Chapter 46: Fairy Tale Town (End)
When Xu Huaiming had just returned, he put up blinds on the bedroom window. When the sun rose, its rays filtered through the gaps, casting dappled shadows. The bedroom was sunny, and the soft light lazily kissed their faces.
Tan Xilu had been ill for three to five days, confined to his bed. His fever persisted, and he struggled to keep down the soup his mother prepared. On the morning of the seventh day of the new year, Tan Xilu finally had a brief moment of clarity.
The sunlight was blinding. Tan Xilu blinked his eyes and took a while to turn his gaze towards his mother, who was stirring the millet soup by the bedside.
He cleared his throat and called out, “Mom.”
Hearing Tan Xilu’s voice, his mother’s hand holding the ladle trembled, causing hot soup to splash on her hand, stinging, but she endured the pain and didn’t say a word. She placed the bowl on the bedside table and used her other hand to gently rub the burnt area while looking at Tan Xilu, asking, “You, my child, have finally awakened.”
Tan Xilu’s eyelids still felt heavy, and he blinked, asking, “How many days have I been sleeping?”
“Today is already the seventh day,” Tan’s mother replied. “If your fever had continued, you might have ended up in heaven when you woke up.”
“It’s not that dramatic,” Tan Xilu said, raising the corner of his mouth and smiling. After a moment, he added, “Mom, I’m a bit hungry.”
“The doctor said to eat something light, so I made you rice soup. I was afraid rice porridge would be too thick for your digestion. Come on, sit up, and I’ll bring it to you,” Tan’s mother replied.
“Okay.” Tan Xilu had been lying in bed for nearly a week, and he felt like his muscles were withering away. He made a considerable effort to prop himself up against the headboard.
The rice soup was lukewarm and just right. Tan Xilu took small sips, but after several days with nothing in his stomach, his body had an involuntary rejection response. Tan’s mother placed a trash bin by the bed, and he ended up vomiting half of the bowl of rice soup.
Seeing Tan Xilu like this, his mother also felt distressed. She sighed and wiped the corners of his mouth with a tissue, asking, “Xiaolu, it’s been so many days, hasn’t your boyfriend come to see you?”
Upon hearing this, Tan Xilu’s hand hesitated for a moment. He then said, “Maybe he’s busy?”
In reality, they had already broken up, and he was sure that he wouldn’t be visited, especially since he hadn’t even received a New Year’s greeting from him. He also had no idea how things were going for Xu Huaiming at the research institute.
“Is that so?” Tan’s mother seemed somewhat hesitant. “It’s the big New Year holiday, how busy could he be at home? Didn’t you say he opened a dessert shop? Which one is it?”
“It’s the one next to the snack street near the Normal University gate. I used to eat there a lot,” Tan Xilu said, his gaze lowered. He wasn’t sure if Xu Huaiming’s dessert shop was still open.
Tan’s mother was taken aback and looked at Tan Xilu with a puzzled expression. She then opened her mouth after a moment of silence. “That shop, huh?”
Tan Xilu felt that his mother’s expression was a bit strange, but he couldn’t figure out what was going on, so he asked, “What’s wrong with that shop? Is there a problem?”
“No,” Tan’s mother shook her head and forced a smile. “Nothing.”
Tan Xilu said, “Oh,” and finished the rest of the rice soup before handing the bowl to his mother.
His mother took it and said, “When you had a fever, and you refused to go to the hospital, your father hired a private doctor. She comes every day to administer your IV drip, and she’s coming to give you today’s drip in a while. For now, watch some TV and don’t go back to sleep.”
“Okay,” Tan Xilu felt a bit puzzled. Would they administer an IV while he was awake? However, he didn’t dwell on it and said, “I understand.”
His mother nodded and took the bowl to the kitchen.
Standing by the kitchen sink, Tan’s mother suddenly felt her ankle being tugged from behind. She looked down and saw that it was the cat, Beibei. Beibei had been sunbathing on the balcony but came in when she saw Tan’s mother’s distress. Wagging her tail, Beibei entered the kitchen.
Tan’s mother felt something pulling at her pants leg and, upon closer inspection, found that Beibei was biting her. She squatted down, tears rolling down her face, and petted the cat, saying, “Little one, Auntie is a bit scared.”
Tan Xilu had told her that Xu Huaiming’s dessert shop was located next to the university’s food street. However, Tan’s mother had just bought ingredients from that area a few days ago, and that dessert shop had closed down many years ago, with no one taking it over. How could Tan Xilu have been eating desserts there?
Tan’s mother’s heart raced.
Beibei licked Tan’s mother’s palm and meowed, as if trying to comfort her.
Tan’s mother picked up the cat and cried for a while with her head down.
About ten minutes later, Tan’s father returned, accompanied by a woman who appeared to be in her thirties. She was a psychologist whom Tan’s father had invited through a colleague. She was known to be authoritative in the field, and they had brought her in to confirm whether Tan Xilu had indeed fabricated the existence of someone who didn’t exist.
From the moment the woman sat down diagonally across from him, Tan Xilu felt that something was amiss. Wasn’t she here to administer an IV? Why didn’t she have an IV with her? Instead, she looked at him as if scrutinizing him, which made Tan Xilu uncomfortable. He looked at his mother with a puzzled expression, and she explained, “Xiaolu, the doctor is just conducting an initial patient history survey for the new year. Answer her questions honestly, and don’t feel burdened.”
Frowning, Tan Xilu didn’t really want to participate in this survey, but he couldn’t refuse. He could only nod.
The woman looked at Tan Xilu and asked, “Can you tell me the story of you and your lover? Even just a little.”
Tan Xilu was puzzled. “Do we need to discuss this?”
The woman smirked, her lips curling up. “I’m curious.”
Tan Xilu looked at her for a moment before reluctantly starting, “We’ve already broken up.”
“What happened after the breakup? Did he look for you?” the woman asked. “Why did you two separate?”
“He looked for me,” Tan Xilu answered one question at a time. “It was… his issue.”
The woman’s tone grew more pressing.
Tan Xilu looked at her, hesitated for a moment, and then said, “I don’t want to answer that.”
“Alright,” the woman spread her hands and said, “You don’t have to answer. Can I ask, after the breakup, did he contact you on your phone?”
Tan Xilu nodded and said, “Yes, he did. He sent me a Happy New Year message on New Year’s Eve.”
“Is it because of the breakup that you didn’t reply?” the woman inquired.
“Not really. That day, one of my students had a car accident, and I was too occupied to respond. I forgot about it later.”
“If the school hadn’t had an incident, would you have replied?”
“We’ve already broken up, so there’s no need to stay in touch.”
The woman nodded and continued, “Can I use your phone for a moment? I won’t touch anything else.”
Tan Xilu hesitated for a moment, then nodded and took his phone from the bedside table. He unlocked it and opened the WeChat chat with Xu Huaiming. Indeed, there was a New Year’s greeting from Xu Huaiming around midnight on New Year’s Eve.
“Is it because of the breakup that you didn’t reply to him?” the woman asked again.
“Not really. I was busy that day because of the car accident. Besides, I forgot about it later.”
“Alright,” the woman said, “You don’t have to answer that. May I use your phone for a moment? I won’t touch anything else.”
Tan Xilu replied, “Sure.”
The woman smiled, and despite her exquisite makeup and fiery red lips, she didn’t make him feel distant. She looked down at Tan Xilu’s phone, and her elegant fingers gently swiped across the screen.
For a moment, Tan Xilu felt that the woman’s eyes resembled Xu Huaiming’s, but Xu Huaiming had a much gentler look, lacking this sharpness.
After a while, the woman returned the phone to him. Her expression was no longer lazy but rather serious. She then asked, “Do you have two phones?”
Tan Xilu questioned, “Why do you ask that?”
Upon hearing the woman’s question about having two phones, Tan Xilu’s face visibly changed, then he averted his gaze and said, “I don’t have two phones.”
“Is that so?” The woman pressed a button on the phone and then stood up. She glanced at Tan Xilu’s bedside table, then turned to open and close the wardrobe. Finally, she crouched down and found a small box in the corner of the wardrobe.
She took the box out, and there was a vibrating sound coming from it.
The woman placed the box on the bedside table, opened it, and took out another phone. She said to Tan Xilu, “Everyone has their own texting habits when they communicate with others. For example, some people add an emoji after every sentence, while others like to use punctuation marks. Based on your messaging habits with your lover, it appears that it was the same person sending the messages.”
“What do you mean by this?” Tan Xilu looked at her in bewilderment. “Are you suggesting that I’m ill?”
At this point, he should have realized that this woman was not a doctor coming to administer an IV, and he understood the implication behind her words. He looked at his parents with a resentful expression and said, “So, you think I’m sick, and that’s why you brought in this doctor?”
Tan’s mother looked at Tan Xilu with worry and said, “No, Mom just cares about you.”
Tan Xilu bit his lip, turned his head toward the window, and after about a minute, he picked up his own phone and called Li Zhao. Only Li Zhao could confirm the existence of Xu Huaiming.
Li Zhao answered almost immediately, “Tan Xilu? Why are you suddenly calling me? Missed me?”
“Li Zhao, please quickly tell my parents who Xu Huaiming is, okay? They don’t believe me,” Tan Xilu’s tone was anxious, as if he was on the verge of tears.
“Xu Huaiming?” Li Zhao sounded like he didn’t remember this person. “Who is that? I don’t know him.”
“How is that possible? It’s the AI you introduced me to at the research institute! You told me he was an AI! And there was Professor Bowen…”
T/N: And that’s the end of it! Poor Tan Xilu… was his lover ever real or was it all a figment of his imagination, we’ll never know…
Wishing you all a good October! There is plenty more where that came from, so stay tuned! And stay healthy! Straighten your posture, so some stretches and drink some water before continuing hehe~
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