Perhaps he had been overthinking too much, but Qi Yanbai had barely slept all night, tossing and turning in a light doze.
When he woke up in the morning, he felt groggy and out of sorts.
Going to work felt like a struggle.
Qi Yanbai snapped back to reality, offering an apologetic smile to the receptionist girl.
He stopped in his tracks and turned to her.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t sleep well last night,” Qi Yanbai said.
“What do you need from me?”
“It’s okay, it’s okay.” The girl waved her hand casually.
Standing up from behind the front desk, she handed Qi Yanbai a registration form and said, “So, this morning, a student’s parent came to register.
They want to enroll in your class.
Can you check if the timing works for you?”
Though Qi Yanbai hadn’t produced any new art works for a while, he had a solid foundation and an impressive educational background.
Since he joined the training center not long ago, he had become quite popular, with parents frequently signing up for his classes or attempting to get their kids into his class.
“But my beginner class on the weekend is already full,” Qi Yanbai hesitated.
“If we add more students, other parents might complain.”
“No problem,” the receptionist girl waved her hand.
“This student is in ninth grade.
You can place her in the usual advanced class.”
“I see.” Qi Yanbai understood, nodding.
“Feel free to arrange it then, I don’t have any issues with the timing.”
The advanced class on weekdays usually had slightly older children who already had a foundation in art.
The focus was more on specialized practice.
Adding another student would require extra effort from the teacher, and most trainers didn’t prefer to insert students midway.
However, Qi Yanbai was known for being easy-going and accommodating.
The receptionist seemed to have expected his agreement and smiled, handing over the student’s information that had already been prepared.
She also gave Qi Yanbai two packs of soothing herbal tea.
“I knew Mr.
Qi would agree,” the receptionist girl said with a cheerful smile.
“If only everyone in the world were as reasonable and easy-going as you.”
Qi Yanbai accepted her kind words with a smile but didn’t reply.
The receptionist girl thought he was just being modest, but Qi Yanbai’s mind was occupied by more thoughts.
There was no one in the world who had no expectations.
Whenever people interacted, even with strangers, they carried each other’s hopes and desires.
Parents sought capable and kind-hearted teachers for their children, students wanted patient and gentle teachers, and colleagues simply desired friendly and cooperative coworkers.
No matter who it was, as long as they matched the expectations of those around them, they could easily survive and even thrive in any environment.
Survival of the fittest, how to fit in in any situation—Qi Yanbai was well aware of these principles and always understood them.
He knew how to present himself in a way that would make people like him, and he understood how to interact with others.
In contrast, the oppression and paranoia he felt when he was alone were more like the last door in Bluebeard’s castle, locked behind a key called “Secret.”
Weekend courses were usually packed.
The younger kids in the beginner class were lively and imaginative.
Qi Yanbai spent the whole morning teaching and coaxing them, and by the end of the class, his voice was slightly hoarse.
When the class ended, he even felt a slight ringing in his ears.
Qi Yanbai stood at the classroom door, smiling as he bid farewell to each student leaving for the day.
Lu Mingming was trailing at the back of the line with a Disney princess backpack on her shoulders.
She clutched the straps with both hands, not jumping around like the other kids ahead of her.
She hid within the crowd, seemingly planning to “sneak out” of the classroom unnoticed.
However, Qi Yanbai’s quick reflexes caught her attempt.
He called her name just in time and stopped her in her tracks.
“Lu Mingming.” Qi Yanbai called her name and took out a small, unopened gift box from behind him.
He crouched down beside her with a smile and said, “You ran away too fast yesterday, and I couldn’t catch up—thank you for the gift, I’m really happy.
But I can’t accept gifts, so I’ll have to return this to your parents.
Who’s coming to pick you up today?”
Lu Mingming saw this and pouted, looking at Qi Yanbai with a rather aggrieved expression.
She sighed like a little adult and said, “Mr.
Qi, you don’t have to be so principled.
It would be better if you pretended not to know and just accepted it.”
Qi Yanbai remembered this child.
She came from a well-off family and always dressed up beautifully when she came to class on weekends, like a little doll.
Judging by her attire, she probably wouldn’t mind this small gift, but Qi Yanbai had his own principles as a teacher.
So, he smiled apologetically and declined her kind gesture.
“I appreciate how thoughtful Mingming is,” Qi Yanbai said.
“But instead, you could draw a greeting card for me.
Maybe that would be better—I could hang the card you drew in my office.
How does that sound?”
Lu Mingming’s eyes lit up at the suggestion, as if she had been moved by it.
However, she didn’t want to take her gift back, so she hesitated, looking down.
“It’s okay, let me take you outside,” Qi Yanbai said gently.
“Is your mother coming to pick you up today?”
Lu Mingming really didn’t want Qi Yanbai to return the gift, so she remained silent.
Instead, she held onto Qi Yanbai’s hand and followed him out of the classroom with a sullen expression.
In the time it took to have this conversation, most of the kids’ parents had already picked them up leaving the hallway a bit empty.
Only a few parents remained, looking at their children’s artwork in the small gallery.
Qi Yanbai led Lu Mingming a couple of steps outside, but not seeing the parent he was expecting, he led her back into the hallway to wait for them.
By now, Lu Ye had woken up a bit later.
He had stayed up all night working, his eyes bloodshot from staring at paperwork and investigations until dawn.
He was exhausted and felt like he was about to collapse when he finally got out of bed to go pick up the child.
The weekend was always busy with more cars and people around, so by the time Lu Ye reached the training center, it was lunchtime.
The morning session had ended, and the afternoon classes hadn’t started yet.
The training center was quiet, with even the front desk staff gone for lunch.
Only Lu Mingming and Qi Yanbai were sitting side by side in the waiting area, seemingly engaged in a conversation.
When Lu Ye pushed the door open and entered, it was Lu Mingming who noticed him first.
Her eyes lit up, and she instinctively wanted to call out to him, but then she remembered that Qi Yanbai was waiting for her parent.
So, she stopped herself just in time and swallowed her words.
However, Qi Yanbai had already noticed her movement and heard the sound of the glass door opening and closing behind him.
He stood up from the resting area, about to speak, but before he could, he froze in place.
“Lu… Officer Lu?” Qi Yanbai instinctively said, surprised.
“Why are you here?”
Qi Yanbai had been thinking about how to meet Lu Ye again, but he hadn’t expected to reunite with him so soon and under these circumstances.
His emotions, which he had just managed to calm down, were once again stirred up, and his palms became slightly sweaty from nervousness.
“I’m off duty today, just call me by my name, Mr.
Qi,” Lu Ye said.
He was dressed in casual clothing and seemed more relaxed compared to when he was on duty.
He stood by the door with his hands in his pockets, tilting his head toward Lu Mingming to signal her.
He said, “I’m here to pick up the child—I arrived a bit late today, sorry about that.”
“Oh, I didn’t know,” Qi Yanbai managed to smile apologetically.
“Are you Mingming’s parent?”
“No, how could I have a daughter this old?” Lu Ye said.
“I’m her younger uncle.
Her mom was busy this weekend, so I came to pick her up.”
Qi Yanbai was slightly taken aback for a moment, but then he discreetly let out a breath of relief.
The tiny trace of inexplicable loss he felt was easily smoothed over by Lu Ye’s words.
It also cooled down the excitement he had experienced upon seeing Lu Ye again.
So, he smiled and nodded, finally releasing his grip on Lu Mingming’s hand.
“I see,” Qi Yanbai said, feeling more at ease now.
He even showed a more obvious smile on his face.
He reached out and ruffled Lu Mingming’s hair, then suddenly remembered the reason he was waiting there and pulled out the neatly wrapped gift box from beside him.
“Actually, I’ve been waiting for you for a reason,” Qi Yanbai said.
“As teachers, we’re not allowed to accept gifts from students privately.
So, I need to return this to you.”
Lu Ye recognized the small gift box—it was, after all, bought with money Lu Mingming had collected from him.
It wasn’t of much significance to Lu Ye, but he did appreciate Qi Yanbai’s principled behavior.
He nodded in acknowledgment and was about to reach out to take the gift when he noticed Lu Mingming hiding behind Qi Yanbai, making a face at him as if she were threatening him.
Lu Ye: “…”
It was just a small item, and Lu Ye himself didn’t care much.
Since Lu Mingming didn’t want him to take it back, he decided to let it go.
Besides, Qi Yanbai seemed like a decent person.
It wouldn’t hurt to accept his gift, Lu Ye thought.
“Never mind,” Lu Ye said.
“It’s just a small thing.
Consider it a birthday gift from me to Teacher Qi.”
“It’s still not allowed…” Qi Yanbai apologized with a smile.
“According to the rules, we can’t accept gifts from parents either.”
“In that case, let’s consider it a gift from a friend,” Lu Ye said.
“I’ll take it as a thank you for not reporting me.”
Qi Yanbai seemed to be moved by Lu Ye’s use of the word “friend.” He absentmindedly toyed with the elaborately wrapped gift box in his hand, and his emotions seemed to be tangled up in the decision.
He hesitated but eventually couldn’t resist his curiosity, and he shifted the conversation smoothly.
With a playful tone, he teased, “Do even the police fear complaints?”
“Of course,” Lu Ye joked, saying, “After all, too many complaints mean writing reports and getting a pay cut.”
Qi Yanbai was amused by Lu Ye’s jest, and he chuckled at his words.
Eventually, he stopped resisting and accepted the gift, holding onto the gift box.
“Well, then, I’ll accept it,” Qi Yanbai said after a brief pause.
“However, I can’t accept your gift without giving you something in return.
Since it’s lunchtime, how about I treat you both to lunch? There’s a noodle shop nearby that serves great seafood noodles, which are perfect for kids.”
Lu Ye hadn’t expected that Qi Yanbai would be so hospitable, especially since they had only met twice briefly.
He found himself caught between amusement and exasperation.
He couldn’t quite decide if Qi Yanbai was overly straightforward or simply naive.
“I’m not sure about this,” Lu Ye said.
“We just met.”
“It’s fine,” Qi Yanbai seemed to have missed the implied meaning in Lu Ye’s words and smiled.
“As you said earlier, we’re friends now.”
Lu Ye had barely interacted with Qi Yanbai, having met him only twice before.
He didn’t initially want to let Qi Yanbai foot the bill, but with Lu Mingming’s unexpected enthusiasm, Lu Ye finally accepted with a somewhat resigned tone, “Well, if you insist, Teacher Qi, lead the way.”
And so, led by the teacher who was beloved by all the students, the trio set off to enjoy lunch together.
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