Together Forever Epilogue
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I had originally planned to split Epilogue 1 into two parts, but while I was prepping this post, I changed my mind and hurried to translate it all in one go. So, today, you have an extra long update, two posts in one. I will accept hugs, ramen, and creme brûlée as expressions of your love. Actually, this epilogue is quite sad. I cried several times, and hence, I didn’t want to drag your heartbreak out over two posts. No, they don’t go through any more hards.h.i.+ps. The epilogue just explains some things during the time when they were apart. Next post is the final one for the novel, and it will be pure sweetness.
Epilogue 1 – The Goodbye I Owe You
The winter of the year he and Tong Yan separated, he returned to Philadelphia and also changed to a different firm.
Originally, due to issues with his visa, he had needed to leave the country for seven days and while he was there, he would do a post-surgery physical examination. However, after he completed the examination, he had soon received his new project, a joint collaboration between the Philadelphia and China offices on a hedge fund investment project.
Grandfather’s health was gradually turning for the better, so it seemed there was no reason compelling him to return. In the end, Gu Pingsheng decided to indefinitely extend his original seven-day leave from China and stayed in Philadelphia.
When Christmas came, coincidentally, both Luo Zihao and Pingfan went to visit him.
Luo Zihao arrived earlier, while Pingfan, because she first went to visit a friend, did not arrive until the evening of Christmas Eve. Outside, there was a thick holiday atmosphere, but when she pushed open the door, there were only two men sitting across from each other, typing and staring ceaselessly at their own computers.
“Today is Christmas, right?” Pingfan felt as if she had stepped into the wrong dimension.
Luo Zihao breathed out a long sigh. “Merry Christmas. Finally, there’s a live person here to talk to me.”
Gu Pingfan burst out in chuckles.
If Gu Pingsheng wanted to ignore someone, it was simply too easy to do. He needed only to s.h.i.+ft his gaze away and then his world would belong only to him. Absolutely no one would be able to intrude on him.
Irrespective of where she was, Pingfan would still spend Christmas with fellow Catholics and go to hear Ma.s.s.
Luo Zihao could not bear the feeling of lonesomeness and went with her to experience a festivity of the Church. When the two returned, it was already early the next morning, and Gu Pingsheng was in the kitchen warming some milk. In that quiet kitchen, aside from the sounds of cooking, there were no other noises.
Without warning, a manila envelope blocked his sight, and raising his head, he saw Gu Pingfan say, “I got it done for you.”
Opening up the envelope, he pulled out all the doc.u.ments but discovered that one piece was still missing. “It seems the alimony piece is missing.”
Gu Pingfan took out some bread from the refrigerator, cut herself two slices, and took a bite into her mouth. “My great lawyer, don’t forget I’m your elder and senior sister in this field. How could I possibly not get this done properly? The problem is, your Mrs. Gu also has a law background, and she honestly read through word by word, for fear that she might be taking advantage of you somewhere … It’s almost done. Sometime before the Lunar New Year, I should be able to get everything to you. I never represented any such case before. A divorce, but both sides are scared that the other party is going to be shortchanged.”
He looked back down again, reading through each page at a time.
This kitchen was truly overly clean. Pingfan, herself, was someone who did not cook, but even in her eyes, it still somewhat gave off the sad feeling of a lonely bachelor. Leaning against the refrigerator door, she suddenly pressed her lips together and looked him over.
Gu Pingsheng sensed her gaze, and tilting his head to the side, he signaled that she should speak directly if she had words to say.
“When Tong Yan broke up with you, what exactly did she say to you?” She thought about how she should word what she wanted to express but in the end decided to simply to cut to the chase. “I actually hinted to her before that you and I both would not take it to heart if she left you first …”
After a short silence, he answered, “It does not matter what she said. None of it could be considered as the truth.”
Gu Pingfan raised her brows. Finis.h.i.+ng off the remainder of her slices of bread, she suddenly commented, “I remember you weren’t like this when you were a kid. Whatever you liked to eat, you wouldn’t ever let me even touch it. If that particular dish wasn’t there, you would rather eat plain white rice than touch any other dish. TK, aren’t you really possessive?”
The gla.s.s contained milk in it. Raising it to his lips, he slowly took a couple of drinks. Still a bit scalding. Before, when he had drank it at home, from when Tong Yan finished heating it to when she set it down in front of him, the temperature would always be just right.
“If you had tried to vie for it, Tong Yan would not have been so insistent,”Pingfan stated.
“If she was your little sister and I had no relation to you, would you still say those words? Still try to persuade your little sister to accept a sick man who would never completely recover?”
Gu Pingfan fell into silence, then gave a smile. “When all is said and done, there will always be a difference to people between close and distant relations.h.i.+ps, related and unrelated. If you get to the bottom of it, I’m still selfish.”
“If your future husband could leave this world at any time, would you, every day, be worried and distressed about it? Or perhaps feel pessimistic and filled with despair?”
Gu Pingfan laughed, “You crow’s beak [stating misfortune]!”
She did not provide a direct answer, but that was equivalent to tacitly agreeing with these arguments.
Seeing that the time should be about right, he tested the temperature of the milk again. Still not right. He did not know what sort of patience she must have had in order to be able, every day, to do all these little types of tasks perfectly.
There were still other points, but he did not carry on speaking.
All along, Tong Yan had purposely concealed certain things, unwilling for people to know the reality of her family circ.u.mstance. Pingfan and even her best friend, Shen Yao were only aware that her parents had divorced but did not know just how disappointing they actually were.
He remembered, when he was twenty-two years old, the thing he could not even speak out about was that sense of humiliation and shame brought about by his closest kin.
Though he deeply loved his mother, because of his mother’s yearning for a married man, because of his own ident.i.ty as an illegitimate child, he also had only been able to live his life as if it was hidden away in the shadows behind the sun. Those feelings that had tortured him for twenty-two years were now being reenacted on Tong Yan, those feelings of being unable to forsake her kin, yet also deeply ashamed.
She, as a twenty-two year old girl, was not even completely mentally and emotionally matured.
Yet, because she loved a man named Gu Pingsheng, what she had to endure was far more than even him of the past.
The Tong Yan who had first drawn him to her had been the girl who stood in a royal blue evening gown beneath a brilliant spotlight, her brows lifting and lashes batting coquettishly at the piano accompanist while she sang, deeply immersed in the feelings of the song. And the last impression he had of her was a girl who was starting to learn everything possible, often very solemnly feeling his pulse and measuring his heartrate, and needing always to know where he was and whether or not he was safe.
There had been too many times where her eyes were reddened, yet still she would smile at him.
He had considered and thought through too many things, but the one thing he had overlooked was her psychological state. Thinking back upon it now, likely after some time, she would have had a complete mental breakdown. All those emotions that had acc.u.mulated since her teenage days as well as the remorse and guilt she felt toward him.
Was there a way to defuse those?
He did not know. After all, wasn’t he also still holding himself captive in an unnecessary persistence, refusing to hear any sound?
Soon after Christmas pa.s.sed, it was the New Year. Due to the serious sickness he had suffered this year, Grandfather had specifically requested that Gu Pingsheng must return to China for the Lunar New Year.
On the eve of the new lunar year, the young children in the family all ran outside to watch firecrackers being set off. Once a person pa.s.sed the age of thirty, he would feel that time flies. He could even still clearly remember how, last year at this time, Tong Yan had lay in his embrace, pouting cutely that she wanted to go the next day to see Grandfather, and how, after receiving his consent, she had beamed so happily, not caring at all about her image.
But after joyfully coming here, she had not even gotten to see the elder.
Gu Pingsheng seemed particularly well-loved by the children of the family. Once the time had pa.s.sed midnight, those little tyrants had played enough outside and all of them, not even bothering to remove their down jackets, crowded up by his side, asking all sorts of questions.
“Little Uncle, fingers crossed.” A tiny little girl crossed the index and pointer fingers of her right hand and made a praying motion. “Did I do it right?”
Gu Pingsheng could not hold back his smile. “Little Auntie taught you that?”
“Nope.” This little niece was terribly proud of herself. “Yesterday, I was sitting in daddy’s car, and a big sister on the radio was teaching this. She said that someone taught her that if she was worried she wouldn’t pa.s.s her physics, she should just do this ‘fingers crossed’ and pray for good luck.”
Perhaps that scenario was simply too familiar, for he thought of Tong Yan.
The little niece extended her hands, folded them together, and very solemnly said, “Great-Granddad must live a healthy, long life. Little Uncle also must live a healthy, long life.”
This short, little conversation was one he would think about, even when he returned to Philadelphia.
At the conclusion of a video conference, when all the lawyers were gathering their doc.u.ments, he suddenly spoke in Chinese to address the several a.s.sistants in the China office. “I need some information.”
The people inside the screen instantly became energized again and grabbed their pens and paper to take notes.
“I need the recordings of the evening programs from all of Beijing’s radio stations during last year’s Lunar New Year. The precise date is the twenty-ninth day of the last lunar month. Should be the programs that aired between five and eleven o’clock.”
The other side recorded the request, not suspecting anything, and, remembering his uniqueness, immediately said, “We will prepare a written transcript.”
He replied, “Alright.” Pausing for a moment, he added, “Send me the audio files as well.”
That evening, he received the files the China office had sent over. Flipping through all the files, he finally found those words that had seemed so familiar. Despite the fact that it was fully a textual recording, reading between the lines, he was still able to confirm that it was Tong Yan.
It was an evening traffic program. The name of it was very simple and down-to-earth: There’s Me to Keep You Company.
There were two hosts, and Tong Yan was one of them, as the “intern radio host.”
In this particular instalment, she actually had not spoken very much, except when the program was nearing its end and a call was received from a student in her last year of high school. It was a science stream student about to take her examinations, but all this time, she was worried about her physics grade.
Originally, there should have been all the reason to simply comfort and motivate this student. But she, instead, had pulled out her own experiences of failure in physics to tell that young, senior-year high school listener, no exam was worth being afraid of. Even someone like her, who had retaken university-level physics four times, was still able to successfully find a job and now sit there as a radio host.
Gu Pingsheng could not hold back a chuckle. Her experience of having to retake university-level physics was deeply stamped in her memory.
As he stared at those rows of text, he could even imagine the expressions and gestures she had had when she spoke. The person who transcribed the recording had been very diligent and had even carefully recorded, “the intern radio host laughs quietly.”
“Fingers crossed. Wis.h.i.+ng for you that you successfully pa.s.s your exam.”
At the very end, she said, before her very last physics examination, someone had taught her to do this particular sign: put your middle finger on top of your index finger so that they are crossed together and then pray for good luck.
He read through that transcription for a very long time. Finally, he rose to stretch and move about.
At that time, she had been about to return to the university for final examinations, and on the entire drive to the airport, Tong Yan had fidgeted restlessly. Gently, she had rubbed her cheek against his shoulder, and when he finally looked down at her with amus.e.m.e.nt that he could not disguise, she had very troubledly asked him, “If I don’t pa.s.s my physics this time, I can’t graduate, and then what should I do? …”
“You scored eighty-six on the mock exam paper that you did last night. Right now, this is just a mental barrier for you.” Taking her hand in his, he placed her middle finger on top of her index one and then taught her to make a praying gesture. “Before your exam, make a ‘fingers crossed’ sign. For sure you will pa.s.s then.”
Tong Yan responded with an “oh.” Then, she extended both her hands and folded them together, solemnly saying, “Fingers crossed. Pa.s.s my physics, successfully graduate, and then register our marriage.”
The winter of the year she and Gu Pingsheng separated, Grandmother’s cancer recurred.
During that entire time, Pingfan communicated with her about the various terms and agreements. On one hand, she needed to carefully avoid all the “traps” in them that Gu Pingsheng had dug for her, while on the other hand, she needed to conceal the poor mental state she was in as a result of this long period of caring for Grandmother in the hospital.
Luckily, Gu Pingfan very shortly later needed to return to the United States to officially begin her residency at a hospital.
Worried that she would hold up Pingfan’s work, she finally signed the alimony agreement. Her only condition was that everything had to be deposited into her joint account with Pingfan. Gu Pingsheng had originally instructed Pingfan to set-up this joint account because, concerned that she would be dragged down by her father’s debts, he was leaving her some savings that her close kin would not be able to take from her.
Therefore, this sort of condition was one that he very quickly accepted.
In the spring of the following year, Grandmother’s cancer cells finally metastasized to all parts of her body, and after holding out in the hospital for less than two months, she pa.s.sed on. Tong Yan remembered, that night, it had been 2:43 a.m.
Due to a prolonged duration of being unable to ingest food, when she left the world, Grandmother was already gaunt and wasted, looking nothing at all like a normal person. In those final dozen or so days, it was her father who took turns with her on the night vigil.
Nearly every day, Grandmother’s eyes had been red and swollen. She thought her father had done something again, and at first, she had pulled him aside to urge him that, if he wanted money, he should wait until Grandmother had pulled through this illness. Afterwards, there had been one day where she had hurried back over in the middle of the night after finis.h.i.+ng her radio show, and she had happened upon a raucous scene in front of the hospital room.
While the nurses and her father were not watching, Grandmother had actually run out of the hospital room in only a s.h.i.+rt and shorts.
Right as she stepped out from the elevator corridor, she saw that several nurses were all unable to stop Grandmother, whose mental ability and awareness were somewhat in turmoil. There had been incessant whispers from the onlookers of how the elderly woman’s cancer must have spread to her brain so that she had now gone a little mad. In an instant, the picture of her father, standing in front of the door, utterly helpless to do anything and with tears falling ceaselessly from his eyes as he cried, “Mom,” had caused her to lose all her calm and reasoning.
She did not know at all how she had bolted over there to hug Grandmother tightly and quietly console her. In fact, when some nurses stepped forward toward them, she had driven them away with a wide swing of her arm. That night, it was as if she also had gone insane, and dragging her father by the arm, she had thrown him out of the hospital.
When she returned to the hospital room, all the eyes — pitying, sympathetic, empathetic, indifferently observing — had been shut out by her after she drew the bed curtains. The forceful removal of the intravenous needle had caused that hand, which had already been very difficult to insert a needle into, to become swollen. Gently, she had ma.s.saged it for Grandmother, all the while smiling as she said, “Why were you being so naughty? Oh, you. The older you get, the more you act like a child.”
Afraid that she would wake the other people in the room, Tong Yan had maintained a low voice when she spoke.
She had purposely talked about some of the interesting things from her radio show, most of which had been either calls in from some of the younger listeners or the jumbled, inarticulate words of men and women pining for their love. At the end of her narration, even she, herself, had not been able to hold back a laugh.
“Yan Yan.” Grandmother pointed at her own head and in a hoa.r.s.e voice, told her, “Grandmother is very clear and sound up here. I’m not confused.”
Tong Yan gave an “mm.”
“I did that because I want to make your dad feel guilt — a guilt toward us.” Grandmother patted her on the hand. “I’m scared I won’t be able to wait until the day he suddenly and completely wakes up to the error of his ways. In the end, the only one remaining and who will have to suffer is you.”
Her nose instantly began to tingle, and tears nearly tumbled down. She, however, could only do her best to smile as she said, “It’s twelve o’clock already. You’re still not going to sleep?”
“Little Gu’s illness this time, is it very serious?” The elderly woman had already closed her eyes, but then she thought of him. “Last time, he also left for four months. This time, it should be nearing nine months now?”
“It’s not very serious; it’s just that he needs rehab.” Her voice contained a slight sense of heartache in it. “His health isn’t very good, either. When he left, he told me repeatedly that I should not let you know. I also haven’t dared let him know that you’re staying here right now because otherwise, he’d definitely find a way to come back to China.”
“Yes, yes.” The old woman hurriedly patted Tong Yan’s hand. “You are both young. His health is so poor, and he needs to carefully look after his own treatments. It’s alright. Grandmother understands.”
Tong Yan pressed her lips together and smiled. “That’s why you need to be good and recuperate, or else, if he comes back, he definitely won’t let me off the hook. As for me, I will be responsible for working as hard as I can to earn money and allow the both of you to live lives that are a little better — and better some more.” She halted her words briefly, then added, “Our boss asked me if I also want to sub in for the morning traffic show. The original host just had a baby and needs to rest for several months. That way, I also have more chances of getting a pay raise. At the very least, my bonus definitely will be bigger.”
“Morning show? The one you’re doing right now starts at nine o’clock, and you also have to commute back and forth from the hospital.”
“When you’re young is when you fight and work hard.” Tong Yan tucked Grandmother’s hand under the cotton blanket and instructed quietly, “No more talking. Go sleep, go sleep.”
The elderly woman clasped her hand again and urged rather long-windedly, “These last few days, I feel like I’ve had much more energy. They say that if your mood is good, your cancer will naturally get better. Absolutely don’t have Little Gu come back. If he is to come back, it must be when he is healthy.”
Tong Yan nodded. She knew that Grandmother would not take it to heart, would not take exception to an unwell person not coming to visit.
However, if the elderly woman learned that she and he had already separated, that, she was afraid, would be the fatal blow. Fortunately, Grandmother had long ago been, unspokenly, well aware of his illness, so after the four-month long separation of last time, these eight, nine months had been easy to explain.
She did not know at all how long she could drag this lie out.
Her only thought was, any extra day that she could was one extra day gained. Later, there was no more “later.”
During that period, she had requested the longest leave she had ever taken since she began working. For a full week, she took care of all of Grandmother’s funeral and after-death arrangements.
Afterwards, she never went back home to stay and instead, co-rented another apartment with her co-worker.
That home had been hurriedly bought by Gu Pingsheng for her and Grandmother to live in when he had rushed back to China that time. And when they separated, he had also insisted on leaving it to her. She had refused everything, but the sole exception was this apartment, which seemed to have helped her by providing her with a kind-intentioned lie that Grandmother could believe.
The granddaughter whom she always kept on her mind and in her heart would be well. Regardless of what might happen, there would still be someone who treated her like she was his precious treasure and loved her.
When the intention of that lie had come to its end, she dared not live in such a big apartment alone. Since she was doing the live morning traffic show and the nighttime program concurrently and also needed to attend planning meetings during the mornings, she entrusted full authority of the apartment’s sale to a real estate agent. She had originally a.s.sumed that, because Beijing’s home purchase policies these last couple of years had been harsh, the apartment would not be that quick to sell.
According to the agent’s boastful a.s.sertions, this truly was an apartment with excellent fengshui. Seeing that Tong Yan was not anxious for it to be off her hands, he searched unhurriedly for a suitable buyer, trying as much as possible to bring the selling price up. However, in merely one month, there was someone who directly paid the price in full.
The day she went to sign the contract, the weather was dry and hot, and she just so happened to have a summer cold as well. She wrote down that bank account number that she knew so well by heart, unwilling to go another time to the bank. The buyer of the apartment was good-natured and simply went to the bank with the agent to transfer the money.
She and another younger real estate agent stayed in the apartment. With nothing to do, she decided she might as well slowly take another walk through it.
Over here, right there. She carefully took it all in with her eyes.
The young real estate agent did not understand and thought that she had lost something earlier on. “Miss Tong, what are you looking for?”
She gave a sheepish smile. “I’m not looking for anything. I just don’t really want to say goodbye to it.”
“If there’s no ‘out with the old,’ there will be no ‘in with the new.’” The young agent laughed, “Supposedly, it was because this apartment has good fengshui that the selling price ended up being pretty good. If you throw in a bit more, you could buy one that is extremely good. If Miss Tong wants to buy another place, I have some on hand right now.”
Owing to this last half a year of working both mornings and nights, she had lost quite a bit of weight. Her build had originally already been pet.i.te, but now even more so, it appeared delicate. Since she was a radio DJ, she did not have to show her face, so her dress was very casual and she still looked like a student.
Such a pretty girl, yet she was capable of selling, by herself, an apartment like this one. It even appeared that there was no family to restrict and control her. The young real estate agent’s imagination naturally read a little too much into this, so he even more so thought there was business to be made.
She listened to this, uncertain whether to laugh or cry, and shook her head, not trying to clarify.
There was a limit to the amount that could be withdrawn from that joint bank account, but there were no limitations at all on how much could be deposited. Looking at the sum written in the bankbook, she felt a sense of satisfaction, like that of the new-rich.
Gu Pingsheng, you must have forgotten: gifting is legally considered a unilateral act, and it is not necessary to obtain your approval. Mrs. Gu’s Contract Law grade was ninety-one percent. Even if she were to die, this portion of her a.s.sets would have nothing to do with her father and would wholly belong to him.
As Christmas neared, There’s Me to Keep You Company seemed to have turned into a hotline for people to discuss love and feelings. According to her leaders, they could even work with any particular needs of a show and occasionally play a song for the listeners as a way of setting the atmosphere.
For the program that had been planned for Christmas Eve, she specially invited Ai Mi to attend.
In only three brief years, because she hosted a talk show, Ai Mi had become a highly thought of host of a local television station. Even her coming here to Beijing to do a program on a traffic radio station had caused quite a few listeners to call in ahead of time and express their excitement.
“You want me to call you Little Ke, but I’m really not used to that.” Ai Mi stepped into the radio studio with her in advance and sat down on the swivel chair. Unable to contain a laugh, she asked, “Why not use your real name? I think your name is particularly easy to remember, and what’s more, it doesn’t seem like a name that an ordinary person could give to someone. If you were to say it was a stage name, absolutely no one would suspect otherwise.”
“I’m not a high-profile person like you.” Tong Yan tossed the script over to her. “I don’t want my old cla.s.smates to hear me hosting a show. I can just imagine how they would burst out laughing while they listened.”
“You’ll gradually get used to it.” In a sincere and well-wis.h.i.+ng tone, Ai Mi patted her on the shoulder and told her, “Back when I first hosted my program, my mom even deliberately saved the video from online and then burned copies onto discs to hand out to every single relative. Let’s not mention how embarra.s.sing that was.”
“Be content. That’s because she’s proud of you.”
“The two of you …” The director yawned, “Just one glance and we can tell that you’re old, ‘leftover women‘ [old maids], eh. It’s Christmas Eve and all that you’re caring about is to talk with an old schoolmate. You haven’t had a single phone call? No date after the show ends?”
They both ignored the director’s teasing goading and carried on chatting in low tones.
When nine o’clock sharp arrived, they immediately resumed their professional voices and switched into working mode.
Tonight’s show was a special program, a radio talk program hosted by well-known female television host, Ai Mi, and Little Ke. These two women with beautiful voices casually conversed and occasionally would take calls, most of which were song requests or, interperspersed between, memories of previous Christmas Eves.
“Little Ke and I are old schoolmates.” Ai Mi threw her a meaningful look. “Back then, she once had a courts.h.i.+p in university that caused a huge sensation. I dare say that every night in the dormitories, there were girls who would p.r.i.c.k voodoo dolls and curse her. Tell me, did you ever spend a very romantic Christmas Eve with that one who was the desired lover of the ma.s.ses?”
“Yes. That night, it was the first time we kissed. Really corny, actually. It was in a cinema.”
“Whooooa!” Ai Mi narrowed her eyes, so jealous she was about to go mad.
Even the director became gleeful, crying nonstop in their headsets, “She leaked it herself, she leaked it herself!”
The light music playing in the background was all old American or European songs.
After saying this, her mood seemed to improve greatly, and she easily s.h.i.+fted the topic away. However, all the subsequent phone calls became ones that inquired about what type of date she had had that Christmas Eve, and some people even very excitedly shared with her that their first kiss had been in a cinema as well, or other things along those lines. She finally felt that she truly had brought trouble onto herself.
The drawback of inviting someone well-acquainted with you was that, at every single moment, she was trying to spill out things from your past. By the time the program was about to come to a close, Tong Yan was lamenting her decision so much she wanted to die. Ai Mi still was not letting up in the least, divulging that Tong Yan had once won third place in the university’s singing compet.i.tion, and her specialty was singing technically difficult foreign-language songs.
The director’s mood was immediately aroused as well, telling her to sing something a capella and then they would gradually fade in the original song to bring an end to the program.
She could not fend off their coercing. Suddenly, she remembered the song she had played on repeat all through the nights during that period of time when she and Gu Pingsheng had first separated. The melody was very familiar, and she also knew that the recording engineer here would definitely have a copy of this song.
An old song of Jessica Simpson from 2001, “When You Told Me You Loved Me”.
The musical introduction for this song was unexpectedly melancholy, but it would always cause her to remember how, that night, for the first time, she actually got to see him at a loss for ideas on what to do. Standing beneath the twinkling trees and brilliant lights of Xintiandi [New World District], he had not known what they should do next, had not known how to have a date.
Softly, she hummed the melody line, and the recording engineer very soon recognized what song it was.
Gradually, the music faded in. The slow melody. Her increasingly clear singing.
In the lyrics of this song, there was one line that was repeated over and over again:
When you told me you loved me
Did you know it would take me the rest of my life?
 痴男怨女 “chi nan yuan nv.” This translates literally as “smitten men and grudging women” and is a saying used to describe a couple, deeply in love but unable to fulfill that love.
大龄剩女 “da ling sheng nv.” Literally, this means “old, leftover women.” It would be equivalent to the term, “spinster” or “old maid” as it is describing a woman who has pa.s.sed the “suitable” age for dating/marrying. In China, this term begins to apply to an unmarried woman approximately between the ages of 25 to 27. The reasoning behind this is, at that age, the woman would be looking for a spouse in his 30s, but men at that age who are a decent catch have established careers and are more financially secure. Hence, with their a.s.sets, they could look for the younger girls, age 24 or less. Women older than that and still unattached are therefore considered “leftover” and thought to have a much harder chance of marrying.Additional Comments:
“… wasn’t he also still holding himself captive in an unnecessary persistence, refusing to hear any sound?” Later, though he still had not accepted the hearing aid, when he was asking for the recordings of Beijing’s evening radio programs to search for Tong Yan’s show, did you catch that he said, “Send me the audio files as well”? In their reunion, Gu Pingsheng can now hear. He has chosen to release himself from being captive to his unnecessary persistence. He has finally forgiven himself and let go of the guilt that he was the catalyst for his mother’s suicide, so he doesn’t need to punish himself anymore. While the text doesn’t say explicitly, I feel like those audio files were *his* catalyst for doing that, that for Tong Yan and her love for him, he would let go and make himself a better person, to live free. And when he did, he could listen to his little girl’s voice. (Just my little interpretation.)
Tong Yan’s biggest reason for breaking-up with Gu Pingsheng had been guilt — guilt that her family situation was dragging him down and placing undue pressure on him, which could ultimately affect his health. Gu Pingsheng’s reason for unquestioningly accepting the break-up was… also guilt — guilt that his declining health was only causing her to bear pressures that she, a 22 year old girl, should not have to face and affect her mental state.
*sigh*Together Forever (至此终年) — Epilogue 2 and Preface *NOVEL COMPLETED*
This is it! The ending! Post contains the last epilogue, the author’s preface, a little scene taken from Weibo, and, as customary, some closing comments from me for the end of a project. Thank you to all readers, whether you followed along from the get-go or are just hopping in now as the story comes to its ending. This story is very special to me, so completing its translation is oh-so-gratifying.
I’m sure you can guess from the picture above what this epilogue might be about. “Time, in the end, had still been kind to them.”Epilogue 2 – Returning the Happiness I Owe You
The morning light filtered through the white tulle canopy and landed on the gra.s.s.
Like all other ordinary wedding scenes, there were all sorts of guests who did not know one another but who were all amiably appraising each other. Resplendent dress and elaborate adornments. Good wine and delectable delicacies. Everyone was conversing in low voices, all discussing the same topic.
Such a soon-to-be newlywed couple, yet none of the people close to them knew anything about their courts.h.i.+p.
“I honestly do not know.” That well-known DJ, who, only a few days ago, had been late for work because of the UEFA Euro, was truly being interrogated so much by all the people around him that he did not even know what to do. “Just think. At night, she does the late-night show, and in the morning, she does traffic reporting. Then during the daytime, there’s the selection meeting for show topics. She doesn’t take time off during the year, even during holidays and festivals. There’s never been any vehicles picking her up or dropping her off. She never has any personal phone calls. How could she possibly have a boyfriend?”
“One week. Just one, single week, from when we got our invitations to today’s wedding. She sure is able to keep a secret.” The girl who was Tong Yan’s partner on the nighttime program was also sighing. “Her hubby is one of the partners in the largest foreign-based law firm here, and his annual salary is so high it’s not even countable.”
And the most important point was, he truly was good-looking — the type of good-looking that made women envious.
“Tong Yan is everyone’s idol, the idol of the public. There are so many letters for her in the office every day you can’t even read through them all.” Only the director was acting rather mysterious, as if he seemed to know everything. “I heard that that person is a longtime listener of our station. Maybe he really is one of Little Ke’s faithful fans. So now you all know what the advantages of being a DJ are, right? You have a good reputation but you’re also still a public figure. So suitable for marrying a good man.”
The director’s spoke his words as if they were well-reasoned and persuasive.
Amongst Tong Yan’s colleagues, there was no lack of unmarried young women, and they were all aiming their gazes at the several men on the other end of the long table, those men who were the best of the best amongst Chinese lawyers. This sudden perfect marriage, this lovely and romantic encounter that made people jealous — if Tong Yan could come by one, then people could certainly believe in some things.
However, they did not know that these right-hand men of Gu Pingsheng’s were also feeling as if they had fallen into the misty clouds.
Originally, this had been a last-minute business trip and they were only pa.s.sing through this city of Beijing, but suddenly, it had become a request for transfer back to China. The most important piece was, the reason for the transfer request was very simple and direct: to return to China to get married and then permanently reside there.
From the head office to the China office, no one knew that he had a girlfriend. With Little Boss’s curriculum vitae and looks, in the head office, he had broken the curse that ethnic Chinese men would not be popular with the ladies and had attracted all sorts of eager, ardent women swarming him like overenthusiastic bees and b.u.t.terflies. And in the China office, the name “Gu Pingsheng” itself was like a legend.
Every time there was a video conference, there were numerous female lawyers who, because they needed to give a one-minute report to him, would prepare in detail beforehand so that they could sufficiently respond to his questioning that would cover every possible angle.
“My mom and dad are fans of Little Ke. When they heard I would be attending the wedding, they asked me ahead of time for TK’s personal details. They were honestly being even more rigorous about it than if they were selecting their own son-in-law. But when they asked me about the development of their romance… I really could not answer.”
The paralegal who had accompanied Gu Pingsheng to China this time could not hold back a sigh. “Love actually. The wedding date was set the day after TK returned to China. Prior to that, no one in the entire company even knew that he had ever had a girlfriend. This is true love. You don’t even need love at first sight. It’s ‘love at first listen.’”
“What is the bride like?”
“… I still haven’t gotten a chance to see her. Don’t be anxious. She’ll be out right away.”
Love at first sight?
Tong Yan had been asked too many questions along those lines. She did not know how to explain or describe this very long story. In the end, she decided to simply keep her silence and let it be taken as tacit admission. Yes, the story’s beginning truly was simply that most old-fas.h.i.+oned and corny “love at first sight.”
A long, long time ago, on that night, outside of the ICU room in Peking Union Medical College Hospital, when she stood with her backpack on her back and saw an extremely young man sitting on the floor, his back leaning against the snow-white wall, she supposed, something truly had been stirred in her.
Love’s beginning truly is merely a simple stirring of the heart. Perhaps from an image, perhaps by a voice.
The makeup artist was very diligent. From six in the morning to the present, she had already been busily working for more than three hours.
Her makeup was too exquisite, so Tong Yan dared not eat too much, only nibbling instead on her straw as she drank sips of milk.
A voice carried in from the doorway. In the mirror, she watched as Gu Pingsheng appeared.
All these years, she had always thought that he was most handsome when he wore a suit. Perhaps because he had resided in the United Kingdom for a long period of time, he was particularly fond of putting a pocket square in his suit jacket’s breast pocket. Refined, elegant, gentlemanly, sophisticated. How she wished she could use every possible adjective to describe him.
But ultimately, those were not enough.
Because this was Gu Pingsheng. The one, unique Gu Pingsheng.
He seemed to sense that her mind had wandered and only casually loosened his tie, walked over, and sat down beside her.
“We’re nearly done, Mr. Gu.” The makeup artist packed up all her things, but all of a sudden, she caught a glimpse of Tong Yan’s fingernails. They were still plain and completely unadorned. “Mrs. Gu, you didn’t paint your nails last night?”
Tong Yan gave a cry of “Ah!” and redness inexplicably tinged her cheeks. “I forgot.”
The makeup artist said, “It’s alright,” but all the while, she frettingly rummaged through her own bag, murmuring that she should have brought the fake nails that could be directly glued on.
Tong Yan felt even more embarra.s.sed. “We’ll just let it be. No one will notice these little details.”
“That won’t be good.” The makeup artist shook her head with a smile. “The bride has to be the most beautiful on this day. Every single detail has to be perfect. If we can’t find any fake ones, we’ll just use nail polish and paint them directly. After all, there are still more than ten minutes to go.”
Sure enough, after saying these words, the makeup artist lined up seven, eight bottles of nail polish.
“I think she should be a little tired.” Gu Pingsheng rested his elbows on the back of her chair, smiled, and broke in on their dialogue. “Why don’t we first let my wife rest for ten minutes?”
The makeup artist hurriedly agreed and then, very perceptively, left the room.
“I’m nervous.” Gazing at him in the mirror, she blew out a long breath. “My heart is beating especially fast. It feels especially like that time back when you and I were emceeing together, and I was so nervous my palms were all sweaty …”
Resting his chin on her shoulder, he exaggeratedly inhaled her sweet scent. “Why were you nervous?”
She shook her head, pretending to be clueless and innocent. “Back then, I thought it was really weird, too. I’d emceed so many events prior to that, so why was it only when I collaborated with you that I got nervous?”
“I had always found this very strange. Before you arrived, the supervising teacher for the Students’ Union had told me, ‘The person who will be working with you is our school’s most veteran host and emcee. She is very experienced.’”
Turning around, she looked at him. “I guess it’s because you are too outstanding. When I stand next to you, I will lack self-confidence.” She paused, then uttered softly, “But I like this type of lacking in self-confidence.”
Regardless of what I have grown-up to become, I will still feel that I need to be dependent on you.
This sort of lack in self-confidence, was it not also a form of pleasure?
From this angle, she could see he was smiling, his dimple etched deeply on his cheek. Setting her chin on the seatback of her chair, Tong Yan looked intently at him. No matter how much she looked, she could not get enough.
She did not s.h.i.+ft in the slightest, and Gu Pingsheng also simply gazed at her.
After some time, Tong Yan at last took one finger and hooked it onto the cuff of his dress s.h.i.+rt, lightly swinging it as she requested gently, “Please, tell it to me again, one more time.”
He suddenly chuckled. “You still haven’t gotten sick of listening to it?”
Because he needed to speak to her, he had leaned forward slightly.
He was completely swathed in the sunlight s.h.i.+ning in through the window, which softened and blurred the outlines of his features.
All the guests had already arrived, but the two appeared to be in no hurry. In contrary, they seemed more like people who, after waking up one morning on an arbitrary weekend, were idly leaning back on the couch, chatting casually.
Apart from her white organza train cascading onto the floor. Apart from his impeccable suit.
“The itinerary for this trip had not included Beijing but I wanted to truly have a listen of your voice, so I changed it last-minute.” Gu Pingsheng fulfilled her wish and began recounting once again those things from that morning that she had not known. “I had originally planned out the timing. I would exit the airport by seven o’clock and would be able to hear your entire program. Unfortunately, the flight was delayed.”
She gave an “mm-hmm,” listening so earnestly it was as if this was the first time she had heard this.
“Luckily, I still was in time to hear the last, interactive segment of the program. I never thought that you would have so many supporters. The driver my company sent to pick me up at the time is your loyal listener.”
“I have lots of fans,” Tong Yan said cheerily, her finger still hooked on his s.h.i.+rt as she swung his arm with quite a sense of pride.
“That driver said that Little Ke is his favourite female program host. During her show, she frequently takes phone calls that ask her for advice and turns a good, normal traffic program into a time for free legal aid and consultation.” There was obvious mirth in Gu Pingsheng’s voice. “He even said that you are especially adorable.”
Tong Yan nodded, beaming as she looked at him.
What came next was what she most wanted to hear, a dialogue that, regardless of how many times it was repeated to her, she would not tire of it.
Discovering that she was rather happy with swinging his arm, he also stretched forward a finger and hooked it around her finger.
“At the time, I thought I probably needed to very clearly declare where I stood. So, I told him, ‘This girl is my wife.’ That driver didn’t really seem to believe me, so I dialed the radio call-in number. But right when I heard your voice, the phone reception got cut off.” The entire time, his gaze remained affixed to Tong Yan and did not move away. “Afterwards, I called that number again, but the line was busy the whole time until the program ended.”
“What if I didn’t call you?”
“Yan Yan,” he told her, “at first glance, every minute that we live may seem to be random. However, when you look back, you will discover that no matter how many times we were to repeat those moments, the outcome would still be the same.”
“So, no matter how many times you were to repeat that moment, when the driver told you he was my loyal listener, you would still very seriously tell him that I am Mrs. Gu. And you would also definitely make that phone call to prove that you are my husband. Then, I would once again get the chance to find out your phone number and would end up finding you.”
He smiled lightly, staring into her eyes and tacitly admitting this fact.
“And so,” Tong Yan began, curling her fingers into a fist and slipping it into his palm as she teased him, “no matter how many times you were to live, you would still stubbornly be fond of eating broccoli.”
Gu Pingsheng could not help laughing. “Yes. So, no matter what, Gu Pingsheng can only ever have that one Mrs. Gu.”
His words were never purposely polished, but they were always so moving.
“I never even thought about falling in love with someone else,” she softly told him. “Never at all.”
“Neither did I.” He used the same answer to provide his response to her.
Out on the lawn, the music flowed continuously. It was about time.
“Do you want to go out yet?” he asked her.
Tong Yan nodded, but then, she immediately clutched his hand anxiously. Smiling, Gu Pingsheng leaned in a little closer to her.
In her mind, she was still running through the script she had written, those words that she needed to say for the wedding. “What if, later on during my speech, I suddenly forget what I’m supposed to say? What should I do? …” Her co-workers would laugh at her for sure. But, no big deal. My wedding, I’m the boss …
“If you forget it, then you forget it. It’s okay.”
“Oh no.” She looked at that row of nail polish bottles. “I still haven’t painted my nails yet. If they’re all bare, they’ll look really ugly …”
“I’ll apply it for you. You taught me how before.” When he finished these words, his face suddenly leaned in closer, and then, lowering his head, he brought his lips directly to hers.
Beside their ears was the sound of the door being opened, but then it was quietly shut again.
There were several seconds of only stillness, and then, he finally tilted his head, enclosing her lips completely in his.
Just like their first time in the cinema, the way he started always caught her utterly unprepared.
In this time. In this place. The start time of the wedding ceremony had already quietly slipped by, but the groom and bride were still in the dressing room, unwilling to come out. Even from simply thinking this, she was already unable to contain her giggles. Who knew what sort of comments and discussions would be taking place outside? …
Gu Pingsheng’s hands were holding her waist, lifting her up entirely from her chair and into his arms.
The train of the wedding gown he had custom-ordered for her was several metres long. As it followed their movements, its layer upon layer of white material splayed over the entire floor.
Her arms encircled his neck, and she let him set her down on the dressing table, the two of them pressed tightly to one another and not separating at all that entire time. Not caring how many guests were outside, nor caring whether the most auspicious time had already pa.s.sed. This was their wedding ceremony — a wedding that should have taken place long ago. Everyone else was simply there to accent the ceremony.
Hence, Gu Pingsheng rightfully disregarded everyone else, apart from his bride.
And amid his lingering kiss, Tong Yan also told herself one thing: from this moment, from this day onward, besides Gu Pingsheng, she was no longer going to worry about anyone or anything else. Mrs. Gu would use an entire lifetime to care for and love Mr. Gu.
What began as a single glance has henceforth become … together foreverPreface
An author writing her own foreword is such a weird thing.
Well, then, I will just say a few words about the story behind this novel.
In regards to Together Forever, on the day I finished writing it, it could also be said that I fulfilled a special desire of mine. In the very beginning of the beginning, I had merely wanted to commemorate in a very simple way that SARS outbreak. I know that there are many people who, even if they had been in the hardest-hit areas of Beijing and Guangzhou at the time, do not have such intense sentiments about it. Sometimes, a disaster may repeat itself a hundred times but still only be a term, a noun to some people. Only when someone close to you has truly experienced it does it bring about the sorrow and pain that is like having your flesh cut from your body.
Perhaps because I knew people and had family in the severe disaster area of Beijing during that time, I heard a little more about it than other people. That year, there were many angels in white coats who resolutely moved in, wave after wave, all carrying the mentality that they were heading to their deaths as they succ.u.mbed and fell. But afterwards, few people remembered this.
And so, he appeared in my mind.
He is the male lead of this book and, in my heart, is also the best way to commemorate that calamity. Although the setting of this story is a little heavy, I believe that if you flip open this book, what you will read will be how a person who experienced life and death is continuing to live his best life.
And then, in the story, she also appeared.
When this story was still being released in instalments online, there were many readers who quietly sought me out, regarding me as a safe confidant, and they told me about their own life experiences and family backgrounds that were similar to Tong Yan’s. Therefore, Tong Yan is not an isolated case. In this world, there will always be some people who try hard to live their lives but are helpless to the irresponsibility of their parents. Not everyone’s family situation is like beautiful spring days all-year round, nor is everyone’s life filled with great stresses and pressure. There are people more fortunate and happy than her, and there are people who are more unfortunate than her. And the story that I desired to write was definitely one where the “happiness and fortune” were greater than the “misfortune.”
I believe that when each storyteller writes a story, he or she is trying to convey something. In my case here, I am not trying to say that “life is hard,” but rather, I want to express, “Look. Gu Pingsheng and Tong Yan have such a hard life, but they can still be so happy. So then, what reason do you have to not live an even better life?”
What if you meet a teacher who was once a surgeon? In that year when you were thirteen years old, both his and your mother were being resuscitated in the same hospital. However, six or seven years later, he can no longer hear any sound, nor can he work in an operating theatre. He has picked up the books and become an ordinary university professor.
What if he and you are alike, having a mother who abandoned you and a father who cannot be spoken about?
What if, for a nationwide calamity where many dying needed to be saved and wounded needed to be rescued, he had lost the health that he should have rightfully had?
What if he loves you?
Could you bear not to love him?
— Mo Bao Fei Bao
February 18, 2013, evening
Together Forever Epilogue
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Together Forever Epilogue summary
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