On a sunny noon in early autumn, the sun still blazed hot.
The late summer heat had been dispersed by a gentle breeze, leaving behind a lingering sensation of scorching sun that stubbornly refused to leave.
It was a weekend, and the New City East District appeared somewhat deserted.
Only a few private cars occasionally sped by on the main road.
Without any surveillance cameras nearby, they didn’t even bother to slow down.
In a corner beside the main road, an old-style convenience store had half of its roller shutter down, casting a shadow.
The middle-aged owner, sitting alone behind the counter on a reclining chair, propped up his feet.
He was enjoying the breeze of a fan while listening to the noon news on the radio.
This was an awkward time when those who were resting didn’t want to go out, and those working overtime hadn’t returned yet.
So, the owner took it easy, lazily listening to the radio and dozing off.
However, he suddenly felt the light in front of him blocked by something, obscuring his view.
Squinting his eyes, the owner put down the newspaper.
With a puzzled expression, he turned towards the entrance and realized that a rare new customer had arrived.
The new customer was a handsome and tall man.
He wore a thin motorcycle jacket over a plain black T-shirt.
He had a pair of sunglasses perched on his nose and large wireless headphones hooked over his right ear.
He didn’t look like a local resident; rather, he resembled a member of some passing motorcycle gang.
“Uh, sure, got it—” The new customer didn’t seem to be addressing anyone specific.
He squeezed through the half-open rolling shutter and mumbled a few vague responses.
Then, he gestured towards the cramped cigarette cabinet behind the store owner and briefly said, “Hongtashan.”
The store owner slowly rose from the reclining chair, turned his head to look at the cigarette cabinet, and absentmindedly asked, “Regular or menthol?”
“Menthol ,” the man replied.
The owner fetched a pack of cigarettes for him as instructed.
The man pulled a ten-yuan bill from his pocket and dropped it on the counter.
He took the pack of cigarettes and smoothly slipped out through the gap in the roller shutter, just as he had come in.
“Got it,” Lu Ye straightened up and adjusted his slightly crooked headphones.
With a sigh, he said, “25 New Yang Road, Wei’s Art Training Center, New City District Branch.
I’ll pick her up and take her to the bus station after that.
bus route 217, right? I’ve got it memorized, won’t forget.”
“Right,” the voice on the other end of the phone said satisfactorily, “Thank you for helping out.
You’ve just come back, and I’m already sending you around.”
“No problem, it’s within my jurisdiction,” Lu Ye took a cigarette out of the pack and put it in his mouth.
He walked casually towards his parked motorcycle at the roadside and continued, “But seriously, why did you send your child so far away to learn art? Wasn’t the main campus in the city good enough?”
“You don’t know, there’s a new teacher at the branch.” The voice on the other end of the phone suddenly became excited, and the speaker continued enthusiastically, “Young and promising, very professional.
Rumor has it that he graduated from the Paris Academy of Fine Arts and is exceptional in sketching and oil painting.”
“Paris? More like Brazil.” Lu Ye chuckled and couldn’t help but mock, “A graduate from the Paris Academy of Fine Arts coming to this small place to teach? Are you sure he is not a fraud?”
“Don’t look down on art training centers, and besides, Brazil has ceramics and stone carvings in their art as well.” The voice on the phone replied calmly, then changed the subject with a playful tone, “Hurry up and pick up Mingming.
If you’re late, you won’t get your pickled meat tomorrow.”
Lu Ye couldn’t do anything about his elder sister’s stubbornness, so he sighed softly, tightened his grip on the headphones, and hung up the call.
He finished the cigarette in his hand by the trash can, then hopped onto his motorcycle and sped away.
From the main road, he turned six traffic lights and arrived at the New City West District.
Unlike the East District, which had no large supermarkets or any entertainment facilities, the West District had caught onto the wave of industrial development in the past years.
The entire area was divided into two parts: one side was the commercial area and the other side had gradually become a thriving street for education and training.
Since it was a weekend, the education and training street was filled with children attending extracurricular classes.
The children ranged in ages, from elementary school to different grade levels.
Looking around, all that could be seen were clusters of vibrant and colorful little individuals.
With many cars and many people on the street, Lu Ye wasn’t in the mood to squeeze in.
He parked his motorcycle at an intersection and continued walking the rest of the way on foot.
The training center he was headed to was at the back of this street, not facing the road directly.
It was a three-story storefront with a unique design.
A small courtyard was enclosed by a low fence at the entrance.
The courtyard was adorned with various paintings and artwork, making it particularly recognizable from a distance.
As he arrived at the entrance, it happened to be the time when the training center was letting out for lunch break.
A group of children rushed out of the door like cattle let out of their pens, and each child dove into the embrace of their respective parents.
Among the children was Lu Mingming, and when she spotted Lu Ye from a distance, her eyes lit up.
She immediately rushed over like a little sparrow and threw herself into Lu Ye’s arms.
“Uncle, uncle, please lend me fifty yuan.” Lu Mingming clung to his leg, speaking in a playful tone, “I need it urgently.”
“Hmm,” Lu Ye chuckled, bent down to gently scrape her cheek with his knuckles, and teased, “After not seeing you for so long, the first thing you do is reach into your uncle’s wallet? That’s not quite appropriate, is it?”
“I really need it urgently,” Lu Mingming looked up at him with her small face, gripping his leg and swaying it back and forth.
She said eagerly, “Today is our Teacher Qi’s birthday! I only found out during class, so I didn’t prepare a gift in advance.
Please lend me some money quickly.
I’ll have my mom pay you back later.”
Lu Ye thought that raising a child was really quite a hassle.
Even the teacher’s birthday required gifts, which could be quite an ordeal for parents.
“Okay, okay,” Lu Ye was worn down by her pleading.
He took out his wallet from his pocket, pulled out a fifty-yuan bill, and handed it to her.
He casually complained, “Teachers these days are quite something.
They even ask students for gifts on their birthdays.”
“It’s not like that!” Lu Mingming immediately became unhappy and retorted loudly, “I wanted to give it myself.
Teacher Qi is the best teacher in the world, we all really, really, really like him—”
Children tend to use more and more intense adjectives to emphasize things.
Lu Mingming used two “best” and three “really, really” in a row, showing that she attached great importance to the matter.
Lu Ye couldn’t help but smile wryly and quickly apologized.
He admitted that he had a narrow perspective and had wrongly accused the world’s “best” Teacher Qi.
Only after pacifying Lu Mingming did she carry on.
She took the money and rushed off to a nearby boutique to select a gift.
After a while, Lu Mingming came out of the shop holding a large crystal ball music box.
“How is it? Isn’t it pretty?” Lu Mingming flaunted the exquisitely crafted winter-themed music box in front of Lu Ye, saying excitedly, “I’m going to give this to the most handsome Teacher Qi.
He’ll definitely like it!”
Lu Ye raised an eyebrow in surprise, suddenly finding himself intrigued by this “Teacher Qi” in Lu Mingming’s words.
He couldn’t help but watch as Lu Mingming bounced away like a small fish, disappearing into the room.
Through the transparent ground-level window, he saw a young man in the lobby surrounded by children.
The young man did indeed look good, and he exuded a pleasant demeanor.
He appeared to be in his mid-twenties, with a tall and slender figure.
His hair, nearly shoulder-length, was tied up into a small bun at the back of his head, leaving a short fringe of hair to frame his face, which he swept behind his ear.
He wore a snowy white shirt, immaculately clean and neatly pressed.
Perhaps to prevent his clothes from being dirtied by art materials, he had folded up the sleeves a few times at the cuffs, revealing a slender and fair forearm.
Clean and refreshing individuals often easily won people’s favor.
After observing from outside for a while, Lu Ye had to admit that his impression of this “best handsome teacher” had significantly improved in just a few seconds.
As the saying goes, someone with soft hair tends to have a soft temper.
After observing this “best handsome teacher” from outside for a while, Lu Ye had to admit that he appeared to have a very good personality—gentle and likely the kind of teacher children would adore.
He maintained a gentle and warm smile on his lips, lowered his head to speak to the students, and patiently interacted with each child.
A group of children surrounded him, chattering and chirping, yet he displayed no impatience on his face.
Instead, he bent slightly, listening attentively to each child’s similar birthday wishes.
The children in the beginner drawing class were no older than fourth grade elementary students.
However, when Teacher Qi spoke to them, he looked directly into each child’s eyes, occasionally patting their heads, and gently smiling at the children as if treating them as peers, respecting them while taking them seriously.
He truly seemed to be well-liked by the students.
In just a short while, he had received a stack of birthday gifts and was encircled by the children, who were eager to hand him homemade greeting cards and artworks.
Observing for a while, Lu Ye noticed that he didn’t accept all of the children’s gifts.
He only took a small stack of greeting cards and letters, along with a few individually packaged flowers.
For other elaborately wrapped gifts, he politely declined them, then patted the child’s head and apologized with a few words.
Lu Ye realized he had misunderstood; this teacher did seem quite good.
Just as he was thinking this, he saw Lu Mingming squeeze her way into the crowd, her small stature and big personality evident.
It seemed that she had caught on to something from Teacher Qi’s polite rejections.
Once she was in, without saying a word, she thrust the crystal ball into Teacher Qi’s arms and then dashed away, not giving him a chance to refuse.
The young teacher was momentarily stunned by her move.
He instinctively looked around for assistance, but Lu Mingming had already disappeared like a little fish into the crowd.
“Uncle, let’s go, let’s go.” With Lu Mingming successfully escaping the teacher’s line of sight, she grabbed Lu Ye’s hand and urged, “Don’t let the teacher see us.”
Lu Ye gave an agreeing hum, bent down to pick up Lu Mingming, and turned to leave.
However, after taking a few steps, he inexplicably turned his head back to look at the training center.
In the lobby, Teacher Qi had just broken free from the enthusiastic group of children.
He cradled a small bouquet of various flowers in his arms, lowered his head, and smiled gently.
He reached out and brushed a piece of wrapping paper on one of the flowers, revealing a twisted pattern hidden beneath the petals, which he smoothed out gently.
His movements were gentle and slow, and the afternoon sunlight poured through the large floor-to-ceiling window, casting a warm glow over him, giving his pristine white shirt a gentle, radiant aura.
Lu Ye’s eyes flickered as he slowly withdrew his gaze.
Indeed, he looked quite attractive, Lu Ye thought.
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