Cheng Xi picked up her phone and called the hospital, instructing them to inform her first if anyone tried to inquire about Chen Jiaman’s condition, even if they were a member of her family.
She actually didn’t know if Lin Fan would go there straight away, but she knew that he would definitely go at some point.
Indeed, right when she was about to leave her house, she received a call from the head nurse, informing her that a man had come to visit Chen Jiaman. Because it wasn’t visiting hours, she hadn’t let him in, but she did explain the patient’s condition to him in detail.
Cheng Xi asked, “Did he mention his name?”
“He said that his surname was Wang. He seemed like a somewhat young and tall lad, quite handsome.”
The hospital also had security footage so that Cheng Xi could take a look for herself. Because of the disaster last time a ‘family member’ had visited Chen Jiman, the head nurse had been especially careful this time, and was able to send Cheng Xi a picture taken by the security camera.
The image wasn’t very clear, but it was good enough that Cheng Xi could easily recognize just who had visited Chen Jiaman.
Even though the man in the image had covered his face the entire time, the body very clearly belonged to Lin Fan.
A refined and handsome look, but somewhat thin.
Cheng Xi waited for a long while at the place where Lin Fan’s mother had agreed to meet her. It was almost past lunchtime when Lin Fan’s mother finally appeared.
She came alone and was dressed plainly today, wearing a long shirt, pants made of white down, and a green facemask. If not for the fact that her eyes were exposed as she entered the room, Cheng Xi would not have been able to recognize her.
Cheng Xi stood up, and Lin Fan’s mother walked straight up to her. She stood there for a while, looking at her, before taking off her face mask and sighing, “I didn’t think that it would really be you.”
Lin Fan’s mother clearly hadn’t managed to identify Cheng Xi’s voice over the phone, so when she said, “It would really be you,” it was clear that Lin Fan had informed her about it beforehand.
Cheng Xi smiled and invited her to sit. “Would you like to eat something?”
“No.” She looked at Cheng Xi directly. “Did you already know that it was me?”
“No, but I identified your voice in the middle of our phone call.”
“Really?” Lin Fan’s mother was somewhat surprised, and she laughed at herself. “I, on the other hand, couldn’t identify you at all.” Her eyes drooped as she played with her facemask. “I only realized it was you after Lin Fan told me that it was you who wanted to see me.”
“Sorry. I didn’t intentionally try to hide my identity it from you, I was also very surprised by this coincidence.”
“Right, surprised. Who knows,” Lin Fan’s mother mumbled, only breaking out of her stupor after a while. “Alright. What happened to that family?”
Her voice wasn’t as cold as when she had answered the phone, but it was clear that she didn’t like them either. Cheng Xi explained what she knew, but when Lin Fan’s mother heard that Chen Jiaman’s grandmother had died at Chen Jiaman’s hands, Lin Fan’s mother only laughed coldly, as she said, “Truly, a just retribution!”
And when she heard Cheng Xi recount what Chen Fuguo had said in the hospital, she laughed even more coldly. “He’s really gotten better at acting, hasn’t he? Being better to his daughter? If he had really wanted to do that, he would have done it before she became a victim. It’s more that he was desperate and just wanted to drag at least a few others down with him, right?”
Cheng Xi had to admit, as someone who had once shared a bed with Chen Jiaman’s father, Lin Fan’s mother knew him very well.
Cheng Xi also didn’t know what to say because she could hear that Lin Fan’s mother didn’t need her acknowledgment.
After getting up to speed on the situation, Lin Fan’s mother finally asked about Chen Jiaman. “Can her illness be treated?”
“That will depend on what happens in the future. Even if a patient suffering from mental illness is able to leave the hospital, there’ll be a long period during which she’ll need her family members’ support and accompaniment. This is necessary for her to slowly reintegrate into society and get back on track again.”
“And if not? Will she just stay crazy, as she is now?”
Cheng Xi remained silent, agreeing tacitly.
When Lin Fan’s mother saw Cheng Xi’s reaction, she took a cigarette out of her bag and lit it. Only after taking a few deep breaths did she say, “Actually, it’s fine even if she’s crazy. This way, at least she won’t know everything, so she won’t have to be pained by her father and her own actions.”
“Mrs. Lin!” Cheng Xi frowned.
“Can you not bear to listen to my words?” Lin Fan’s mother glanced at her and smiled, beautiful in its own grimness. “I’m just telling the truth. How hard it is to live! You’re only free after you go crazy or die, just like that man. Ha, if he wanted to toss that girl to me and have me raise her, then why didn’t he do it fourteen years ago? At that time, I would have taken her away with me even if I had to suffer a bit---but he waited until she was crazy and silly before throwing her to me. What kind of person does he think I am?!”
She was obviously emotionally agitated, and nothing Cheng Xi could say now would help. Instead, she chose to say nothing and listen passively.
Lin Fan’s mother, as expected, complained a great deal. The general gist of her words matched what Cheng Xi had gleaned from other sources. Chen Jiaman’s father loved to gamble, and he did it so often that he even developed good acting skills from it. Thus, those who didn’t know the truth all thought that he was a good, honest, responsible man.
In truth, however, his actions were so vile that all his relatives kept him at arms length and all his friends had severed their relationships. Lin Fan’s mother’s leaving him was not without cause; it hadn’t even been a month since Chen Jiman’s birth when debtors came to collect his debts. However, what could he do with the little money she made? So, he had decided to prey upon Lin Fan. “He didn’t try to sell off his entire body, but he somehow found a connection to an organ buyer and wanted to sell off his organs, Cheng Xi.” As Lin Fan’s mother explained their history, tears started streaking down her face. “You’ve seen him, that despicable man. Do you believe that he could have done this?”
Cheng Xi shook her head. She couldn’t believe it, but she believed that Lin Fan’s mother had spoken the truth. Honestly, once she had found out that Lin Fan’s mother was also Chen Jiaman’s mother, she had also realized that much of what she had heard in the town wasn’t necessarily true.
At the least, she had some prior knowledge about what kind of person Lin Fan’s mother had been during those few years of her high school. If she were truly as promiscuous as the townsfolk suggested, then she wouldn’t have struggled so hard by taking on multiple jobs at once just so that Lin Fan could receive a proper education.
Only, Cheng Xi never imagined that the truth would be far more horrifying and extreme than she could have ever anticipated.
Lin Fan’s mother gently wiped her tears, but she continued sobbing intermittently as she spoke to Cheng Xi. “Given how kind-hearted society is these days, even if Chen Jiaman had a mother who ran away and a useless father… As long as she could stand on her own two feet, then why would she be ostracized? Rather than being bullied, she must have been implicated, implicated by those actions of his, causing the other parents to sic their kids on her!”
Cheng Xi suddenly felt a chill creep down on her back upon realizing the implication behind Lin Fan’s mother’s words. She somewhat arduously asked, “That couldn’t be, right? Perhaps he became… better later on?”
“Better?” Lin Fan’s mother could only laugh at Cheng Xi’s response, her beautiful face turning somewhat sinister. “Then do you know why I had to remarry? Why, even though Lin Fan did so well on the gaokao, I still sent him overseas? Because he found me! He asked me for money, and if I didn’t give him any, then he said that he would harm my precious child. He’s crazy, he’s capable of doing anything! So why is the world so unfair? Why wasn’t he the one sent to a mental hospital? Why is he still alive, even after hurting so many people?!”
But wasn’t Lin Fan his son? Would that man would really ruin his own son just for money?
Cheng Xi had seen her fair share of ugliness, but even she couldn’t guarantee that there weren’t such parents in the world.
She didn’t want to discuss Chen Jiaman’s father with Lin Fan’s mother any further. The past was clearly too hard for her to bear, and her old wounds had never healed properly either. But this discussion had shed a light on why Lin Fan’s personality back in high school had been so awkward, introverted, and reticent. It explained why he wished so hard to be invisible despite his good grades.
She grabbed Lin Fan’s mother’s hand with her own. She was trembling; what had happened in the past had left an indelible trauma on her body.
“He’s been punished now, so let bygones be bygones. And, Mrs. Lin, you’re really an amazing parent for having raised Lin Fan so well.” Cheng Xi consoled her gently. “Even for Chen Jiaman, leaving such a family behind would only be a fortunate thing for her. She’s a very well-behaved child, talented at both school and drawing. When she recovers, with your love, not only will she be able to lead a regular person’s life, but she will also be able to love and show filial respect to you.”
“Respect? Love? I don’t hope for those things anymore.” Though Lin Fan’s mother said this, she did calm down slowly. She snuffed out her cigarette and rubbed her face out of exhaustion. “Don’t worry. I gave birth to her, and I’ll take care of her. Chen Fuguo knew this, which is why he foisted her onto me. I’m not like him, but I won’t be able to spend that much effort on her. Cheng Xi, as my son’s childhood classmate, I don’t fear your laughter. The family I remarried into is too rich, so much so that they think everyone’s just out for their fortune. They don’t even want Lin Fan to join the family, let alone someone like Jiaman.” After saying this, she opened her bag and gave a card to Cheng Xi. There’s a bit of money in here. Lin Fan knows the pin number. Take it. If she doesn’t recover, then let her stay in the hospital; if she does…… then please give her this money and help her rent a house and enjoy life on her own in the future.”
After saying all this, she prepared to leave. Cheng Xi was shocked. “Aren’t you…… aren’t you going to see her? Visiting hours for the day are just about to end.”
“I’m not going.” Lin Fan’s mother turned away from Cheng Xi as she coldly said, “Ever since she was born, I haven’t raised her for a single moment. She probably doesn’t want to see me in the future either.”
Before Cheng Xi could say anything else, Lin Fan’s mother had opened the door and quickly left.
Cheng Xi rushed out and saw Lin Fan standing there in the middle of the outside corridor, staring at her with a vacant gaze.
Lin Fan’s mother walked past his side, pulled at his hand, and dragged him away.
Cheng Xi didn’t try to chase after them. Afterwards, she received a call from Lin Fan. He didn’t speak for a long time. Through the static of the radio waves, she could only hear his repressed and labored breathing.
It was just like that year, when he had called her from a faraway country, when it was snowing heavily at the end of December. And just like then, Cheng Xi sat by the window, looking out into the white world. “Who are you?”
He didn’t respond. The only sound that came from the phone was a light breathing noise. She asked for his identity a few more times without response, and was just about to hang up when she suddenly thought of him.
And finally, he answered, lightly whispering back, “Yes.”
She fell silent, not knowing what to say next. The two of them remained in that silent vigil until he finally hung up.
This time, it was he who called her first. “Cheng Xi.”
“I’m sorry. I was shocked numb by that piece of news.”
Cheng Xi’s voice was gentle. “It’s understandable. I was very shocked too.”
Lin Fan laughed bitterly. Sometimes, he felt that fate was really always against him; every time, whenever he arduously mustered up enough courage to start a new life, something like this would always happen.
Ten years ago, he had done his best to enter the same university as her. But then his mother had remarried and he had been sent abroad.
Ten years later, he had mustered up his courage to confess to her, but just when he thought that they had a chance of working out, his past had been dredged up and somehow made even worse than before.