Pei Yan and Luo Xiuyun both thought that his life would follow this most standard model and that he would live a dull life.
However, fate took a sharp turn when he was 18.
Pei Yan stood in front of the gate of fate, expectantly and apprehensively. The smiling housekeeper pushed open the door of his room, bowed to him and stood on the side to wait.
It was a home he had only previously seen on television.
An exquisite, splendid and expensive home.
Overnight, countless concerned eyes poured on him and he was illuminated by the spotlight for a long time. It shook his eyes and made it impossible to see the truth of love and intimacy.
In the overwhelming light, Pei Yan suddenly remembered the words of his relatives many years ago.
It turned out that he should’ve been at the front of the starting line.
It was the front that could leave many people far behind.
His real mother gently buttoned his shirt and told him little by little what type of life he should’ve had.
The housekeeper’s son followed him and became his closest friend, teaching him the rules of the world.
Pei Yan had the best conditions and he started to work hard for another life.
He didn’t dare to not live up to every deep expectation that this colorful world cast on him.
It was just like in the past when he didn’t dare to live up to the expectations of his adoptive mother, relatives, teachers, classmates and even neighbors, even if it was just a casual, ‘Xiao Yan will definitely have a bright future.’
But here, he really didn’t seem to be smart enough or as outstanding as Ye Lanting wanted.
Everyone compared him to Pei Qingyuan.
At first, Pei Yan felt that Pei Qingyuan was innocent and was a bit grateful that he took the initiative to ask the question to his parents, leading to the discovery of the change in life. This allowed Pei Yan to find his real parents and gain the best material conditions.
If it was him, he didn’t know if he would make the same choice.
Later, Pei Yan started to hate this name that always lingered around him. He wanted to surpass the achievements of the other party and make Ye Lanting completely forget this adopted son.
He desperately wanted to study the courses arranged by his mother, even if he wasn’t interested in it at all. He even followed the advice of his friend and wanted Pei Qingyuan to make a fool of himself when returning to high school.
Later, Pei Yan became more and more tired.
He gradually lost the power of hatred.
He didn’t want to compare.
He found that behind the hatred was actually deep jealousy.
Pei Yan was jealous of that person’s talent, jealous of his ability and even more jealous that he never changed despite returning to the ordinary world and being alone.
It was clear that he was the one who now had the prominent family and the perfect family, but he envied the person who moved out alone and had to work part-time to support himself.
Why didn’t Pei Qingyuan stay within the rules?
He wasn’t in Ye Lanting’s rules, in Luo Xiuyun’s rules or in the rules set by any outsiders.
He was in his own rules.
Meanwhile, Pei Yan could only hastily spin around in countless rules, enduring the ubiquitous teasing and exclusion.
In this world, he wasn’t smart and powerful enough to be a hunter with ease. He could only be a ridiculous plaything.
This was until that staggering dinner party.
Pei Yan pretended to know about the oil painting that everyone was talking about. In order to maintain the awareness of that identity, he tried to blend into the circle. He didn’t expect to fall into the trap deliberately set by others. The lie was immediately exposed and he was almost humiliated.
In that instant, a man quietly saved him.
Zhuang Wenbai gave him better and more beautiful rules.
He didn’t know that a painting didn’t need to be ridiculed. He should go and see it since it was a beautiful painting.
It didn’t matter if he was jealous of Pei Qingyuan. He should turn jealousy into strength and do his own thing.
With such a family background, he should study finance in the future. This way, he could take over the family business and it was an interesting subject.
He had an ill-intentioned ‘friend’ around him, who would only bring him a negative impact. He had better stay away from such people.
His father was too paranoid in business decisions, which put the family business in jeopardy. He should take over his father’s business early.
After he inherited his father’s company, he would become Zhuang Wenbai’s most trusted friend and partner.
Unlike Ye Lanting’s dominance and Luo Xiuyun’s hesitation, Zhuang Wenbai only offered him advice gently and equally as a friend.
Pei Yan couldn’t fault it. This suggestion seemed correct and was almost like his own choice.
He had long been accustomed to following the most correct advice to move forward.
He always needed a savior to lead him forward.
So step by step, he came to where he was today.
He moved from the hands of one savior to another.
Among those people, Zhuang Wenbai was the most special one.
He was so special that it couldn’t be accurately described in words.
Pei Yan, who hadn’t slept all night, came to the company. In the morning, he was usually driven by a driver.
He went upstairs and walked onto the familiar floor. He walked through the carpeted corridor to his office door.
“Good morning, Chairman Pei,” the secretary greeted him.
She opened the door for him with subtle excitement in her expression. “President Zhuang also just…”
The moment the door opened, Pei Yan saw the familiar figure in the office.
In the blinding sunlight, Zhuang Wenbai looked sideways at him. “Good morning.”
He stood by the French window, admiring the quiet painting on the wall.
The secretary quietly closed the door and stopped disturbing him.
“Did you suffer from insomnia again last night?” Zhuang Wenbai looked at him with a faint smile. “I didn’t sleep well either. The weather conditions were average and the plane was always bumpy.”
Pei Yan said in a daze, “Didn’t you say… you are coming back this weekend?”
“It is a common thing to rebook the flight.” Zhuang Wenbai looked away and up at the hanging painting again. “You just hung it?”
“Yes.” Pei Yan slowly walked to his side.
This expensive oil painting was a gift from Zhuang Wenbai the year he graduated from college.
Pei Yan still clearly remembered every word Zhuang Wenbai said when he opened his mouth to save Pei Yan that night.
Why was there no figure of a girl at all in the oil painting called ‘A Country Girl?’
“It was the period of the Industrial Revolution and some people were nostalgic for the pastoral life in the country. There are still ruins of the countryside that can be imagined but the phantom of the country girl can only appear in the viewer’s heart.”
“The quiet life goes by and the carefree girl is gone. Only the tireless and never-ending machine remains.”
“At that time, the world in the eyes of the painting overlapped with the world we see now. It is indeed beautiful.”
Time had flowed to this day and the world overlapped again.
At this moment, Pei Yan was also standing in the ruins of life, gazing at the pure beauty and innocence that had passed away.
They stood side by side and Zhuang Wenbai suddenly spoke up to break the silence.
“Do you regret it?” He said softly. “Do you want to go back in time and choose again?”
Light and shadow fell around them, sketching Pei Yan’s gently trembling silhouette on the white wall.
Zhuang Wenbai always knew him better than himself.
In the past two years, he often wondered if he replied yes when his grandfather asked him to live with his grandfather on his 18th birthday, would his later life be different?
The moment this thought popped up in his head again, Zhuang Wenbai looked at him and seemed to see through his soul completely.
There was a sigh in his voice. “Even if you choose again, it won’t make much of a difference.”
Pei Yan knew that he was right.
It was because he would just regard his grandfather as his savior.
His shoulders slumped and he whispered, “I don’t want to get married like this.”
He didn’t want to give away marriage as a bargaining chip.
If even the marriage that accompanied him for the rest of his life had to be decided like this, it seemed like there would be no new and beautiful fragments in his life.
“You can tell that to your aunt.”
Zhuang Wenbai paused. There was no immediate response so he continued, “But you won’t.”
“You don’t dare to resist her.”
Pei Yan felt ashamed again.
After a minute of silence, Zhuang Wenbai spoke again, “Do you know why I gave you this painting?”
Pei Yan replied with silence.
Zhuang Wenbai knew him so well but he could only look up to the other person. He often couldn’t guess the intentions behind this person’s actions.
He unilaterally regarded this gift as a symbol of friendship.
“That year we graduated, the previous owner of this painting committed suicide.” Zhuang Wenbai smiled. “I still remember her name. Manning, the woman who wanted to taunt you that night, who was also your mother’s nominal friend. Her husband, Mr Yang, bought this famous painting and gave it to her.”
“Unfortunately, two years later, a series of wrong decisions caused Mr Yang to go bankrupt and he offended people who shouldn’t be offended. Their lives started to fall from heaven to hell. Their property was sold and liquidated little by little.”
There was no heaviness in his tone. “I thought you should’ve heard this story from Auntie, probably in the tone of gossip.”
“This painting is the last property they sold. Manning seemed eager to keep it,” Zhuang Wenbai said. “The moment the auction house transported the oil painting away, she returned to her room, lay on the bed and swallowed a large handful of medicine. This way, her life ended at a decent moment.”
Pei Yan had indeed heard about this from Ye Lanting but there were no details in it, only cool irony. The impression of this bland story of suicide due to bankruptcy suddenly became clear.
Even if she went bankrupt, it was clear that she could…
Zhuang Wenbai expressed his thoughts for him. “You must think that even with no money, why did she have to choose this path? Why couldn’t she live well?”
Pei Yan held his breath and looked at the other person.
He knew that the next words would explain why this painting became a gift.
“It is because she is tied to the cogs of the world.” Zhuang Wenbai’s voice at this moment could be called gentle. “Just like you and me.”
“Her cogs are wealth and status and your cog is your mother. But in the final analysis, it is all about gaining recognition and admiration in the eyes of others.”
He left the oil painting and stood in front of the window pane containing skyscrapers. On the LED screen of the tall building opposite him was a colorful advertisement and the crowds on the road were as small as ants.
The robot on the advertisement screen deftly found similar examples for the child’s wrong question and helped him draw inferences from one instance to another. This was Zart’s latest product on the market.
Zhuang Wenbai looked down at everything under his feet.
The city had an exquisite structure with crisscrossing pipes, wire and networks that formed a dense system. The system was full of rules and the rules were like chains that penetrated the body of different people, quietly condensing into figurative gears at the location of the heart.
“To find the correct answers, to live a normal life, to chase what most people have or to submit to kinship ethics.” He stretched out a finger and tapped lightly on the solid glass window. “It is a sad and fascinating cycle.”
“So I give you that testimony.”
Countless gears pushed people to step forward and the air flowed with it, weaving into a transparent net. The world was divided into grids of different complexities, full of pain and sorrow.
Pei Yan was speechless, as if captured by this terrifying scene. “Then what about your cogs?”
Zhuang Wenbai glanced back at him, tone interested. “My cogs are interesting things.”
“It is a bad world and every day is worse than the day before.”
“But I love this type of world.” A deep smile appeared on Zhuang Wenbai’s face. “It is because there are always many people struggling in the cogs.”
He admired almost all of the world’s landscapes. The only thing he disliked were those who used themselves as cogs and who were thus free to wander outside the chains that formed order.
Fortunately, such people were a very small minority.
More people were struggling like Pei Yan.
This was the most authentic drama.
On the large screen of another high-rise building, an advertisement for a competing company started to be played.
The bean-green robot took the lead in swooping into a play pool and colorful ocean balls bounced high. Laughing children rushed down the slide.
Zhuang Wenbai lightly withdrew his gaze and left the window.
“It doesn’t matter whether you want to resist or continue to obey Auntie’s arrangement.”
He brushed past Pei Yan and walked straight out of the office. There were no fluctuations in his voice.
“I will support your decision.”