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209 Do You Call the Shots

 Song Jinning's two personal caretakers were called Auntie Xing and Auntie You. Gu Nianzhi remembered their names clearly; she had met them once.

"I don't know. Why don't you ask her?" Huo Shaoheng did not look up from his fried rice. He was offering Gu Nianzhi a chance to talk to Song Jinning privately.

Gu Nianzhi quickly finished her porridge and left the kitchen to look for Song Jinning.

She walked about the rooms, and finally found Song Jinning in a small bedroom.

Song Jinning was wrapped in a large triangular shawl embroidered with the flowers of a Chinese crabapple tree. She stood before the window, staring vacantly at the sky outside.

The bedroom was tiny. The ceiling was low, and the furnishings took up most of the space. Everything looked expensive, but it was simply too much for the senses: the room felt stuffy and oppressive.

It was the same for the human heart: if there were too many things inside, there would be very little space breathe, to turn around, and see things from a different perspective. It would be suffocating.

A tiny, cluttered room was a terrible place for someone suffering from psychological issues to live in.

Gu Nianzhi had suffered from psychological issues when she was younger, caused by the trauma of her car accident.

Back then, she had suffered from frequent night terrors, and had had a mental breakdown whenever she was left alone in a confined space. Open fires had been a trigger for her, too. She had eventually gotten over her trauma, thanks to the combined efforts of Chen Lie and Huo Shaoheng.

She was certain that her psychological issues would have worsened if she had been forced to live in a room as small and oppressive as the one she was now in back then. She would never have recovered.

Gu Nianzhi's sympathy for Song Jinning had been borne out of a feeling of kinship-Song Jinning was Huo Shaoheng's mother, after all-but it now went beyond that: Gu Nianzhi remembered her own struggle with mental trauma, and her heart ached for the woman before her.


Song Jinning was standing by the window. She had been ill for many years, but she was still startlingly attractive. Her desolate frailness added to her beauty; she was like a precious flower, singularly beautiful, that had bloomed for many years but was now about to wither. She was the sky during a sunset: a breathtaking sight that eluded description.

Huo Shaoheng was just as hauntingly beautiful. It was apparent now that he shared the same quality with his mother.

Gu Nianzhi sighed wistfully. She walked over to Song Jinning and said, in a gentle voice, "Mrs. Song?"

Song Jinning turned to smile at her. "All done? Did you enjoy the food?"

"It was delicious." Gu Nianzhi nodded vigorously. "Have you had breakfast?"

"No." Song Jinning let out a small sigh. "I don't have the appetite for it."

A thought occurred to Gu Nianzhi. She reached out and gently wrapped a hand around Song Jinning's wrist-she was all skin and bones.

Song Jinning was already laboring under the weight of serious mental and psychological issues. If her physical health were to decline as well, she would turn into a bed-ridden vegetable. It would be a death sentence for her.

Unease bubbled within Gu Nianzhi. Her intuition had never let her down, and it was now telling her Song Jinning could not be left as she was. Gu Nianzhi was extremely sympathetic towards Song Jinning, especially since they were both women; it pained Gu Nianzhi to imagine what it must be like for her.

"Mrs. Song, how about we go out for a walk?" Gu Nianzhi put a hand on Song Jinning's arm and rocked it coaxingly. "How about the garden? It's my first time at the Huo residence-you're part of the Huo family, can you show me around?"

Song Jinning flushed. "I... I'm not married yet. You can't call me Mrs.Huo."

Gu Nianzhi had forgotten about this.

Song Jinning had not protested when the other members of the Huo family called her "Mrs. Song" before this.

Why was she objecting to it now? Was her condition worsening? Or was she actually getting better?

Gu Nianzhi did not know which it was, but she knew something had to change.

If Song Jinning's condition was deteriorating, then it would be necessary to put her on a different treatment immediately. If her condition was improving, then it would be necessary to figure out what they were doing right and double down on it to speed up her recovery.

"Miss Song, let's go to the garden. What do you say?" Gu Nianzhi was set on inviting Song Jinning outside to have some fun. "Huo Shao and I, we brought you some gifts for the New Year. Let's go try them out!"

"Gifts? For me?" Song Jinning was pleasantly surprised. "You have presents for me?"

"Yup! You cooked so many delicious dishes for us, we have to return the favor. Wait here-I'll get the presents, and you can change into them immediately. We'll go down to the garden after that, okay?" Gu Nianzhi said in her brightest, most persuasive manner. She turned and ran out to the living room to get the Chanel gift bags.

As soon as she stepped out of the room, she saw Auntie Xing and Auntie You rummaging through the Chanel gift bags.

Gu Nianzhi's expression darkened. She shouted angrily at the two women: "Put those down! They belong to your employer, not you-how dare you touch them without permission?!"

Auntie Xing and Auntie You had not expected Gu Nianzhi to be in Song Jinning's bedroom, and were embarrassed to have been caught red-handed. They reluctantly put down the bags. Auntie Xing said defiantly: "Miss Jialan said that we have to carefully check everything that goes to Mrs. Song. We were just following orders. If you disagree with how we do things, Miss Gu, you should talk to Miss Jialan about it. Why are you shouting at us? We're just the servants."

"Exactly. Anyone who didn't know better would have thought Miss Gu here runs the family... Who's she even supposed to be? She thinks she can just show up and start ordering us around?" Auntie You muttered disdainfully, her lips curled in distaste. It was obvious that the woman had no respect for Gu Nianzhi.

Any other girl would have silently cursed the two caretakers and left it at that, afraid to make a scene.

Not Gu Nianzhi, however-she had never been one to take things lying down.

She had been wracking her brains trying to think of a way to break Song Jinning out of her monotonous routine, and she saw now that this was the opening she had been looking for. She leapt to seize hold of it.

She began to wail loudly, like a small, petulant child. She rushed into the small kitchen, her footsteps pounding angrily across the floor, and threw herself into Huo Shaoheng's arms. She stamped her feet as she cried: "Huo Shao! They want to throw me out! How can I stay here, under this roof, when no one respects me?! I want to go home! I want to go home!"

Huo Shaoheng had heard every word exchanged between Gu Nianzhi and the caretakers, but had stayed inside the tiny kitchen because he had been too lazy to deal with it.

Disobedient maids were fired, end of story-the matter seemed simple enough to him.

But he saw the way Gu Nianzhi was wailing and raising hell, and knew something was wrong.

"Nianzhi..." He pushed her away, frowning. "What is it?"

"Huo Shao! You heard them, didn't you? How can I stay here for another minute, if they don't respect me? I'm spelling it out for you: either they go, or I go!" Gu Nianzhi threw herself into Huo Shaoheng's arms a second time, crying and wailing as though the world had ended. As she sobbed violently, she pinched Huo Shaoheng in the waist.

Song Jinning heard the commotion outside, and quickly ran out to see what was happening. She saw two middle-aged women standing in the living room, their expressions sullen and unhappy, and asked softly: "Who are you? What happened?"

Auntie Xing and Auntie You had been Song Jinning's caretakers for the last six years. They knew she had anterograde amnesia, and hastily introduced themselves to her: "Madame, I'm Auntie Xing, and this is Auntie You."

Song Jinning frowned. "I'm not married yet, don't call me Madame. What business do you have here? How dare you quarrel with my guests?"

Auntie Xing and Auntie You were dumbfounded. They exchanged a look, before saying, "Madame, Miss Jialan hired us to take care of you. Have you had your breakfast?"

They had always introduced themselves in this manner, every morning, like clockwork. It had become a force of habit with them.

And Song Jinning usually did not ask again.

Every day was the same for Song Jinning: she either stayed quietly in her bedroom, lost in her thoughts, or sat quietly in the living room, staring blankly at nothing. The caretakers were used to it. They did not talk to her. She was no longer a human being in their eyes, but a delicate porcelain vase.

But today had been different: Song Jinning had actually admonished them for quarreling with her guests.

Auntie Xing and Auntie You stood awkwardly, thoroughly embarrassed. Their lips curled as they muttered spitefully, "Who do these women think they are, ordering us about like they run the place... Are they even qualified?"

They knew that Huo Guanchen and Song Jinning were divorced.

Huo Guanchen had allowed Song Jinning to continue living in the house because he was too kind and noble to throw a sick woman out.

But Auntie Xing and Auntie You knew Song Jinning would be forced to leave once Huo Guanchen remarried and his new wife moved in.

Because of that, they had never truly thought of Song Jinning as the mistress of the family.


Huo Shaoheng looked at Gu Nianzhi. "What are you thinking?"

Gu Nianzhi shot him a pointed look. "Do you call the shots in this household?"