The party ended earlier than expected but the plane was late.
Zhou Jinheng took a nap in the waiting room for a while. When he woke up, the boarding hadn’t started. He loosened the tie around his neck, kicked the leg of the table grumpily and told his accompanying assistant Xiao Lin to go and change his ticket.
Xiao Lin ran to the counter and came back, trembling: “All the planes are delayed at this point, so it doesn’t make much sense to change the ticket…”
Zhou Jinheng’s face was as black as the bottom of a pot: “What about high-speed rail?”
Xiao Lin fiddled with his mobile phone and hesitated even more: “There is a high-speed rail, but you have to go to the South Railway Station to take it. It takes about six hours to get to S City. It’s better to wait here for the flight…”
Zhou Jinheng interrupted him: “Okay, you can go, I’ll wait by myself.”
Xiao Lin was so relieved that he dropped the phrase “Call me if you need anything” and ran away as if chased.
Zhou Jinheng waited patiently for another hour, and the plane finally took off.
When he arrived in S City, it was still raining and foggy. He took a taxi to his villa in the east of the city. Even though he knocked on the door for a long time, no one came to open it. Zhou Jinheng vaguely recalled that the only housekeeper in the house had just been fired by him not long ago, and the little fool was probably sleeping soundly at this hour.
Resentfully, he unlocked the door with the password, and just as he stepped inside, he was struck dumb by the deserted air that surrounded him.
Zhou Jinheng didn’t go back to this place often but he was very familiar with the way it was supposed to smell. The little fool was addicted to sweets. The refrigerator was stuffed full with candies and desserts, not to mention that the house was often filled with the sweet smell of food. But now it was empty as if it had been sprayed with a colourless and odourless purifier, and nothing else could be felt except for the little smell of rain and earth that had wrapped around him when he entered.
There were no expected flowers or cake. After going upstairs to the master bedroom to confirm, Zhou Jinheng had to admit that the little fool was not at home.
The suppressed anger caused by the delay of the plane exploded in an instant. Zhou Jinheng yanked the neatly folded quilt on the bed and threw it on the floor. The Doraemon doll on the pillow rolled on the floor, lying face up, smiling stupidly at Zhou Jinheng.
It was the little fool’s favorite doll; he had to hold it to sleep every night.
When he was annoyed, everything would not be pleasing to the eye. Zhou Jinheng inexplicably felt that the doll was laughing at him for rushing all the way back, so he threw it into the air and kicked it a few meters away. The doll hit the wall and bounced back. After rolling a few times, it lay on the floor with its butt up.
After going to the bathroom to wash his face and calm down, Zhou Jinheng took out his new mobile phone and flipped through the address book. His thumb hovered over the contact called “HuiHui” for a few seconds. In the end, he didn’t click on it. He dialled a number casually: “Hey, I’m back in S City, where are you gathering today?”
He thought that the lights and colours of the bar would numb his nerves and dull his emotions, but after a few glasses of wine, watching his friends hugging and laughing and smelling the pungent perfume around him, Zhou Jinheng’s mood got worse instead of better.
Someone came up to talk to him: “What’s the matter with Young Master Zhou? Why won’t he play with us? Is the wine not strong enough or are the girls here not energetic enough?”
Zhou Jinheng raised his hand and pushed out: “Go away, play on your own.”
He didn’t know what was wrong with him; he didn’t go to a good celebration party in the capital and instead came to this smoky place in the middle of the night to suffer.
Everyone was accustomed to Young Master Zhou’s bad temper. The man who was pushed away was not angry at all and said with a playful smile: “Or is it that Young Master Zhou’s vision is too high to care for these vulgar fans?”
Another man at the side joined their conversation, “That’s not the case. Our Young Master Zhou has a beautiful wife from a famous family at home and they say that after tasting a noble and elegant taste, you can’t drink those poor quality or strong flavours anymore, right Young Master Zhou?”
Although the marriage contract between the Zhou family and the Yi family was supposed to be kept secret from the outside world, this kind of thing could not be concealed among the local families. Just like how no one ever said it openly, there was no one who wouldn’t know that Yi Hui, the young master of the Yi family, had a brain problem.
There was a certain amount of mockery in the man’s words. At any other time, Zhou Jinheng couldn’t help but lose his temper. But at this moment, his mind was not here, so he just ignored it. He put down the unfinished wine glass, picked up his coat and threw it on his shoulder to leave.
“Young Master Zhou is leaving?” The man who was the first to talk to Zhou Jinheng caught up and tried to stop him, leaning into his ear and lowering his voice, “You know that guy’s mouth is cheap, you don’t have to be angry with him.”
Zhou Jinheng just felt dizzy and was eager to go out to get some air. He drew together his eyebrows and said, “I’m not angry.”
The family of the man who was chasing him was doing a local fire-fighting equipment business in the area of S City. Recently, he was trying to get close to the Zhou family, attempting to make connections with Zhou Jinheng before negotiating a partnership with the Yi family that was in the hotel business, so he was very attentive. “You’re right not to be angry, Young Master Zhou, that guy is lazy and just spends his family’s money. You don’t know how jealous he was when he saw Young Master Yi following you. Last time you brought Young Master Yi here, he…”
Zhou Jinheng grasped something from the first half of his words and didn’t wait for him to finish before tilting his head and narrowing his eyes at him, “You also think that I’m climbing the social ladder?”
The man was taken aback: “How can it be! You and Young Master Yi are a good couple, a match made in heaven!”
Knowing full well that it was just compliments and flattery, Zhou Jinheng was still relieved to hear this. He did not linger outside the bar and went straight back to his villa in the east of the city.
He fell asleep when he got home. When he woke up and vaguely saw the dawn sky outside the window, he subconsciously stretched out his hand to feel the man beside him. He didn’t feel anyone. Sitting up with a start, he saw Doraemon on the floor at the foot of the bed in an unchanged position and remembered that the little fool was not at home.
In the bathroom, Zhou Jinheng touched the towel with a cartoon picture hanging on the rack. It was dry and seemed to have not been used for many days.
While brushing his teeth, Zhou Jinheng deliberately knocked down the cartoon toothbrush standing in the corner, raised his eyebrows and thought disdainfully: let’s see how long you can last this time.
The Zhou and Yi families had a marriage contract. Since Zhou Jinheng was not of legal marriage age (1) at the time of the agreement, the two families only held a low-key wedding ceremony and sent the two of them to this marital home in the name of spending time together to nurture their relationship.
Because of his work, Zhou Jinheng’s stay here in the past two years had added up to less than two months, and even that was under the threat of the old b*stard who would block his credit card or take away his sports car. Now that Zhou Jinheng’s acting career was on track, he had his own financial source and the pressure from his elders had become less and less effective. Since the beginning of the spring this year, he could count the number of times he had stayed in this house on the fingers of one hand.
Only the fool Yi Hui really regarded this place as his home, arranged everything carefully, waited patiently and tried his best to get him to come home every day. Even not living here occasionally was a gamble he took, thinking that this would make Zhou Jinheng worry about him and come back to see him. He didn’t know that Zhou Jinheng had already seen through his little schemes.
If it didn’t help, he also had his half-brother. Yi Hui had done it two or three times last year when he bought a plane ticket and ran to the capital to join his brother.
Isn’t it just running away from home? Kid tricks. The Yi family had a number of properties in S City, most of which Yi Hui’s mother had acquired for him during her lifetime, all with Yi Hui’s name on them, so he had plenty of places to go to.
Zhou Jinheng didn’t worry at all. If something really happened, his cheap brother-in-law would have called him to lecture him a long time ago. How could he have been allowed to get away with it for so many days?
Thinking about it, Zhou Jinheng began to feel irritated again, wondering how long he would have to live with his hands and feet tied.
After washing, he took out half a bag of frozen toast from the refrigerator and swallowed it with cold water. Zhou Jinheng frowned while chewing, thinking that having the little fool at home was good for something, after all. At least coffee and hot water were available twenty-four hours a day and you could drink them whenever you reached out your hand.
Back in the room, Zhou Jinheng once again caught a glimpse of the doll lying on the floor in the corner. After thinking for a while, Zhou Jinheng went over and picked it up, dusted it and put it back on the bed.
If the little fool came back and saw it like that, he would cry. When he cried, his nose and eyes were red and very ugly. If others saw it, they would think he was bullying him.
It was rather inconvenient to have no housekeeper at home. After throwing the dirty clothes into the washing machine, Zhou Jinheng took a set of casual clothes from the closet and put them on. Suddenly, he heard the phone ring.
After groping for a long time, he took out the mobile phone from the jacket he threw into the washing machine. Seeing the words “old b*stard”, Zhou Jinheng’s face turned dark and he felt faintly disappointed.
The manner in which the phone was answered was not polite: “Hey, what’s the matter?”
Zhou Jinheng was halfway through putting on his pants. Unable to tie the belt with one hand, he turned and leaned on the washing machine: “En, sorry, I forgot to tell you.”
Now that the old b*stard had found his new number, he wouldn’t keep discussing this matter: “Bring Xiao Hui home on Sunday.”
“Another family gathering?” Zhou Jinheng sneered, “If you’ve got so much free time, why not build up your business skills and try to do more honest business? Or is there a plan to marry my sister out for money too?”
“*sshole!” The middle-aged man on the other end of the phone said angrily, “You stinky runt, who agreed to marry the Yi family in exchange for personal freedom? Now that you’ve muddled out a bit of progress, you want to turn away and not acknowledge the debt?”
“By personal freedom, do you mean calling to check up on me every three days? I’ve never seen any father-in-law so concerned about his son and daughter-in-law’s life after marriage.”
When he finished speaking carelessly, the breath in the microphone sounded ragged and he felt that the old b*stard was getting really angry. Zhou Jinheng changed his tune: “Sunday, right? I have to ask him if he has time. The big artist is so busy. It’s okay for you to jerk me around at will but it’s not appropriate to jerk him around, right?”
After hanging up the phone, Zhou Jinheng breathed a sigh of relief, put on his clothes and walked downstairs, passing the corner room on the first floor on the way down. He paused, hesitated for a moment and opened the half-shut door.
This was Yi Hui’s studio. Although the area was small, it was neatly organized. A half-finished painting of a man was propped up on the painting board, with two chairs next to it, one tall and one short. It reminded Zhou Jinheng of Yi Hui’s clumsy way of sitting on his haunches or sometimes kneeling with one foot propped up on the ground, holding the painting board to find the right height.
S City was located south of the Yangtze River and the humid air was particularly noticeable in the shady room. The corners of the paper stacked in the cabinet in the corner were all a little warped and the paper surface was uneven and bumpy. No wonder he complained before that “the paintings he painted have become ugly.”
The aggrieved voice of the little fool unexpectedly echoed in his ears. Zhou Jinheng’s heart suddenly softened. Taking into account that there would be no guests coming to this place anyway, it would be better to free up the second bedroom upstairs for a studio. In that room, the painting paper would not absorb moisture so easily.
And buy him a few chairs of the right height later. The little fool was clumsy, in case he fell at home.……
While he was thinking about it, the phone in his pocket rang again. Zhou Jinheng pressed the button without looking at it: “What other orders do you have to give?”
There was a two-second silence on the other end and then the man said, “Jinheng, Fang Yuqing is back.”
Zhou Jinheng glanced at the caller’s name and said with a smile: “Yang Chengxuan, I sent you the new number not for you to call me to joke. You saw what happened last time.”
“It’s true this time. I found the flight information. He flew from Country M and will arrive at the capital airport in five hours.”
The smile on his face froze but his eyes lit up. Zhou Jinheng couldn’t even put on his coat. He changed his shoes and walked out while dialling Xiao Lin. After connecting, he said quickly: “Help me book a ticket from S City to the capital. You have an hour, hurry up.”
At the same time on the other side of the country, in a remote southern town, Yi Hui was having a headache changing his train tickets to the capital.
Jiang Yimang was extremely excited: “Aren’t you going to see your tutor early? Let’s go two days earlier, I’ve taken a leave anyway so I can leave whenever we want.”
Yi Hui looked at the screen trying to find the right time and seats available: “But Mom has a job and her time has to be arranged reasonably.”
Jiang Yimang smirked.
Yi Hui turned his head and looked at her suspiciously.
“I think you are changing a lot day by day recently.” Jiang Yimang showed a pleased expression, “A few days ago it was all about ‘eat your dinner’ and ‘take a bath’, but today it’s about ‘arranging your time reasonably’.”
Yi Hui was agitated, thinking that he had been exposed: “I, I, I heard Mom saying that.”
“I’m just talking casually, what are you so nervous about? Dr. Liu said that it is not surprising that you change at this stage. Let Mom and I take more care of your emotions.”
Yi Hui breathed a sigh of relief: “Oh, oh, thank you.”
Jiang Yimang shook with laughter: “How come I didn’t find you so cute before?”
Yi Hui pondered it secretly, judged this sentence to be a sincere compliment, blushed and made Jiang Yimang laugh again.
Because Yi Hui played a big role in persuading Jiang Xuemei to take her daughter to the capital, and perhaps because of the haircut, the relationship between brother and sister improved by leaps and bounds in the past two days. Jiang Yimang didn’t roll her eyes, didn’t say anything mean and even shared something good with her brother when she had it.
After he finally got the tickets, Jiang Yimang stopped Yi Hui: “Hey, don’t go yet, take a look at this.”
She closed the door mysteriously and took out a camera from her school bag.
Yi Hui asked, “Newly bought?”
“Where can I have so much money from? I borrowed it from my classmate.” Jiang Yimang stroked the camera, unable to put it down, “When the time comes, you will receive the award and I will take pictures of you.”
Yi Hui smiled shyly: “I may not be able to win the award.”
Jiang Yimang curled her lips: “Aren’t you very good at painting? Have some confidence.”
Yi Hui didn’t want to spoil her mood: “Okay, I’ll try my best.”
“However, you’d better pray that the competition time is not the same as the meeting time. If it is, I will definitely choose HengHeng.”
Yi Hui blinked: “Heng… what?”
“Zhou Jinheng, our family’s HengHeng.” Jiang Yimang took out a stack of hand posters from her school bag, “You didn’t even forget the star I like, did you? If it weren’t for him, why would I follow you to the capital?”
Hearing this three-syllable name, Yi Hui felt a buzz in his ears and shivered.
He hoped he had heard it wrong and lowered his eyes to look at what Jiang Yimang was holding. The words ”Zhou Jinheng” jumped into his eyes without warning. Together with the face that could not be erased from his mind, it seemed so close to him and yet so far away.
After an unknown period of time, Jiang Yimang pushed Yi Hui: “What’s with you, don’t you think my HengHeng is good-looking?”
Yi Hui stared at the familiar name in a daze, listening to it echo in his ears over and over again. He bit his bloodless lips a few times, raised his head, pulled up the corners of his mouth and squeezed out a reluctant smile: “Looks good, he, he looks the best.”
- legal marriage age for men in China is 22