Chapter 4: Ants Crawling into the Heart (Part 1)
"His hands were undoubtedly cold, not even slightly close to being warm. But at this moment, they felt like the warmest place in the universe."
After I woke up at dawn, I was surprised to notice that under the eaves of the house, on the square table was a bowl of plain rice porridge, with a bowl of golden steamed eggs and a plate of jade-green seaweed as the side-dishes.
I couldn’t help but gulp before shouting, “Wu Julan, you made breakfast?”
“If it wasn’t me, then was it you?” Wu Julan’s cold voice came from the study room. His words were said so casually yet it still sounded like he was mocking my intelligence. But given my understanding of him, he probably found my question purely redundant.
With little anticipation, I tasted the porridge and was instantly caught by surprise.
Plain porridge maye be a simple dish to make, but not many are able to prepare it well. A mouthful of it, neither hard nor soft, neither thick nor thin. Just nice. The rice was so fragrant that it could make any person savour it, rather than swallow it down. I’ve only had such a fragrant porridge in a small, old local restaurant in Guangzhou.
The seaweed and the steamed egg side dishes each had their own surprises. One’s refreshing and the other’s fragrant. Eating them with porridge was exceptionally appetizing. Without lifting my head, I emptied the plate and two bowls.
I once used to read, but never believed, in novels saying that the simpler a dish is, the more it tests the cook’s skills. The breakfast this morning was delicious. I finally believed and understood why Wu Julan despised my cooking.
After washing the dishes, I walked into the study room and saw Wu Julan playing on the computer.
I dragged a stool to sit at the side of Wu Julan. Placing my elbows on the computer desk and tilting my head, I stared at Wu Julan without blinking silently.
A few moments later, Wu Julan’s attention shifted from the computer screen to my face. His face displayed a calm and cold gaze that said, ‘what’s wrong with you?’
Wu Julan’s skin was exceptionally fair. His features were well-defined. His nose was sharp. His eyes were darker than ordinary East-Asians and his brows were dark and long. When he was expressionless and looking at the opposite party coldly, he looked like a predator on top of the food chain that was waiting for his prey. I can’t help but describe him as intimidating.
Too bad I’ve already seen him in his ridiculous and weak appearance, and have also witnessed him diligently doing the laundry, sweeping the floor, and cooking. No matter how dignified he may appear to be, his image has already been shattered.
I didn’t feel afraid. Instead, I felt that he looked like a child who was just pretending and enjoyed frightening people. As I sunk in my world, I subconsciously reached out my arm and pinched Wu Julan’s cheeks tenderly.
His soft skin was as cold as ice.
I grinned for a moment and only then came to realise what I was doing. I was startled and so was Wu Julan.
The both of us looked at each other in disbelief that my hand was actually pinching his face!
Wu Julan’s gaze drooped slightly, looking at the hand that was still pinching his cheek. His gazes were very strange, making me think that he might bite my hand in the next instant.
I was well aware of the situation and quickly retracted my hand, hiding it behind my back. I laughed dryly, “Hehe, hehe…”
Wu Julan lifted his eyes to stare at me. My throat instantly felt dry and I couldn’t laugh anymore.
I quickly changed the topic, “I’ve finished the breakfast you made. It was really delicious. No wonder you look down on my cooking skills. Now, I don’t even like my cooking skills.”
Wu Julan didn’t waiver at my attempt to appease him and calmly said, “It’s good that you know. Next time, I’ll do the cooking.”
Of course I had no objections and immediately nodded my head with certainty. However, that was not what I wanted to focus on, “Wu Julan, since your culinary skills are so good, it shouldn’t be an issue being a chef at a five-stars restaurant. How did you… end up here? At this shabby place?”
Yesterday, I also denied the thought of seeing him as a potential-boyfriend since I had no interest in finding out about his past. Today, I couldn’t help but be curious. There’s no choice. He was a puzzle from head to toe. Even someone like me, who has read novels and watched dramas, with such a big imagination couldn’t figure out his past.
Wu Julan stared at me, slightly squinting his eyes as if he was also thinking very seriously on how he ended up here.
For no reason, I suddenly shivered. My hairs stood upright, as if I suddenly realised he was like a poisonous snake staring at me. I reflexively felt afraid. My body froze and couldn’t move. Luckily, Wu Julan quickly shifted his gaze away and quietly looked back at the computer.
I let out a sigh and slouched on the computer desk. I looked at Wu Julan again but there was nothing unusual. I was very frustrated. This was the second time his gaze has given me the shock of my life. I couldn’t help but to cover the computer with my hand, and said fiercely, “I’m talking to you! Answer me!”
Wu Julan looked at me and said, “Everyone has unlucky days or encounters. My luck these days has been bad.”
He didn’t give me a proper explanation and yet at the same time, his reply somewhat explained a lot. My anger vanished instantly and I felt a little sorry. Not knowing how to comfort him, I remained silent for a while then said, “If you currently haven’t thought of where to go, then stay here and help me out! When you decide to leave, I’ll give you enough for travel expenses.”
Wu Julan remained expressionless. He stared at me for a moment. Then, without saying a word, he stood up and left.
I stared at his back, mumbled and cursed, “How cold-hearted! I’m helping you for goodness sake! You didn’t even slip a smile!”
At around 1p.m, Wang Tianlin, the renovator whom I had an appointment with, is the husband of my middle school classmate. We’ve previously met so he was considered someone who I knew rather well.
I led him upstairs for him to examine the entire house. Wang Tianlin knew that I was tight on cash and told me honestly, “Renovation is like a bottomless pit. With the same house, some people spend more than a million yuan to renovate while some people spend only up to a hundred thousand yuan. My suggestion is to save on areas where we can and spend on those that we can’t. One is for safety and health, another is that cheap products tend to break down in a year or two and the repairs in future will be even more expensive.”
It was very reasonable. I nodded my head in agreement.
Wang Tianlin took out a book and a pen and noted down clearly on the areas that needed reconstruction and the areas that only needed a refurbishment. As the last renovation was eight years ago, many areas have already aged. I pointed them out one by one — those that needed to be fixed and those that needed replacement. The both of us discussed the drafted renovation plan.
I have trust in Wang Tianlin and also know that he has connections in procuring the materials at a lower price than I can get commercially. So I decided to have Wang Tianlin purchase all the materials we needed. Wang Tianlin did a rough calculation and told me that the total costs for materials and labour would be at least eighty thousand yuan.
This was slightly higher than my budget but it was normal for renovations to exceed the budget by ten or twenty thousand yuan, so I agreed. As there was a need to purchase materials, on top of the deposit, we’ve agreed that the initial payment would be fifty thousand and the remaining payment would be made in installments according to the renovation progress.
Wang Tianlin knew that I was in a hurry for the work to begin. After calculating, we fixed the day after for renovation work to start. Since it was not a major renovation and Wang Tianlin promised to complete the work at his speed while ensuring the quality, it was estimated that the renovation will complete in around half a month.
With gratitude, I asked, “Is the deposit made via bank transfer or cash payment?”
“I prefer cash.”
Though it would be a little troublesome, I was willing to compromise, “Then I’ll send you the cash tomorrow.”
Wang Tianlin said readily, “I will be taking the ferry to cross the sea to buy the materials tomorrow morning and will be back at night. Since we know each other well, I trust there’s no funny business so you can just give it to me when we start work, which is the day after tomorrow.”
Seeing that everything had been settled, after a short chat, Wang Tianlin left. I thanked him before I saw him off.
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