For a university student, options available for earning extra income were limited to tutoring and if you were looking for more income, part time employment was almost available at any gas station. In Yan-Luo’s case, she chose to do both since she was anxious to help Qian pay off the family debt so they could start a life together.
One evening Yan-Luo immediately went into the shower after arriving home from work at the gas station. The heavy odor of oil and gasoline that filled the air caught the attention of her mother. “What is that horrible smell?”
“I just came home from working at the gas station Mother.”
“You have a tutoring job so why do you have to work at a gas station too? Don’t I give you enough allowance?”
She didn’t want to tell her that she was earning money to help her boyfriend pay his debts. And, she was in no mood to deal with the stress of listening to the objections and arguments from her father. “No Mother. The father of one of the seniors in our drama club has just passed away and his mother is suffering from depression. The club decided to start a fund to help him out so he could graduate with his class mates.”
Li-Mu smiled at her daughter’s generosity.
“Don’t mention this to Father.”
“Why not? It is a good thing you are doing. He would be proud of that.”
“It is such a small thing that it won’t matter to him anyway.”
After a month passed, Yan-Luo stopped going to work at the gas station but her mother didn’t give much thought to it. She assumed that the fundraising project had ended. But she was troubled by Yan-Luo’s melancholy mood.
“Why are you so down-in-the mouth? Did you quarrel with your boyfriend?”
“Don’t pry Mother. I’m just not in the mood for twenty questions right now.”
“When will you bring your boyfriend over to the house so we can meet him?”
“Now is not a good time. Please just give it a rest.”
“I was chatting with Mrs. Wang next door. Remember, she wanted to introduce you to her son’s math tutor as a possible boyfriend? She said that there was a tragic death in the family and that his tutor had to quit the university to help out with the family finances. He is no longer available to teach Xiao-Ming so she has to find a new tutor.”
Yan-Luo could no longer contain her sorrow and told her mother about Qian. “My boyfriend is Xiao-Ming’s math tutor. His father was framed for taking bribes at the customs bureau and was put in jail. His mother borrowed a large sum of money to have a lawyer argue his case and get an acquittal. However, his father committed suicide before the trial and the lawyer would not return any of the funds paid for his defense.
Qian had to quit school to support his family and get a job so he could pay back the borrowed money. When I tried to give him the money I had saved to help him, he refused to take it. It broke my heart to be treated like an outsider. I know he loves me deeply but his pride won’t let him accept my help.”
Her mother was surprised to find out that her boyfriend was actually the neighbor boy’s tutor that Mrs. Wang wanted to introduce to Yan-Luo. It’s true that he was struggling due to a tragic misfortune but still, it was silly of her daughter to think that she could make any significant contribution toward paying off his debts.
“His father committed suicide? That’s horrible. I think I read something about that in the newspaper. I never thought that our family would be connected to that event. He was accused of some very serious crimes.”
“I already told you Mother that he was framed by his boss who was actually guilty of the crimes that Xue-Heng was prosecuted for. If he was really guilty why would he commit suicide? If he was convicted he would only have to serve a short sentence and be free. His deep sense of integrity and morality would not allow him to confess to a crime he did not commit.”
“You said his family has a heavy burden of debt and not only did he refuse to accept any money from you but lost his temper and started a big fight about it?”
“Yes. He said he could not accept charity. He works day and night to pay off the family debt and yet he will not accept my help given out of deep love. I felt so humiliated.”
Her mother was overcome with her daughter’s heart-rending account. She took Yan-Luo in her arms and gently stroked her hair while wiping away the tears on her cheeks.
“Don’t cry my child. You are still young and in the future you might look back on this and think it was silly to get so upset. He wouldn’t accept your money even though his difficulty is so great. He is a good honest man with a deep sense of responsibility for the support of his family. When the opportunity arises, I would like to meet him. I will talk to your father about him.”
Hearing this, Yan-Luo let out a sigh of relief and laughed softly. She would not have been so optimistic if she had known in advance how unreceptive her father would be to meeting Qian.
As promised, Yan-Luo’s mother suggested to her husband that they invite Qian over to dine with them so they could get to know him better.
“I heard that his family is in serious financial trouble and can’t even afford to keep their house. Besides that, he dropped out of the university and won’t have a degree to help him get a good job. Worst of all, his father committed suicide while awaiting trial for charges of bribery. Don’t even consider for a second that I would approve of a marriage between my daughter and a loser like that!”
“Don’t be ridiculous! They are just dating and there is no talk of marriage. No need to get so worked up over nothing. “
“Well, if they aren’t planning to get married, then what’s the point of meeting him?”
“That isn’t even the issue. If our daughter is dating him, we should find out what kind of a boy he is.”
“What kind of a child do you think a corrupt father would raise? As they say, ‘like father, like son’. You should be censoring her relationships and encouraging her to break up with him instead of coming to me to do it for you.”
“If you don’t think I properly taught our daughter about relationships and dating, then you tell her yourself that you are not willing to meet her boyfriend. Every impression you have of him is based on rumor and unsubstantiated accusations. You have never met him so you have no right to judge him. But, if you insist on arbitrarily rejecting him, you tell your daughter to break up with him. Good luck with that. I doubt that she will listen to you anyway!”
This admonishment grated against his deeply ingrained military demeanor. ”Very well! If you won’t perform your duty and tell her, then I will have to do it.”
As predicted, Yan-Luo defiantly rejected her father’s advice to break up which made him even more angry. “Your mother’s lack of discipline has spoiled you. The result is a rebellious child that will not listen to her parents. You are so enamored with him that you can’t comprehend the reality of how hard a life with a person like that would be. There would be times when you wouldn’t know where your next meal was coming from. I can’t believe that you are not apprehensive about struggling in a life of poverty.”
Yan-Luo and her father had reached an impasse regarding her relationship with Qian. To her, love was of paramount importance and overshadowed any other considerations including respect for her father’s opinions. And her father’s many years in the military life made it impossible for him to tolerate what he perceived to be insubordination. Finally, at the insistence of and coaxing from his wife her father agreed to invite Qian to dine with them.