Tao Xi followed Yang Zhengming into the conference room, and Director Peng, who was chatting with Fang Zuqing, stood up and beckoned to Tao Xi, “Tao Xi, come and sit down.”
The first thing Tao Xi saw was the two old people sitting on the sofa. He stood by the door at a loss, bent down lightly and politely called out “Hello grandpa and grandma” to the two old people, and then greeted Luo Zhengyin and Director Peng respectively.
Fang Zuqing stood up with the help of Luo Zhengyin, put on his glasses, and was stunned for a moment when he saw Tao Xi’s face. He exchanged a glance with his wife Ye Yurong, both saw a little shock in each other’s eyes.
Luo Zhengyin, who had already met Tao Xi several times, reduced the sadness on her face and showed a little smile to Tao Xi.
Tao Xi cautiously walked to the empty seat next to Director Peng and sat down. Director Peng patted him on the shoulder and introduced him: “Tao Xi, these are Yang Duole’s grandparents, they came here today to talk to you about your competition.”
Director Peng had handled many disputes between students and often welcomed parents, so he said this in an extremely subtle way, taking care of the face of the parents present.
Tao Xi pursed his lower lip when he heard these words. He put his hands on his legs properly, and quietly raised his eyes to look at the two old people sitting opposite, his eyelashes trembling with nervousness.
This was the first time he saw his grandpa and grandma in front of him. The expressions of the two old people showed a little tiredness, Fang Zuqing’s expression was solemn and silent, and the corners of Ye Yurong’s eyes were a little red, as if she was sad.
After Yang Zhengming entered the door, he went to the water dispenser to pour a glass of water. At this time, he walked over with the water glass. Ye Yurong took the initiative to take the glass of water from Yang Zhengming’s hand and handed it to Tao Xi.
Tao Xi stood up hurriedly and saw the hands covered with brown spots were a bit trembling. He respectfully took the cup from Ye Yurong with both hands and heard his grandmother kindly say to him:
“Child, drink some water first.”
He didn’t know why. Hearing this “child”, he lowered his eyes hastily, said “thank you” in a low voice, then sat back on the chair with the water glass in both hands, and drank slowly with his head down.
They were a little embarrassed to speak directly about Yang Duole. Ye Yurong saw the nervousness of the child in front of her and asked Tao Xi in a warm voice: “I heard that you transferred from the school in Qingshui County?”
Tao Xi looked up at Ye Yurong, nodded and said, “I came from Qingshui County No. 1 High School.”
Director Peng on the side smiled and said, “Tao Xi is ranked first in Qingshui County, so he was rewarded to come here to study for a year, his grades here are also very good.”
Ye Yurong smiled kindly and praised, “A good child who is smart and hardworking.”
Tao Xi’s eyes suddenly widened at her words.
Under the leadership of Director Peng, the atmosphere in the conference room eased a lot, but the business still had to be discussed. Yang Zhengming considered it for a while meeting and said sincerely to Tao Xi:
“Tao Xi, we came here this time mainly to apologize to you. I didn’t expect Yang Duole to do something like this. If he had come today, I would definitely let him apologize to you now.”
With a sad expression on Ye Yurong’s face, she said to Tao Xi: “Our child did something wrong. We parents also did not educate him well, so we have to apologize to you.”
Tao Xi’s back slowly shrank, his eyes dropped into the water glass in his hand, he didn’t speak.
Seeing that Tao Xi had been silent, Director Peng had no choice but to say with a dry smile: “When Yang Duole comes to school tomorrow, let him apologize to Tao Xi properly. How deep of a hatred can children have, just untie the knot.”
He just finished speaking when he saw Tao Xi raise his head suddenly and said, “I will not accept Yang Duole’s apology.”
The tone was determined, and there was a stubborn intent in his eyes, without the slightest room for concession.
The atmosphere in the conference room instantly stagnated. The parents looked at each other, Director Peng scratched his hair in embarrassment. He had some personal friendships with Professor Fang. This time he wanted to help the parents to resolve the dispute privately, but now he found it a bit tricky.
Fang Zuqing, who has not spoken all the time, frowned at the words and said solemnly to Tao Xi: “Not only are we apologizing, we will try our best to make up for your loss on behalf of Lele; we will compensate you, as long as you stop pursuing this matter.”
They discussed for a long time before and knew that the key to the matter lies in Tao Xi. As long as the child was no longer pursuing the matter, then what Yang Duole did would not be known to everyone, and the school could also impose a lighter punishment on Yang Duole on the grounds of Tao Xi’s understanding. Although they were angry with their child, they still couldn’t sit back and watch Yang Duole be drawn into the whirlpool.
Ye Yurong felt that Fang Zuqing’s tone was a bit too serious. She was afraid of frightening Tao Xi, so she said softly to Tao Xi: “Child, it’s not easy for you to come from Qingshui County. As a compensation, we can fund you to continue studying in Wenhua No. 1 High School until you finish high school. We will also pay you the expenses after you enter the university until you graduate from university. Do you think this is okay?
Tao Xi heard the “child” from her grandmother again, only to feel stagnant breathing and pain in his chest.
He opened his mouth to say something, but his throat seemed to be blocked by something rough, no sound could come out.
When several parents saw Tao Xi lowered his head and did not speak, they thought he was hesitating.
Director Peng actually thought this compensation was very good. After all, Tao Xi’s family was poor, and it was also a problem to go to university in the future. There was no need to let go of such a good opportunity for a while. He whispered to Tao Xi: “Tao Xi, would you like to consider it?”
Tao Xi shook his head, and when he spoke again, his voice was hoarse: “I don’t want to accept it.”
Ye Yurong didn’t expect this child to be so stubborn, so she sighed softly and looked at Yang Zhengming, who had been holding his forehead without speaking. Seeing that he didn’t respond, she looked at Luo Zhengyin helplessly, thinking that Luo Zhengyin knew Tao Xi, so maybe her words would work better.
Luo Zhengyin sat closer to Tao Xi and persuaded him in a soft tone: “Tao Xi, don’t you like to paint and want to apply to a foreign art school? We can also pay for you to study abroad, you and Qinhe are so close, so you can go to America together, isn’t it good?”
Tao Xi heard the word “Qinhe” in his blurred vision, was silent, but still shook his head stubbornly.
Fang Zuqing was stubborn all his life, and his daughter was also stubborn. He looked at the child in front of him, who seemed to be even more stubborn than he was, and lessened the seriousness on his face and said to Tao Xi in a slower tone.
“Child, I can understand your anger. To be honest, I still feel angry and don’t want to believe that my grandson would do such a ridiculous thing.”
He began to cough heavily in the middle of his sentence, and Tao Xi couldn’t help but raise his eyes to look over.
Ye Yurong hurriedly handed the water to his husband. Fang Zuqing took a few sips of water before he calmed down his cough. He looked at Tao Xi, and a bit of pain appeared in his already muddy eyes, as he said bitterly:
“His mother left early and he grew up weak and sick, so we all spoiled him, and were reluctant to let him suffer so he has developed an arrogant and self-willed character. Now he has made a mistake and done something wrong. We parents have also made a mistake. I want to apologize to you and really want to compensate you.”
Tao Xi lowered his head, swallowed hard on his dry throat, grabbed his fingers into his palm, and listened to Fang Zuqing continuing to speak.
“Everyone makes mistakes. Children will make mistakes and adults will too. They have to pay for their mistakes. I once paid an irreparable price for a mistake. Now that I am old and there are not many days left, I can’t bear to watch my only child pay too much for the mistakes.”
As if recalling something from the past, Fang Zuqing’s dim eyes were filled with tears of grief. Ye Yurong on the side couldn’t help but look away, taking out a handkerchief to wipe the corners of her moist eyes.
Fang Zuqing stood up tremblingly from the sofa. The old professor who had almost never begged anyone, crouched down. Stretching out his trembling hand, he handed a piece of paper to Tao Xi and pleaded:
“Child, it is our family’s child who has wronged you. We come to pay for him, you can ask for whatever you want, as long as I, an old man, can do it, I will do my best to accomplish it.”
Tao Xi’s vision had been completely blurred, he could not see what was on that piece of paper, he could only see the old hands that were constantly trembling.
Once he had longed for countless times, longed to be like his sister Tao Le. After making mistakes, after being wronged, there would always be grandparents who could favor him and protect him. They would use those old but strong hands to protect him in their arms, to shield him from all the blame and scolding, telling him, child do not be afraid, come here to grandparents.
Now he stretched out his hands and took the paper from his grandfather’s hand. He lowered his head and blinked hard, and the blurred line of sight finally became clear.
Three words were printed in the center of the first row of that piece of paper:
Letter of Understanding.
It clearly displayed the compensation they promised, and each of them was enough to make a person born in poverty move. He could even continue to write his own requirements below.
What a generous compensation, as long as he signed it.
The meeting room fell into silence again, but several adults finally realized that there was something wrong with the child. His head hung very low, shrinking himself together, his shoulders trembled slightly and his fingers clutched the Letter of Understanding tightly. Only the extremely low choking that was suppressed could be heard, like the wailing of an abandoned cub.
They did not expect such a reaction from Tao Xi, nor could they understand it. From an adult’s perspective, accepting these generous compensations was the most sensible choice.
Ye Yurong frowned and asked with concern: “My child, what’s the matter?”
Luo Zhengyin handed Tao Xi a tissue, but Tao Xi didn’t take it. She didn’t know what Tao Xi was upset about and could only tentatively suggest, “Why don’t you discuss it with your family, call your mom and dad to ask?”
My mom and dad.
“I…” Tao Xi finally opened his lips, as if he wanted to say something, but somehow couldn’t say it.
At this moment, the door of the conference room was suddenly opened, and everyone couldn’t help but look over to see a tall young man walking in quickly with a frosty face. His gaze fell straight on the child who was surrounded in the center and quickly walked to his side.
“Qinhe?” Luo Zhengyin stood up in surprise, “Aren’t you still in Beijing?”
Lin Qinhe didn’t answer. He saw the piece of paper in Tao Xi’s hand, there were teardrops that had not yet dried up, impregnating the words “Letter of Understanding” with a distorted ink.
At that moment, everyone in the room clearly felt deep anger from this young man. His eyes darkened suddenly, and he didn’t say anything. He just took the “Letter of Understanding” from Tao Xi’s hand, and the bony hand instantly tore the paper.
Fang Zuqing’s face was ugly as he stared at the child he watched growing up. There was anger in his voice: “Qinhe, what are you doing?!”
Lin Qinhe’s stern face was covered with deep ice. He almost never disobeyed these elders. At this moment, he looked at them with heavy eyes, sweeping past their surprised and puzzled faces one by one, his tone was cold to the extreme:
“Do you know what you are doing?”
Luo Zhengyin had never seen Lin Qinhe get so angry before, so she was dumbfounded and speechless.
Yang Zhengming stood up, this was his son’s matter after all, he explained to Lin Qinhe, “We want to talk to Tao Xi about what Lele did wrong, and see if we can negotiate a solution.”
They just didn’t expect that Tao Xi would react so fiercely.
Negotiate a solution?
Lin Qinhe glanced at the torn “Letter of Understanding” on the ground, looked at them sarcastically, and questioned: “If it is your own child who is framed and slandered by others, and almost bears the charge of plagiarism for a lifetime, and even the future is ruined, would you choose to forgive that person?”
Several adults fell silent when they heard the words. Yang Zhengming frowned; this was the reason why he had always been unable to talk to Tao Xi. He knew very well that what Yang Duole did could almost ruin a person’s life, let alone a child with no background.
Tao Xi casually wiped his face and stood up, looked at Lin Qinhe and shook his head.
Lin Qinhe held Tao Xi’s hand, pulled him behind him and said in a cold voice to the silent crowd.
“Tao Xi does not need your compensation, nor does he need relatives like you.”
This sentence was like a boulder falling into the waves. Several adults looked at Lin Qinhe blankly, their expressions stagnant, as if they hadn’t heard these words clearly, they didn’t even react when they saw Lin Qinhe taking Tao Xi out.
Lin Qinhe held Tao Xi’s hand and led him out of this airtight conference room, with the door closed behind him.
Su Yun, who was standing outside the door waiting, saw them coming out, and asked Lin Qinhe:
“Do you want to tell them now?”
Lin Qinhe nodded.
Tao Xi raised his head suddenly, looking at Lin Qinhe with moist and reddish eyes. Lin Qinhe gently wiped away the tears that were not dry on his face with his thumb, and then held his hand again with some strength and said to him:
“Don’t be afraid, let’s go home now.”
Tao Xi nodded and followed Lin Qinhe far away from this conference room.
Su Yun watched them go far away before opening the door of the conference room again. Luo Zhengyin who had recovered from the panic saw Su Yun asked in a daze, “Secretary Su, why are you here?”
Su Yun smiled at Luo Zhengyin and said, “Mrs. Luo, Qinhe asks me to tell you something.”
Director Peng, who had been so embarrassed that he didn’t know what to do, knew that they must have something important, so he stood up and bid farewell to the crowd and left the conference room.
Yang Zhengming had a faint premonition in his heart. Lin Qinhe’s words kept repeating in his mind. He couldn’t help but walked a few steps towards Su Yun and asked quickly:
“What exactly did Qinhe mean by what he said just now?” He was so flustered that he didn’t realize Su Yun hadn’t heard Lin Qinhe’s words.
Su Yun took a look at several people in the room with different looks, and was a little worried about whether they could accept it, especially since there were two elderly people who were very old.
“You will know soon.”
She took out a laptop from her briefcase as the crowd stared in confusion, turned the screen in the conference room on, connected it and clicked on a video.
In the clear picture on the screen, a middle-aged woman in a medical suit was sitting in a hospital bed. The woman had a pale yellow face, her entire face was a little abnormally swollen, and layers of sadness were sandwiched between the corners of her wrinkled eyes..
For Yang Zhengming and Fang’s elders, this was an old friend.
But at this moment, none of them could recognize it. After all, seventeen years had passed, and the woman who they had only met once was almost completely changed.
It was not until the video began, this woman with a familiar and unfamiliar heavy accent, full of regret , saying “sorry” over and over again. Yang Zhengming’s eyes trembled, he looked at Fang Zuqing and Ye Yurong sitting aside in panic, and saw that they also looked heavy, as if they remembered something.
Only Luo Zhengyin looked anxious and at a loss, and she couldn’t help but ask: “This one is?”
But no one answered her. They all looked at the screen with heavy expressions and suspicion so she could only continue to watch the video. At the end, she heard a name from this woman’s mouth that was imprinted into her life: Fang Sui.
Then a cruel truth stumbled out of the woman’s mouth without any logic, telling them how the two children were born on the same day seventeen years ago on a snowy winter night, and how their fates were exchanged at her whim.
Luo Zhengyin’s cochlea rumbled and her mind went blank, watching the woman lower her head and cover her face in painful tears halfway through her speech, but she still didn’t dare to believe what she had just heard.
She stared at the two old men with a stiff gaze, and grabbed Ye Yurong’s hand next to her empty and helplessly. She opened her mouth, eagerly wanting to seek some answer, but found that Ye Yurong’s hands were terribly cold, shaking uncontrollably like her, while Fang Zuqing’s pupils were staring at the woman on the screen, his face showing a strange blue and purple color as his flesh and skin aged. They looked shocked, but no one spoke.
“She, is what she said true?” Luo Zhengyin mumbled in a panic, the woman on the screen was still crying in pain, and every sound made her heart panic. She hysterically asked herself:
“Lele… isn’t Lele A Sui’s child? Then, where is A Sui’s child? Where is he?”
But no one answered her. Yang Zhengming lowered his head and buried his face in his palms. The joints of his hands were protruding, and the blue veins on the back of his hands were jumping suddenly, pressing out a sigh from his chest.
At this point the woman’s painful sobs in the video finally gradually stopped, her eyes looked at the camera with no energy, and said in a hoarse voice.
“I named the child I left behind, Tao Xi.”
These words exploded like a thunderbolt in the conference room.
Ye Yurong cried out, only grabbing a piece of her coat, watching her old companion fall to the ground like an old tree broken by a thunderstorm on a typhoon day.
Yang Zhengming and Su Yun rushed over to pick up the old man, holding him up and rushing towards the door. Luo Zhengyin was stunned, her arms and legs were limp, she propped herself up on the armrest of the sofa and used her strength to stand up, following the panicked footsteps in hindsight.
T/N: I hate everyone in this, but also for once, I actually liked Yang Zhengming a little bit, at least here, he was the most rational as compared to the Fang grandparents and Luo Zhengyin. Also, there’s another update tomorrow!