Yue Chu…Was this Yue Chu?

The man didn’t notice anything unusual and was earnestly answering her question, “My stomach has always been problematic.
I have chronic gastritis, but the pain has been unbearable lately, so I came to get it checked.”

“Your stomach has been troublesome for a while…”

Xu Qingyan swiftly closed the medical record and looked at his name: Cheng Ran.

Xu Qingyan tightly shut her eyes.
She knew it was impossible, yet she couldn’t help feeling disappointed. 

As she glanced back at him, she found him looking at her with a smile.
“Doctor, I’m in a lot of pain right now.
Could you please prescribe me some painkillers?”

Xu Qingyan lowered her head, calming her emotions, as her pen swiftly glided across the paper. 

However, her mind was blank, relying solely on the professional instinct of a doctor as she continued to advise, “Painkillers only provide temporary relief without addressing the underlying cause.
With a history of chronic gastritis, you need a thorough examination and proper care.
I will prescribe some Chinese herbal medicine for you.
Try not to overwork yourself and avoid spicy and cold foods.
Don’t drink too much alcohol and stay away from anything that may cause irritation.
Observe your symptoms for a while, and if the pain persists, it’s best to arrange for a gastroscopy.
Oh, and your gastritis is likely aggravated by irregular meal times.
Try to consume softer foods, like noodles, which are easier to digest…”

At this point, Xu Qingyan stopped herself abruptly. 

What was she saying? Was she losing her mind? These words had come out so naturally, and she rarely lost control.
In fact, she had become so indifferent and detached over the years.
Yet, now her mind was in turmoil, and she couldn’t regain her composure.

“Doctor, you’re amazing.
How did you know that my eating habits are irregular?” the man asked.

Xu Qingyan felt her vision blur and turned her head slightly to look at him.
“Most patients are like that,” she said.

When Cheng Ran smiled, a faint dimple appeared on his lips.
Xu Qingyan’s pupils visibly contracted as she stared at it, not moving an inch.

It couldn’t be possible.
He didn’t know her.
She must have been under too much mental stress lately, causing such illusions to arise.

Cheng Ran just happened to resemble him, that’s all.
But he resembled him too much, so uncannily true. 

Xu Qingyan’s fingers grew sore from gripping the pen too tightly, and the pen tip slowly smudged a dark blotch on the medical record.

“Thank you,” he glanced at the medical record and then at her employee badge, “Dr.

Xu Qingyan opened her mouth but managed to force out a weak “You’re welcome.”

For a long time after Cheng Ran left, Xu Qingyan sat motionless at her desk, lost in thought until the head nurse brought her a lunch box.
She smiled and took a few bites.

The head nurse expressed her concern, “Is it because you were tired from the trip? Ever since you came back, you haven’t seemed quite yourself.”

“It’s nothing, thank you,” Xu Qingyan replied.

Finally, she made it to the afternoon. 

Before leaving, the department head called her over and informed her that there would be an academic conference in the neighboring city, D City, in a couple of days.
He asked her to prepare some materials for it.

With great effort, Xu Qingyan forced herself to stay focused and diligently recorded the necessary materials.
Normally, she would have worked extra hours to ensure everything was prepared, but today her mind was elsewhere. 

She hurriedly caught the bus, only realizing her destination when she got off.

She had ended up at his house.

This place had once been the epitome of familiarity to her.
Apart from the incident that occurred here years ago, it was the very spot where she sought refuge, weeping incessantly through the nights.
The version of herself that seldom shed tears seemed to have exhausted a lifetime’s worth of tears right there.

Since then, she hadn’t revisited this place for many years.
The entanglement of fear brought about by longing had transformed into an oppressive prison, suffocating her every breath. 

Now, the old house that once stood proudly was nowhere to be seen.
The once dirty and worn-out streets had been widened, and last year’s real estate demolition erased the final traces associated with him. 

Only remnants from her memories remained—the weathered clay walls, overgrown grass and tangled branches, two rows of dilapidated houses on the verge of collapse.
It was now home to people from all walks of life,  filled with the smell of grease and the stench of humanity, saturated with the atmosphere of the mundane.

Silently, Xu Qingyan found a spot by the flower bed across the street and sat down.

It was still relatively early, and it was the peak evening rush hour.
The streets were bustling with traffic, creating a lively atmosphere. 

However, where Xu Qingyan sat, it was a serene and solitary spot.
Her gaze fixed solely on the construction site across the road, where towering buildings emerged from the ground, scaffoldings stacked layer upon layer.
Even at this hour, the site was still bustling with activity, as workers raced against time to complete their tasks.

His home used to be right here. 

After his parents divorced, his mother, who was already in poor health, couldn’t hold on for more than a year and passed away.
His father reportedly had an accident while working away from home and also passed away.
When he learned about these incidents, he remained calm.
After his father’s accident, he hurried to take care of the funeral arrangements.

It was a winter morning when it was still dark outside, and he was about to depart.
Before leaving, she hesitated for a long time but ended up secretly going to the train station to send him off.
He smiled and said, “Familiarity grows with repeated encounters.”

She rolled her eyes, and he continued to playfully say, “Princess Xu, are you worried about me?”

Her sympathy instantly vanished, and she couldn’t be bothered to respond to him. 

He grabbed her hand, adjusted her scarf, tightly wrapping her rosy face, and then stuffed her hands into the pockets of her coat. 

He chuckled, “Don’t let your hands freeze, you still need them to play the piano.
But seriously, you ran away from home for me.
I’m truly touched.
Now go back home before your parents worry.”

“You’re being presumptuous,” she snapped, brushing his hand away and turning to leave.

That time, he was gone for a long time. 

On the tenth day, she looked at his empty seat with some concern.
After school, she skipped piano class for the first time and secretly ran to this secluded place, which used to be bustling with people. 

The short buildings were filled with residents, and unless you entered, you couldn’t imagine that these two small rundown houses could accommodate so many people.

This was the first time that Xu Qingyan had ventured into this place. 

She tiptoed every step of the way, the hallway was pitch black, and the floor was greasy.
Each corner was piled high with discarded rubbish.
She didn’t even know which room he was in, so she proceeded to explore her way from one room to the next.

When she reached the second floor, a woman on the first floor was shouting and berating her husband for being a useless, philandering man.
In a fit of anger, the woman added an extra dose of chili pepper into her cooking, sending a choking smell wafting up to the second floor, causing Xu Qingyan to cover her mouth and flee. 

Little did she expect to collide with someone, and as she clutched her forehead in pain, an overwhelming stench of sweat engulfed her senses.
The individual erupted into a string of profanities, his choice of words far beyond Xu Qingyan’s level of comprehension.

Xu Qingyan lowered her head to apologize, hoping to settle things peacefully.

However, the burly man not only persisted in his verbal assault but also started to harass her, taking advantage of her vulnerable position as a young girl.
Just as she found herself trapped and helpless, a figure suddenly appeared beside her, swiftly pulling her behind him and ushering her into a nearby room.

“It’s me,” he said.

His voice immediately calmed her down, but in the darkness, she couldn’t tell which direction he was in.
After a while, she finally adapted to the dim light and vaguely saw his figure.

She furrowed her brow and fumbled for the light switch.
He noticed her movement and quickly said, “Don’t turn on the light…” But it was too late.
As the light came on, she saw him hastily raise his hand to shield his face, but there was still a moment when she caught a glimpse of tear stains on his face.

Her hand was still on the switch, the next second, she switched off the light again. 

The room plunged into darkness, and for a while, neither of them spoke. 

It was him who eventually broke the silence, “Weren’t you supposed to have piano lessons today?”

He tried to control his voice, but a hint of nasal tone still slipped through.

“Yeah, the teacher said you haven’t been attending classes for such a long time, so I came to check on you,” she lied, omitting the fact that she had come out of her own concern.

“This isn’t the place you should come to.
I’ll be back at school in a couple of days.
Don’t worry.” He assured her.

She was never good with words, and now she didn’t know what comforting words would be appropriate. 

She hesitated before saying, “Take care of yourself.” 

She heard him chuckle softly.
If it were any other time, he would have teased her relentlessly, but this time he said, “Let me wash my face and I’ll walk you back.” 

He escorted her out of the old building, and once outside, she could finally see his face clearly.
However by then, he had appeared calm and unaffected, just like his usual self. 

He kept his gaze straight ahead but playfully said, “Do you see a flower on my face, princess?” Xu Qingyan let out a sigh and silently shook her head.

He walked her to the small intersection in front of her house, as he always did due to her family’s circumstances.
He watched her until she entered her home before leaving. 

On this particular day, she continued walking alone, knowing that he was still watching her from behind.

Suddenly, she thought she heard his voice, but couldn’t make out what he said.

She turned around, only to see him smiling brightly and waving at her.
Perhaps she had misheard him.

The untimely ringing of her phone jolted Xu Qingyan back to reality.

It had been a long, long time since she had ventured into the forbidden area deep in her heart, and now, as if unlocking a sealed chamber, a flurry of memories rushed in,engulfing her in an instant.

She felt as if she had been pulled out of icy water, her hands and feet freezing cold, her temples throbbing with pain.
As she answered the call, she couldn’t help but rub her temples incessantly.
“Ling Ling?”

“Yan’er, where are you? Didn’t we agree to have hot pot together tonight?”

Xu Qingyan had been living in a daze all day, only now realizing that she had made plans to have dinner with her best friend.
She quickly got up and hailed a taxi.
“I’m sorry, I got stuck in traffic.
I’ll be there soon.”

“Alright, take your time.
I’ve already arrived, I’ll wait for you,” came the reply on the other end.

After hanging up the phone, Xu Qingyan struggled to find a cab.
She sent a WeChat message to Ling Qiao: “The traffic is really bad.
You go ahead and eat.”

The response came swiftly, “Haha, Dr.
Xu, I’ve already started eating.”

Xu Qingyan persistently continued to hail a cab, but it was proving to be a difficult task given the location and the time.
Just as she was fretting, a black car pulled up in front of her.

Thinking that the driver was pulling over, Xu Qingyan took a few steps forward.
To her surprise, the car also moved forward slightly.

Puzzled, Xu Qingyan looked towards the car window, which reflected her own plain face.
Then, the window slowly rolled down, revealing half of a profile.

Xu Qingyan subconsciously took a step back, and stood frozen in place.

The person inside the car tilted their head slightly, their thin lips curving into a faint smile, cold and distant.
Xu,” he said.

She clearly remembered his words: “Don’t appear in front of me again.”

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