Kong Shenfeng’s two-week schedule on his return to the country was hectic, leaving little time for relaxation. Only on the final day did he manage to find some free time in the afternoon and evening to accompany his wife on a visit to her parents’ home and make amends.
The elderly lady resided in a countryside villa up in the mountains. Kong Shenfeng carried bags of health products as they walked into the yard, having been dropped off by Kang Yixin’s driver.
Kong Zong followed silently behind his parents, his hands empty.
Since the research team meeting, Kong Shenfeng hadn’t exchanged a single word with Kong Zong. Kang Yixin scolded Kong Shenfeng repeatedly for this matter. However, Kong Shenfeng believed in upholding principles, and as Kong Zong had violated the rules and made a mistake, he should face the consequences. Excessive indulgence would only harm Kong Zong. Therefore, he maintained a remorseful attitude towards his wife but made no attempts to reconcile with Kong Zong.
Perhaps due to their mismatched temperaments, Kong Shenfeng and his son had always had a distant relationship. However, Kong Shenfeng loved Kong Zong deeply. He just struggled with finding the right way to communicate with his son.
Kong Shenfeng and Kang Yixin had a difficult time having this son.
Before Kang Yixin became pregnant with Kong Zong, she had experienced three habitual miscarriages. During the nine months of carrying Kong Zong, she spent most of her time lying in bed. As a result, when Kong Zong was born, Kang Yixin showered him with excessive love—Kong Shenfeng personally believed it even became somewhat pathological.
During Kong Zong’s time in kindergarten, Kong Shenfeng made a mistake. He attempted to cultivate a young prodigy by teaching Kong Zong physics from illustrated books every evening and introducing him to geometry and calculations. However, after more than a year of teaching without Kong Zong grasping basic arithmetic and being scolded by his wife for rushing things, Kong Shenfeng gave up on this idea and decided to let Kong Zong grow freely.
As Kong Zong grew older, around middle school, he expressed his keen interest in physics to Kong Shenfeng and his desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. Naturally, Kong Shenfeng was delighted and would buy the latest books and teaching materials for his son, which Kong Zong happily accepted every time.
Until one day, when Kong Shenfeng wanted to retrieve a book from Kong Zong’s study, he discovered that all the things he had given Kong Zong were carelessly stashed away in a corner cabinet.
The house was well-maintained, and the books weren’t dusty. However, upon flipping them open, they were still brand new, without a single trace of being read.
Kong Shenfeng came from a humble background and had always been thrifty. When he studied abroad in his youth, he used textbooks that had passed through several hands or made do with electronic versions. His salary wasn’t high, and any bonuses went to his wife. He didn’t have the habit of using research funds for personal matters. Buying original new books for Kong Zong was something he had to carefully consider.
Seeing this pile of books in the cabinet, Kong Shenfeng finally understood that Kong Zong didn’t have an interest in physics. He only pretended to like it because he thought Kong Shenfeng would love a son passionate about physics. Last year, when Ning Yiwei joined the research group and mentioned a certain set of books in their email exchange, Kong Shenfeng even stole a few books from home to give to Ning Yiwei. As expected, Kong Zong didn’t notice at all.
However, since then, Kong Shenfeng became hesitant to show too much concern about Kong Zong’s academic pursuits, fearing that excessive attention would have the opposite effect.
Grandpa Kang passed away two years ago. In the backyard of the villa, Grandma Kang set up an ancestral altar for her deceased husband. As soon as the younger generation arrived home, their first task was to pay respects at the ancestral altar.
It was getting cold, so after the ritual, they gathered in the living room to have tea.
Although Kong Zong wasn’t intelligent, he had a sweet tongue. Grandma doted on him and pulled him close, asking how his university life was going. Kong Zong glanced at Kong Shenfeng and immediately Kang Yixin also glared at Kong Shenfeng. Suddenly, Kong Shenfeng felt that the teacup in his hand was too hot.
“What’s wrong?” Grandma was highly perceptive of people’s expressions and could tell from the mother and son’s faces that there was some family conflict.
“Nothing,” Kong Zong replied.
Kong Shenfeng felt awkward, and just then his phone vibrated. He took it out and saw that it was a call from the Tokyo laboratory. He immediately stepped away and went to the distant corridor to answer the call.
Hanging on the corridor were photographs of several generations of the Kang family. Kong Shenfeng walked back and forth along the corridor while talking to the lab personnel on the phone. He noticed a family portrait among them, and for some unknown reason, he felt that something was off. He walked back and took another look.
Kong Shenfeng resolved the issue with the lab personnel over the phone and hung up. He carefully examined the family portrait. There were fifteen people in the picture, with Kang Yixin’s grandparents seated in the middle, surrounded by three pairs of young couples and seven children of different heights. One of the young individuals was Kang Yixin’s father. Standing next to him was a girl who appeared to be around fourteen or fifteen years old, with a pointed face and large eyes, making Kong Shenfeng feel a sense of familiarity.
However, after staring at it for a while, he couldn’t recall anything, so he walked back again.
In the living room, Kong Zong was in the middle of speaking.
“He hit me,” Kong Zong said with a sense of grievance, “He hit me right here.”
Kong Shenfeng approached and saw Kong Zong covering his face. When Kang Yixin saw him coming, she glared at him once again and told Kong Zong, “Tell your father again.”
“What? Someone hit you?” Kong Shenfeng’s eyebrows furrowed. “What happened?”
“Ning Yiwei hit me,” Kong Zong said, keeping his head low.
Upon hearing the three words “Ning Yiwei,” Kong Shenfeng had a sudden realization. The girl in the family portrait had a striking resemblance to Ning Yiwei.
And that girl was Kang Yixin.
Kang Yixin had suffered a facial injury in a car accident when she was nineteen and had undergone plastic surgery, resulting in a significant change in her appearance.
Kong Shenfeng didn’t meet her until she was in her twenties, and he hardly saw any pictures of her from before. So, he had very little impression of her previous appearance and didn’t pay much attention to it.
Until today, as he stood on the corridor of Kang Yixin’s maternal home, walking back and forth bored while talking on the phone, he saw that family portrait.
Ning Yiwei couldn’t sleep that night.
He tossed and turned, pondering the meaning of Liang Chong’s words, just like a mathematician unable to sleep while trying to prove the Riemann hypothesis.
He didn’t know what time he fell asleep, but when he woke up, it was already half past eleven in the morning. It was the first time that Ning Yiwei had slept in so late as far as he could remember.
Ning Yiwei quickly freshened up, still wearing his pajamas, and walked out of his room to see if there was any breakfast left. He was startled by Kang Minmin, who was sitting on his family’s sofa watching TV.
“Weiwie,” Kang Minmin waved at him first. “Sleeping in today, huh? That’s quite rare.”
Ning Yiwei called her “Auntie” and walked over to sit on another single sofa. He hesitantly placed his hands on his knees, sitting up straight like an elementary school student in a public class.
“Auntie came to have a meal at your place,” she explained with a smile. “In the afternoon, I’ll accompany your mom to buy some clothes.”
After retiring, Kang Minmin seemed more relaxed and carefree. Usually, she accompanied Liang Qichao for recuperation in Australia and occasionally went around. She appeared rounder than before, with a little less sophistication in her gestures but a bit more warmth. “Your mom messaged me yesterday, asking where to buy clothes. I happened to be back for a few days to sign a few documents, so I thought I’d come over to have a meal at your place and take Jiaqin for some shopping.”
Just as she was speaking, Lu Jiaqin came out and grabbed her gloves. Seeing Ning Yiwei getting up, she playfully scolded him while also showing some concern, playfully tapping his head from a distance. “Sleeping until now, letting you come back so late last night.” Then she said, “Take care of Mrs. Liang for Mom while I’m cooking a dish.”
After saying that, Lu Jiaqin went back to the kitchen.
“Weiwei,” Kang Minmin took a sip of tea and chatted with Ning Yiwei. “I heard from Liang Chong that you got recommended to Professor Kong for graduate studies?”
Ning Yiwei obediently nodded and confirmed it. She then said, “That’s good. If Professor Kong treats you unfairly, let me know, and Auntie will stand up for you.”
Ning Yiwei didn’t know how to respond, so he shyly smiled.
Kang Minmin glanced at Ning Yiwei, paused for a moment, lowered the volume of the television, took a sip of water, and then hesitantly spoke, “Weiwei, have you been meeting Liang Chong often lately?”
As she mentioned Liang Chong, Ning Yiwei recalled the small disagreement he had with Lu Jiaqin. But he answered honestly, “I see him quite frequently.”
“Has he mentioned anything about Miss Lu to you?” Kang Minmin immediately inquired.
Ning Yiwei felt a bit overwhelmed, but he couldn’t deceive Kang Minmin, so he responded vaguely, “Um, he mentioned something.”
“What was his attitude like?” Kang Minmin continued to question.
Ning Yiwei shook his head and hesitantly said, “I can’t say for sure.”
Facing Kang Minmin directly, he couldn’t speak to her like he would with his mother. He had to listen attentively as Kang Minmin vented about how exceptional the other girl was and how Liang Chong seemed oblivious.
“Liang Chong is no different from other kids usually, but when it comes to this matter, he’s just not capable,” Kang Minmin said with a worried expression. “Weiwei, help Auntie advise him.”
Ning Yiwei felt uncomfortable, unsure of how to respond. He didn’t want to make any promises, but he couldn’t disrespect Kang Minmin either. He lowered his head and couldn’t help but fiddle with the edge of his pajama pants.
Kang Minmin didn’t hear Ning Yiwei’s response, but she didn’t mind. She continued lamenting, “His father and I don’t ask for much, as long as the girl is kind-hearted and Liang Chong likes her. But it’s frustrating that he’s lacking the initiative to express his feelings. As soon as we mention these things, he starts hesitating and doesn’t even know what it means to have a crush. What should we do? When will I ever hold a grandchild? I’ve even prepared a little crib, a princess bed, and a prince bed.”
Ning Yiwei didn’t dare to say anything and could only nod and say, “Yes.”
Kang Minmin might have been in Australia for a long time, speaking less, but as soon as she returned, she had plenty to say. Her demeanor shifted, and she began fantasizing about the future life with her grandchildren. She mentioned that her daughter-in-law didn’t need to be diligent and that any good nanny would do.
However, none of this had anything to do with Ning Yiwei. He listened, but his mind kept wandering, unable to concentrate.
He watched Kang Minmin’s lips moving as she spoke, but gradually, her voice became indistinct.
Ning Yiwei was marinated in a sour feeling, as if he had sliced hundreds of lemons and their juice was squeezed into a jar, which was then placed into his heart. The acidic liquid soaked his entire being.
He didn’t want it to be this way. Ning Yiwei thought intently, he didn’t want it to be this way.
He wished Liang Chong belonged to him alone. Liang Chong would only embrace Ning Yiwei. Only he had the keycard to Liang Chong’s house, and only he could enter Liang Chong’s room. When unable to fall asleep, Liang Chong would only make phone calls to him.
Liang Chong was his. No one else was allowed to touch him.
It felt as if a long, rusty iron nail was pulled out from within Ning Yiwei’s brain, taking away the confusion and avoidance, giving a reason to all the ambiguous and unclear behavior.
He wanted to possess Liang Chong, but there was no algorithm for it, no formula to follow. He wasted time in Zhou Zirui’s cousin’s dorm, engaging in useless contemplation throughout the night.
Although the correct answer may not be visible, it was actually quite simple.
Ning Yiwei now had two choices.
One was to stay at home, have a proper meal, and agonize over the decision, struggling with thoughts of the past and the future.
The second choice was to immediately go see Liang Chong, to disrupt the stability between them, and ask Liang Chong if he wanted to be with Ning Yiwei forever.
Ning Yiwei changed his clothes and left the room.
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