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726 Nineteen Forever

 Huo Shaoheng was stony faced as he sped through the streets and even ran several red lights. He only took 15 minutes to complete a typical 90-minute drive and arrive at the Special Operations Forces headquarters base. Chen Lie emerged from the car with an ashen face and even muffled his mouth as he ran to the garbage can by Huo Shaoheng's official residence to throw up several times. Huo Shaoheng threw the car key to the orderly in charge of picking up vehicles and walked over to Chen Lie to ask coolly, "Carsick?"

Chen Lie wanted to roll his eyes from the vomiting. "Are you driving a car or a fighter jet?! Even roller coasters aren't as fast as you!" Chen Lie vomited some more and took out a napkin from his pocket to wipe his mouth before following Huo Shaoheng inside his official residence. They sat down in Huo Shaoheng's office, and Huo Shaoheng took one look at Chen Lie's complexion before asking an orderly to make him a cup of black tea. Black tea warmed the stomach and also alleviated the nausea from motion sickness. Chen Lie had a cup of black tea and slowly recovered. He splayed out on the couch and said, exhausted, "Boss, please spare my inconsequential life. I thought I'd be the first person to die for the sake of your love life..."

Huo Shaoheng was speechless. He quietly turned on the computer and entered several commands. The personnel receiving the orders immediately contacted all related parties. As he awaited responses, Huo Shaoheng lit a cigarette and looked down to ask Chen Lie, "From what you see, how is Nianzhi's mental state? Does she need psychological counseling?" He had brought Chen Lie to see Gu Nianzhi earlier that day and had wanted Chen Lie to make an initial psychological assessment in order to determine a treatment plan. Gu Nianzhi's experiences in Germany had made a large impact on her psychological state. Huo Shaoheng would never forget how Gu Nianzhi had autistic tendencies when she was 12. It was thanks to her extraordinary trust and reliance on him that she didn't completely shut out the entire world from her heart.

Chen Lie recalled meeting Gu Nianzhi in front of the graduate students' dorm that day and mused quietly, "From her complexion, I really didn't notice any psychological issues."

"You can determine psychological issues from complexions?" Huo Shaoheng frowned. "Are you sure?"

"Boss, this is where you don't understand. Mental illness is also a type of disease, but it absolutely doesn't manifest only on a psychological level. People with mental issues differ from normal people in their irises, sclera, skin tone, and physical movements. It can absolutely diagnosed with physical observation, questioning, and measuring pulses." Chen Lie straightened in his seat and placed one hand on his knee while brandishing the other in the air. He explained it eloquently, and his words were very interesting.

"Go on." Huo Shaoheng listened intently and appeared thoughtful.

"Nianzhi's irises are round, and sclera are white and clear. Her skin tone is rosy and delicate, and she has great control over her body. Although she is still very sad, it's not to the point of losing control. Simply stated, she has already freed herself from her deep love for you. Boss, are you sure you want to continue being with her?" Chen Lie asked gingerly. Huo Shaoheng had been his good friend for over a decade now, and he had watched Gu Nianzhi grow up and tended to her himself. Both were dear to his heart, so Chen Lie didn't know who to urge or what he could do. He was in despair, too!

Huo Shaoheng grunted calmly, his long fingers flying over the keyboard as he tapped out commands.

"You're really not going to let go?!" Chen Lie stood up from the couch and walked over to the soft chair in front of Huo Shaoheng's desk to sit down. He rested his head on one hand and slapped the desk with the other as he frowned at Huo Shaoheng. "You have to consider that Nianzhi probably won't love you like she did before, or she might not love you all, and you still want to be with her? You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink!"

Huo Shaoheng paused his hands. The computer screen was still running an unknown program, and the illuminated symbols flashed across his face. Although Chen Lie was sitting so close to him, he actually couldn't clearly see his expression. After a long time, Huo Shaoheng glanced at Chen Lie and smiled faintly. "Those who love deeply don't survive for long, and those who are most intelligent will suffer in other ways. It doesn't matter if Nianzhi loves me a little less. That way, she can be with me forever." Her pain and mental block was because of him, and if she couldn't overcome the block, she'd never be happy. Too strong of a love and too sharp of an intellect were double-edged swords that hurt both the wielder and the target. However, Huo Shaoheng believed that as a man and someone much older than Gu Nianzhi, he'd rather be hurt by her than see her hurt herself. It would be alright as long as she was by his side.

Chen Lie was at a loss for words. He suddenly wanted to cry, so he pretended to look up casually at the ceiling and replied, "Fine, then. So what do you want me to do?"

Huo Shaoheng continued hammering at the keyboard as he replied, "Are you going to the Prime Minister's inauguration tomorrow?"

"They sent me an invitation, but I already said no." Chen Lie didn't like to show his face in public. In the past, he liked medical research the most and Ye Zitan second best. But Ye Zitan's actions disappointed him greatly and also caused him to doubt his own judgement. As a result, he now only loved medical research and had even made up his mind to never get married.

Huo Shaoheng nodded. "Ok, keep tomorrow's schedule open. I have something I need help with." Huo Shaoheng didn't explain what it was, but Chen Lie didn't ask, either. With their friendship, they didn't need much explanation to understand each other.

...

Gu Nianzhi didn't return to the dorm in a good mood, but she was also somehow relieved. This was her first love, and it was going to end on her 19th birthday. She thought about how she probably wouldn't celebrate her birthday for the rest of her life now. Walking out from the bathroom after a shower, Gu Nianzhi wrapped up her damp hair and turned on the computer to continue writing the outline to her thesis. She needed to finish five courses in four months and also write a master's thesis. She didn't have enough time at all.

Ma Qiqi knocked on her door. "Nianzhi? Are you free?"

Gu Nianzhi glanced at the half-finished outline and closed the document before calling out, "Yes. Come in, Qiqi."

Ma Qiqi opened the door to see Gu Nianzhi wearing coral velvet pajamas and white, fluffy, lamb-shaped slippers on her feet. She twirled around in her chair and smiled at Ma Qiqi. Ma Qiqi suddenly thought Gu Nianzhi looked like a cute, pink doll, so she walked up to hug her and rub her back. Gu Nianzhi laughed so hard, her tears fell. She pushed Ma Qiqi away saying, "Stop getting physical, Qiqi. My hair's not dry yet."

Ma Qiqi pinched Gu Nianzhi's porcelain, rosy cheeks with a smile and sat down on a chair next to her and asked, "What are you doing? I didn't you see you at all on Saturday."

Gu Nianzhi pointed to the computer. "I was studying at the library. There's a lot of homework, and I was busy working on it."

"You have that much? Are these special benefits from Professor He?" Ma Qiqi asked curiously because she had a different instructor than Gu Nianzhi, so she had no idea about Gu Nianzhi's courses.

Gu Nianzhi hesitated before telling Ma Qiqi the truth. "I want to graduate early, so I'm working hard to finish more courses right now."

"You still want to graduate early?!" Ma Qiqi couldn't help slapping her shoulder. "Nianzhi, I think living with you has made me even less confident in myself. This is called being prettier, younger, smarter, and more hard working?! You're the prime example!"

Gu Nianzhi was amused by Ma Qiqi's words and grabbed her arm to shake gently. "Qiqi, you're too nice. What's so great about me? I only want to graduate soon and find a full-time job so I can support myself."

Ma Qiqi knew about Gu Nianzhi's sore spot, so she considerately avoided the touchy topic and said to her, "Nianzhi, tomorrow is your birthday. Do you have any plans?"

Gu Nianzhi glanced at Ma Qiqi. "You know about it..."

Ma Qiqi giggled. "Of course I do. Our counselors have the birthdays of all the students in our class."

"Oh, is that the case?" Gu Nianzhi tapped her cheek. "Tomorrow... Actually, I was still planning to go study." She didn't want to celebrate her birthday tomorrow or for the rest of her life.

"Oh you! Studying on your birthday! Are you not going to graduate early just by not studying for a day?" Ma Qiqi was irked. "Come on, Nianzhi. Sounds like you don't have plans. Come to my house. I told my parents it's your birthday tomorrow, so they said you could come over if you don't have other plans. My mom's handmade long life noodles are the best."

"Really?" Gu Nianzhi hesitated. Ma Qiqi was a very special friend, so her invitation was difficult to reject. She could treat it like going to a roommate's house for dinner. After some thought, Gu Nianzhi nodded. "Ok, what time? I might have something going on in the morning." Huo Shaoheng said he would come meet her at 9am with a condition for her to accept. She already promised to wait for him at that time, so she couldn't go back on her word.

"In the evening, come to my house for dinner. My dad will drive us back to campus after dinner." Ma Qiqi draped her arm on Gu Nianzhi's shoulder. "Nianzhi, this is the first time I've invited a classmate to my house. You can't stand me up!"

Gu Nianzhi nodded fiercely. "I'll be there for sure." They confirmed their plans for the next day, and Ma Qiqi returned to her room happily. Gu Nianzhi closed her door and realized she wasn't in the mood to write her paper when she looked at her laptop again. She shut it off and laid down on her bed. As she laid there, she couldn't fall asleep, so she started playing games on her phone. As soon as midnight passed, the phone suddenly rang. It was He Zhichu's special ringtone. Gu Nianzhi picked up and laughed. "Professor He, it's already so late. Why are you calling?"

He Zhichu's cool voice could be heard through the phone. "Nianzhi, happy 19th birthday to you." This was the first birthday greeting she had gotten that day.

Gu Nianzhi replied, "Thank you, Professor He, but please don't wish me happy birthday again. I decided to not celebrate my birthday ever again. I want to be 19 forever."

How childish... He Zhichu broke into a small smile and took his time asking her, "Ok, Miss 19 Forever. What do you have planned for tomorrow?"

Gu Nianzhi held her phone and looked around the dark dorm room. She yawned. "Nothing in particular. I was going to study at the library, but Qiqi said she was inviting me over to her house for dinner tomorrow, so I agreed to go."

He Zhichu knew Ma Qiqi had helped Gu Nianzhi a great deal, so he felt reassured letting them be friends. "Then you'd better remember to bring some gifts for Ma Qiqi's family. You can't go empty handed, understand?"

Gu Nianzhi smiled. "Oh my god, thanks for the reminder, Professor He. I almost went to Qiqi's house with a grin and two empty hands."

He Zhichu couldn't help laughing at the sound of Gu Nianzhi's crisp and charming laughter. "Silly. Ok, get some sleep tonight. You're a year older now that it's your birthday. I hope that your wish of graduating early will come true soon."