Haicheng in August was hot and stuffy. In the afternoon, the white sun was shining on the road, waves of heat distorting the surface of the road and the view of the traffic.
The orange sports car drove across the newly repaved asphalt road, turned right at the intersection, and headed for Haicheng’s most remote Hanbei District.
In the sports car, Shen Jia, who was sitting in the driver’s seat, took off his Bluetooth headset and looked at Qi Cong, who was sitting in the passenger seat and looking out the window. Glancing at Qi Cong’s pale lips and his excessively thin face, Shen Jia thought about what his friend had just said on the phone. He hesitated for a moment before he called out, “Brother Cong.”
Qi Cong immediately turned his eyes away from the window and looked at Shen Jia. “Did you get it?”
“I have some news.” Shen Jia chose his words carefully. “I asked a friend who grew up in Wenhua District. He said that, three years ago, there was indeed a man named Gu Xun, who worked in a coffee shop on Huaibei Street. But just before or shortly after your accident, this man resigned and supposedly left the country.”
Qi Cong was stunned and then frowned. “He went abroad?”
“Um. After the demolition and the reconstruction of Wenhua District were completed, some of the original shop owners came back to open their shops once again. The news came from two old shop owners, so it should not be wrong.“
Qi Cong slowly leaned back in his seat.
Gu Xun was a poor child from the countryside who was struggling. He worked and signed up for university to improve himself. Where could he get the money to go abroad? What was he going to do abroad? Study?
“Brother Cong, may I ask who Gu Xun is?”
Qi Cong looked back at Shen Jia, who had a careful expression on his face. His mouth opened, but he didn’t know what to say. As a matter of fact, his mind was still in a mess, and he had no real sense of anything.
Two days ago, he woke up in a single ward of the city hospital and was scolded by the red-eyed Shen Jia as soon as he opened his eyes. Confused, he talked with Shen Jia for a long time, and then both of them became confused. They both discovered that something was wrong with the other person. When they calmed down and chatted with each other, he was even more confused, and Shen Jia immediately called the doctor.
After a messy examination, inquiry, and chatting, he learned three things from Shen Jia and the doctor.
It was 2020, not the 2017 in his memory.
He was just rescued from gas poisoning.
He had lost three years of his memory.
In his mind, he just went to bed last night and woke up this morning. But in fact, three years had passed. During that time, a lot of things happened, which he had forgotten.
Three years of his life were stolen.
He tried to convince himself that it was all just a joke, a prank, or an illusion, but his skinny self in the mirror, the number that had become unavailable, and the living Shen Jia, whose temperament had greatly changed, his figure and clothing made him unable to deny it.
He had really slept from the end of spring 2017 to the summer of 2020.
Qi Cong drew back his thoughts and didn’t want to answer Shen Jia’s question. He simply shifted the topic. Looking at the increasingly unfamiliar scene outside the car, and asked, “Where is this? Didn’t you say you were going to take me home?”
Shen Jia’s response to this was strange. He avoided his line of sight and tightened his grip on the steering wheel. When an old neighborhood appeared before them, he suddenly turned the steering wheel and stopped the car at the side of the road.
Qi Cong frowned and looked at Shen Jia. “JiaJia?”
“Brother Cong, actually I have one more thing to confess to you . . . Before, when you were asking if Uncle and Aunt have been doing well these three years, at that time, I was afraid of stimulating you, so I lied.”
Qi Cong had never seen Shen Jia show such a heavy expression of embarrassment. The slight dissonance he had vaguely sensed had been infinitely magnified, making his heart sink. He unconsciously sat up straight and asked, “What did you lie about?”
Shen Jia took a deep breath and exhaled again, cast a quick look at Qi Cong, and hurriedly said with an attitude of early death and early transcendence, “You were indeed in the hospital because of gas poisoning, but you turned on the gas yourself. When I came looking for you at your house, there was a suicide note beside you.”
“Brother Cong, you didn’t accidentally get poisoned by gas but committed suicide. You killed yourself for a man. For him, you gave up your postgraduate entrance examination, lost your major, worked as a cheap laborer for that man for three years, and secretly dug up your family’s resources to feed him.”
“You were messing around for two years, and your father’s company was in a critical period of transformation, so it couldn’t stand your consumption and trouble. At the beginning of this year, your family’s furniture company . . . officially declared bankruptcy.”
“Brother Cong, my uncle and aunt haven’t been doing well at all in the past six months. After your family went bankrupt, Aunt has been ill for two months, and she didn’t get better until last month. They live in the neighborhood in front of us and make a living selling small furniture. The neighborhood is very old and the lighting is very poor, and the first floor where Uncle and Aunt live is even more—Brother Cong?”
Qi Cong didn’t finish listening to Shen Jia’s words. When Shen Jia said, “They live in the neighborhood in front of us,” he couldn’t help pushing open the door, getting off the car and walking towards the neighborhood before him.
The midsummer heatwave swept over, but Qi Cong’s palms broke out in a cold sweat. His heart beat very fast and his brain was buzzing. He didn’t know whether it was anger or a heatstroke. He, Qi Cong, for a man, made his parents go bankrupt in their middle age and his mother was ill? And a suicide?
With a great sense of absurdity rising from the bottom of his heart, Qi Cong bit his lip fiercely and looked at the neighborhood ahead.
Before him was a seven-story building, a typical old residential building from the 1980s with mottled grey-black walls and narrow broken windows. There shouldn’t be many residents inside. After a quick scan, he could see from the clothes drying on the balcony that only a few residents were living there.
The villa he had lived in before with the rest of the Qi family for more than ten years was quite different.
Qi Cong thought of his mother’s body, which could not stand the heat and the cold at all. He took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. Seeing is believing, seeing is believing.
He ran into the wide-open iron courtyard gate of the neighborhood as fast as he could. Because he was in a hurry he almost ran into an electric tricycle that came out of the community.
Shen Jia drove to catch up.
Qi Cong ignored him and glanced over the two old residential buildings next to him and ran towards the first floor of one of them.
Seeing this, Shen Jia shouted hurriedly, “It’s another building, 102!”
Qi Cong stopped, turned around, and ran towards another building.
Shen Jia was anxious and immediately drove the car into the community after the electric tricycle passed, found a random parking space, and got out of the car to chase after Qi Cong.
The residential building was so old, that there was even no security door at the entrance. Qi Cong entered the building without any obstruction and went up several steps of stairs at once. Through the damaged and mottled signs on the wall, he found 102, and wanted to knock on the door.
“I heard Xiao Cong owes nearly eight hundred thousand on his credit cards.”
Qi Cong’s raised arm froze as he gazed at the wooden door in front of him where the voice came from and frowned fiercely.
The voice . . . Younger Uncle?
“Fourth Younger Sister, it’s not that I want to take advantage of the fire. I am also thinking about Xiao Cong. He is still young. In case he fails to repay the money, his whole life will be ruined.”
Shen Jia ran in and saw Qi Cong still standing by the door. He wondered out loud, “Brother Cong, how can you—”
Qi Cong reached out to stop Shen Jia and signaled him not to speak. Looking at the door again, his eyebrows frowned.
A female voice answered, but because the voice was too low, the specific content could not be heard from the outside.
“Fourth Sister, don’t be angry. You are such a child. Can you really let him fend for himself? If he could really do it, you wouldn’t be here. We are all relatives. You don’t have to be brave in front of me anymore. Fourth Sister, Sanmu has gone bankrupt. You and Qi Lin don’t have the capital to make a comeback, so what is the use of holding this trademark? You might as well sell it and help Xiao Cong pay off his debt, so that your family can live in peace.”
This time, these words were answered by a gentle male voice that held a trace of restrained anger, “But six hundred thousand is too little. The initial value of this trademark is 1.5 million, which can be even higher if it is auctioned.”
“That’s a lot, but I’ve got some cash. I can give it to you right away, so there will be no need to wait for Xiao Cong to pay back. What’s more, I’m also a member of the Qi family. The brand that our Qi family put together is more appropriate to sell to your own family, don’t you think?”
Shen Jia also heard the words in the room, and his eyes went round. “Trademark? It was my aunt who asked me to buy it when your family went bankrupt and said she wanted to leave it to you—”
Qi Cong suddenly raised his hand and knocked on the door. When Shen Jia saw Qi Cong’s expression was wrong, he shut up.
The sound of the knocking interrupted the conversation going on in the room, and a few seconds later, the warm male voice and footsteps could be heard coming nearer. “Coming. Who is it?”
The door opened and a gentle middle-aged man appeared behind it.
Qi Cong looked at his stepfather, who appeared behind the door, and saw his gray hair and the face that was at least five years older than it was “yesterday.” The last suspicion in his heart that this whole thing was a fluke disappeared. His nose suddenly became sour, but he forced out a smile as he said, “Dad, it’s me. I’m back.”
Lin Hui, who stood at the door, stared at Qi Cong and didn’t answer.
“Dad, where is Mom?”
Lin Hui returned to his senses and got out of the way. He was not happy but, instead, appeared to be somewhat careful. “Your mother is here. You . . . Your mother hasn’t had a good rest these two days. Don’t . . .”
Qi Cong’s heart was like a stone. How ridiculous he must have been in these three years to make his stepfather show him such an attitude. He secretly clenched one hand, letting his fingernails dig deep into his palm and suppressing his emotions painfully. He then reached for Shen Jia next to him, and continued, “Dad, I called JiaJia. A few years ago, I was ignorant, and I know I was wrong. This time, I came back to tell you that the money I owed has been paid off, and I’m going to do business with JiaJia to start from scratch. Dad, I will work hard this time to let you and Mom live a good life again.”
Shen Jia was stunned and looked sideways at Qi Cong. Qi Cong secretly pinched Shen Jia’s arm while hugging him.
Shen Jia responded and turned to look at Lin Hui, echoing, “Right. Right, Uncle, Brother Cong really understands he was wrong this time. We have agreed that he will follow me . . . to . . .” Shen Jia hesitated and looked at Qi Cong again.
Qi Cong increased his strength as he pinched Shen Jia’s arm.
“. . . To make a lot of money!” Shen Jia looked at Lin Hui again. “Uncle, you know, in my line of work, if you do well, you can easily earn seven figures a year! Brother Cong will surely make you and Aunt live a good life again.”
Qi Cong frowned internally. Seven digits? Didn’t Shen Jia study interior design? What kind of design job can earn seven figures a year now?
A thin figure appeared behind Lin Hui. She reached out her hand to open the half-opened door completely. Looking at Qi Cong, she said, “Come in first. Why are you standing in the doorway talking?”
Qi Cong’s attention was immediately diverted at Qi Yin’s appearance. He looked from Qi Yin’s hastily tied hair to her yellowed and emaciated face and finally fixed his eyes on the corners of her eyes full of fine lines.
Is this still my mother who was always well-dressed, plump, and well-maintained?
The fake face he put in front of Lin Hui was easily broken. Qi Cong bit his lips to urge his vocal cords to work as he almost lost his voice. His Adam’s apple quickly rolled a few times, as he whispered, “Mom.”
Qi Yin looked at Qi Cong again but didn’t answer; she just turned around and walked in the house.
However, Lin Hui took the initiative to come forward and patted Qi Cong on the shoulder. “Just come in . . . You too. Come in, JiaJia. Please come in.”
“Thank you, Dad.” Qi Cong sorted out his mood and obediently entered through the door with Lin Hui’s permission.
In the middle of the narrow and old living room, a fat middle-aged man was sitting on a wooden sofa. Seeing Qi Cong enter, he immediately put on a look of disapproval and said, “Xiao Cong, you can’t always be so ignorant. As soon as you have no money, you come back and pretend to apologize and cheat your parents’ pension money. It is already not easy for your parents.”
Qi Yin, who was about to sit on the sofa, paused. Qi Cong’s roiling mood cooled instantly. He looked at the other person and said in a cold voice, “Uncle, you are here too. You’re right. It’s really not easy for my parents. Can you give back the five hundred thousand you swindled from my mother under the pretext of repairing the ancestral graves?”
Qi Yin was stunned and then suddenly turned her head to look at Qi Cong.
Edited by : Faro