"Boss? " Bao Zi called, uncharacteristically solemn, staring up into the distance from his spot on the floor.
"Yes Bao Zi?" Ye Xiu replied, matching the child’s solemnity.
"It's pretty hard."
"Hm? What is?"
"Being the Chosen One"
"..." Ye Xiu paused in the middle of sewing back the strap of Bao Zi's apron. No, forge on. There was a method to Bao Zi's...idiosyncrasies. Sometimes. Maybe. He had yet to find it. Today could be the day. "What seems to be the problem?"
"I still have parents"
"Yes, a good thing. " There were some kids that came here from the orphanage for some basic lessons. Was this going to be a talk about death? Abandonment? How Chosen One Main Characters in adventures always had to lose someone dear to them to force them into a transformative journey? Ye Xiu took a deep breath, steeling himself. He might not be able to relate to the Main Character bit, but he could at least share about losing a dear friend.
Bao Zi rolled to his side. "Chen-jie and Wu-ge will probably get married."
"It's highly possible, yes." Was this about parenthood? Chosen One, parents, marriage. Okay, the train of thought was still on track. Vague, but par for the course with Bao Zi.
"Since they're nice, they'll probably win a kid."
Win? A Kid? Was this going to be the Where Do Babies Come From ™ Talk? Or rather...it sounded like he had already asked? But what kind of answer resulted in " Win a kid "? Maybe Bao Zi's parents were just as incomprehensible as he was? Maybe Bao Zi was the Grand Jackpot of prizes and thus, The Chosen One???
"Probably, if that's what they want." Ye Xiu seriously debated calling for backup. Was it because "Bāo" meant package? Seriously? Parents sometimes...
Bao Zi rolled to his other side. "The Principal of Glory High School is old."
Ye Xiu safely tucked the needle into the fabric before he rubbed his forehead to stave off the whiplash. The train...the train was off track. Or no, he was just too weak to see the tracks. Maybe there were no tracks at all. No solid ground either. Maybe this was actually an airplane in the open skies.
Following Bao Zi's free spirit always ended with him feeling nauseatingly untethered.
"Is he actually dying?" Bao Zi cried out in alarm at Ye Xiu's reaction, pushing himself up to sit. "I'm too young to replace him!"
What...the what ? The even?
Ye Xiu, as a grown-up recognizing that he was completely lost, did a very brave thing.
He asked for help.
[Happy Day-Care Rule Number 12: Don't be too proud to admit when you don't understand.]
"Bao Zi, I'm sorry, but I don't understand what you're trying to say."
[Happy Day-Care Rule Number 5: When in trouble, ask for help. When lost, ask for directions.]
"Please help me understand why you being the Chosen One with parents, Chen-jie and Wu-ge having a child, and the Glory High Principal being old are all connected?"
Bao Zi frowned up at him in confusion. "But Boss... that's what I was doing…"
Oh…that was the explanation... Ye Xiu rubbed the back of his neck ruefully.
"Okay, how about we divide it into pieces?" Ye Xiu asked gently, putting his mending project down. He motioned for Bao Zi to face the other way before reaching out to fix his short stub of a ponytail. The tie was in danger of falling off. "Why are you the Chosen One?"
"Because my name is Bāo Róng Xìng!" Bao Zi exclaimed, looking over his shoulder in surprise. The silent "Why do you even need to ask?" might as well have been hung on a flashing neon sign. Ye Xiu didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
"Okay, and what is your destiny? As the Chosen One?" He forged on, running his fingers through the child’s hair, doing his best to gently untangle a day’s worth of knots. Thank goodness he had so much experience with Mucheng.
"I'm going to be the one to unite Happy Pre-school and Glory High once and for all and solve all our problems!" Bao Zi said triumphantly. "It's my destiny!"
“Oh?” Finally, some progress; both with the hair and in figuring out what all this was about. “And how do you know it’s your destiny? Did someone tell you?”
“Why would anyone have to tell me?” the boy asked, incredulous. “I am Bāo Róng Xìng!”
Well, he certainly has the Main Character way of talking down pat. Ye Xiu tried a different approach.
“Well then, Noble Hero,” Ye Xiu intoned, tying off the now-neat stub of a ponytail, “how do you plan to unite the two great realms of Happy and Glory?’
“That’s the proooooblem,” the child moaned, rolling to his back and then egg-rolling around. Ye Xiu lit an incense stick in his heart for the ponytail stub. “ Both schools are gonna be mine when I’m big. But how can Chen-jie or Glory’s Principal give them to me if I’m not their son? They’d have to get married so they could both adopt me but that would be weird ,” his nose scrunched up at just how weird that was. “And besides! Chen-jie and Wu-ge are so lovey dovey! I don’t want them to break up! And they can’t adopt me anyway! I still have parents!” he flopped spread-eagled.
“You’re supposed to...own the schools? Both of them?” Where in the world did Bao Zi get that idea?
“Yeah! They both have my names on them! So they’re mine!” Bao Zi said with a proud gap-toothed grin of ownership. “And since there’s two of them, but only one of me, and there can’t be two of me, then they must become one of them!” he finished triumphantly.
‘Oh my god’ Ye Xiu thought, gobsmacked. ‘They had his names on them. Bāo Róng Xìng (包荣兴), Glory (Róng Yào 荣耀), and Happy (Xìng Xīn 兴欣). Thus, they both belonged to him. And since his name had two characters together, then naturally, the schools should follow suit. A package deal, Bāo (包). But Bao Zi couldn’t think of a reason for Chen Guo or Glory High’s Owner to give their schools to him unless he was their son. But they weren’t marrying each other; like two kingdoms uniting their territory. If Chen Guo had a child or two with Wu Chen, then they would be the heirs. Bao Zi thinks Glory High’s owner is its principal who - in the boy’s very young mind - looks like he might die any second. If he did adopt Bao Zi and died, Bao Zi would be too young to handle the responsibility of such an inheritance. But all this adoption is a moot point because Bao Zi still had parents.
It was logical; when made with the understandable assumptions of a child. It’s mine, I put my name on it. It has my name on it, it’s mine. From a child’s perspective it would scream DESTINY , no doubt about it. Deeply thought out and thorough. But at the end of the day, utterly simple. Ye Xiu sat dazed.
Ye Xiu felt a finger prodding his leg. “Boss Ye-ge?”
Ye Xiu shook himself out of his stupor. “Uh, yes Bao Zi?”
The boy’s whole face scrunched up in worry. “So what should I do? The Suit Men keep trying to kick us out but I don’t think I’m old enough to fulfill my destiny yet.”
Ye Xiu sighed. As charming and amusing Xiao Bao’s dilemma was to an adult like him, the poor kid legitimately thought that the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He slung an arm around the boy’s shoulders, drawing him in to lean against him.
“Okay, Xiao Bao, the most important thing for you to know is that there’s no reason to worry. We’re not going to lose Happy,” Ye Xiu said, as he rubbed Bao Zi’s arm consolingly. “Chen-jie, Wu-ge, Old Man Wei, I, and all the other grown-ups along this street are not going to let those people kick us out.”
“Are you sure?” Bao Zi asked, looking up at him. “Maybe we should rough them up a bit? Just in case?” He mimed a whirling motion with his hand.
Ye Xiu could already imagine the tied-up-tennis-shoes or cans-in-a-plastic-bag whirling away to a real estate agent’s head and winced in sympathy. He really needed to have a Talk with Bao Zi’s parents. Wei Chen too, for sure. The kids loved the local convenience store’s crude brother; who talked like a TV mobster but slipped them candy on the sly. If you asked Ye Xiu at 16, he would have never expected he’d be the one to chastise Wei-xuezhang concerning The Impressionable Youth. Not when he was right there with him in the betting rings, fighting for wins with Muqiu at his side. Oh how times change.
He looked Bao Zi sternly in the eye. “Yes Bao Zi, I am very sure. Also, we don’t hurt people to solve our problems. It’s a very unkind thing to do. I don’t want you or your classmates threatening to do such things. Do I make myself clear?”
Bao Zi heaved a very put-upon sigh. “Yes, Ye-ge.”
Ye Xiu nodded and patted Bao Zi on the arm. “Good.” He let go and picked up his sewing project again.
Bao Zi meanwhile, flopped back down to the floor. After some time, he squirmed, rolled over to his stomach, huffed, and then rolled once more onto his back, restless.
Ye Xiu looked at him from the corner of his eye, lips pursed. Was Bao Zi throwing a small tantrum for being scolded? “Yes, Xiao Bao?” he said as serenely as he could.
The kid kept restlessly flopping into different positions, “What happens to my destiny?” he frowned, frustrated.
Oh right. “Who knows? There’s no reason it can’t happen in the future.” Ye Xiu mused, until he remembered- “NOT! That. You have. To be adopted” he added haltingly. “There are other ways. Let’s not wish any ill upon your parents.”
Bao Zi stilled from where he was; on his stomach, legs curled over, trying to let his toes touch his ears. “Really Boss? I don’t have to be adopted?”
“Not at all!” Ye Xiu smiled gently. “Kids don’t always want to follow in the footsteps of their parents. There are many businesses that do try to keep it all within the family but that doesn’t have to be the rule forever. If you are patient, hard-working, and show that you care deeply about what these schools stand for, who knows, maybe you might be the one they choose to pass it on to. It’s possible!” You could also buy them out of their shares to become a major stakeholder, but more on that when you’re older, Ye Xiu continued silently.
Bao Zi’s eyes suddenly lit up with a Very Determined Glint.
“It would probably take many years of effort to show your dedication.” Ye Xiu added wryly. He didn’t want Bao Zi ambushing Chen Guo and Glory High’s Principal endlessly for weeks, trying to convince them that he deserved to inherit the schools. Speaking of which...
“Just so you don’t go ambushing the wrong people - not that you should ambush anyone, mind you - the principal of Glory High is not its owner. I believe it is now being managed by the son of the Róng family who’s only in his twenties. And while the principal may look very old to someone as young as you, he’s actually only in his fifties. As long as he takes care of his health, he should have many years ahead of him, still.”
Bao Zi frowned up at the ceiling in deep concentration; opened his mouth to say something before closing it again, looking slightly confused, he asked: “So what Ye-ge is saying is…?”
“You still have time, Xiao Bao.” Ye Xiu assured as he locked the last of his stitches - not too bad for someone who hadn’t sewn since Grade School. He motioned for Bao Zi to stand up. “You have many years to grow. Besides, you haven’t even started schooling in Glory High! Who knows, you might end up wanting to do something completely different when you grow older. At the end of the day,” he said as he slowly lowered the apron over Bao Zi’s head, “the only one who can decide your fate, is you.”
Bao Zi gaped open-mouthed. He felt like he had just been blessed. Like those magical ceremonies on TV. He copied the salute his mom taught him, and yelled, “Bao Rongxing thanks Ye Shishu for his teachings and will do his best to follow!” Then he ran out of the room.
Ye Xiu blinked, perplexed. What in the name of wuxia-?
Then Bao Zi ran back in and hugged Ye Xiu. “Bao Zi also thanks Ye-ge for fixing his apron!” And then he ran back out to join the others.
Feeling slightly winded, Ye Xiu rubbed a hand over his mouth, a wide smile trying to spread but twitching because he was so unused to it.
Kids, you know?