The body under his palms trembled violently.
Zhou Jinheng held his breath, not daring to miss the slightest reaction from the opponent. His heart that had been silent for a long time began to beat happily. He stepped forward and asked for the final confirmation in a hoarse voice: “HuiHui, is that you?”
The man held by him seemed to be stunned. After a while, he blinked a few times. With the fluttering of his eyelashes, the panic in his eyes dissipated, as if it had never existed and it was Zhou Jinheng who misinterpreted it.
He shook his head, then shook it again, then backed away, trying to get out of Zhou Jinheng’s grip.
This reaction instantly extinguished the fire in Zhou Jinheng’s heart.
He didn’t give up, raised his hand again and tried to pull off the mask on the man’s face anyway. He didn’t expect the man who had been silent until now to resist violently, twisting away and struggling desperately; but the difference in strength was too great and he could only free one arm.
He immediately raised his hand to cover his face and pressed his palm to the mask, undeniably resisting Zhou Jinheng’s touch: “I… I am not.”
The voice sounding through the mask was muffled; Zhou Jinheng didn’t have time to listen carefully as all his attention was attracted by the raised hand.
It was the right hand, the hand of an artist, the fingers long and thin. The back of the hand was clean and there was no trace of burn on it.
In the quiet atmosphere of the painting exhibition, the episode that didn’t attract much attention ended quietly.
Thinking back about that scene, Yang Chengxuan couldn’t figure out what kind of madness Zhou Jinheng was suffering from and was a little impatient with his recent unusual behaviour: “It was your idea to look at the exhibition properly, did you come here to go crazy? What’s wrong with you? It’s just a dead man, didn’t you want him to……”
Fang Yuqing next to him reacted quickly, touched Yang Chengxuan and motioned for him to stop talking with his eyes.
“It’s my fault. I thought it would be a good idea to invite you to the exhibition in these circumstances, thinking it would make you feel better.” Fang Yuqing said to Zhou Jinheng, “Why don’t you two go back first? There are a few paintings here that will be put on display in the City Art Museum for a long time. You can come to look at them another time.”
After walking out of the venue and getting in the car, Yang Chengxuan started the engine and made a call. When he learned that the friend he mentioned before had also left the venue early for some reason, he slammed the steering wheel and cursed, “What’s going on?”
Halfway through the ride, his irritability was dissipated in the cold wind and he accosted Zhou Jinheng, who was sitting in co-pilot: “Master Crazy, shall we go clubbing or bar-hopping next?”
Zhou Jinheng hadn’t said a word since he came out, but after recovering, he only replied lightly: “Airport.”
Yang Chengxuan couldn’t believe it: “Back to S City again?”
Zhou Jinheng said ”en”.
At the red light, Yang Chengxuan turned to look at Zhou Jinheng and said in confusion: “Wait a minute, what the h*ll is going on? I saw you eating and sleeping normally and I thought everything was back on track. Who knew that once you make a noise, it’d be a boom. Would you take a person on the road that wants to go home with… No, wait, who told me before that the marriage contract would be terminated as soon as you’d become economically independent and would never talk of that fool again? His death is not your responsibility. Otherwise, even if your family had the ability to cover the sky with one hand, you’d have to go to jail. Now that you are like this, I really don’t understand. Did you run into something evil or were you bewitched?”
Zhou Jinheng raised his eyelids: “No.”
After talking for a long time, he got a one-word response. Yang Chengxuan felt dizzy with anger: “Right, don’t go to the airport. I’ll take you to the temple to burn incense to exorcise some evil spirits.”
After being angry for a while, Yang Chengxuan turned his head and saw Zhou Jinheng still sitting there in silence. Somehow he suddenly remembered the day he said on the phone that he missed that fool. It was the first time since they met that he had seen Zhou Jinheng exposing his vulnerability in front of others. And just now in the exhibition hall, Zhou Jinheng eyes were bright when he held the man’s arm and refused to let go but now they turned into pools of stagnant water, lifeless.
A premonition rose in Yang Chengxuan’s heart: “You can’t… be serious, right?”
The same words he had asked Zhou Jinheng four years ago. At that time, Zhou Jinheng was playing with the brush in his hand, a smile in the corners of his mouth: “If he is serious, I will be serious.”
And now, that bright spirit and self-confidence were all gone.
With his eyes looking into the void, Zhou Jinheng’s face was calm as he answered the question that had passed the statute of limitations: “His death is my responsibility.”
The crew gave him two weeks off; Zhou Jinheng delayed his return to the family home until the last day.
The Zhou family mansion was located in the bustling area in the central part of S City. Because he hadn’t been back for a long time, he couldn’t remember the way clearly. He turned right and left many times until he drove into the yard. When he pushed the door open, his family was already sitting around the table and preparing to eat.
“Brother, sit with me!”
When his younger sister Zhou Jinyue saw him, she stretched out her neck and waved at him. If Zhou Huarong hadn’t been there, she might have got up and rushed to the door to greet him.
Zhou Huarong cleared his throat with an unpleasant expression and said: “Do you still know how to come back?”
Zhou Jinheng slowly changed his shoes, took off his coat and threw it on the sofa, walked into the dining room, sat down next to Zhou Jinyue and took a bowl to eat without saying a word.
The more he acted in this way, the more Zhou Huarong felt challenged. He slammed his chopsticks on the table and scolded, “What kind of attitude is that? Do you treat your home like a hotel to come and go as you please?”
Zhou Jinheng served Zhou Jinyue a bowl of soup and after telling his sister to take a sip of the soup to warm her stomach, he replied indifferently: “You told me to come back.”
Zhou Huarong snorted: “If I didn’t call you back, the stupid things you do outside would ruin my reputation.”
The next things spoken were just some typical criticisms, “I took care to arrange a position for you in the company and you don’t come and show your face. You don’t make that much money but you’ve got yourself all bruised up.” … At first, the scolding and persuasion was quite moderate. Zhou Jinheng let it go into his left ear and slip out of his right ear indifferently, but later on, when he talked about Yi Hui, the atmosphere changed abruptly.
“I originally thought that when you turn twenty two, you will go and get your certificate. At that time, there would be a wedding in S City, but it is a pity that Xiao Hui, this child, was so unlucky.”
Zhou Huarong sighed as he said it with a painful expression. If one didn’t know him, one would have thought that he was really regretting this lost marriage.
Zhou Jinheng was so used to his superficial tricks that he just wanted to sneer, “It’s not impossible to have a wedding now and announce it to the world.”
Zhou Huarong immediately raised his eyebrows: “Nonsense!”
“Wasn’t it you who mentioned the ghost marriage and all that?” Zhou Jinheng continued to contradict, “I asked someone. There is really a special organization for this kind of wedding, and the price is not expensive.”
Zhou Huarong slammed his hand down on the table: “Shameful, full of nonsense! How can the living and the dead get married? Besides, you and him haven’t had a certificate yet, at most it is canceling the marriage contract. Divorce, being a widow, it’s all bullsh*t!”
The outside discussion invariably reached his ears but even though Zhou Jinheng heard a lot of it, he didn’t care and didn’t want to hear it.
After a while, Zhou Huarong calmed down, consciously suppressed his temper and took the initiative to say amiably, “Dad knows that you are just talking in anger. I wronged you when I asked you to be with Yi Hui.”
Zhou Jinheng didn’t seem to be listening, enjoying eating and drinking soup.
Surrounded by the whole family sitting at the table, Zhou Huarong felt somewhat embarrassed by this lack of response; but he called Zhou Jinheng back this time because he had something to say, so he kept his temper down and said as calmly as possible: “The marriage contract is automatically terminated now and not many people outside know about it. After a while, no one will mention it… Let it stay in the past.”
Zhou Jinheng still ignored him with his eyes lowered; no one could tell what he was thinking.
Seeing that his reaction wasn’t particularly fierce, Zhou Huarong continued: “Our family has been cooperating with the Tan family’s company recently. They have a young son who is the same age as you and just came back from studying abroad.”
It was not the first time Zhou Huarong had done this kind of thing. He thought that if the foundation was laid properly, even if Zhou Jinheng initially resisted, he would not fight to the bitter end. After all, he had the bargaining chip in his hand. Hadn’t he also meekly accepted the marriage with the Yi family back then?
With that in mind, Zhou Huarong felt even more confident: “I have seen that child, he looks good and is smart, different from Yi Hui…”
Before he finished speaking, Zhou Jinheng swept the tableware in front of him to the ground with a loud bang, the sharp sound of breaking dishes stinging the eardrums.
Not giving anyone time to react, Zhou Jinheng stood up, grabbed the edge of the dining table with both hands, strained his arms and made a gesture to lift the table. The soup bowl placed in the center of the table was tilted and the soup was about to splash on the table. If it weren’t for Zhou Huarong shrinking back quickly, he would almost be drenched all over.
This move was unexpected to everyone. Zhou Jinyue screamed and dodged. On the other side, Zhou Huarong was so shocked and angry that he couldn’t speak clearly, “What, what are you mad about?”
Zhou Jinheng’s face remained calm. Only if one looked closely, one could see that his teeth were clenched, the muscles of his forearms were tense and his veins were bulging as if he was exerting a lot of strength and with just a little additional effort, the hundred-pound marble table would topple over.
Mindful of his younger sister’s presence, Zhou Jinheng eventually suppressed this sudden outburst of anger.
“It is Yi Hui who is different from them.” He moved his stiff jaws, his upper and lower teeth creaking from clenching too hard, “No one can replace him.”
The meal ended in turmoil and chaos.
Zhou Huarong was furious, threatening to use the family law. Zhou Jinheng was afraid that he would lose control again if he stayed, so he turned and walked out.
Zhou Jingyue, who had regained her senses, chased after him and grasped Zhou Jinheng’s arm to persuade him to go back: “Brother, your hand is still bleeding, go in first and get it bandaged.”
When she pointed it out, Zhou Jinheng lowered his head to look and found a nearly two-inch-long cut on his left hand that he hadn’t noticed. Blood continuously dripped down his fingers to the ground. It must have been sliced by a piece of broken porcelain when he went crazy just now.
He stared for a moment, then raised his hand and casually wiped it on the sleeve of his other arm: “It’s okay, go back.”
Zhou Jinyue was still a young girl in her teens. The commotion just now made her eyes red with fright: “Brother, what’s the matter with you? I just got back and you’re like this…”
Zhou Jinheng smiled bitterly. More than one person had asked him that; he also wanted to know what was the matter with him.
“If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t come back.“ He still had to comfort his sister who was much younger than him, “I have a job, so you go back. I haven’t been home for a while, mother’s room will be left to you to clean up.”
Zhou Jinyue nodded, sniffed and said, “I know, I know brother did have some feelings for that fool. But he is dead and you are still alive, life must go on and mother wouldn’t want to see you like this from the heavens. Cheer up and don’t make us worry about you.”
Unexpectedly there would be a day he would be comforted by his younger sister in such a clumsy way. Zhou Jinheng felt ridiculous and his heart was filled with overwhelming sadness.
If it weren’t for his belittling and trampling, Yi Hui’s existence would not have been so weak and small, so small that even after he had lost his life for him, he would receive only a few unpleasant sighs from others.
He had obviously lived so passionately, his existence was so vivid, and even now he occupied all his mind, making him go insane, making him feel numb to the physical pain.
He knew better than anyone that the attitude of others depended on his attitude. Had he treated Yi Hui better, just a little bit better, had he just served him a bowl of soup at the table, no one would have dared to ignore him like that.
It was all his fault, he was the one who pushed Yi Hui into h*ll with his own hands, then looked on coldly and abandoned him.
Before leaving, Zhou Jinheng did not forget to correct his sister’s way of addressing Yi Hui: “He is not a fool, don’t call him ‘the fool’ in the future.”
Zhou Jinyue didn’t understand: “What should I call him?”
This question stumped Zhou Jinheng himself. However, after being stunned for a moment, he relaxed, his face revealing an expression that could be considered soft: “Call him sister-in-law. I am your brother, and he is your sister-in-law.”
Zhou Jinheng didn’t know if doing so was equivalent to atoning for his sins. He only knew that he wanted to do it and wanted to give Yi Hui a name and a status, a name and a status that could be openly announced to the outside world.
He changed Yi Hui’s phone number on his mobile phone from “HuiHui” to “wife” and also thought the default sorting was too backwards, so he added an “a” in front of it, just like Yi Hui. The name he had been ashamed to say during those three years was now on his lips and in plain sight without any hindrance.
Zhou Jinheng thought this was very good. Others thought he was a lunatic. He himself knew how serious he was and it was enough.
On the day he returned to the filming site, sitting in the waiting room, he flipped through Yi Hui’s circle of friends again. In the past, they rarely contacted each other this way, even though they used phone calls or text messages. Zhou Jinheng only recently remembered that Yi Hui still had a WeChat ID.
Probably treating his circle of friends as his own private space, Yi Hui posted everything in it.
“I made a big cake and waited for my husband to come back for his birthday!”
“My husband is going home tomorrow. I’m going to the supermarket to buy things in the afternoon!”
“My husband kissed someone else on TV again today. HuiHui is so sad…”
“I played games with my husband last night and I can’t get out of bed today [crying]”
“But I still like playing games with my husband…”
And so on. When he read it for the first time, it took Zhou Jinheng a while to realize that “playing games” referred to making love.
After reading the entries one by one, Zhou Jinheng closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths.
Yi Hui left him so many things, but he was still afraid that if he didn’t save some, he would have nothing in the future.
When he picked up his phone again, the interface jumped back to the homepage of the circle of friends. The latest news came from Yang Chengxuan.
Remembering that he hadn’t contacted him for several days after their parting on unhappy terms last time, Zhou Jinheng planned to take this opportunity to say hello to him. Along the way, he wanted to tell him what happened and what he thought about it, so that he stopped taking it upon himself to pull the strings for him and Fang Yuqing.
When he scrolled down, his finger accidentally touched one of the pictures. It was one of the many paintings photographed by Yang Chengxuan. Zhou Jinheng glanced at it when it was enlarged on the screen, and with just one glance, his whole body was frozen in place and he could not move.
During his vacation due to the injury, he hardly went out. He looked and looked at the paintings that Yi Hui had left and framed several of them with his own hands. Therefore, he was very familiar with Yi Hui’s brushwork and painting style and could recognize it at a glance.
What’s more, it was himself in the painting.
Zhou Jinheng didn’t know how he dialed the phone. He waited until he got the information about the author of the painting, and learned that this painting was one of the works that won the gold medal in the theme painting competition called “Sunrise”. It was hanging for less than an hour at the exhibition of the Capital Art Museum that just closed and, because the author was unwilling to display it, it was personally retrieved by the author after paying a penalty for breach of contract.
As he stroked the painting on the screen, Zhou Jinheng’s first thought was to slap himself and ask if he was blind at the time. He didn’t notice such a large painting hanging on the wall.
What followed was an uncontrollable, almost crazy excitement.
In his mind, he kept replaying the scene on the day of the exhibition, the small movements that he was very familiar with, the eyes that he had seen many times. Zhou Jinheng was drowning in raging ecstasy. He never knew that the impact of losing and regaining could be even greater than the impact of coming back from the dead, powerful like an earthquake.
Surviving a desperate situation sent shivers down his spine, and hope and confidence that had long been gone returned to him.
I knew I was right. I knew it was him.