Chapter 71: An Old Newcomer
A-Jiao put down her phone and turned around to order a bowl of hand-cut noodles for Jiang Zhengkai. She believed he was smart enough to figure out that she was at Uncle Cai’s noodle shop. These days, the noodle shop was no longer the sleepy joint that it’d been just a few months ago. Because of Uncle Cai’s honest and friendly personality, not to mention the excellent quality of his noodles, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant was almost always packed with customers during mealtime. As a result, Uncle Cai no longer had time to come out of the kitchen to engage in the lengthy chats with A-Jiao like the way he used to. In addition, he’d hired a server, an elderly gentleman named Gao, to take care of the customers. This Gao was the very same person whom Uncle Cai had introduced to A-Jiao and Jiang Zhengkai as an old buddy of his, the last time they’d been there.
“Thank you, Uncle Gao!” A-Jiao affectionately thanked the old man as he brought out the food A-Jiao had ordered for Jiang Zhengkai.
“You’re welcome!” the old man crisply replied. His accent was noticeably different from Uncle Cai’s. Unless you really had an ear for accents, you would think he was a native of this city. Also, this old man was physically different from other elderly persons. His body was noticeably studier than others of his age. You could definitely describe his physique as being big-boned.
“Uncle Gao, are you a local?” A-Jiao asked him out of curiosity.
“Hehe, no,” Gao quickly answered. “I–”
Before the old man could continue, a customer at another table called out, “Big Uncle, check please!”
The old man immediately answered, “Be right there!” He looked at A-Jiao apologetically before hurrying off to get the other customer his check.
“Ha, I’ve got you!” As soon as the old man left her table, Jiang Zhengkai walked in from outside. He put his hands above his head like rabbit ears and made a funny face.
“What are you, three?” A-Jiao asked sarcastically. Although her words sounded like a reprimand, her tone was one of love and affection. She also couldn’t help but laugh when she saw the way he looked. “Here, go ahead and start eating. I already ordered for you. It arrived just before you did.”
“There are so many people here today!” Jiang Zhengkai casually remarked as he took a look around the restaurant. “How come you didn’t call me during the day?
“Ha! Wouldn’t you get annoyed with me if I called you everyday?” asked A-Jiao as she played with her chopsticks. “I heard that men find clingy women to be very annoying.”
“That’s true,” Jiang Zhengkai replied without thinking. Little did he think that A-Jiao’s retaliation would come so swiftly. She immediately reached out her hand and twisted his ear. “You don’t want to live anymore, do you? How dare you call me annoying?”
“Haha! No way! I’m sorry!” laughed Jiang Zhengkai as he grabbed onto A-Jiao’s extended hand. Her hand felt so very soft in his, and she wasn’t really using that much force when twisting his ear. “I’ll never find you annoying,” he said as he continued to hold her hand.
“Hmph! Don’t even think about it!” snapped A-Jiao as she pulled back her hand. “And stop touching my hand!”
“Oh, hehe!” chuckled Jiang Zhengkai as he looked at her expression. He was suddenly reminded of the girl who’d sat on that hospital bed and wanted to give him five yuan in change.
“Oh right, Ziyuan, do you know a girl named A-Ju?” Jiang Zhengkai asked A-Jiao as he rapidly shoved the noodles into his mouth. A-Jiao had already finished eating, so she was attentively watching Jiang Zhengkai eat his meal.
“No, I don’t,” A-Jiao shook her head.
“What about A-Sha?” continued Jiang Zhengkai.
“Her?” asked A-Jiao with a look of disdain. “What a coward! What, did she…” A-Jiao paused for a moment before continuing in a lower voice, “Did she die, too?”
“Oh, no,” replied Jiang Zhengkai with a smile. Due to his frequent encounters with dead bodies, Jiang Zhengkai was obviously desensitized to people dying. If there weren’t so many murders in this world, what need would it have for homicide detectives like Jiang Zhengkai?
“Oh, that’s good,” remarked A-Jiao, before she returned to playing with her chopsticks. However, her eyelashes flashed again and again. Obviously, something was on her mind. Jiang Zhengkai noticed the non-verbal tell, but decided not to ask A-Jiao anything. His years of being an investigative police officer hds taught him that in situations such as these, it was better to observe than to question.
After Jiang Zhengkai finished eating his noodles, A-Jiao called for the check from Uncle Gao. Now that Uncle Cai’s business had exploded, it was no longer safe to leave the payment underneath the bowls. Besides, now that Uncle Cai was no longer functioning as a server, there was no need to worry about him not accepting their payment.
“What a strapping young man!” Uncle Gao said casually as he glanced at Jiang Zhengkai.
“Really? Thank you for the compliment, Uncle Gao!” Jiang Zhengkai politely replied, before grabbing a hold of A-Jiao’s arm. “Alright, Uncle Gao, we’re going to head out now! Please send our regards to Uncle Cai. Take care!”
“Where should we go now?” Jiang Zhengkai asked A-Jiao once they walked out of the restaurant.
“Where else can we go?” she asked as an unhappy expression came across her face. “Obviously back to the preschool, because I’ve got night classes to teach!” And that was the truth. These days, A-Jiao’s free time was monopolized by either Jiang Zhengkai or by her preschool students. Where could she possibly find the time to go shopping or traveling?
“Okay, I’ll go with you then!” said Jiang Zhengkai as he put his arm around her shoulder and started walking towards the preschool.
A-Jiao, however, didn’t budge and stood there like a rock as she stared at him. “So you’ll come help teach my class with me?” She was obviously toying with Jiang Zhengkai. She knew his offer was to walk her to her preschool, not to help her teach her students.
“Hehe, lazy bum!” Jiang Zhengkai helplessly chuckled in response to A-Jiao’s request. A woman in love wants some sweetness, while a man in love wants to provide that sweet feeling to his woman. As a normal man, Jiang Zhengkai would obviously not just drop A-Jiao off and leave. “Fine! As long as the principal doesn’t mind, I’ll help you teach your class,” Jiang Zhengkai said warmly as he stroked A-Jiao’s hair.
“Sounds good! I’m sure she won’t complain!” A-Jiao placed her head on his arm. “Let’s go, Honey! By the way, the principal’s not there in the evenings. All I really do is instruct the children on how to draw.” The two of them marched in step, arm-in-arm, towards the preschool.
The evening class wasn’t too boring for Jiang Zhengkai. Seeing the woman he loved teach a classroom full of children was also a kind of enjoyment. When a man and a woman first fall in love, they will very easily accept anything and everything from one another: the good, the bad, what they are used to, and what they aren’t used to. It’s only after the honeymoon period is over that conflicts start to arise…
In A-Jiao’s studio, besides Jiang Zhengkai, there were five or six children in attendance, along with their respective parents. He’d originally thought that because A-Jiao taught a preschool that all of her students would be young children. While most of A-Jiao’s students were indeed between the ages of three and seven, a few were older, middle school students even. They attended her class because they had a passion for painting. Plus, it wasn’t easy to find a good painting instructor, so parents naturally sent their children to A-Jiao’s class because she was one of the best in the city. That was why the ages of her students were all over the place. As long as A-Jiao had no objections, Principal Li didn’t mind either. What she wanted were results. As long as the students paid tuition and didn’t cause trouble in class, she could care less how old they were.
The parents started becoming more active when A-Jiao completed the lecture portion of her class and began the one-on-one tutoring portion. Many of them would gradually inch forward next to their children, as if they were afraid A-Jiao would forget to tutor their own children. It was at this point that Jiang Zhengkai became separated from the crowd. He didn’t have a child to look after. The only “child” he was keeping an eye on was the child in charge of the other children in the class: A-Jiao. However, at this particular moment, A-Jiao did not actually belong to him; rather, she belonged to the children under her instruction.
When Jiang Zhengkai saw that the parents who had a second ago been sitting next to him had all left to join their children, he decided he would rather get up as well rather than sit alone by himself. He didn’t mingle with the parents, however. Instead, he walked over to the shelves that stored the paintings drawn by A-Jiao and her students. Last time, Jiang Zhengkai had taken advantage of the time A-Jiao had spent drawing to find a painting of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, which allowed him to confirm that Ren Ziyuan was A-Jiao’s alter ego. This time, he planned to take advantage of the time she spent teaching to flip through her works again. Perhaps he could find among them even more surprising leads?