Truly, with Jì Chengyang’s return, people from her past are also slowly returning as well.
Chapter 21.3 — The One Beyond those Past Dreams (3)
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“This place doesn’t seem to have changed much.” Her voice was scratchy, and the tears in her eyes seemed as if a single little bump would send them tumbling down.
She wanted to force them back, but he had already seen them. What should she do?
She was embarrassed about her loss of composure. Bending over, she was going to continue changing her shoes.
Jì Chengyang’s hand closed around her arm. “No need to change them.”
Jǐ Yi’s body stiffened slightly.
“I think I forgot to buy groceries yesterday. There’s nothing in the house that I can really cook for you to eat.” Jì Chengyang spoke a very obvious lie. The refrigerator very early on had been stuffed full with half-completed dishes that he had prepared in advance. He had already changed his mind, though. He did not want their hard-to-come-by dinner to become like this, where they felt so awkward as they faced one another. Perhaps switching to another location would be much better.
Everything had come about because he had been too anxious to achieve instant results, wanting her to be able to have a sense of “home” on this day. But he had forgotten that though this place had once contained all of her greatest joys, it also held an equal amount of pain.
“Then… let’s go out to eat.” She spoke softly.
All along the way here earlier, she had been continuously preparing herself mentally. Since she had already agreed to have dinner with him, then she should not do anything that would make the two of them feel too awkard. And plus, today was the fifteenth day of the Lunar New Year, the Lantern Festival. They were celebrating a holiday.
But in the end, she had messed it all up.
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That night, the two had dinner and then he took her back to her school.
The road that their vehicle was driving on was relatively quiet, and Jǐ Yi did not really recognize it. While she was gazing out at the surroundings, she speculated over why Jì Chengyang was so familiar with this area, until her eyes were drawn to a car parked in the shadows on the roadside.
“What’s wrong?” Jì Chengyang discovered that she had turned her head in surprise and was looking towards the back.
However, when he looked in the rearview mirror, there was no one at all.
“I can see that car moving. Is someone trying to steal it?” Jǐ Yi said quietly.
Sìowly stepping on the brake, Jì Chengyang put the car into reverse for a stretch of way. After confirming which car it was that she was referring to, he, for once, fell into silence for a while. Only when Jǐ Yi turned her head to look at him did he self-consciously clear his throat. His right hand, which had been resting on the steering wheel, changed positions so that it was now gripping it. “It shouldn’t be a car theft.”
She suddenly caught on. As if trying to dispel any doubts, she took another few glances. Once she had confirmed her thought, she instantly sat her body up straight and unblinkingly stared straight ahead of her. Due to this little encounter, the awkwardness in the car went up another several notches. Not only was there awkwardness, there were also hints of a suggestive atmosphere that could not be ignored.
As a result, these two people, who had not had much dialogue going on between them in the first place, now fell into silence the entire way until they arrived at the final destination.
Jì Chengyang looked out at the dormitory buildings that rose up one after the other in the darkness. As it was the winter break, not many windows were illuminated. When Jǐ Yi unfastened her seatbelt, she heard him ask, “In the dorm building that you live in, are there many people who have stayed here at school for the break?”
“Not a lot.” She paused, then said, “I’m going now.”
Through the car window, it could be seen that a fierce wind was whipping outside. Simply looking out in this way was enough to cause a person to feel chilly.
He tilted his head to the side slightly and let his eyes take in her down jacket. The garment looked too thin and did not seem able to really block out the wind. Furthermore, the last time he saw her, and the time before that, she seemed to have been wearing this same jacket as well. Did she have another thicker one? While these thoughts were going through his head, Jǐ Yi was already saying again to him, “I’m going now. There aren’t a lot of people around during winter break, so the auntie who supervises the dorm locks up early.”
In fact, it was currently only nine o’clock, far from curfew hour, when the doors would be locked.
“I have something I wanted to ask your opinion about,” he out of the blue said.
Jǐ Yi looked bewilderedly at him.
What did he want to say?
This entire night, they had not had any serious discussions of any sort, but now that they were saying their goodbyes, he suddenly opened his mouth and said this. Instinctively, Jǐ Yi avoided his gaze, and her breathing was already a little slow. She was terribly afraid that the words that were to follow would be about those few years. However, in her subconscious mind, she also wanted to hear him tell her about them, to tell her, in these last four years, where he had been, what he had done, and why he had wanted to break up with her.
“With this return to China, I’m likely not going to be a foreign correspondent anymore,” Jì Chengyang told her. “I currently have a few job positions that I’m considering. One is to go back to the TV station and be in charge of the Overseas Programs Department. Another is at Global Newspaper…”
All the things that he carried on speaking about were places that she was familiar with and jobs that she could understand.
“I haven’t made my final decision yet.” He gave a final summary of his words. “Do you have any opinions?”
“Me?” Jǐ Yi was stunned by his question. “I don’t know.”
She was a master’s degree student who had not even graduated yet, and although she knew those job titles that she was hearing, the difference between each of them, what tasks were done in each, and the advantages and disadvantages relative to one another were things that she knew nothing about.
“I’m not really familiar with them, and definitely am not as familiar as you.” Her voice was rather tight, and she felt an inexplicable sense of nervousness. “It’s such an important matter; it’s better not to ask me.”
“It’s okay if you’re not familiar with them. You can tell me at any time what your thoughts are.”
Jì Chengyang gazed at her.
The heat in the car was very warm, and there was a slight red glow to her cheeks from it.
The person before him was so close that she was within reach.
This was someone who had once been his, whom he had once lost, and whom he had thought he would never have the chance to call his own again.
Without any warning at all, it suddenly grew quiet inside the car. Jǐ Yi had still wanted to say something, but when her lips parted slightly, no sound was produced from them. Something deep within her heart was budding madly and spreading outwards, entwining itself tightly around her heart.
It seemed as if his hand would lift at any moment and touch her.
And it also seemed that this was merely her unrequited hope.
“I’ll walk you to the downstairs of your building.” Jì Chengyang’s voice was somewhat low.
“Mm-hmm.” Nodding, she watched as he unbuckled his seatbelt and got off the car, then continued watching as he shut the car door. Only when she eventually saw him outside the window, standing in the wind, his figure nearly melding into the darknesss, did she abruptly start back to awareness and belatedly follow him out of the vehicle.
By the time she was back inside her dormitory room, two of her dormmates whose homes were in other cities had already returned and were in the midst of unpacking their luggage. While they were at it, they had covered each person’s desk with a pile of the special local products from their hometowns.
“The winter break this year sure was well-timed,” one of them was grumbling. “The twenty-first is the Lantern Festival, but we have to report back to school on the twenty-second. Poor us, people who didn’t have enough time to celebrate the Lantern Festival with our families before rushing back here to check in.”
Seeing Jǐ Yi walking back in, her hands holding the little cakes and desserts that Jì Chengyang had purposely ordered at dinner for her to pack up and have as a late-night snack, one of her dormmates very logically asked her, “You just got back here from home?” Jǐ Yi brushed over this with a vague answer and then divvied up the few boxes of cakes and desserts between the two of them to eat.
They had only had a few bites when the other dormmate all of a sudden thought of something. “Oh, right, Jǐ Yi, when I was coming back just now, I ran into Teacher Zhao. She told you to go to her office to find her after you’ve reported in tomorrow.” After saying this, she even asked speculatively, “It’s probably something about a job, right?”
Jǐ Yi was rather perplexed. “I found a job a long time ago. I’m even nearly about to sign my formal employment contract.”
“I bet it’s definitely better than the one you have now.” Her dormmate continued, “In general, master’s students who graduate from our school end up at least going into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or a bank. The one you found is kind of a little off the norm. Why’d you go to be a reporter?”
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Why did she suddenly want to be a reporter?
The next day, Teacher Zhao also asked this same question of her when she saw her. The subject of their discussion, sure enough, was about job placement.
“I saw the results from the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s public service examination. Three hundred-plus people passed the minimum score for the written English examination. I remember that they’re planning on recruiting eighty-two people this year. It’s a four to one ratio. For this interview, do you feel you have a good chance?”
She paused in surprise for a moment. “I’m going to be officially signing my contract with the newspaper agency really soon. I likely won’t be going for the interview.”
Back then, she had taken the civil service examination simply to prepare for another possibility, since, after all, the matter of her job placement had not been formally finalized at the time. Most of her classmates who had also participated in the civil service exam had held the same notions.
She was very clear on the fact that some jobs require you to have a certain background and status.
Many students in their school had diplomat parents to begin with. Regardless of whether it was in terms of family background, upbringing, or grades, there were many who were much more eye-catching than her.
Her teacher said a few more things to her, the general idea being that in this day and age, the work of a civil servant was still relatively more suitable for a girl, and what was more, the rate of acceptance of students from the China Foreign Affairs University was much higher in comparison to other schools.
Her teacher was particularly enthusiastic and had even begun talking about having a recommendation from the university for her.
“And plus, many of your senior brother and sisters, or even a lot of our undergraduate students, are over there, so the working environment will definitely be even better.” The teacher smiled. “When it comes to working in media, there are relatively more people from the likes of Renda [Renmin University of China] and CUC [Communications University of China]. Every university’s employment sphere is different. Think it over carefully. I heard that your family is really supportive of you going into the foreign affairs office.”
Before Jǐ Yi left, these were the last words that her teacher stated.
These words remained in her mind and would not go away.
She and Jì Nuannuan had arranged to meet up that afternoon. She had been in Anhui the entire time in those several days around the Lunar New Year, and then by the time she eventually came back, Nuannuan had gone back to Sichuan. Their schedules had been staggered for so long, and it was not until after the Lantern Festival that they finally intersected.
She had originally wanted to meet up with Nuannuan at a certain commercial hub outside of her school, but Nuannuan had insisted on coming to find her.
After parking her car downstairs of the dormitory building, Jì Nuannuan first tearfully threw herself at Jǐ Yi and gave her a hug that lasted for a full thirty seconds. Then, looking down and using her hand to measure off Jǐ Yi’s height relative to her, she cut off her tears and broke into a grin. “Why are you still so short? Next time I see you, I’m not going to wear heels. I’m suddenly experiencing what it feels like to shelter and protect someone. When I’m in shoes, I’m 1.8 metres. You…” She took a glance at Jǐ Yi’s sneakers. “Are you even 1.6?”
Jǐ Yi’s eyes had only just started to redden because of her embrance, and then immediately, she was shoving her away, so irked that she burst out in giggles. “Why are you snubbing me for being short the instant you see me? It’s not like I’m going to marry you.”
“You’re not going to marry me, but you might marry someone in my family.” Jì Nuannuan’s large, sparkling black eyes did not want to tear themselves away from Jǐ Yi, and staring at her, Nuannuan sighed, “It’s such a pity for those good genes of my family.”
She knew what Nuannuan was implying. Sidestepping these words of hers, she asked Nuannuan where she wanted to go.
“Let’s move the stuff up first before we talk about it.” Jì Nuannuan opened the trunk of her car. “Let me tell you, in order to not have people disturb us, I didn’t let anyone bring me here, so the two of us don’t have anyone to help us at all. Now, let’s get going on the hard labour.”
The trunk had been stuffed full with things, from beverages, to fruits, and even nutritional supplements packaged in gift boxes.
Jǐ Yi was shocked by what she saw before her. “… We’re bringing so much stuff up? If I can’t finish them all, they’ll go bad.”
“It’s not a lot. There are so many people in your dorm anyway. You can just treat them like little gifts or favours and hand them out. That’d be good, too.” As Jì Nuannuan spoke, she removed her ginger-yellow plaid coat, rolled up her sleeves, and began hurrying Jǐ Yi along to move the things.
So, for this trunkload of food items, the two of them went up and down five or six times, tiring themselves out. Luckily, there were another two people in the dorm room, and with Nuannuan’s enthusiastically friendly greetings, they both ran downstairs to help. At last, their moving and carrying work could be considered completely done. By the time Jì Nuannuan was back in her car and sitting in the driver’s seat, she did not have much strength left to even lift her arm. “I miscalculated, little Xixi… Let’s go somewhere a little closer and sit for a while. I’ll have someone come to help me drive the car and take me back…”
Jǐ Yi gave an affirmative response, not objecting to this.
“Or how about we take turns driving? That will work, too.”
“Huh? I don’t know how to drive.”
“How come you still haven’t learned yet?” Jì Nuannuan looked baffledly at her. “It’s so convenient.”
“It’s really expensive to learn how to drive. I’ve been saving up the money from my internship. When I’m actually out working, I’ll need to pay rent.” She lowered her head and fastened her seatbelt. “I’ll learn when I’ve got extra money.”
Nuannuan did not speak, simply gazing at her. Reaching out her hand, she helped Jǐ Yi fix her bangs, which were somewhat disheveled. This action was just like what she had done when they were children. “Your hair’s messed up from the wind. It doesn’t look pretty anymore.”
Jì Nuannuan understood her too well. There were two things that she would never initiate asking questions about.
The first was the matter between Jǐ Yi and her family. The other was the current situation between her and Jì Chengyang.
That entire afternoon, relatively more of their conversation topics revolved around Jì Nuannuan, and they even mentioned Zhao Xiaoying. The studies and love relationship of the former were all within what Jǐ Yi had anticipated, whereas the latter’s were outside of her expectations. After graduating in Nanjing, Zhao Xiaoying had returned to Beijing, but unable to find a satisfactory job, she had suddenly made a surprising decision. Hunkering down at home, she began to learn German by self-study. This girl who had never before had her own views and opinions had steeled herself this time, and after learning for a year and a half, she successfully got herself accepted to go study abroad in Germany.
“When I heard my mom tell me this, I honestly got a shock out of it. That girlie has so much perserverance.” As Jì Nuannuan’s narration reached this point, she, for the first time ever, expressed her heartfelt admiration towards Zhao Xiaoying. “The thing that you respect most is that this time, it wasn’t her mom who went. She went herself to find her dad to borrow money. I remember, when we were kids, every time she and her mom mentioned that cold-blooded dad of hers who has the conscience of a beast, they would be grinding their teeth. Sure enough, the things that truly change people are always the realities of life.”
“That’s so good,” Jǐ Yi sincerely sighed.
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The next day, she once again received a phone call from Teacher Zhao, trying to convince her to go for the interview.
When Jǐ Yi answered the phone, she was in the newspaper’s morgue, searching for something. After the call ended, however, it was as if she had short-term amnesia and had forgotten what it was that she had been looking for. Standing beside a deep-red shelf, her back to the window, she mulled for a while. Eventually, she still decided to ask Jì Chengyang whether this matter had anything to do with him.
After the call was dialed out, she did not know how she could lead up to what she wanted to ask, so she truly just stated the question straight out.
Jì Chengyang was not someone who liked to do lead-ups either, and he gave her an answer that was very much an affirmative. “What I can do is not much, and when you truly step out into the real world, the things I can help you with will become less and less. This time, I was only hoping that you could have another option to choose from in terms of career choices. And plus, Xixi,” Jì Chengyang told her with great certitude, “you deserve all of it. You were the one who took the civil service examination. You were also the one who got yourself accepted into the Foreign Affairs University, a post-secondary institution of the type that generally accepts only those who have family relations or close ties to those in the foreign affairs office. You have walked all your roads so very well already.”
He was telling her, she was deserving of pride.
Jǐ Yi understood what he was saying within those words. And she also knew, if those two jobs were to be compared, which one was more secure and and suited for her current circumstances. However, she still stubbornly persisted in the thinking that she had carried since she was a child. “But I really want to be a journalist.”
He was surprisingly quiet. After a long while, he answered her, “Choose the one that you truly want.”
With this, the conversation came to a conclusion. No one said goodbye first.
She thought he would hang up, but out of the blue, Jì Chengyang asked her, “Are you at the newspaper office or your school?”
“The newspaper office.”
“All right. After work, wait for me to come pick you up.”
Jì Chengyang is right. In these years, Xixi has walked her roads well. Through her own hard work, she has made herself stronger, given herself a lot of good options, has found her dream, and is doing everything she can to pursue that dream. She deserves to be proud of herself and for people to be proud of her.
I also love how the bit about Zhao Xiaoying and Nuannuan is included. Everyone is growing up; regardless of where you’ve come from, what you’ve done before, what lot you’ve been given in life, the one thing that is common between everyone is that you can take your life into your own hands.
54 of 69 Chapter segments
0 of 1 Epilogue