Chapter 203: If I die
Everyone needs someone who can allow them to say ‘no’, whom they can weep freely in front of without having to explain why.
Most of the time, we lack such a person.
When descending from the balcony on the top floor, Xu Tingsheng’s face had already regained its calmness, that genial smile. Apart from his body still being a little weak, there were no other abnormalities that one would possibly be able to spot from him.
A hand around his shoulder, Mr Xu accompanied him as they went back downstairs.
Mrs Xu was currently busying herself in the kitchen.
Apple stood at the door to the kitchen. Xu Tingsheng watched for a while. She seemed very uneasy, looking a few times like she wanted to go in to help, yet then hesitating as she dared not step forward. To her, this mindset could not be any more normal. This being her first time meeting Xu Tingsheng’s parents, she naturally wished to leave a good impression on them.
It had really been too sudden for her today. She hadn’t even had the time to change to a set of presentable clothes, learning from Xu Tingsheng what his parents liked and what she should be mindful of. This exacerbated her panicked mentality.
Another reason was that Mrs Xu’s facial expression and attitude were not friendly. While this wasn’t actually targeted towards Apple, she could still feel it.
Mrs Xu had come to Yanzhou with a temper. She had only been mad at Xu Tingsheng originally. Afterwards, having discovered that these girls seemed to have been ill-treating her precious son who had been caught in the throes of fever, her anger had grown, expanding to encompass yet more people.
Also, she did not like Xu Tingsheng’s current way of living. She was still hung up on Ye Yingjing. As she saw it, Xu Tingsheng should rightly be embracing a proper, gracious, refined girl like her.
Consolidating all these, Xu Tingsheng could imagine how his mother would probably not have paid much attention to her attitude when she had come into the kitchen and taken over control.
This was Xu Tingsheng’s Mum. Therefore, how could Apple not feel worried, not feel panicked?
Xu Tingsheng went over, pulled the strings to untie her apron and said in a low tone, “My Mum’s temper is targeted at me. Don’t you worry. Now, come over and let’s chat with my Dad together.”
Apple looked first at Xu Tingsheng and then at the kitchen. She hesitated for a moment, opening her mouth yet not knowing what she should say. She seemed to be on tenterhooks waiting it out peacefully as the meal was being cooked just like this.
“Brew a cup of tea for my Dad,” Xu Tingsheng said.
Therefore, Apple seemed to finally find some peace of mind as she brewed tea and carried it over to Mr Xu, “Have some tea, Uncle.”
“Thanks,” Mr Xu said, “It’s been tough on you, taking care of Xu Tingsheng these last few days.”
“I, I didn’t take very good care of him,” Apple replied somewhat guiltily.
“There are many things that just have to be learnt slowly. You’re still just a child; you’ve already done very well. It’s really the thought that counts. Uncle’s very grateful to you. If you’ve the time, why not come over to our house to play soon,” Mr Xu smiled.
“Yeah, okay,” As Apple looked at Xu Tingsheng, some shyness as well as unconcealable happiness could be seen on her face.
Just having chatted with Mr Xu for a while, Apple’s emotions had already eased greatly.
Mr Xu’s magnanimity and dependability easily caused one to feel comfortably refreshed and at ease before him. This was something that Xu Tingsheng might not be able to acquire throughout his entire life. It was from the accumulated experiences from the vicissitudes of life, the repressed and the flourishing as he persevered through all those ups and downs.
Over dinner, Lu Zhixin opened a precious bottle of red wine from her collection for Mr Xu. Xu Tingsheng had requested for it many times prior to this, but she had always been unwilling to open it.
The situation around the dining table was like this.
Most of them, Apple herself included, were eating the dishes cooked by Mrs Xu, giving some words of praise either ‘fakely’ or from the bottom of their hearts. Only Mr Xu and Xu Tingsheng ate the two dishes that Apple had cooked earlier from time to time. While they really did taste rather tragic, they still said, “For someone who just started learning, it’s already pretty good.”
Then, Mrs Xu asked Apple which university she studied at and when her next semester begun.
Apple looked at Xu Tingsheng, not knowing how to answer. Was she to tell Mrs Xu, “I’m taking a break off studying for the moment. I’m just whiling my time away here?”
Xu Tingsheng cheerily brushed over the topic for her.
Lu Zhixin conversed with Mr Xu, chatting first about red wine, then business. This included her family’s business, Hucheng’s development and even some of her thoughts on Happy Shoppers’ future development.
While Mr Xu had already long since heard Xu Tingsheng mention this girl’s capabilities as well as her importance in Hucheng, he was still rather surprised now as he could not help but praise her and express approval of her words repeatedly. The more they talked, the more they hit it off.
Fang Chen talked about her family’s affairs for once. She even mentioned the name of her retired Grandpa for the first time: Fang Guohou.
Xu Tingsheng and Mr Xu exchanged glances. This person had once been a major renowned figure of Jianhai Province.
Therefore, Apple began feeling even more helpless. She discovered that she seemed to be completely useless, not even having anything to bring into and participate in the conversation.
Xu Tingsheng finished his first full bowl of rice for the first time these past few days.
“I’ll top up your rice for you.”
Seeing that Xu Tingsheng was finally eating a little more, Apple was naturally overjoyed. Also, she had finally found something that she could do. She reached out and retrieved the bowl in front of Xu Tingsheng.
Due to her flustered, nervous state, the bowl in her hand toppled and fell towards the ground.
The bowl broke.
It was just a bowl that had been broken. However, accompanied by this one shattering noise, Apple’s emotions that had already been repressed originally seemed like the dam was right about to collapse with the floodwaters unleashed as she stood there helplessly and dazedly, head lowered as tears had already began to well within her eyes.
Everyone looked over, Mrs Xu as well.
Xu Tingsheng propped his right arm up high, pretending to say to Apple, “It isn’t my fault! It’s your fault for not holding it high enough. Like this, I’d touch it as soon as I raised up my arm.”
Seeing this, Mrs Xu said exasperatedly, “Did you want her to raise the bowl up to the heavens? Making a mistake yourself but blaming it on others.”
“I just raised my arm up a little. I wanted to stretch,” Xu Tingsheng defended himself.
“You still can’t blame others for that! Forget it, a shattered bowl for peace,” Mrs Xu said.
Xu Tingsheng understood his Mum well. It was due to her temperament that he had reacted thus.
After clearing up the pieces of broken bowl, Xu Tingsheng entered the kitchen together with Apple. Seeing the tears in her eyes and the helpless expression on her face, he extended a hand and clasped hers, squeezing it gently.
“Relax, I’m here.”
“I’m sorry I’m so useless,” Apple said.
“You’re not. Don’t let your thoughts run wild and get you needlessly flustered. I’m on your side! Also, Mum’s really harmless. She just has that temper. Even Dad and I are both scared of her sometimes,” Xu Tingsheng consoled.
“But I’m really very useless. As compared to Fang Chen, as compared to Zhixin, aside from being a burden to you, I really have no bit of use at all. I originally thought that I could just learn to take care of you, washing clothes and cooking for you for the rest of our lives. But…I can’t even hold a single bowl properly. Also, what you need probably isn’t a woman like me. Zhixin is much more suitable than I am.”
Apple got more emotional the more she spoke.
“Apple, calm down. Things aren’t as bad as you think they are. Firstly, I’m actually unwilling to bundle work and life together. You needn’t give yourself any pressure. Next, Lu Zhixin’s capabilities are from the environment in which she grew up. We naturally wouldn’t possess them. In some areas, even I am inferior to her. You can’t always compare your weak points to the strong points of others, right? Wouldn’t you have to be superior in all aspects then? Wouldn’t you be a perfect human being then? Human beings are all imperfect creatures.”
“But there isn’t any aspect at all where I’m superior.”
“Of course there are. For example, you can sing! So many people like you…”
Xu Tingsheng had accidentally said something wrong. This might only cause Apple to feel more pained and empty now.
He had just wanted to explain it away when Apple took the initiative to change the topic, asking, “Tingsheng, after you’ve recovered, can I start learning from Zhixin, learning to do some things for Hucheng? I will work hard.”
“Okay. I believe you.”
Xu Tingsheng actually knew that Apple was unsuited for this. Still, he could not refuse her now. So long as it was something that she was willing to do, to actively participate in, Xu Tingsheng would support her in her endeavours without question.
Mr and Mrs Xu stayed till nearly 10pm at the riverside residence before going to a motel.
Due to Apple’s unstable emotions, Xu Tingsheng firmly insisted on staying behind.
That night, Xu Tingsheng’s temperature inexplicably rose once more, burning him up till he was delirious. Apple embraced him, resting his head on her thigh as she carefully watched over him nervously, helplessly.
However, Xu Tingsheng adamantly insisted that she not tell Mrs Xu about his condition.
Apple understood why this was so.
With his consciousness chaotic and jumbled beyond compare, Xu Tingsheng asked Apple, “If I die, how will you live?”
Apple could not help but break out into sobs at this heavy bolt from the blue. Yet, she discovered that she actually had no answer for him. If an answer was necessary here, it would be that just thinking about it, her entire person would feel completely empty and lost.
She actually already no longer had a life of her own.
“Actually, I’ve already died once. Actually, back then, you had a life of your own. You were living very well,” Xu Tingsheng said.
He spoke mindlessly. Apple did not understand when he said that he had already died once. What she heard was Xu Tingsheng saying that he hoped she would be able to live very well even without him around.
“If it’s me, I’ve actually been wondering this. If I didn’t exist in this world, wouldn’t you actually be living better then? You still have such a great career, and Xiang Ning, and so much more…” Apple asked Xu Tingsheng.
“I think that I would live my entire life in guilt and unease. Thank you for loving me, but I hope that first and foremost, you can love yourself, possessing a life of your own that you love with a passion. Like sunlight and freedom, like singing and tourism…” Xu Tingsheng buried his head, murmuring.
“I promise you. I won’t let you feel guilty and uneasy. I’ll live well.”
After pouring another cup of water for Xu Tingsheng, Apple returned to her room. She retrieved a few bottles of sleeping pills from her luggage. She looked at them. Then, she threw them into the river outside the window, to be swept away by the currents forevermore.