Lin Fan didn’t feel the same ruefulness that Cheng Xi was savoring. Although he noticed that Cheng Xi was still distracted, he couldn’t have imagined that she was already reevaluating their relationship in her mind.
He was still very happy because this was his first time coming to Cheng Xi’s house, the house that belonged solely to her. He felt that this was an intimate gesture in and of itself.
Cheng Xi refused his offer to help cook, entering the kitchen alone and busying herself. Lin Fan held the glass of water she had poured for him and slowly took in this house that had been filled to the brim with Cheng Xi’s presence.
Her house was very clean and tidy. Despite her interior decoration being somewhat at odds with itself, with maple-colored furniture and European-style marbling, the house was filled with a faint fruity smell that naturally made him relax. Because Lin Fan liked her so much, he couldn’t seem to find a flaw with any part of her home; everywhere he looked, it felt pleasing and intimate.
After looking around in a circle, he sat down on the sofa that she liked to lounge on and picked up the books that she looked at, all related to medicine, complicated and arcane. But the sight of her notes penciled in that oh-so-familiar script, slim and graceful, threw him back to those childhood years.
He was engrossed in his reminiscing as he leafed through her books.
By the time Cheng Xi finished making breakfast, she had decided how she would break the news to him. But when she saw looking through her books, she couldn’t help but smile. “Do you like them?”
“Yes.” He nodded seriously.
Cheng Xi’s smile grew even wider. “Not bad. As someone who studied abroad, reading books like these must be a piece of cake for you. If there’s something that I don’t understand, I’m sure you’ll be able to help explain it to me.”
Lin Fan playfully bowed in the manner of a scholar. “It would be my pleasure.”
This was a conversation that they had often had while studying. Although it sounded like it would be an awkward conversation, when Lin Fan said it, it was surprisingly intimate—perhaps because his posture was so refined and natural.
The two of them laughed together. Lin Fan put down the books and walked over happily. Cheng Xi’s breakfast was very simple: a simple bowl of noodles with a poached egg that was topped with a few stalks of green onion and flavored with a dash of red oil. The golden yolk and pale white noodles contrasted with a few splashes of onion-green; while it looked quite ordinary, it tasted remarkably good.
When Cheng Xi heard Lin Fan’s praise, she laughed. “It’s the seasoning that my mother made for me that’s truly tasty, this red chili oil.” As she talked, she picked up a small bottle of chili oil from the table. “It’s a true miracle seasoning that can turn even the most unpalatable meal into something indescribably tasty. Without it, I really wouldn’t have had the courage to invite you to eat my food.”
Her exaggeration made Lin Fan laugh. “Your parents really do make delicious food. When I was overseas, I would long for their noodles and dishes every now and then… But since I’ve been gone for so long, I do feel somewhat afraid of going to see them again now.”
Because Lin Fan had been poor in the past and his mother always busy, he often either ate cup noodles or whatever he could scrounge up. Luckily for him, Cheng Yang’s grades were poor, and, as his younger sister, Cheng Xi found it embarrassing to help tutor him. So, she had gotten Lin Fan to do it for her instead. For this reason, Lin Fan was quite familiar with the Chens, and had frequently had meals with them.
After Lin Fan went abroad, they hadn’t heard from him again. Cheng Xi’s mother had even asked about him a few times, and still brought him up occasionally, always starting off with the words, “That refined and particularly responsible classmate of yours…”
After Cheng Xi swallowed the food in her mouth, she said, “I’m not free this weekend, but next weekend when I’m free, I’ll invite you to have my mother’s food again.” She paused, and then added, “Call Shen Wei and Tian Rou and the rest of them over too. My mom will be delighted.”
Lin Fan stared blankly before accepting happily, his eyes curving upwards like small crescent moons. “Alright. I’ll be free in the afternoon, so I’ll go pick out some gifts for them right after. I still have some things from overseas. Oh, you should help me pick some things out when you’re free, something that they’d like…”
He said a whole lot all at once, and Cheng Xi could immediately tell that he was nervous.
She smiled comfortingly. “Don’t worry about all that. What’s most important is that you go.”
Lin Fan shook his head. “How can that do? I used to freeload from your place so much. If I still did that now, then I’m afraid they’d chase me out.”
“How was that considered freeloading? You helped too. If Cheng Yang hadn’t had you around, then he probably couldn’t have gotten into even the most ordinary of universities.”
Upon Cheng Yang being mentioned, Lin Fan asked, “How’s he doing now?”
“Oh, he dropped out of university and got a job doing construction, which made my mom really angry. But he has a small business now, so I guess he’s doing alright.”
Lin Fan smiled. “I guess he did get what he wanted in the end. Even when he was studying, he always said that he wanted to be a boss in the future.”
As they ate, they talked about some other funny childhood stories related to Cheng Yang. When they had almost finished the noodles, Cheng Xi asked, “Lin Fan, do you remember that patient that you met last time at the hospital?”
“The one that bit you?”
“Is your hand better now?” He immediately looked at her with a gaze full of concern, and then urged once again, “Don’t be so foolish next time. It must have hurt! I think it wouldn’t be so bad if you just behaved like the other doctors, locking them up or strapping them down if they misbehave.”
When Cheng Xi heard this, she looked at him with a complex expression.
“What is it?” He asked.
Cheng Xi could only sigh and tiredly explained, “My patient’s situation is a bit complicated. Before she became ill, she received some very severe mental trauma. If we restrain her, then it would only make her resist more. So, I don’t want to do that.”
“But you can’t just let her bite you. What if something happens?”
“Yes, you’re right.” Cheng Xi stopped arguing with him at this point. “It’s just that she’s a very pitiful child. She suffers from Cotard’s syndrome—oh, that’s walking corpse syndrome. The patients with this disease often experience very severe hallucinations, and sometimes they even believe that they themselves are dead, and that the only thing still existing in this world is their corpse. As a result of this illness, she accidentally killed her grandmother, the sole relative she was living with. The police sent her over to me. Earlier, she was showing signs of recovery, but she was suddenly provoked that day, which caused her to relapse once again. I’m trying my best to help cure her.”
“But even if I do cure her, she’ll still have a hard time living in the future because she has no family anymore. Her father was imprisoned a few days ago for a crime that he committed, and patients suffering from mental illness usually require the love of their family members even more so than usual patients. Before her father was imprisoned, he told me that she had a mother who left with her older brother not long after she was born. Because she no longer has anyone to take care of her, I could only try to find her mother and brother on her father’s behalf. It’s been ten years or so since their separation, and I don’t know whether they would be willing to take her in and take care of her.”
Cheng Xi talked as she ate, her voice steady and slightly indifferent, as if she were just chatting about a random patient with him. In the beginning, Lin Fan didn’t pay much attention, and he only revealed a hint of surprise when she said ‘a mother who left with her older brother.’ When she finished telling Chen Jiaman’s story, he raised his bowl and swallowed a couple mouthfuls of soup before asking, “Where’s she from?”
Lin Fan’s hands trembled slightly. He put down the bowl, his fingers still tightly clutching at its rim.
“She’s… still pretty young, isn’t she?”
“Fourteen, almost fifteen.”
“Is that so?” Lin Fan responded, seemingly thinking hard. He lowered his head and gulped down another mouthful of soup, not saying anything.
Cheng Xi didn’t say anything more either. The two of them, in a somewhat somber mood now, finished the remaining food on the table.. When she was getting ready to clear the table, Lin Fan’s phone rang. She went inside the kitchen, and by the time she came out, Lin Fan was clutching his phone and sitting there silently at the dining table, his face pale.
Hearing her come out, he stood up. “Something came up, and I have to go.” His smile was very obviously forced. “Cheng Xi…”
“Thank you for breakfast.”
She smiled, knowing that what he wanted to say right now was not this. However, she didn’t press the matter. “Are you being this polite just so that you can get me to treat you to another two meals?”
When he heard this, he actually didn’t respond, instead turning around and leaving as his state of mind was slightly disturbed. Cheng Xi wanted to send him out, but he refused. “It’s cold outside, so don’t bother. I can find my way.” He pressed the button for the elevator and stood with his back facing her for quite a while before turning around at the last second as if he had just thought of something. “Did you end up setting up a meeting between you and the patient’s family member whom you contacted?”
“Yes.” She calmly looked at him.
“You…” He looked at her, wanted to say something but hesitated. Only after quite a while did he ask, “Is she… easy to get along with?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll only know once I meet her.”
He forced a smile onto his face again. “Actually, I think that you don’t need to do something like this at all. Perhaps, there might be a reason why her mother walked out? Reaching out from the blue… I’m afraid that you’ll feel wronged.”
Cheng Xi smiled. “That’s fine. I’ll try my best regardless.”
He nodded and entered the elevator while Cheng Xi stood outside. As she looked at the elevator doors closing slowly, looked as he slowly disappeared from her sight, she couldn’t help but sigh deeply.
The world… was truly so small.