“The teaching assistant is looking for you.”
He had no classes for the first two periods so he slept until 10 AM before he came to class. The moment Jiang Pozhen stepped into the classroom, he caught wind of this unfortunate news.
“Which teaching assistant?” he asked, hoping that it was a fluke.
The blabbermouth PR student nervously replied, “It’s that relief teaching assistant, the one that invigilated our organic chemistry exam! The one that called you afterward.”
It really is him! Jiang Pozhen couldn’t help but frown.
Half a month had passed since the incident. For the past few days, he had been eyeing the notice board attentively and didn’t see any announcements about his impending punishment. Then why was that guy asking for him again?
“Ah Po, why is the teaching assistant looking for you? The way I see it, he doesn’t seem to have the intention to punish you. Is he trying to get you to confess who else was involved in the cheating? You…you couldn’t have ratted us out, right?” the PR student asked subjectively. The moment he saw Jiang Pozhen’s cold expression, he hurriedly added, “Oh god! Eh! We are also very worried about you since you did this to cover for us…”
Was it a friend in need is a friend indeed or was it easier to know their true colors after knowing them for so long? If that incident hadn’t happened, he would have never had the chance to see what his friends were really like. Although he was still annoyed deep down, he firmly believed that this classmate of his was truly the epitome of a nasty person to the point he found it ridiculous. Jiang Pozhen coldly said, “Really? Don’t worry about me. I think you should carefully think about how you’re going to graduate now that I’m not there to cover for you.”
“Huh?” The PR student was stunned.
Ignoring him, Jiang Pozhen immediately went to find an empty seat.
The bell rang with the lecturer only waltzing into the classroom fifteen minutes later. He proceeded to flip open the textbook and lifted the chalk to explain the topic.
Twirling his pen, while Jiang Pozhen was listening to the lecture, he was also thinking about Guo Jinshan’s intentions. Could it really be as what his classmate said? That he wanted him to sell out the other perpetrators? Although he wasn’t happy with his classmate’s attitude, he would never do something as low as that. Otherwise, how different would be he from his classmates? Besides, it was a cold hard fact that he cheated, so he could only admit defeat now that he was caught red-handed. The worst thing that could happen was that he would be suspended and demerited.
After mulling over the worse possible outcomes, even if he really wasn’t willing to see the guy again, he had already made mental preparations beforehand when the man came up to him in the afternoon.
“Student Jiang. Please wait for a bit.”
After he was done class, he got called to a stay back before his classroom when he was about to head to the convenience store for work. Glancing back, he caught sight of Guo Jinshan approaching him with a smile on his face.
“I finally found you.” Guo Jinshan stopped in his tracks after breaking into a small run. He softly gasped for air. “I know that the classrooms aren’t established for university students, so even though I knew your name and your major, it was still not easy to find you…”
Cutting him off, Jiang Pozhen went straight to the point. “What do you need me for?”
He figured that the man had come to find him because of the cheating incident, so his tone didn’t sound very nice.
However, Guo Jinshan didn’t look angry. He only answered, “I have something I want to…Ah, seriously. I forgot to bring it with me.” As if he was being too muddle-headed, a faint shade of red appeared on his face as he gazed apologetically at Jiang Pozhen. “Can I…please trouble you to go to the atmospheric science department with me?”
To tell the truth, Jiang Pozhen felt extremely annoyed. However, if there really was something, then it wasn’t appropriate for them to discuss it in the hallway. Glancing at his watch, he surmised that since there was still about an hour left before his shift, he said, “Okay.”
Guo Jinshan anxiously asked, “Are you in a hurry?”
If it’s obvious to you, then make it quick! Jiang Pozhen really wanted to blurt out his thoughts, but the man was a teaching assistant and he still had evidence of his cheating. So he could only stomach it as he said, “I’m good.”
Finally obtaining the ability to read body language, Guo Jinshan promptly took the lead, heading straight to the building that was quite a distance away.
Jiang Pozhen proceeded to follow him from behind. Compared to last time, maybe it was because he already knew what to expect, he only hoped to quickly resolve the issue once and for all.
Therefore, when he found out that the man had absolutely no intention of accusing him of cheating, he felt even more puzzled than before.
“I’m sorry. I recently accepted multiple projects and I needed to help the lecturer sort out data at the same time, so this place is a mess…” Guo Jinshan immersed himself in the small room filled to the brim with books like a warehouse, trying to find something.
Right, the man only said there’s something he wants to…wants to what? Jiang Pozhen was completely lost.
“You didn’t call me here because of cheating?” Since he already knew beforehand, he might as well cut to the chase.
“Cheating…” Various kinds of hardcover books were strewn all over the desk. Guo Jinshan grabbed the thick books and turned them over after flipping through them. It was as though he was hoping for something to fall out. “Yeah. Please remember to not cheat in the future,” he said, smiling. Then he bent over, sweating as he pulled the drawer, reaching his hand into it to look for something.
Staring at the man who disappeared behind the table with his hair poking out, Jiang Pozhen was at a loss for words. He couldn’t resist the urge to ask, “Then what did you call me here for?”
“I…ah!” He finally found it. Guo Jinshan happily stood upright with a name card holder in hand. However, he had accidentally bumped into the thesis that wasn’t properly placed on the table. The mountain of books was about to fall on him, unable to dodge even if he wanted to…
“Hey! Careful!” Jiang Pozhen’s body reacted against his will, reaching out his hand to pull him over, hastily rescuing the man from the ordeal.
With a crash, the thick pile of books violently fell to the floor from the edge of the table like a landslide. They were able to take notice of the thin layer of dust rising in the surroundings.
Stunned for a while, Guo Jinshan realized that Jiang Pozhen had grabbed him after recovering his senses and said, “Thank…Thank you.”
It was a dangerous room. He really didn’t want to bear the name of attempting to murder the teaching assistant while trying to avoid being caught cheating. Jiang Pozhen loosened his grip and raked his hand through his hair, sighing.
“What do you actually want?” He wasn’t in the mood to be with this man any longer.
“I’m sorry. You’re really busy and yet I’m holding you up.” Guo Jinshan flipped open the name card holder he found just now at once and pulled out one before handing it to him. “I believe this is yours. I’ve been trying to find the owner of this health insurance card. Never did I imagine for you to be in the same university as me. I think it’s because I’m too surprised to see you. I wanted to return this back then but I forgot about it since I was a little nervous,” he said, his face flushing a soft shade of red.
Still surprised, Jiang Pozhen retrieved the health insurance card from his hand. It really did belong to him. So…that time during the examination, it was because of this that he was shocked to see him last time?
The health insurance card he renewed last year had his photo printed on it so it wasn’t a surprise for Guo Jinshan to recognize him through his appearance. However, the picture was a passport photo which he had taken when he graduated junior high. So there was a huge difference with what he looked like now. He had this nagging feeling that it wasn’t plausible enough and the order wasn’t right. He couldn’t recall exactly when he had lost his health insurance card, so he could only guess that it was from a long time ago. It must have dropped when he was attempting to shove it into his pocket after visiting a doctor. Yet he didn’t feel the need to ask. To summarize all of this, this man only wanted to return the item to the rightful owner. It was just that simple.
“Then…we’re done?” Jiang Pozhen raised his brows.
Guo Jinshan gently replied, “Yeah.”
He really didn’t look like he wanted to punish him for cheating. Jiang Pozhen glanced at the benevolent yet lesser than average-looking face, and recalled when he thought this guy didn’t know how to play the rules of the game. Perhaps he was mistaken. Though he had made mental preparations beforehand, it was still great that he didn’t get punished. He finally said, “I’ll be going now.”
He had to rush to work, but he felt that it would be a little weird if he left without saying goodbye, so he opened his mouth to say it.
“See you later,” replied Guo Jinshan.
Jiang Pozhen did not respond. He thought to himself that there wouldn’t be a chance for them to meet again anyway.
As he was about to turn around, Guo Jinshan suddenly stopped him again.
What is it this time? Jiang Pozhen stopped in his tracks, unable to endure the man’s sluggish speech and actions.
Guo Jinshan spoke to him gently. “Um…I just want to say, thank you.”
If it was purely because of just now when he was spared from being crushed by books, didn’t he already thank him? Jiang Pozhen felt a little confused. Without saying a word, he nodded his head to acknowledge it, all the while wondering whether he would stop him from leaving again later. So he turned and left anyhow.
There were still forty minutes left before his shift. As he headed down to the lower levels after making two turns in the hallway, Jiang Pozhen began to quicken his pace once he was sure that the man didn’t have the chance to call out to him anymore.
He would never come across this man called Guo Jinshan again.
The midterm examination period just ended. Taking advantage of the holiday, he worked the night shift for two days in a row and went home to finish off the lab report he had to hand in at school. He had only slept for four hours. If it wasn’t for the fact that his girlfriend rang him, Jiang Pozhen still wanted to continue lazing around in bed.
Wan Ling sounded upset, criticizing him for not taking her out during the break, even though he had already explained himself many times, Wan Ling still seemed to be unable to understand he didn’t have the luxury and time to play around right now. Even when he spared the minuscule amount of gentleness he could in him to gently request her to be patient for a while longer, she still stubbornly hoped he could bring her to go for a spin on his bike.
Setting aside the fact that he couldn’t borrow a car now, even if he did, he was out of money for fuel. If she really wanted to meet up, she could have come over but she rejected the thought without a plausible reason. He restrained his temper and listened to her complain about how much of a cold-hearted boyfriend he was, even going as far as accusing him of liking someone else or having two lovers at the same time. He had no idea where on the earth her wild imagination came from. She was the one who went around going to get-togethers with other guys. He had yet to accuse her of anything and she came on to him herself.
Hanging up in an unpleasant manner, Wan Ling’s phone call at least reminded him that he had a class to attend today.
He got up from bed and cleaned up before he slotted his textbooks into his backpack. He took a car ride and reached uni in about twenty minutes, just barely making it without being late. When he eventually found a place to sit, his classmates instantly took his report away to copy it. He didn’t have the energy to bother anymore.
The lecturer came in late as usual and the blackboard was filled with various types of combinations and deconstructions of chemical reactions. He forced himself to stay awake and pay attention to the lecture. Just when he was about to collapse on his desk to rest for a bit after the bell rang to replenish his energy, he caught sight of a man who shouldn’t be here in the first place after entering the classroom.
“Hello everyone. Ah, please wait.” Taking the spot behind the teacher’s desk, the man wearing a pair of glasses called the other students who were about to leave the classroom to a stop. “Excuse me, please listen to my explanation. Your assistant lecturer Liao had family matters to attend to so he took a temporary leave of absence. I’ll be replacing him as the lab assistant for the remainder of the semester. If you have anything you need in the future, just look for me.” Guo Jinshan gently explained himself. He felt a little uncomfortable, but his face still retained a gentle smile.
He originally thought that they wouldn’t cross paths again. However, things took an unexpected turn so Jiang Pozhen was caught by surprise.
“Class president, please collect everyone’s reports and hand them to me before the end of the day. Thank you.”
Jiang Pozhen eyed the way Guo Jinshan informed the class president. After he was done, he looked up and his eyes accidentally fell onto his figure and stopped there. Even if he wanted to pretend he didn’t see anything, he couldn’t. They weren’t close enough to have to greet each other. But it would be too obvious if he withdrew his gaze. Based on the surprising look on the man’s face, he seemed to be at a loss on how to react as well. After hesitating for a while, he sluggishly walked over.
“Hello.” Guo Jinshan kindly greeted him.
Couldn’t he just smile and smoothly avoid contact? This sort of choppy greeting seriously made people want to roar with laughter. All of a sudden, realization dawned upon Jiang Pozhen as he figured out why seeing Guo Jinshan always annoyed him. It was because he was too polite.
In any case, he also was at a loss of what to say. Who asked him to come talk to him anyway? So he might as well keep quiet and watch how would he deal with the situation. Due to his lack of sleep, Jiang Pozhen was mischievously thinking to himself.
Noticing his unresponsiveness, Guo Jinshan’s face flushed red with embarrassment. He continued, “I became your assistant lecturer in the end. We’re…kind of fated to meet.”
“Fated with you? What for?” retorted Jiang Pozhen rudely. He was in a bad mood, and his body utterly exhausted. Furthermore, his chance to take a nap was disrupted.
Guo Jinshan paused for a second before he lowered his gaze in response. “You’re right…” The smile on his face appeared to be a bit bitter.
Seeing the pitiful look on his face when met with a rebuff, Jiang Pozhen couldn’t help but feel that the man always picked the wrong time to appear before him.
“…I’m tired.” Though he didn’t want to be known as a guy who was difficult to get along with, he was starting to get a migraine. He was seriously exhausted so he had to quickly get some rest.
“Ah, sorry.” Guo Jinshan seemed to realize he had bothered him so he didn’t dare to say anything more. “Goodbye,” he said politely before walking out of the classroom.
The PR student approached him at breakneck speed, asking, “Hey! Ah Po! What did you guys talk about?”
Jiang Pozhen didn’t want to waste any time dealing with an insensitive classmate like him. He was just about to nap before he was forced to look up, his expression darkening.
“I confessed everything.”
He only said that and the PR student’s expression instantly turned into a shade of black and blue.
No matter what the guy thought, he hoped his classmate could take the time to repent his actions. Using his arms as a pillow, Jiang Pozhen buried his head and fell asleep on the desk. Regardless of how much his classmates were shouting, he decisively chose to turn a deaf ear.
There was no lesson next period so he could sleep until noon.
On Tuesday, chemical lab classes occupied periods five through nine.
The lecturer would then pass the baton to the assistant to lead the experiments after he was done explaining the topic, as well as the steps needed to perform it. The lecturer would sometimes offer assistance from the sidelines. Since the experiments were lengthy, the assistant would occasionally sneak out to catch a breather and make rounds from time to time.
Back then, Assistant Liao would goof off and vanish into thin air the moment the lecturer left the lab. If someone wanted to ask questions, nobody knew where to find him. However, on the other hand, temporary replacement Guo Jinshan behaved in a completely different manner.
He never left the lab without cause or reason until the last group completed their work. Should they ask him any questions, he would seriously explain things in detail. The other lecturers would have probably scolded them for not paying attention when they asked questions, no matter how simple and shallow they were. He would never let the students feel embarrassed or frustrated or even too shy to speak their minds. Moreover, he was extremely patient and his tone was always gentle.
And for that exact reason, the students in the class grew closer to him after just two classes together.
“Today, we will be using a stronger acidic solution. Everyone, please be careful.”
Jiang Pozhen saw Guo Jinshan wearing a large lab coat as he went around to each group to warn them. By the time the man reached his group, he did not lift his head to look at him.
On the other hand, his classmate next to him commented, “Assistant lecturer, isn’t your lab coat too big for you?”
“Ah…I sent mine to be cleaned. This I borrowed from someone else.” Embarrassed, the gentle voice gave an explanation.
“Assistant lecturer, your figure is too frail!”
A couple of students teased him, causing Guo Jinshan’s face to grow even redder. Jiang Pozhen didn’t join the others and continued to do his part until the soft voice ended the short conversation. He called out, “Please be careful when working on your experiments. Mr. Jiang too.”
Jiang Pozhen knew that Guo Jinshan purposely called out his name out of worry that he couldn’t hear him. However, he did not respond, only nodding to indicate he heard him. The man then went to find another group.
“Do you hate the assistant?” His friend couldn’t help but ask in a low whisper.
It’s not that Jiang Pozhen disliked him. He just wasn’t as close to him as the others, probably due to the incidents that happened before. Whenever he was reminded that he probably was envisioned as a rude cheater in the man’s eyes, he really had no desire to become acquainted with him, even when the man was perhaps a nice guy. Basically, it was unforeseen that he would still continue to get involved with him.
“No.” Jiang Pozhen handed the beaker to the student and said, “This experiment will take some time. I have work later at night. Be quick.”
The student recalled that he had a date later today too, so he quickly grabbed the equipment to fill them up with some chemicals.
Jiang Pozhen used a pipette to extract the solution and mixed the required chemical compounds for this experiment. While waiting for his partner to fetch the last chemical, he accidentally caught sight of someone asking Guo Jinshan a question while pointing at the textbook. Another student was standing behind Guo Jinshan with a chemical in hand, clearly distracted as he was chatting and laughing with the girls.
The bunsen burner on the table was switched on. A flame that was roughly the size of a candle flame slightly swayed about. The student didn’t notice that the chemical he was holding was already tilting towards it. Jiang Pozhen instantly realized that something bad was about to happen. In the next moment, the chemical from the measuring cylinder poured out and dropped onto the flame. In just a split second, the reddish-yellow flame abruptly skyrocketed into the air.
“Wah!” The student jumped in fright, hurriedly trying to avoid it. His movements were too frenetic as he accidentally pulled the gas pipeline.
The bunsen burner, which was connected to it, was about to topple over and fall. However, having his back turned, Guo Jinshan couldn’t see what was happening behind him.
Everything happened in an instant.
Amidst the cries of the students, Guo Jinshan slowly turned his face around. Jiang Pozhen rushed to him in two large strides, pushing away the man who was in immediate danger. With one hand, he blocked the burning bunsen burner to prevent it from falling onto the table and it burnt something else.
“JIANG POZHEN!” Guo Jinshan saw him bare-handedly hold up the bunsen burner and he shockingly cried out his full name.
Although Jiang Pozhen had immediately let go, the skin on his palm was already scalded.
“Oh my god! I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!!” Like a duck in a thunderstorm, the student kept apologizing.
“Are you alright? Your hand…” Panicking, Guo Jinshan clutched his shoulders, wanting to check his injuries.
Jiang Pozhen lowered his gaze to stare at his worried face. Tightening his fist, he retracted his hand and said, “It’s nothing.”
It does hurt a little, but it shouldn’t be a big deal.
“How can that be nothing?! You’re scalded!” Guo Jinshan lifted his head and stared at him directly, his eyes revealing traces of anxiety.
“It’s not a big deal.” Everyone in the class had stopped what they were doing and was looking right at them. Jiang Pozhen knitted his brows and said, “Assistant lecturer, I still need to work on my experiment.”
“No!” Guo Jinshan once again grabbed his arm. “Follow me!”
That strict “No!” caught Jiang Pozhen off-guard. The man who always had a kind and polite personality forcefully dragged him out of the lab.
There was an obvious vast difference between their body figures and strength. With Guo Jinshan’s thin and frail body build alone, he could have easily broken free from his grip with a fling of his arm. But Jiang Pozhen was surprised by the anxious look on his face, so he unexpectedly lost the dominant position and could only trail after the man’s footsteps.
Guo Jinshan dragged him over to the sink. He then turned the tap on and rinsed Jiang Pozhen’s hand with cold water.
Five minutes later, Jiang Pozhen was staring at his head.
Guo Jinshan did not say a word. He took out his handkerchief and wetted it before he placed it on his scalded palm. Soon after, he quickly brought him to the health centre.
“…The blister from the wound musn’t pop. Otherwise, it will get infected.” The doctor insisted on using a good iodine solution to disinfect the area after examining it. “You’ll feel uncomfortable for the next two days. A week later, your skin will peel off. It will heal on its own.”
Following that, the injured left hand was then bandaged.
“You’re overreacting.” After they came out of the health centre, Jiang Pozhen directed his mutter at Guo Jinshan. “Can I head back and finish my experiment now?” Before the man could reply, he was already walking to the lab on his own accord.
“Pozhen, are you alright?”
The moment he stepped into the lab, the student who caused the accident hurried up to him guiltily.
“It’s nothing.” Jiang Pozhen calmly said, walking towards his own group.
“But your hand is wrapped…”
“It’s just to prevent me from touching the wound.” Lifting his gaze, Jiang Pozhen just happened to see Guo Jinshan walking into the lab, making a beeline straight to him. His neck was still as usual, habitually inclining to the left, looking rather odd as a result. “I have work tonight. I just want to finish my experiment now.”
“….Sorry.” The student still wanted to say something, but seeing that nothing was abnormal, he apologized once more. Turning around, he spotted Guo Jinshan standing next to him. Once again he apologetically said, “I’m really sorry, assistant lecturer.”
“It’s…” Stunned for a short while, his expression recovered and he hurriedly said, “It’s alright. Just be careful next time.”
After the student returned back to his group, Guo Jinshan appeared to be deep in his thoughts as he shot a hesitant glance at Jiang Pozhen. Yet not a sound was heard. He then slowly walked away.
Jiang Pozhen continued to complete his part in the experiment. Seeing that he didn’t seem to be bothered, his partner also believed that he was alright.
Since they needed to wait for two hours for the result, all the teams completed the experiment at around the same time. After spending much difficulty jotting down all the data and cleaning all the apparatuses used at 5 PM, Jiang Pozhen finally grabbed his bag to make his exit.
“Mr. Jiang…Jiang Pozhen. Please wait.”
Jiang Pozhen turned around and saw Guo Jinshan approaching him in his white lab coat.
“I heard that…you’re heading to work?” asked Guo Jinshan.
“Then…I’ll accompany you.”
“What?” Thinking that he must have misheard him, Jiang Pozhen couldn’t refrain from asking back
“You’re hurt and it’s inconvenient. I’ll accompany you to explain everything to your workplace.” Guo Jinshan looked awfully serious.
Jiang Pozhen lowered his gaze and thought to himself, Why didn’t you just pretend that you didn’t hear this guy?
“No need.” He patiently replied.
“You’re being too ridiculous!” Jiang Pozhen blurted out without thinking. He evidently felt there was nothing wrong with letting the other man know as well.
Guo Jinshan stared at him for a while and then lowered his head.
“You got into an accident in my lab. And…got hurt because of me,” he explained softly. “I’m terribly sorry.”
“That’s no big deal. I only stuck out my hand by coincidence.”
“…You’re a good kid.”
Astonished by the man’s brainless words, Jiang Pozhen could only widen his eyes at him in shock.
“What?!” No sane nineteen-year-old university student would be able to happily smile after being ‘praised’ by those words.
“You don’t want your friends to worry, so you pretend that you’re okay. When I brought you to the health centre, you didn’t look too happy about it and you immediately went back to the lab afterward. It’s all because you didn’t want your classmate to feel too guilty.” Guo Jinshan sighed and gently said, “I didn’t really think it through…”
That’s because it really was nothing! Jiang Pozhen couldn’t understand where on earth his actions made him worthy of being called a ‘good kid’. Instead, he felt that Guo Jinshan was too sincere about everything. He rolled his eyes and said, “I need to go.” It was almost time for his shift.
Right before he took a step in the other direction, Guo Jinshan opened his mouth and said, “Thank you.”
Jiang Pozhen did not pause in his tracks this time. He really pretended to not hear anything and continued marching forward.
The muffled delicate voice from behind him once again faintly travelled over. “I seem…to keep getting your help.”
Wasn’t it only just today?
Jiang Pozhen had already forgotten about the time he rescued the man from the pile of books. He only hoped that the road was not jammed so he could reach his workplace in time.