Meeting a new character suddenly can be disorienting, but what if that character is someone who changes the entire game. If not now, definitely in the future, our actions will have consequences. Get ready for the new emotions that are bubbling forth! Because this chapter is going to be a totally awesome ride….
Li Ming Xing was trying hard to control her tears that threatened to spill.
“Are you… alright, ma’am?” asked the taxi driver, looking concerned. He’d immediately recognized the young woman as the Li Ming Xing of ‘Open Heart’, and was star-struck. She looked more beautiful and vulnerable in person than on the T.V.
“Yes, brother, I am fine,” assured Ming Xing, trying to moderate her voice and keep it normal. He was too touched by how polite such a great personality is to him by calling him ‘brother’, to notice that there’s a slight tremble in her voice.
She looked out of the window, at the stars. Dad, she thought, why are there so many stars out tonight? And why have I lost my shine?
Closing her eyes, she remembered the first time she’d felt her heart tug for him.
Ming Xing usually stayed in the library from morning to late in the night on Sundays and holidays, unless her father summoned her.
And this Sunday, it so happened that General Li wanted to see his dear daughter. As soon as Ming Xing stepped out of her dormitory, she saw that what looked like an entire battalion was waiting for her. She sighed internally, as she got into one of the jeeps.
The soldiers escorting her were people Ming Xing knew very well. She’d grown up playing with these men and had immense respect for them. They laid down their lives for the nation and their countrymen without hesitation. They never thought twice about giving up their life in the battlefield. And as a soldier’s daughter herself, she knew what struggle these men and their families go through.
As the General of the Army, Li Gong Xi could have easily afforded a mansion for himself. And yet, he chose to live in a simple apartment in the Cantonment Area.
Li Gong Xi, for a middle-aged man, was ruggedly handsome and charismatic. He was an Alpha-male and easily commanded the respect of all the people around him. He rarely spoke around others, but when he did, people listened. And though not many civilians were fortunate enough to see him in action on the battlefield, it was a well-known fact that this man was invincible and also a cunning strategist and war tactician.
For a man who’s so successful professionally, his personal life was more of a tragedy. Li Gong Xi loved only one woman in his entire life, and that was Chen Yuan Xing. And Yuan Xing had loved him enough to bear a daughter for him. She’d only loved him but never what he did. She hated the thought that he put his country before her and their daughter. She hated being lonely and anxious every single time he’s at the border. And finally, she divorced him.
Yuan Xing had wanted to take Ming Xing along with her. But her feisty daughter chose to stay with her father because she knew that her father needed her more than her mother needed her, even at a very young age. Her father loved both of them; he just expressed it differently — by protecting millions of other people like her mother and her.
Right from a very young age, Ming Xing played the dual role of daughter and caretaker to her father. She always was self-reliant mainly because he was mostly absent. She’d always had a nanny around her when she was a kid growing up, but the nanny couldn’t control the unstoppable ten-year old Ming Xing.
As for her mother, Ming Xing visited her, who shifted to South Korea after the divorce, quite regularly for the first few years after the divorce. But the frequency of the visits lessened and gradually totally stopped after her mother remarried.
She knew that her parents still loved each other, courtesy of the melancholic and complex emotions that swirled in their eyes whenever they talked about each other.
And it was those emotions that she saw which scared her from ever loving a person romantically. She just couldn’t think that a relationship could survive if both people are diametrically opposite in personalities. And this is the very reason she couldn’t accept Han Xue Zhao’s feelings for her.
They were just too different. He seemed earnest, and yet he wasn’t. He seemed cautious around her, and yet he was also flippant. With a past like hers, she needed a constant. And Han Xue Zhao definitely isn’t a constant.
There are too many stars waiting to become a part of his constellation.
As soon as she got down from the jeep, she saw that he General Li was waiting for her standing outside his house. Tears pooled in her eyes, as she ran to hug him and cried, “Daddy! I missed you so, so, so much!”
General Li laughed, but he also hugged her tightly, as he gently said, “Look at my grown-up daughter acting like a small baby!”
“But I am your baby, aren’t I?” she pouted.
“Yes! In my eyes, you are always the squalling pink baby who I held in my arms nineteen years ago!” he assured her.
She mock-punched him on his arm and imperiously walked inside the house. Though they essentially lived in the same city, she chose to live in the Campus Dormitories. Though he was initially hesitant, he accepted because she usually was almost always alone when he was out for work. At least, if she’s in the Campus, she’ll not be alone.
General Li had always secretly feared that even his daughter will leave him like how his wife did because he always made them feel alone.
The father-daughter duo sat down to have lunch together. “When were you back in the city?” she asked, with her mouth full of ddukbokki.
“Don’t talk while you’re eating!” reprimanded General Li.
She swallowed and repeated the question again. “When did you come back?”
He shook his head and smiled. “I was back about two hours ago. How’s your School, by the way?”
“It’s college. Not school!” complained Ming Xing.
“Okay, okay!” he chuckled. “How’s college?”
“It’s pretty fun, actually. I’m planning to also take a Minor in Creative Writing. But my Major will remain to be Broadcast Journalism. Trust me when I say that satellite broadcasting of news is the next big thing. Mark my words, dad, in the next ten years T.Vs will take over newspapers too!” predicted Ming Xing, in midst of stuffing herself with some Manchuria.
General Li loved it when he heard his daughter talk like a know-it-all. He could see flashes of himself and also his wife in her. But then, she also has a strong sense of self. It only made her more precious to him.
“Hmm! So you’re saying that in the next ten years I’ll be watching you on my T.V set?” he mused.
“You totally got it right, my dear General!” saluted Ming Xing. Her eyes involuntarily wandered to the clock.
“Slow down! You’re eating too fast!” he warned.
She was startled. “Uh? Was I?”
He frowned. “Are you that interested in leaving?”
“Um, no. Not really!” she mumbled. Her body’s here, but her mind was in the library. She wondered whether today he’s come there or not. She wondered what his reaction would be to see her missing.
“Hey, what’s wrong, Ming Xing?” asked General Li, concerned. “I heard that you were on your way to the library when my men came to pick you up? Do you have some work to do?”
“No…” she hesitated.
“Comrade!” yelled General Li. “Please escort Little Ming back to the University.”
She calmly packed her bags up as she prepared to leave. “Ming Xing?” asked her father. “Have you met any young man in your University?”
“Huh?” she asked, confused.
General Li remembered that his daughter suffered from low EQ when it comes to all things romantic. So he rephrased his question. “Do you like any fellow student in your University?”
Ming Xing tried hard, but couldn’t stop the blush from creeping into her cheeks. Han Xue Zhao’s face flashed in front of her eyes. “Uh… no…” she denied, unconvincingly.
General Li raised an eyebrow. “I probably wouldn’t have interfered, do I not know that whenever I’d asked you this question previously, you’d answered with conviction. But if you really like someone, there’s no need for you to hold back. You can like him with all your heart and you can even bring him home!”
It was rare that General Li was so candid with anyone about romance. This prompted Ming Xing to open up. “Dad… it’s just that I don’t know whether I really like him or whether it’s just something passing. Dad… I just don’t want to become like you and mum — loving each other and yet living separated.”
His eyes clouded with melancholy when she mentioned her mother. “Whatever happened between me and Yuan Xing… has happened. Don’t stereotype love just by looking at us both. We both chose what has happened to our relationship,” he said, smiling bitterly.
He looked at his daughter who was staring at him with confusion and uncertainty written all over her face. He knew the feeling she was going through. She wanted to enter into something permanent, only she didn’t know whether it would last that long or not.
So it was with a gentle smile, that he said, “But you can choose differently. You can choose to work together to build something that’s ever-lasting and forever. Your choice to be different can make all the difference in the world.”
Ming Xing walked back to the University mulling over her father’s words. It was dark outside and she’d refused to be escorted back. She preferred to be alone when she was thinking.
Suddenly, she heard footsteps behind her and turned. There was no one behind her. In fact, the entire road was devoid of people and the silence was eerie.
She fought down the shiver that rose inside of her. Recently, there were many cases of attacks on women, and that’d made her wary of going out alone. But today, she’d simply forgotten.
As she started walking, she again heard footsteps behind her. Startled, she turned to find a shadow not too far away from her.
Trembling, she silently started walking straight ahead in a brisk pace, and the shadow still followed her. She prayed for some divine intervention, hoping that someone else would show up. But the street was still empty apart from herself and the person following her.
She saw a phone booth not far away and ran into it, before locking the door behind her. With quivering fingers, she dialled the first number she could think of — Han Xue Zhao.
After the call operator connected her to Xue Zhao, she nervously played with the wire as she waited for him to pick up the phone. After some rings, someone answered, “Hello?”
“Can I talk to…Han Xue Zhao?” she asked, in a tremulous voice.
“Who are you?” asked the voice, imperiously.
“Tell him that it’s Li Ming Xing. He told me to call him if I ever need him. Tell him that I need him now,” she whispered.
There was silence for a while, before the voice on the other end bellowed, “Brother Han, Sister-in-law Ming Xing has called you up.”
She heard excited chatter but no one answered from the other end. She started praying that he will pick up, when she heard hurried footsteps and a breathless voice exhale, “Ming Xing!”
She cried tears of joy as she held on to the receiver as if it’s her lifesaver. Warmth flooded her as she whispered and mumbled, “Xue Zhao! Xue Zhao, I need you! Xue Zhao, I’m scared, please, I need you!”
“Where are you now?” he asked her, and panic was evident in his voice.
“I’m in the telephone booth in the YY Street. There’s someone following me. Xue Zhao, I’m scared, please help me!” she pleaded.
“Stay right there, I’m coming!” he illegibly replied, before the call disconnected. She sank down and hugged her knees close. She felt cold again.
It’s just a five minute run from YY Street to the P University, but she knew that she can’t outrun her attacker. She’s never been good in athletics. Her father had tried to teach her how to fight, but her back problems prevented that.
And now, waiting for him to come for her, she felt lonelier than ever before. She wondered why he would even come for her! What is she to him and what is he to her? She felt confused and at the same time was terrified.
She buried her head between her knees, as she thought of all this. Suddenly, she heard the noises of a scuffle outside. She wanted to open the booth’s door to see what’s going on, but was too scared. She huddled closer when the noises outside stopped.
Suddenly, someone started pounding on the door. She started shaking like a leaf, and curled into a tiny ball. The door banged open, and the light from the streetlamps filtered in.
A tall figure stood on the threshold. Ming Xing never thought that she would ever find a man handsomer than him, at that moment. Xue Zhao had cuts on his head and the side of his face and his hair was more unruly than usual, but his eyes were concerned as he stared at her.
The man who was following her was gone, probably he’d run away. Xue Zhao was pretty good in kickboxing and that man must have gotten the taste of his life. She was still shaken, but when she stared at him, warmth flooded her.
“I’m sorry for coming late!” was the first sentence that came out of his lips.
She blinked blankly, before launching herself into him. Holding onto him, she broke down. “Thank you, Xue Zhao! Thank you!”
He hugged her close, as he buried his head into her neck. He softly whispered into her ears, “I’m sorry, Ming Xing! I’m sorry!”
Tears streamed down her face, as she whispered back, “Thank you, Xue Zhao! Thank you for everything!”
This is a wonderful chapter in so many ways. Because finally, there’s forward momentum.
And I find Ming Xing’s dad to be a very wonderful person. A pity that his wife left him, though. But his advise totally makes sense. I mean, look at it like this, it’s you who has the power to make or break the relationship you’re in. It’s a good thing that he has good EQ, or else our poor Ming Xing would probably be totally lost.
And also, it feels good to have a take on the proceedings from Ming Xing. Because we finally understand the crux of her problem in accepting Xue Zhao’s feelings: she doesn’t get why he suddenly started following her.
Don’t think that this is a spoiler. I just want to give you guys a head-up by saying that the reason why Xue Zhao suddenly seems to have taken a liking for her is revealed in the last chapter! And only then do we realize that it’s not so sudden, after all. Until then, keep guessing! 😉
And also, we’re still waiting for the most poetically Chinese-translated title of this book. You can send your translated title to firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. The song that I posted above is one of my most favorite songs released this year. So, Enjoy!