Cactus in Distress Chapter 15

Chapter 15

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The shrill ringing of the phone jarred Sun Yutan from her thoughts. She put it to her ear, but remained silent. It was Chen Rui who spoke first, “Where are you?”

“Why?” Sun Yutan asked coyly.

A few mornings ago, Chen Rui kissed her goodbye, promising to call her as soon as he got back from Vancouver. She replied with an “okay,” feeling a bit reluctant. She held onto his neck and they snuggled for a while. Chen Rui also seemed reluctant and clung onto her.

But as soon as they were apart and couldn’t see each other, they became completely disconnected. He probably thought of her again today when he returned to Haicheng. It was quite pure, and also quite straightforward.

There was a pause of one or two seconds on the other end of the line before Chen Rui bluntly asked, “What do you think?”

“Well, then you miscalculated. I returned to Shaocheng.”

Chen Rui made a sound of acknowledgement, but didn’t have much of a reaction. She thought he had probably hung up, but then heard him ask, “How are Uncle and Auntie?”

“They’re doing well.” Sun Yutan thought of the string of pearl necklaces and couldn’t help but laugh.

“Are you so happy to be home?”

Sun Yutan told Chen Rui about her father’s embarrassing incident. Chen Rui listened, his laptop long since pushed aside. He stretched his legs and relaxed in his seat, the colorful light outside the glass window shining on the slight upturn of his lips.

Finally, Sun Yutan regretfully said, “I should have recorded it on my phone if I had known.”

“What a pity,” Chen Rui said, “But if I were Uncle, I wouldn’t remember anything when I wake up tomorrow.”

Sun Yutan laughed, “My dad is kind of cute like that.”

“When are you coming back?”

“Hmm…” Sun Yutan took her time answering, her mind drifting with the gentle sway of the summer breeze. She propped her knees up, her loose pajama pants sliding up to reveal bare toes tapping rhythmically between the woven reeds of the lounge chair. “Why are you asking?”

Chen Rui’s response was unexpected – a laugh that carried over the line. Sun Yutan seized the opportunity to change the subject. “Chen Rui,” she said mischievously, “you should start calling my dad ‘Brother.'”

There was a beat of silence before Chen Rui replied, his voice laced with humor. “I didn’t hear you calling me ‘Uncle.'”

Sun Yutan had been expecting that response, and she replied with polite sarcasm, “Greetings, Uncle Chen. Are you perhaps thinking about your little niece? Why do you keep asking if she’s coming back or not—” she held back her laughter, “that does not sound very nice.”

Chen Rui was momentarily taken aback by her wicked sense of humor. He playfully threatened, “Sun Yutan, believe it or not, I’ll come over there and get you.”

But Sun Yutan wasn’t one to be intimidated easily. She lifted her legs and let her pants fall to her ankles, revealing her long, slender, and perfectly toned legs. Bathed in the soft glow of the light, they seemed to emit an ethereal radiance. She snapped a close-up photo, not bothering to edit it, and sent it directly to Chen Rui. Despite her ulterior motives, she maintained a serious facade and said, “What’s there to be afraid of? I have legs to run with.”

Chen Rui hung up the phone.

Sun Yutan laughed for a while before going to sleep. She wasn’t afraid. Chen Rui could never catch her.

But her optimism was short-lived. The next morning, as the first rays of dawn filtered through her window, Sun Yutan was abruptly woken up by the clamor of street vendors hawking their wares. Still groggy, she reached for her phone and checked the time. It was just after six o’clock. 

Her heart skipped a beat when she saw an incoming call from Chen Rui. She hesitated for a moment before answering, only to hear his voice command, “Come to the window.”

“Don’t scare me,” Sun Yutan protested, her voice betraying her nervousness. She got out of bed and her brain told her it was “impossible,” but when she opened the window and stuck her head out, Chen Rui was indeed standing in the alleyway below. Sun Yutan rubbed her eyes, feeling like she was turning to stone.

“Stop dawdling. If you don’t come down in three minutes, I’ll come up and knock on the door.”

“No!” Now she was fully awake. She scrambled to wash up and put on some clothes before heading out the door.

Sun Yutan didn’t walk up to Chen Rui. Instead, they looked at each other from a distance, then she turned and started walking away.

Chen Rui slowly caught up with her.

When they reached the exit of the neighborhood, Sun Yutan stopped by a camphor tree. Chen Rui reached out his hand and dragged her along as they continued walking.

“Hey, where are we going?” Sun Yutan’s feet were planted firmly on the ground. “Wait, let’s talk, Big Brother.”

Chen Rui ignored her and put his arm around her shoulder. Sun Yutan struggled to get away, but then he lightly patted her buttocks. Sun Yutan stiffened for a second, panicked and looked around, but fortunately there were not many people around. Chen Rui laughed at her. “Why are you scared, little niece? Weren’t you tough last night? Oh, and your legs are still attached, you can run.”

Sun Yutan kicked him. “Why do you hold grudges so much?”

“It’s not that I hold grudges,” Chen Rui paused, then continued calmly, “but there are things that need to be repaid.”

Sun Yutan said, “Isn’t it a bit early in the morning for this?”

“It’s not like we’ve never done it in the morning.”

“But I have to go back. What should I say to my mom if you make me late?”

“What should you say? Just tell them you went to exercise with Uncle.”

Blushing hotly, Sun Yutan accused him, “Do you always have this kind of thing on your mind?”

Chen Rui admitted frankly, “Yes.”

Sun Yutan felt helpless and could only say, “You go first, I’ll come later. Maybe I’ll see someone I know on the street and they can vouch for me to my mom.”

He took away her phone, and gave her the name of the hotel and room number, then threatened her, “I’ll give you ten minutes.”

Sun Yutan was forced to call him “uncle” while Chen Rui loomed over her. He asked why she was protesting when she clearly enjoyed calling him that. She was at a loss for words, realizing too late that her careless remarks had provoked his competitive streak, unleashing a storm of unwelcome advances.

After a few days apart, things were bound to get intense. Sun Yutan lay on the bed like a salted fish, watching as he got dressed by the bed. She asked, “You’re leaving?”

Chen Rui glanced at her and said, “Mmm. There’s still work to do at the company.”

“Oh.” Sun Yutan watched him move. Chen Rui walked over, squatted down, and stroked her long hair. He asked, “When are you going back to Haicheng?”

Sun Yutan smiled and asked, “Why?”

Chen Rui pinched her face, “You exactly know why.”

“Chen Rui, how do you know where my home is?”

“I’ve been there before.”

Sun Yutan sat up, “When?”

“I don’t remember. Is it strange that I’ve been there? After all, my dad is also from Shaocheng.”

“Oh, you came with Grandpa Chen?”

Chen Rui made a noncommittal sound and Sun Yutan continued, “I thought you had never been there. After all, you weren’t there during Chen Ting’s big celebration that summer.”

Chen Rui didn’t want to talk about the past. He played with her fingers, which were soft and cool. “Come back with me,” he said. He kissed her fingertips. “Hmm? Will you come with me?” He asked, looking up at her with his face up, an expression of temptation and pleading etched on his features.

Sun Yutan’s heart melted, but she had to turn her face away and use her remaining rationality to say, “But I just came back yesterday.”

Chen Rui lowered his head, still holding her hand. Sun Yutan looked at the hair on top of his head, and she finally compromised, “I’ll go back in a couple of days, on the 30th.”

She was originally planning to spend National Day at home.

After Chen Rui left, Su Nan called and asked where she was. With a forced nonchalance, Sun Yutan replied that she was taking a stroll in the nearby park. However, her fibs had piled up to a point where she couldn’t bear to remain idle any longer, so she rose to her feet and sauntered around the park in an effort to calm her nerves. 

The park was bustling with life, as elderly couples strolled hand in hand, their sprightly steps belying their age. In contrast, Sun Yutan, a young woman, felt dwarfed by their energy and vitality. Seeking solace, she settled on a wooden chair, surrounded by the sweet scent of blooming flowers and the symphony of birdsong. As the sun slowly ascended into the azure sky, Sun Yutan closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, savoring the fresh air. But her serenity was abruptly interrupted by a voice calling her name.

It was Su Nan approaching her with a breakfast spread in hand.

Sun Yutan sat perched on the wooden chair, cradling a cup of soy milk in her left hand and nibbling on a crispy fried dough stick with the other. Su Nan peeled a tea egg for her daughter. “You look exhausted,” Su Nan observed. “Did you not sleep well? Perhaps you should head back home and catch up on some rest.”

Sun Yutan nodded guiltily. She leaned her head against Su Nan’s shoulder and tilted her head when she handed her the egg. “I don’t like to eat the yolk.”

Su Nan ate the yolk by herself and  handed her the soy milk. “Don’t choke on it.”

Watching her finish breakfast, Su Nan asked, “What do you want to eat for lunch?”

Sun Yutan mentioned a meal, and Su Nan asked again, “Do you want me to take you back?”

Sun Yutan shook her head, stood up and stretched her limbs, took Su Nan’s hand and said, “Come on, let’s go to the supermarket first.”

When she returned to bed, Sun Yutan saw in her mind the chaotic morning that had happened just a few hours ago, yet it felt so far away.

She tossed and turned in the bed, feeling a faint sweetness in her heart.

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