Liang Chong received a phone call from Kong Shenfeng during a charity gala.
It had been more than twenty hours since Kong Shenfeng confirmed with Liang Chong last night at the airport that he would inform him as soon as a decision was made regarding Kang Yixin.
Liang Chong forced himself not to think too much and tried to act natural in front of Ning Yiwei. Whatever was meant to happen would happen, and there was no point in being anxious.
The charity gala took place on the top floor of a newly opened hotel. Originally scheduled for the next evening, it was rescheduled to ensure Vice Chairman Liang Chong could attend. Since tomorrow was Ning Yiwei’s birthday, Liang Chong was busy the whole day. After the charity auction ended, the gala was coming to a close. Well-dressed men and women held their glasses, gathering in small groups and talking in different areas.
Liang Chong checked the time and prepared to leave. As he walked towards the exit, he was stopped by an elder. He then took another glass of wine and joined the elder on a nearby terrace, exchanging stories with each other.
The elder showed great concern for Liang Chong’s well-being. Liang Chong replied with a few sentences, and the secretary, who stood nearby, suddenly made a slight movement and approached him. Liang Chong looked up and saw her holding a phone, subtly pointing at the screen, indicating that the call he had been waiting for had come through.
Liang Chong apologized to the elder, “I’m sorry, I have an urgent phone call.” The elder expressed understanding, so he quickly took the phone and walked towards a corner of the terrace.
“Your aunt is not doing well,” Kong Shenfeng said. “She just fell asleep.”
Liang Chong felt a sinking feeling in his heart. He was unsure of how Kong Shenfeng communicated with his aunt or the outcome of their conversation. He only sensed that Kong Shenfeng’s voice was extremely tired and weak, probably trying to keep it low to avoid disturbing Kang Yixin.
Kong Shenfeng paused and continued, “We haven’t reached any conclusions yet. I can’t communicate with her, and I don’t want you to wait anxiously, so I thought I’d let you know.”
“Please accompany Auntie first,” Liang Chong said. “If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know anytime.”
Just as Kong Shenfeng finished speaking, Liang Chong heard a faint, indistinct babbling sound from Kang Yixin’s side of the call. Then, he heard Kong Shenfeng’s soothing voice, comforting Kang Yixin.
Liang Chong patiently waited for a while, and the other end of the phone fell silent. Kong Shenfeng picked up the phone again and asked Liang Chong, “How is Xiao Ning?”
“He’s fine, currently at my place,” Liang Chong said, looking at the flowing traffic on the overlapping overpasses in the distance, taking a sip of champagne.
“Why is he at your place?” Kong Shenfeng immediately asked.
In Kong Shenfeng’s words, Liang Chong detected a trace of undeniable caution He couldn’t help but find it amusing. He said, “His parents often go out, so from a young age until now, he has frequently stayed at my house. Don’t get any strange ideas.”
Both parties fell silent for a moment, until Liang Chong told Kong Shenfeng, “It’s his birthday tomorrow. If you’re willing, you can send him a birthday text message.”
“Oh, oh, okay,” Kong Shenfeng initially responded gratefully, but then hesitated. After a few seconds, he uncertainly said to Liang Chong, “Xiao Liang, actually, Ning Yiwei’s birthday is today, around four o’clock this morning.”
Liang Chong was momentarily stunned and thought about it, realizing that it was indeed the case.
“When he was born, it wasn’t like now, with all the care and the father cutting the umbilical cord,” Kong Shenfeng seemed lost in memories as he continued, “I was sitting outside the ward, waiting. Your aunt was in labor for twelve hours inside. The other fathers who were waiting with me received good news and left. Even doctors passing by advised me to go get some rest. But how could I sleep when your aunt was suffering inside? Later, at four minutes past four in the morning, the midwife came out and told me that my wife had given birth to a baby boy, weighing six pounds and measuring 52 centimeters long. I thought, despite his small head, he’s quite good at giving his mother a hard time.”
“Forget it,” Kong Shenfeng said, “Let’s not talk about it. I’ll get some sleep too. I haven’t slept since last night.”
Liang Chong instinctively lowered his head to check the time on his watch. It was already half past ten. He wondered what Ning Yiwei was doing.
After hanging up the phone, Liang Chong headed downstairs with his secretary.
It was getting late, and the journey home was unobstructed. As the car passed a street corner, Liang Chong caught sight of a dessert shop that was still open. He instructed the driver to stop and wait for him by the roadside. He got out of the car and walked into the shop.
The secretary, perhaps unaware of his intentions, followed him into the dessert shop. With a hesitant expression, she stood silently by as they lingered in front of the cake display for several minutes. Liang Chong didn’t say anything to her either, as he focused his thoughts on figuring out Ning Yiwei’s preferences. Eventually, he chose the largest cake because he wasn’t skilled at selecting cakes. If he bought a big and expensive one, it would bring good luck, or so he hoped.
Back in the car, Liang Chong placed the cake on the seat next to him. The words Kong Shenfeng had incessantly said kept unintentionally ringing in his ears.
“A baby boy, weighing six pounds, measuring 52 centimeters long.”
Ning Yiwei’s birth height and weight.
Liang Chong pondered slowly.
If Ning Yiwei were his cousin, Liang Chong would have been taken by his parents to see him just a few days after he was born.
They might only see each other a few times a year, and every time they met, Ning Yiwei would drive him crazy because he talked a lot.
For example, on their grandmother’s birthday, Ning Yiwei might bring a book, read it before the meal, and babble about things that nobody understood, engaging in playful banter with Kong Shenfeng.
Considering how much Liang Chong’s aunt doted on children, Ning Yiwei probably had everything he needed. It wouldn’t be like in the past when he would run to Liang Chong’s home because there was nobody to take care of him, saying, “My mom won’t let me talk to you.”
Perhaps he had a car to pick him up and drop him off every day, with no opportunity to ask him to bring books while going to the United States, no chance to witness him getting into fights at the pier, and no chance to hold Liang Chong’s hand, disinfect it, and apply adhesive bandages. He was a small child, climbing onto warehouse shelves to steal and alter invoices.
How would Ning Yiwei and Liang Chong’s relationship turn out? Would it be good or just ordinary?
Did he want to keep spare clothes at Liang Chong’s house, ready to stay over anytime, treating his house as his own?
Did he still fancy taking Liang Chong’s card and running to the library to borrow books? Would he fall asleep while watching documentaries in Liang Chong’s living room? Would he reluctantly mumble about human rights and the protection of marginalized groups, yet still let Liang Chong boss him around?
Should he continue attending D University? Should he keep the goldsmithing tools for himself or give them to someone else? Would he give Liang Chong a diamond as a gift? Would he remember Liang Chong’s birthday? How would he speak to Liang Chong? Would he become more fond of being spoiled, less able to endure hardships, or would he remain unchanged? What would Ning Yiwei call Liang Chong?
Calling Kong Shenfeng “Dad,” Kang Yixin “Mom,” Liang Qichao “Uncle,” Kang Minmin “Auntie,” and Liang Chong “Brother.”
At what point would Liang Chong find his little cousin annoying? When would he receive the first gift from Ning Yiwei? When would he start to find him adorable? At what age would he realize that he liked Ning Yiwei and couldn’t be without him? At what age would they kiss or make love? Would their bittersweet entanglement be inevitable or a logical progression?
At that moment when Ning Yiwei would call Liang Chong and say, “Brother, I’m done with classes. Can you come pick me up?” Liang Chong would feel the urgent need to rush back and pick Ning Yiwei up from school, no matter how far away he was.
It seemed there was nothing left to ponder because nothing would ever happen.
It felt like in the blink of an eye, Liang Chong had arrived home.
The driver stopped the car, opened the door for Liang Chong. A cool breeze gently blew in, dissipating all the possibilities that had been imagined.
Liang Chong carried the cake and walked towards the elevator, his steps a bit unsteady. He speculated that he had probably consumed too much alcohol and lost control during the evening.
As the elevator doors opened, only the entrance’s motion sensor light was illuminated.
Liang Chong took a few steps inside but didn’t see Ning Yiwei’s figure. He went upstairs to Ning Yiwei’s room, took a look, but he wasn’t there either. After a moment of thought, Liang Chong decided to call Ning Yiwei.
After a few seconds, music came from a nearby vacant room. Liang Chong followed the music and walked over to push open the door, revealing a stream of light pouring out.
Ning Yiwei sat on the carpet, wearing his beige plaid soft cotton pajamas. He held a phone in one hand, staring blankly at the doorway. Several piles of assorted LEGO pieces were scattered around his legs, and there was a half-completed model in front of him.
“You’re home,” Ning Yiwei said, followed by a yawn as he stretched his neck.
“What are you doing?” Liang Chong asked him.
“I’m building an Imperial Battleship,” Ning Yiwei rolled up his pajama sleeve, revealing his slender white arm. With his other hand holding a small piece, he proudly introduced his treasure to Liang Chong, “It’s a limited edition from 2010, discontinued with a five-digit price tag. I bought it as a birthday gift for myself. I initially wanted Zirui to help me build it, but he got called away by his cousin. Building it alone is too slow, and it reminds me of a math problem from elementary school—what is this?”
Ning Yiwei had wanted to explain the problem statement and test Liang Chong, but when he saw Liang Chong place a large white paper bag he was holding on the floor, his attention shifted.
“Food,” Liang Chong said, sitting down beside Ning Yiwei. He picked up the bottom of Ning Yiwei’s Imperial Battleship, examined it briefly, and put it back. He asked, “How long have you been building this?”
“Since 7:20, ” Ning Yiwei replied, wrinkling his nose as he sniffed the air. He looked at Liang Chong intently and said, “You’ve had a lot to drink.”
“Just a little bit,” Liang Chong lied.
Ning Yiwei wanted to argue with Liang Chong but was silenced when Liang Chong lowered his head.
Liang Chong didn’t have a strong taste of alcohol in his mouth. Instead, there was a faint minty flavor, but the alcohol content was probably high, and definitely frighteningly high. Ning Yiwei, in a daze, finished kissing Liang Chong, and his LEGO pieces fell from his hands onto the floor.
“Are you still building today?” Liang Chong grabbed Ning Yiwei’s wrist and asked.
“Tomorrow, maybe,” Ning Yiwei said softly.
“Hmm.” Liang Chong let Ning Yiwei sit on his lap and took the box out of the paper bag.
Ning Yiwei followed his instructions, removing the ribbon tied around the box and opening the lid. Inside was a large but not very attractive cream cake.
The cake had a white base, decorated with some chocolate-colored flowers. It was filled with seasonal fruits in the center, but the color combination was lackluster. There was a plastic sign stuck in it, written with “happy birthday” in blue.
“For the sake of good luck,” Liang Chong said in a calm voice, speaking superstitiously, “so I bought a big one.”
“Thank you,” Ning Yiwei said, “Actually, you could have given it to me tomorrow too. A cake doesn’t have to be delivered together with wishes.”
“I’m glad to do it,” Liang Chong said.
Liang Chong was always someone who talked to himself, although not in an annoying way. Ning Yiwei secretly spoke ill of Liang Chong in his mind.
Unaware, Liang Chong glanced at his watch and said to Ning Yiwei, “It’s midnight, happy birthday.”
Ning Yiwei also saw the watch hands clearly pointing to 23:59, but he didn’t argue because Liang Chong hadn’t finished speaking.
Liang Chong looked at Ning Yiwei, pausing for a few seconds. He used a tone that fell somewhere between natural and unnatural, causing Ning Yiwei to momentarily suspect that Liang Chong had called him that in his heart. Upon careful consideration, Ning Yiwei realized it was highly unlikely.
He called Ning Yiwei, “Baby.”
Then they shared a very long, very wet kiss. It was wet and long, just as if it had lasted for nineteen years, three hundred sixty-four days, and one thousand four hundred thirty-nine minutes.
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