hurt a lot?”
“There’s no injures there,” he said in a low voice, “Don’t grope around, okay?” Although, he was saying that, a part of his body became stiff.
I recalled the vow I just made, drew out my hands, and helped him fasten the belt on his jacked.
“What are you doing tonight?” He asked.
“Going to the library to study the changes you made to my proposal. You changed so much, I don’t understand a lot of the places.”
“Which places don’t you understand,” he said, “make use of me while I’m here. I’ll explain to you. Isn’t that better?”
“Then come with me to the library, okay?” I put my arms through his.
“I didn’t wear my prosthetic leg today. Do you mind?” He asked softly.
“I don’t mind. It’s so exhausting to walk with a prosthetic leg, you might as well never use it.” I blurted out. And then immediately glanced at him uneasily. Li Chuan extremely cherished his appearance. At formal events, he would never have a hair out of place. He was also a perfectionist. It’s obvious that losing a leg and having to go through life handicapped was a huge blow to him.
He looked at me, wanting to say something, but not unable to.
The library had study rooms on the second and third levels. Several hundred tables were placed in a hall. Several hundred people were reading inside. If Li Chuan went in, he would definitely cause a disturbance.
I led Li Chuan to the newspaper and periodicals reading room on the first floor. It was quite cold there so there were always less people.
We found a seat. Li Chuan took my jacket, hung it to the side, then took off his own jacket. I took out a printed copy of the proposal, a dictionary, and a notebook from my backpack. I was just about to sit down when Li Chun suddenly said, “Sit on my left side.”
I changed to his left side, “Are you left-handed?”
“No,” he said. “Oh, that’s right, how did you mid term exams go?”
My god, he still remember this.
“I averaged a ninety, still fifty points away from my goal. I must put in more effort for the hopes of a scholarship.”
“Children can still be taught. Let’s take a look at the article you used. What is article in Chinese?”
“You don’t need to add an article in front of a concept. For instance, you said space and you said time. You are talking about concept, so you don’t need to add an article.”
“Also here, you need an article in front of dynasty.”
“I’ve learned this before, how come I just can’t remember.”
“Also, the key to writing a proposal is to not say how this will be advantageous to you, but how advantageous it will be to other students, to the school, and to the school’s reputation.”
After saying this, he slightly changed his seated position. I then realized that, since he lost half his bones, he only had support from one side when sitting, so it was hard to sit straight and hard to sit steadily. He had to use one arm to prop up his body. He had been using his right hand to support himself.
Next, he explained to me why he made each correction. He went through each one, explaining for a whole two hours. He wasn’t too good at writing with his left hand, so he doodled on the paper. Li Chuan’s memory was really good. He never misspelled even the most complicated and long words.
Finally, I felt that he would be completely exhausted if he continued on, and said, “Let’s go, it’s late.”
“Do you still have questions?”
“No, I completely understand. Ge Ge you are too great. — Such is the advantage of the mother tongue.”
He couldn’t help but laugh.
“English isn’t my mother tongue.” He said. “I grew up in Switzerland and spent my childhood in the French region. I went to junior high and high school in the German region. My mother tongues are French and German.”
“Ge Ge, I will worship you through endlessly through all hell and storm.”
He stood up, helped me put on my jacket, and saw to it that it on properly before putting on his own jacket. We walked out of the library together and returned to the presidents’ parking lot where he parked his car.
“Do you want to go eat midnight snacks?” He asked.
“No, you’re tired. Let me go with you to the hospital, okay? Wherever you aren’t comfortable, I’ll help you massage, okay? I have an extremely good immune system. I’m not afraid of being infected.” I pestered him again.
He handed me a small pink case, “I bought you a cell phone. Call me when you have time.”
“Doesn’t the hospital block signals?”
“I am discharged tomorrow.”
“Hurry and get in the car.” I said.
“Let me drop you off at your dormitory first.”
There was ice everywhere on the ground. If he wasn’t careful, he would fall and break his remaining leg. How can he do that?
“Next time, okay? Once you are completely recovered, you can drop me off. I’m begging you.”
“No.” He said, “The ground is so slippery. You don’t look at the road. I’m afraid you’ll slip and fall.”
I was very happy when I got to the dorm room. Everyone looked at me thinking that my expression was unusually lifted today.
“Hey, you finally walked out of the shadow of your break up.” An An observed my face, “Congratulations.”
I washed my face, and slipped outside to give Li Chuan a call at the head of a flight of stairs. Within three seconds, he picked up, “Hi.”
“Are you almost at the hospital?”
“Why is it pink?”
“The cell phone’s color.”
“It’s the color for young girls.”
“I’m not a young girl.”
“You are only seventeen years old.”
“Li Chuan, how old are you?”
“Twenty-five. Is that too old?”
“Not old, not old. Not old at all. Thank you. Ge Ge, I like you so much!” I sweetly called to him and then happily hung up.
The next day was a nice sunny say. Classes had already ended and everyone was studying for the exams. I was no exception. As soon as I got out of bed at seven, I would take a thermos filled with tea to the library. Against the wide windows with warm sunshine shinning through, I spread out my books and studied my notes, studied sentence patterns, and studied vocab. It was a joy to be busy.
At noon, I walked out of the library to eat lunch. My cell phone rang and his voice came through:
“It’s me, Li Chuan.”
“Hi, Li Chuan. Have you been discharged?”
“I’ve finally left. The doctor is a friend of my father’s and gave me such a hard time.” He said, “Can you help me with something this afternoon?”
“Help you with what. Tell me.”
“I have a friend opening a gallery today. Can you accompany me to it?”
“I have no problems with going, but I don’t understand paintings. Won’t I look like an idiot standing there?”
“No, no no. It’s like this. I don’t want to go either, but we’re pretty close with each other and I can’t refuse. The gallery opening will be at four o’clock. The press will also be there. He wants me to be there on time to support him. At seven o’clock, there’s a wine reception. He wishes for me to take part in the wine reception.”
“In other words, we need to stay there for at least four hours.”
“If you come help, then I don’t need to stay for four hours.”
“Really? That’s how I’m helping?”
“We will go at four o’clock. After an hour, you’ll say that you have a headache, and then we’ll leave.”
“Headache? Isn’t that too fake?”
“Whether it’s fake or not depends on whether your performance seems like it or not.”
“No problem, Li Chuan. Does the gallery have a dress code? With coat tails and so on.”
“Yes, it needs to be formal evening attire.”
“Then okay, I’ll put on the performance, you’ll pay for the stage props.”
“Have you eaten yet?”
“Wait for me, I’ll come pick you up. First, we’ll eat, and then go shopping.”
“Wait for me at the school gates. I just happen to need to go to the school gates to send a letter.”
After twenty minutes, Li Chuan drove over and picked me up. He said that he still needed a a week before being well enough to wear his prosthetic leg. Without the prosthetic leg, walking is more effortless for him, but sitting will be more difficult. He job required him to sit for a long time to draw designs, so he couldn’t depart from the prosthetic leg.
He was wearing a black suit as always, a black collared-shirt, and a purple necktie. He appeared tall and slender, filled with grace. Matched with that enchanting face of his, it was hard to resist him. I thought about it. As such a person, with only one leg, having just gotten out of the hospital, he still could not move that painter to allow him to stay for a shorter time. The weight on my shoulder was actually really heavy.
Li Chuan asked me if I wanted to go eat Yunnan food. I said, I’d rather eat sushi with him. He took me to a Japanese restaurant. He liked to eat sashimi, and I liked to eat teriyaki chicken. I asked him if he was busy. He said that he had finished everything he needed to in the hospital. He even sent it in early. We didn’t stay for long at the restaurant because I didn’t want to let him sit for too long. He didn’t know how to hold chopsticks with his left hand and his right hand couldn’t help. He could only use a fork to eat.
Afterwards, we went to a clothing store. I couldn’t tell if the name was in French or Italian. Li Chuan stood to the side reading a magazine. I went to try on evening gowns but the seven or eight I tried on were all too large.
I asked Li Chuan, “What to do?”
Li Chuan made a motion to take me away and the lady boss said, “This young lady’s build is really too small. If you guys don’t mind, I can take you to the second floor to take a look in the youth section.”
Li Chuan said, “Why didn’t you say something earlier? She is an adolescent.”
The lady boss helped me pick out a completely black gown. There was a ring of purple lace and went across the chest. I put it on to try. Not only did it fit perfectly, it still had somewhat of a sexy look. What era is this? Dresses for young girls were even made like this. The lady boss helped me find a bra, a purse, and shoes to go with it.
Li Chuan took out his credit card and said to me, “Do you know what I like most about you?”
I said, “What?”
“You make decisions really quick. If it was some other woman, she wouldn’t have even picked out one item after an entire afternoon of looking.”
“Did you pick out clothes for other women before?” I took the chance to quietly ask as the lady boss went to swipe the card.
“Do I really look like a virgin to you?”
I put on makeup in the car and admired myself in the mirror. The car entered a narrow ally. Li Chuan was taking a shortcut. It suddenly brightened, a luxurious high-rise appeared in front of us. We got out of the car at the door and he handed the keys to the valet. The valet drove the car into the garage for him.
“What style of painting does your friend do?” It wasn’t an Oscar award show, but why did I feel somewhat nervous.
“Oh, he is Pomo.” Seeing that I didn’t understand, he said, “Postmodern. Postmodernism.”
I knew nothing about modern, let alone postmodernism.
“You don’t have to say anything.” He consoled me, “You only have to pretend to look at the painting. If you get bored, have some beef jerky.”
Before getting into the car, he bought a bag of beef jerky for me. It was my favorite snack. It was shoved into my newly purchased clutch. The whole way here, Li Chuan kept saying I was still a little girl because I liked everything shiny and sparkly. There were certainly many gems on the purse. It did indeed shine brightly hanging from my hands.
“This is probably unsuitable.” I said.
“What are you afraid of? This is a postmodernism gallery.” He leaned on the crutches and concentrated on walking. I held my head straight, walking beside him.
There was already a row of people standing at the doorway. One young gentleman, with hair to his shoulders, quickly walked over, “Li Chuan!”
“Wasn’t late, right?” Li chuan went up to shake hands with him, and introduced me, “This is Miss Xie Xiao Qiu. A college student. This is Mr. Jiang Heng Xi. A famous painter.”
We shook hands and greeted each other.
Standing next to Jiang Heng Xi was his wife, a young lady with a breathtaking face. Her hair was put up high without a single strand amiss and had a grandeur appearance.
“Ji Lian,” Li Chuan held out his hand, “Long time no see.”
The two shook hands and Li Chuan introduced me, “This is Miss Xie Xiao Qiu. Xie Xiao Qiu, English Department student. This is Ms Ye Ji Lian, a painter specializing in traditional Chinese.
“Nice to meet you.” I said.
“Nice to meet you.” Ye Ji Lian smiled as she shook my hands, “Xiao Qiu, which university do you go to?”
“Li Chuan, we prepared a couch just for you. Do you need to rest a bit right now?” She glanced at his empty right leg and was slightly alarmed. It was clear that Li Chuan rarely didn’t wear his prosthetic leg for formal occasions.
“Thank you, no need.”
At this time, a middle-aged man in a grey suit, with a mysterious yet arrogant air about him came over. Ye Ji Lian said at once, “Let me introduce you. This is Mr. Han Zi Xu. The boss of Zi Cao Gallery (lit. Red Root Gromwell Gallery), a famous painter specializing in ancient jade paintings.”
What era is this? Why is everyone here a “specialist.”
And then Ye Ji Lian introduced Li Chuan, This is Mr. Li Chuan, Chairman of CGP Architects, building construction architect. A brilliant student from Harvard University’s Architecture Department. The winner of last year’s French AS-4 architecture award. He currently has around fifty design projects of China. Li Chuan, do you want me to also introduce your father and your older brother?”
Li Chuan shook his head, “There’s no need.”