Anyone have cavities yet? And there’s still more sweetness, even when they’re not together.
Chapter 9.1 – I Can Hear You (1)
During that last week of examinations, more and more people began to leave to head home.
Every year, for the winter and summer breaks, someone from the Beijing Students’ Association would be in charge of booking tickets back to Beijing, and so, a large part of the train car would be filled with familiar friends and people, all talking and laughing until the next morning.
This year, she had also reserved her ticket in advance. When Gu Pingsheng asked her whether she wanted to go back to Beijing together with him, she suddenly realized that he was returning to the same city as her.
With her pen, she crossed off the last day of this semester.
Nineteen weeks. One hundred and thirty-three days.
When Gu Pingsheng arrived, it had been the first day of a new semester and the first class of the morning.
She could still remember, that day, the weather had been very nice. The morning sunlight had shone in through the window, and he had been completely enveloped in its glow. Casually, he had held the chalk and written his name: Gu Pingsheng.
The tip of her pen slid over her yearly calendar and stopped inside one of the small grids. Inside the square for December 24th, she drew a heart, then used her pen and colored it in.
“Is Tong Yan there?” Someone suddenly knocked on the door. It was Wen Jingjing.
Shen Yao initially had grumbled about Wen Jingjing’s request to move to a different dormitory room, but eventually, it faded from her mind.
University was unlike middle and high school where they would all study together everyday from morning to night. Shen Yao and Xiaoru were both the type who did not really attend class, and as a result, because they were not staying together in the same room with Wen Jingjing anymore, they gradually drifted apart from her. In contrast, because of that night’s conversation where she had poured out her troubles, Jingjing was still very close to Tong Yan.
Tossing down her pen, Tong Yan opened the door and looked at her with a smile. “How did you know I’m here?
Wen Jingjing put on a mysterious, knowing smile. “Aren’t you like this every year? You always leave here a little later than other people.”
“I leave together with the people from the Beijing Students’ Association, so of course I have to wait until everyone has finished their exams.” Tong Yan turned around and walked back into the room. Rummaging around on her desk, she pulled out some tasty snacks. Right as she turned around and was about to hand them to her, she saw Gu Pingsheng and the teacher who was the sponsor of their class walk in together …
“Class Sponsor wants to check on and convey his regards to fellow students who haven’t left yet. He happened to bump into Teacher Gu, so they came together,” Wen Jingjing explained.
Though he was called the class sponsor in charge of their class, in fact, he was one of the former graduate students of their faculty who had just graduated and had remained at the school as one of the faculty administrative teachers. A boy with a shy smile, but yet, he walked in here now with an air of seriousness, inquiring on how she was doing. Tong Yan was holding a handful of lollipops and did not have a chance to set them down, but yet she also felt it would be inappropriate to give them to Jingjing right in front of Gu Pingsheng.
Gu Pingsheng’s manner was serious and proper as well, and he merely removed his black, leather gloves and casually slipped them into the pocket of his coat.
Tong Yan seemed to suddenly remember something. Hastily, she stuffed the lollipops over to Wen Jingjing, gesturing to her that it was for her to eat to quell any cravings. Then, she casually leaned against the desk, feeling around behind her until she found her own pair of light blue gloves and dropped them into the drawer.
These two sets of gloves were actually a matching his and hers pair and were a New Year’s gift from him.
“Your dormitory room … has always been this messy?” Class Sponsor cleared his throat, asking his question very discreetly.
Tong Yan’s eyes surveyed the room. When those two girls had finished their packing and left, they had also left behind an awful mess. Slippers had been thrown haphazardly everywhere, and the clothing they were not planning on wearing was piled on top of a chair. There was even an open thermos flask with its plastic stopper tossed on the table, and it was not known when the flask had been filled with the water that was currently inside …
“They left in a hurry and didn’t get a chance to tidy up.”
After she said this, she hastily stuffed a few articles of clothing into Shen Yao’s closet.
This was completely a raw, unedited shot of the scene immediately before the holidays. She was already long accustomed to it, but to have this sight seen by two male teachers was still very inappropriate — especially when he was one of them.
She supposed that the class sponsor had never been in a girl’s dormitory room before, and after talking for three minutes, he stood and said he needed to go look in on other dorms. As Jingjing and the class sponsor stepped out the door, Gu Pingsheng told them in a very neutral tone to leave first because he needed to head over to Administration. Tong Yan glanced calmly at him and after very politely stating, “Goodbye, Teachers,” she closed the door. However, she left it so that it was not completely latched.
Before ten seconds had passed, the door was pushed open again. She was still standing there in the same spot, beamingly watching as Gu Pingsheng closed the door behind him.
Smiling, he stretched out his arm and touched her face. His hand was so cold.
Tong Yan’s lips parted in a grimace from the chill, but she did not try to evade his hand. “Is it that cold outside?”
“Your phone’s not on?” he suddenly inquired.
“No, that can’t be, can it?” Tong Yan turned around to get her mobile phone, but he pulled her back and lifted her straight up into his arms. Scared of falling, Tong Yan threw her arms around his neck while her legs wrapped around his waist so that she hung from him like a koala.
“No need to look. Your mobile phone’s battery must be dead again.” He continued, “I’ve been standing outside for an hour, and your classmates have been taking turns asking me about their final exam marks. Aren’t you curious?”
“Lower your voice a bit. There’s just a single door.” She was nervous someone on the other side of the door would hear them, and in a quiet voice, she replied, “Even if I ask, it’d be no use. You definitely won’t be more lenient on me.”
He laughed, his dimple clearly visible.
“But, I studied very hard for your class.” Filled with confidence, she gazed directly at him. “It’s definitely ninety percent or higher.”
“Ninety-four percent.” Sure enough, he lowered the volume of his voice.
“Really.” While he was speaking, he had already walked further inside and set her down on top of the desk. “I specifically added up your marks a second time. It is indeed ninety-four percent.”
“Specifically added them up a second time?”
With an “mm,” he told her, “Don’t forget, in my class at the start of the school year, you didn’t even know what the general concept behind ‘commercial arbitration’ was …”
Because they were worried people outside the door would hear, their voices were very soft. As he spoke, he examined the random little decorations she had on her desk, and with great interest, he picked up a picture frame. This was a frame Tong Yan had made herself, and on it were seven or eight photo stickers of herself …
Looking at one of them where she had short, ear-length hair, Gu Pingsheng asked her, “How old were you in this one?”
“Thirteen. It was the year I met you.” He peeled that one off and pulled out his wallet. Inside, there was a photograph of Gu Pingsheng, and he stuck that childish photo sticker of her onto it.
Tong Yan was rather curious and taking it from him, she studied that picture of him. Lifting her head, she asked, “This was when you were in university in London?”
“It was when I was in Penn. The year I met you.”
She nodded, then tilted her head down again to carefully examine the “him” of that time. He wore a faded, white pair of jeans and a dark blue polo shirt, and his arm did not have a tattoo yet … It should have been taken before his mother passed away.
Tong Yan pulled the photo sticker of herself off of it again and handed it to him, but his photograph remained in her hand. “Could you give this to me?”
He gave a little laugh, not saying anything in reply.
Afterwards, the two of them went and ate something out in the city core, and then he accompanied her to the train station.
It was nearing the Lunar New Year, and hence, there was a sea of people at the train station. Worried that the schoolmates whom she was travelling with would see him, she could only say her goodbyes to him in an inconspicuous corner out in front of the entrance to the railway station.
When she was on the train, somebody asked her out of nosy curiosity, “Tong Yan, I thought I saw you just a moment ago. Did your boyfriend come to see you off?”
Tong Yan gave a vague “mm-hmm” in answer and took a seat.
The people in the train car, whether they were standing or sitting, were all familiar faces. The ones who were behaving particularly excitedly were first and second year university students, while in comparison, the third year or higher students were much calmer. Sitting beside her were several fourth year students who were all discussing matters regarding finding work, and the term most often brought up was the “Big 4.”
“Four years ago, when I had just entered first year university, it was still the ‘Big 5’ accounting firms. In front of her, someone from the Faculty of Management laughingly recollected, “Later, in that same year, one of those firms fell, and it became the ‘Big 4.’ Back then, I felt that this term seemed so distant, but when I started looking for a job, I discovered that it was actually very near and accessible to me.”
“Yeah. In this last year, I’ve grown numb from hearing about them in campus recruitment seminars.”
“Tong Yan, you should be heading into internship, right?” somebody suddenly asked her.
Tong Yan nodded. “I have one more semester and then I’ll be on internship. I still don’t know where I’m going.”
Back in high school, you would always feel that, once you got into university, you had accomplished all that you needed to do. However, after hurriedly and busily studying your way through to third year, you finally realized that your student days, just like that, were coming to an end, yet you still had not found your direction for the days of your life that would be following.
Into the second half of the night, many people were asleep. A boy in first-year university had come with a guitar strapped across his back in a very artsy-youth type of style, and now, surrounded by several enthusiastic girls, he was lightly playing a tune.
The unique ambience that a train carries made such a scene seem so very romantic.
Gazing at the darkness outside the window, she remembered that many years ago, Lu Bei had done the same. At the Lunar New Year’s party that year, each class was reveling in its own festivities, but with a guitar slung on his back, he had walked in on her class, saying he was there to pay New Year’s greetings to his wifey’s “family.” The entire class had erupted into an uproar of teasing heckles that nearly overturned the entire high school campus …
Later on, she had thought it seemed fun, and so for a long period of time, she had learned the guitar from Lu Bei. However, she only learned to play a few songs that she liked to sing.
Talent is something that absolutely cannot be forced.
The boy seemed to have switched to play a different tune now. Tong Yan glanced at her mobile phone. It was past three o’clock in the morning already. He should be sleeping?
While she was thinking this, a text message suddenly showed up: Asleep? TK
Such a coincidence.
Tong Yan could not help smiling, and swiftly, she replied to him: Nope. A boy beside me, a junior schoolmate, is playing the guitar. He’s much better than me.
You know how to play the guitar? TK
Yup. Well, I wouldn’t say I know how. I just know a few simple accompaniments.
I have a girlfriend who can play the guitar? That sounds pretty good. TK
Once again, she could not hold back the smile that broke across her face. Beside her, a female senior schoolmate who had been in a half doze opened her eyes and happened to see her. Unable to restrain her gleeful laughter, she teased groggily, “You’re smiling so lustily. Kids that are smitten with love are so blissful.”
Tong Yan did not utter a reply. With her head resting against the icy glass, out of the blue, a thought popped into her head. She hesitated for several minutes before typing out a text message: Have you ever had a girlfriend before?
Immediately after she sent it off, she regretted her action. That question truly had not been filtered through the brain before she asked it.
A long while passed before he finally sent a reply back: Yes. Do you need a detailed account? TK
He was even offering a detailed account?
For a moment, Tong Yan felt amused exasperation but she could not quell her curiosity either: Yes.
…… Up to you.
She waited with her mobile phone in hand for a long time, but still, he did not reply.
Tong Yan was feeling a little jealous. Wait, no, she was very jealous.
Another while passed, but there was still no update from him. How much of a history did he have to have to need that much time to put together a reply? At last, she simply could not take it anymore and sent another follow-up question: You need to reminisce for that long?
This time, his response came very quickly: I was making coffee just now. TK
I thought you don’t drink coffee?
Occasionally I will have some. For instance, tonight, I need the energy to keep you company. TK
Such simple and ordinary words, yet Tong Yan read them over several times.
“Senior sister.” Those girls unexpectedly turned their eyes on her. “Do you want to sing a song?”
“Me?” Tong Yan shook her head.
“Senior sister, I honestly went silly with amazement when I heard your performance of ‘Without You’ that night at the Welcome Gala,” one of the girls suddenly jumped in to say. “How about a live version of it here?”
Tong Yan quickly shook her head in response. “We’ll just let that idea slide. If I end up waking them up, they won’t let me off the hook for sure.”
But before she had finished saying this, the fourth year female schoolmate beside her opened her eyes and blearily began to harass her in joking tones, “We’ve been sitting so long our backs are sore. Who can possibly sleep? Hurry, bring on some lullabies. We’ll just forget about ‘Without You’, though. The train attendants would lock you up for sure.”
After this senior sister had finished speaking, those nearby who had previously looked as if they were fast asleep all piped up and joined in with the heckling.
Unable to back out of it, Tong Yan had no choice but to set her phone down on the table and say, “Could you hand me the guitar for me to try?”
The boy looked at her in surprise and passed the guitar over to her. Tong Yan familiarized herself with it for a little while before saying rather apologetically, “I only know very simple accompaniments for a few songs, and I haven’t touched a guitar for many years now.”
She chose the song she was most familiar with, “My All”, and softly began humming. Fortunately, the people here basically all knew each other, and no one would file a complaint on her.
The hum of the train moving over the tracks was like an accompaniment. Even when she occasionally hit the wrong notes in some spots, nobody was really bothered by it. In the end, when Tong Yan handed the guitar back to the boy, he began asking her several questions in a row. Tong Yan hurriedly explained, “I honestly only know one or two songs. I’m absolutely incapable of doing a real solo or something like that. Please don’t ask anymore.”
“You definitely should not have studied law.” The senior sister gave a laugh and then pointed at her mobile phone on the table. “I think you got a text.”
Upon saying this, the senior sister picked up both of their cups and went to get some hot water.
Tong Yan picked up her mobile phone and took a look. Sure enough, there was one unread message: Are you mad? TK
No. I was forced just now to perform a show …
What sort of show? TK
Singing “My All” while playing the accompaniment.
The senior sister handed a cup of hot water to her. Tong Yan took it from her and took a couple of sips.
She opened up the newest unread text message: “My All”? I am thinking of you in my sleepless solitude tonight. TK
This was the first line of lyrics in “My All.” She thought he was trying to confirm whether this was the song, and she very naturally replied with “Mm-hmm.” But after she had sent it, she realized that this particular line of lyrics evoked a very lovely connotation …
 The Big 4 are the four largest accounting companies in the world and are leaders in employment. They include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and KPMG. It was actually Big 5 accounting firms until the involvement of Arthur Andersen LLP in the Enron scandal caused that company’s downfall.
The original rendition of “My All” is by Mariah Carey, which I absolutely love. The cover I included in this post has an acoustic guitar accompaniment, and I imagine it should be more similar to the simple accompaniment that Tong Yan played on the train.
1 of 1 Prologue
26 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments