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Early the next morning, he could hear the door opening in the next room and the sound of footsteps downstairs. Another quarter of an hour passed before Yi Hui got up to get dressed and wash.
When he came out of the bathroom downstairs, Auntie was putting a bouquet of roses into a vase. She smiled seeing Yi Hui and said, “The bouquet that Mr. Zhou bought is just right, one more flower and it wouldn’t fit in the vase.”
When he ran upstairs as if escaping last night, Yi Hui saw this bouquet of roses placed at the head of his bed. He didn’t waste time to admire it or be grateful for it. Since it was placed in his room, it could be regarded as a gift for him. Yi Hui picked up the bouquet and threw it to the corridor outside the door.
He never thought Auntie would see it and find a vase to put it in.
“Mr. Zhou came back so early yesterday, so it turned out to accompany you for the holiday.” Auntie sprayed water on the flowers with a watering can, “Young men like Mr. Zhou, who are so busy but still find time to take care of the family, are rare. He has a successful career and is good looking. How many girls and boys out there are crying for such a man.”
At first, Yi Hui thought that Auntie was saying all these good things at the behest of Zhou Jinheng, but after getting along with her for a while, he realized that those were the things that Auntie was willing to say.
From the perspective of an onlooker, Zhou Jinheng could be called a perfect marriage partner. He spoiled him unconditionally and treated him so well without asking for anything in return. On the contrary, he was an ignorant and unreasonable one.
“I am not the one for him.” Yi Hui said.
Auntie thought he was hypocritical: “Oh, it’s common for couples to quarrel and have conflicts. I often slept in separate rooms with my old man. Don’t say this kind of nonsense in anger, you will regret it later.”
“I won’t regret it.“ Yi Hui looked at the bunch of roses that were still fresh and bright after a night, “He and I are not lovers.”
Auntie was surprised and said, “Aren’t you? Then you are Mr. Zhou’s…”
Yi Hui thought for a while and said, “Substitute.”
A substitute he used to deceive himself.
It was rainy in summer, and occasionally Yi Hui was unable to go out because of the heavy rains. He stayed all day with the door closed.
When he was tired of painting, he would stand up and look at the scenery outside the window, or have a video chat with his mother and sister and talk about his recent life.
“Your sponsors are too generous, right? The hotel room arranged for you is so good.” Jiang Yimang was envious in the video and turned the camera to show him her room, “The air conditioner is broken and the repair man said the town is not easy to get to and he won’t be here until tomorrow, so I’m in for a rough night.”
Yi Hui said, “Go to Aunt Qiu’s house to sleep. I asked her to take care of you before I left.”
Jiang Yimang turned the camera back again and smiled into the camera, showing two dimples: “That’s it! Aunt Qiu asked me to sleep at their house all summer, so that she didn’t have to run back and forth to take care of me… But I don’t like our house always being empty, so I always take two days a week to come back for a night.”
Yi Hui was gratified by his sister’s understanding and told her to study hard, not to worry and leave everything to her brother.
Not long after the video chat ended, there was a knock on the door.
When he opened the door, Zhou Jinheng stood outside. He seemed to have just returned, his body still wet and his meticulously styled hair slightly messy. He raised the bottle in his hand: “I’ll have to bother you.”
Following him to the master bedroom, Yi Hui absent-mindedly applied medicine to him, thinking that even if it rained heavily tomorrow, he should go out. It’s not like he couldn’t apply the medicine without his help.
Zhou Jinheng didn’t drink this time, so he didn’t talk a lot. He laid there and didn’t say a word. When Yi Hui finished rubbing his back, he turned around. When the two faced each other, he looked at Yi Hui quietly.
The look in his eyes was not too intense, at least half restrained, but even so, Yi Hui felt goosebumps. As he almost finished smearing the oil, he noticed another bruise on the left side below Zhou Jinheng’s neck, visually slicing his straight collarbone in half.
While he struggled whether to wipe this place too, Zhou Jinheng suddenly said: “There was a shooting session for the variety show, and the recoil of the gun was strong.”
Yi Hui didn’t know why he wanted to explain it to him and he didn’t plan to respond. He rubbed the bruise on the collarbone with the remaining medicine in his hand. When he took the lid and was about to close the bottle, Zhou Jinheng said, “There is still this one.”
As he said that, he raised his finger and pointed to the obvious wound on his right cheek.
Yi Hui couldn’t refuse, because he also caused it.
Taking a new bottle of ointment that was used to remove scars and disperse pigment accumulation. Yi Hui dug a little with his index finger and applied it to Zhou Jinheng’s face.
He was standing, Zhou Jinheng was sitting on the edge of the bed with his face raised, but his eyes were not closed. Only when Yi Hui’s finger slid across his cheek did his thick eyelashes tremble and his expression was even more focused than the expression of the man applying the medicine. This kind of obedience in his gaze was very different from his original temperament.
Yi Hui subconsciously wanted to ask him if it hurt, but when he was about to say it, he recovered, lowered his eyes and pursed his lips, saying nothing.
After that day, Zhou Jinheng left early and returned late, sometimes not returning all night. It seemed that he had received a new job.
Yi Hui hadn’t met Zhou Jinheng for two weeks. When Auntie got off work that night and went home, Yi Hui made a video call to Jiang Yimang while washing his clothes in the bathroom. He smiled happily at the naive big geese on the screen. He was taken aback when he heard the door open and quickly hung up the phone. There was no time to wash his hands, so he quickly locked the bathroom door.
There was a lot of movement in this set of actions and it was impossible for Zhou Jinheng not to notice. Yi Hui couldn’t control it, so after washing his clothes, he hurried upstairs.
No one knocked on the door that night, but he still couldn’t sleep well.
The next day, Yi Hui woke up very early. He was in bed until 8:30 before he got dressed and went out. The other member of the family hadn’t left. He opened the door of his room and said, “Auntie asked for a leave today, I will make breakfast for you.”
He remembered that before she left yesterday, Auntie said to Yi Hui, “See you tomorrow”, so this leave was really sudden.
But this was not his home, so he couldn’t comment on it. Yi Hui planned to go out after washing up, and packed all his bags. When he walked to the door, he heard a strange movement from the kitchen, followed by Zhou Jinheng’s “hiss”.
His footsteps paused on the threshold. After a while, Yi Hui returned. He entered the kitchen, turned off the stove and poured out the boiling hot oil from the pan, then washed and dried the pan, and poured the cold oil again.
When he opened the fridge, from the things that could be cooked quickly there were only two eggs and a roll of handmade noodles.
About 20 minutes later, two bowls of noodles were placed on the table. Zhou Jinheng sat for a long time without putting down his chopsticks, and only when he saw that Yi Hui had almost finished eating did he pick up his bowl and swallow everything left.
After eating, Zhou Jinheng took the initiative to put away the dishes and chopsticks, and said “Thank you” when Yi Hui took his bag again and was about to go out.
Yi Hui didn’t speak from beginning to end, fearing that he would misunderstand, but he still said, “It didn’t take much effort.”
There were only noodles left in the fridge, making two bowls instead of one didn’t take extra effort.
After a while, outside, he took out his mobile phone to look at the time, and the date “August 21st” below the time jumped into his eyes.
He was passing by a bakery and the smell of cream cakes wafted into the street, but Yi Hui, enveloped in the sweet air, didn’t have the feeling of overflowing happiness like he did in the past when he saw desserts.
He sat in the cafe he used to go to for another day.
Taking a break from the complicated work to think, he looked up at the window. It was already dark outside, and there were countless raindrops hitting the clear glass in a thin stream, until they gathered into a large mass and then slid down under the influence of gravity.
It had been raining recently, but Yi Hui always forgot to buy an umbrella. After he waited for a while, the rain did not weaken, and staying longer would mean he was out for more than twelve hours. Yi Hui stood up, put on his cap and mask, and prepared to rush back in one breath.
When he walked to the door of the cafe, he was stopped by the waiter: “Sir, it’s raining outside, take this umbrella and use it.”
Yi Hui was taken aback for a moment, looked at the umbrella in the waiter’s hand that obviously didn’t look like it was placed in the shop for guests to use and politely declined: “No, I live very close to here.”
“You have to use an umbrella anyway, it’s raining so hard.”
“I have a bad memory and I forget to return the things I borrow.”
The round-faced waiter girl curled her eyes in a smile: “Don’t return it. You come to our place almost every day. This umbrella is a reward for your loyalty.”
The umbrella was blue, and when it was opened, you could see the cosmic starry sky when you looked up. It reminded Yi Hui of the umbrella with Doraemon on it when it was opened.
He stepped on the thin puddle of water on the ground, kicked and shattered the streams of light reflected in it, listened to the noisy muffled sound of raindrops hitting the fabric of the umbrella and walked on, suddenly pulling the corners of his mouth and smiling a little.
It was the same; that man was really never tired of trying.
It was a pity that he was no longer stupid, and there was nothing more to give.
The narrow car-free lanes were bustling with pedestrians. Zhou Jinheng wore a hood and shuttled through the crowd, following the man with a blue umbrella in front of him.
When Yi Hui left the house in the morning, he looked at his back and panicked, then followed him quietly. The coffee shop was not large. He sat in the corner against the wall and occasionally stretched out his head to take a peek. Fortunately, Yi Hui was attentive enough when painting and did not notice anything.
At noon, Yi Hui ordered a caramel macchiato. He went around to the front desk and asked the waiter to deliver an extra small cake. Yi Hui should be happy when he receives it. The cake was also eaten. It seemed to taste good, because he raised the corner of his mouth just a little but Zhou Jinheng caught it.
Zhou Jinheng didn’t know the point of following him like this. In the morning, Yi Hui made him noodles. The surprise was only enough for him to put aside his trepidation for a while.
He just wanted to stay with Yi Hui, just today.
When Yang Chengxuan heard about the agreement he proposed, he said that this was his “next trick” and also said that it was thankless. No one would appreciate things done this way.
But he felt that this was the only way; the only way to help Yi Hui and keep him by his side. If it weren’t for an agreement of “equivalent exchange”, if it weren’t for restricting only twelve hours of freedom a day and setting a time limit of only half a year, Yi Hui would simply not be able to accept it.
This trick might seem despicable, but in fact, if Yi Hui did not accept it, there would be more despicable and shameless agreements waiting for him to see and more cruel traps waiting for him to step on.
Zhou Jinheng did not want to be a saviour. He just wanted to protect Yi Hui by his side, so that Yi Hui could be within his reach from morning to night, and within that, give him as much freedom as he needed.
From the first day, Zhou Jinheng had been restraining himself. Opportunities were not easy to come by and he could never scare his little fool away again.
So when Yi Hui suddenly turned his head on a deserted road in the community, Zhou Jinheng was caught off guard while harbouring a glimmer of hope at the same time.
He hoped Yi Hui would look, for today’s sake, for the sake of that bowl of noodles, for the sake of that small cake… even for the sake of him being so depressed.
Yi Hui held the umbrella and looked through the rain curtain at Zhou Jinheng, who was drenched in rain.
“What are you following me for?” Yi Hui asked.
For more than a month, the two had very few conversations. Most of them were Zhou Jinheng talking and Yi Hui being silent as if he hadn’t heard him.
Zhou Jinheng was once again surprised by this beginning. But he didn’t dare to be abrupt. His drunken behaviour and words had scared the little fool, and he decided not to drink anymore, not even if he was depressed and sad.
He changed all the habits that Yi Hui didn’t like.
Zhou Jinheng said, “There is no job today.”
The inexplicable answer was intended to elicit more exchanges. Yi Hui under the umbrella was expressionless: “I asked you why you followed me.”
Zhou Jinheng walked in the rain all the way, and the clothes soaked with water stuck to his body. The rain dripped down the scattered strands of hair on his forehead. He blinked his eyes, his vision blurred.
He said: “It’s raining.”
Yi Hui gritted his teeth fiercely. As if he couldn’t stand him taking care of him like this, he hurried forward, stuffed the umbrella in his hand into Zhou Jinheng’s arms, turned around and left.
Zhou Jinheng hurriedly picked it up, then followed, holding the handle of the umbrella and tilting it to the side, trying to shield Yi Hui from the rain.
They were not far from home and reached the door within a few steps.
This time it was Yi Hui who went in first. He took off his shoes and pulled up his pants that were wet with mud and water. He moved a little impatiently and hit the corner of the cabinet when he stood up.
Zhou Jinheng closed his umbrella behind him and quickly helped him. Yi Hui shook off his outstretched hand, put on his slippers and went in.
At any rate, he came back safely, and the anxiety that had been entrenched in his heart since he got up in the morning finally dissipated. Zhou Jinheng breathed a sigh of relief and looked out the window, a little grateful for the rain.
Because it was raining, the weather was humid and warm, which was different from this time last year.
When Yi Hui entered the house, he took the watering can to the kitchen to fetch water to water the flowers. They were usually watered by Auntie in the morning, but today he left in a hurry and forgot.
There were three or four buds on the stems of the snowflakes in that pot and they hadn’t bloomed for several days after entering the flowering period. The climate of S City was not suitable for raising this tropical plant. Yi Hui poured a lot of water on it, and the buds hung heavily, making it look even less like they were planning to show their faces.
Seeing Yi Hui squatting there, desperately spraying water on the flowers and leaves, Zhou Jinheng said, “Tomorrow I will ask someone to send another pot. This pot is some years old, and it may not be able to bloom no matter how much you water it.”
The watering can in Yi Hui’s hand stopped moving, but he was still squatting there.
The air conditioner in the room was always on. Before he entered the house, Yi Hui’s shoulders got wet. Zhou Jinheng was afraid that he would catch a cold. Forgetting his own drenched body, he brought a blanket over: “Go take a shower first, don’t catch a cold.”
He bowed and put the blanket on Yi Hui, and when he looked closer, he found that Yi Hui’s shoulders were trembling, as if he was really frozen.
“Is it cold? I’ll turn off the air conditioner.”
Zhou Jinheng hurriedly went to look for the switch of the central air conditioner and found it next to the kitchen. When he turned it off and came back, he saw the blanket resting at Yi Hui’s feet and walked over to put it on Yi Hui again.
He just picked it up when he heard him talking.
The voice was weak, as if he was talking to himself; he could barely hear a few words when he approached.
Yi Hui held the watering can in his hand and stared at the pot of flowers intently: “Otherwise… watch it die?”
Zhou Jinheng shivered suddenly, his fingers loosened, and the blanket, untouched by warmth, slid to the floor again.
On August 21st, heavy rain fell.
On this day last year, on Zhou Jinheng’s 22nd birthday, Yi Hui’s absurd, dreamlike life came to an abrupt end.
The phrase ”I’m late” was the biggest irony.
Yi Hui curled up his limbs and gritted his teeth to fight the cold, but the cold was still raging and fermenting in his body, condensing his blood and freezing his heartbeat.
Since you’re late, don’t come at all.
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