Don’t Covet the Beautiful System!! - Chap 135
In the midst of the faint smell of sandalwood, a secretary in professional clothes held a stack of documents in his arms and gently knocked on the door of the chairman’s office.
A calm welcome came from the door. She straightened her expression, smiled and pushed open the door.
The office was located in a high-rise with excellent views. There were rows of tall buildings in the distance and light flooded her vision, as if breaking into a bright and splendid paradise.
The secretary instinctively blinked. Then she collected herself and looked at her boss sitting at the large desk.
Sure enough, the young chairman was quietly looking at the oil painting on the wall again.
He had been staring at it like this ever since the painting was hung on the wall yesterday.
“Chairman Pei, this is the material transmitted by Mr Zhuang. It is the latest project of the A11 commercial intelligent robot.”
The secretary respectfully put the document in his hand on the table. “Mr Zhuang said that after you take the time to read it, you might need to hold a remote meeting.”
Pei Yan shifted his gaze to the stack of documents. “I see.”
The secretary confirmed the schedule for the next two days with him and set a time for the meeting with reference to the other company’s proposal.
When reporting to him, the secretary glanced at the oil painting on the wall from time to time.
Before leaving, she couldn’t help exclaiming, “Chairman Pei, I remember that this is Elert’s most famous work. Isn’t it called A Country Girl?”
With Chairman Pei’s identity, this must be an authentic work worth tens of millions.
Pei Yan followed her gaze and answered gently, “Yes.”
It was a quiet and beautiful pastoral landscape painting, but there were only dark and light rural scenes. There was no girl.
Her smile was full of envy. “It is beautiful.”
The moment the secretary closed the door, she saw the chairman’s silent side face and couldn’t help thinking of another thing.
There was no girl in the painting called A Country Girl but a woman might actually appear next to the chairman, who had been single so far.
He might be getting married soon.
There was gossip in the company that the chairman’s mother was looking for a suitable wife for him.
Or rather, the right business partner.
Pei Yan spent two hours absentmindedly reading through the project proposal. Then he stayed up late at night to enter the online meeting room that had been scheduled in advance.
In the meeting room, there were foreign colleagues from the head of Zart Technology Company. There was also Zhuang Wenbai, the head of domestic regional business, the president of the appraisal department and so on.
There were also the relevant people in charge of the Pei Group, which was Zart’s only partner in China, such as Pei Yan.
The purpose of this meeting was to determine the prospects of the project.
The A11 commercial intelligent robot was still in the development stage and had a more understandable name in their mouths. It was called the second generation work assistant.
Compared with the first generation which mainly assisted the user, the second generation would be able to independently complete some user-assigned tasks and guide the owner to work according to the built-in program.
As the name suggested, it greatly improved the quality and efficiency of work.
Pei Yan usually had no opinion. He listened silently while the secretary took shorthand notes of the meeting.
Once the meeting was over, the video panes darkened one by one. The secretary finished her work and there were only two people left in the virtual room.
It was still morning where Zhuang Wenbai was and the sun was shining behind him.
The window outside Pei Yan’s office was already full of night.
Once the work matter ended, Zhuang Wenbai looked at his expression and said softly, “You don’t want to go home again?”
Pei Yan was looking at the blue sky reflected in the glass window behind him and it took him a long time to answer. “…No.”
He vaguely remembered a photo he had seen a long time ago. It was a Western-style building covered in snow. Young students walked by holding books and the sky was just as blue.
Zhuang Wenbai wasn’t in the photo at that time. He was a college student studying abroad and casually took photos of the scenery of the surrounding campus.
Now five or six years had passed. Even compared to when he was in high school, Zhuang Wenbai hadn’t changed much. It was just that his facial features had become more mature but he still looked like a gentle student council president.
Zhuang Wenbai heard his insincere words but didn’t ask anything else. “The matter here is almost over. I will return to China on the weekend.”
He seemed to be very busy. From time to time, there were notification sounds from his computer, knocks outside his door and the pages stacked on his desk blew in the wind.
“Okay.” Pei Yan didn’t want to disturb him too much. “See you on the weekend.”
Zhuang Wenbai looked at his face. His eyes flickered slightly and he seemed to smile. “See you on the weekend.”
The screen went out abruptly.
The evening breeze here was cool and the night was foggy. Pei Yan drove home alone on the viaduct. He deliberately missed the two correct exits off the bridge and when he had the last opportunity to turn the corner, he turned the steering wheel and drove obediently in the direction of home.
The castle-like luxury home was as quiet as ever.
After he nominally took over the company’s affairs, Pei Minghong left the house completely and it wasn’t known where he was living.
Pei Minghong hated everyone in the family.
A father who didn’t talk to him, a brother who fought with him, a wife who was annoying and a son who took away all his hard work soon after being recognized home.
He vowed to start over.
Pei Yan, who was published in the newspaper in a suit that day, was still a freshman and tried to hide the overwhelming feeling that permeated his heart. His mother Ye Lanting had put away all her smiles and his grandfather Pei Huaishan let out a long sigh.
His uncle Pei Siyou, whom he wasn’t very familiar with, ignored his brother who slammed the door and left. His eyes fell on Pei Yan and he patted Pei Yan on the shoulder.
“There will be professional managers to help you take care of the company’s affairs,” he said. “Don’t be too nervous. You can still do what you like.”
Pei Yan thanked his uncle for his comfort. “I will work hard.”
At that time, he added in a low voice in his heart, ‘What I like is finance.’
Did his uncle really want to fight for the family property as his father said?
He didn’t know.
He just thought that no one would refuse the opportunity to acquire such huge wealth. But he was wrong.
Later, Pei Siyou went abroad again and Pei Huaishan returned to his mountain. Pei Minghong disappeared and only Ye Lanting stayed by his side every step of the way.
His mother didn’t leave him alone.
So he couldn’t leave his mother.
After growing up, Pei Yan took a deep breath and walked into the house. Ye Lanting patiently waited for him to come back as usual.
She was still beautiful and graceful as she said in a gentle voice, “You’re back. Today you are later than yesterday.”
He habitually hid the time he finished work and simply explained, “There was a teleconference in the evening.”
Ye Lanting smiled. “It is hard to drive so late. I asked the kitchen to make soup.”
Pei Yan took off his suit casually and unbuttoned his shirt that had been buttoned up all day. “Mom, I’m not hungry now.”
Ye Lanting stared at his movements, Her fingers moved imperceptibly but she restrained herself.
She took a step closer to her son with a gentle voice, “Just drink soup. It is very nourishing. You have to pay attention to your body.”
After a brief silence, Pei Yan nodded. “Okay.”
The marble table top was cold and he sat at the table drinking soup.
Ye Lanting sat beside him and showed him the photos.
She smiled. “Do you remember Uncle Liu from Fuli? His daughter went to the same college as you. You must have a lot in common. She said she is very impressed with you.”
The photo on the phone showed a sweet-looking girl.
Miss Liu, Miss Zhang, Miss Wang.
He shouldn’t talk when eating. This was a habit that Ye Lanting had cultivated since Pei Yan came to the Pei house.
He silently listened to every word Ye Lanting said and looked at every photo without interrupting.
Once the soup was finished, Pei Yan was about to speak when he heard his mother’s expectant voice. “You must be able to chat. Your life is too lonely. Don’t always be busy with work. I want to have more people to accompany you.”
This expectation was like a crystal bubble. Once it failed to meet the promise, it would shatter in the blink of an eye into a desolate spray.
So he could only say, “I will meet her.”
Ye Lanting’s smile became gentler.
She picked up the empty soup bowl and gracefully got up. She walked away but didn’t forget to tell her tired-looking son, “Rest early and have dinner with Miss Liu tomorrow.”
Pei Yan returned to his room, changed clothes, bathed and went to bed step by step.
The layout of the room was almost indistinguishable from his student days, except that the books on the shelves had changed over many generations.
The entire mansion fell into extreme silence.
The moonlight stayed on the windowsill and Pei Yan lost sleep as usual.
He hadn’t seen colorful birds from this window for a long time.
He didn’t want to see Miss Liu.
He wanted to move out alone.
But he could only think so in his head until he fell asleep.
However, Pei Yan never fell asleep.
He watched the sky slowly change from deep back to grayish blue.
The faint morning light dyed everything in the room with a hazy glow.
The black bookcase, the white documents, the gray bedding and the wooden box in the corner of the room were all covered with an illusion of warmth.
Just then, he suddenly wanted to find a fairy tale book with a beautiful cover to read.
He just no longer had such books in his bookcase.
As the air changed from gray-blue to bright white, Pei Yan got up, passed by the dusty wooden box and walked into the bathroom. He repeated what he had done a few hours ago by brushing his teeth, washing his face and changing clothes.
He looked at his fully grown self in the mirror and was in a dull daze.
Pei Yan gradually couldn’t remember what he was like as a child.
All he remembered was that he enjoyed reading fairy tales and all types of whimsical stories.
His elementary school class subscribed to monthly magazines. In the first grade, the class had to distribute more than ten copies of ‘Wisdom and Exploration’ and more than twenty copies of ‘New Edition of Fairy Tales’ every month. One of them was his.
At that time, his mother Luo Xiuyun followed his hobbies and ordered ‘New Edition of Fairy Tales’ for him year after year. It filled half his bookcase one after another.
On weekends when Pei Yan finished his homework, he often sat at his desk and flipped through the storybook, reading with gusto. He occasionally looked at the clouds and birds outside the window, imagining the pictures in the stories and letting his heart drift away with the fantasy.
When his playmate who lived nearby ran downstairs to call his name, he quickly closed the magazine and excitedly told his mother that he was going to play in the neighborhood and would come back before dinner.
He had storybooks, roller skates, a glass bottle with grasshoppers and a happy childhood.
In the year before middle school, there were only three or four copies of ‘New Edition of Fairy Tales’ that were sent to the class every month. The largest number of subscribers was for ‘Wisdom and Exploration’, which was ordered by most of the class.
Before he knew it, his playmates asked him to play in the neighborhood less often. They said that they had to go to the bookstore on weekends or some had to attend classes.
Since he was about to enter middle school, relatives and colleagues who knew him enthusiastically pointed out how Luo Xiuyun should educate his son.
They chattered and said that Luo Xiuyun had already wasted precious time in elementary school. She should let her son go to the Olympiad and foreign language training classes on weekends rather than letting the child do it according to his personality. This would make him lose at the starting line when the future competition was so fierce.
Once the form for ordering monthly magazines for the new semester was delivered, Lu Xiuyun seemed hesitant and asked for his opinion. “Do you want to order other magazines this time? What is the most subscribed magazine in your class?”
“Okay.” Pei Yan also hesitated. “Most people order ‘Wisdom and Exploration’.”
“Then should we order a copy of this as well?”
“Okay.” Pei Yan thought for a while and added. “I also want ‘New Edition of Fairy Tales’.”
That year, Pei Yan started to receive two magazines at the same time.
He didn’t like complicated and difficult to understand Olympiad and difficult to memorize foreign languages. He preferred language and history.
Luo Xiuyun didn’t force him to go to extracurricular classes because she wasn’t sure it was necessary. In addition, her son obviously wasn’t interested in it.
But she was still worried that her son would fall too far behind. As a self-comforting supplement, she bought him the most prominent books on the middle school shelves of the bookstore.
When Pei Yan was really bored, he would occasionally open them to take a look.
The days passed like running water. The skates stuffed in the corner of the carport were dusty and the empty glass bottles were lost in the gap of time. For middle school, he didn’t need to choose a variety of monthly magazines. Teachers would give a clear list of extracurricular reading materials and teaching aids then everyone bought it.
There was no more uncertainty.
There was also no more ‘New Edition of Fairy Tales.’
The old ‘New Editions of Fairy Tales’ was moved from the increasingly crowded bookcases to cardboard boxes.
Like most people, Pei Yan subconsciously forgot fairy tales because there were so many things to learn and so many topics to do every day. He didn’t have time to think about anything else.
He subtly accepted a more ordinary fate.
He was an obedient and sensible student with excellent grades. His goal was to be admitted to a key college, learn the hottest major and strive to get ahead in the future. He would make his mother proud, start a family, work hard every day and go home after work. Then he would chat with his wife about this ordinary day and urge their children to do their homework.
He had a hardworking, simple, gentle and obedient mother who was willing to give everything for the child and listen to all the good words about the child. The rest of his life would be busy with his children, wife and grandchildren.
Life was like this and many families were like this.
There wasn’t necessarily much happiness but at least he wouldn’t be too far behind others.
People were always afraid of falling behind.
Pei Yan and Luo Xiuyun both thought that his life would follow this most standard model and that he would live a dull life.
However, fate took a sharp turn when he was 18.
Pei Yan stood in front of the gate of fate, expectantly and apprehensively. The smiling housekeeper pushed open the door of his room, bowed to him and stood on the side to wait.
It was a home he had only previously seen on television.
An exquisite, splendid and expensive home.
Overnight, countless concerned eyes poured on him and he was illuminated by the spotlight for a long time. It shook his eyes and made it impossible to see the truth of love and intimacy.
In the overwhelming light, Pei Yan suddenly remembered the words of his relatives many years ago.
It turned out that he should’ve been at the front of the starting line.
It was the front that could leave many people far behind.
His real mother gently buttoned his shirt and told him little by little what type of life he should’ve had.
The housekeeper’s son followed him and became his closest friend, teaching him the rules of the world.
Pei Yan had the best conditions and he started to work hard for another life.
He didn’t dare to not live up to every deep expectation that this colorful world cast on him.
It was just like in the past when he didn’t dare to live up to the expectations of his adoptive mother, relatives, teachers, classmates and even neighbors, even if it was just a casual, ‘Xiao Yan will definitely have a bright future.’
But here, he really didn’t seem to be smart enough or as outstanding as Ye Lanting wanted.
Everyone compared him to Pei Qingyuan.
At first, Pei Yan felt that Pei Qingyuan was innocent and was a bit grateful that he took the initiative to ask the question to his parents, leading to the discovery of the change in life. This allowed Pei Yan to find his real parents and gain the best material conditions.
If it was him, he didn’t know if he would make the same choice.
Later, Pei Yan started to hate this name that always lingered around him. He wanted to surpass the achievements of the other party and make Ye Lanting completely forget this adopted son.
He desperately wanted to study the courses arranged by his mother, even if he wasn’t interested in it at all. He even followed the advice of his friend and wanted Pei Qingyuan to make a fool of himself when returning to high school.
Later, Pei Yan became more and more tired.
He gradually lost the power of hatred.
He didn’t want to compare.
He found that behind the hatred was actually deep jealousy.
Pei Yan was jealous of that person’s talent, jealous of his ability and even more jealous that he never changed despite returning to the ordinary world and being alone.
It was clear that he was the one who now had the prominent family and the perfect family, but he envied the person who moved out alone and had to work part-time to support himself.
Why didn’t Pei Qingyuan stay within the rules?
He wasn’t in Ye Lanting’s rules, in Luo Xiuyun’s rules or in the rules set by any outsiders.
He was in his own rules.
Meanwhile, Pei Yan could only hastily spin around in countless rules, enduring the ubiquitous teasing and exclusion.
In this world, he wasn’t smart and powerful enough to be a hunter with ease. He could only be a ridiculous plaything.
This was until that staggering dinner party.
Pei Yan pretended to know about the oil painting that everyone was talking about. In order to maintain the awareness of that identity, he tried to blend into the circle. He didn’t expect to fall into the trap deliberately set by others. The lie was immediately exposed and he was almost humiliated.
In that instant, a man quietly saved him.
Zhuang Wenbai gave him better and more beautiful rules.
He didn’t know that a painting didn’t need to be ridiculed. He should go and see it since it was a beautiful painting.
It didn’t matter if he was jealous of Pei Qingyuan. He should turn jealousy into strength and do his own thing.
With such a family background, he should study finance in the future. This way, he could take over the family business and it was an interesting subject.
He had an ill-intentioned ‘friend’ around him, who would only bring him a negative impact. He had better stay away from such people.
His father was too paranoid in business decisions, which put the family business in jeopardy. He should take over his father’s business early.
After he inherited his father’s company, he would become Zhuang Wenbai’s most trusted friend and partner.
Unlike Ye Lanting’s dominance and Luo Xiuyun’s hesitation, Zhuang Wenbai only offered him advice gently and equally as a friend.
Pei Yan couldn’t fault it. This suggestion seemed correct and was almost like his own choice.
He had long been accustomed to following the most correct advice to move forward.
He always needed a savior to lead him forward.
So step by step, he came to where he was today.
He moved from the hands of one savior to another.
Among those people, Zhuang Wenbai was the most special one.
He was so special that it couldn’t be accurately described in words.
Pei Yan, who hadn’t slept all night, came to the company. In the morning, he was usually driven by a driver.
He went upstairs and walked onto the familiar floor. He walked through the carpeted corridor to his office door.
“Good morning, Chairman Pei,” the secretary greeted him.
She opened the door for him with subtle excitement in her expression. “President Zhuang also just…”
The moment the door opened, Pei Yan saw the familiar figure in the office.
In the blinding sunlight, Zhuang Wenbai looked sideways at him. “Good morning.”
He stood by the French window, admiring the quiet painting on the wall.
The secretary quietly closed the door and stopped disturbing him.
“Did you suffer from insomnia again last night?” Zhuang Wenbai looked at him with a faint smile. “I didn’t sleep well either. The weather conditions were average and the plane was always bumpy.”
Pei Yan said in a daze, “Didn’t you say… you are coming back this weekend?”
“It is a common thing to rebook the flight.” Zhuang Wenbai looked away and up at the hanging painting again. “You just hung it?”
“Yes.” Pei Yan slowly walked to his side.
This expensive oil painting was a gift from Zhuang Wenbai the year he graduated from college.
Pei Yan still clearly remembered every word Zhuang Wenbai said when he opened his mouth to save Pei Yan that night.
Why was there no figure of a girl at all in the oil painting called ‘A Country Girl?’
“It was the period of the Industrial Revolution and some people were nostalgic for the pastoral life in the country. There are still ruins of the countryside that can be imagined but the phantom of the country girl can only appear in the viewer’s heart.”
“The quiet life goes by and the carefree girl is gone. Only the tireless and never-ending machine remains.”
“At that time, the world in the eyes of the painting overlapped with the world we see now. It is indeed beautiful.”
Time had flowed to this day and the world overlapped again.
At this moment, Pei Yan was also standing in the ruins of life, gazing at the pure beauty and innocence that had passed away.
They stood side by side and Zhuang Wenbai suddenly spoke up to break the silence.
“Do you regret it?” He said softly. “Do you want to go back in time and choose again?”
Light and shadow fell around them, sketching Pei Yan’s gently trembling silhouette on the white wall.
Zhuang Wenbai always knew him better than himself.
In the past two years, he often wondered if he replied yes when his grandfather asked him to live with his grandfather on his 18th birthday, would his later life be different?
The moment this thought popped up in his head again, Zhuang Wenbai looked at him and seemed to see through his soul completely.
There was a sigh in his voice. “Even if you choose again, it won’t make much of a difference.”
Pei Yan knew that he was right.
It was because he would just regard his grandfather as his savior.
His shoulders slumped and he whispered, “I don’t want to get married like this.”
He didn’t want to give away marriage as a bargaining chip.
If even the marriage that accompanied him for the rest of his life had to be decided like this, it seemed like there would be no new and beautiful fragments in his life.
“You can tell that to your aunt.”
Zhuang Wenbai paused. There was no immediate response so he continued, “But you won’t.”
“You don’t dare to resist her.”
Pei Yan felt ashamed again.
After a minute of silence, Zhuang Wenbai spoke again, “Do you know why I gave you this painting?”
Pei Yan replied with silence.
Zhuang Wenbai knew him so well but he could only look up to the other person. He often couldn’t guess the intentions behind this person’s actions.
He unilaterally regarded this gift as a symbol of friendship.
“That year we graduated, the previous owner of this painting committed suicide.” Zhuang Wenbai smiled. “I still remember her name. Manning, the woman who wanted to taunt you that night, who was also your mother’s nominal friend. Her husband, Mr Yang, bought this famous painting and gave it to her.”
“Unfortunately, two years later, a series of wrong decisions caused Mr Yang to go bankrupt and he offended people who shouldn’t be offended. Their lives started to fall from heaven to hell. Their property was sold and liquidated little by little.”
There was no heaviness in his tone. “I thought you should’ve heard this story from Auntie, probably in the tone of gossip.”
“This painting is the last property they sold. Manning seemed eager to keep it,” Zhuang Wenbai said. “The moment the auction house transported the oil painting away, she returned to her room, lay on the bed and swallowed a large handful of medicine. This way, her life ended at a decent moment.”
Pei Yan had indeed heard about this from Ye Lanting but there were no details in it, only cool irony. The impression of this bland story of suicide due to bankruptcy suddenly became clear.
Even if she went bankrupt, it was clear that she could…
Zhuang Wenbai expressed his thoughts for him. “You must think that even with no money, why did she have to choose this path? Why couldn’t she live well?”
Pei Yan held his breath and looked at the other person.
He knew that the next words would explain why this painting became a gift.
“It is because she is tied to the cogs of the world.” Zhuang Wenbai’s voice at this moment could be called gentle. “Just like you and me.”
“Her cogs are wealth and status and your cog is your mother. But in the final analysis, it is all about gaining recognition and admiration in the eyes of others.”
He left the oil painting and stood in front of the window pane containing skyscrapers. On the LED screen of the tall building opposite him was a colorful advertisement and the crowds on the road were as small as ants.
The robot on the advertisement screen deftly found similar examples for the child’s wrong question and helped him draw inferences from one instance to another. This was Zart’s latest product on the market.
Zhuang Wenbai looked down at everything under his feet.
The city had an exquisite structure with crisscrossing pipes, wire and networks that formed a dense system. The system was full of rules and the rules were like chains that penetrated the body of different people, quietly condensing into figurative gears at the location of the heart.
“To find the correct answers, to live a normal life, to chase what most people have or to submit to kinship ethics.” He stretched out a finger and tapped lightly on the solid glass window. “It is a sad and fascinating cycle.”
“So I give you that testimony.”
Countless gears pushed people to step forward and the air flowed with it, weaving into a transparent net. The world was divided into grids of different complexities, full of pain and sorrow.
Pei Yan was speechless, as if captured by this terrifying scene. “Then what about your cogs?”
Zhuang Wenbai glanced back at him, tone interested. “My cogs are interesting things.”
“It is a bad world and every day is worse than the day before.”
“But I love this type of world.” A deep smile appeared on Zhuang Wenbai’s face. “It is because there are always many people struggling in the cogs.”
He admired almost all of the world’s landscapes. The only thing he disliked were those who used themselves as cogs and who were thus free to wander outside the chains that formed order.
Fortunately, such people were a very small minority.
More people were struggling like Pei Yan.
This was the most authentic drama.
On the large screen of another high-rise building, an advertisement for a competing company started to be played.
The bean-green robot took the lead in swooping into a play pool and colorful ocean balls bounced high. Laughing children rushed down the slide.
Zhuang Wenbai lightly withdrew his gaze and left the window.
“It doesn’t matter whether you want to resist or continue to obey Auntie’s arrangement.”
He brushed past Pei Yan and walked straight out of the office. There were no fluctuations in his voice.
“I will support your decision.”
Pei Yan stood in place and looked at his disappearing back. He didn’t move for a long time.
That night, he didn’t show up for the appointment.
He sent a polite text ahead of time to his date, whom he had never met. He asked her to forgive him for missing an appointment.
The employees left work one after another. Pei Yan stayed alone in the quiet office’s rest room and slept for a long time.
He was too sleepy.
Late at night, he drove home.
The light was still on at home. Ye Lanting sat on the sofa in the living room and it wasn’t known how long she had been sitting there.
Their eyes met in the air and then staggered. Neither one of them spoke and the atmosphere was stagnant.
This was the first time he didn’t take the initiative to say hello to his mother.
Pei Yan returned to his room and continued his unfinished sleep.
He didn’t have insomnia and he had a rare dream.
When he woke up the next day, Pei Yan saw the shadow of a bird on the windowsill in a trance. The trembling emerald tail features were like extremely beautiful gems.
He sat on the bed and watched a colorful sunrise.
It was a rare bright morning.
It was only after waking up that Pei Yan found that there was only one thing missing from his room.
He hurried downstairs. Ye Lanting was eating breakfast in the garden as usual.
Seeing him coming, she looked over with a smiling expression. It was as if the morning stillness had never happened.
“Mom, where did that wooden box go?”
He finally took the initiative to speak. Ye Lanting smiled even more and replied to him, “I saw that it was covered in dust. It should be things you don’t want so I cleaned it up.”
Seeing her son’s eyes flicker violently, Ye Lanting looked surprised. “What’s wrong? Is there anything more important in there?”
Pei Yan’s fingers clenched tightly. His nails were embedded in his palms and turned white with force.
He heard himself answer.
“Then what should I do?” Ye Lanting’s face was stunned and he said softly, “I’ll ask Mother Li to look for it later. I can’t remember where I lost it.”
However, Pei Yan knew he couldn’t get it back.
It was his mother’s punishment for trying to break free of her control.
Ye Lanting asked again with a bit of curiosity in her voice, “What is in there? Is it so important?”
Pei Yan looked at her steadily, squeezing a difficult response from his throat. “You know.”
She wouldn’t tolerate anything unknown in her vision.
She must’ve rummaged through that box a long time ago and chose to put her chips on the table today.
After the words came out, Pei Yan didn’t look at her expression any longer. He turned around and left the house.
Instead of going to work, he drove around the huge city.
The motor roared and the exhaust spread. He wandered through the traffic, waiting for flashing red and green lights. Gradually, he followed the guidance of instinct and turned into a familiar street that he hadn’t been to in years.
In the days after being brought back to the Pei house, he deliberately avoided this neighborhood.
It was like avoiding that distant diary.
The contents of the wooden box weren’t very precious. They were old memories he brought back from his original home and they were all bits and pieces. There were Mother’s Day greeting cards, game cards, glass bottles…
There was also the childhood diary that Pei Qingyuan asked Shen Yiming to give back to him when he was in college.
In fact, he hadn’t forgotten it when he moved away. He deliberately left it, waiting for Luo Xiuyun to pack it away with the old fairy tale books and sell it as a waste product, making it completely disappear from his life.
Then after going around in circles, it returned to his hands intact.
On the day he received the diary, he flipped through it from beginning to end. Then he hurriedly locked it in the box, letting the dust slowly cover it.
In the days that followed, Pei Yan lied to himself that he had forgotten many of those pages.
But after the diary was lost, the valve of memory could no longer deceive him and the past surged in.
The street was full of stores. The tong sui store and bakery stood side by side.
He didn’t remember a tong sui store with a long line at the door of this location, but he was familiar with the bakery next door.
The windows of the bakery were filled with beautiful and attractive food models. The sign of ‘Xingyue Bakery’ was written in crooked, childish font.
There were constant customers coming in and out of the store. The chubby middle-aged man greeted the customers warmly, raising his hand from time to time to wipe the sweat oozing on his forehead.
There was a girl in her early teens sitting at a round table doing her homework. She would occasionally raise her head to talk to strange customers, causing the middle-aged man to look helpless while others couldn’t help laughing.
Pei Yan stood outside the glass window and stared motionlessly at the scene inside.
After an unknown amount of time, the wind chimes at the door rang clearly in his ears.
He Shiwen came out of the store with a look of joy on his face. “Hey, it’s you. I haven’t seen you for many years. You’ve grown up.”
He had pondered for a while in the story just now to make sure that this young man really was a former young customer.
Pei Yan woke up. “You remember me?”
“Of course, I remember.” He Shiwen smiled. “I also watched you grow up. In my impression, you were smaller than Xingxing is now when I first saw you.”
Pei Yan had lived in this neighborhood since he was a child. He went to kindergarten and elementary school here. The location of the middle school also wasn’t far away. Then he transferred in the third year of high school and said goodbye to this world completely.
When He Shiwen first opened the bakery, he was only a young man in his 20s and Pei Yan was in elementary school. It was the age when he received a copy of ‘New Edition of Fairy Tales’ every month.
When the bakery first opened, Luo Xiuyun bought him to buy it and both of them thought it tasted good.
Later, relatives said to eat less of these messy things so Lu Xiuyun didn’t dare to buy more. At most, it was once every two weeks.
But Pei Yan really liked the taste of the bread sold in this store.
After school, he would always hang around outside the store for a long time before going home.
Sometimes, he would shell out his pocket money and secretly buy one.
Sometimes, he hesitated over whether to use the remaining five yuan to buy bread or buy a game card.
As he wandered more often, the young store owner remembered him and occasionally invited him to try new products.
Every new product was delicious.
However, bread was a staple food and Pei Yan often went home in a full state. He didn’t dare tell his mother and could only insist on continuing to eat dinner.
Seeing his struggling appearance, his mother sighed helplessly and poured out more than half the rice in the bowl into her bowl. Then she tugged at his ears and told him that he couldn’t do this next time.
As a result, he often couldn’t resist the temptation of delicious bread.
Every time he ate a new flavor of bread, he would write it in his diary.
[Today’s bean paste is delicious.]
He wrote in the most straightforward terms.
[He Shushu said there will be new flavors next month.]
The wind chimes hanging at the door of the store accompanied him through his childhood.
The windows were illuminated with an orange-yellow light and the warm and fragrant smell was haunting.
[It is good to open a bakery.]
When the students in the class were still drawing a simple ‘happiness’ with strokes, he had already written ‘happiness’ in more complicated characters in his diary.
In the year that Pei Yan started to receive ‘Wisdom and Exploration’, He Shiwen fell in love and married a customer who often came to the store.
In the year that Luo Xiuyun bought teaching aids for him according to the book list, He Shiwen’s daughter was born.
She had a fairytale name, Xingxing.
Pei Yan had received the sweet wedding candy. He had seen the big sister who smiled cutely and he had seen the baby He Xingxing who slept sweetly in his arms.
The stores on both sides of the street were always changing and the times and trends changed, but this small bakery always stayed in place without moving, expanding or adding other business items. Only the furnishings in the store had become warmer.
On the day when Xingxing vaguely called out ‘Mother’, the excited He Shiwen said that he would ask Xingxing to give the bakery a new name when she was older.
Pei Yan, who was standing next to him and nibbling on bean paste-stuffed bread, couldn’t help giggling and thinking that it must be a cute name.
He liked this bakery more and more, not just because of the bread.
He wrote a brief dream in his diary.
[I want to be a happy person like Brother He.]
[His life is so happy.]
Many years later, Pei Yan stood in the same position and recalled the day he wrote about happiness.
Not normal, not rich, just happiness.
Now the page on which happiness had been written was discarded.
He Shiwen saw his lost expression and the originally joyful smile disappeared.
People walking on the street would always reveal such vulnerable fragility at certain, inadvertent moments.
So he beckoned to the customer in front of him, just as he did when the man was young. “Come in and sit. There are new products in the store and it should be very suitable for your taste.”
The wind chimes jingled.
He Xingxing, who liked to be lively, immediately turned her head and looked over. She saw her father leading in an unfamiliar guest.
He didn’t look like he had come to buy bread.
But her dad took out all the best bread in the store, put it on a large plate and placed it in front of the customer.
When He Shiwen happened to walk past her, He Xingxing reached out and grabbed the corner of his clothes, asking in a low voice, “Dad, who is that brother? Why is his expression so sad? Is he going to cry?”
He Shiwen didn’t answer. A trace of surprise crossed his face and he patted his daughter’s head. “Have you finished writing your essay?”
“It is done. You can check it casually.”
He Xingxing casually handed the workbook to her father. Then she picked up the paper box next to the cashier and placed it in front of Pei Yan. This was her usual concern for strangers.
Pei Yan thanked her in a dry voice.
He Shiwen tried to improve the atmosphere and divert the attention of this old friend. He flipped through his daughter’s homework and smiled after reading a line. “You want to be a hairdresser who makes beautiful hairstyles while chatting with customers every day… such a long attributive phrase?”
“Why, can’t I?” He Xingxing glared at him.
“Yes, yes.” He Shiwen said repeatedly. “I’m just a bit curious. Last year when you said you wanted to be a hairdresser, you just wanted to do the most beautiful hairstyles. This year, there is another detail.”
“It is so interesting to chat with strangers.” He Xingxing pouted. She looked at Pei Yan again, her tone mature. “Are you not happy? If you aren’t happy then you can talk to someone. For example, me. I am very enlightened.”
Pei Yan listened to the conversation between the father and daughter in a stunned manner and didn’t speak immediately.
He Xingxing thought for a while. She carefully looked at his hairstyle and seriously evaluated it. “Your hairstyle looks good and it suits you very well. It is quite handsome. I will note down this hairstyle.”
“When you grow up, you can come to me to cut your hair.” Once she finished speaking, she shook her head again. “I’m sorry, I accidentally said the opposite. It is when I grow up.”
He Shiwen couldn’t help laughing at her. “Recruiting customers so early? You’ve learned all about my business. Thankfully, you don’t want to open a bakery.”
“Of course. I’m so smart, I’ll definitely be better than you in the future. Haven’t you heard that phrase? The student surpasses the master…”
The father and daughter were bickering normally but Pei Yan couldn’t hear it.
His eyes were sore and tears almost burst out.
The sun fell on the lively and outgoing little girl and flickered faintly on the glass window. Time went back and gradually overlapped with the little boy who was watching outside the store many years ago.
At that time, he looked at the brand-new world and thought that the future would be beautiful and infinite. Each loaf of bread had a different taste and each person shone with different colors.
But in the end, all that remained was a static oil painting in front of him.
The beautiful and grand scenery was condensed in the cold gold-plated frame and there were no traces of people in it.
The carefree girl was standing in the bakery with a vision and imagination that made her eyes sparkle, every bit of it belonging to herself.
If time could be repeated, if he could really go back in time—
It was this day that he should return to.
He walked past the fragrant bakery and wrote about this day of happiness with his own hands.
“You didn’t say the opposite.” Pei Yan stared deeply at her pure smile. “It is when I grow up.”