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145 Respect Your Teacher

 Gu Nianzhi bit her lower lip as she stared at the number on her phone screen-she had waited for this call for so long. She accepted the call with trembling fingers.

Her eyes were red, but she fought back the tears. She put the phone to her ear and waited.

She had been in America for more than a month, but Huo Shaoheng had not called her on the phone, not even once.

She had last stolen a peek at him through the video call with Zhao Liangze.

That was when she had seen him smile at another woman. It had made her angry and miserable, and driven her to vent her pent-up frustrations in a free-for-all with Xin Xinggao and the Indian softball women's team.

That was how she had ended up in her current mess...

Gu Nianzhi suddenly felt that the world had been terribly unfair to her.

Huo Shaoheng, who had raised her and backed her up whenever she needed him, was moving farther and farther away from her.

Was this the price of growing up?

Huo Shaoheng heard someone pick up the phone. He waited for a long moment, but did not hear Gu Nianzhi speak. A thought suddenly occurred to him, and he reflexively checked the number on his phone. His occupational habits kicked in: he begin to wonder whether someone else had gotten their hands on Gu Nianzhi's mobile phone...

Now that Gu Nianzhi was in the United States, he had to be extra vigilant; he had to be careful not to let anyone to know he was Gu Nianzh's true guardian.

He was just about to hang up when he heard Gu Nianzhi speak, her voice full of panic. "...Uncle Huo? Is that you, Uncle Huo?"

Huo Shaoheng was relieved. He responded with a low "Yeah," and walked over to the window with his phone to his ear, his free hand in his trouser pocket.

Outside the window, the sun had just emerged from beneath the horizon. The sky was still a faint shade of purple, and the forest was full of morning fog. It was the start of another day at the military base.

He had not slept a wink. Even so, he was not tired.

Gu Nianzhi slowly let out a long breath. It was a frustrated sigh, one she had kept bottled within her ever since the summons had been delivered to her yesterday. Once it was all out, she relaxed, and sat on the floor before the window sill. She retreated into a corner and hugged her knees.

She had subconsciously taken on a fetal position; it was a manifestation of her feelings of self-doubt and insecurity.

Huo Shaoheng could hear Gu Nianzhi breathing softly over the phone.

He did not say anything. He waited until her breathing had evened out, before gently saying, "Nianzhi, what happened? Tell me everything that happened."

Gu Nianzhi hesitated, but only briefly. She did not dare lie to Huo Shaoheng; she bowed her head and traced the lines on the floor as she mentally organized everything that had happened to her in the past few days. Once she was ready, she gave Huo Shaoheng a proper report, leaving nothing out. When she was done, she whispered in a low, nasally voice: "Uncle Huo, did I mess up? Am I making things difficult for you?"

Gu Nianzhi was now a lot calmer after giving her account of the events.

She released her knees, and steadied herself on the wall as she stood up. She walked over to her bed and sat on it.

Huo Shaoheng had deliberately made her go over the events again, out loud, so that she would be able to unload her misery and calm her nerves. It was an important step towards having someone open up, commonly employed in psychotherapy.

Huo Shaoheng had studied psychology under Chen Lie when the military had first entrusted Gu Nianzhi to him; he had known it would be necessary if he was to be a good guardian...

He noted the change in Gu Nianzhi's voice and tone, and guessed that she was feeling better. He said, "It's not a big deal. You did nothing wrong, so don't be afraid."

His deep, alluring voice was neither accusing nor callous; it was sincerely concerned, without being patronizing, and full of unconcealed praise.

"Really?!" Gu Nianzhi was immediately cheered by the thought. Her eyes were now startlingly bright. "Do you really mean that? I did hit her, you know..."

She was actually deathly afraid that Huo Shaoheng would be angry at her for getting into a brawl. She had always been a well-behaved, sweet-natured girl in front of him, after all.

And yet, as soon as she had left him, every single flaw in her personality had wormed its way to the surface and erupted all at once. She had gotten into a fight, and now had to appear in court to defend herself against a lawsuit.

She did not want Huo Shaoheng to be disappointed with her. That was the one thing she feared most.

He did not even have to voice his displeasure; a single look of disappointment from him would be enough to break Gu Nianzhi's heart. She would race to the top of the highest building and throw herself out the window, smashing herself into a thousand pieces on the pavement below. The wind would then sweep every piece of her far, far away-she would willingly do it, if it meant never having to embarrass herself in front of him again.

Huo Shaoheng was a cold, stoic man, and comforting people had never been his forte. He said indifferently, "She betrayed her country, she should be thankful she wasn't beaten to death..." He changed the subject. "...Why aren't you eating? Big Xiong said that you've shut yourself up in your room for an entire day now."

Gu Nianzhi pouted. Her fingers toyed with the fringe on her pillow as she said, "I'm not hungry, I don't want to eat."

"What's this? Being difficult again?" Huo Shaoheng turned and leaned against the window sill, his free hand folded across his chest. "Be a good girl and eat. Professor He has been waiting for you the whole night, hasn't he?"

Gu Nianzhi's pouty lips opened in surprise. She managed a faint "oh" after a long moment of silence. "...Uncle Huo, how did you know Professor He has been here the entire night?"

"Big Xiong told me," Huo Shaoheng said nonchalantly. He did not hesitate to sell Yin Shixiong out. "He also said that Professor He brought a gift and wanted to apologize to you."

Gu Nianzhi: "!!!"

Brother Xiong, you traitor! We're going to have a good, long talk later!

"Well? Say something." Huo Shaoheng urged her, his eyebrows slightly drawn together. "Or did Big Xiong lie to me?"

"No... no." Gu Nianzhi lowered her shoulders in defeat. "Brother Xiong did not lie to you."

She should have seen this coming.

Yin Shixiong was Huo Shaoheng's subordinate. It was an unforgivable felony for a soldier to deceive and disobey their superiors.

"I thought so." Huo Shaoheng extracted a cigarette from his trouser pocket but did not light it. He toyed with the cigarette as he said, "So what did he do? Why did he apologize to you?"

"Brother Xiong didn't tell you?"

"He did, but I want to hear it from you." Huo Shaoheng's voice was still unhurried, but there was now an undercurrent of anger. It was subtle-only those who knew him well were able to pick up on it.

Gu Nianzhi was one of those people. She immediately said, "Professor He threw me out of his house that day, and he didn't even get a cab for me. I walked alone for more than an hour, it was so exhausting, I thought I was going to die..."

Huo Shaoheng finally took out his lighter and lit the cigarette in his hand. He lowered his head and took a drag. "No more childish tantrums, okay? I don't remember raising you to behave like this. You have to show Professor He respect-he's your teacher, and you have to respect him like you would respect your own father. If he does something inappropriate or wrong, don't confront him. Just walk away, keep your distance, and inform Little Ze or me. If justice is on your side, we'll help you put him in his place. Got that?"

Gu Nianzhi nodded vigorously. She did not feel like she had been lectured. Instead, her face brightened-she was more than happy to have Huo Shaoheng admonish her.

"Got it, Uncle Huo... Hey, did you say Brother Ze? Shouldn't it be Brother Xiong?" Gu Nianzhi had caught the implication in Huo Shaoheng's words.

"I'll be transferring Big Xiong back here. Little Ze will go to America to take care of you instead," said Huo Shaoheng casually. "Any objections?"

"Nope, none whatsoever." Gu Nianzhi paused. "Did Brother Xiong do something wrong? He's been nice to me, he's very thoughtful and considerate."

"No, it has nothing to do with you. I need him for something else." The oppressive weight in Huo Shaoheng's voice had vanished.

Gu Nianzhi breathed a sigh of relief.

She was glad it wasn't because of her.

She was fine with Brother Ze taking Brother Xiong's place. She would probably have more opportunities to call Uncle Huo with Brother Ze around...

Now that Gu Nianzhi was in a good mood, her appetite returned, and she began to feel hungry. Her stomach immediately rumbled.

The rumbling was so loud Huo Shaoheng was able to hear it over the phone.

He smiled. "You should get something to eat." He paused briefly, before reminding her: "Go out and apologize to Professor He, and remember to thank him for helping you with the lawsuit."