While Cheng Xi was killing time during her layover, she saw the TV news channel report on Cai Yi’s research. As she continued to watch, she saw the scene change to that of Cai Yi sitting behind her office desk where she was being interviewed. She was over sixty by now, and her hair was completely white but combed immaculately. She looked affable, kind, and familiar.
Chen Jiaman, meanwhile, was playing Minecraft on her phone with her head lowered. Despite the chaotic hustle and bustle of the airport, she still picked out Cai Yi’s voice above the ground. She panicked, instinctively tossed her phone to the side, and hid behind Cheng Xi.
Cheng Xi patted her comfortingly, took out a pair of earmuffs from her bag, and put them on her. A couple moments later, after Chen Jiaman quieted down, Cheng Xi picked up her phone and stuffed it into her hands again.
But Chen Jiaman didn’t seem to see it; she was looking around left and right, the shock still on her face. Above her, Cai Yi’s image was giving an eloquent response.
Cheng Xi stopped looking upwards and instead focused on interacting with Chen Jiaman and playing Minecraft with her. Cheng Xi deliberately made a few rookie mistakes. At first, Chen Jiaman only watched her play silently, but as Cheng Xi continued to make more and more mistakes, Chen Jiaman started secretly moving the screen around and fixing the mistakes that she had made.
Besides this one incident, the rest of their return trip to Gansu went smoothly. This time, it was Ceng Xing who picked her up, and he was still driving the dinky little car that he allegedly detested. When he saw that there was an extra person, he raised his eyebrows slightly. He wasn’t all that surprised, but after Cheng Xi helped her into the car, when the two of them were alone outside, he asked, “What’s she doing over here?”
“I’m her mother now.”
Ceng Xing almost choked on his spit.
Cheng Xi’s face remained as impassive as ever. Disregarding Ceng Xing’s reaction, she turned towards Chen Jiaman, who was hiding behind her, and told her, “Don’t be afraid of him. Call him ‘Uncle.’”
Ceng Xing couldn’t bear to look at Chen Jiaman.
But even though Chen Jiaman was shy, she was more obedient, and she lowered her head as she called out, “Uncle.”
Ceng Xing looked at this “niece” of his, not knowing what to say.
Cheng Xi laughed at their antics before saying, “Alright, let’s head back first.”
Chen Jiaman was slightly unaccustomed to the car and the change of scenery, so Cheng Xi sat in the backseat to comfort her. “If you’re tired, just rest for a while. We’ll be driving for a few more hours before we arrive.”
Chen Jiaman leaned against her shoulder and obediently closed her eyes.
Through the rearview mirror, Ceng Xing saw Cheng Xi gently take out a thin blanket from her bag and then drape it carefully over Chen Jiaman’s sleeping body, her actions filled with a motherly mien. He couldn’t stop himself from massaging his forehead. “You’re actually going to treat her like your daughter?”
Cheng Xi gently shushed him.
Ceng Xing obligingly changed the subject, and the two of them began talking about how everything was going in Gansu, Cheng Xi’s return, and whether or not their colleagues at Renyi had changed. Of course, Ceng Xing was the most interested in Cai Yi’s success. “I saw the news. Professor Cai’s really amazing to have accomplished that. Did you visit her?”
He didn’t know that Chen Jiaman had been sent there for treatment after relapsing, so his question really was innocent from his point of view. Cheng Xi lowered her head, glanced at Chen Jiaman, and only after verifying that she was truly soundly asleep, she replied, “Yes, I did.”
“It must have been really crowded over there, hmm?” Ceng Xing glanced back at her before continuing to say, “You really lost out. If you had accepted Professor Cai’s invitation back then, she would have shared this glory with you. Then, you wouldn’t have to come out here and plow sand with the rest of us.”
Cheng Xi smiled as she looked out the window. The wind was picking up, and she could see a sandstorm faintly spinning under the dim sky. Their existences were like those grains of sand, tossed around in the sandstorm of life without any say in where they went……
She turned back around and asked Ceng Xing, “Then, do you regret coming over here?”
“I came here to chase after my dream. I don’t care if I regret it or not.” It was rare for Ceng Xing to give such a thoughtful response.
His words also seemed to contain a deeper meaning. Though all Cheng Xi did in response was smile, and he too started smiling.
At that time, Ceng Xing really was quite proud of his actions—not with regards to his work, but rather to Cheng Xi.
He had followed her footsteps all the way out here, and given their physical proximity, he believed that he stood a chance.
But Cheng Xi remained ignorant of Ceng Xing’s feelings toward her. The trip had exhausted her, and they arrived at the province quite late. After they settled in, they had a quick meal before going to bed almost immediately afterwards.
The next day, Cheng Xi didn’t rush to work immediately. While Chen Jiaman slept in, she made her rounds through the hospital, making sure that everything was going smoothly, and that the new doctors had all arrived with places to stay at and mentors to guide them. Besides a single small communication mishap with the government, there were no issues.
Of course, that little mishap wasn’t at all related to Ceng Xing. Even the director praised his capabilities, telling Cheng Xi, “Dr. Ceng’s really capable! He’s good at just about everything. Looks like his reputation as a doctor from Renyi isn’t for nothing.”
When Ceng Xing heard this lavish praise, his face turned smug, which caused Cheng Xi to laugh out loud. “As an uncle, you’ve really gotten a lot more responsible. Keep up the good work, senior!”
The director didn’t understand their inside joke, but she also joined in on the laughter. Coincidentally, the new doctors were also there, and Ceng Xing introduced each one of them to Cheng Xi. They were all students from the same school, and some of them actually already knew about Cheng Xi due to her reputation. “My professor often said that we were all trash while Senior Cheng was the best student she’d ever had the honor to teach. I’ve been inundated with tales of your amazing prowess for quite a while now, senior.”
Cheng Xi looked at the speaker. He was a young male, and his youthful attitude actually reminded her of one of her own students, and so she couldn’t help herself from responding in kind. “Oh, it’s alright. My professor said that to me all the time as well. If you work a bit harder, I’m sure all of you can become the legend that she speaks of.”
And so, they chatted about their old school with Cheng Xi for a few minutes, growing closer to her in the process. Afterwards, everyone went back to work in earnest. The hospital had just received a somewhat troublesome patient: a crazy man who attacked everyone he saw. It was a rather persistent problem, and since Cheng Xi was here, she was naturally tapped to help diagnose the best treatment course for him.
She spent the whole morning at the hospital while Chen Jiaman stayed at the hostel they were living in. When Cheng Xi finally had some free time to check up on her, she found that Chen Jiaman was in the exact same position she had left her in.
Cheng Xi had even prepared food and left it on the table for her, but Chen Jiaman hadn’t touched it at all. Later on, Cheng Xi learned that Chen Jiaman didn’t have a self-preservation instinct at all; even if she were hungry, if food wasn’t placed right in front of her, she wouldn’t remember to eat.
It was only when Cheng Xi came back that she learned about this peculiar behavior of Chen Jiaman’s. Ceng Xing wanted Cheng Xi to treat Chen Jiaman at the hospital, but Chen Jiaman was very wary of hospitals, to the point where she’d become scared and afraid just from seeing Cheng Xi wear her doctor’s coat.
Due to Chen Jiaman’s irrational fear, Cheng Xi didn’t force her to go in for a checkup. Cheng Xi didn’t lack patience when treating her patients, and she went for daily walks around the neighborhood with Chen Jiaman. On the weekends, she would bring her rock climbing, and then afterwards, they would find a place with a nice scenery for Chen Jiaman to do a still-life drawing. Sometimes, Cheng Xi even brought her to Qin Shiya’s little kindergarten, as to slowly expose Chen Jiaman to more and more people.
And so, Cheng Xi’s schedule was completely booked every day of every week. Because of her promise to Lu Chenzhou, and because Ceng Xing was far better at administration than she was, Cheng Xi threw all of the liaison responsibilities at him, essentially setting him to take over for her when she left. Naturally, this meant that she had more interactions with Ceng Xing than before. She didn’t feel anything towards him, so they got along quite well.
On the other hand, Ceng Xing took over her responsibilities enthusiastically, working hard to help her with everything. He’d even stay late on weekdays to finish his work so that he would have the time to go rock climbing with them over the weekend.
With enough time, even Chen Jiaman started warming up to him. Ceng Xing felt like the flowers were blooming wherever he went, and a few days later, he drummed up all of his courage, knocked on Cheng Xi’s door, and called her out.
“Is something wrong?” Cheng Xi followed him out curiously.
She had been drawing with Chen Jiaman, and there was a multicolored paint-stained bib draped on top of her clothes. She was still gripping a paintbrush that was dripping with paint, looking as casual as could be.
But in Ceng Xing’s eyes, this was when Cheng Xi looked the warmest and the most gentle.
“For you.” He handed her a contract.
Instead of taking it, Cheng Xi read it from his hands. “A homeowner’s contract.” She raised her head in shock. “Are you buying a place here?”
“Yep. It’s newly furnished.” As Ceng Xing said this, he looked at her. “Cheng Xi, I’d like to start a family here, would you be willing-”
“Dr. Cheng.” But before Ceng Xing could finish his question, an unknown person interrupted him.
The two of them turned around at the same time, and saw that a male colleague from the hospital had brought a man over. The lamplight was a little dim, preventing them from clearly making out the newcomer’s shadow shrouded face. Then, as the two men got closer, their figures became more distinct.
Cheng Xi couldn’t help blinking in disbelief, and then in an excited voice, shouted in surprise, “Lu Chenzhou?!