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170 Meeting The Houshold

 He Zhichu's drivers, gardeners, and house staff treated with him the utmost respect. He rarely opened any doors in his own home, let alone the car doors, himself. The Rolls-Royce driver who rushed out was an overweight man in his mid-forties, with a face face so sunburnt it was as bright as a tomato's. Rubbing his palms, his face blanched when he called out nervously, "Mr. He, allow me." The driver came over to open the door for Gu Nianzhi.

He Zhichu turned to look at him. An outsider wouldn't notice anything, but the driver felt the icy glare chill him to the bone. Will Mr.He dismiss me for just opening the door a second too late? Sweat immediately beaded on the driver's forehead. He had been unemployed for many years and had only found this job after much difficulty three years ago. The salary was double the market average, and the included benefits were similar to government positions, so his whole family received medical insurance. For the first time in his twenty years of working, he was qualified to receive pension. He could not afford to lose this job! "Mr. He!" The driver pleaded, his red face scrunching up in anxiety.

Gu Nianzhi stepped out of the car and curiously looked at the driver, then He Zhichu. "Professor He?" She frowned at the anxious man.

He Zhichu's expression relaxed as he nodded to the driver, "It's fine, she's my... student. I'll take her in myself. Park in the garage and take her home later."

The driver heaved a great sigh of relief, grinning at Gu Nianzhi and bowing deeply.

Gu Nianzhi was perplexed but smiled as she nodded to him. "Thank you."

Gu Nianzhi followed He Zhichu to the 19th century colonial-style white mansion. "Professor He, this is your home? Do your parents live here?" Gu Nianzhi was growing nervous. The last time she had been to He Zhichu's Boston home, she remembered that it had been much smaller in comparison to the imposing manor before her; it must've been a temporary residence. The manor was thoroughly vintage and it was apparent that it had been passed down in the family and that countless generations had resided there. Gu Nianzhi realized that this must be He Zhichu's ancestral home. That was probably the reason how He Zhichu had amassed such a fortune and numerous servants at a young age. He must be someone born from old money, Gu Nianzhi thought in awe.

He Zhichu shook his head with a smile. "No, my parents aren't here. This is just a temporary place."

This huge manor was just temporary?! Gu Nianzhi was astounded. She was speechless and followed He Zhichu up the wide steps and into the living room. Two dark-haired, blue-eyed American female servants opened the French doors. They were tastefully crafted from precious oak. A great oval hall revealed itself after the entrance. Two giant spiral staircases rose to the upper floor. Gu Nianzhi looked up and estimated that the manor was three or four stories high. How many rooms were there exactly? She wondered.

"Professor He, do you have a lot of people in your family?" Gu Nianzhi asked with a grin. "There are so many rooms..." she trailed off as she spread her arms and twirled. "How many people can live here?"

"I live here alone." He Zhichu paused, and then said, "Teaching Assistant Wen lives in a guest house on the ground." Such a large manor would also have multiple smaller lodgings scattered on the property. It was nighttime and the lamps turned on, illuminating the small buildings like seed pearls in the grass that surrounding the main house.

Gu Nianzhi smiled at the fact that her professor wasn't exactly alone, but she also secretly wondered why Teaching Assistant Wen had to live there. Was she really a servant and caretaker as well? Suddenly, she recalled a rainy scene at the C University library some months ago. It had been pouring out and Wen Shouyi had carried an umbrella as she helped He Zhichu get into the car. She had completely shielded him from the rain and didn't seem to mind getting soaked. At the time, Gu Nianzhi had mocked her for looking like a caretaker, instead of a teaching assistant. It was clear that the two had a deep relationship. Gu Nianzhi understood that it would be disrespectful if she continued to complain about Wen Shouyi's every questionable action. Perhaps He Zhichu had brought her to his home in order to make clear his unusual relationship with Wen Shouyi, so that Gu Nianzhi wouldn't give her a hard time anymore. For the first time, Gu Nianzhi was uncertain about her next three years of post-grad studies. Had Wen Shouyi really been looking out for her when she had discouraged her from pursuing the post-grad position from the start? This is too scary. Gu Nianzhi shook her head and suppressed the thought.

"What are you thinking about?" They had made their way to the kitchen. He Zhichu opened the fridge and passed a watermelon smoothie to her after some rummaging about. "You can ask me anything that you're not clear about; don't overthink things. That's not your style."

He Zhichu studied her, tenderness softening his normally piercing eyes. He reached out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

Gu Nianzhi stepped back slightly, uncomfortable with He Zhichu's touch. She set the smoothie down and wrung her hands, "Professor He, was there anything else? If that's all, please take me back. My guardian is waiting at home."

"You had clearly wanted to ask something, so why don't you ask me directly?" He Zhichu walked up to her, preventing her from backing away any further. "You've never suspected anything?"

"Suspect what?" Gu Nianzhi blinked up at him. "You are my professor and my mentor. You're so kind to me, so why would I ask for trouble and suspect you?"

"You were suspicious about why Wen Shouyi lived here, so why didn't you ask?" He Zhichu's expression tightened as he walked away and sat at the window bench in the kitchen. He looked up at her solemnly, his compressed lips expressing his confusion.

Gu Nianzhi looked down and clenched her hands tighter, "Professor He, that has nothing to do with me. I don't want to ask."

Why Wen Shouyi lived in his house was not her problem. She was just his student, so why would she investigate his background?

"Nothing to do with you?" He Zhichu looked at Gu Nianzhi, stunned with disappointment. "It really doesn't matter to you?"

"As long as you abide to your professional ethics and don't abuse your power." Gu Nianzhi finally looked up and spread her palms with a smile. She extended her slender right hand, the thumb and forefinger pinching together, "As your student, I don't ask for much. I only have this little bit of expectation for you."

"Just this little bit?" He Zhichu laughed sadly. "Gu Nianzhi, ever so humble and selfless."

"Yep, I've always been an excellent student and compassionate too." Gu Nianzhi blushed as she boasted.

He Zhichu closed his eyes and rested his forehead on a hand. He crossed his leg, then remained motionless as he waved the other arm. "Go home. Find the driver at the garage and have him take you back." He didn't even look at her as he dismissed her.

Gu Nianzhi was hurt. Ah, he's sending me away again, like last time. As though I were something unsightly and tiring. She hated how he pulled her along at his pace, treating her gently but then humiliating her with his sudden displeasure with her. She didn't understand, and she wanted to shout at him to stop treating her so crudely; she wanted answers.

But, who was she anyway? She wasn't shameless enough to take advantage of his kindness. Gu Nianzhi bowed at He Zhichu properly. "Then I'll be going. Goodbye, Professor He." She turned away, refusing to let him get to her.

He Zhichu looked up to see her retreating back and realized she had no intention of turning. His fists clenched as he called,"Nianzhi!"