STT – Chapter 21

Do not have unwarranted desires

As the second day dawned, after having breakfast, Lu Zizheng and Lian Xuan got into the car and hit the road back to Linzhou. During the journey, Lian Xuan took the opportunity to sincerely and seriously apologize to Lu Zizheng for her impulsive behavior the previous night. Lu Zizheng smiled and reassured her, not holding it against her, but deep inside, she couldn’t help but feel a touch of emotion. Lian Xuan was always composed and graceful during the daylight hours, but at night, her vulnerabilities surfaced, making her appear fragile. Which version of her was the real Lian Xuan? Lu Zizheng couldn’t comprehend, and Lian Xuan herself hadn’t fully grasped it either.

Throughout the trip, Lian Xuan received several phone calls, one after another, inquiring about her sudden departure the previous night. She responded casually, saying she had spontaneously gone to see a friend.

The last call rang multiple times, but Lian Xuan glanced at the caller ID and chose not to answer. Eventually, she decided to power off her phone entirely. She stole a guilty glance at Lu Zizheng, hoping she would ask why she didn’t take the call, as it would signify that she still cared. Simultaneously, she also hoped Lu Zizheng wouldn’t inquire, for she didn’t know how to candidly explain Zhou Zhong’an’s presence…

However, Lu Zizheng seemed completely oblivious, engrossed in her own thoughts, displaying a hint of hesitation on her face. Lian Xuan’s heart gradually sank…

Indeed, Lu Zizheng was torn. Last night, due to Lian Xuan’s situation, she was delayed, and it was too late to disturb Jiang Huaixi. However, she remained concerned about Jiang Huaixi’s fever and illness. At this moment, she wavered on whether to send a text message inquiring about Jiang Huaixi’s well-being. Yet, she also worried that it might be too early, disrupting Jiang Huaixi’s peaceful slumber.

After much contemplation, her concern and worry overwhelmed her. She moved her fingers and sent a concise text message: “Has your cold gotten better?”

After sending the message, it seemed to vanish into thin air. It wasn’t until Lian Xuan brought her back to her home in Linzhou that Lu Zizheng still hadn’t received a reply from Jiang Huaixi.

Sitting at her desk, Lu Zizheng propped her chin on her hand, gazing at the photo of a snowman with the inscription, “May people be together eternally, even if separated by a thousand miles,” accompanied by an unfinished ellipsis. Letting out a sigh, she tapped her forehead and finally stowed the photo away in a drawer, powered off her phone, and retrieved some documents to begin working.

“Do not dwell on thoughts that shouldn’t be pondered. Do not harbor unwarranted desires.”

Once Lu Zizheng became engrossed in her work, everything else slipped from her mind. She even forgot to have lunch and dinner until she received a call from her mother on the landline at home, which snapped her back to reality. She realized that darkness had already enveloped the sky.

Mama Lu first questioned her curiously about why her phone was turned off. Lu Zizheng glanced at her phone, which was engulfed in darkness, and casually replied, saying it ran out of battery. Mama Lu couldn’t help but nag her, “When your phone is running low on battery, remember to charge it. If you were outside and I couldn’t reach you on the landline, how worried I would be. You’re already grown up, yet you still make me worry so much.”

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Lu Zizheng obediently promised her mother that she would be more mindful next time.

Her mother continued to inquire whether she had eaten dinner so late. Lu Zizheng didn’t dare to confess and instead bluffed, saying she had already eaten, telling her not to worry.

Finally, Mama Lu said, “On Friday, for New Year’s Eve, don’t make any plans. Come home and have dinner. I’ll make dumplings for you.”

Lu Zizheng had no reason to refuse and happily agreed. After hanging up the phone, she heard her mother talking about food, and her stomach started to growl. Lu Zizheng contemplated where to go and what to eat after hanging up. Her thoughts wandered, reminiscing about the campus food map that Jiang Huaixi had drawn for her during their university days…

Little did she know her mother wasn’t finished yet. In the end, she added, “Does Huaixi have any plans for Friday?”

Lu Zizheng immediately grasped her mother’s intention of wanting Jiang Huaixi to join them for the meal. Thinking about her two previous rejections and today’s unanswered text message, Lu Zizheng’s eyes dimmed, and she lowered her voice helplessly as she advised her mother, “On such an important holiday, I’m sure she has plans for the evening as well.” Then, with a softer tone and a touch of coquetry, she added, “Mom, isn’t it enough to have your precious daughter accompany you? Can’t we enjoy some quality time together?”

Mama Lu chuckled and said, “Who said you’re my precious one? Don’t boast about yourself. Alright, then it’s settled. You can go back to your business.”

Lu Zizheng playfully exchanged a few more words with her mother before ending the call. She touched her empty stomach, grabbed her keys, and prepared to go out in search of food. When she reached the doorway and had her shoes on, holding onto the doorknob, she stopped in her tracks. She took off the freshly worn shoes, returned to her study, and retrieved her phone, which had been kept on the desk. She put it in her bag before finally leaving with peace of mind.

The night was dark and cold, and the streets were sparsely populated. Occasionally, one or two people passed by, their expressions hurried and devoid of emotion. It was a stark contrast to the festive atmosphere just a couple of days ago.

Lu Zizheng walked slowly, lost in thought, and finally came to a stop. She took out her phone from her bag and turned it on swiftly and decisively. As the screen lit up and the SIM card was successfully recognized, she saw a notification pop up—an unread message from Jiang Huaixi.

Lu Zizheng couldn’t help but curl up the corners of her mouth, revealing a faint but content smile.

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She had told herself a thousand times, ten thousand times, not to have any expectations. Yet, she couldn’t resist. She couldn’t help but have some expectations.

Opening her inbox, Lu Zizheng saw Jiang Huaixi’s reply lying quietly there: “If it’s not too much trouble, are you ready to come and take care of me without your clothes on?”

Lu Zizheng pursed her lips and replied with a smile: “Still being so presumptuous, it seems like you’re feeling better.”

After sending the message, she held the phone in her hand and continued walking forward, a smile that had yet to fade still present on her face, her steps noticeably lighter.

Just as she arrived at a noodle shop, sat down, and ordered a bowl of noodles, the phone held in her palm vibrated. Jiang Huaixi had replied to her message.

“Do you have time on Friday night? I want to show you something.”

Lu Zizheng felt a bit conflicted. It was absolutely crucial not to break her promise to her mother and go back for dinner. However, she also knew that she didn’t want to refuse Jiang Huaixi’s invitation. She frowned slightly and replied, “I have to go back and have dinner with my mom first. Can we meet later?”

In less than a minute, Jiang Huaixi replied, “No problem. Enjoy dinner with auntie first. I’ll wait for you downstairs at 10 o’clock. Wish your mom a happy new year for me.”

After replying with a simple “okay,” Lu Zizheng’s appetite returned. She contentedly placed her phone back in her bag, picked up her chopsticks, and started eating the noodles, unexpectedly finding them particularly delicious.

On December 31st, Lu Zizheng rushed to her mother’s house after work. Due to the holiday, the roads were especially crowded, and Lu Zizheng had to wait for several buses before finally squeezing onto one. By the time she arrived at her mother’s house, the moon was already high in the sky. Exhausted, she pulled out a chair and sat down, reluctant to move any further.

Mama Lu, holding the filling with one hand and the dumpling wrapper with the other, looked at Lu Zizheng slumped in the chair, feeling sorry for her and couldn’t help but jokingly scold her, “You’re exhausted from just one bus ride. I think Huaixi has spoiled you.”

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Lu Zizheng weakly retorted, “Mom, you’re overthinking it. Today was a special situation. You have no idea how terrible the conditions were on the bus. There was a girl who couldn’t get in because she was carrying a bag, and the entire bag got stuck outside the door.”

Mama Lu chuckled and said, “So you’re saying you have the ability to fit your entire self into the bus? That’s quite a skill.”

Lu Zizheng proudly hummed a tune and added, “Huaixi asked me to say ‘Happy New Year’ to you.”

Mama Lu sighed, reminiscing, “I remember a few years ago when you brought Huaixi home for the first time, it was also on December 31st. I made dumplings for her. She couldn’t wrap dumplings herself but insisted on standing by and watching me. She was so sweet, complimenting my dumpling skins and the delicious filling. She would serve me tea and bring me water. I was so delighted, thinking you finally found a good child, but you treated her like she wasn’t worth a dime.”

Lu Zizheng pouted and said, “She was just afraid of getting kicked out by me at the time, so of course, she wanted to please you and secure her position.”

Mama Lu disapprovingly lectured Lu Zizheng, “All you know is taking advantage of Huaixi’s good nature and bullying her.”

Lu Zizheng felt so wronged and exclaimed, “Mom, you’re biased! From the beginning until now, it’s been her bullying me. You haven’t seen her true colors at all!”

Lu Zizheng felt that over the years, Jiang Huaixi had been evolving and gradually transformed into someone who made her heart flutter. The initial version of Jiang Huaixi that she had met was loud, arrogant, inexplicably conceited, and utterly infuriating.

When Lu Zizheng woke up in the hospital after falling ill during her freshman year, Jiang Huaixi was already gone. Lu Zizheng wasn’t surprised, but she pondered on how she could repay the favor.

During the afternoon lecture, Lu Zizheng deliberately scanned the entire classroom but didn’t catch a glimpse of Jiang Huaixi. She felt somewhat relieved because meeting her again before figuring out how to repay the favor would be awkward.

However, this sense of relief didn’t last long. Jiang Huaixi appeared before her in a flamboyant manner. Just as Lu Zizheng stepped out of the college gate, she saw Jiang Huaixi’s eye-catching Lamborghini parked by the roadside. She paused, recalling the unpleasant encounter from their first meeting, and instinctively knew that this encounter wouldn’t lead to anything good.

Sure enough, Jiang Huaixi pushed open the car door, got out, furrowed her brows, pursed her lips, and walked straight towards Lu Zizheng.

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Lu Zizheng’s initial reaction was to turn around and head back to the college, and that’s exactly what she did.

But just as she took a couple of steps, Lu Zizheng felt her arm being tightly grabbed. Jiang Huaixi’s cold voice sounded from behind, “Come with me.”

During the bustling class transition period, with people coming and going, Lu Zizheng felt that everyone had slowed down their pace, watching them with keen interest. Lu Zizheng despised such situations the most, and Jiang Huaixi repeatedly challenged her limits. Her face darkened, she turned around, and coldly said to Jiang Huaixi, “Let go.”

However, Jiang Huaixi seemed to ignore her words and gave her arm a slight tug. Frowning, she asked, “If I let go, will you come with me?”

The surrounding classmates shamelessly stopped in their tracks, and there was a gradual trend of encircling them. Lu Zizheng felt extremely embarrassed. Wasn’t the gossip caused by their last encounter in the library enough? If she continued to follow Jiang Huaixi and cause a scene, who knows what rumors would circulate tomorrow? Lu Zizheng’s eyebrows twisted into a knot, she sighed heavily in resignation, and reluctantly compromised, following Jiang Huaixi out of the college and getting into her car.

On the way, Lu Zizheng rubbed her temples, feeling a headache coming on, and asked Jiang Huaixi with frustration, “Where are you taking me? What do you want to do?”

Jiang Huaixi glanced at her indifferently and retorted, “Why ask so many questions? With your looks, even if I kidnapped you, it would be hard to sell you. What’s there to worry about?”

Lu Zizheng grew irritated. Jiang Huaixi either didn’t understand human language or simply refused to speak it. Every time she opened her mouth, it felt like she was trying to choke Lu Zizheng. She had been cautious and careful in her interactions with others for years, never engaging in arguments. How could she match up to Jiang Huaixi’s sharp tongue? Frustrated to the extreme, Lu Zizheng could only fall silent and ignore her.

The car seemed to enter a residential area, and Lu Zizheng recognized it as the faculty apartments of the school. Jiang Huaixi parked the car, opened the door, and casually ordered her, “Get out.”

Lu Zizheng sat still, refusing to move. Jiang Huaixi raised an eyebrow and coldly remarked, “Or do you want to be gawked at here as well?”

Lu Zizheng’s gaze turned icy cold, capable of freezing people in their tracks. She stared at Jiang Huaixi, but Jiang Huaixi remained unfazed, her expression calm. In the end, Lu Zizheng succumbed to defeat. She forcefully pushed open the door, got out of the car, and slammed the door shut with a loud, intimidating sound.

A faint smile appeared on Jiang Huaixi’s lips. Compared to Lu Zizheng’s plain and lifeless facade, she actually preferred seeing her in this fiery and angry state. She turned around, gracefully pressed the car key to lock it, and leisurely walked ahead of Lu Zizheng with unhurried steps.

“Keep up.”

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