Cactus in Distress Chapter 4

Chapter 4

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As the sun began to set over Haicheng, Chen Kaisheng extended an invitation to his guests for a lavish dinner. The family driver arrived promptly to pick them up, and as they settled into the plush interior of the car, Sun Yutan sensed her mother’s slight apprehension. With a gentle squeeze of her hand, Sun Yutan sought to reassure her, and soon enough, the two were exchanging playful gestures and laughter.

As they made their way through the coastal city, Sun Yutan was mesmerized by the unfamiliar streetscape. The vibrant energy and bustling atmosphere of Haicheng were worlds apart from the more subdued ambiance of Shaocheng.

After passing through a large iron gate, they arrived at a small villa, surrounded by lush green lawns, trimmed bushes, and flowers. To their surprise, Zeng Xinyun was waiting for them, greeting them warmly and inviting them inside. Su Nan was overwhelmed by the hospitality and graciousness of their hosts, but Zeng Xinyun quickly made her feel at ease by asking if they had a comfortable journey.

Chen Kaisheng lounged in his home, surrounded by a small group of individuals engaged in idle chatter. Sun Yutan, though attentive at first, quickly found herself drifting away from the mundane conversation of the adults. The words flowed in one ear and out the other, leaving no lasting impression.

As her mind began to wander, she caught sight of the breathtaking sunset outside the window. Lost in the beauty of the moment, she failed to notice Zeng Xinyun’s approach until she proposed a walk outside. Sun Yutan eagerly accepted, glad for the chance to escape the monotony of the room.

“Be careful not to stray too far,” her mother reminded her.

Sun Yutan nodded in understanding. “I’ll stay close,” she promised.

Zeng Xinyun spoke up, “It’s alright to be a little late. My son went out to play soccer with some friends and hasn’t returned yet. Xiao Tan, would you mind calling him for me?”

“Okay,” Sun Yutan replied with a smile.

“He’s wearing a lake blue short-sleeved shirt today, with light-colored pants.”

As she stepped out into the open air, Sun Yutan took a slow and leisurely stroll around the surrounding area. The lack of buildings provided an unobstructed view, and she soon caught sight of a soccer field located on a slope behind the house. A group of young boys were energetically chasing after each other, fully immersed in the game.

Although soccer wasn’t a sport that Sun Yutan was particularly interested in, she stood and watched for a while before following the winding path that led down towards the field. In Shaocheng, her female classmates would occasionally get together to watch soccer, but they never really understood the game. However, Sun Yutan couldn’t help but admire the boys’ skill and passion for the sport.

It wasn’t long before she spotted Mr. Chen’s son amongst the group of players. His tall stature, sweat-soaked hair, and chiseled features made him easily distinguishable from the others. As he ran across the field, his clothes billowed in the wind, creating a bulging effect that made him look like a character from a comic book. Sun Yutan couldn’t help but feel a sense of admiration for the boy’s athleticism and striking appearance.

Suddenly, Sun Yutan realized that she had forgotten to ask for his name. She hesitated several times before finally mustering the courage to speak up. But just as she opened her mouth to speak, the boys suddenly stopped playing and turned their attention towards her.

Feeling a bit self-conscious, Sun Yutan sat down on the grass, waiting for someone to acknowledge her. It was then that Mr. Chen’s son strode towards her. As he approached, Sun Yutan raised her hand in greeting and said, “Hello.”

However, to her surprise, he seemed to ignore her completely, walking straight past her without so much as a glance in her direction. Sun Yutan couldn’t help but feel a bit taken aback by his dismissive behavior. “How arrogant,” she thought to herself.

But if that was all, Sun Yutan wouldn’t have held a grudge for so long.

Chen Rui entered the house and quickly made his way up the stairs. For a moment, she stood there, unsure of what to do. But then, she heard the sound of voices coming from upstairs, piquing her curiosity.

She couldn’t quite make out what they were saying at first, but as she strained her ears, she heard Chen Rui speaking impatiently. “How many of these people are still left?” 

Zeng Xinyun, whose voice was much softer, replied, “Her family is different.”

“What’s so different about them?” Chen Rui retorted, clearly annoyed. “And why bring them here?”

Zeng Xinyun’s voice remained calm as she explained, “Your father owes a debt of gratitude to her grandfather. He helped him out in a time of need, so it’s only right that we show them some hospitality.”

Chen Rui let out a sarcastic laugh. “How refreshing,” he said. “Trying to repay a favor, huh?”

Be it due to the dream or her memory, Chen Rui’s mocking expression became more vivid in her mind. Like an outsider, Sun Yutan watched her fifteen-year-old self suddenly stopped smiling. As she stood there, unsure of whether to stay or leave, Chen Rui had turned to her with a smirk on his face. He had locked eyes with her, seemingly unfazed by her presence, and his gaze had seemed to say that his suspicions were confirmed. He thought she had deliberately eavesdropped on his conversation.

In that moment, Sun Yutan felt a surge of frustration and anger, but she decided not to defend herself. Instead, she smiled at him and turned to leave. Over the next three years, their paths would often cross in the school hallways, playground, and small paths. Sun Yutan would always greet him first, out of politeness, but Chen Rui never responded to her. At most, he would offer a nod of his head, filled with arrogance and disdain.

Sun Yutan could sympathize with Chen Rui’s actions. After returning home that day, she became curious about the Chen family’s history. It didn’t take her long to discover the old stories and Chen Kaisheng’s reputation for “forgetting one’s roots” over the past few decades.

No amount of wealth or success could erase one’s past. Those relatives who had never shown Chen Kaisheng any kindness, whether by blood or name, now shamelessly came to him seeking favors and help.

Chen Kaisheng cared little about his reputation and held grudges against those who had wronged him. If he was in a good mood, he would receive visitors, but if he was busy, he would make them wait indefinitely. His most criticized trait was his neglect of his own mother, whom he merely sent money to every year and considered it enough.

By the time Chen Rui was born, Chen Kaisheng was already in his thirties with a wife and young child to care for. His career was flourishing, leaving him with little time to deal with outside affairs. He had security guards to intercept anyone who came from Shaocheng, and though there were always a few persistent ones who caused a commotion, it was all for naught.

Sun Yutan couldn’t help but feel disgusted and annoyed at the greedy farces and the ugliness of Chen Rui’s “uncles and aunts.” She imagined herself in Chen Rui’s shoes, witnessing such behavior from her own family, and shuddered at the thought.

However, Sun Yutan’s own family was not like that. Or were they? A warning bell rang in her heart as she sat at her desk. She realized that the house they were currently residing in belonged to the Chen family. Chen Kaisheng had allowed them to live there temporarily, stating that his family had lived in two apartments on that floor in the past, and they had been vacant since they moved out.

A sudden image of Chen Rui’s contemptuous expression flashed in her mind, causing Sun Yutan’s face to sink. She closed her practice book for the Chinese course of the first year of high school and let out a wail, throwing herself onto the bed.

“I shouldn’t have come to Haicheng after all,” she wailed. The thought of being associated with such a stigma was too much for her to bear. She resolutely decided to keep her distance from Chen Rui and his family.

It had been nearly a decade since Sun Yutan had last set foot in Haicheng. One morning, dressed in her pajamas, she ventured downstairs to indulge in the diverse selection of breakfast that Haicheng had to offer. The sight of the tantalizing dishes and the delicious smells that wafted through the air were almost overwhelming. Sun Yutan’s list of desired items grew longer with each passing moment.

Her natural carefree demeanor took over as she ordered far more than she could possibly consume. Greed had taken hold, and she simply couldn’t resist the temptation.

Lost in her thoughts, Sun Yutan stood at the door fumbling for her keys. Suddenly, the sound of the lock turning made her jump. She spun around to see Chen Rui standing in the doorway, just as surprised to see her as she was to see him.

Chen Rui hesitated for a moment before asking, “Are you not going to work today?”

“Yes, I’ll go in a few days” Sun Yutan answered without further explanation. 

“Do you want me to help you carry it?” Chen Rui reached out to her.

“No need, no need.”

Sun Yutan stepped aside as Chen Rui walked past her. She was momentarily surprised when he unexpectedly turned back and asked her, “Is this restaurant good?”

“It’s very delicious. It has been thriving for decades.”

“Can you finish all of this food by yourself?”

“Hmm…” Sun Yutan trailed off, intending to say that she couldn’t finish it, but she suddenly realized something and asked uncertainly, “I can’t finish it. Have you already eaten? If not, would you like to eat together?”

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