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Harsh Light of Reality
There wasn’t much information on Jian Jinwen, only two pages worth.
The first thing it mentioned was that Jian Jinwen was Jian Chenghua’s adopted child.
Shi Jin paused for a moment. He was surprised, but perhaps he shouldn’t have been—although Jian Chenghua also was fat, his facial features were ordinary and didn’t resemble those of Jian Jinwen at all. No one would be able to tell they were father and son from appearance alone.
There was so little information it took Shi Jin less than ten minutes to read through the lot.
Jian Jinwen’s parents were unknown. He was abandoned just after birth and brought up in an orphanage until the age of two, when he was adopted by Jian Chenghua, who was unable to have children. Then, when he was twelve, he fell ill without any warning and had to be admitted to the hospital.
His illness was of a troublesome kind—while it would not kill him immediately, it was impossible to be completely cured. He had to be hospitalized for a long period of time and be given regular treatment with hormones.
The bright, beautiful boy gained weight fast, which was one of the unfortunate side effects of the hormone therapy. He couldn’t go to school anymore and couldn’t do any strenuous exercises; he could only stay in the hospital and endure the dull and painful life of the chronically ill.
Jian Chenghua loved his adopted son very much. He provided Jian Jinwen the best treatment environment he could, and also acted as his teacher: every day, he gave him classes, read him books and newspapers, and cultivated his ability to study independently.
This situation lasted for many years. Jian Jinwen’s physical condition had not improved but he was unfailingly optimistic, not only studying with enthusiasm, but even developing a hobby of writing. Every now and then, when his condition allowed, he attended charity events sponsored by Jian Chenghua. Those events were to help children living in orphanages or remote mountainous regions, and while there he would tell stories to younger children and teach them to read and write.
It had to be said that Jian Chenghua was an excellent educator. Under his guidance, Jian Jinwen, who was tortured by illness, had not become depressed and withdrawn, but grew into a very gentle and kind person. He would donate his pocket money to buy stationery for children in orphanages, write encouraging letters to abused children Jian Chenghua reported on, and play with other sick children in the hospital to comfort and cheer them up.
He was like a warm little sun, bathing everyone around him in kindness.
It was a pity that fate did not treat such a gentle person the same way.
Jian Jinwen’s condition took a sudden turn for the worse when he was nineteen, and he had to be transferred to a big hospital in B city. It was the same year that Jian Chenghua quit his job at the municipal newspaper and began to work in one of B city’s newspapers instead.
After going to City B, Jian Jinwen underwent a major operation and stopped using hormones. Tortured by the pain his disease caused him, he lost weight at a rapid pace. A few short years later, he finally exhausted his life force and passed away, cutting his life tragically short.
Shi Jin’s hand paused. His chest felt a little heavy, but he was also confused.
Jian Jinwen must have been Shi Xingrui’s white moonlight, there was no doubt about that. However, when he went through Jian Jinwen’s data, there was no trace of Shi Xingrui having contact with him. Leaving aside possible correspondence, the trajectories of their lives were like two completely parallel lines—never intersecting.
That was extremely strange. With Shi Xingrui’s fixation on his white moonlight, Shi Jin thought the two would have had a deep, tragic relationship. But judging from the information he had at hand, let alone fall in love, it was a question if Shi Xingrui and Jian Jinwen had even met face-to-face.
What was going on? Shi Xingrui seemed to love Jian Jinwen to the point of obsession, so how was this possible? Even if Shi Xingrui had temporarily lost contact with Jian Jinwen because Jian Chenghua took him to B city for treatment, Jian Chenghua’s employment information was so transparent that with Shi Xingrui’s ability, it should’ve been easy to find him and as such, also his son.
It was so easy and yet, Shi Xingrui didn’t find Jian Jinwen. There could be only one explanation for this—Shi Xingrui didn’t want to meet Jian Jinwen, and maybe even avoided meeting him on purpose.
But if that was the case, things became even stranger. Loving somebody but avoiding them? It didn’t make sense.
Was it a secret crush, the type where you were afraid of meeting the other person? But with Shi Xingrui’s personality, would something like that even be possible?
The more Shi Jin tried to make sense of matters, the less sense everything made. Still, he was certain there must be something hidden, something the data didn’t mention. After all, the way Shi Xingrui behaved later on—searching for women similar to Jian Jinwen and having children with them, desperately trying to produce a replica of Jian Jinwen—was just too crazy. It was diametrically opposed to his earlier avoidance.
“There is someone who should know the whole truth,” Lian Jun said all of a sudden, pulling Shi Jin out of his thoughts.
Shi Jin looked at him and, yet again thanking all the deities for blessing him with such a wonderful lover, asked, “Jiang Chenhua, you mean?”
Lian Jun nodded and took out his phone. “If I remember right, Jian Chenghua settled in B city after he retired, and opened an orphanage. Would you like to talk to him?”
Shi Jin touched his own face on reflex, hesitating. After a moment of struggle, he nodded. “Yes, but… It’s better if Jian Chenghua doesn’t see me. I look too much like Jian Jinwen, I’m afraid he’ll feel sad.”
Lian Jun reached out to caress his cheek. “All right.”
After lunch, the two went out, heading for the orphanage run by Jian Chenghua.
Half an hour’s drive later, the car stopped at the door of a relatively small building. Gua Two, dressed as an ordinary white-collar worker, straightened his collar, got out of the car with a bag, and went inside.
Shi Jin watched him leave, waiting with Lian Jun in the car.
About half an hour passed before Gua Two returned, bearing news of defeat.
“Jian Chenghua is in there, telling stories to the kids. I spoke with him on the pretext of donating books, but he probably doesn’t want to talk about the past. No matter how I guided the conversation, he wouldn’t take the bait. I was afraid of making him suspicious so I didn’t dare probe too much and found an excuse to come out. What now? Do you want to send someone else in?” A helpless expression on his face, Gua Two glanced at the orphanage.
Lian Jun frowned and looked at Shi Jin.
After a moment of hesitation, the young man reached for the door handle. “I’ll go.”
Gua Two scrambled to take some “props” out of the bag he carried, saying, “Wait a minute, I’ll give you the donation list. You can pretend to be my assistant…”
“No need,” Shi Jin waved the papers away and pushed the door open. “My face will be enough to make him open up.”
Lian Jun shifted to the side of the car, moving closer to him. “Call if you need me.”
Shi Jin nodded, let out a light breath, and walked towards the orphanage.
The orphanage wasn’t large, it only occupied one building. Shi Jin entered and a member of the staff guided him to the children’s playroom. In the front of the room sat Jian Chenghua.
Jian Chenghua was in his seventies, but even though his hair had turned snow-white, he looked healthy and energetic. He narrated a story, his eyes filled with kindness and a Maitreya Buddha-like smile on his face. It seemed the children liked him very much, as they sat around him in a circle, well-behaved and listening to him with adoration.
The worker who brought Shi Jin over called to Jian Chenghua. The old man looked towards them and his expression froze, his smile fixed, his eyes widening a little. He got up, nearly dropping the story book, and walked around the children to reach Shi Jin. Grabbing the teenager’s hand, he said in a trembling voice, “You, you are…”
“Hello Dean Jian. My name is Shi Jin,” the young man introduced himself. Taking a few seconds to settle himself, he continued with the truth, “I’m Shi Xingrui’s son. I have some questions about his relationship with Jian Jinwen.”
Jian Chenghua looked confused, as if he suspected he had heard wrong, but little by little he regained control of his emotions and expression. Eyebrows furrowing, he scrutinized Shi Jin’s face. “What are you talking about? Whose son did you say you are?” he managed to ask, the hand grasping Shi Jin’s tightening without realizing it.
Letting out a sigh inside his mind, Shi Jin patted the old man’s hand in comfort. “Shi Xingrui—my father is Shi Xingrui.”
Jian Chenghua’s expression could be described as dumbstruck. He stared at Shi Jin for a long moment, mouth open, then snapped back to himself and left the room, pulling Shi Jin along as well. Once he had instructed the worker who had brought Shi Jin to look after the children, he led the teenager towards the dean’s office.
Shi Jin looked at the old man’s hand holding his own in a death grip but didn’t try to free himself, following him without protest.
They settled in the dean’s office. Jian Chenghua released Shi Jin’s hand with some reluctance. After looking at him for a while longer, he poured him a glass of water and sat opposite him. Face complex, he began, “You… you and Xiao Jin look so much alike. Right, you just said your name is, Shi, Shi…”
“Shi Jin,” the young man repeated.
[T/N: “Jin” in Shi Jin and Jian Jinwen is the same character, 进 (“to move forward”).]
Jian Chenghua stopped, his expression changing. Suddenly, he sighed. “I didn’t expect it to be like this… Ask whatever you want to ask, I’ll do my best to answer. The person who wanted to donate the books earlier was someone you know, wasn’t he?”
Shi Jin nodded with some embarrassment. “Yes. I’m sorry, I asked him to talk to you. I didn’t want to show up directly in case it upset you—after all, my face…”
“Looks just like Jinwen’s,” Jian Chenghua finished, changing the way he called Jian Jinwen. He sighed again and his eyes went absent, as though he was looking at events happening far off in time and space. Abruptly, his gaze focused on Shi Jin again. “I probably know what you want to ask… Jinwen and your father did know each other and used to exchange letters when they were young, but they definitely weren’t in the kind of relationship you’re thinking. I don’t know why Shi Xingrui would give you that name, or why your appearance… sigh.”
“I came looking for you in order to figure that out.” Shi Jin glanced at Jian Chenghua, judging his mood. After a momentary pause, he continued, “Would it be possible for you to tell me in detail how my father and your son met, and elaborate on their relationship? I know it’s a bit presumptuous of me, but I…”
Jian Chenghua waved his hand, interrupting him. “I understand, with you looking so similar to someone else, it’s only natural to be curious about that person. It’s just that I myself don’t really understand… oh well. Anyway, it’s all old stories—it wouldn’t be bad to have someone I can talk to about it, actually.”
He poured himself a glass of water, got comfortable, and began to speak.
If you’re seeing this notice, you’re reading this chapter on pirate site – the original translator of Death Progress Bar is Betwixted Translations.
Just as Shi Jin guessed, Shi Xingrui and Jian Jinwen had indeed been pen pals for a long time, and the person who helped bring their friendship about was Jian Chenghua.
“When I first heard about Shi Xingrui, he was only a primary school student. At that time, he’d sent more than ten articles to the newspaper in one go, explaining the difficult situation at home, which attracted the attention of everyone in the office. Back then, Jinwen had only just been admitted to the hospital—maybe it made me more sympathetic. Anyway, I was moved by Shi Xingrui’s letter and wanted to help him somehow, at least a little. I tinkered with the page layout, managing to squeeze in one of the short essays he submitted, and wrote him a letter of encouragement.”
As the old man recalled the past, his gaze unfocused. “Jinwen could not go to school after he was admitted to the hospital, and there were no children to play with him. I was afraid he would be lonely, so I chatted with him about the daily happenings in the newspaper, and read him the interesting letters and contributions from young readers. That’s how Jinwen knew about Shi Xingrui. He had been soft-hearted ever since he was small, so when I told him that Shi Xingrui’s family was bad off, he took out some of the pocket money he’d saved and asked me to send it along with my letter of encouragement, and added a little cheer-up note of his own.”
In his heart, Shi Jin sighed with pity. Jian Jinwen was a kind, warm-hearted child but unfortunately, the Heavens didn’t seem to care about him the way he deserved.
“After receiving my letter and Jinwen’s pocket money, Shi Xingrui wrote me a polite thank-you note, and submitted another manuscript to me at the same time, saying he wanted the contribution fee to be donated to the local orphanage. At that time, I thought he was a sensible, kind child, a seedling worthy of cultivating.”
Jian Chenghua seemed to think he’d said something funny as he let out a short chuckle. Soon, his smile faded and his expression dimmed again. “It was around then that Jinwen’s disease had been diagnosed and he started to be given hormone treatment. He was in pain and I wanted to distract him somehow; since most of his attention was on Shi Xingrui back then, I asked him to try to write to Shi Xingrui and sent the letter together with the official newspaper’s reply to ensure it would reach him. Shi Xingrui was a kind-hearted child, and after receiving Jinwen’s letter he would send a reply to him each time he submitted a piece of writing to the newspaper. They began to exchange letters just like that, with me as the middleman.”
Jian Chenghua’s words planted a seed in Shi Jin’s mind. He grasped at the subtle thought—in the beginning, Shi Xingrui probably established a connection with Jian Jingwen not because he was kindhearted, but because he’d noticed Jian Chenghua’s identity. It would only benefit him to have the editor-in-chief of the newspaper look favourably on him, since it would make it easier for his contributions to be published, and as such, earn contribution fees.
However, Shi Jin recalled Shi Xingrui’s age at the time and decided he might be biased—it was improbable that a ten-year-old child would be so scheming.
He shook his head to get rid of stray thoughts and continued to listen to Jian Chenghua’s story.
Shi Xingrui and Jian Jinwen maintained that strange mode of correspondence ever since. They didn’t communicate very frequently, their exchanges coinciding with however often Shi Xingrui submitted contributions to the newspaper.
Shi Xingrui graduated from primary school and got admitted to the county town’s middle school, but it was difficult for his parents to come up with the tuition fee. Shi Xingrui didn’t tell Jian Chenghua about this, but only mentioned in his letter to Jian Jinwen that his parents had been having a hard time recently. It caught Jian Jinwen’s attention; fearing that Shi Xingrui really would have to drop out of middle school, he told Jian Chenghua everything.
Jian Chenghua just so happened to have a job editing a textbook when he heard about the situation, so he recommended Shi Xingrui’s articles to the publishers.
There was actually a period of time between the articles being accepted and when the contribution fees would be paid. Jian Jinwen was afraid that Shi Xingrui’s situation was too urgent to wait, and yet again generously asked for his pocket money to be sent to his friend. Instead, Jian Chenghua decided to advance the payment of the contribution fee to Shi Xingrui so that he could get the money early.
After this episode, Jian Jinwen and Shi Xingrui’s relationship grew much closer; Shi Xingrui sent submissions to the newspaper more and more frequently, and Jian Jinwen’s letters got longer and longer. The two boys slowly grew up, and when Shi Xingrui was about to graduate from middle school, Jian Jinwen put forward the idea of them meeting in person.
“They made an appointment, but unfortunately, Shi Xingrui’s mother had an accident after his high school entrance examination, and the meeting was delayed.” Jian Chenghua sighed and said with some regret, “Whatever their relationship might’ve become, it seemed the fate decreed it wasn’t meant to be. After that, Jinwen’s condition deteriorated and he had to be transferred to another hospital. By the time he came back, Shi Xingrui had already been admitted to a high school in the provincial capital, too far for a casual trip.”
Though the plan to meet fell through, the two continued to communicate. However, the content of Shi Xingrui’s letters started to change over time, more and more of his emotions bleeding through the lines. Jian Jinwen knew that he was sad because his mother had passed away, so he always took care to comfort Shi Xingrui in his letters.
During that period, Shi Xingrui was probably feeling quite miserable. The submissions were all things that he had written before, but most of the contents of each envelope were meant for Jian Jinwen, and they oozed negativity.
As Jian Chenghua spoke, his eyebrows set in a scowl. “It was then that I found out that Shi Xingrui was actually not the kind child I’d always imagined him to be. He described his anger and pain in great detail to Jinwen, saying he wanted to make his grandparents pay, to interrogate his aunt and uncle, to beat up his cousins. He was filled with hatred but had nowhere to vent his feelings, so all of them fell on Jinwen. He became a stranger in the blink of an eye—his letters were so cruel and violent that they made even me, an adult, horrified. I began to worry; Jinwen was too gentle, I was afraid he would be hurt by Shi Xingrui.”
Shi Jin couldn’t help but frown. He realized that this should have been the turning point, the moment when Shi Xingrui’s feelings towards Jian Jinwen changed. His emotions in turmoil after his mother’s suspicious death, Shi Xingrui, who had no other place to vent, began to confide in Jian Jinwen, this time really laying his heart bare to him.
The old man continued, “I tried to persuade Jinwen to break contact with Shi Xingrui for a while. It might’ve been selfish but as a father, I didn’t want Jinwen, whose life was already full of physical suffering, to also become an outlet for someone else to vent their bad feelings. Jinwen refused—he said that it was all because Shi Xingrui was going through adolescence that he couldn’t control himself well, and that if he stopped letting Shi Xingrui vent, Shi Xingrui’s mind might become twisted by the pain of his mother’s death, and he might really go down the wrong path. He managed to convince me and I allowed them to continue keeping in contact.”
Throughout the first year of high school, Shi Xingrui was pouring his emotional sewage out onto Jian Jinwen. Jian Jinwen, like a cotton filter, received the sewage in its entirety, filtered out the filthy parts, and returned only gentleness and patience to Shi Xingrui.
Shi Xingrui’s mood adjusted as time passed; he stopped submitting old manuscripts and began to write new things. During the summer vacation dividing the first and second year of high school, he took the initiative to ask Jinwen to meet.
Shi Jin’s heart skipped a beat at that—the summer vacation between the first and second grade? That period of time was very important, because he remembered that it was after the first semester of the second year that Shi Xingrui stopped writing in full, and began to devote all of his attention to studying.
Could what happened during that summer vacation be the reason?
Shi Jin looked at Jian Chenghua with an eager gaze.
The old man was caught in his memories and didn’t notice that Shi Jin’s eyes suddenly lit up.
“Jinwen also wanted to meet Shi Xingrui; they had been pen pals for many years after all, and he happily agreed… but Shi Xingrui failed to show up. That day, Jinwen waited at the meeting place until night fell, but Shi Xingrui never appeared. In fact, he seemed to drop off the face of earth and couldn’t be contacted anymore, and after a while, Jinwen’s initial disappointment turned into real worry. Perhaps his emotions affected his body, because his physical condition deteriorated all of a sudden and I had no choice but to transfer him to a big hospital in B city.” As he spoke of this, Jian Chenghua’s expression became somewhat strained, and there was some blame in his tone. “Although reason told me that Jinwen’s condition worsened due to objective causes, I couldn’t help but blame Shi Xingrui in my heart—he said he wanted to meet with Jinwen, so why didn’t he come? Why did he have to make Jinwen so upset?”
Shi Jin stared at him, dumbfounded—almost right away, he realized that perhaps it wasn’t that Shi Xingrui failed to keep the appointment, but that he saw Jian Jinwen and “his love was killed by the cold, harsh light of reality.”
It was something that happened a lot when making friends and dating online. If one viewed things from Shi Xingrui’s perspective: because of his mother’s death, he began to lay his heart bare to his pen pal, slowly becoming emotionally dependent on him; after a year, as this dependence gave birth to a certain feeling, he asked to meet; then, when he went to the agreed-upon place filled with shy expectation, the person he saw was an ugly fat guy. Naturally, he hightailed it out of there as fast as his legs could carry him!
This explained Shi Xingrui’s abrupt change perfectly! How could a person as proud and arrogant as Shi Xingrui admit, even to himself, that the person he fell in love with was actually a fat man? So he ran away and disappeared, strangling his secret crush and cutting off all connections with the object of his feelings.
It turned out the truth was this simple. This was really…
In order to verify his conjecture, Shi Jin suppressed the thoughts running amok in his mind and asked, interrupting Jian Chenghua’s reminiscing, “Um, had my father and your son exchanged photos before they agreed to meet?”
For a moment, the old man looked at him with confusion, then nodded. “They had, but relatively early—I’m not exactly sure when, but it wasn’t long after they began to correspond. Wait a moment, I still have those pictures, I’ll show them to you.”
They actually had?
Taken aback, Shi Jin began to suspect that he had guessed wrong.
Jian Chenghua took out two aged, palm-sized photos from an old album and handed them to Shi Jin. “These two. Jinwen thought it was too embarrassing to do it by himself, so I was the one who picked which photo to send.”
Shi Jin took the pictures and looked at them.
The picture on top was Shi Xingrui’s. It seemed to have been cut out from a group photo because the edges weren’t straight. The boy in the photo was about ten years old and his features were still childish, very different from his adult appearance.
Shi Jin quickly swapped to the photo underneath to take a look at the one that interested him—and was struck dumb.
This picture was of a much better quality, and it was obvious that it was taken with a good camera. The child in the picture was also in his early teens, and quite pretty. He sat in a hospital bed, holding scissors and a paper cutout in his hands. His hair, a bit long, had grown past his ears. He… looked like a short-haired girl.
Really, if he hadn’t known that this child was a boy, he definitely would have thought the person in the picture was a girl! What’s more, a beautiful, gentle, high-quality girl, a future goddess!
Shi Jin felt as if the skies had opened and sent a bolt of lightning crashing down onto his head, hitting it smack in the middle and leaving him dizzy and trembling, almost unable to speak.
Shi Xingrui might’ve experienced not only “the cold, harsh light of reality” but also catfishing… cough, his goddess turning out to be a male god…
He calmed his turbulent emotions, looked at the old man who was still sighing with sorrow, and said, “That, um, can I see your son’s handwriting? I’m just a little curious…”
This request was rather strange, but Jian Chenghua didn’t think much about it. Happy to be able to share his son’s excellence with others, he took out a very well-preserved notebook and said with pride, “Certainly. Jinwen was a quiet child and started practicing calligraphy when he was very young. His handwriting was very good.”
Shi Jin received the notebook, glanced at the handwriting, and fell silent.
It was said that a person’s handwriting was a good indicator of their temperament. Indeed, the characters written by Jian Jinwen’s hand were pleasant-looking, with rounded shapes and no sharp edges or corners. His handwriting was very elegant… and looked like a girl’s handwriting.
If he was a young Shi Xingrui, then after seeing that photo and this pretty handwriting, he definitely would have taken for granted that his pen pal was a girl, a beautiful and gentle girl.
He opened his mouth, wanting to ask Jian Chenghua if Shi Xingrui and Jian Jinwen had ever confirmed each other’s gender in their letters, but he swallowed his words before they formed.
How could he ask something like that? That question was too brain-dead. Given that the photos had already been exchanged, who would have thought of confirming the gender of their pen pal? In those days, no one had ever heard about crossdressing or transgender people.
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