Then Jian Bianlin wordlessly handed that autographed photo back to the flight attendant. The atmosphere once again sunk down to the original low that it had been when they first got onto the plane.
Chu Jian gazed at him tensely, the guilty feeling inside her swelling rapidly. Tarrying for a while, she finally explained quietly, “I don’t have any feelings for him.” After saying this, she dug out a slightly battered-looking airline magazine from in front of her seat and absentmindedly flipped through a couple pages before adding in a murmur, “If I do like someone, I will let you know.”
For the second time, Jian Bianlin turned his gaze back to her, a frown between his brows.
The entire day, his complexion had been rather pale, and now it was even worse.
Actually, anyone who observed him carefully would be able to detect that his mood was all showing in his eyes. The short locks lying across his forehead, however, covered up some of it, and he was also purposely avoiding her. Not wanting his own emotions to affect her, he had thrown out a couple random sentences of joking but had not expected that he would instead end up being pulled by her into another emotional low.
Chu Jian knew his eyes were on her, but she dared not return that gaze anymore.
And so, putting on a pretense of all seriousness, she leafed through the magazine that was in her hands from front cover to back cover and then from back cover to front cover again, even reading every single line of fine print on the ads. In this way, she remained in silent suffering until the airplane landed, nearly stifling herself to the point of internal injury.
Prior to disembarking the plane, Jian Bianlin pulled out the black, surgical-style face mask and slipped it on, concealing away half his face. He normally seldom wore this. A few days ago, he had put it on because he was ill and his face was wan, so he had been concerned that if photographs were taken of him, his fans would worry. This time, it was because he was not in a good mental and emotional state, and he was afraid that if he were photographed, unfounded things might be written about him.
His skin tone was already more fair than the average man. Now, the black color of the mask served to emphasize his pale complexion.
That pair of eyes, which was the only part of his face showing, did not look at her. “Follow me, but don’t come too close.”
With those words, he picked up his own backpack and began walking.
This trip was made out of emergency, so the situation of fans coming to meet his flight because his schedule had been leaked in advance would not occur. However, when he stepped out from the exit and hurriedly strode by with head bowed, there continually were passersby who recognized him. Far and near, people fished out their mobile phones and spontaneously began to follow after Jian Bianlin’s footsteps. He had not even brought an assistant with him, so it was unavoidable that his pace was slowed because of the flock of people surrounding him. Fortunately, everyone was very courteous.
The entire time, Jian Bianlin would search the throng for Chu Jian from the corner of his eye, for fear that she would be bumped and crammed away by the crowd. Chu Jian was actually being very careful, unassumingly following him from a distance of twenty metres away. While he was enclosed within the swarm, she even, in passing, went to KFC and bought a cola. Patiently, she bit down on the straw and drank unhurriedly, waiting for him to break away from the masses.
When they were kids, she had often waited like this for him as well.
Back then, Jian Bianlin’s dad had frequently needed to travel on business for his work at the shipyard, and furthermore, it was to far-off locations. Often, for ten days to half a month at a time, Jian Bianlin would have dinner at Chu Jian’s home, and so it had been necessary that they went home together after school. However, his class, Class No. 1, was a key class [class for high performers] and he was also a top student, so supplementary classes or classes lasting long after the bell were commonplace for him. Her class, Class No. 9, was a non-key class, so she was dismissed from school relatively early. Hence, their two classrooms, one at each end of the hallway, were always the last to turn off the lights. In the former classroom, all the students were still attending class, while in the latter, there was only Chu Jian, either sleeping or reading manga alone.
Often, when Class No. 1 finished class and everyone was animatedly heading downstairs, he would walk alone down that dark hallway to the very end, push open the door, and collect Chu Jian, whose vision by then was blurry from hunger.
And that was how her patience had been polished out and practiced, a little at a time.
Getting out of the airport was practically like fighting monsters and leveling up in a video game—obstacles everywhere…
In the end, a few experienced fans even surrounded Chu Jian’s dad’s car. Chu Jian reckoned that she would not be able to sit in her own family’s car to go back, so spinning around, she jogged over to stand in line in the taxi queue.
At the same time, Jian Bianlin’s mobile phone vibrated.
It was a message from Chu Jian:
Go back first with my dad. I’ll take a cab over.
His young fans were still talking to him through the open vehicle door. In the rearview mirror, Jian Bianlin searched for Chu Jian, and only after he saw her sit into a taxi did he remind those young female fans to watch their hands. Then, he shut the car door.
Jian Bianlin’s father was staying in a VIP hospital room. Fortunately, it was not in the intensive care unit.
Chu Jian was the last to arrive. When she stepped inside, Jian Bianlin was sitting in a spot relatively further from the bed, his head lowered and his hands peeling a pomelo. After he was done removing the peel, he began pulling off, a little at a time, the white membrane surrounding the flesh of the fruit.
On the bed, Jian Bianlin’s dad was denouncing him in Cantonese.
Although they had moved to Hangzhou long ago, the father and son pair still liked communicating with each other in Cantonese. Chu Jian had been around them and listened to them for so many years that she was able to completely understand everything, but no matter how she tried, she was just unable to speak it.
Jian Bianlin’s dad was criticizing everything about him, from his hoodie to his pants, then from his belt to his sneakers to the necklace hanging on his neck. Finally, he even did not forget to chastise him about that black pinky ring.
In short, his policy was that a man should not pay so much careful attention to his dress; that was simply wrong and absurd.
With his tall build, Jian Bianlin was squeezed tight on a wooden chair that had been set in the space between the bed and the window. He sat with his legs apart, his elbows resting on his thighs, unspeaking as hunched over and carried on with peeling the pomelo. It was only when he saw Chu Jian that the motions of his hands paused.
When Jian Bianlin’s dad spotted Chu Jian, he hurriedly changed channels into a gentle and kindly one. “Little Chu, Uncle has missed you. Look at you, so busy and yet you still came all the way here.”
“It’s no big deal.” Chu Jian wagged her hands. “I’m my own boss. There’s no one bossing me around.”
Jian Bianlin’s dad had not seen Chu Jian in a very long time, and he was quite happy now. Amidst the pain that stabbed at his entire body, he vividly described his dangerous situation from this afternoon of how his blood pressure had suddenly dropped to an extreme low and he had nearly breathed his last.
Taking advantage of this moment when his dad was chattering away happily, Jian Bianlin rose, pulled off a segment of the pomelo flesh that he had peeled, and stuffed the fruit into his father’s mouth. Then he offhandedly pulled off another segment and gave it to Chu Jian.
“Look at how meticulous Little Jian is, how clean he has peeled everything” Chu Jian’s father nagged, “You like to eat pomelo that is all cleaned up, but you’re too lazy to peel it yourself.”
With an “mm-hmm, mm-hmm,” admitting to her own laziness, she pulled off little wedges of pomelo and nibbled on them while peeking secretly at Jian Bianlin. His dad’s appearance now seemed quite reassuring. His mood should be better now, right?
Soon, another person at the leadership level in the shipyard paid a visit.
Jian Bianlin’s presence was like that of a giant panda—every person who stepped into the room would steal a few extra glances at him. He could see that his dad was quite enjoying the care and concern that was being expressed by all these leaders and managers. Not wanting to remain in this place, he left the room alone to look into the medical charges and collect the latest stack of medical bills that needed to be paid.
“I’ll go.” Chu Jian grabbed the bills from him, flipping through them. “It’s not really convenient for you to walk about.”
Jian Bianlin gazed down from his tall height at her.
Pulling his wallet out from between his fingers, she fled from there.
When Chu Jian, holding his wallet, arrived downstairs at the fee payment window and stood before that staff member on the other side of the glass who was staring at a computer and totaling up the costs, she was still silently lamenting for herself. If she could do that whole incident from years ago all over again, she would rather she had been a drama queen day in and day out until Jian Bianlin could not stand her anymore and initiated breaking up with her. That way, this guilty feeling would not constantly be shadowing her, chasing after her all these years.
Ah, well, she could only blame it on lack of experience back then.
“My Baby is just breathtaking with a capital B… He’s so handsome I could cry, just cry. Check out his waist!” Several young girls queuing behind her were chatting enthusiastically.
This music… wasn’t it that dance song that had been playing on yesterday’s television program?
A handful of change was tossed back out through the window. Pulling it over toward herself, Chu Jian snuck a glimpse at that mobile phone screen that was being raised high to view. Sure enough, it was the post-program bonus from yesterday’s talk show. It was just that yesterday, Jian Bianlin had shown up right as the dance music started playing, and she had felt awkward about attentively watching it with him there.
As Chu Jian organized the bills of money, ordering them based on denomination size and then putting each note back into his wallet, she was unable to resist and took a quick peek at that phone screen.
In the darkness, a faint white light cascaded down. From beneath the brim of his baseball cap that had been pulled low, he lifted those deep black, brooding eyes and gazed directly into the camera—
“This is totally suited for watching at night, aaaah! Send me the link, quick!”
“Isn’t it, isn’t it? I played it on repeat more than a good ten times last night and couldn’t even sleep! My Baby gives off this air when he’s on stage that absolutely invades you. It’s like he’s bursting with male hormones!”
At the airport and at her workplace, fine, but she was running into his fans even when lining up to pay fees at the hospital. Chu Jian genuinely understood from experience just how popular he was of late. It was no wonder, then, that after hearing Jian Bianlin propose a collaboration where he was willing to allow them to bring along a newbie artiste, Tong Fei had been so excited that she had practically wished she could tie up Chu Jian in a ribbon and send her over as a gift in return…
When Chu Jian returned to the VIP floor, she caught sight of a familiar-looking backside standing with Jian Bianlin in front of the hospital room.
It was the teacher who had been both Jian Bianlin’s class advisor throughout middle school as well as Chu Jian’s English teacher. Back then, it was this elderly woman who had called them down to the office and spoken in earnest and with the best of intentions, asking them whether they were dating at that too-young age…
Since she was little, Chu Jian had been afraid of all teachers of all subjects. Whenever a teacher came directly toward her, she had always scurried off to the side of the hallway against the wall. Dropping her eyes, she would mumble Teacher Zhao” or “Teacher Li,” and then, treating herself as if she was thin air, she would drift past them…
Thus, right here, right this moment, her first reaction was still to try hard to snug herself against the wall and drift past…
Of course, the other party did not fulfill her wish.
Teacher Li immediately stretched out a hand and dragged Chu Jian over, tousling Chu Jian’s hair and stroking her hands while prattling, “You’re truly grown up now. So pretty.” She added, “I’m here at the hospital to pick up some medication, and I saw the managers and leaders of Jian Bianlin’s father’s shipyard. It was then that I found out he was hospitalized because of a work-related injury, so I came up here for a quick visit. I had not expected that I would run into the two of you.”
Chu Jian smiled awkwardly. “Thank you for the trouble you went to, Teacher.”
Teacher Li gave a kindly smile. “Young couple, you two came back together?”
Chu Jian was stupefied. “N-no, no.”
“No, you didn’t come back together? So you arrived one right after the other?” Teacher Li interrupted with a laugh. “I get it. Little Jian is now a big star, and big stars have to take all those measures to keep things secret. Mm, rest assured, Teacher is able to keep a secret. Even when the students at the school have asked, I’ve still never talked about the two of you.”
“Teacher, Teacher, you’re mistaken. There’s honestly nothing between us.” Chu Jian was tripping over her own tongue.
“Back then it was for the good of your studies and grades.” Teacher Li continued to caress Chu Jian’s short tresses. “You need to understand that from a teacher’s standpoint, early-age dating, after all, is just not good, simply not good. How many people can actually end up like the two of you, still together even now? They are just behaving blindly and foolishly.”
“Teacher, you truly are mistaken. We honestly aren’t dating. Honest, honest.” Afraid that her parents might hear from inside the room, she tugged on the corner of Jian Bianlin’s shirt, appealing to him for help.
Somewhat perplexed by this, Teacher Li turned her eyes to Jian Bianlin, who was simply being a spectator.
Jian Bianlin retrieved his wallet from Chu Jian’s hand and arbitrarily slipped it back into the pocket of his pants, saying, “We broke up.”
The elderly woman instantly understood. Her expression shifted from one of disappointment to one that conveyed pity over this end result, until in the end, still carrying thoughts of urging peace and harmony and not encouraging the parting of ways, she asked in a quiet voice, “Gotten in a little quarrel?” As she said this, she clasped Jian Bianlin’s wrist. “Little Jian, girls just need some sweet words and coaxing and then things will be fine with them. Don’t break up so easily.”
Jian Bianlin’s face was impassive. “She isn’t easy to win over with coaxing and sweet words. I’ll try my best.”
重点班 “zhong dian ban.” In China, a grade can be subdivided into different types of classes. A “key class” is a class specifically for high academic performers in the grade, as opposed to non-key or general classes, which are for average or below average students. Students of these key classes are groomed specifically with the expectation that they will perform better, and in general, more pressure is placed on them.
Cantonese is the main dialect of Guangdong, which is where Jian Bianlin and his father were originally from before they moved to Hangzhou and became neighbours with Chu Jian’s family.