Ning Yiwei experienced a pounding headache, as if multiple sharp needles were piercing through his earlobe, penetrating his flesh, and muddling his thoughts.
Various scenes rapidly flashed in his mind like quick slideshow slides, relentlessly jumping and appearing one after another, making it hard to focus and impossible to stop the chaotic stream.
The slides showcased books and ever-changing equations. Bright equations in white descended from above, painting the landscape with mountains and seas, filling his entire vision. The supporting characters included his parents, Liang Chong, Zhou Zirui, Professor Kong, and some other insignificant individuals.
People roamed amidst the equations. Ning Yiwei attempted to capture them, maneuvering past numerous obstacles and unlocking digital doors, one after another.
Opening the final door, Ning Yiwei caught sight of a pair of feet clad in basketball shoes, ascending to sport shorts, a basketball jersey, and ultimately revealing a face.
The man outside the nightclub smiled at him.
Ning Yiwei woke up drenched in sweat, realizing he was lying on a large bed.
He was in a hospital. The curtains by the bed were not drawn. The night light embedded in the opposite wall illuminated the sofa bed and Liang Chong lying on top of it.
Ning Yiwei controlled his breathing, gazing blankly at Liang Chong.
Liang Chong had a thin blanket covering his waist, facing Ning Yiwei’s direction. The sofa bed was too narrow. He seemed to sleep restlessly, with furrowed brows visible from five meters away, even to Ning Yiwei. The hospital wards had been tense these past few days, and all the private suites were occupied. There was only one vacant standard ward in the inpatient department, without a separate room for companions, only a sofa bed.
Ning Yiwei thought to himself, it’s strange for Liang Chong to lie on the sofa bed when he’s used to being treated so well.
Closing his eyes, Ning Yiwei had a sudden thought, will Liang Chong willingly stay up all night for Kong Zong?
Ning Yiwei felt uncomfortable lying on his back, so he turned over. Unexpectedly, he felt a dull pain behind his ear, and his skin became warm as if some liquid slowly trickled down.
Perhaps the wound was bleeding again, and the liquid gradually soaked into the edge of the gauze. But Ning Yiwei didn’t want to ring the bell for assistance because Liang Chong had a bit of a temper, and he wouldn’t be happy if he got disturbed, although many people couldn’t tell.
Ning Yiwei moved to the edge of the bed and took two tissue papers, placing them underneath the gauze, hoping the blood wouldn’t stain the pillowcase.
Liang Chong had just consulted a doctor about Ning Yiwei’s wound. The doctor said Ning Yiwei’s injury was a bit tricky because it wasn’t deep. In fact, it was more of a scrape than a cut, making stitching impossible. They could only disinfect it and wait for natural healing.
Ning Yiwei’s wound always took a long time to heal, and his motor nerves weren’t great. Every time he had physical education classes during his childhood, he would end up with bruises all over his body. His parents, who had limited education, felt sorry for him, but they never thought of taking him for a check-up.
Later on, Liang Chong’s mother, Kang Minmin, happened to see it and felt something was wrong. She took Ning Yiwei to the hospital she owned for an examination. It was then they discovered that Ning Yiwei had a hereditary coagulation disorder. Kang Minmin had the doctor write a note for the school, which spared Ning Yiwei from the agony of getting injured all the time.
Ning Yiwei’s parents both graduated from junior high school and left their mountainous hometown to find work when they were in their teens. They were introduced to each other by a fellow villager, fell in love, and got married, settling down in D City.
Before they opened a joint supermarket, Ning Yiwei’s father, Ning Qiang, worked as a foreman on the assembly line at a machinery factory. His mother, Lu Jiaqin, worked as a live-in housekeeper at Liang Chong’s house, taking care of simple household chores. Lu Jiaqin was diligent and honest, working as a housekeeper for Kang Minmin for two years. She only took four days off each month, and neither Ning Yiwei nor Ning Qiang had met the Liang family.
Ning Yiwei was different from other children. He disliked going out to play and didn’t like his classmates. His only hobby was reading and learning. He entered a suburban school for children of migrant workers at the age of eight, and his excellent grades allowed him to skip two grades. Due to outstanding competition results, he was recruited by the principal of a prestigious elementary school in the city.
His first visit to Liang Chong’s home was at the end of the fourth grade, during the summer vacation before he was about to attend the new school.
At that time, Ning Qiang was suddenly assigned to a new branch factory in the north and had to attend a two-week training program for the new job. Although Ning Yiwei was capable of taking care of himself, he was still only ten years old. Lu Jiaqin couldn’t leave him alone at home, so she explained the situation to Kang Minmin, hoping that during these ten days when her husband was away, the Liang family could accommodate her and allow her to come home every evening to take care of her son.
Upon hearing Lu Jiaqin’s explanation, Kang Minmin immediately suggested that Ning Yiwei stay in their empty guest room. This way, Ning Yiwei wouldn’t have to worry about meals during the day, and it would save Lu Jiaqin the trouble of commuting across half the city every day.
Lu Jiaqin felt embarrassed and tried to refuse in various ways, but Kang Minmin insisted repeatedly and eventually sent a driver to pick up Ning Yiwei.
When Ning Yiwei was led into Liang Chong’s house by the driver, Liang Chong was sitting on the sofa in the living room watching the news. His first words to Ning Yiwei were, “Hello, I’m Liang Chong.”
Now, looking back, Ning Yiwei realized that Liang Chong was a person of contradictions.
At first, he was so friendly, polite, well-mannered, and didn’t appear condescending. He treated Ning Yiwei with courtesy. But later, somehow overnight, Liang Chong seemed to have changed and became unkind.
It wasn’t that he became completely irredeemable in terms of kindness. Ning Yiwei held onto the tissue paper, feeling somewhat uncertain, thinking that he just wasn’t as perfect as before.
From the age of ten to nineteen, Ning Yiwei and Liang Chong had been involved in each other’s lives in many ways. Ning Yiwei had seen Liang Chong giving speeches, getting into fights, sitting outside the hospital room with his mother, taking care of his father inside the emergency room. Every choice Ning Yiwei made was more or less related to Liang Chong.
Liang Chong was definitely not as carefree as he seemed. The hardships Liang Chong endured were burdens that couldn’t be shared, and Ning Yiwei also had his own secrets and troubles.
Ning Yiwei believed that compared to the seemingly perfect Liang Chong in front of others, the Liang Chong in front of him was healthier, even though he was unpredictable. What mattered was simplicity and authenticity.
Both of them had difficult lives, so Ning Yiwei was forgiving and didn’t hold too many grudges against Liang Chong.
Ning Yiwei felt a slight itch behind his ear. He was daydreaming attentively when, subconsciously, he reached to scratch it. Unexpectedly, his hand got covered in a wet, slippery, and warm liquid. Freezing up for a moment, he sat up and called out Liang Chong’s name, disregarding his crankiness.
Almost a second after Ning Yiwei made a sound, Liang Chong woke up. He quickly turned on the light and walked over to Ning Yiwei’s side, leaning down to ask, “What’s wrong?” Liang Chong’s voice was hoarse, indicating he hadn’t fully woken up. He had taken off his tie, unbuttoned two buttons, and rolled up his sleeves. Veins protruded on his forearm, not as dignified as usual.
Ning Yiwei looked at Liang Chong, stretching his hand out. In the warm light, there were uneven patches of red on his palm.
“I turned over,” Ning Yiwei said to Liang Chong, “and then it started bleeding.”
Liang Chong paused for a moment, raised his hand to press the nurse call button, and went to get a wet towel to clean Ning Yiwei’s hand.
As the wet towel rubbed against his blood-stained palm, Ning Yiwei felt that Liang Chong’s touch was a bit heavy. Looking at Liang Chong’s lowered head, he thought for a moment and guessed that Liang Chong was probably worried. So, he comforted Liang Chong, “I’ve already lost two hundred milliliters of blood, and it’s not bleeding heavily now. It won’t have a significant impact on my body.”
After saying that, Ning Yiwei noticed that Liang Chong’s face grew even darker, though he didn’t know why. It was possible that he was still grumpy from waking up.
A nurse entered the room, saw the bloodstains on Ning Yiwei’s hand, and understood what had happened. She brought in a medical cart and asked Ning Yiwei to lie down while she applied pressure to stop the bleeding. Since the wound wasn’t severe, the bleeding gradually stopped after a while. The nurse then left the room.
Liang Chong stood by the wall, looking down at Ning Yiwei, and said, “Go back to sleep.”
As he was about to turn off the light, Ning Yiwei quickly stopped him, “Wait.”
Liang Chong withdrew his hand, silently watching Ning Yiwei, waiting for him to speak.
In reality, Ning Yiwei didn’t have much to say. He just felt that Liang Chong was acting particularly off today. Ning Yiwei wanted to bring him back to normal, so he found something to say, “I can’t sleep. I had a nightmare.”
“What did you dream about?” Liang Chong pulled over a chair from the wall and sat by Ning Yiwei’s bedside. “Do you want some water?”
“No.” Ning Yiwei’s mind raced quickly. He thought it was a good opportunity to settle the score, so he rolled his eyes and said, “I dreamt that you came to our school yesterday and picked up someone I dislike. You helped him carry his backpack and opened the car door. You were being exceptionally attentive.”
“……” Liang Chong stared at Ning Yiwei for a moment, then gently touched his head and asked, “Did you see me?”
“No,” Ning Yiwei didn’t admit it, “It was just in my dream.”
“Kong Zong is my cousin. It’s my grandmother’s birthday tonight,” Liang Chong explained helplessly. He looked somewhat tired and asked Ning Yiwei, “If you saw me, why didn’t you call me?”
Ning Yiwei glanced to the side, deflecting the question, “I dislike Kong Zong. Next time, let him take a taxi by himself.”
Amused by Ning Yiwei’s response, Liang Chong casually agreed and asked him, “What were you doing at the bar?”
It was a difficult question to answer, so Ning Yiwei chose to change the subject, “Oh, by the way, how is the person who attacked me?”
“He’s detained at the police station. You don’t have to worry about him,” Liang Chong wasn’t evaded by Ning Yiwei and continued questioning, “Now, answer me, what were you doing at the bar?”
“Ah, I’m so sleepy.” Ning Yiwei locked eyes with Liang Chong for two seconds, then decisively closed his eyes.
After a while, Ning Yiwei heard Liang Chong laugh softly and felt a gentle touch on his cheek. However, since Ning Yiwei was still pretending to be asleep, he didn’t open his eyes.
Liang Chong sat there watching him. Ning Yiwei felt restless after a while and couldn’t hold it in any longer. He reluctantly opened his eyes and asked Liang Chong, “What time is it?”
“It’s four-thirty in the early morning.” Liang Chong glanced at his watch.
Ning Yiwei had only slept for an hour or two, but for some reason, he didn’t feel sleepy now. He blinked and asked Liang Chong, “Can you call my parents and tell them I won’t be going home this weekend? I want to stay at your place until I recover.”
Liang Chong agreed to his request. Unable to resist probing further, Ning Yiwei continued, “How well do you get along with Kong Zong?”
“We’re not close.” Liang Chong suddenly reached out and lightly touched Ning Yiwei’s forehead, as if checking his temperature. Perhaps he felt it wasn’t too hot, so he withdrew his hand.
“Ah.” Ning Yiwei breathed a sigh of relief and smiled generously at Liang Chong. “He is just a mediocre person. Yesterday, he even framed me and Zirui. You shouldn’t have too much contact with him. Besides, he’s not very smart.”
“Is that so?” Liang Chong’s tone carried a hint of doubt that displeased Ning Yiwei. He slowly said, “I heard he’s quite intelligent.”
“He’s not smart at all!” Ning Yiwei sat up excitedly, refuting Liang Chong, “Zirui corrected his exam paper. He left the differential equations section blank.”
Saying that he left it blank was an exaggeration, but Kong Zong did struggle with differential equations. Ning Yiwei believed it was acceptable to magnify the extent of his shortcomings.
“Alright, alright, I understand. Don’t move around.” Liang Chong supported Ning Yiwei’s back with one hand and pressed his chest with the other, gently guiding him back into bed and tucking the covers around him. “Be a good boy and go to sleep.”
Ning Yiwei obediently lay back down and watched as Liang Chong seemed to be preparing to turn off the lights. He reached his hand out from under the covers and grabbed hold of Liang Chong’s wrist.
Liang Chong’s wrist was a bit cold, and the steel strap of his watch pressed against Ning Yiwei’s palm, causing a slight ache. Nevertheless, Ning Yiwei didn’t let go.
“Stay with me and sleep,” Ning Yiwei said, “Don’t sleep on the sofa bed anymore. If you fall off, it will wake me up.”
The hospital bed was quite spacious, enough for two people to lie down comfortably. It was more comfortable than the sofa bed.
Liang Chong gazed at Ning Yiwei for a long while. He bent down and covered Ning Yiwei’s eyes with his hand. Perhaps he moved closer to Ning Yiwei, but Ning Yiwei couldn’t see and didn’t know what Liang Chong was doing.
After a few seconds, Ning Yiwei heard Liang Chong’s voice very close to him. Liang Chong said, “Not now.”
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