SWFM 186

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Chapter 186: Folding his sleeves and buttoning his clothes

 

Xiang Ning had asked Xu Tingsheng, “What if Big Xiang Ning comes back and is looking for you?” This was a question concerning fate itself. If Xu Tingsheng left Xiang Ning’s world just like this, in the future…would they still have that fated meeting?

If they met once more, how would they be in the other’s eyes? Would she still fall in love with him?

Actually, even if he continued staying by Xiang Ning’s side, the question still remained: Will you fall in love with me one day?

Xu Tingsheng was willing to wait for this indefinite answer, not hesitating in the least.

Yet, there was currently Apple whom he definitely couldn’t let be hurt a single bit more. She was currently amidst a swampland of darkness. If she ended up losing her way, without anyone to support her and care for her, she might very well end up walking towards the deep abyss.
……

Xihu City’s Longwu Sports Hall. As Xihu City was almost at the level of a first-tier city, concerts could not be any more common to its inhabitants. Yet, seventy to eighty percent of the tickets to this rotary performance were still sold out, because the fame and appeal of three Hong Kong and Taiwanese singers amongst them who would be singing were still quite high.

Apple had told Xu Tingsheng earlier that she was scheduled for somewhere around the middle of the performance. She would be going on only around 9.30 pm.

With Xu Tingsheng’s 31-year-old mental age, he already didn’t have much enthusiasm towards pop idols. Moreover, his mood had been very complex that day. He actually really needed some time alone to brood on things.

He was also afraid that he might run into Xiang Ning amongst the crowd as they waited to enter the performance hall. Thus, he delayed his departure from the motel by around half an hour.

For the concert that began at 7.30pm, it was almost an hour later that Xu Tingsheng arrived at the scene. He was already able to hear the singing and the cheers from inside the hall, seeing the intermingling beams of light that collectively shot up into the sky.

He smoked a cigarette and chatted for a while with the security personnel in charge of checking the tickets. Then, one of them enthusiastically led him to the entrance, pointing him on his way.

Xu Tingsheng looked over. Coincidentally, there were groups of people holding up placards in support of Apple there. From the looks of it, that area should be where Apple’s fans all were.

Currently, it was a Singaporean singer who had just released her first album who was up on stage. The crowd was not really passionate about this. Clearly, there weren’t many who had come to watch her sing. There were many people who didn’t even know who she was yet.

Of course, Xu Tingsheng knew that this person would become a superstar-level figure in the future. So they had all experienced this before, having once been mere accompaniments to others as they were overshadowed on the performance stage.

The atmosphere was rather dim. Xu Tingsheng slowly navigated his way over towards his seat.

As Xu Tingsheng was walking past the middle section of the hall, a hand suddenly grabbed the bottom of his t-shirt from diagonally behind and to the side.

“Oh, look! I caught an Uncle Liar.”

Xu Tingsheng turned and saw Xiang Ning. Seated right by the aisle with her red backpack in front of her and two lightsticks in her hand, she looked triumphantly at Xu Tingsheng.

Xu Tingsheng had considered the possibility of meeting Xiang Ning here. However, he had felt that it was rather an improbable thing. After all, the lights in the hall would be dimmed after the concert had begun. With more than ten thousand people making a din together, it would be hard even intentionally looking for someone.

Yet, it had turned out that somehow, they had unavoidably met just like this amongst a crowd of close to ten thousand, she grabbing hold of a corner of his shirt.

“Little Ning, what is it?” A girl in her twenties asked. She was probably the cousin that Xiang Ning spoke of, though not that Li Meng whom he had met at the Xiang family home previously.

“Hello, I’m Xiang Ning’s home tutor,” Xu Tingsheng explained.

“So you’re that very famous Xu Tingsheng? I’ve investigated you before,” This cousin of Xiang Ning’s seemed like she was at work as her expression emanated a capable, experienced feel, her gaze that was on Xu Tingsheng carrying a look of appraisal as well.

“Oh, you’ve…investigated me?” Xu Tingsheng felt rather confused.

Xiang Ning’s cousin stood up and dragged Xu Tingsheng to the side away from her.

“I want to ask you a few questions. It’s not for Little Ning’s ears,” She said.
“Okay,” Xu Tingsheng turned and glanced at the bewildered Xiang Ning, feeling rather nervous.

“I’ve indeed investigated you. These past few days, Uncle, Auntie and Little Ning were all staying over at my house. They mentioned you, saying that Little Ning has an exceptionally remarkable home tutor. So I investigated a little…Cao Cao Mausoleum? Also, your Hucheng Education should be worth some tens of millions?”

This cousin of Xiang Ning’s gave Xu Tingsheng an impression of a police officer interrogating a criminal.

“Then, I talked to Uncle and Auntie in private. This matter’s very abnormal,” The cousin continued, “With your situation, could it be normal to tutor a junior high student? Isn’t it suspicious?”

“It’s like this. Our platform launched a new competitive function when we were just starting out. Because of that, I…” Xu Tingsheng intended to explain himself the same way.

“Uncle told me about that before, but it doesn’t make sense. Desist,” The cousin interrupted Xu Tingsheng’s words.

“Then, how exactly am I suspicious? I’ve already been tutoring Xiang Ning for half a year. You should have heard about my performance from Uncle, Auntie and Xiang Ning. I believe that I shouldn’t have done anything wrong.”

Precisely because he was feeling guilty, Xu Tingsheng instead rebutted in a forceful manner…there was nothing else he could do. He had no way of explaining himself.

“Therefore, it’s even harder for me to understand. I want to hear you explain things for yourself.”

“Please, Miss…Cousin, what line of work are you in?”

“Police.”

“Indeed, it may be an occupational quirk. It is the same for me. Previously, it was only a way to test out the competitive system and understand the consumer base. Afterwards, I got along very well with Uncle, Auntie and Xiang Ning as well. Therefore, I hope to stay and help Xiang Ning till she’s reached senior high.”

“I’ve already said that this explanation doesn’t cut it. Aren’t you busy? Multimillionaire,” The cousin’s tone began turning hostile.

There was a feeling like swords had been unsheathed with bows drawn and at the ready.

The innocent Xiang Ning was finally unable to take it as she walked over and looked left and right before finally saying in a wronged tone, “Un…Teacher, Big Sis, what’s with you? Are you fighting? Can you please stop?”

Xu Tingsheng would certainly be happy to end this conversation. He smiled, nodding.

Then, Xiang Ning went to her cousin’s side and whispered in her ear for a while, seemingly desperately trying to get her to agree to something. It was so fervent she was nearly crying, only then managing to attain her cousin’s approval as she now smiled.

“Come on!”

The cousin returned to her seat while Xiang Ning approached Xu Tingsheng before grabbing his sleeve and running towards the back of the hall.

“Careful!” Xu Tingsheng grabbed her arm instead.

The two of them arrived close to the entrance.

“Don’t be scared, Uncle. Big Sis is a very good person,” Xiang Ning consoled Xu Tingsheng.

“Yeah, thanks. Just a bit frightening,” Xu Tingsheng smiled.

“But, wasn’t Uncle not coming?”

Xiang Ning smiled, looking at Xu Tingsheng with an expression of wanting to see how he would explain himself.

“This…look how late I am. I’d really thought that I wouldn’t be able to make it originally,” Xu Tingsheng explained guiltily.

“Alright then, I’ll show you your present.”

Seemingly greatly anticipating Uncle seeing the present that she had specially prepared for him, Xiang Ning opened the backpack that she was carrying in front of her, fishing out a carefully wrapped plastic bag and handing it over to Xu Tingsheng.

“You were carrying it around with you?”

“Because Mum and Dad don’t know! When we were out shopping, I secretly bought it when they weren’t looking. Because of that, I also had to secretly hide it.”

“Thank you, Xiang Ning,” Xu Tingsheng said.

“Won’t you open it?” Seeing Xu Tingsheng holding her present without the intention of opening it, Xiang Ning asked.

“Now?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

Xu Tingsheng opened the plastic bag. Inside was a light blue half-sleeved shirt which had an image of the Beatles printed on the collar and the word ‘Beatles’ printed at the left chest area.

Xu Tingsheng noticed that this was a half-sleeved shirt. Even in the summer when it was the hottest, Xiang Ning still hadn’t bought him a short-sleeved shirt. This was the same as in his previous life. In Xu Tingsheng’s previous life, Xiang Ning had been most against him wearing short-sleeved shirts. She’d felt that they were old fashioned and bumpkin-ish, resembling old and middle-aged deputies working in stores.

In his previous life, Xiang Ning had left his place wearing a shirt of the same shade and colour, refusing to return it.

Back then, Xu Tingsheng had asked her, “Why? It’s not like it fits you.”

Back then, Xiang Ning had replied, “I’m afraid that if we quarrel, get into a cold war and want to break up one day, with me being angry and ignoring you while Uncle also can’t bear to come and beg me…we might really have to break up. So, I’m preparing an excuse for Uncle to come and look for me again.”

“You can come and ask for your shirt back. You can ask me for it very fiercely, wanting to break off all contact after you’ve taken it away…but we would have to see each other again this way. If we saw each other…we would feel reluctant, and we wouldn’t break up anymore. Am I right?”

“Yeah, having seen you, I would definitely feel reluctant to go,” This was what Xu Tingsheng had replied back then, though that shirt had remained with Xiang Ning till the very end.

Holding onto the shirt, Xu Tingsheng felt a bitter tightness in his chest.

“Try it on, Uncle!” The still excited Xiang Ning requested.

“Okay.”

Xu Tingsheng wore it over his t-shirt.

“How is it?” He asked Xiang Ning.

Xiang Ning tilted her head to the side and looked for a while, next walking one round around him, “It looks a little big. Has Uncle gotten thinner lately?”

As she said this, she neatly folded the half-sleeve on Xu Tingsheng’s left arm up twice and buttoned it. Then, she carefully smoothed out a wrinkle on it, doing it a few times till she was satisfied.

Then, she went over to Xu Tingsheng’s left side and did the same thing.

Throughout this entire process, she had a happy smile on her face, being focused and earnest.

In the meantime, Xu Tingsheng was trying hard to repress his tears.

After that, Xiang Ning took a few steps back and looked again, “It’s much better now. You’ve got to remember, Uncle! If you’re wearing a shirt in the summer, it’s still better to fold up half-sleeves like this than to wear short-sleeved shirts. Those look terrible.”

This was no different at all from what she had once said in his previous life. Xu Tingsheng dared not speak for fear that he might choke out a sob on his words. He nodded hard.

“Also, come, bend down.”

Xiang Ning waved, and Xu Tingsheng bent down.

“Not so low! I’ve grown much taller this year!” Xiang Ning said unhappily.

Xu Tingsheng looked. Indeed, as compared to that Xiang Ning with the skyward braid that he had seen at the school gate of Xinyan Junior High initially, in just a short year, she had already grown a lot, having become much taller as well. From her height, she should already be 1.6m tall, just that she was still so slim.

She was already becoming closer and closer to the past Xiang Ning.

Xu Tingsheng straightened slightly, but Xiang Ning was still dissatisfied as she said in a huff, “Stand up straight! I can reach it.”

Xiang Ning reached out and began buttoning all the buttons on Xu Tingsheng’s shirt for him from the third button onwards.

In Xu Tingsheng’s previous life, on the morning after they had stayed together for the first time, she had resisted her shyness and insisted on doing so, carefully folding up the sleeves and buttoning the buttons of his shirt for him.

In Xu Tingsheng’s previous life, Miss Xiang had once directed a ‘bittersweet ancient day drama’. Uncle was a ‘heartless man’, a former poor scholar who had abandoned his past lover after having attained top scholar at the imperial examinations. In one of those scenes, Miss Xiang had sent off ‘Uncle Scholar’ who had been about to hurry off to the capital for the imperial examinations. She had carefully adjusted his shirt for him, reciting two poetic verses that she herself had written:

“In this life with these sole pure hands, to fold my lord’s sleeves and button his clothes.”


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