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211 I’ll Be Right Over

 "A New Year's party?" The woman on the other end of the line sounded hesitant. "I just came back, I still have a lot of data to process, numbers to crunch. I may not have the time..."

"Is that so?" Huo Jialan smiled. She angled the phone towards the garden below and pressed the Record button.

Five minutes later, Huo Jialan sent the short video she had just recorded to the person on the other end of the line.

In the video, a woman was standing beneath a plum tree, her head tilted backwards to admire the plum blossoms, which were in full bloom. A handsome middle-aged man in a military uniform walked over to her, stately and dignified. He smiled at the woman.

The woman was wearing a rose red suit; the elegant, tasteful cut of the dress complemented the woman's milky white skin beautifully.

The man said something to the woman. She blushed prettily, and gave a slight nod.

The man extended a hand, snapped the most beautiful plum blossom off the tree, and handed it to the woman.

The woman accepted it and smiled at the man. She quickly turned and walked towards the garden archway. When she reached it, she suddenly stopped to lean against the archway. She bowed her head, sniffed the plum blossom, and looked towards the man, a beautiful smile on her face.

The man in the video was Huo Shaoheng's father, Huo Guanchen, director of the Military Political Department. The woman was Song Jinning, who had lived the life of a secluded hermit for many, many years.

The woman on the other end of the line was silent for a long moment, unable to process what she was seeing. Finally, she asked in an incredulous tone, "Jinning recovered from her illness?! When did this happen? Why didn't you tell me?"

"No, Aunt Bai, you're mistaken. Mrs. Song hasn't recovered; she's still sick." Huo Jialan gave a small laugh, but it rang out, cold and mirthless. "So are you coming to our New Year's party?"

"Forget the New Year's party, I'll come over right now. Jinning looks so much better now. We should act on it, quickly, and hopefully find a cure for her." With that, the woman on the other end of the line promptly hung up; "Aunt Bai" was clearly a no-nonsense person who had never wasted a minute of her time.

Huo Jialan looked at her phone, her lip curled in distaste. She put away her phone and folded her arms across her chest. Her eyes lingered briefly on Huo Guanchen and Huo Shaoheng in the garden below, before moving on to Gu Nianzhi, who was straining on tiptoe behind Huo Shaoheng, trying vainly to pluck a plum blossom off the tree.

Huo Jialan watched Gu Nianzhi for a while. She waited until she was sure Aunt Bai was about to arrive, before heading downstairs to the rear garden. She interrupted the conversation between Huo Guanchen and Huo Shaoheng, smiling as she said, "Second Uncle, Cousin Brother, sorry to intrude, but there's something I need to tell you-to Second Uncle, specifically."

"What is it?" Huo Guanchen was in his military uniform, having just returned from a meeting. His temples were speckled with white, but his graying hair did not detract from his looks. He cut a handsome and majestic figure, standing under the plum tree.

Huo Jialan shot a glance at Gu Nianzhi, who was standing behind Huo Shaoheng. She smiled and said, "Miss Gu, can you please leave us, just for a minute?"

Gu Nianzhi turned to look at Huo Shaoheng.

Huo Shaoheng gestured at her. Gu Nianzhi nodded in reply, and said, "I'll go see what Auntie Song is up to then." With that, she walked towards the archway in the garden.

Huo Jialan watched Gu Nianzhi's retreating back for a moment, before turning back to Huo Guanchen and Huo Shaoheng to say, "Aunt Bai just returned from her research expedition. She is very happy to hear that Mrs. Song is getting better, and insisted on coming over to see how she's doing, right away."

Everyone in the Huo family knew very well who this "Aunt Bai" was.

But in the last 12 years, no one in the family had dared bring her up whenever Huo Shaoheng was at home.

Huo Shaoheng would only ever interact with "Aunt Bai" on official business, when it was strictly necessary; he never met or spoke with her in private.

Huo Guanchen, too, had never received her at home, out of consideration for his son's feelings and pride.

Huo Jialan was well aware of the strained relationship between Huo Shaoheng and "Aunt Bai." She said to Huo Shaoheng, "Cousin Brother, I know you've never liked Aunt Bai, but she's coming over to check on Mrs. Song, that's all. I'm sure you're aware that Aunt Bai has been treating Mrs. Song all these years. She was absolutely ecstatic when I told her that Mrs. Song's condition has improved, and she wants to come over, right away, to hopefully get Mrs. Song on the road to recovery as soon as possible."

Huo Guanchen could barely keep his composure when he heard what Huo Jialan had said.

He had longed for Song Jinning to recover from her illness, but his hopes had been dashed again and again. They had tried practically everything in the last 16 years, to no avail.

He was hardly able to believe his ears when Huo Jialan said that Song Jinning's condition had improved. He quickly asked, "Jialan, is it true? Is she really getting better?"

"I think she's much better now." Huo Jialan laughed lightly. "Didn't you just give Mrs. Song a plum blossom? Mrs. Song used to run at the sight of you, but not this time. That's quite the improvement, isn't it?"

Huo Guanchen was beside himself with emotion. He nodded vigorously as he said, "You're right, she's not the same, she's changed! Thank you, Jialan! If it weren't for you, looking after her all these years-"

"Oh no, I had nothing to do with it." Huo Jialan cut him off gently and shook her head. "I only started taking care of Mrs. Song eight years ago. In my opinion, it's Aunt Bai you have to thank." She watched Huo Shaoheng for his reaction.

There was none: Huo Shaoheng's expression was unsettlingly stoic and impassive, as always. "If Director Bai wants to come over, so be it." He turned and walked towards the archway in the garden.

Gu Nianzhi saw Huo Shaoheng walk over to her, alone. His face was calm, but there was a touch of urgency in his footsteps.

"Huo Shao, what's going on?" Gu Nianzhi pressed her lips together and motioned to the direction Huo Shaoheng had come from with her mouth. "What's so hush-hush and important that I don't get to listen in?"

"It's nothing," Huo Shaoheng said indifferently. "Bai Jinyi is coming over to give Mrs. Song a check-up, that's all."

"Bai Jinyi?" Gu Nianzhi immediately knew who that was. "The famous female scientist?! I didn't know that she's a doctor as well!"

"She isn't a medical doctor, but she has a PhD. in psychology. She's been taking care of my mother all these years." Huo Shaoheng was clearly reluctant to talk about it. "Let's head back inside."

Gu Nianzhi and Huo Shaoheng walked Song Jinning into the house together.

As they were about to go upstairs, Gu Nianzhi stopped Huo Shaoheng. "Huo Shao, that small suite I stayed in on my first night is still empty, isn't it? Why don't we let Auntie Song live in it?"

Huo Shaoheng looked at her inquiringly. "Why?"

"The attic on the third floor has a low ceiling, and Auntie Song's bedroom is way too cramped. Normal people would go crazy in there-what do you think a place like that does to Auntie Song?" Gu Nianzhi said bluntly, before adding: "I used to hate claustrophobic places too, you know, and the moment I entered her bedroom, I felt ready to explode. I was dying to get into an argument, or even a brawl, just to let off steam."

Huo Shaoheng's face darkened further. "I'll go take a look. You stay with her; I'll be right back."

Gu Nianzhi nodded. She watched Huo Shaoheng's strong, graceful figure take the stairs two steps at a time, before disappearing around the corner.

Huo Shaoheng entered the suite in the attic, where Song Jinning lived, and immediately checked her bedroom.

Gu Nianzhi was right: the bedroom felt small and cramped because of all the clutter in it. Normal, healthy people would not be able to stand being in it for long-to say nothing of someone who was suffering from psychological issues.

He had been in this bedroom once before, six years ago. He did not remember the room being this cluttered back then.

Had all these superfluous knick-knacks slowly invaded Song Jinning's living space-inch by sinister inch-over the last six years? Was all the clutter and isolation preventing her from getting better?

Huo Shaoheng returned from the third floor and immediately gave instructions to one of his orderlies: "Make up the rooms in the suite on the first floor for my mother. You know the one, Nianzhi stayed in it during her first night here. Those rooms used to belong to my mother, so make sure you restore them to what they used to look like." He checked his watch. "You have half an hour, so get started."

"Yes, sir!"


"Let's go sit in the living room." Huo Shaoheng led Gu Nianzhi and Song Jinning to the living room, where they made themselves comfortable. He said to Gu Nianzhi, "Bai Jinyi will be here soon. She knows who you are, but has never seen you in person."

Gu Nianzhi responded with a "hmm" as she rested her chin in her hand, her expression thoughtful. She mused, "I didn't know Bai Jinyi wore so many hats-so she's not only a famous physicist, but also a psychologist, and a psychiatrist? That's hard to believe!"

"There's a reason for that," Huo Shaoheng replied matter-of-factly. "When my mother first woke up after the accident, the only memories she had were those from before she was 18, and the only people she recognized were Bai Jinyi and my father. Back then, Bai Jinyi was the only one who could get near my mother, because she was the only one my mother trusted."

It was similar to what Gu Nianzhi herself had gone through: initially, she had been so traumatized from her car accident she had lashed out at anyone who tried to approach her. Huo Shaoheng had been the only exception back then.