The night was quite chilly.
Having had dinner a while ago, the couple was still feeling warm and didn’t feel the chill. They strolled along the pavement, hands intertwined.
“Zhining, I feel that Granny isn’t fond of me, though she tries to show affection towards me,” Sheng Jiaoyang spoke, and sideglanced Shen Zhining.
“Doesn’t matter, we’ll return home the day after.”
Sheng Jiaoyang decided to not let the matter weigh on her heart but instead changed the topic. “I should gift Gramps a present on his birthday, what do you think would be the most suitable?”
Without waiting for Shen Zhining to reply, Sheng Jiaoyang continued with another question, “Does Gramps like drawings?”
Shen Zhining stopped in his tracks and looked at her. “You could feel their attitude towards you earlier, why are you still bothering to prepare a present?”
Sheng Jiaoyang smiled as though it didn’t matter to her. “They are your relatives, no matter what I should still perform my duties.”
Thinking of it, Ning Xiaoruan and his parents’ personalities weren’t too bad, so the two Ning elders' temperament shouldn’t be too bad either. Even if they didn’t like her, at least they maintained their demeanour today; that was good enough. After all, Shen Zhining’s last name was Shen and not Ning.
“My birthday is coming up.” Sheng Zhining spoke up suddenly.
She blinked once. April 12th, in the next couple of days.
“What gift have you prepared for me?”
“Uh… If I tell you now, it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore, right?”
Shen Zhining fixed his gaze on her and suddenly broke into a smile. “Alright, I’ll wait for your surprise.”
The street lights weren’t bright, but when he smiled gently, it was as if he was radiating with light, making Sheng Jiaoyang unable to open her eyes.
A sudden gust of wind blew and caused Sheng Jiaoyang to shiver. The night was still quite chilly.
Shen Zhining reached out to pull her into a tight embrace. “Let’s go, let’s head back to rest.”
Taking in his unique body scent, Sheng Jiaoyang felt warmth welling up in her.
Although Shen Zhining didn’t come over often, the Ning Family always left a room for him. It was originally his mother’s, which subsequently became his.
Sheng Jiaoyang picked up the photo frame on the table, which showed a family portrait of an exceptionally handsome Father Shen, a graceful Mother Shen as well as a young man smiling brightly, who of course was Shen Zhining.
“It’s just a photo, do you need to look at it for so long?” A pair of arms reached out from behind, hugging her waist.
“This is my first time seeing them,” she stated, referring to the young couple shown in the photo.
Although Sheng Jiaoyang’s grandfather and Shen Zhining’s grandfather were good friends, truth to be told, Sheng Jiaoyang had never met his parents before they got into the accident.
Shen Zhining hugged her silently, his slightly darkened and solemn gaze fell upon the photo.
Sheng Jiaoyang could instantly sense his feelings without needing to take a look at his expression. She quickly changed the topic. “Zhining, I didn’t know you could look so cheerful.”
“Do you mean,” Shen Zhining came close to her ears, “that I’m not as cheerful now?”
Sheng Jiaoyang drew in her neck, feeling a tad ticklish, and tilted her head to face Shen Zhining. “Can I speak the truth?”
“Don’t tell me you were planning to lie?” Shen Zhining cocked his eyebrows slightly.
Sheng Jiaoyang chuckled. Now that they have been very intimate with each other, she felt more comfortable around him compared to the past. The feeling was similar to a cat which had gotten close to its owner; no longer putting up its claws in defence but instead fully exposing its belly.
“I feel that you don’t match such a cheerful personality,” she teased lightly.
“What do you think of me now?”
After some consideration, Sheng Jiaoyang rolled her eyes and spoke with confidence, “I can’t point it out either.”
Shen Zhining laughed lightly and lifted her chin leaning in. “Seems that you still haven’t fully understood me, let’s…”
“Ahem!” A slightly soft cough came from the door.
Looking over, Ning Xiaoruan was seen holding the handle to the door, his face filled with embarrassment.
“I wasn’t peeping on you guys, your door was left ajar,” Ning Xiaoruan quickly explained.
“Please close the door, thanks,” Shen Zhining hastily chased him out.
Ning Xiaoruan endured the numbness he felt on his scalp and blurted, “Mom and Dad sent me to ask you. We have to head to the hotel early tomorrow morning to welcome guests, are you guys heading over yourselves or are you coming with us?”
“We’ll go with you.” Shen Zhining quickly glanced over. Not leaving yet?
“That, uh,” Ning Xiaoruan scratched his neck, “I’ll let you rest, don’t stay up too late, goodnight.” With that, he quickly closed the door.
Sheng Jiaoyang found it amusing to see Ning Xiaoruan acting like a mouse which bumped into a cat. Ning Xiaoruan must have gotten on Shen Zhining’s bad side before; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been so scared of the latter.
“Right, I haven’t prepared my present yet. Zhining, do you have paper, a brush and ink?” Sheng Jiaoyang spoke hurriedly.
“It’s in the study.”
“Can you bring over a set for me?”
“Let’s just head straight there.”
“I don’t think that’s polite?” Sheng Jiaoyang hesitated. Usually, places like the study were not easily accessible to just anyone.
“You’re not an outsider.”
Shen Zhining brought her to the study.
As soon as they entered, Sheng Jiaoyang was attracted to the two walls that were fully occupied with books; the quintessence of a scholastic environment.
Shen Zhining helped her lay out the materials, and asked, “You’re not doing oil painting?”
“You don’t have any materials for oil painting here. Moreover, you’ll need time to buy them, and more time to let it dry; there isn’t enough time.”
“You’re going to do an ink painting?”
“Yeah, I think Gramps probably like things with a local touch to them.”
“When did you learn this?” Shen Zhining looked at her. He didn’t have any recollection of her having any experience in ink painting.
“I learnt it after I came back. Time was too short; I only scratched the surface, so it’s not going to be great. But since it shows my sincerity, Gramps wouldn’t throw it away, right?” Sheng Jiaoyang said jokingly.
Shen Zhining smiled, “If he throws it out, I’ll take it and treasure it.”
He said treasure, not collect… Sheng Jiaoyang chuckled, feeling delighted as if her heart was drenched with a layer of honey.
Sheng Jiaoyang laid out the high-quality drawing materials and grinded the high-quality inkstones to prepare the ink.
Standing in front of the desk, Sheng Jiaoyang restrained all her emotions and channelled all her focus.
Ink painting is different from oil painting. Oil painting focuses more on the depths of colour and realism, whereas ink painting consists of only black and white and focuses more on the artist’s conception.
Sheng Jiaoyang had already conceptualized a drawing in her mind. She stayed still for a few moments and picked up the brush.
Without hesitation, she drew a huge curve diagonally across the canvas in a single stroke, and smoothly worked on her drawing - dipped her brush in the ink, painted, changed her brush and continued to paint.
A rough sketch soon formed on the white canvas.
After using a fine brush to fill up the remaining minute details, a huge pine tree unyieldingly took root on the canvas.
Soon after, a few more silhouettes appeared under the tree’s shade and stood before the pine tree. Though they appeared small and insignificant, it made the painting seem more harmonious.
With the last stroke of the brush, Sheng Jiaoyang was ready to put down her brush, when Shen Zhining, who was grinding the inkstone, suddenly commented beside her, “You’re not going to sign your name?”
Sheng Jiaoyang put down her brush and looked at Shen Zhining. Seeing that he was admiring her work, a prank suddenly hatched in her mind and she replied, “I can’t sign, as someone had previously paid me a huge sum to seal my pen name.”
Sheng Jiaoyang then paused and continued with a slightly higher tone, “That person said if he ever saw me penning in this name, he would torture me until I was better off dead.”
Shen Zhining’s face froze for a while. He had nearly forgotten about that.
Seeing his expression, Sheng Jiaoyang found it fun teasing him and intentionally said, “I got scared, so I dare not pen with that name ever, but I don’t wish to pen with another name, so it’s better if I don’t do it.”
“Are you blaming me?” Shen Zhining looked at her.
Sheng Jiaoyang lowered her head, and said quietly, “I wouldn’t dare to.”
What if you got upset and locked me up in a small black hut? She muttered under her breath.
“I heard that.” Shen Zhining walked over to Sheng Jiaoyang from the side of the desk.
Looking straight into her eyes, he lifted her face up with his hands and said in a low voice, “I apologize, for all the bastard things I did to you in the past.”
She was only joking around. But seeing how serious he got, Sheng Jiaoyang got a bit uneasy and said, “It’s alright, let bygones be bygones. It’s normal to have that reaction since you didn’t know it was me.”
Shen Zhining turned silent for a while, his gaze deep with meaning as he spoke in a serious tone, “Now that I think of it, it was great that I hadn’t recognised you then.”
“Why?” Doubt grew in Sheng Jiaoyang’s eyes.
Shen Zhining rubbed her cheeks, and began to lead her out of the room. “Let’s go back to the room to rest.”
“Wait, you haven’t answered me yet, why was it a good thing to not have recognised me?”
“I’ll tell you when I receive your surprise present.”
“Hey hey, what’s so secretive about this?”
“Let’s keep the suspense so that you’ll put more effort into preparing my present.”
As the study door closed, everything including that drawing was enveloped in darkness.
The following day during breakfast, Sheng Jiaoyang felt the occasional glances from the main seat at the table. When she looked up, she caught Mr Ning looking at her.
“Gramps, is there something wrong?” Sheng Jiaoyang called out affectionately.
“I heard that you can draw,” Grandfather Ning spoke.
“Yes.” Knowing that Grandfather Ning poised that question to start the conversation, Sheng Jiaoyang put her full attention on him.
Grandfather Ning coughed lightly before asking directly, “The drawing in the study was drawn by you?”
“You saw it?” Sheng Jiaoyang was a little taken aback.
Shen Zhining spoke up beside her, “Gramps would read in the study every morning.”
Sheng Jiaoyang turned and looked at him and thought to herself. Since you knew that, why didn’t you remind me to keep that drawing last night?
She replied to Grandfather Ning, “Gramps, it’s a token from my heart, it’s not done very well, I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mmmhm.” Grandfather Ning answered lightly.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
TL: J.Andie | Editor: Grace | TLC: Grace