Chapter 2: The First Meeting, Once More
A 19 year old Xu Tingsheng sat on the long distance bus to Yanzhou City.
In the year 2011, the bus journey from Jiannan City to Yanzhou City would have taken three hours. Now, in the year 2003, checking with the driver, Xu Tingsheng had heard that it would take 5 hours.
Earlier, Xu Tingsheng had spent a day and a night before finally accepting his fate of having been reborn. This was the year 2003, currently being early March. After the initial stages of panic, perhaps because he had left with too many regrets in his previous life, he became a little excited, as well as emotional.
Three things were laid out before him:
One was his father’s accidental death, which would happen sometime more than a month later, on 15th April.
Second was Xiang Ning. Currently, she should only be 14 years old, in seventh grade. From what Xu Tingsheng had witnessed to date, this flap of a butterfly’s wings had not changed anything, but he still desperately couldn’t resist the urge to personally confirm Xiang Ning’s existence; or rather, he just wanted to see her.
The third was the university entrance examinations, which would take place in less than three months’ time.
Xu Tingsheng had once gone to Xiang Ning’s senior high, the second best of Yanzhou City, accompanying her, in the fourth year of university at that time, as she reminisced on her youth. However, what was bad was that he didn’t know what junior high Xiang Ning had been in.
Long distance buses weren’t too comfortable in the year 2003, and the condition on the roads were also rather bad. A middle-aged woman sitting beside Xu Tingsheng, wearing silver-rimmed spectacles, vomited non-stop due to the shaking of the bus.
Xu Tingsheng handed her a plastic bag and a paper towel, also opening a bottle of mineral water for her.
“Thanks, sorry for the trouble.”
Raising her head and breathing in deeply, the middle-aged woman then turned over slightly, thanking Xu Tingsheng somewhat awkwardly.
“It’s fine, my mother and little sister get carsick as well.”
Xu Tingsheng smiled genially, his 31-year-old mental age causing him to appear more mature than others of the same age.
“Going to Yanzhou City to play? Are you still a student?”The woman asked, covering her mouth.
“Yes, in twelfth grade, going to handle some matters…I have family members over there,” An inexplicable feeling of guilt caused Xu Tingsheng to cover things up a bit.
“Oh, twelfth grade is very taxing. I am a teacher, but I teach in junior high.”
“A junior high school of Yanzhou City? Or Jiannan City?” Xu Tingsheng’s mind wavered for a moment as he asked.
“Yes, Yanzhou City. A few days earlier, I participated in a course over here…do you want some plums?” The female teacher asked.
“Alright, thanks…I’ve loved eating sour food since young.”
Xu Tingsheng took a plum and placed it inside his mouth, the two seemingly having grown closer because of this. Xu Tingsheng hesitated for a moment. If he asked: Teacher, do you know a seventh grader named Xiang Ning, it would almost definitely lead to the other’s wariness.
Thinking for a bit, Xu Tingsheng purposefully said in a relaxed manner, “My cousin is currently studying in seventh grade at Yanzhou City; she might even be your student, haha.”
“If that were true, it would really be a great coincidence…which school does your cousin go to?” The female teacher also smiled, now no longer vomiting, perhaps because her conversation with Xu Tingsheng had diverted away some of her attention.
“I’m not too sure; I seldom go out. Her name is Xiang Ning,” Xu Tingsheng said, almost a little hastily.
The female teacher’s mouth was half-open as she stared at him.
Xu Tingsheng raised his eyebrows doubtfully.
“It can’t be, right. I have a girl named Xiang Ning in my class; I wonder if it is just that they share the same name.”The female teacher said.
Xu Tingsheng was somewhat lost for words, his emotions hovering somewhere between joy and nervousness.
“Which school does teacher teach in? …I’ll ask my parents when I get back; perhaps then I’d have to trouble teacher to help take care of her a little.”
“Xinyan Junior High. If it really is so coincidental, I would be happy to help. I am surnamed Liu, full name Liu Xueli. Why don’t you take down my number…”
“I hope so,” Xu Tingsheng took down Mrs Liu’s number.
Xu Tingsheng stayed in a cheap motel five minutes away from Xinyan Secondary School.
He did not dare to find Xiang Ning through Mrs Liu.
If Mrs Liu said to Xiang Ning ‘ your cousin’s looking for you’ , and that girl who was still only 14 years old saw a complete stranger…Xu Tingsheng feared scaring her.
He did try his luck at the school gates, but they were shut and watched over. Without sufficient identification and reason, he wouldn’t be able to get in at all. Xu Tingsheng didn’t even dare to mention Xiang Ning, much less show his identification or register his name.
Xu Tingsheng tried climbing the hill behind the school, next remaining there for the entire day. From there, he could see the school field, where the students attending physical education lessons would appear.
However, he didn’t see Xiang Ning.
That evening, after the students had been released from school, a portion of them would return home. Watching for two days, Xu Tingsheng still had yet to see Xiang Ning, who perhaps resided within the school dormitories. As for the possibility of him being unable to identify Xiang Ning who had actually already appeared earlier, he thought that it did not exist at all, even though she was currently only fourteen years old.
Xu Tingsheng began to suspect that this school might really only just have someone of the same name and age as her.
On Friday evening, all the students would return home after school.
Xu Tingsheng bought a bottle of mineral water at the small provision shop outside the school gate, leaning by the counter as he watched every student who came past.
Some ‘unique after-school scenarios’ appeared, such as a little boy being chased and beaten by a few slightly bigger boys.
There was also the phenomenon of ‘early love’, where a little boy and a little girl would secretly walk by each other’s side, not daring to hold hands, sometimes even too afraid to even speak, just that this ambiguous atmosphere was still easily obvious from a bystander’s viewpoint.
“Did Xiang Ning experience early love?” Xu Tingsheng’s heart ached a little as he thought about this.
“She was in a relationship when in senior high, that boyfriend rumored to look like Wang Lihong, also being a rich second gen…I can’t stand this, should I prevent it?”
Having the weekend off, most of the students appeared as if they couldn’t wait to leave, the people leaving through the school gates quickly turning from a jostling crowd into a slight trickle.
Xiang Ning had still not appeared.
Xu Tingsheng looked at his watch rather anxiously. He had left a note behind for his school and family, such that while his parents and teachers would inevitably be anxious, it was most likely that nothing would happen. However, having already been out for four days, the $200 the Xu Tingsheng had stolen from his mother before coming here had almost been depleted completely. If he had to wait for another week, he would be forced to sleep on the streets.
Perhaps he would still have to look through several schools, and that would take not just a single week more.
However, he still had to see Xiang Ning, or he would be unable to do anything at all.
The security guards were currently closing the school gates. At this time, school gates were still not those automatic doors that could be controlled through electricity, instead consisting of two tall iron gates. As the gates slowly shut, they emitted the grinding noise of metal.
From within the gradually decreasing gap between the gates, the figures of two little girls appeared within his line of vision as they rushed towards it.
“Uncle, wait a bit.”
Hand-in-hand, the two little girls rushed out together, their expressions joyful, as though they had just acted out a successful great escape.
The long-haired one, was not her.
The other had short hair that ended at her ears, a single plait that shot up skywards hanging above her head. Her brows, mouth, nose and smile-while they were still undeveloped as opposed to the freshness within his memories, they all still seemed just so familiar.
As soon as he glanced at her, tears began dripping down from Xu Tingsheng’s eyes.
However, he also wanted very much to smile. This appearance, was very wild, wasn’t it… of a different style from how she would be in the future.
Also, pimples not yet having grown on her skin, it indeed looked much better than the her of the future.
Still, why had she left so late; could she have been asked to stay behind by her teacher?
“What should I do?” Xu Tingsheng opened his mouth and exhaled a breath of cold air, frantically rubbing away his tears. He had imagined this scene before, but had never properly decided on the reaction he should have.
“Should I go up and tell her: You are Xiang Ning, and I am Xu Tingsheng; eight years from now, Xiang Ning will fall in love with Xu Tingsheng, and we will get together? …This is what I most want to say, but it is also the option that should be ruled out the earliest.”
“Pretending to be a guy who looks up to her and go up to flirt? …But I am too old, and she is too young; will she go and tell her teacher? It perhaps might not be obtrusive for a 27-year-old guy to flirt with a 22-year-old girl, but 19 years old and 14 years old-this gap is really too great to the point of being shocking.”
“The best choice should be…just glance once at her like this, before leaving silently,” Xu Tingsheng worked hard to suppress the rashness within his heart.
“That you are here, it is good enough…there’s actually nothing else that’s important; it can all come slowly,” Xu Tingsheng clenched his fist tightly, his palm full of sweat.
The two girls rounded a bend, moving in a frolicking manner as they approached the small provision shop.
Arriving beside Xu Tingsheng.
“Boss, I want a bottle of orange juice.”
The voices of girls before they changed was still very different as compared to how they were afterwards. Yet, the rough voice sounded like music to Xu Tingsheng’s ears, like a heavenly melody.
That plait hanging upwards from Xiang Ning’s head swaying, she focused on taking out money from her bag, a portion of slim, delicate arm revealed as her sleeve fell down to her elbow.
Xu Tingsheng stopped his breathing, but just having cried, the gulping could still not be resisted as his shoulders repeatedly heaved up and down.
As Xiang Ning paid for her drink, she raised her head and looked puzzledly at this guy who was strangely crying inside the provision shop.
Her eyes, whom his had met countless times before, were clear and bright, all the happiness in the world visible within. Xu Tingsheng’s face felt a little like twitching. He very much wanted to smile, best smile a little more charmingly, yet had no way to do so.
Just having glanced at him once, Xiang Ning then furrowed her brows and grit her teeth as she tried hard to remove the cap of the bottle of orange juice.
“Sigh…I can’t open it,” Xiang Ning said, curling her lips.
“I’ll help you,” Xu Tingsheng fought to hold back the words that almost shot out of his mouth, even though he had once helped her to remove bottle caps countless times before.
“I’ll do it,”The long-haired girl received the bottle, removing the cap with a ‘pop’ sound, not exerting much effort at all.
Xiang Ning raised her head, gulping down the drink. Her slightly tremoring throat, her long, slim neck, as well as her cute, intricate ears and her smooth, clear earlobes…once, Xu Tingsheng had told Xiang Ning, “Every time I see you drink something, I feel like I really might die of thirst.”
In close to ten seconds, Xiang Ning drank half the bottle of juice in a single go. Xu Tingsheng only glanced once at her. He did not dare to watch on any further.
Hand-in-hand, the two little girls left.
Xu Tingsheng did not dare to follow. He looked at that distant, retreating back, gradually getting further, further, till finally it was no longer in sight.
“Dearest one, I will prepare everything, and, await your growth.”