Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Thinking of Shen Jize, Lu Rong picked up his pace again, followed by the dog with his tongue out, and rushed back to the yard with him in one breath.
Grandpa Cai was holding a ladle, watering the ginkgo tree in the yard. He transplanted a bowl-thick one from an acquaintance and gave it to Lu Rong, saying, “This tree is the same as you, both eight years old, so Grandpa will take care of both of you and see which of you grows better.”
After the previous week of listlessness, the ginkgo tree had adjusted, and the leaves slowly raised their heads.
“Grandpa, I’m back!” Lu Rong greeted and hurriedly ran to the second floor bedroom.
“Slow down, don’t fall.”
Throwing his school bag on the chair, Lu Rong climbed into bed and uncovered the pillowcase covering the landline next to his pillow. The cream-colored body lay still, unmoving. He picked up the receiver and whispered, “Hello, brother, it’s me.”
After a few moments, he slowly put the phone back in place.
The sound of oil bursting in the pan came from downstairs, Grandpa Cai was cooking dinner. Lu Rong touched the phone again with a cherished touch before getting out of bed backwards and starting his homework. When he was tired of turning pages or writing, he would habitually look up at the phone. The phone, which had been silent, both burned him and gave him peace of mind.
“Rong Rong, it’s time for dinner.” Grandpa Cai, who had prepared the meal, called from downstairs.
“Coming!” Lu Rong finished the last question and put all the books and pencil cases back into his bag before going downstairs.
Tonight’s dish was fried pork with green peppers and egg soup with tomatoes, and a vegetable stir-fry with cabbage.
Grandpa Cai gave Lu Rong a bowl of shredded pork and asked, “What do you think of your new school? Do you get along well with your classmates? Grandpa will roast some chestnuts for you to take to your classmates tomorrow.”
Lu Rong chewed his rice and said, “We aren’t allowed to bring food to school.”
“You aren’t?” Grandpa Cai was confused, “Then why don’t you let your classmates come here for a meal?”
Lu Rong thought about it, “But I don’t have any friend classmates yet, let’s do it later.”
“Okay, you can bring them home whenever you want, and Grandpa will make you something delicious.”
Lu Rong ate his fragrant rice, his cheeks puffed out, not noticing Grandpa Cai looking at him with a languid expression. A long time later, Grandpa Cai finally spoke, “Rong Rong, ah…”
“Mn?” Lu Rong tossed the shredded meat in the rice and pushed it into his mouth.
Grandpa Cai stopped talking after this sentence.
Lu Rong also sensed that something was wrong and stopped his chopsticks to look at him, “Grandpa, what is it?”
Grandpa Cai hesitated and said, “Rong Rong, do you know that when you pick up the receiver when you call, it will make a beeping sound?”
Lu Rong didn’t know why Grandpa Cai asked this, but he tilted his head to recall. Whenever he answered the phone, there was no ringing in the receiver, only the sound of Shen Jize’s breathing as he waited on the other side.
So he shook his head affirmatively, “I didn’t hear anything.”
Grandpa Cai’s expression seemed to be difficult, and he added, “Then when you pick up the handset, the numbers on the phone light up. You know that, right?”
Lu Rong bit the head of his chopsticks and didn’t answer.
“Look, if the phone is working, then when you pick up the handset, the numbers will light up and will tick.” Seeing Lu Rong looking at him for a moment, Grandpa Cai continued, “Every phone has to be connected to a phone line, and the hole for the phone line is on the butt.”
Lu Rong reached behind him with the hand that wasn’t holding the chopsticks.
Grandpa Cai said, “It’s the butt of the phone, that’s the landline down there. There’s a hole in the butt for the phone line, and it has to be connected to the phone line, then the phone can be used.”
Lu Rong said, “Mn, the telephone line—”
“The phone line needs to be installed by a special person, and if our phone is installed with a phone line, it won’t be the same number as before. It will be a new number.” Grandpa Cai interrupted quickly.
Lu Rong was stunned for a moment and then muttered, “A new number…”
“Yes, only the new number will ring, the old number won’t work.”
Lu Rong looked at his bowl and didn’t say a word. Grandpa Cai gave him another chopstick of shredded meat, “Eat quickly, good boy. You will definitely play together with your new classmates. Grandpa is waiting for you to bring them home.”
After a while, he picked up his chopsticks and started to eat, eating all the shredded meat Grandpa Cai gave him, not leaving a single grain of rice in his bowl.
“Grandpa, I’m going upstairs.” He put down his empty bowl and stood up.
Lu Rong walked slowly toward the second floor, his small shoulders collapsing, his feet dragging on the floor as if he had no strength.
Grandpa Cai turned his head to watch his back and shook his head with a sigh.
Lu Rong went back to his bedroom and climbed into bed, pulled the covers over himself and curled up into a round roll. A few moments later, a small white hand stretched out from the roll, dragging the phone next to the pillow. Through the gap in the quilt roll, the sound of sobbing escaped from inside.
The next day, Lu Rong came home from school and saw that the phone by the pillow had disappeared. He didn’t ask Grandpa Cai, but stood by the bed for a while, then sat down at his desk, slowly took out his book and pencil case from his school bag, and started to write his homework. 1
A few days later, Grandpa Cai took a bus to the convalescent center near Longquan Village and tried to find the workers to ask for Shen Yan’s contact information. The workers also only had the cell phone number he had left before, and after dialing it, it showed an empty number.
“Worker Shen finished the work here and took up a new project, so he should’ve changed the number. We just work, and we can’t contact him.”
Grandpa Cai went around the village ruins, stood with his hands in the air for half an hour, and finally took the return bus down the mountain.
Lu Rong didn’t mention the phone call again. He went to and from school, did his homework, played with the dog, and pampered Grandpa Cai at his knee.
Only after the winter break came, he would go to the head of the town every afternoon at three o’clock and stand there for a while. A shuttle bus from the county would arrive at the station just after 3:00, stopping only for a few minutes to pick up and drop off passengers before the shuttle left for the next location.
Lu Rong stood by the stopping point in the snow and wind, wearing a coffee-colored dog-ear cotton hat and thick scarf gloves, staring at the people getting off. If it rained, he would hold a small umbrella handed to him by his grandfather.
The bun vendor next to the parking spot was familiar with him and would greet him when he saw him, “Lu Rong, you’re early today.”
“It’s not early, only ten minutes to go.” Lu Rong had a serious face. His eyes would light up when he saw the dark gray shuttle bus coming from afar, and he would run up to meet it, and then follow it back to the platform.
One by one he went to see those who got off until the doors closed and departed, disappearing at the end of the town. The light in his eyes finally dimmed and he called out, “Puppy, go home.”
The boy took the big yellow dog, as every day before, down the turnoff to home, slowly going forward.
The two of them listened to the laughter on TV and clinked their glasses over a table of food.
“I wish Grandpa good health! Very, very good health! Very, very, very good health.” Lu Rong took a sip from his plum wine.
Grandpa Cai smiled and narrowed his eyes, “Good, good, for the sake of my Rong Rong, Grandpa will be healthy.”
Lu Rong stared at the light brown liquid in the glass and said in his mind, ‘I wish you a happy, very, very, very happy life, Brother.’
After he finished, he took another sip.
“Don’t drink too much, you’ll get drunk and act like Puppy.” Grandpa Cai warned.
Lu Rong rushed to protect the glass, “Just this one, just this one.”
Puppy was lying next to him, lazily gnawing on a meat bone, taking two bites and flicking it with his paws.
The windows were decorated with red flowers, and fireworks could be seen exploding in the sky. Outside the house there was a cold wind gust, but the house was warm.
It was a new year.
Several years later, the leaves of the trees were wilting in the summer noon, and only the cicadas were chirping heartily. Inside the house with the curtains drawn, the electric fan was blowing on the bed. The teenager on the bed rubbed his eyes and sat up with his sleep matted hair. The hair was on the long side and slightly curled at the end, blocking a bit of his eyes.
He was wearing a wide old white t-shirt, hanging loosely from his shoulders, blown out by the night breeze in a wave pattern. His long, slender neck and shoulders were exposed, and his skin was glowing white. Underneath, however, he was wearing only a pair of shorts, his two thin white legs long and straight.
He put on the slippers by the bed, pulled back the curtains, squinted against the sudden blinding sunlight, and his long, dense eyelashes pulled into an arc. Pulling the curtains tight with a swish, he turned off the fan and ran downstairs, his slippers pounding on the concrete floor. When he arrived downstairs, he opened the refrigerator, took out a popsicle and took a big bite, chewing his mouth to crunch and walking out.
The big yellow dog was lazily lounging under the eaves of the house, and didn’t move when he saw him, only wagging his tail lightly.
In the courtyard, Grandpa Cai squatted beside a flowering branch, gathering the soil underneath with his hands, and said without looking up, “Rong Rong, bring me the big scissors for cutting the branches.”
The young man went back into the house, and a few moments later, a clear, pleasant voice rang out, with a soft ending, “Grandpa, where did you put the scissors? I don’t see them in the cupboard.”
“They were on the windowsill.”
“Mn. Found them.” Lu Rong handed the scissors to Grandpa Cai and squatted next to him to watch him cut the branches, taking a bite of his popsicle every now and then.
“Go away to eat that, the sound makes my teeth sore.” Grandpa Cai said.
Lu Rong crouched and took two steps back and continued to crunch.
Grandpa Cai cut off a trailing flower branch, “My teeth are sore, don’t be here. Go back to the house and watch TV.”
“You dislike me again.” Lu Rong muttered and stood up.
Grandpa Cai had a smile in his eyes, “You just realized that? I can’t stand to see you wandering around all day.”
“I’m going to wander. I’m going to wander here all the time.” Lu Rong went to the next bench and sat down, but stopped chewing the popsicle and just sucked it with his mouth.
A gust of wind rustled the leaves of the ginkgo tree in the small yard. Lu Rong patted the bowl-thick trunk and asked, “Grandpa, do you think I grew well or this tree grew well?”
“You grew well.” Grandpa Cai said, “You’ve graduated from college, and this tree hasn’t even gone to elementary school.”
Lu Rong tilted his head to look at the leaves of the tree, and the light spilled through the cracks onto his face, reflecting a face with red lips and white teeth and dark eyebrows, very beautiful.
Grandpa Cai asked, “I heard that the children from your old town high school are going on a trip. Do you want to go with them?”
“No.” Lu Rong said wanly, “I don’t want to go out on such a hot day.”
Grandpa Cai looked up at him, “Look at your lazy face. Why don’t you just lie under the roof with Puppy all day?”
Puppy under the eaves heard his name and raised his head abruptly.
“I’m going to the city to find a job soon, so I want to spend more time with Grandpa.” Lu Rong’s face was pleasing, and his words were sweeter and sweeter than popsicle water.
Grandpa Cai’s heart was pleased, but his mouth sighed, “Hurry up and go. The sooner you leave, the sooner I’ll be free.”
Lu Rong said, “Grandpa wants to throw me out, so don’t think of me and wipe your tears.”
Grandpa Cai laughed and waved him away, “Go, go! Go now, it’s hot in the courtyard. Go inside and watch TV.”
Lu Rong went back to the house and turned on the TV, brought a pot of hollow vegetables on the table, watching and choosing, while the cell phone in his pants pocket kept vibrating; it was his class group.
He put down the bamboo basket, took out his phone and tried to put it on the table, then clicked on it and scanned it. The messages in the class group were scrolling, and it was the most active female students in the class.
【An is so handsome, that award-winning movie he acted in will soon be released in China too.】
【This is an Oriental face… Chinese? Is he Chinese?】
【He’s Chinese, but he’s been living abroad. He just won an international award, he’s a new movie star…】
【No wonder I’ve never heard of him before, but he’s got a high starting point, and now he’s all over the internet.】
【I just followed his Weibo.】
The movie star… …An…
Lu Rong caught both words, and also glanced at a picture in the chat message.
A young man in a suit, one hand around his chest, one hand falsely resting against his chin, the top of his shirt buttoned open.
His phone was a very old, low-end smartphone with a low resolution screen, and the small picture that hadn’t been downloaded was so blurry that he couldn’t see the face clearly.
This should be An, but he didn’t bother to click on it to look closely, but the man was tall and handsome, so he put down his phone and continued to watch the TV to choose vegetables.
The time just after graduation was pleasant and relaxing, and Lu Rong wasn’t like other students rushing to find a job. Every day he just stayed at home, eating, sleeping, eating then sleeping, eating, watching TV and teasing Grandpa Cai.
In the evening, the grandfather and grandson would take the dog to the river for a walk, until they were surrounded by darkness, the moon rose, only then did they slowly return to their small courtyard.
“Grandpa, your blood pressure medicine seems to be running out.” Lu Rong rummaged through the pile of daily medication on the TV cabinet.
“Ah, didn’t I buy five bottles when I went to the county last time?” Grandpa Cai asked back, watching the TV.
Lu Rong said, “I only bought three bottles.”
Lu Rong put down the empty bottle and said, “I will go to the county tomorrow and buy medicine for you.”
“The county town…” Grandpa Cai thought about it, “Okay, don’t stay in the house all the time, go out for a walk.”
The next day, Lu Rong carried a rag bag and took the town’s hourly bus to the county town.
After an hour of wobbling on the bus, he got off at the terminal and went to a chain drugstore not far away to buy antihypertensive drugs. Once he saw that it was still early, he wanted to go to the mall to buy a pair of leather shoes for Grandpa Cai.
When he was in college in the city, on weekends when he didn’t go home, he would go to some stores to work and save a little pocket money. It was a rare visit to the county and he wanted to buy Grandpa Cai a pair of shoes for the fall in advance.
The nearest shopping mall was a few blocks away, and a bus arrived not far away, so he boarded it. As the bus drove down the long street, Lu Rong looked sideways at the pedestrians outside the window.
A boy learning to walk stumbled forward on the sidewalk while his grandfather stretched his arms wide and shielded him like an old hen.
Lu Rong watched with a smile on his face until he could no longer see.
Just as he turned back, his eyes glanced over the light box on the roadside and saw the poster on it. It was a man in a suit, looking young and sharp. He had one hand around his chest, one hand against his chin, and two unbuttoned tops on his shirt, revealing his light brown skin, adding a bit of sex appeal. His hair looked messy but stylish, with a few strands blocking his forehead, but not blocking his deep eyebrows.
Very handsome, very handsome, a big handsome man.
This was Lu Rong’s first feeling when he saw the poster.
Then a strange feeling rose. He felt that this young man’s features were very familiar, and he felt as if he had seen him somewhere. Lu Rong turned back and thought for a moment, then suddenly remembered the class group’s previous messages, when there was this picture.
No wonder he looked familiar…
Lu Rong was relieved.
It seemed to be a movie star who just won an award abroad. Anthony? Ada?
The bus arrived at the station, a few dozen meters away from the mall, Lu Rong put on his small bag and walked in. He went straight to the third floor where leather goods were sold and entered a not too expensive shoe store to choose leather shoes for his grandfather. He selected a few pairs of alternative shoes and then asked the clerk about them, and tried them on himself.
He repeatedly compared and selected the shoes, but he had a sweet mouth and a pair of dimples that appeared when he smiled, so the clerk didn’t get impatient and introduced them to him seriously.
Finally, on the recommendation of the clerk, he chose a shoe that was on sale for more than 400 yuan. Lu Rong paid the bill with his cell phone and carried the shoe box out of the mall. He walked to the bus stop not far away, but the bus had not come yet, so Lu Rong stared at a big LED screen on the opposite wall.
There seemed to be an interview with someone, a fat bald man gesturing to say something, but Lu Rong didn’t listen, his eyes though looking, his mind was thinking of other things.
“…It’s An, look! It’s An, the up-and-coming movie star of the international awards.”
“I know I know, he’s really handsome…”
“That award-winning movie will be released in China soon, and he’s going to develop in China in the future.”
“For sure, look at the publicity offensive these days. An is everywhere!”
The loud conversation of the people beside him interrupted Lu Rong’s thoughts, and he realized that the fat bald man on the big screen had disappeared and turned into an extremely handsome young man. In his twenties, with a youthful vigor, but a few mature man’s charm.
Lu Rong glanced at it and carelessly averted his eyes, but then thought of something, and slowly turned back to stare at the person on the large screen. After a few moments of staring, he began to breathe heavily, his eyes widened, and his hands clutched his small floral bag.
The young man was wearing a well-tailored dark suit, leaning back on a single sofa with his legs folded and smiling, being interviewed for a talk show.
He had broad shoulders and narrow waist and long legs, sitting in a casual and relaxed position but not flabby. His left hand, wearing an expensive wristwatch, rested on the arm of the sofa, and his right hand tapped gently, as if he was thinking about how to answer the interviewer’s question.
“…I’m very fortunate to have come across this film and to have taken on the role of the Trekkie. Of course, this character is very complicated inside and wasn’t easy to portray…” His voice was nice, low and soft with a very textured magnetism.
“I heard that An played not only Trekkie in it, but also Trekkie’s past life and present life, which is equal to playing two roles.”
“Wow, his voice also sounds good.” The people on the platform also looked at the big screen and were still talking loudly.
Lu Rong didn’t pay attention to what these people were saying, just looked at the big screen incredulously, his mind was blank, his heart felt like a drumstick was beating down.
Ba-thump, ba-thump, ba-thump.
Unlike the posters that were glimpsed, the man in the big screen was magnified several times, as if sitting in front of him. In the high-definition display, his every expression, every sideways glance, slight frown and flick of the lips fell into Lu Rong’s eyes.
——Including the very clear red mole on his wrist.
Time seemed to freeze, the man’s handsome features and the memory of the preteenager overlapped, and then blended perfectly, those memories of the years came crashing back.
“Rong Rong, come here.”
“Call me Brother.”
“I am both your brother and your husband…”
“Rong Rong, brother will never leave you.”
Lu Rong’s lips gently opened and closed, and in an inaudible voice he called out, “Brother…”