This is one of the best chapters yet as all three characters, and by that I mean Yun Jin, Cheng Zheng and Shen Ju An, finally gather in the same place at the same time. Let’s jump right in!
After that day in the library, there was an unspoken understanding between Yun Jin and Shen Ju An. Although neither had confessed their feelings, both were aware of how the other felt. They spent more time together and sometimes when they walked along the school’s forested pathways, Shen Ju An would smile and take her hand in his. Feeling his warm, dry palms, Yun Jin knew that her heart had found its harbour.
Although they did not display their affections publicly, their relationship was soon found out. Being such a compatible couple, the majority were envious but wished them well. Yun Jin’s hostel mates even teased her for having the good fortune to date such a perfect graduating senior.
When one is basking in happiness, time always speeds by. In the blink of an eye, the semester was coming to an end. Initially, Yun Jin had planned to give her tutee thorough lessons but the latter’s parents had informed her that they intended to go on a long vacation and thus tutoring was put on hold. This arrangement was also fine with Yun Jin; she was grateful for the sudden weeklong break. Besides, Shen Ju An had already graduated, now was an excellent opportunity for the two to spend quality time together.
Yun Jin and Shen Ju An made plans to visit the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees on Labour Day, which was also a National holiday. Yun Jin rose bright and early. She had just washed up and was eating takeaway breakfast when a hostel mate told her “Yun Jin, your boyfriend is waiting on the ground floor”. Yun Jin turned bright beetroot. She wasn’t yet accustomed to people referring to Shen Ju An in that manner.
Didn’t we agree on nine-thirty? Yun Jin looked at the time. It wasn’t even nine yet. He was rarely so enthusiastic. Yun Jin suppressed a grin as made her way down hurriedly. She failed to notice the quizzical expression on her hostel-mate’s face.
At the ground floor, Yun Jin looked everywhere but didn’t spot Shen Ju An. Just as she was feeling confused, her line of vision fell on the walkway opposite the hostel. She stared shocked and shook her head in disbelief. If she wasn’t dreaming then .., was he really standing there right now? She had poor sleep the night before, was it causing her to hallucinate? The “hallucination” before her was taller than she remembered.
This guy should be in Beijing or by his parents’ side or … basically anywhere but here. But if it wasn’t him, who else could it be? He was wearing a casual t-shirt paired with jeans and a duffel bag was slung across his back. His eyes were trained on her and casting aside the fatigued expression, he was exactly as she remembered him.
Seeing Yun Jin rooted to the spot, Cheng Zheng was in no hurry to go up to her. Thus, both looked at each other in this manner for a few seconds before Yun Jin broke out of her reverie and walked over.
“Um … How … Why are you here?” Yun Jin stood before him and forced out an opening.
Cheng Zheng raised his chin slightly “What, I’m not welcome?”
Yun Jin shook her head furiously “I didn’t mean that. I … It’s just that my friend told me my boyfriend was waiting.”
“Yeah I told her to pass on that message.” Cheng Zheng’s lips curled up. “So what? You don’t know how many people I had to stop to determine which block was yours. And why do the girls here react as though they’ve never seen a man before?”
“It’s not like that. Don’t utter nonsense.” Yun Jin lowered her gaze unconsciously.
Cheng Zheng folded his arms across his chest and said “Su Yun Jin. Have you noticed that you always wear this look of guilt when you see me? …”
His words pricked Yun Jin’s conscience. She was also confused, why was it that whenever she saw him, all the cowardliness, confusion, low self-esteem would come surging back? And why should she feel guilt when she didn’t owe him anything?
“Could it be that deep down, you know you owe me.” He seemed to have read her thoughts as he leaned forward such that his face was mere inches away from hers.
Yun Jin was struck with a sliver of annoyance and shoved him away but this only produced a devious chuckle. She was about to speak when she noticed that Cheng Zheng was looking at something else. She followed his gaze and discovered Shen Ju An standing not too far off.
Yun Jin deftly took a few steps away from Cheng Zheng and tried to suppress her wildly beating heart.
Shen Ju An’s smile was as warm as usual and his eyes didn’t betray any shock. “I thought you would be early so I decided to be early too. You have a visitor?”
Cheng Zheng slowly straightened his back. His eyes expressed guardedness as he faced this man who was well-matched in looks and confidence.
“Yun Jin, you should introduce us.” He said coldly.
“Oh.” Yun Jin came to her senses and hurried to introduce the both of them. “This is Shen Ju An … Ju An, this is my high school classmate Cheng Zheng. He is currently studying in Beijing.”
She addressed him so affectionately and was quick to deny any connection to him; it was the first time that her joy inspired such fear in him.
“He’s your boyfriend?” He hoped against hope that she would reply in the negative. Tell me it isn’t so, please, it isn’t so!
She didn’t reply but her staring at Shen Ju An red-faced was all the confirmation that Cheng Zheng needed.
Cheng Zheng always scoffed whenever people said a heart could literally shatter in sorrow. But now that his heart was being cruelly shredded piece by piece, he would very much rather it shattered. Then maybe he would not ache anymore.
He had wrestled with himself for such a long while and finally decided to give in to his heart’s desire and travelled halfway across the country to meet the woman he couldn’t stop thinking of yet now … now she belonged to someone else!
By right, he should take his leave immediately and forget this ridiculous trip and this hateful person. But his innate pride and stubbornness meant that he didn’t budge one bit. When Shen Ju An smiled politely at him, he even managed to force out a smile in return.
“Here for a vacation?” Shen Ju An asked.
“Something like that. I have relatives in this part of town. I thought I might as well visit an old classmate. I’m not disturbing you am I?” Cheng Zheng may have said so but nothing in his expression hinted of apology.
Yun Jin stared at him in surprise. She thought self-mockingly, perhaps she had regarded herself too highly. She had thought he came here expressly to see her.
“It’s no big deal. We were just about to visit the Temple of The Six Banyan Trees. Do you want to come along?”
“Of course.” Cheng Zheng agreed readily and caused Yun Jin much pause instead. Anyone could have discerned that her offer was made out of politeness and was not sincere so she couldn’t believe that he would take her up on her offer.
This trip was an odd experience for Yun Jin. She was accompanied by two good-looking men but throughout, she felt uneasy as if seated on a pincushion. She couldn’t understand what was in Cheng Zheng’s head.
Thankfully, Shen Ju An was flexible. The entire trip, he was friendly and accommodating, not neglecting to introduce the sight and scenes to Cheng Zheng. Cheng Zheng played the role of an attentive audience to the hilt and it almost appeared as if he was very interested in whatever Shen Ju An had to say.
The Temple of The Six Banyan Trees was situated on Six Banyan Tree lane. Although it was a public holiday, the incense was not appreciably dense. After entering the temple, the on-site majestic artefacts had a soothing effect on the heart.
The trio admired the view as they walked. The incense was densest in front of the Guan Yin statue. No matter the times, human’s unfulfilled desires were always so great in number; being a helpless human, they could only seek help from the deities.
Shen Ju An bought incense and offered some to Yun Jin and Cheng Zheng. Cheng Zheng made no move to accept it. He shook his head and said “I don’t believe in this.”
Shen Ju An smiled “Everyone has unfulfilled desires. If believing can make you happier, why not? Since you’re here, you might as well light an incense. They say the Guan Yin deity is efficacious here, perhaps you can really attain your dreams.”
Cheng Zheng paused and did not refuse anymore. He received the incense and followed their lead in respectfully kowtowing before the statue. He then jotted his name and request in the Book of Deeds before burning a stack of hell notes. Yun Jin noted that he didn’t even flinch when he took out a hundred dollar bill. She advised him “You only need to feel sincere.” Cheng Zheng smiled and replied “My sincerity far exceeds this.”
After they had offered up incense, Shen Ju An noticed that the heat from the furnace had precipitated a thin veil of perspiration on Yun Jin’s forehead and offered to get water from the temple entrance. Suddenly, only Cheng Zheng and Yun Jin were left. Yun Jin couldn’t help but feel awkward so she suggested that they look around on their own accord.
Yun Jin walked up to the Six Patriarchs and observed that they appeared extremely lifelike and wise. She then recalled their backstory and was lost in thought when she heard footsteps that stopped behind her. She didn’t need to turn around because she could sense who it was.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“I’m just looking at the statues of the Six Patriarchs. Perhaps because they possessed such wisdom, they have such carefree demeanours.
“But not just anyone can be like the Six Patriarchs.” Cheng Zheng walked up to her slowly.
Yun Jin felt a surge of helplessness. “Cheng Zheng, you should go.”
“Why should I leave? I still haven’t figured it out. At first I thought you just didn’t know how to love a person, but now I see that you just didn’t know how to love me. You were so disappointed on knowing that Zi Yi has a girlfriend but yet you found a new beau on campus so quickly. Why can’t you give me a proper explanation?” His face was against the light so his expression could not be seen.
“What explanation do you want?” Yun Jin turned around abruptly and collided into his chest. She could feel his body warmth through his T-shirt. This felt strangely like back in old days – all she needed to do was turn around and there he would be.
Cheng Zheng hugged her and said “It’s fine that you don’t like me. But abandoning me after kissing me, what am I supposed to make of that?”
“Let go, Buddha is watching.” Yun Jin slapped his hands away.
“But Buddha hasn’t even noticed my unhappiness.” Cheng Zheng dropped his hands by his side “Yun Jin, I came specially for you so you should at least tell me why I’m not good enough.”
This was the first time Yun Jin saw the typically arrogant and stubborn Cheng Zheng appear so vulnerable. She said with an air of defeat “It’s not that you’re not good enough. In fact, the converse is true. You’re too good for me, we’re just incompatible.”
“I don’t know what silly logic this is. Then is Shen Ju An compatible with you?” He said with displeasure.
“That doesn’t concern you.”
Cheng Zheng was pricked by her words and his tone became hard. “I don’t care. You just can’t treat me like this. That night you said something about ‘This I return you’. Let me tell you, what you owe me you can never repay!”
Yun Jin stared at him silently. This was the Cheng Zheng she knew, the horrid repressive aura, the unreasonableness, not one bit had changed.
She walked past him and left the Six Patriarch hall without a word. Coincidentally, Shen Ju An was just returning with bottles of mineral water. Seeing his warm smile, Yun Jin’s unsettled heart finally calmed down.