But he didn’t go far. As Cheng Xi went to speak with the guard, he leaned against the side of the car, took out a cigarette, and started smoking.
The guard at the school gate was a middle-aged man in his forties. Cheng Xi revealed her identity and mentioned that she wanted to meet Chen Jiaman’s former homeroom teacher.
“She was sent away, sent away a long time ago.”
“Sent away?” Cheng Xi was shocked. “But what about her other teachers?”
“She was only here for a semester, so the other teachers don’t know her.”
“That’s alright, I’d like to ask them a few questions anyway.”
The guard was somewhat unwilling, but nonetheless, still made a call for her. Before long, a young teacher, who introduced himself as Mr. Liu, hurriedly walked outside.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Chen Jiaman’s defense lawyer, Ms. Cheng.”
“Nice to meet you.” As Mr. Liu said this, he looked at her somewhat strangely. “Isn’t Chen Jiaman suffering from mental illness? Why does she have a defense lawyer?”
She had forgotten that teachers knew more than the average old lady from a small town, and couldn’t help but smile awkwardly. “She hasn’t been fully diagnosed yet, so we still have to confirm her situation.”
Luckily, the teacher didn’t request to see her lawyer license or anything. He was very cooperative when Cheng Xi asked him her questions, but he didn’t know very much. “I only taught her a semester of math. That child didn’t like speaking very much, so it was easy for the teachers to forget about her.”
“How were her grades?”
“Alright. Not too good but not too bad either.”
“How were her relationships with her classmates?”
The teacher looked apologetic. “I’m not sure, sorry. I wasn’t her homeroom teacher, so I really knew very little about her.”
“Then, do you remember any important incidents that involved Chen Jiaman?”
“I only remember one thing, which I also told the police officers. There was one day where she wasn’t paying attention in class and was instead drawing in her notebook. I confiscated it, and her reaction was extreme: she screamed loudly, yelled, and even bit me.” As he spoke, he pointed at a section of his wrist. “Right here. The swelling only dissipated after several days.”
“She likes drawing?”
“Probably. At any rate, if she had nothing to do, she would just draw. However, she never let others see what she was drawing.”
“Then, do you know why she quit school?”
“I’m not too sure about this. At any rate, after a school break, she never came back to school again. Her former homeroom teacher even went to speak with her, but she seemed to have made her mind up to not come back.”
Cheng Xi frowned. A child whose grades weren’t too bad surely wouldn’t start hating school for no reason. Her final request was to meet with Chen Jiaman’s classmates, but the students who had been in Chen Jiaman’s year had already graduated and had gone to high school elsewhere, with only a scant few remaining in this region. And not only that, but neither they nor their parents were willing to talk about this classmate who had killed her own grandmother. So, meeting them wouldn’t have been very beneficial.
The math teacher was trying to decline Cheng Xi’s request politely. Cheng Xi didn’t push further either; it would have been useless. Once she left the school, she used purchasing things as an excuse to interview more people around the neighborhood, and even returned to Chen Jiaman’s elementary school. The information she received there was essentially the same as what Mr. Liu had told her.
Normally, Chen Jiaman seemed to be a quiet, introverted, untalkative, beautiful, but particularly gloomy girl.
Those who lived a stifling life were very likely to develop some sort of extreme mental condition. This was the conclusion that Cheng Xi arrived at after spending the entire afternoon collect information.
Seeing that it was past noon, Cheng Xi started to feel hungry. She asked Lu Chenzhou, “Do you want to eat anything? I’ll pay.”
Lu Chenzhou gazed at his surroundings and said nothing.
This meant that he was disdainful, so Cheng Xi turned around and asked the chauffeur, “Mr. Lu doesn’t seem to be hungry yet, but do you want to get lunch with me?”
The chauffeur looked at Lu Chenzhou, and, after seeing that he didn’t object, got out of the car and walked to a little restaurant that looked somewhat clean.
This place was quite far from the Chen family house, close to the middle of the town. From this restaurant, one could barely see the front gate of the middle school that Chen Jiaman had attended.
The owners of the restaurant were a middle-aged couple. Because it was already past lunchtime, there were only two people eating noodles in the restaurant. The wife was sitting at the door of the kitchen plucking vegetables, and the husband looking over bills from the counter. Seeing the two come in, he enthusiastically asked, “Would you like something to eat?”
Cheng Xi and the chauffeur looked at the menu and ordered three dishes and soup. The chauffeur was worried that his boss would be hungry, and so, he considerately asked for a new bowl from the owner, washed it, and then brought it over to Lu Chenzhou. However, it was returned in the exact same condition.
Cheng Xi, upon seeing his dejected expression, smiled. “Was he unwilling to have it?”
“Yeah.” The driver wanted to sigh. “He said that he wasn’t hungry.”
“Then let’s eat by ourselves.” Cheng Xi was indifferent towards Lu Chenzhou’s predilections. By this point, their food had arrived. Cheng Xi tried a bite: the taste wasn’t too good. It was too oily. But the portions were big, and they didn’t care too much because they were hungry.
After the owner’s wife brought the food out, she even took the initiative to ask, “Are you two here to hear about Chen Jiaman’s story?”
Given how many people there were in the little town, there were essentially no secrets in this place, and Cheng Xi was eye-catching in terms of both her attire and her looks. So no matter what she asked, people would learn about it in no time.
Cheng Xi nodded. “Yes.” She smiled at the owner’s wife. “Do you know her?”
“Of course, who wouldn’t know her in this town?”
“Then are you familiar with her?”
“Somewhat, My restaurant is right here, so I essentially know all the students who study here.”
“Then what was your impression of Chen Jiaman?”
“Nothing much. She didn’t like to talk and was always alone. Ah, what’s she to you? Why are you here asking about her? Isn’t she crazy now?”
Cheng Xi only answered her first question. “I’m the defense lawyer that the court appointed to her. Do you know whether she had good friends or classmates with whom she was close?”
“I’m not sure about that. At any rate, I always saw her alone. According to me, if she’s crazy, then she should be locked up in a mental institution; if she’s not crazy, and actually was willing to kill her own grandmother, then she should be locked up all the more. How frightening.”
Upon hearing this, Cheng Xi could only laugh bitterly. This was the stance of almost the entire town—everyone hoped that Chen Jiaman would vanish from the world, or, at the very least, never come back.
Cheng Xi kept feeling that these townsfolk’s enmity and rejection were somewhat strange because, throughout her entire time here, she heard almost no one express sympathy for the girl. It was mostly deep hatred and fear.
Cheng Xi felt very perplexed. “Despite the fact that Chen Jiaman killed someone, given her state of mind, it wouldn’t be out of place to say that it was accidental. So why are you all so afraid of her?”
The owner’s wife wanted to say more, but the owner loudly slapped the table by the counter. “Stop chatting. Can’t you smell the dishes burning in the kitchen?”
The owner’s wife quickly retreated back into the kitchen. Cheng Xi turned around, and saw the owner smile at her. “The women here are generally quite timid; please don’t pay them any attention, Ms. Lawyer.”
Such an explanation was pushing it a little bit, but Cheng Xi didn’t comment on it any further. She could see that the owner didn’t want her to continue pursuing this thread of conversation, even to the point of forbidding his wife from speaking any further.
After eating, Cheng Xi didn’t leave immediately. Instead, she decided to wait until school was over. Perhaps, if she was lucky, she would be able to meet one or two students who knew, or rather, were familiar with Chen Jiaman.
But Lu Chenzhou’s hunger was also problematic. Luckily, just as she was leaving the restaurant, she saw an old lady pushing a small pushcart and selling roasted sweet potatoes. The small charcoal-cooked sweet potatoes gave off an enticing aroma from far away.
She ran over to buy a few, but when she returned, she found that Lu Chenzhou had gotten out of the car at some point, and was smoking not far away from the car. His posture was very handsome; one hand was grasping the cigarette, the other in his shirt pocket, a small indent between his eyes, and his expression ultimately cool. From afar, he seemed just like a mountain stream in a distant forest, shrouded in an aura of mystery.
Cheng Xi waved the roasted sweet potatoes in front of his nose. “Do you want some?”
Lu Chenzhou didn’t even glance at it.
“Are you worried about it being dirty? Cheng Xi smiled, took one out of the bag, and slowly peeled it. “The nature of clean freaks is to like dirty things. This potato looks gray and patchy, black and dirty, but once you peel off the outer layer of skin, the inside is sweet and tasty—won’t you try it?”
Saying this, she held out the now peeled sweet potato to him, smiling.
Lu Chenzhou didn’t take it, instead looking critically at her. “Don’t smile at me,” he said calmly, “When you smile, you look repulsively ugly!”
Just as she was about to take her hand back, Lu Chenzhou lowered his body and bit the proffered sweet potato that she had peeled.
He swallowed one bite and then commented somewhat distastefully, “It isn’t sweet enough.” After saying this, he took another bite. The small sweet potato that Cheng Xi had peeled was finished off in just two bites.
And he even ate it very elegantly; after he was done, his mouth was clean and stainless.
Cheng Xi thought to herself, This is a patient, don’t bother bickering with him. Just as she was about to ask if he wanted more, her gaze suddenly turned sharp, and she pulled him aside.
A big splash could be heard, and then Cheng Xi suddenly found that her back was damp, and her body chilled to the core.
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