T/N: Hi everyone, I’m excited to bring you all this sweet slow-burn romance. I picked up this project because I fell in love with the incredible character development and beautiful imagery, and I hope you do too! Please enjoy~
Day 01 17:08
Song Ran was a children’s picture book illustrator.
From the very start of his career, he had gone to S City to try to make a living. After struggling for so many years, he finally managed to sign long-term contracts with a few publishing houses. Because he was diligent, polite, and turned in his drafts in a timely manner, the editorial department’s aunties and older sisters were all rather fond of him. They viewed him as their own son, and often talked about wanting to find a girlfriend for this upward-climbing nice young man. He would always laughingly reply that there was no need, he’d let things happen naturally.
It was something of a joke. After all, he was gay, and therefore he could not lead on other families’ innocent daughters.
Song Ran’s orientation was set in stone from birth and impossible to change. In these past twenty-odd years, even though he hadn’t had time to pursue relationships and hadn’t truly liked anyone, the blurred silhouette of the sweaty body pressing against him in his wet dreams lacked breasts and buttocks; of this, he was undoubtedly convinced.
The single Song Ran still did not have a partner.
When he first came to S City, he spotted a same-sex couple holding hands on the subway, which gave him the wrong impression that the others in S City’s gay circle were like this couple, ordinary and out of the closet. As a result, he plucked up his courage and went to a gay bar to mingle for a night, but was intimidated into fleeing by the lascivious outfits and lust-filled atmosphere. From that point, he gave up on the idea of finding a partner through this method.
To this day, Song Ran still lived the single life.
After late spring came the beginning of summer, and autumn frost was followed by winter snow. Beneath heavy rain and sprays of flowering branches, he sketched out compositions. Amid warm sunlight and falling leaves, he quietly applied colours, every brushstroke calm and composed.
Occasionally, he would also have some vague expectations, and think about what his future other half would be like. Song Ran really liked this kind of anticipatory feeling; it filled his life with energy and motivated him to smile at everyone, because perhaps at any given moment, his fated person would show up unexpectedly.
Song Ran hoped that the first expression he showed to that person would be a pure smile.
Song Ran had two dimples which were very beautiful when he smiled, showing an innocence and youthfulness that was hard to come by in adults; he easily captured the overflowing maternal love of the aunties from the editorial department.
But, starting from a certain day, he began to lose confidence in himself.
For example, currently he stood at the doorway to the lobby of the residential complex, holding his keycard and repeatedly practicing his smile in the French windows that were bright enough to cast reflections. Neither his body nor the corners of his mouth were able to conceal his anxiety.
Although the well-lit lobby was devoid of people, it also felt like someone could come out at any moment.
He used his peripheral vision to keep a lookout, and urged himself to quickly adjust his smile. After a few seconds, he nimbly swiped the keycard, and a ‘ding dong‘ sound subsequently rang out overhead.
He pushed open the glass door, crossed the lobby, and headed towards the residential elevator.
First step, nobody appeared.
Second step, nobody appeared.
Third step, fourth step… with each step, his heart became increasingly filled with apprehension.
After walking fifteen steps, Song Ran stood in front of the two elevators. He saw that the operation indicator lights were dark, and the number stayed at the first floor—this meant that there was no chance he could run into anyone descending from a higher floor.
Song Ran sighed in disappointment.
Today, the chance of meeting that man once again was vanishingly small.
Song Ran pressed the button to open the doors and walked into the elevator. He turned around, staring fixedly at the glass doors from which he had just entered, silently praying one final time.
Five seconds left until the elevator door closed.
He still had five seconds.
If someone appeared, even if it was only a wisp of hair or a scrap of fabric, as long as he saw it, he would unhesitatingly hit the button to open the doors.
But nobody showed up.
Once again, Fate showed him no mercy.
Just like all the previous days, the elevator doors smoothly closed, with the four gleaming steel walls seamlessly joined and two rows of frosted lights inlaid overhead. As the floor number rose higher and higher, the atmosphere within the elevator became more and more heavy.
It didn’t matter.
He told himself this.
So what if they didn’t encounter each other today? He still had tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that… As long as he lived here, waiting patiently, eventually there would come a day where he would get another chance to encounter that man.
Song Ran was a very optimistic person. As a children’s book illustrator, his life was filled with pure and interesting fairy tales. Even into adulthood, he still maintained a boyish mentality. Just like how children believe in the existence of Santa Claus and the rabbit on the moon, he believed in the fated bonds between people. Even if he had waited fruitlessly for more than forty days in a row, he still believed that fate was real.
What is fate?
It could be said that it was fate that on a certain mundane afternoon, it just so happened that Song Ran, who was never late on rent payments, received a call from the old landlord, saying that there was a small issue with his family business, so the apartment had to be put back on the market for sale. He could not allow him to renew his lease, and troubled him to find a new place to live as soon as possible.
Coincidentally, immediately prior to taking that call, Song Ran had just turned in his draft and was in a relaxed mood. He was seized by a rare impulse to act spoiled; with chin in hand, he pouted and quietly uttered a complaint in the editorial department.
Also coincidentally, right as he opened his mouth, Auntie Ji, who was searching for discounted dresses next to him, had reached the last line of the Taobao page and clicked the next page button. The screen turned white, and her ears idled for a second, so she caught his complaint just in time.
In yet another coincidence, as of one hour ago, Auntie Ji’s purse contained a new extra key.
This key was able to open the front door of the residential complex Jadewater Bay’s Building Five Unit 8102A.
Auntie Ji had a close friend of several decades who was surnamed Liu. A little over half a year ago, this older lady and her husband had purchased a new home in Jadewater Bay. They had just sorted out the interior decor and furnishings, but hadn’t lived there for very long when their daughter in Australia made an urgent call, saying that she had produced a new granddaughter. The couple hastily bought plane tickets to Melbourne, but in their rush, they didn’t have time to find a caretaker for their Ragdoll cat. Since they would not be returning for more than half a year, they entrusted Auntie Ji with the task of finding a tidy and cat-loving youth to rent the place and look after the kitten.
The important point was that the rent was only two thousand per month.
The Lius were retired professors of F University. Having taught there for thirty years, they had a deep affection for the campus, and specially bought a flat located within walking distance of the subway’s 10 line. In addition to its proximity to the diplomatic quarter, first-rate public security, and high-quality environment, the typical rent at Jadewater Bay was approximately eight thousand per month, exceeding Song Ran’s capability to pay by four times.
Indeed, exactly four times.
In S City, where money flowed like water, with Song Ran’s meager income he could only rent a coal-blackened, thirty-square-meter old room that had been constructed in the 1980s.
The one-room flat that Song Ran had previously rented was a product of the previous century, neither air- nor water-tight, and poorly lit.
In those days the planning was not done very conscientiously. The front doors of the two corner apartments were placed close together, so the security doors would often be difficult to open or close. When the next-door neighbors quarreled and slammed the door, the doorplate for Song Ran’s place would rattle with a ‘clunk clunk‘.
When painting, Song Ran would devote his entire attention to his work, and be easily startled as a result. With the slamming of a door, his hand would jerk and the picture he’d been working on so painstakingly would be ruined. Occasionally, he would get lucky and be able to save it with some patching up, but most of the time he could only start over.
The brat upstairs was also very restless. There were so many times when Song Ran had just finished applying undertones, and the brat would jump and stomp, causing white paint to loosen from the ceiling and mix with the dust to drift down and cover the freshly applied watercolours, which couldn’t be blown off. He would stare at the canvas that had come to resemble a construction site. Despite thinking over and over, he was unable to find any solution, and could only rub at his hair while sitting on his bed in a daze.
To be honest, Song Ran really wanted to bid goodbye to the slums, but when the chance to move into a good place that was two hundred square meters, located in a prime spot, and only cost two thousand yuan in monthly rent dropped into his lap, he found that he could not bring himself to take advantage of it.
Auntie Ji was very magnanimous; just past five o’clock, she grabbed her purse and took Song Ran to view the flat, like she was herding cattle.
Shouldering his art supplies and wearing a sloppily-scribbled cute cat pullover, Song Ran stood at the entryway of the residential community and watched several private cars bearing seldom-seen brand logos pass by. He then discovered with surprise that in the past ten minutes, nobody else had walked in apart from them.
This place was obviously not meant for ordinary people to live in—how could he possibly park his old bicycle with zero-litre engine capacity in the same underground parking garage as these four- or five-litre behemoths?
Moreover, there were no grocery stores in the vicinity.
On the way from the subway station, Song Ran spotted a veterinary clinic run by a French doctor, an izakaya with red paper lanterns hanging on the door, a theatre with a style that felt comparable to that of a five-star hotel, an imported goods market specializing in organic food… The development around Jadewater Bay had become out of touch with the people’s needs, forcefully pushing the bustling grocery store to four or five blocks away. It was really a mystery what rich people ate.
For the same two thousand yuan, rather than an unnecessary hundred square meters of extra space, Song Ran preferred to change to a living environment more suited to him, ideally a bustling market district—some place where, after going outside, he would be able to spot old men in singlets carrying vegetable baskets and stuffed teddy bears, that sort of thing.
Song Ran had a clear idea of what he wanted, so his mindset was unyielding.
After viewing the flat with Auntie Ji, they rode the elevator down and walked across a two-meter-wide wooden bridge that spanned a shallow pool. He turned to look back at that moment, still thinking of a way to graciously decline, and had even started saying, “The rent is too cheap for such a large place, and I don’t have much experience raising cats, so you should…”
Mid-sentence, a silver-grey Infiniti entered the right side of his field of vision, smoothly decelerating to zero before it shifted into reverse and backed into the covered parking area of Building Five.
Even after more than forty days, Song Ran still remembered every single frame of that moment.
The car windows were rolled down and the sunlight was abundant, as if everything had been arranged in advance to perfectly show him the man in the driver’s seat—upright sitting posture, relaxed musculature, left hand resting on top of the steering wheel, the top button of the pale blue cotton shirt left unbuttoned, and cuffs neatly rolled at the forearm.
The lines of his facial profile were nearly flawless, particularly his nose bridge and browline.
The man slightly tilted his neck. With the back of his head pressed against the headrest and the corners of his lips quirked up, he conversed with the person sitting out of sight in the back of the car. Because he was chatting so happily, his smile also came naturally; all the tenderness in the world seemed to be concentrated within that pair of warm smiling eyes.
In the span of one-and-a-half parking spaces, the car’s speed precisely dropped to zero. It stopped so reliably that it did not overshoot by even a centimetre. The man casually changed gears, checked the rear-view mirror through his peripheral vision, and began to skilfully reverse the car.
With the steering wheel fully rotated and wheels turned, the car travelled in a perfect arc and entered at a moderate speed.
Following the change in angle, the man’s facial profile gradually transitioned to a frontal view. His handsome visage and pleasing smile were all clearly displayed before Song Ran’s eyes.
Song Ran stood on the wooden bridge, tightly gripping the edges of his T-shirt; he felt his whole body heat up.
Before, his eyes lingered upon countless enchanting colours; now, they only beheld this man.
In the past, Song Ran was reading gossip magazines with the older sisters at the publishing house when they came across a ranking list called ‘What is the most handsome thing a guy can do’, and in first place was ‘reversing’.
The older sisters howled in unanimous agreement while grasping the magazines. Meanwhile, Song Ran had a blank expression, question marks appearing over his head. He seriously wondered, in what way was this action considered handsome?
Now he stared at the car, breathing unsteadily, blood flowing backwards, and adrenaline boiling. He finally understood the feelings of those older sisters at that time.
Men who could skilfully reverse were indeed incredibly sexy!
In ancient times, an adept hunter’s directional awareness would attract the adoration of all the females in the group; this sort of instinct to admire the strong was passed down from generation to generation until the present day, to the point where it already surpassed rational thinking and became a trigger for the release of hormones.
The Infiniti’s engine was killed, but atop the wooden bridge on the opposite side, the love that had ignited in Song Ran’s heart burned brightly in his chest.
After twenty-three years, his late-arriving love had awoken for the first time.
The man pulled out the key, opened the door, and got out of the car.
One meter eighty-six.
Or perhaps one meter eighty-seven.
From his perspective, Song Ran had no way of accurately estimating the man’s height; he could only see that he had an excellent figure. His appearance was neat and tidy even after a day’s travels. Underneath his wrinkle-free shirt, pectoral and abdominal muscles were subtly delineated, and the hem was neatly tucked into the waistband of his pants. This man was the epitome of an elite.
He had a pair of long legs. In Song Ran’s eyes, they were like a king’s sceptre—upright, sacred, and exuding a valiant grandeur.
The man reached out to open the rear door. His torso leaned in, and when he came out again, he was holding a small child in his embrace. The child wiggled his bottom, scooting to sit in the crook of his father’s arm. With a small arm wrapped around his neck, the child clumsily planted a kiss on his face.
If just now Song Ran was merely lovestruck, then at this moment, upon seeing the man carry the child, Song Ran was practically stupefied.
This man was perfect.
He was a family man.
Song Ran had difficulty distinguishing if it was actually the dual identity of husband and father that gave this man an additional air of maturity, causing him to exude such a deadly attractiveness, or if it was simply the idea of a happy family that he represented, fulfilling Song Ran’s innermost desire for a family.
Song Ran had no family of his own.
He had one when he was very young, and had also lost it when he was very young.
At that moment he stood on the wooden bridge, watching that man toss and catch the child from afar. They played around while walking into Building Five’s lobby. Song Ran turned around and snatched the key from Auntie Ji’s hand.
He wanted to live here.
Because on one of this building’s floors lived a perfect family, possibly in close proximity to the twelfth floor that he was about to move into. They represented Song Ran’s most cherished vision; through the walls and floorboards, those inaudible and invisible sounds of happiness and laughter could shelter Song Ran’s heart.
A good man deserves an equally good family; sometimes, the rules of the world aren’t too bad.
Song Ran thought so.
He wouldn’t intrude on the neighbours’ lives; he just wanted to get a little closer to absorb the lingering traces of other people’s happiness and breathe in a bit of that household’s warm atmosphere—they were his fairy tale.
Nobody can enter a fairy tale world, but as long as one believes in their existence, they can live happily.
The elevator stopped at the twelfth floor, indicator light flashing softly. Faintly disappointed, Song Ran took a moment to adjust his mindset and exited the elevator.
The Jadewater Bay residential buildings had two units per floor. To the right of the elevator was Unit A, and to the left was Unit B. The communal area had a smooth cream-coloured marble floor, and the private areas started from the doormat and extended to the shoe rack and flower stand.
The doormat in front of Song Ran’s home was exceptionally large. Made from a soft piece of fleece, it depicted a chipmunk buried in pinecones. Last year he drew the front cover and illustrations for The Chipmunk’s Dream, which somehow met with some small commercial success and came out with a few spin-offs. Song Ran originally wanted a doll, but unfortunately the old aunties at the publishing house all had grandchildren. Against their insurmountable competitive ability, despite exerting effort to the point of crushing his own head, he could only snatch a children’s playmat. He couldn’t decide where to put it so in the end he just threw it outside to use as a doormat. In contrast, Unit B’s doormat was a lot more proper—a standard-sized rectangular shape with stiff fibers, a dark grey colour, and relatively high dirt resistance, indicating that the owner had a resolute and capable disposition.
Song Ran removed his canvas shoes, neatly arranged them on the shoe rack, and inserted the keycard into the card slot. With a ‘beep‘, the keyhole was revealed.
He took out his key and unlocked the door, but before entering, he examined the plants in the flower stand.
The bellflowers and sunflowers were growing well, vibrantly coloured and lively in the sunlight. The soil was loose and damp, so there was currently no need to water any more; simply misting the petals and leaves would be sufficient.
Then he remembered something, turned around, and hopped on one foot to the flower stand next to the opposing flat’s door. He stretched his neck to look—sure enough, the two Casablanca lilies were half-dead, and the expensive fertilized soil was completely dried out.
Last month when he moved in these flowers were already a little wilted; he couldn’t overlook them and stealthily helped water them for two weeks. As a result the neighbour across the hall probably had the misconception that these flowers were like cacti in that they didn’t need water to live, and thus didn’t take care of them.
Song Ran felt slighted on behalf of the plants. He grimaced at Unit B, then hopped back to his own place.
Bu Doudou, the furball that weighed twelve jin1one jin = 0.5 kg, was waiting at the door. When it saw Song Ran come in, it called out coyly, then flopped onto the ground. It displayed its white belly, asking to be petted with a meow.
Song Ran indulged the cat, adding water and cat food to its bowls before starting to cook dinner for himself.
There was still fresh asparagus and shrimp in the fridge. Song Ran put on an apron and defrosted the ingredients. He marinated the shrimp in a small bowl with cooking wine and shredded ginger and chopped the asparagus on the cutting board while porridge boiled in a small earthenware pot. He really liked the bubbling sound of the porridge because he felt like the food was singing, and softly hummed along while tapping out a rhythm with the cookware.
Stir-fry the ingredients over high heat, then dump everything into the pot of porridge and mix evenly.
Song Ran felt that the colour was unappealing, so he added a small spoonful of seafood soy sauce.
Steam rose steadily from the pot and the aroma of soy sauce penetrated the nose; smelling it really whetted one’s appetite.
After cooking the porridge and tidying up the countertop, the sky outside of the window had already turned dark.
Song Ran remembered that he still had to mist the plants, so he picked up the spray bottle in passing and filled it with a bit of water from the faucet, then shuffled out in his slippers.
He had just cracked open the door when he felt something different from usual. The door seemed to be blocked by something, so he tried again, using a little more force. From the darkness came the dispirited crying voice of a child.
As soon as the child started crying, the voice-activated light in the common area lit up.
Song Ran stuck his head out from the gap in the doorway. He saw a small boy sitting on the chipmunk doormat, left hand clutching onto a small backpack, right hand bracing against the floor, looking up at him with a face full of grievances. Shining tears swirled in the big pair of bright black eyes, reminiscent of liquid crystal.
In his nervousness, Song Ran accidentally sprayed mist from the bottle.
“Kid… whose family do you belong to?”