Ning Jing did not reappear again after leaving with Ren Wen-Qiang and there was no phone call either. Xia Lei was a little worried but he did not call her. He had his concerns – Ning Jing’s parents liked Ren Wen-Qiang very much and wanted him to be with Ning Jing. If he kept meddling, wouldn’t he become the third party? He did not want Ning Jing’s parents as enemies. It would be bad if Ning Jing’s father’s heart problem were to be triggered. Because of all these reasons, Xia Lei put Ning Jing out of his mind for the moment.
Xia Lei cancelled the online order in the end, since the equipment Shentu Tian-Yin had given him was enough to upgrade Thunder Horse Workshop. Buying more equipment would be a waste. With the money saved, he could also buy vehicles. He bought a Great Wall Haval H6 and a Great Wall pickup. The Great Wall Haval H6 was for himself while the pickup was for Ma Xiao-An for his own use as well as a delivery vehicle for delivering the processed parts to clients.
On the fourth day, the five newly recruited workers reported for work. They had all worked with him previously at construction sites. One was a man in his early fifties, Teacher Yang Ben-Cai. One was an honest wage-earner from Sichuan, Wang You-Fu. Then there was a local middle-aged Master, Liu Xue-Bing and a 19-year-old Cui Yong, fresh from technical school. The last was a woman from the north, Chen A-Jiao, who was either 28 or 29 and had an open mind. These five, other than Cui Yong who’d been introduced by Yang Ben-Cai, had all worked with Xia Lei before and were familiar with him.
“Lei, I didn’t expect you to become your own boss in such a short period of time,” Teacher Yang Ben-Cai was all smiles, “You’ll have to take care of us old comrades in the future.”
Xia Lei laughed as he said, “Of course. You guys took care of me in the past so now it’s my turn to take care of you. Let’s make money together.”
“Heh heh heh… Let’s all be comfortable and not be so formal.*” The honest Wang You-Fu said, his dark face beaming with a guileless smile.
Zhou Xiao-Hong looked at him from one side, thinking, ‘This guy… what is he saying? Such a bumpkin.”
The youngest, bespectacled Cui Yong, was a little stiff but he gathered his courage and greeted Xia Lei, “Boss Lei, please take care of me.”
Xia Lei patted him on the shoulder and laughed as he said, “I’m not much older than you. Just call me Big Brother Lei.”
Cui Yong immediately greeted him, “Big Brother Lei.”
“Let’s work hard. This workshop is our home,” said Xia Lei.
“Lei, you did it. When did you become so amazing? My deadweight at home can’t hold a candle to you. He only knows how to torment me,” Chen A-Jiao giggled. She fired words like machine gun bullets, “You missing a lady boss? You must be, heh heh, I’ll consider it…”
Ma Xiao-An interrupted, “Big Sister A-Jiao, hold up. You’re thinking of becoming our lady boss?”
“Nuh, nuh, nuh!” Chen A-Jiao made a mosquito-smacking gesture and was not one bit shy, “If Lei here fancies me, I’ll do the nasty with him right now. You willing, Lei?”
Xia Lei was speechless.
The workshop was suddenly filled with laughter. It was common to joke around like this in construction sites; men and women said whatever they felt like and sometimes the women were freer with their words. They were from the construction sites so the habits from their previous workplace would not disappear overnight.
“Lei, will you take up her offer?” The local Master, Liu Xue-Bing asked, egging him on.
Xia Lei was embarrassed, “Stop, it’s just a joke and it doesn’t mean anything.”
Chen A-Jiao spoke, “Yeah, that’s right. I’m married and I have kids – how can I be paired with our Lei? I’m talking about our village’s Yan-Zi. That girl is b-e-a-u-tiful. Her skin’s like dough, her bum’s big and round, her knockers…”
Beep beep— Beep beep—
A series of beeps from a car horn interrupted Chen A-Jiao.
The one leaning heavily on the horn was Jiang Ru-Yi, who was driving a brand new Great Wall H6. It was Xia Lei’s car but he did not dare to drive it on the roads. He’d only practiced on empty lots in the area and when he was not driving it, he would let Jiang Ru-Yi drive it to break it in. Jiang Ru-Yi was, of course, 100% willing to do so, especially when it was Xia Lei filling it up with petrol.
Jiang Ru-Yi wound down the window and shouted, “Lei, hurry up! We don’t have time!”
“My sister’s going to Jing-Du today for her studies. I have to send her off. Xiao-An, you lead the team. We’ll have a nice meal tonight as a welcome dinner,” said Xia Lei.
“Sure,” Yang Ben-Cai and the others replied smilingly.
“Lei, tell Xue for me to study hard and make sure to make something of herself,” said Ma Xiao-An.
Xia Lei patted Ma Xiao-An on the shoulder, “I’ll definitely pass the message on. I’ll be going now, everyone. See you all later tonight.”
They sent Xia Lei to the door. “Hurry up, you’re wasting time,” Jiang Ru-Yi urged.
“Okay, enough with the rushing. I’m here now aren’t I?” said Xia Lei.
Jiang Ru-Yi half got out of her seat and opened the door for Xia Lei. He got in and she stepped on the accelerator, moving into traffic.
“Are there any problems with this car?” asked Xia Lei. This was the most valuable purchase he had made in his life and he was worried that there would be quality issues.
“No problem. Don’t listen to those people who boast about how good those joint-venture cars are. This car runs better than my Polo and it’s more spacious too. It’s more cost-effective,” said Jiang Ru-Yi.
Xia Lei felt more at ease then. He looked at Jiang Ru-Yi changing gears and stepping on the accelerator and felt an itch to drive, “Don’t just drive it around on your own. You have to teach me too.”
Jiang Ru-Yi rolled her eyes at Xia Lei, “You have a licence but can’t drive. I’ve got to hand it to you. Is that Long Bing woman not worried that you’ll knock people over? She actually gave you a licence just like that.”
“Are you going to teach me or not?”
“I’ll teach you. Put your hand on the gear-stick and I’ll tell you when to change,” said Jiang Ru-Yi as she slowed the car.
Xia Lei put his left hand on the gear-stick and waited nervously for Jiang Ru-Yi’s instruction.
Jiang Ru-Yi suddenly reached over with her right hand and grabbed Xia Lei’s hand.
Her hand was cotton-soft and boneless and her skin was smooth. Xia Lei was suddenly sensitive and said embarrassedly, “What are you doing grabbing my hand?”
“Teaching you how to drive. What were you thinking?” Jiang Ru-Yi glared at Xia Lei, then stepped on the clutch and moved Xia Lei’s hand forward. “It’s in third gear now. It’s necessary to increase the gears when you drive. Got it?”
“Got it.” However, Xia Lei’s gaze landed on Jiang Ru-Yi’s thigh and his mind also became rather active, throwing out all sorts of messy images.
They went on like that, one teaching and one learning. The Great Wall H6 suddenly sped up and slowed on the road, angering quite a few other drivers…
A route which would have taken half an hour took Jiang Ru-Yi and Xia Lei an entire hour. Back in their neighbourhood, Xia Lei brought Jiang Ru-YI through his door. A large suitcase sat on the sofa. Xia Xue was all prepared to leave. She stood when she saw Xia Lei and Jiang Ru-Yi walk through the door. “Brother, Big Sister Ru-Yi, why are you so late? I waited more than an hour.”
“Your brother wanted to learn how to drive so I taught him on the way here,” Jiang Ru-Yi laughed, “You know, your brother’s dumb as a brick. A simple thing such as a gear shift took him ages and he still hasn’t mastered it.”
Xia Xue looked at Xia Lei and, mysteriously, laughed.
Xia Lei rolled his eyes at Jiang Ru-Yi, “Let’s go. You’re so long-winded you’ll surely have a big mouth later in life.”
“So what if I’ll have a big mouth! It’s none of your business!” said Jiang Ru-Yi.
“Okay, okay, stop arguing. Haven’t you argued enough for over 20 years? Hurry and send me to the airport or I won’t make it on the plane,” urged Xia Xue.
The two of them stopped then and helped Xia Xue with her luggage before leaving the flat.
At the airport, Xia Lei accompanied Xia Xue all the way to the ticket window. “Xue, remember to give Miss Long a call when you arrive in Jing-Du. She will take care of you.”
“Don’t worry, brother. I got it.” Xia Xue had tears in her eyes. In all her years, this was her first time leaving her brother and she was a little reluctant.
“Come, Xue. Big Sister Ru-Yi will give you hugs.” Jiang Ru-Yi enveloped Xia Xue in a tight embrace.
“Big Sister Ru-Yi, I can’t bear to leave you and my brother…” Xia Xue could not hold it back any longer and tears flowed.
Jiang Ru-Yi consoled her and spoke warmly, “Silly girl, it’s not as if you’re not coming back. Won’t you be back during winter break? If you miss me or your brother you can call us. You can also use QQ video to chat. Isn’t that seeing us too?”
Xia Xue was choked with sobs, “But…”
Xia Lei also couldn’t bear to part with his sister but he put up a front, “What’s all this crying for? You’re finally going to learn some independence. Quick, go in. Call me when you arrive to tell me you got there safely.”
Xia Xue stopped her tears at his words and pulled her suitcase past the ticket window. After a few steps into the entry channel, she looked back. The sight of that made Xia Lei’s heart squeeze.
Xia Lei turned to leave only after he lost sight of Xia Xue.
Xia Lei continued his driving lessons on the way back and Jiang Ru-Yi let him take a wheel on the more remote sections of the road while she sat in the passenger seat and issued commands. It was good to learn how to drive but Xia Lei felt like Jiang Ru-Yi was being a pervert – touching his hand and even his thigh.
Sure enough, even before she changed the tone of her voice, Jiang Ru-Yi’s hand landed on his thigh, pounding hard to tell him to step on the brakes. The part she pounded was also close to the groin area, which was a sensitive spot. This made Xia Lei very nervous. He was afraid Jiang Ru-Yi would move her hand upwards, just a little, at any time and pull his handbrake up.
Back in their neighbourhood, Jiang Ru-Yi drove his Great Wall H6 to the police station. Before she left, she took 400 yuan from Xia Lei for petrol money.
Xia Lei was rather depressed, “Driving my car and using my money to pay for petrol. What the hell is she?”
Back home, the flat felt cold and lonely. Xia Xue was gone and Xia Lei felt an emptiness in his heart. He walked to the television cabinet and looked at their family picture. Xia Xue and himself were smiling happily in the picture and his parents also had blissful smiles. However, those blissful days were never coming back.
Then he saw the glass bottle behind the family picture with the little pill still in it. Just as he was about to take it out for a look, his mobile phone rang.
It was from Chi Jing-Qiu.
“Lei, Xi-Tian Guesthouse, Room 201. I’ll wait for you,” Chi Jing-Qiu opened with that line right away.
Xia Lei paused, “You’re in a guesthouse waiting for me… waiting for what?”
“For you to bed me,” said Chi Jing-Qiu with a laugh.
Xia Lei frowned, “Stop kidding around. I’m not in the mood.”
“Fine. It’s business. Didn’t I talk to you about it? I have a purchase order for you,” said Chi Jing-Qiu.
“Good, I’ll be right there,” said Xia Lei.
*He was using very region-specific words from Sichuan: 安逸, 巴适