It was 8:21 in the morning when Liang Chong’s phone on the bedside began to vibrate persistently for two minutes.
Liang Chong didn’t want to pay any attention, but Ning Yiwei, lying in his arms, stirred restlessly as if he was about to be disturbed from sleep. He had no choice but to sit up and take the phone.
Just as he grasped the phone, Ning Yiwei rolled over and clung to his waist, burying his head against his chest. Liang Chong soothingly pressed his hand on Ning Yiwei’s back, intending to turn off the phone straight away. Unexpectedly, with a quick glance, he caught sight of the words “Kong Shenfeng” displayed on the screen.
Liang Chong became fully awake.
“Who is it?” Ning Yiwei finally woke up, raising his head groggily, his lips grazing against Liang Chong’s chin. He lifted his hand to take the phone from Liang Chong’s hand, while uttering immature words, “It’s so annoying, just turn it off for me.”
Although Ning Yiwei didn’t have much strength, Liang Chong didn’t grip the phone tightly either. As Ning Yiwei’s palm came swatting, the phone was slapped away and fell on the floor, making a moderate thud sound.
Ning Yiwei immediately fell silent. After a few seconds, he turned his back without a word, trying to pretend as if nothing had happened. But before he could fully turn sideways, Liang Chong grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back.
“What are you doing, Ning Yiwei?” Liang Chong’s voice sounded close to Ning Yiwei’s ear. “You think you can just smash my phone and act like nothing happened?”
Ning Yiwei knew very well that Liang Chong, this unkind person, would seize the opportunity to exploit the situation. Hearing the phone still vibrating on the floor, he simply closed his eyes and remained motionless. “It’s still ringing, isn’t it? It’s not broken.”
“Is it?” Liang Chong half-pressed Ning Yiwei, shamelessly saying, “I didn’t hear anything.”
“Oh well.” Ning Yiwei opened hid eyes and pushed Liang Chong’s face. “Go answer the phone quickly.”
Liang Chong stopped teasing him and picked up the phone, leaving the room. He closed the door once he was in the hallway before answering the call.
Kong Shenfeng’s earnest voice came through, “Xiao Liang, is Xiao Ning awake?”
“……” Liang Chong remembered telling Kong Shenfeng yesterday something like “Don’t get any strange ideas,” and now he couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty. He paused for a moment and said, “Not yet.”
“Really?” Kong Shenfeng didn’t notice Liang Chong’s awkwardness and questioned with doubt, “It’s already 8:22, so theoretically, he should have woken up by now. When we exchanged emails, Xiao Ning usually replied around 7:10 in the morning, indicating that he’s a very disciplined person. Why haven’t he gotten up yet?”
“Probably because he stayed up late playing with LEGO blocks yesterday and couldn’t get up in the morning,” Liang Chong replied off the cuff and then asked, “How is Auntie doing?”
“She has become much more stable emotionally,” Kong Shenfeng paused and said, “She wants to see Xiao Ning, is that okay?”
Liang Chong glanced up at the closed door and didn’t answer immediately.
In truth, Kang Yixin didn’t need to ask if she could see Ning Yiwei. Liang Chong wasn’t directly involved, nor was he the victim. He shouldn’t make choices on behalf of Ning Yiwei or interfere in the matter.
Liang Chong hoped that Kong Shenfeng would inform him of their arrangements. He simply wanted to have time to prepare for comforting Ning Yiwei. After all, it was a significant matter for both families and for Ning Yiwei.
However, what Liang Chong was considering now wasn’t that. He felt that his aunt’s extremely explosive personality might not be suitable for witnessing Ning Yiwei’s current state.
Kong Shenfeng felt that Liang Chong’s response was slower today compared to before, as if every sentence had to be carefully considered.
After Kong Shenfeng informed Liang Chong about Kang Yixin’s wish to see Ning Yiwei, Liang Chong fell silent for a long time, reminding Kong Shenfeng of what Liang Chong had said before, “Ning Yiwei has a stable life.”
“How is it?” Kang Yixin tugged at his sleeve, her face showing subtle signs of concern, hesitation, and timidity.
Kong Shenfeng made a gesture, indicating for her to remain calm, and simply placed the phone on the table, activating the speaker so that Kang Yixin could also listen.
Kang Yixin’s eyes were swollen, heavy with eye bags, and bloodshot. She pushed the phone slightly away and whispered to Kong Shenfeng, “I want to see him. Why are you asking Liang Chong?”
Kong Shenfeng once again wore that irritating expression of hesitation.
If it weren’t for her heavy thoughts, her mind consumed by one thing, she wouldn’t have the energy to scold him, even if she wanted to. She would have returned the menu to her twenty minutes ago when they were still in the dating phase, or mentioned how Kong Shenfeng’s lack of self-care resulted in his hair looking like a homeless person’s because he didn’t have time to visit his hairdresser.
“If Auntie wants to see him, you don’t need to ask me,” Liang Chong finally spoke, “Do you need me to arrange it?”
Kong Shenfeng glanced at Kang Yixin, who kept her head down and remained silent. Kong Shenfeng then said to Liang Chong, “That won’t be necessary. We’ll just observe from a distance for now.”
“Alright,” Liang Chong said, “But Ning Yiwei doesn’t have classes these days, so he might not go out.”
“I know,” Kong Shenfeng replied.
Afraid that Liang Chong might worry, Kong Shenfeng added, “We’ve thought about it, and for now, we won’t tell Xiao Ning anything. You’re right, his family is stable.”
Liang Chong seemed to hesitate before speaking, “Uncle, the decision is up to you and Auntie. You don’t have to consider what I said before.”
After hanging up the phone, Kang Yixin sat against the wall listlessly for a while, then said to Kong Shenfeng, “You’ve been hiding something from me. Tell me as soon as possible.”
Kong Shenfeng raised his head cautiously, but Kang Yixin stared at him with a look that said, “Don’t mess with me, I’m annoyed right now,” so he had no choice but to assure her, “Okay, I promise.”
He couldn’t stay awake last night and dozed off. When he woke up, he saw Kang Yixin sitting at the end of the bed, by the desk.
Kong Shenfeng was startled and sat up to take a look. He noticed Kang Yixin holding his phone and looking at photos of Ning Yiwei. His laptop screen was also lit up, showing many web pages about Ning Yiwei’s achievements, all of which Kang Yixin had searched for.
The foremost page displayed a small research paper on biology that Ning Yiwei wrote during middle school, which won a first prize in the city.
Kang Yixin saw Kong Shenfeng approaching, so she set aside his phone. After a few seconds, the screen dimmed, and Ning Yiwei’s photo disappeared.
“This experiment was well done and thoughtful.” Kong Shenfeng found something to say and pointed at the computer screen. “One of the judges is my high school classmate. See, he ranked second, this Qin Han, you’ve met him too.”
In the lonely nights of keeping secrets to himself, Kong Shenfeng did the same thing as Kang Yixin.
He searched Ning Yiwei’s name on the internet, exploring the life trajectory that Ning Yiwei had completely lost. He saw Ning Yiwei constantly winning awards, receiving medals at summer camps and winter camps. He found the admission list for D University High School, the public announcement of names for the D University’s youth program, and even stumbled upon an old post on a D University High School forum titled “Why is that Ning Yiwei from Class 3 in Grade 10 so short?”
Kong Shenfeng read it over and over again, memorizing it. The replies below all said, “Because he’s only 13 years old.”
At first, Kong Shenfeng felt that these students who made comments had a good sense of humor. They all lined up to say the same thing. Later, he felt proud because Ning Yiwei had no connections, no Kong Shenfeng or Kang Yixin, yet still remained so outstanding and dazzling.
Eventually, he couldn’t avoid being engulfed by painful emotions, overwhelmed with grief, and tossed and turned in sleeplessness.
“I don’t understand,” Kang Yixin said truthfully, her voice hoarse but still determined to speak. “But his sentence structure seems a bit off. Several sentences don’t quite make sense.”
Kong Shenfeng leaned over to examine the sentences pointed out by Kang Yixin, and indeed, there were a few minor grammatical errors. He defended Ning Yiwei by saying, “He was only around ten years old at that time.”
“It’s not because of his age. If he had a better Chinese tutor, they could teach him,” Kang Yixin said and couldn’t hold back her tears any longer.
Her throat was too dry, and she couldn’t produce any sound while crying. She bit down on her tightly sealed lips, closed her eyes briefly, and tears welled up.
“It’s not a big problem,” Kang Yixin said amidst sobs, her speech interrupted. “We can find someone to teach him.”
If the paper had been shown to Kang Yixin or Kong Shenfeng before submitting it, or if Ning Yiwei’s middle school teacher had paid more attention and helped correct it, how could those childlike language errors have appeared in Ning Yiwei’s award-winning paper?
But no one taught Ning Yiwei these things, and yet, he still grew up.
Kong Zong knew nothing about it. He wasn’t at fault. Kang Yixin understood everything, she just found life to be very difficult.
She just felt that after giving so much love to Kong Zong from childhood to adulthood, spending so much time, wouldn’t it be nice to give a small portion to Ning Yiwei?
A small portion of maternal love, a small portion of material support, just holding Ning Yiwei for a second while he cried, only witnessing his unsteady steps, feeding him a spoonful of baby food, taking a single first birthday photo, arranging a tutor for him—one could participate very little, but even that was scarce.
She didn’t ask for much, but she shouldn’t have been given nothing at all.
After so many years, they didn’t have to take him away right after he was born without even letting her see him once.
Ning Yiwei seems to be doing fine now, but he doesn’t even know who Kang Yixin is. He would fight for his foster mother, even though he doesn’t seem like the type who would fight.
What if he had grown up by his mother’s side? Would he love his mother very much?
Kang Yixin cried until dawn, only then gradually calming down to listen to Kong Shenfeng speaking to her.
Kong Shenfeng put away the computer, not allowing her to see it anymore. Kang Yixin’s voice trembled, she opened her mouth several times before managing to form a complete sentence, “I want to go see him first.”
Kang Yixin was much more rational than Kong Shenfeng had imagined.
She seemed to be afraid of blindly seeking recognition from Ning Yiwei, fearing that it would cause him aversion. That’s why she wanted to first approach him as a passerby and have a few words with him.
Since starting her job, she had forfeited her annual leave every year. Yesterday, Kong Shenfeng took the initiative to request a week of annual leave for her, the first time in many years. It was the first time she missed Kong Zong’s birthday. When Kong Zong called, Kong Shenfeng answered and simply said his mother was sick and couldn’t come back. Kong Zong didn’t suspect anything and didn’t show excessive worry, casually saying, “Then let Mom rest well,” before hanging up the phone.
Kong Shenfeng speculated that Liang Chong probably felt sorry for them as a couple, so he took a picture of a half-built LEGO toy and sent it to him, saying that it was Ning Yiwei’s birthday gift to himself, which he had only managed to build halfway.
Kang Yixin leaned over to take a look.
The couple didn’t have a conversation, just stared at the birthday gift that Ning Yiwei had given himself, looking at it for a long time.
Kang Yixin found it refreshing because it was nothing like what Kong Zong would have wanted.
She thought it was cute that this child had built half of the toy and then scattered the rest before getting too tired and going to sleep.
But in the end, she didn’t think too much about it.
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