When Cheng Xi and Lu Chenzhou returned from their honeymoon at Kanas Lake, Shen Wei and Baldy were long gone. Cheng Yang had also left, as he was unable to wait for her for that long. If not for Chen Jiaman, then her parents would have left with him.
This was the longest vacation that her parents had ever taken after opening their diner. Cheng Xi and Lu Chenzhou’s villa was located far from the city, so the two of them stayed inside all day. By the time Cheng Xi and Lu Chenzhou finally returned, they had become extremely bored of their day to day life.
Luckily, they were quite good at finding things to busy themselves with. Given where the mansion was located, they felt that it would be too inconvenient to buy groceries. However, the mansion’s garden was more than large enough for them to grow their own vegetables. They picked out a specific plot of land that had a good amount of sunlight and an easily accessible source of water. Then, they plowed it into two little squares of farmland and sowed it with some seeds of suitable local crops that they obtained from their neighbors.
When Cheng Xi returned home, she didn’t see her parents or Chen Jiaman anywhere inside the mansion even after wandering around all of the premises. Finally, she found them in the backyard.
The weather was wonderful that day—the sun was bright without a trace of a cloud in the sky, and Cheng Xi’s parents were working the fields with Chen Jiaman. Her father was busy plowing, Chen Jiaman was assiduously sowing seeds, and her mother followed behind her, covering each planted seed with more fertile soil. The three of them worked in a calm harmony, with bright flowers, lush trees, and a small stream of water surrounding them. The scene could have come straight out of a picturesque pastoral painting.
Chen Jiaman was the first to notice Cheng Xi, and she was so excited that she got up and yelled, “Mom!”
Cheng Xi’s parents stopped their movements as they looked over to see Cheng Xi walk to them with a smile on her face. “It seems like I’ll soon be eating vegetables grown by your hands.”
“I feel like it’s all wasted effort on our part. Will you even remember to water the plants and spread the fertilizer? It might even die in a few days after we leave.”
“Even if I don’t remember, isn’t my little bunny still around?” Cheng Xi walked up to them and lovingly caressed Chen Jiaman’s forehead. It had only been a few days since they last saw each other, but she could already tell that Chen Jiaman’s entire demeanor had changed. Her skin had become slightly darker, and her overall complexion was much more healthy as the startling paleness of before had vanished. She even seemed happier and brighter.
And clearly, Chen Jiaman even had the courage to hug her without any hesitation now.
Cheng Xi asked her, “You’ll help me take care of this garden, right?”
Chen Jiaman nodded vigorously.
Cheng Xi looked at her parents happily. “Look! I have a helper now.”
Her parents smiled in unison as they said to Chen Jiaman, “Then it’s all up to you now! Remember to take good care of everything.”
Chen Jiaman blushed as she continued to nod her cute little head fervently.
A few minutes later, Cheng Xi had rolled her sleeves up and was now working in the fields alongside her parents. They were happy to have more help, and even if Cheng Xi couldn’t do much, she could at least water the plants.
When Lu Chenzhou belatedly made his way over, they had already finished seeding the garden. But his reaction to the incongruously positioned squares of soil amidst the well-pruned backyard was that of speechlessness.
Cheng Xi secretly pinched his palm as she whispered, “Please bear with it. It’ll be fine once the vegetables are ready for harvest.”
Lu Chenzhou glanced at her and chose to politely remain silent.
Chen Jiaman pursed her lips as she looked at the two of them holding hands.
Cheng Xi’s father was still here, so she didn’t have to worry about preparing dinner. After dinner, she gave the three of them a few gifts that she’d bought at Kanas Lake. Chen Jiaman received a tsuur, a traditional Mongolian flute-like instrument, and a particularly intricate ornament that depicted the scenery of Kanas Lake.
Chen Jiaman rubbed the wooden cabins and maple trees of the ornament in awe, and she almost felt like she had followed Cheng Xi along on her trip.
Cheng Xi had just returned and was still weary from travel, but out of habit, she stayed up to accompany Chen Jiaman to bed. Before they got into bed, she asked Chen Jiaman, “Did Grandma and Grandpa treat you well?”
Chen Jiaman nodded.
“Do you like them?”
She nodded again. Her eyes were shining bright, and she was clearly answering from her heart, so Cheng Xi smiled in contentment.
Chen Jiaman peacefully drifted off to sleep, the last thing on her mind being Cheng Xi’s happy smile.
She truly liked Cheng Xi’s parents a lot. She could tell that they were two very good people, who were always watching out for her like two eagle protectors in the sky.
But the day after Cheng Xi returned, her parents left. When they were about to head out, Chen Jiaman ran away and hid in the storeroom, making another big fuss. Cheng Xi gently consoled her, “Don’t worry. We’ll see them again when it’s the New Year. Chen Jiaman, you have to get used to these kinds of farewells. Sometimes, we have to temporarily separate from each other so that we’ll be happier when we get together again. Everyone is an independent human being, and we have to each lead our own lives. No one person can stay with someone else for their entire life.”
Chen Jiaman pitifully asked, “Not even you?”
But that only made Chen Jiaman stubbornly think to herself, I’m willing to accompany you for the rest of my life!
This belief of Chen Jiaman’s was only deepened when Lu Chenzhou left with Cheng Xi’s parents. The two of them returned to Cheng Xi’s previous small apartment. In this smaller abode, Chen Jiaman felt that she was the only one who could accompany Cheng Xi forever.
So, she eagerly and actively began participating in her therapy sessions with Cheng Xi and even started striking up conversations with Cheng Xi of her own accord. Chen Jiaman wanted Cheng Xi to always work with her, not give up on her, and like her just a little more.
Near the end of June, Cheng Xi brought her to Qin Shiya’s kindergarten once again. As they were walking to the classroom, Cheng Xi pointed at the wall in front of them and said, “Mrs. Qin wants a mural to be drawn here, and she’s even willing to pay you for your work. Is this something that you’d like to do?”
Chen Jiaman wasn’t very confident in accepting the request because she had never painted anything on this large of a scale before.
“It’s fine even if you mess it up. If that happens, then I’ll just buy more paint and apply a fresh coat to the wall. I believe that you can handle this responsibility.”
Chen Jiaman was touched by Cheng Xi’s gracious promise, so she vowed to do a good job so that Cheng Xi wouldn’t have to buy any extra paint.
For the entire month of July, Chen Jiaman stayed at Qin Shiya’s place, painting animals and figures both small and large on the wall. She was so engrossed in her work that she even forgot her fear of other people. Actually, ever since she had been sent to Cai Yi’s place and after the whole debacle with her drawing in that competition, Chen Jiaman had never drawn anything that could be seriously considered art. Even after Cheng Xi liberated her from Cai Yi’s laboratory, her drawings were only a messy splash of lines and colors in others’ eyes.
Cheng Xi had originally intended to just find something for Chen Jiaman to do so that she could slowly acclimatize to daily life again. However, when she saw the mural that Chen Jiaman produced, she couldn’t help herself from sucking in a cold breath of air and exclaiming, “Keep going, Jiaman! You’re the most talented and gifted child I know.”
Chen Jiaman didn’t know whether or not Cheng Xi was exaggerating, but she nonetheless enjoyed the praise.
For this mural, Chen Jiaman was paid a thousand yuan. It was the first time she’d ever seen such a large sum of money in her life, and even though she would be paid more than a thousand yuan for her art in the future, the heft and warmth of that first thousand wasn’t something she would ever forget.
She gave all the money to Cheng Xi, who told her, “I can hold onto this for you, but you’ll have to spend it on your own.”
Cheng Xi then taught Chen Jiaman how to manage her finances, record what she spent her money on, and most importantly, thank those who had helped her now that she was on the road to recovery—the department head, Dr. Ceng, and the person Chen Jiaman was the most grateful towards: Cheng Xi.
She bought Cheng Xi a dress in a style commonly worn by Kazakh females. When Chen Jiaman grew older, she realized that the dress was too flamboyant for Cheng Xi’s simple and elegant tastes, but Cheng Xi would still wear the dress frequently, proudly telling everyone, “This is a gift from my daughter.”
And in return for Chen Jiaman’s dress, Cheng Xi found her an art teacher, a famous local female painter. Cheng Xi convinced Chen Jiaman to accept her by saying, “Even though I know that your drawings are already amazing, I hope you can make them even better.”
In September, they mailed out her latest artwork to an exhibition. When winter came, Chen Jiaman received her first true commission: a magazine had been intrigued by her lavish yet also dark art style, and they wanted her to create a cover illustration for them.
It was this request that marked a watershed in Chen Jiaman’s life. From that point on, her life took a turn upwards, giving her a fresh new start.
And many years later, whenever Chen Jiaman returned to Gansu, she would visit the place where Qin Shiya used to have a kindergarten. The classrooms themselves had long since become dilapidated and repurposed as chicken coops by the villagers, and her mural became little more than a particularly colorful back wall for one of the coops.
It was there that Qin Shiya told her, “Actually, that year, that thousand yuan was something that Dr. Cheng asked me to give to you. I had just started holding classes; where could I have found the money to commission a mural? I only got involved because of Cheng Xi’s fervent desire to help you find the motivation and confidence to live on. She said that you were intelligent and that you’d definitely be able to live a good life in the future. While you might never be as happy or sunny as other people, you were sure to be determined and courageous.” After Qin Shiya said these words, she made a pleased smile as she finished up with, “And you’ve certainly lived up to her expectations.”
Chen Jiaman, now a world-renowned manga artist who had long since left her pain-stricken days behind, started sobbing uncontrollably as tears fell from her face like large pearls.
Fortunately, she had met someone who never gave up on her even when she fell to the lowest point of her life.