Joe and I were both at my uncle and his sister’s wedding banquet, but there were a lot of people there and we didn’t see each other.  Yanhua was very proud of his brother and talked about him constantly.  She told us that he had been accepted into the graduate program at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.  I wanted to meet her brother who was going to be a graduate student at my dream university.  For some reason, I imagined Joe to be an old guy since I was only a high school freshman at the time, anyone over twenty was old to me, and his Chinese name Zhongde that meant loyalty and virtue made him sound old as well.

One day Yanhua said that his brother was coming to my Aunt’s place to visit.  I came home from school after rehearsing for a large-scaled performance for a major sports event in Shanghai.  I wore a white gymnastic suit with bright pink trims and my hair was in a ponytail on the top of my head.  I looked like a little gymnast except that my body was not flexible enough to do any of the moves they could do. I was skinny and petite like a bean sprout.

“Is Zhongde here yet?” I wondered loudly as I came in the door.

A young man in his early 20s sitting on our willow armchair with his back towards the door turned around and looked at me.   He wore a gray modern Chinese tunic suit, gold-framed thick eyeglasses, and with a book in his hand.  He had the appearance of a typical diligent Chinese scholar, quite handsome too.

He’ll make a good husband for me someday.  I surprised myself with that thought.

“This is uncle Zhongde.  Where are your manners, young lady?”  Grandma corrected me.

“Oh, hi, hello, uncle Zhongde.  How are you?”  I giggled.

When he smiled, his eyes smiled too.  I fell in love.

Joe majored in physics.  I sucked at physics.  It never made sense to me.  I asked him to be my tutor because a better test score on physics could only improve my chance to be accepted by Jiao Tong University.

I started going to Jiao Tong University every weekend bringing with me all the physics problems I didn’t want to solve.  Joe would solve them one by one and explain to me in detail the methodology and theories used.  I would listen quietly without giving him clear indication as to whether I got it or not.  He would go on and on until he thought I understood.  I loved spending time with him and my weekly tutoring session soon became the highlight of my week.

One Saturday I arrived at his dorm in the torrential rain.  He looked anxious.  “I was afraid you were not going to show up today.”

“Why? I said I was to come.”

“Look at you.  You are soaking wet.  You must be hungry too.  Let’s go to the cafeteria and get something to eat.”

Joe ordered extra food and was particularly sweet and somewhat nervous that day.

I normally took the bus home after the tutoring session.  But Joe offered to walk me home in the rain. It would take more than an hour.  We walked silently under the same umbrella.  I had a feeling that something was about to happen.

“I’d like to tell you a story.  Do you want to hear it?” Joe broke the silence, clearing his throat.

“I’d love to hear it.”  I replied quietly.

“Once there was a little boy who lived with his grandparents in Pu Dong.  His parents came to see him and his brother on weekends.  On a cold, sunny winter day when he was about five, he went out to play by himself.  He walked on the lake that was frozen.  Soon he started running and jumping and was having so much fun.  Suddenly the ice broken and he dropped into the freezing water.  He tried frantically to pull himself out and succeeded.  The little boy ran as fast as his little legs could carry him back home.  He had a high fever for a few days and later developed severe bronchitis and asthma.  His parents took him back to Shanghai.  Many nights he couldn’t breathe and they had to take him to the hospital, sometimes more than once in one night.  He felt guilty for being such a burden to his mom and dad.  They had eight kids and had to work hard enough for the family without him being sick all the time.  He didn’t go to school most of the time as a result of his poor health.  During his last year in high school, the college entrance exam system was restored for the first time after the Cultural Revolution.   With only a few months to prepare for the big exam, he worked hard and absorbed everything like a sponge.  He passed with flying colors and got into Jiao Tong University the physics department.  He started working out in college and his respiratory problems no longer bothered him that much anymore … Although he had a girlfriend from high school, she had broken up with him because she didn’t want to be limited …”

Joe paused, took a deep breath and then continued. “This young man met a very young girl not too long ago.  He liked her at first sight.  She is beautiful and different from anyone he has ever met.  He didn’t imagine anything could happen between them because she was very young.  But his sister has hinted to him that the girl likes him too.   He really loves her.  Do you think the girl might have feelings for him too?”

Listening attentively without interrupting him even once, I blushed scarlet at his question, but responded without hesitation, “She loves him too.”

Joe beamed.  The next thing I knew he pressed a kiss on my forehead.  My very first kiss!  It sent a tickling sensation up and down my spine.  With my heart racing like a wild horse,  I forgot to watch where I was going in the rain and stepped into a puddle and the water splashed all over me.  We looked at each other and burst into laughter.  Joe and I huddled closer under the umbrella with his arm wrapped around my shoulder and continued walking and talking.  Joe did most of the talking as usual.  My pants were wet up to my knees when I got home, but I felt warm and fuzzy inside.  It was sweet to be in love!

Joe took it upon himself to love me and protect me from that day on.  He treated me like a precious gem, something priceless to him.  I admired and adored him.

I belonged to a computer club at the time.  There was a Youths’ Creation and Convention Contest in Shanghai.  The club instructor required us to enter the contest and he came up with an invention idea for each of us.  Mine was to use the microphone volume meter on an analogue tape recorder to record the street noise level.  He did the whole creation and invention part, and all I had to do was walk with the tape recorder on the street and write down the noise level numbers on a sheet.  The judge panel liked his invention and I was asked to go in front of them and explain how I came up with the idea and made it work.  Needless to say it was not my idea and I had no clue.  So Joe prepped me for it with a list of possible questions and answers.  I did well, only missed one very detailed technical question. They awarded me with the second prize!

Joe always carried in his pocket my favorite snack.  He would offer it to me whenever I got frustrated with the stupid physics assignments.  He became the father I had never had, a big brother and a lover.  He was everything to me!