A little glimpse into that fateful day many years ago.
Chapter 1.3 – The Pretty Lady’s Bane in Our Faculty (3)
Everybody was laughing. Gu Pingsheng, though, was not and simply calmly repeated her words. “Laws that are international, commercial, and about arbitration?” In that moment of such solemnity, Tong Yan was somewhat unable to make herself speak.
The person behind her raised a hand and lifted her head, asking, “Teacher, may I answer for her?” Shen Yao’s conscience, at last, was feeling remorseful, and she decided to turn herself in.
Gu Pingsheng’s lips were pressed together and turned up at the corner, but it was uncertain whether he was contemplating or smiling. In the end, he shook his head. “No, it’s not necessary.”
He walked back to the podium, opened the textbook, and began his lecture as if nothing had happened. However, when the bell rang signaling the end of class, he closed his book and stated, “Tong Yan, this afternoon, head over to Administration and come to my office.”
She was done for.
The instant Gu Pingsheng left the classroom with books in hand, all eyes turned toward Tong Yan, and the expression in every one of them said only a single thing: You’re done for.
“It’s okay.” Shen Yao patted her on the shoulder. “Pretty Lady’s Bane is specifically a bane to pretty ladies, so that just goes to show that your looks are very fine.”
Tong Yan ground her teeth together, wishing she could eat her alive.
The end result was, that afternoon when she arrived at the Law Building, every administrative teacher would grin at her and ask, “International Commercial Arbitration, huh? You know now what the consequences are for not studying?”
And all the teaching professors would tell her in a grave and meaningful tone, “Tong Yan, you seem quite smart. Why is it your grades always are not high, but not low either? If you try just a little harder, you’d be able to get one of the slots to be an exchange student.”
Tong Yan either smiled or provided a respectful response. Only after she had stepped into his office did she finally realize that he wanted to see her not just for that stupid International Commercial Arbitration class but for another reason as well.
He had said before that he “had a friend” in this particular school, but she had not expected that it would be Zhao Yin, one of the female teachers in the Faculty of Science. This teacher was also the Goddess of Nightmares in her first and second years of university. As a pure liberal arts stream student who had not taken physics since her second year of high school but was required to take university level physics after entering post-secondary, what sort of fate did this mean for her?
The fate of having to retake physics over and over again.
“TK, I’m going now.” Teacher Zhao, whose voice was smooth and tactful, smiled at Tong Yan. “Tong Yan, I had a look at your schedule just now. You didn’t register for physics this semester. You’re planning on taking it again next semester instead?”
In fact, this teacher was actually quite good, but Tong Yan just truly could not understand the things she lectured about.
With a very polite smile, Tong Yan answered, “I want to read up and study myself first during this semester. Next semester, I’ll throw myself into the battle again.”
Teacher Zhao did not say any more and left.
This was her first time in Gu Pingsheng’s office. She was uncertain whether it was his personal preference or whether it was a particular fondness of one of the administrative teachers but the décor of the entire office tended towards the colour white. Even the fabric sofa was a milky white colour. Only a lush corn plant in a large plant pot gave off a green luster under the sunlight.
His first words to her were, “You took physics four times?”
In that instant, Tong Yan felt as if she had walked into the wrong place. She seemed to have come here about International Commercial Arbitration, not university physics, right?
She decided not to answer this question. But she needed a very compelling conversation shifter…
“You guys… aren’t boyfriend-girlfriend, are you?” To decide his work location based on a friend’s wishes meant that they certainly could not have just an ordinary relationship.
Gu Pingsheng was taken aback but then immediately chuckled.
In the end, he also did not answer this question and actually took advantage of her guilty mindset over asking it to dig up the reason why she had failed physics four times. Her summarization was very simple: “Talent is something that cannot be forced. Teacher Gu, since my first year in high school, I’ve known that I’m no good in physics.”
Gu Pingsheng took a drink of water. “Do you need me to give you some extra help sessions?”
Tong Yan’s heart gave a little skip but she did not reply. Instead, she sat down on the sofa and after some time, looked right at him and said, “Teacher Gu, can you just treat it like we never knew each other in the past?”
“I’m really doing quite well right now, but with all the extra care you’re showing me, it actually gives me the feeling like things in my life aren’t really all that good.” These words should actually have been said with her head lowered, but with him, she had no choice but to meet his gaze directly and take in every expression he showed. “Really, you can go over to the school’s cafeteria and take a walk around. You might run into a student or two who doesn’t have enough money for food and are waiting to eat other people’s leftovers… Those are the people who really need help. I just belong to the middle of the pack, and I don’t need to worry about whether I have food to eat or anything to drink…”
“Tong Yan,” Gu Pingsheng cut her off. “That year, in the hospital… I’m sorry. That was the only time I ever hit anyone.”
Why did he suddenly bring up such a serious topic? What Tong Yan had been trying to express was, my life right now is calm and uneventful, and you don’t need to look after me so much.
“It actually didn’t hurt at all when you hit me. It was just a little embarrassing.”
She was unable to forget that day.
There had been particularly few people outside of the ICU, and the lighting had been starkly white and cold.
The schoolbag she had worn was very heavy, and inside were many, many papers and books. The math problem her teacher had written on the blackboard earlier on was still racing through her mind. She could only see several people surrounding a middle-aged man as well as an extremely young man sitting on the floor, his back leaning against the snow-white wall, his one arm draped across his knees, and his hand holding a thin sheet of white paper.
The middle-aged man walked over to her and asked, “You must be Yan Yan?”
Although his voice had been intentionally made to sound warm and kind, a long-engrained habit of carrying a lofty and superior manner caused him to appear shrouded in a layer of coldness and detachment. Who she was was not of importance; what was important was that she was the only person, her mother’s only kin, who could sign to authorize her mother’s surgery. The surgery fee was not of importance; what was important was that written signature.
She really could not remember what she had been feeling at the time. But, she had refused to sign.
Even when the doctor had inquired whether she wanted to look in on or visit her mother, she had simply replied that she needed to go back to attend class.
The only things she could clearly recall were the strange looks in the eyes of the doctors and nurses. And then, someone had yanked up her hand and forced her to sign her name. It was someone who had nothing to do with the entire situation — Gu Pingsheng.
While she was struggling, she had bit down on his hand, so hard that even her teeth had ached, but still he would not let go.
In the end, he had slapped her across her cheek. It was very loud. The sound had echoed through the entire corridor. “In this world, you have the right to choose anything. The one exception is your parents. You cannot choose them and you cannot give them up.”
At the time, she had sobbed wretchedly. Now, as she looked back upon it, it had not hurt whatsoever.
Perhaps it had been his words that had caused her to completely breakdown. In this world, you could choose anything except your parents. Yes, she had no choice at all. Only afterwards, when many doctors came over and pulled him back, telling him, “Your mother has gone into cardiac arrest,” did he suddenly freeze and let go of her…
She remembered his name badge pinned on his chest: “Department of Cardiac Surgery. Gu Pingsheng.” She hazily recalled the memory.
She pulled back her thoughts and raised her head to look at him. Such clear, distinct facial features. He had not changed at all.
She felt that if they continued along with this conversation, she would have no hopes of being able to properly take his class this semester. As a result, she hurriedly fell silent and thought of an excuse that would allow her to depart from his office.
However, as she was leaving, she still felt that the class had crossed the line today and, turning back around, she looked at him and said, “Our class is just normally used to joking around. They really did not mean any harm.” And weren’t deliberately picking on your handicap.
Gu Pingsheng picked up a glass, took a drink of water, and smiled, “I know.”
When she returned to the dormitory, the three girls inside were holding a bowl of melon seeds and munching on them while watching television dramas. Seeing that Tong Yan had come back, Wang Xiaoru immediately grinned and asked, “What’d Teacher Gu do to you?”
Tong Yan grabbed a handful of melon seeds. “He didn’t do anything to me.”
“Look at you all meek and submissive.” Shen Yao laughed, “We were just saying when we were having lunch earlier, how come your name seems to roll off Great Beauty Gu’s lips so easily? It’s always, ‘Tong Yan, Tong Yan.’ Don’t tell me the two of you have ‘taken a narrow, winding path and found your own little secluded haven,’ eh?”
Tong Yan flicked a glance over at her, then continued eating her melon seeds in silence. In reality, she understood that those memories of her past that she had never wanted to think back upon would certainly be pulled back up by Gu Pingsheng. Even if he never mentioned them, she would still eventually think about them herself.
She cracked open and ate her tenth melon seed before finally heaving a sigh. “We’ve had two weeks of classes already. Who can tell me how many weeks left until we’re off on winter break?”
“Nineteen weeks of classes in total, seventeen weeks left.” Shen Yao looked at her gleefully. “Are you trying to figure out how long you have left until you have to go back and re-take physics?”
Seventeen weeks. Another one hundred and nineteen days.
From that point on, she immediately gave International Commercial Arbitration first and foremost priority out of all her courses, and all three successive in-class quizzes that followed were passed without any difficulty. Each time, she would arrive very early to class and sit at the very back of the room. Once the bell rang, signaling the end of class, she would dash straight out. Such a perfect plan. She wished she could set a countdown clock like she did for her National College Entrance Exams years earlier.
Today, after class was over, she went into the restroom beside their classroom and washed her face. September weather in Shanghai always arrived so fiercely and unforgivingly. In the time span of just a single class, her entire body had become covered in sweat.
With a tissue, she haphazardly wiped off her face, and as she stepped out, she saw Shen Yao and several others standing by the door with wide grins. The moment they saw her, they grew mirthful. “Tong Yan Wuji, this guy’s looking for you. Do you know him?”
In front of all the girls stood a spectacle-wearing male student, whose build was neither tall nor short and whose appearance was neither attractive nor ugly.
Tong Yan caught the look of “there’s a love affair going on here” on their faces and immediately understood. “This is the class rep from my drawing and sketching class.” She walked over toward him. “What’s up? You’re looking for me for something?”
If her memory served her correctly, this person was from the Faculty of Science, the place where the ratio of males to females was severely imbalanced, and everyday, it was either formulas or else laboratory experiments. She reckoned he had probably never before been surrounded and stared at by several girls, and he stood there in embarrassment for quite some time before finally saying, “Last week, there was an assignment that needed to be handed in. You were the only one who didn’t go to class. I’m here… to collect your assignment.”
Ah, totally forgot. What did it mean by “caring for one thing but losing another”? This, here, was it. She had only concerned herself with International Commercial Arbitration and had forgotten about the sketching assignment from her elective course.
Tong Yan smiled awkwardly, “I forgot to draw it. How about I bring it over to you tonight? Your name is…?” So sad. She didn’t even know what the name of this class representative was.
The male student felt even more awkward than her. “Shen Heng. You don’t need to bring it to my dorm. How about this? At eight o’clock tonight, I’ll be by the Upper Building, you know, right by Remembrance of Roots Lake.” Shen Heng hesitated but finally decided on a more noticeable and obvious location. “Forget it. Let’s just wait beneath the flag. See you there!”
Tong Yan was dumbfounded, but before she had even agreed, the boy had promptly left. She was not fast enough to call him back, and she did not even have his mobile phone number… Was she really going to have to go to the front of the school, at the most conspicuous landmark beneath that slowly fluttering red flag, to hand in an assignment?
Delighting in her misfortune, Shen Yao patted her on the shoulder. “I’ll say, Big Brother Wuji attracted all the beautiful female celebrity figures of his era. How come you only manage to attract such rotten suitors? This one’s just absolutely one of a kind. He doesn’t take the initiative and volunteer to pick you up from your dorm and instead arranges to meet you beneath the flag? And, what kind of dumb excuse is that? Nowadays, do such dedicated class reps even exist anymore? Such a ridiculously rotten suitor.”
With Shen Yao putting it that way, Tong Yan could not even laugh. However, the assignment needed to be handed in. This was her grade for half the semester.
In the end, the other three girls in her dormitory were the ones who were exceptionally excited and insisted on hiding out around the area to watch in secret how she handed in her sketching assignment by the oh-so-great and amazing Remembrance of Roots Lake.
Unable to stop them, she could only steel herself and stand on the pavement of the tree-lined walkway beside the lake, watching the area beneath the flagpole from afar and waiting for that Shen Heng to arrive before she walked over there.
Her head was down and she was studying the wildly luxuriant growth of weeds in the flowerbeds when she saw two pairs of feet passing by in front of her. Judging from the shoes, it was a man and a woman, but why had they suddenly stopped here? Come on, this wasn’t a good place for whispering a little private exchange, right? Oh please, don’t kiss. Can’t you see there’s a live and kicking person right here?…
While her thoughts were still jumbled and everywhere, the pair of high heeled feet had stepped closer to her. “Tong Yan?”
This was a voice she had listened to for four semesters. It was the Goddess of Nightmares. As she lifted her head, the eyes of the other three girls by the lake widened in shock.
Two steps behind the Goddess of Nightmares stood Gu Pingsheng — that Gu Pingsheng who supposedly did not live or ever stay on the school campus and every week only came to teach three classes.
The pale amber light of the streetlamp shone upon him, highlighting and defining each feature of his face. His eyes were such a rich deep black… Pretty Lady’s Bane, indeed. His deadliness managed to take down even the Goddess of Nightmares.
“How is your studying for physics going?” Zhao Yin asked out of occupational habit.
“I’ve got the basics now…” she answered, completely fibbing.
The instant physics was mentioned, Zhao Yin’s smile immediately became warmer and softer, and she started to explain in a gentle tone why Tong Yan had failed last semester. She was not certain the reason, but Tong Yan felt extremely uncomfortable listening to her.
Right as she was about to find an excuse to slip away from there, Gu Pingsheng had already walked up to her. “Sketching?” Sketch paper was truly quite easy to recognize.
When Tong Yan nodded, Gu Pingsheng smiled and lowered his head to gaze at her. “Let me see.”
Tong Yan handed it over to him. It was just a very simple still life sketch.
He untied the string, unfurled the entire sketch, and glanced it over. “It seems like there’s some issues with the perspective. Do you have a pencil?”
Tong Yan was taken aback. “Yes.”
Rummaging through her bag, she found her pencil case, pulled out a pencil and eraser, and handed them to him. He took them from her and erased away some places. Curling his pinky finger, he brushed away the eraser fragments and then started to… amend her assignment.
 曲径通幽 ‘qu jing tong you.’ Imagine a narrow, winding little pathway suddenly opening up to a peaceful, enchanting, and secluded view. Shen Yao is jokingly insinuating that after a difficult process, the two have come together as a couple, like they have reached their secluded haven
 高考 “gao kao.” Unified national examinations on various subjects held annually, usually for students in their final year of high school and are a pre-requisite for any post-secondary education at the undergraduate level.
 顾此失彼 “gu ci shi bi.” Literally, “to care for this but then lose that.” An idiom that means, to be preoccupied with attending to one thing that another thing ends up being neglected.
 无忌哥哥 “Wuji Gege.” Here, Big Brother Wuji is referring to 张无忌 Zhang Wuji, the main character in Jin Yong’s novel, 《一天屠龙记》Heavenly Sword, Dragon Sabre. In the novel, four beautiful maidens, each having her own special status and abilities, fell in love with him. His given name, 无忌 Wuji, are the exact same characters as the “Wuji” in Tong Yan’s nickname.
1 of 1 Prologue
3 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments