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The Untold Story Chapter 3

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3

It had been three days since Yang Zhao last stepped outside her condominium. Absently, she was beginning to think that she would be stuck with this broken bowl for the rest of her life.

She was more than halfway through with her restoration work, and this bowl had been her companion for two months.  

Professionally speaking, this bowl was not very valuable. At most, it was worth tens of thousands of yuan, yet Xue Miao was willing to spend hundreds of thousands of yuan to repair it. Two months ago, Xue Miao came to her with this badly damaged ceramic bowl and enlisted her help in repairing it. At that time, she was restoring a Ming-era landscape painting that Xue Miao had given her. Yang Zhao took one look at the bowl and said to Xue Miao, "Your taste has gone from bad to worse."

Xue Miao entered the living room. For two days and two nights he'd been rus.h.i.+ng about for his work and flown from California to this tiny city in Northern China. By that time he was extremely tired. But as someone who paid scrupulous attention to his appearance, he sat elegantly on the sofa in the living room.

"Sometimes, an object's value cannot be discerned from its appearance alone."

Yang Zhao put down the small brush in her hand and turned to look at Xue Miao.

"So are you saying that this bowl is hiding a treasure map to some famous ancient tomb?"

Xue Miao looked up and chortled.

"Xiao-Zhao, I like your sense of humor."

Yang Zhao paid him no further attention and and got back to her work.

Xue Miao stood up and walked behind Yang Zhao. He raised a hand and lightly pulled Yang Zhao's wrist.

This action merited a follow up.

From Yang Zhao's peripheral vision, she could see that Xue Miao's fingers were slender, his knuckles well-defined. She looked at them expressionlessly and said: "In my line of work, the most taboo thing you can do is to grab someone's hands," —Yang Zhao shot Xue Miao a look— "especially when they're in the midst of work."

Xue Miao shrugged innocently.

Yang Zhao put down a small brush and stood up straight to face Xue Miao.

"Say it, what's the matter?"

Xue Miao looked down at Yang Zhao.

"It's a long story."

"Summarize."

After a lengthy explanation, Yang Zhao got the gist of it.

Actually, if one omitted Xue Miao's dramatized details, the story could be summed up into one sentence- this bowl belonged to Xue Miao's grandmother, and had become collateral damage during Xue Miao's argument with his wife.

To others this might have appeared strange. Even though this bowl was not some renowned historical relic, it was an antique at the very least. Even if one wanted to vent one's anger, the typical course of action was to smash something of little value.

But this was not Xue Miao's fault. Yang Zhao had once visited Xue Miao's villa. In his home, even a spittoon was worth an arm and a leg. And so it could be concluded that careful consideration had already been made before smas.h.i.+ng that bowl.

"If it's broken, it's broken. Just get a more valuable replacement."

"Nonono," Xue Miao shook his head, "My cute Xiao-Zhao, you're still too young, you don’t understand. Feelings are the most valuable things in this world. More than half a lifetime's worth of my grandmother's feelings are inside that bowl. It is priceless."

"Ah," said Yang Zhao, "Which is why you smashed it."

Xue Miao flinched.

"That was an accident. Everyone gets agitated sometimes. It's not surprising to smash things when you're agitated."

Yang Zhao said: "So how come you've never 'accidentally' smashed the jade vase from your bedroom?"

There was an animal patterned jade vase dating from the Qing Dynasty in Xue Miao's bedroom. It was Xue Miao's recently acquired darling, and he was crazy in love with it.

Xue Miao said: "She and I are currently in our honeymoon phase. Don't make me out to be a cruel man."

Yang Zhao laughed humorlessly, "There are plenty of antique restorers to go around. Don’t expect me to give up on this painting to work on that unprofitable bowl."

Xue Miao's smile was very gentle: "No matter how many restorers there are, I only believe in you. You know me, I've got mysophobia. I dislike having random people touching my things."

Yang Zhao held her arms and regarded him coolly.

"200,000," said Xue Miao.

Yang Zhao raised an eyebrow. This was a very high offer, much higher than her painting.

"This bowl must be really important."

Xue Miao shook his head sorrowfully, "My grandmother is almost 90. I'm afraid that she'd be unable to take this blow. If that happens I'll be a sinner in my family."

Yang Zhao said: "Throw in a vacation."

Xue Miao's shrewd gaze returned now that they were talking terms.

"Vacation? You want a vacation? Do you know how intense the compet.i.tion for this year's antique auction is? The market's so good, yet you want me to give you a vacation right now. Xiao-Zhao, don't be so cruel."

"I've not had a vacation in two years," said Yang Zhao.

"What do you want a vacation for?" said Xue Miao. "I’ve never seen you go anywhere to play." Yang Zhao fell silent. "I need this vacation. My younger brother's a senior in high school. He's taking his college entrance exams next year, but he's not made enough preparations. I'm going to set aside some time to talk to him."

"How long do you need?" asked Xue Miao.

"Two months," said Yang Zhao.

"Two months?!" Xue Miao sucked in a deep breath. "That sure is a long talk."

"Two months," repeated Yang Zhao. "If you're unwilling, you can find someone else to do the job."

Xue Miao paced the living room before finally leaning against a table top. "150,000, plus two months of leave," he said.

Yang Zhao narrowed her eyes.

"You sly businessman."

Xue Miao smiled faintly, "Negotiation is not your forte. Your intentions are too obvious. I bet you'd even work for free as long as I gave you two months of leave."

Yang Zhao turned and ignored him.

Xue Miao went behind Yang Zhao. He had the tall stature that was characteristic of those of mixed blood. He gently embraced her.

"I'm still going to pay you though, Xiao-Zhao. I'm a generous man."

Xue Miao wore high-cla.s.s perfume. Though it was faint, its scent lingered around her. Yang Zhao turned around in his arms, placed her fingers on his chest and pushed him away.

"I hope you'll extend that generosity of yours towards your wife."

Xue Miao chuckled, "It's not that I'm not generous, Xiao-Zhao, but arrogance and self-righteousness are part of a white person's nature. There's a cultural gap between me and them."

Yang Zhao scoffed and said no more. Luckily, Xue Miao was also tired. He walked over to the wine rack, picked up a bottle of wine and looked at it.

"May I drink?"

"If you want to," said Yang Zhao.

Xue Miao said "Alright then" and opened the wine. He showered, had a gla.s.s of wine, then shuffled blearily to the guest room to sleep.

Ever since Yang Zhao moved here, Xue Miao would stay over at her house instead of a hotel whenever he came to find her.

That said, Xue Miao returned to America the day after he brought this bowl over, yet he would call every two days to track the bowl's progress.

Yang Zhao yawned and looked up. The sky was already dark outside. Today's weather was still very gloomy, and even though it was only 6pm, the sky was dark as night.

It was not difficult to put the bowl together. The difficulty lay in restoring it to perfect condition.

Xue Miao did not want his grandmother find out that this bowl had been smashed to smithereens like some streetside bowl. This meant that Yang Zhao had to take extra care while fixing it.

The phone rang. Yang Zhao took the call. It was from the express delivery company.

Unlike the studio in America, she had a shortage of many materials here. Whenever she lacked something, she would need to call the American side and have the materials packed and s.h.i.+pped over.

Over the phone, an employee from the courier company informed Yang Zhao that it was too late, they'd already ceased delivery service for the day. Delivery of her parcel would have to wait till the next day. Yang Zhao did not want to wait, for she urgently needed the pigment to repair the pattern of the bowl. She decided to collect it in person.

She changed her clothes, picked up her bag, and headed out.

As soon as she stepped outside her apartment, lightning flashed across the sky, closely followed by a deafening peal of thunder.

One after another, raindrops the size of peas spattered on the ground. In the blink of an eye, it began to pour.

Yang Zhao stared out the door for a while, doubled back inside the apartment to retrieve an umbrella, and rushed out into the rain. She did not drive her own car. The express delivery service center was a fair distance away from the Golden Huaken, and one of the connecting roads was under construction and situated in a low-lying area. At the rate the rain was falling, it would not be long before cars were unable to pa.s.s.

She hailed a cab at the entrance to her condominium.

"11 Road Express Delivery Service Center."

The driver pressed the meter and started driving towards the destination. Rain pelted loudly against the car's gla.s.s windows.

"If the rain keeps up," said the driver worriedly, "the road beneath overhead bridge would be flooded in no time. It's gonna be hard to navigate."

Yang Zhao murmured agreement. "s.h.i.+fu, please step on it."

"Would if I could, there's no helping it."

The rain got heavier and heavier. Yang Zhao was starting to regret her decision to leave the house. But she still wanted to get her materials.

The driver stopped the car just a junction short of her destination.

"That's it, this is as far as I can go. I have to make a U-turn here. Get off here if you would, Miss, you don’t have to pay."

Yang Zhao paid wordlessly anyway and got off the cab.

Sheets of rain bombarded her face as soon as the car doors opened. The driver was gone before Yang Zhao could open her umbrella. The winds were very strong, and rain flew everywhere. As if she hasn’t opened her umbrella at all, Yang Zhao's body was drenched in minutes.

Yang Zhao braved the storm and headed for the service center. By the time she arrived, the employees were getting ready to knock off. The sight of a dark shadow rus.h.i.+ng inside the building gave them a shock.

Yang Zhao kept her umbrella.

"I'm here to collect my parcel."

A female employee stared at her incredulously. "It's raining so heavily yet you took the trouble to come. It's that urgent, huh."

Yang Zhao nodded. "I'm expecting a parcel from overseas."  The employee led her to a room dedicated to express delivery parcels. There weren't many parcels from overseas. Yang Zhao very quickly located hers. It was a large box. Yang Zhao signed the receipt of acknowledgment, then carried the box outside the building.

Carrying her parcel was hard enough, let alone an umbrella. Yang Zhao sighed, put the box down at the building entrance and ventured outside to hail a cab.

It was raining so heavily that she could hardly keep her eyes open. Yang Zhao stood at the intersection and watched the pa.s.sing vehicles.

Though she kept waving her hands, no one stopped for her. Yang Zhao was soaked. No longer caring about the rest of her body, she s.h.i.+elded the front of her face with her umbrella.

She did manage to flag down two cars with much difficulty, but the moment the drivers heard that she was headed for the Huaken building, they both shook their heads and rejected her:

"The area under the bridge is flooded, it's not a good idea to go."  

"Not happening."

Yang Zhao hugged her arms tightly. The North was already freezing at this time of the year. And now, drenched by the rain and whipped by the winds, Yang Zhao could not help but sneeze.

Just as she was becoming desperate, a car pulled up before her.

The car's windows rolled down. The driver hesitated a little upon seeing her. Yang Zhao's lips were so cold that they had turned purple.

She asked the driver: "s.h.i.+fu[1], Golden Huaken Building, that okay with you?"

[1] s.h.i.+fu: lit "master", a respectful term to address a cab driver 

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