“Morning, Big Brother Lei.” Zhou Xiao-Hong, dressed in blue work clothes, stood at the door to greet Xia Lei who was just arriving. Her apple-shaped face, nice body and new clothes made her seem like she was aglow.
Xia Lei smiled, “Morning to you too. Do you like the clothes?”
“Yes,” Zhou Xiao-Hong gave a little twirl and smiled, “I feel it’s a bit of a shame to wear them. Heehee.”
“Work clothes are for you to work in, so why not wear them?” said Xia Lei.
He walked into the workshop and found that the floor had already been mopped, desks wiped, the tools arranged neatly and even wiped clean. Xia Lei was strangely moved by this – She must have been up very early to have already done so much.
“Xiao-Hong, I’ll teach you how to use the lathe,” said Xia Lei. He understood her actions; she must want to have more time to learn metalworking so she woke up early to clean up.
“Yes!” Zhou Xiao-Hong was excited at hearing Xia Lei say he was going to teach her to use the lathe, as expected.
Xia Lei set the lathe in motion and put a piece of scrap metal under the drill, then let Zhou Xiao-Hong try processing it. “Let’s try processing a nut this time.”
“Okay.” Zhou Xiao-Hong stood in front of the lathe as instructed but did not know where to begin.
Xia Lei stood behind her, held her hands and showed her the steps of how the processing should be done.
Xia Lei, as teacher, was teaching seriously and his student was absorbed in the task. Then came a part when they had to observe the nut closely and Zhou Xiao-Hong naturally leaned forward. Her buttocks went up, coming into contact with Xia Lei behind her. An embarrassing rubbing happened just like that and she reacted like she had touched something she shouldn’t have. Xia Lei was also jolted by the contact and hurriedly moved backwards.
The contact made them sensitive and their faces turned pink.
At that moment, Ma Xiao-An walked in. What he saw was not the embarrassing scene but the sparkling clean desks. His sounded depressed as he said, “Xiao-Hong, you… Why did you wipe the desks so early?”
Watching Zhou Xiao-Hong wipe the desks was a sort of entertainment and joy for him. Her wiping the desks before he even got there meant no more of that for him.
Zhou Xiao-Hong giggled and her giggle tinkled like bells.
And so, a new day begun.
It was hectic in the morning and the three of them only had time to rest close to noon.
Ning Jing arrived at Thunder Horse Workshop with her car and as soon as she saw Xia Lei, she said, “Let’s go, Master Xia.”
“Go where?” asked Xia Lei.
“Did you forget what I told you? My uncle has time today. He called and told me to bring you over for the two of you to meet and have a chat.”
Xia Lei slapped himself lightly on the forehead, and laughed as he said, “I’ve been so busy these days I forgot. Hold on, I’ll change into a set of fresh clothes before I go. I’m all dirty now so it wouldn’t be respectful to meet your uncle like this.”
Ning Jing smiled, “Yep, I’ll wait for you.”
Xia Lei wiped his face, washed his hands and went in the back to change. Thunder Horse Workshop had no changing room so the space Zhou Xiao-Hong slept in became his changing place. Xia Lei walked in and saw that Zhou Xiao-Hong had hung up her red underwear, white underwear, purple bra and other things around the space. He was suddenly reminded of their accidental contact that morning – it seemed like it had happened a minute ago, so clear and detailed. Xia Lei smiled wryly and shook his head, “I really ought to get myself a woman. It’s not good if I’m this sensitive.”
After getting changed, he got into Ning Jing’s car and they set off.
“What is your uncle’s name, Big Sister Ning?” Xia Lei asked, “If I want to talk about doing business with him, it would be insincere of me if I don’t even know his name.”
“Master Xia, are you always so thoughtful about everything you do?” Ning Jing said laughingly.
Xia Lei smiled but said nothing.
“His name is Ning Yuan-Shan, Chairman of East Wind Heavy Industries.”
Xia Lei was secretly shocked. He knew the name – East Wind Heavy Industries was a government-owned multi-billion-yuan enterprise. The chairman of such a large enterprise coming to a small roadside business like his to talk about doing business? No one would believe him if he told them about it. However, he was sure that this was due to Ning Jing’s help. Ning Yuan-Shan would not even be interested in seeing him, let alone have a business meeting if it were not for Ning Jing.
“Thank you. I know you want to help me and I appreciate it,” said Xia Lei.
“Why so formal with me? My uncle is not the bigwig you think he is. He’s quite easygoing and loves his country; a total straight arrow. He is facing some difficulties now and you are the person who could help him solve his problem so of course he’d want to meet you. He actually agreed right away when I told him about it. You also know that people of his station are very busy so he could only have time to meet today, and he called to tell me to bring you over,” said Ning Jing.
“I’ll try my best,” said Xia Lei.
“Don’t be so humble. I know very well how skilled you are and I’m 100% confident in you,” said Ning Jing. She seemed to suddenly remember something and added, “One more thing – I went to the hospital for a check-up and it was as you said. I really had gallbladder stones. It was a good thing it was discovered early so I didn’t have to have surgery. I have to thank you for that, no matter what.”
“I say, we should stop trying to thank each other back and forth. We don’t have to be so formal as friends,” laughed Xia Lei.
Ning Jing nodded, “Yeah, not formal as friends. Heheh.”
Half an hour later, the car crossed the Hai-Zhu City limits and arrived at the seaside. Several large cranes towered over the harbor in the distance and there was also a shipyard constructing ships; It was a very busy scene. Ning Jing drove onto a car-specific lane and kept going for a few minutes more before they saw a huge factory sitting on a piece of land by the sea.
After entering East Wind Heavy Industries, Ning Jing brought Xia Lei to a reception room. “I’ll go look for my uncle. Wait for me here.”
Xia Lei nodded, “Sure, you go. I’ll wait here.”
Xia Lei looked around the reception room after Ning Jing walked off. There was an ink painting on the wall depicting a tercel with wings outspread, looking down on a mountaintop. The work was signed by Ning Yuan-Shan. Based on this painting, it was easy to tell that this reception room was one Ning Yuan-Shan used for exclusive meetings and regular guests were not allowed in.
‘This is all due to Ning Jing. I really owe her big time – how can I repay her this favour?’ wondered Xia Lei.
At that moment, a woman walked in. She was very pretty – black office lady clothes and white ruffled blouse matched with a pair of beige high-heels, serious yet youthful. She looked about the same age as Xia Lei. He looked a little closer at her face and froze.
This woman was no stranger – it was his high school classmate, Chi Jing-Qiu.
Chi Jing-Qiu was the first girl he liked. He’d had a secret crush on her for a year before he drummed up the courage to write her a love letter. He would never forget when Chi Jing-Qiu read the love letter he had given to her. She had taken out her pen and written one line on his letter: I like boys like Wu Qi-Long* so, Classmate Xia, are you a boy like him?
She had then pasted the ‘corrected’ love letter on the classroom blackboard and turned Xia Lei into the school laughingstock.
It would have been fine even if she had just thrown the letter into the bin but writing that scathing line and pasting it on the blackboard had scarred Xia Lei. His heart shattered that year. When he recognised her, the line from years ago surfaced in his head again: ‘I like boys like Wu Qi-Long* so, Classmate Xia, are you a boy like him?’
It hit him mentally like a gale; he was calm on the surface but his heart was not.
Their eyes met and there was silence, but Chi Jing-Qiu broke it. She pretended to look shocked, “Oh! Why isn’t this Xia Lei? What are you doing here?”
“I…” Xia Lei tried to answer but had no words. He suddenly found it laughable. That incident had happened years ago, in a time of ignorance and puberty. Why was he still so nervous after seeing her again?
“Are you here to apply for a job?”
Xia Lei had calmed himself. He gave a little laugh and said, “Well, I guess you can say that. That’s right, Jing-Qiu, what are you doing here?”
A pretty smile appeared on Chi Jing-Qiu’s face, “I work here. I’m now Chairman Ning’s secretary.”
“You’ve done quite nicely for yourself. Congratulations.” Xia Lei stood, walked to Chi Jing-Qiu and stretched out his hand.
Chi Jing-Qiu, however, did not shake his hand. She nimbly turned away to take care of the magazines on the coffee table. As she worked, she said, “Xia Lei, you cannot hang around here. This is Director Ning’s exclusive reception room and the people who are received by Director Ning here are respected dignitaries with status and high positions. You should go to the human resources office if you’re here to apply for a job. Go out the door and turn left, then walk a further 20 metres and you’ll find it.”
Xia Lei stood still, his hand as stiff as if it had been flash-frozen. He awkwardly lowered his hand but did not leave. Xia Lei went back to the sofa and sat.
Chi Jing-Qiu’s little mouth pursed in a frown, “Xia Lei, you really can’t hang around here. You’ll be troubling me if you do that.”
Xia Lei gave a small laugh, “Then don’t do anything about it. Pretend I’m not here. And don’t worry, me being here won’t affect your work.”
Chi Jing-Qiu was displeased. She glared at Xia Lei, “Hey, Classmate Xia. Are you doing this on purpose?”
“Doing what on purpose?”
“You’re coming in here to make trouble for me!”
Xia Lei laughed and said, “You’re overthinking it. How can that be? I had no idea you worked here so how could I intentionally run over to make trouble for you?”
Chi Jing-Qiu did not believe Xia Lei’s reasoning. “I know you’re still holding a grudge over what happened. I admit I was not completely free of blame but we were young then and immature. I rejected you for your own good. Didn’t you concentrate on your studies after that incident and even made it into Jing-Du University, even though you did not attend?”
Xia Lei had already put it out of his mind but she brought it up again and made herself seem righteous to boot. He wrinkled his brow.
Chi Jing-Qiu continued, “Okay, just go to the human resources office. If you really can’t find it, I’ll take you there. You really can’t stay here any longer. If you’re lucky enough to be hired I can arrange a more comfortable position for you. I have some pull here and you were my classmate so I’ll definitely take care of you.”
“Thank you for your concern,” said Xia Lei, “but I’m not here to apply for a job. I’m here because your Chairman Ning wants to meet me.”
Chi Jing-Qiu was stunned, then she suddenly laughed and pointed at Xia Lei, “You? Meet with Chairman Ning? Is this a joke?”
*Wu Qi-Long 吴奇隆, or Nicky Wu, is a famous Taiwanese singer and actor.