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Unlike Fei Yujing, the fifth brother Li Jiuzheng had more contact with the original ‘Shi Jin’ after Shi Xingrui’s death.
Li Jiuzheng was a child prodigy who started studying medicine early. Although there was no need for him to travel around the world like Fei Yujing, he was just as busy as him. Usually, there was no contact with him for six months out of the year because if he was not catching up with his schoolwork, he was doing research. When calling him, nine times out of ten his phone was turned off. Later, he opened his own private hospital. He did answer the calls then, but it was still difficult to meet with him because he always had some patients in critical condition to save. Asked if he was free, his answer was an invariable “No.”
He was the most inconspicuous one of the five brothers, and the way he showed concern for the original ‘Shi Jin’ was the most unusual. Every time they met, he would give ‘Shi Jin’ some unique gadgets he made. He would also volunteer to help him with his homework, which seemed to be thoughtful and caring, but he never took the initiative to speak with ‘Shi Jin’ when not teaching him. He spent his free time reading alone, shut off in his own world.
He spoke little, liked quiet, and never actively participated in any matter, choosing to simply go with the flow. He was always apart from the group, appearing from time to time like a silent ghost.
The original ‘Shi Jin’s’ feelings about Li Jiuzheng were rather complex. He loved the ingenious gadgets and toys given by him and secretly thought this brother was amazing. However, despite his admiration, he was afraid of him. During the numerous tutoring lessons, when ‘Shi Jin’ was struggling with some problem and turned to ask Li Jiuzheng for advice, he would find him sitting quietly in the corner and watching himself with a very strange expression in his eyes.
At that time, the original ‘Shi Jin’ didn’t know the meaning hidden behind that look, thinking his brother was just lost in thought as usual. It wasn’t until he was sent to his private hospital after being disfigured and in the car accident, spending a long time with Li Jiuzheng as a result, that he finally understood—it was a killing intent, extremely faint, but ever-present.
When ‘Shi Jin’ became confined to the hospital bed, slowly dying, Li Juzheng kept appearing at his bedside at random moments, doing nothing except for staring at him in silence. Occasionally, he would place his hands on the life-support machines, not hiding his desire to turn them off.
This was the deepest, darkest nightmare of the original ‘Shi Jin’ and the reason why he was convinced of the guilt of his five brothers—the intention of murder seen with your own eyes had much greater impact and was more frightening than some faceless murderer out there.
Bzzzt, bzzzt, bzzzt.
The mobile phone suddenly vibrated: a text message came in.
Shi Jin stopped recalling the novel plot and checked his phone. To his surprise, both messages with New Year’s wishes he had just sent were answered at the same time, almost as if the senders arranged it.
Fei Yujing: [Who is this?]
Li Jiuzheng: [Thank you.]
Shi Jin was perplexed, then remembered that neither Fei Yujing nor Li Jiuzheng knew his current phone number, and he had forgotten to add his name at the end. He quickly sent the texts with an explanation.
Like a pebble dropped in the ocean, the message to Fei Yujing didn’t elicit any response, but this was within Shi Jin’s expectations: he had a strong suspicion Fei Yujing already blocked his number.
Li Jiuzheng answered very quickly, but his reply was but a laconic: [Oh.]
As Shi Jin stared at this word, in his mind unconsciously appeared the picture of Li Jiuzheng standing by the original ‘Shi Jin’s’ bedside like a wraith. He turned the texting app off with a shudder, then wrapped himself in a quilt and started to play mahjong on his phone to calm himself down.
He was absolutely certain that part of the lethal factors affecting his progress bar had to do with Li Jiuzheng. He had to make a surefire plan on how to get along with this brother.
On the morning of New Year’s Eve, warmly dressed Shi Jin ran to Lian Jun’s study, sat opposite Lian Jun and kept staring at him without speaking.
Lian Jun, who was trying to read a document, finally couldn’t stand it and looked back at him: “If you want to spend the New Year with your brother, you can leave right now, Gua Two will take you there. Just remember to keep your phone at hand and call in every evening to confirm you’re safe. You have to come back before the seventh day; we will leave B City after dealing with Chen Qing’s matter and must finish all the preparations in advance.”
Shi Jin listened to all this with growing bafflement, then shook his head. “No, I’m not going to Big Brother’s home, I’m staying with you. I already talked it over with him.”
Lian Jun eyed him. “You did?”
“Yeah, when he came last time. Didn’t I tell you about this at dinner that day?” Shi Jin answered, lying his head on the desk and continuing to stare at Lian Jun. The look in his eyes clearly stated He Had Plans.
Lian Jun’s tone of voice relaxed. He put down the document, saying, “By the way… Why are looking at me like that? Do you have some request?”
“It stopped snowing.” Shi Jin pointed outside.
This remark was too abrupt for Lian Jun to keep up with the teenager’s train of thought. He looked toward the window. “So?”
“So, today is the last day of the year, can’t you stop working? Let’s make a snowman! I already got a hat and a scarf, look, and the carrot for its nose!” Shi Jin displayed the things he had prepared earlier, imploring the other man with his eyes.
Lian Jun glanced at the carrot in his hand, which was washed clean and specially marked, and the corners of his mouth turned up slightly. He quickly pulled them down and picked up the document again, saying cooly, “Go by yourself, I’m busy.”
Shi Jin put the carrot on the desk and fixed his eyes on Lian Jun. His actions were childish and impudent, but it was hard to blame him—last night, Xiao Si told him Lian Jun’s tale of woe. It said Lian Jun had been in poor health since childhood and was always made to spend winter in the warmer places; he had never played in snow or made a snowman. During his life, he missed out on a lot of fun things, which left many regrets. It added that maybe if Lian Jun could enjoy himself more, his state of mind would be better and his attitude towards life more positive. This would make his physical condition better too.
Faced with Xiao Si’s emotional narrative, what was Shi Jin to do? Of course, he rushed to the kitchen and washed a carrot, promising to find Lian Jun the next day to make up for his lost childhood. He also contributed his scarf and winter hat—thanks to his bald days, he had a lot of them.
Lian Jun looked at the document and Shi Jin looked at Lian Jun. The study was quiet.
Ten minutes later, Shi Jin murmured, “You’re not reading at all. Usually, you turn a page every five minutes, but ten minutes have passed and you’re still looking at the same one.”
Lian Jun’s hands holding the file stiffened and he looked up at him.
Shi Jin picked up an overcoat and a thick blanket, motioning towards the snow-covered world outside the window. His eyes were full of encouragement.
Lian Jun looked down, lowering his eyelids, then put the document down and maneuvered from behind the desk. He stopped on one side of Shi Jin, neither moving nor speaking.
His eyes brightening with joy, Shi Jin rushed to help Lian Jun put on the coat and blanket. He said cheerfully, “Don’t worry, you won’t be cold. You will look from inside the room and I’ll make the snowman. If it looks ugly, tell me and I’ll fix it up.”
“Don’t play for too long,” Lian Jun admonished, pulling the blanket tighter. “It’s windy today.”
“It’s fine, I’m not afraid of cold.” Shi Jin was in a buoyant mood. Confirming the other man was sufficiently wrapped up, he pushed the wheelchair out, a little faster than usual.
And so, all the people on the sixth floor witnessed Shi Jin whooshing with Lian Jun through the corridor, rushing into the elevator, and going downstairs, looking like the cat that got the cream. The whole incident resembled a well-executed kidnapping.
“What the hell?” Gua Two was stupefied.
Gua One wordlessly put down a small red envelope in his hand and stood. “Let’s take a look.”
Gua Three and Gua Five responded at once, dropping whatever they were holding and rising to their feet.
The three men quickly disappeared downstairs. Gua Two did not move. He peered at Gua Nine, who was sprawled on the sofa and poked him. “You are not going?”
“I’m not hungry.” Gua Nine blinked, his eyelids drooping tiredly. His voice sounded drowsy as if he was talking in his sleep.
Gua Two looked at him silently. Feeling that he actually understood the meaning of those vague words, he got up and said, “I’m hungry.” Then he dashed towards the elevator, for fear of missing any important scenes.
Sure enough, it was windy outside. The trees in the yard were swaying like pendulums, the snow on their branches blown away.
Upon arriving on the first floor, Shi Jin chose a lounge facing the yard and settled Lian Jun next to the French window. He put a pile of snacks in front of him and made him a cup of hot milk tea, then left the club with great momentum… And promptly scuttled back, numb from cold.
Lian Jun looked at him as if he was a foolish kid who knew the outside world was dangerous but insisted on going out to play because of his childish pride.
“Forget it, let’s go back.” He put down his milk tea and handed Shi Jin the stepladder, indicating he put it back.
“It’s, it’s an once-a-year opportunity, I wo-won’t give up! I’m just not used to such a strong wind…” Shi Jin protested, twisting his neck left and right to make sure his face wasn’t frozen. He pulled up his face mask, took a deep breath, then stepped outside like a man braving mortal danger. He promptly closed the window and ran into the snow-covered yard.
The club courtyard was very large, with flat open space in the middle. At the moment, the ground was blanketed with a thick layer of snow, like a cream cake.
“So this is the northern winter…” Shi Jin stood amid the snow, wanting to cry.
His hometown was further south. Although it snowed during winter, but never this much, and the temperature never dropped too low. Recently, he’d been spending nearly all his time inside the well-heated buildings and subconsciously developed a little misunderstanding about the B City winter as a result. Now that he came outside, he felt even his intestines were freezing.
Xiao Si didn’t expect him to be so weak against the cold. Feeling a little remorseful for egging him on earlier, it said, <Let’s go back, JinJin. These past few days, the temperature was much lower than usual, you might catch a chill.>
“It’s fine, just give me a buff. I haven’t made a snowman in years and to be honest, this thick snow is making my hands itch,” Shi Jin reassured. He took a few steps to the side and waved to Lian Jun with a forced smile, then turned and ran to the middle of the yard.
Xiao Si’s buff worked fast; after moving a little, Shi Jin felt he was no longer so cold. He took off his mask, finally having fun with playing in the snow.
He planned to make the ordinary snowman, not some kind of a fancy snow sculpture so first, he rolled a big snowball for the snowman’s body and placed it in the middle of the yard. After making a slightly smaller one for the head, he cradled it in his arms and ran to the club.
Lian Jun opened the French door for him, not caring about the frigid air blowing in. He touched Shi Jin’s face, frowning. “It’s too cold, don’t go out anymore.”
“It’s all right, I warmed up already.” Shi Jin pulled the door almost closed, leaving only a small crack, then took off his gloves and pulled out the carrot and two buttons. Handing them to Lian Jun, he said, “Here, you’re going to do the nose and eyes. This way, the snowman will be considered to be made by both of us.”
This took Lian Jun aback. He looked at the carrot and buttons, motionless.
“Hurry up! It’s too warm here, the head will start melting soon,” Shi Jin urged. He carefully checked the snowball in his arms, as if afraid it was melting already.
Lian Jun looked at him, his eyes glancing over the cheeks and nose red from cold. He moistened his lips, took the carrot and buttons, and awkwardly stuck them in the snowball. Because he wasn’t used to the hard sensation of snow packed together, his hand slipped once, accidentally poking a big hole in the snowman’s head.
“Don’t mind it, I’ll fill it with snow in a minute.” Shi Jin smoothed the head out, picked up the button and put it back in Lian Jun’s hand.
Their fingers touched; one palm was cool, the other icy. Lian Jun reflectively grabbed Shi Jin’s hand but found he couldn’t warm it up and slowly released his grip. He stuck the button in the proper place and said, “I’m done.”
“You’re good, Jun-shao, that’s a very noble-looking face. Wait a moment, I’ll put it together,” Shi Jin flattered. He ran out, holding the head carefully, and set it on the snowman’s body, then picked up some snow to fill the uneven places. After making the snowman pleasingly round and smooth, he put the hat and scarf on it.
When he was done, he stepped back to admire it but thought it was still too bare, so he found two forked tree twigs and inserted them in the body. Now, the snowman had hands.
The round body, twiggy arms, small hat on a big head, prominent nose under beady eyes… The snowman was so ugly cute Shi Jin was amused. He turned towards the club. Noticing Lian Jun was looking his way, he waved to him with a wide smile and pointed at the snowman’s bulging belly, silently implying Lian Jun should eat until he looked like this.
Lian Jun pulled the French door open and went out.
Startled, Shi Jin rushed to his side and stopped at a place where he would block the wind for him. “Why did you come outside?” He asked anxiously.
“The window fogged up and I couldn’t see clearly,” Lian Jun replied. He observed the snowman carefully for a moment, then grasped Shi Jin’s hand and turned around, moving the wheelchair with his other hand. He pulled the teenager towards the club, saying, “Come inside, the wind is getting stronger.”
Shi Jin nodded. He went behind the wheelchair to help push it, unwittingly pulling his hand out.
His fingers empty, Lian Jun looked at Shi Jin’s reflection in the glass doors and slowly retracted his hand, letting him push himself into the lounge.
The expression of Gua Two, who was peeping from the hallway, was complicated. He let out a sigh. “No wonder Shi Jin was able to turn his wishful thinking into reality. Day after day, he comes up with this kind of devious schemes… The face of Jun-shao when he watched the snowman just now… Fuck, I thought I was going to cry. After all, Jun-shao had become involved with the underworld when he was much younger than us.”
Neither Gua Three nor Gua Five spoke. Their expressions were bitter—what kind of life had Jun-shao lived and what he had been through, they knew better than anyone else.
“Let’s go,” Gua One said, turning away. “At least this year, we can have a good New Year’s Day. I’ll tell the kitchen to prepare more sumptuous dishes for the reunion dinner this evening.”
After making the snowman, Lian Jun and Shi Jin simply stayed in the lounge next to the yard, with a table full of snack and a pot of hot drink. They admired the snowman while playing mahjong.
Shi Jin was gratified Lian Jun proposed to play games with him to relax. After two tablets were sent over, he installed the mahjong app he used. He gave his own account, with all the virtual money he had won, to Lian Jun, and applied for a new one, then taught him how to play.
Lian Jun got the hang of it quickly. After losing a few times in the beginning, he took the lead and started to slaughter his teacher. Shi Jin happily slapped his thighs and kneaded a pillow. His mahjong-fanatic side woke up; he was so excited he appeared to be ten years younger.
That evening, they should’ve enjoyed a heartwarming reunion dinner, but man proposes, heaven disposes. Sometime after 4 p.m., Chen Qing called and, as Lian Jun’s old friend, he invited him out for dinner again.
This invitation would seem strange if it was addressed to someone else—after all, the reunion dinner was supposed to be spent home with family. However, since Lian Jun had no relatives, his old friend asking him to eat together at this time seemed to be a kind and considerate thing.
Lian Jun pretended to refuse, saying that if Chen Qing was spending New Year alone too, he could come to the club to celebrate together.
Chen Qing declined, explaining he borrowed a friend’s house and personally cooked a lavish meal, and wanted to give Lian Jun a taste of his craft. He also let him know, in a roundabout way, that he had something to tell him about a certain task they’d cooperated on a few years ago, which he didn’t disclose earlier.
As such, Lian Jun naturally accepted the invitation. He asked for Chen Qing’s address, promising to arrive on time.
By the time the call ended, Shi Jin’s game had been taken over by the system and played automatically because he didn’t make a move in a long time. Obviously, he was going to lose.
His eyebrows knitted in a frown. “The address he gave you is in a residential area. There are many people, the terrain is complex and it’s easy to get in and out. I recommend you don’t keep that appointment. What’s more, you’re supposed to meet at 6 o’clock and it’s almost five. There’s too little time to prepare.”
After sending a message to Gua One, Lian Jun put down his phone and appeased, “Don’t worry about this, an hour is completely enough for our people to get into position.”
“What if it’s just a trap? Chen Qing may not be there at all. If you go, you may not only fail to save him but put yourself in danger too.” Shi Jin wasn’t reassured.
“I’ll ask Chen Qing come downstairs to pick me up, I won’t thoughtlessly rush in. I also made some arrangements for Black Rose’s base. If it really is a trap and the things go downhill, we will fight back. Don’t worry, we won’t lose,” Lian Jun continued to appease him, preparing to leave.
Shi Jin grabbed the wheelchair armrest, stopping him from moving. “I’m going with you,” he announced sulkily.
Lian Jun turned to look at him. The wrinkle between his eyebrows smoothed out, then he unexpectedly reached out and patted Shi Jin’s head. “You will stay here. I will come back soon and celebrate the New Year with you.”
Shi Jin still felt ill at ease. He shook his head, insisting, “I am going with you, I don’t trust you to go alone.”
“I won’t be alone, Gua One and the others will accompany me,” Lian Jun refused again. Seeing Shi Jin’s face full of worry, he actually leaned forward and gave him a shallow hug. He patted him on the back and said, “Behave and stay in the club, okay?” Then he let him go. Seeing Gua One appear in the doorway, he gently pulled away Shi Jin’s hand gripping the armrest and moved toward the door.
Gua One stepped forward and grabbed the wheelchair handles. He looked into Shi Jin’s eyes and nodded to him, then pushed Lian Jun away.
The lounge that was originally full of laughter and excitement now felt desolate. Shi Jin was unwilling to give up and tried to follow Lian Jun but Gua Nine, who popped out from who-knows-where stopped him, saying that if he persisted in disobeying orders, he would have to lock him up.
Shi Jin realized Gua Nine wasn’t kidding. With a heavy heart, he returned to the sixth floor and watched everyone bustle around getting ready. Finally, he saw Lian Jun, who changed clothes, being pushed into the elevator by Gua Two and going to the underground parking lot.
“Remember to have a good meal,” Lian Jun even told him before departing.
As if I could eat. Shi Jin sat alone at the big table prepared for the reunion dinner and stared at Lian Jun’s progress bar, which was slowly increasing since he’d left the club. He had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, and it was getting worse.
<Calm down, JinJin, Darling must’ve prepared well,> Xiao Si pacified.
“I know.” Shi Jin sighed and continued to watch Lian Jun’s progress bar. When it finally rose to 800, he couldn’t bear it anymore and sat up, saying through the gritted teeth, “No, I can’t just stand by. Lian Jun’s progress bar is different from mine; I have to be nearby when his bar is close to filling.”
Xiao Si asked, <What are you going to do, JinJin?>
“Lian Jun forbid me to follow him, so I won’t follow him. They’ve been gone for a while, if I rush after him now, it may disrupt his plan instead. But… I don’t have to be next to him.” Shi Jin strode back to his room and armed himself. After a moment of hesitation, he put the chicken drumstick pendant Lian Jun had given him into his pocket. Then he pulled out a plush animal costume and stuffed it into a large backpack. It was something Xiao Si encouraged him to buy—he originally planned to change into it during New Year and give Lian Jun a surprise.
Now that he thought about it, he truly tried hard to give Lian Jun back a tiny piece of his lost childhood.
Xiao Si was dumbfounded seeing him pack it. <Jin, JinJin? Why are you taking this?>
“I won’t interfere with the rescue plan, I’m just going to give out candies in the neighborhood. It’s New Year’s Eve after all, can’t I have some fun?” Shi Jin made a high-sounding excuse for his disobedience and zipped the backpack. Then he sent all of his brothers the traditional New Year’s wishes, though it was a little early, and left the club, saying indignantly, “Anyway, I refuse to eat the New Year’s Eve reunion dinner alone. Since I can’t eat that, I’m going to eat ‘one hundred meals’!”
Xiao So: <…>
“I’m not hungry; (…) I’m hungry” – in case you missed it, Gua Nine and Gua Two are talking about being fed dog food. Which leads us to…
Dog food [狗糧, gǒu liáng] – the self-pity of single people (humorously dubbed “single dogs”), triggered by the public displays of affection by couples online or offline. (Source)
“Reunion dinner” – held on New Year’s Eve of the Chinese New Year, during which family members get together to celebrate. It is often considered the most important get-together meal of the entire year. (Source)
“Eat one hundred meals” [吃百家饭] – a folk custom. If a child was weak or sick for a long time, the family made a large red bag, then his parents or relatives would go around the neighbors and ask for a hundred foods to feed him (though it didn’t have to be a whole hundred). This was believed to make the child healthy. BUT, in some areas, “eating one hundred meals” is another term for begging. Which one Shi Jin meant? Take your pick.
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