T/N: Man… I remember making some pretty dumb decisions when I was twenty-four, but maybe not quite that dumb. Anyway, feel free to let me know your thoughts! Were the events of this chapter within your expectations?
Day 12 15:22
Bubu’s mother was named Lu Jin. She was an aloof and quiet Chinese girl who was twenty-four years old at the time.
She and He Zhiyuan had become acquainted by chance on a small plane flying across state lines since their seat numbers were the adjacent A and C spots. He Zhiyuan didn’t have the habit of taking the initiative to engage in small talk with strangers, so once they boarded the flight, he politely nodded to her—that was his greeting.
Not long after taking their seats, an old lady with hair greying at the temples and a hunched back came from the other side of the aisle, dragging a standard-sized carry-on luggage. He Zhiyuan had voluntarily helped her put the luggage into the overhead bin, but when he pulled back his arms, he accidentally scraped against something sharp, cutting open a two-centimetre-long wound on his left hand from which blood flowed without stopping.
Lu Jin saw it and dug out a moistened towelette and a bandage from her handbag, then handed them to him with both hands.
“Clean it up a bit. The weather is warm, so try to not let it get infected.”
She gently said in Chinese.
He Zhiyuan was slightly stunned as he accepted the towelette, but he then nodded and smiled. “Thank you.”
Their conversation began from this moment.
Unexpectedly, they found many shared conversation topics—mountain climbing, skiing, Western Europe’s Celtic music, and Warhol’s pop art. On a nearly four-hour-long flight, Lu Jin and He Zhiyuan chatted the whole way, with neither person getting drowsy.
Before they parted, they exchanged contact methods. Early the next morning, He Zhiyuan received a confession over the phone from Lu Jin.
In this regard, he was indeed a little astonished.
Lu Jin was clearly a traditional Eastern girl: reserved, gentle, and scarcely any hint of having been corroded by the unrestrained American culture in her words. Based on the nature of this kind of girl, even if she did genuinely like him, she wasn’t likely to take the initiative to confess on the very next day. But at the time, He Zhiyuan didn’t think too much about it. Ever since he founded SwordArc, he had been busy with work and didn’t have time to fall in love; it was rare for him to come across a girl with a shared cultural background whom he could get along with, so he very quickly accepted the confession.
Lu Jin became his girlfriend, and her every move could have been considered perfect.
She kept house, liked to laugh, was skilled at cooking and playing the piano, spoke softly and slowly, and was always able to make the people near her feel relaxed. She was extremely sensible, very rarely acted spoiled, never asked for gifts from He Zhiyuan, and was very understanding with regard to his work; even when they couldn’t arrange to go on a date in an entire week, she never complained.
Since they got together, Lu Jin truly insisted on only one thing—He Zhiyuan’s physical health.
She recommended that he follow the ODPHP’s1The United States of America’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion nutrition table for breakfast and dinner every day, supervised the reduction of his alcohol and caffeine intake, and abolished his nightly habit of drinking red wine before bed, replacing it with fresh juice. Every weekend, she would accompany him to jog, hike, and play tennis; they exercised until they were sweating all over and both mind and body were worry-free.
He Zhiyuan himself upheld a healthy lifestyle, and he thought Lu Jin had similar beliefs, so he didn’t have any doubts. It wasn’t until a long time afterwards that he knew that all of Lu Jin’s concern was merely to guarantee the quality of his sperm.
In the tenth week of their relationship, they slept together for the first time.
Lu Jin was the initiator.
She enticed He Zhiyuan with a passionate gaze, saying that she was full of anticipation. But once they got into bed, her body became cold and stiff, unable to be warmed up no matter what; her muscles were also extremely tense, filled with an instinctive resistance as if she was bearing some kind of painful punishment.
He Zhiyuan could do nothing but get through it perfunctorily.
After that, they tried three or four more times in succession; each time, it was Lu Jin who extended the invitation and He Zhiyuan who accepted, but each time, they couldn’t achieve happiness to the point where even when He Zhiyuan came, it would produce feelings of guilt.
In the fourteenth week of their relationship, Lu Jin left behind a breakup letter and disappeared from He Zhiyuan’s life.
She said that she was sorry, but she already had another person in her heart.
Believing that he wasn’t able to fulfill his responsibility as her boyfriend, He Zhiyuan hoped to apologise to her face-to-face and give her some material compensation, but he couldn’t get in touch with Lu Jin via phone or email, and even the flat she used to rent had been completely emptied out—his ex-girlfriend had left a letter as a farewell and disappeared.
He Zhiyuan waited several weeks, but Lu Jin never showed up again. He could only choose to let go of this matter and let it slowly fade away.
Since she had someone else in her heart, then they should part ways on friendly terms.
“Was she in such a rush to break up with you because she had gotten pregnant?”
Song Ran heard the key point and interrupted with his question.
He Zhiyuan nodded. “Yes. I calculated backwards from Bubu’s birthday, and it should be that she left as soon as she detected the pregnancy.”
“But now Bubu is being raised by you. She wanted a child so much that she was even willing to fake a romance with you, so why didn’t she take Bubu away?”
The unsolvable doubts in Song Ran’s heart increased.
He Zhiyuan cast his gaze downwards and sighed very softly. “Because Ashley… Bubu was given to me to raise because of Ashley.”
The next time he saw Lu Jin was a year and five months after they had broken up.
In the late autumn, the villa’s front yard was covered with fallen leaves. Lu Jin, who was keeping watch there while pushing a baby carriage, had kept watch for a few hours and only came forward slowly to greet He Zhiyuan when she saw him drive home. She was much thinner than before, with a haggard face, depleted vigour, bloodshot eyes, and a coarse-looking head of black hair, as if she hadn’t bothered with taking care of it in a long time.
Facing He Zhiyuan, she teared up.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Lu Jin repeatedly apologised. “Zhiyuan, I deceived you.”
He Zhiyuan lowered his head and looked at the baby carriage, in which a soft and fair infant was lying. The child was awake; holding a small feeding bottle and wearing a small cotton bib, his big round eyes blinked and blinked as he innocently and curiously looked at He Zhiyuan.
The child was very small, not yet a full year old, but his eyes and nose bridge showed some similarities to He Zhiyuan.
“Who is he?”
He Zhiyuan had a premonition, and his gaze instantly cooled.
Lu Jin didn’t dare to look directly at him; bowing her head, she hoarsely gave him the worst answer. “He’s called Ben, nicknamed Bubu. He’s your son.”
That day, He Zhiyuan experienced the most absurd afternoon of his life.
Lu Jin sat on the sofa, holding Bubu as she repented towards him, and implored him to take some time out of his packed schedule to watch the child in her stead for a few days, because she truly didn’t have the energy nor the money—her Irish girlfriend had just given birth to a daughter named Ashley. On the third day after she was born, Ashley was diagnosed with severe tetralogy of Fallot, a kind of congenital heart defect, and hovered on the border between life and death several times.
Lu Jin said that they couldn’t give up on Ashley.
Having fallen ill, the baby girl lay in her crib. Due to her breathing difficulties, her skin was bluish and she was suffering greatly, but that pair of dark blue eyes showed a strong desire to live. She was their own flesh and blood; they couldn’t abandon this young life, so they kept her company at all hours of the day, prayed for her, and thought of plans to make appointments with the best heart surgeon for her, hoping that she could overcome this crisis.
Only now did He Zhiyuan understand that his ex-girlfriend was actually a lesbian.
Lu Jin and her girlfriend had gotten to know each other on their university campus and were head-over-heels for each other for more than six years. They both liked children, so they came up with a beautiful vision as a result: they’d each give birth to a child – ideally one boy and one girl – and jointly raise them as partners, forming a happy family of four. The original intention of this idea was harmless, but regarding how to obtain sperm, they had an irreconcilable difference: Lu Jin wanted to apply at a sperm bank, but because of religious reasons, her girlfriend insisted that children should be naturally conceived via lovemaking.
In the end, Lu Jin gave in.
As they lived normally, they would carefully search for ‘ideal sperm’. Lu Jin met He Zhiyuan and spent ten weeks in close contact with him to ensure that his intelligence, personality, and physique were all outstanding enough before making a move, whereas her girlfriend took a casual approach by going straight to a bar and finding a hottie with blonde hair and blue eyes to have a one-night stand with.
Only after Ashley was born did they find out that the hottie was a severe addict, abstaining from neither hard drink nor marijuana, and completely unsuited to having offspring.
But it was already too late.
They had made a mistake, so they could only devote everything they had to make up for it. Ashley had to be operated on as soon as possible, although the risk was great and the postoperative recovery might not go smoothly. After all, time and money were limited; their little daughter needed meticulous care, and the half-year-old Bubu was also just a tiny little thing, dainty and fragile, who would start crying at the drop of a hat.
They tried to take care of both children, but they discovered that they couldn’t do it at all.
Against her will, Lu Jin had to bring Bubu over and earnestly request that He Zhiyuan take in Bubu based on the affection stemming from their blood ties and help take care of him for a while.
She said, “Once Ashley has recovered or isn’t so severely ill, so long as we can manage it, we’ll definitely take Bubu back right away. But for now, we really… really have no choice!”
He Zhiyuan looked at Bubu and didn’t say anything for a long time.
A moment later, he dug out his cell phone and called his assistant to have him go buy baby products. Then, with an inexperienced and clumsy posture, he accepted the soft baby from Lu Jin’s arms.
Just like this, in the year He Zhiyuan turned twenty-seven and when his career was on the rise, Bubu was like a shooting star with a long tail that brought with him the pleasant smell of milk; without warning and unable to be rejected, he smashed into He Zhiyuan’s arms, and the impact covered the man with dust and turned him into an uncool, awkward single dad.
During that period of time, the programming code was rife with errors and the projects were rife with delays; practically all aspects of He Zhiyuan’s life were full of bugs.
Bubu was still too young, and he had also just left his mother’s arms, so he lacked a sense of security. Every few hours, he would kick up a fuss with all his might, crying for milk as he tugged on He Zhiyuan’s shirt collar; when he started to howl, his volume would go straight up to 120 decibels. He Zhiyuan hadn’t even raised a cat or dog before, much less dealt with this son who fell out of the sky. After personally caring for him for two days, he became badly battered and genuinely could no longer bear it, so he was forced to pay a high salary to hire a full-time nanny who could stay at home at all hours of the day. Only by doing that could he manage to catch some fitful sleep at night.
That year was precisely the most critical year for He Zhiyuan’s career; he often had to fly all over the globe, and even when he didn’t go on business trips, he had to work from nine o’clock in the morning to nine o’clock at night, so he didn’t have much time to accompany Bubu.
Bubu was left at home with a nanny to watch him. As he chased after the squirrels and hummingbirds passing through the backyard, he quietly grew up.
He could jump, laugh, and say ‘Dad’.
Every time He Zhiyuan returned home, Bubu would stick to him like a shadow, following him from the living room to the kitchen and following him from the bedroom to the bathroom. So long as He Zhiyuan sat down, Bubu would pull at his pants leg and crawl and rub against him, affectionately call out ‘Dad’, spread his little arms wide, and say in a spoiled manner, “Dad, up!”
When He Zhiyuan bent down to pick him up, his face would be forcefully kissed.
He felt astonished.
The nature of father and son was really a curious thing; the time he gave to Bubu actually wasn’t much, but Bubu still loved him a lot more than he thought.
Every once in a while that ranged from a week to a month, He Zhiyuan would take Bubu to visit Ashley.
Ashley had also gotten bigger. She had grown to be especially beautiful—her hair was slightly curly, appearing to be a pale and bright gold, and her eyes were ocean blue and as clear as water. Her only flaw was her skin, which was as snow-white as porcelain; lacking some of blood’s ruddiness, it didn’t look too healthy.
She underwent the corrective surgery before she was a full month old, and her postoperative situation was constantly unstable; sometimes it was good, and sometimes it was bad. Most of the time, she couldn’t run or jump or exercise. However, she was more hopeful than everyone had imagined, showing deep dimples and the tips of four cute canine teeth with her constant bright smiles.
From a young age, Ashley knew that Bubu was her older brother and that He Zhiyuan was Bubu’s dad.
She had two moms, but she didn’t have a dad.
As a result, there was one time when she cautiously and shyly copied Bubu in calling out ‘Dad’. He Zhiyuan smiled faintly, acknowledging this daughter with no blood relationship to himself. He got down on one knee in front of her, kissed her forehead, and gave her a small toy puppy and a bag of candy floss.
Ashley accepted the gifts, and a rare blush appeared on her face.
“Mom, this is Dad.” She turned her head and happily said to Lu Jin, “Ashley has a dad now!”
Lu Jin silently mouthed a thank-you to He Zhiyuan.
He Zhiyuan waved his hand, signalling that there was no need for thanks.
A few years went by. Lu Jin always felt guilty about the original deception, but He Zhiyuan himself no longer cared about it already. The path his life took wasn’t all smooth going; amidst the twists and turns, he arrived at this day, and the weight he could carry on his shoulders was far more than delicate Lu Jin’s. Bubu’s birth disrupted the rhythm of his life but didn’t bring him much truly meaningful upheaval. In contrast, Lu Jin’s family ended up short of money because of Ashley’s healthcare, so apart from frequently visiting, he would regularly pay for a portion of Ashley’s treatment fees.
In any case, Ashley did nothing wrong.
Since the two pairs of small footprints walked together from birth, they ought to grow up healthily together and be able to run in the sunlight.
In 8012A’s living room, the big furball leaped off of the sofa, stretched enchantingly on the floor, then went to the balcony with its tail waving to play with Bubu.
Song Ran grabbed a pillow to fill the empty spot and rubbed it twice as he held it. “What about afterwards? Ashley got better, so didn’t Bubu’s mom ask for him back?”
“She mentioned it once before, but she herself also understood that there was no way Bubu would agree to leave me.”
The curtains, blown up by the wind, gently brushed past his ears.
He Zhiyuan lifted his head and looked at the tree shadows, a hint of lazy laughter in his voice. “Whomever the child grows up with is the person they’ll more easily prefer, and even blood relationships can’t control it. I think that when she decided to send over Bubu, she should have already prepared to be unable to take him back… hm? What is it? I heard you sigh in relief.”
Just as He Zhiyuan finished asking, he suddenly realised something and smiled as he said, “Were you afraid she’d fight with you for the child?”
“Who’d be afraid!” With a guilty conscience, Song Ran lifted a hand and flattened half of the pillow. “I’m full of confidence in Bubu!”
“Then that couldn’t be any better.”
He Zhiyuan closed the sliding door and returned to the living room, loosely sat down on the sofa, and swirled the half-full wine glass in front of his eyes. “Regarding the matter of Bubu’s mother, it’s actually pretty good to clear it up. You care about Bubu so much that I’d occasionally wonder if you would be unable to resist making up an imaginary enemy and fill your own head with dramas of resentful wealthy and powerful families snatching away children and the like if you were unsure.”
Song Ran’s face went red and then white; he practically wanted to curse.
What the heck, that was such an accurate guess!