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Castle in the Time

1

Summer Farewell

23

Even though my feet were already at the entrance of the hotel, I hesitated once again.


It's impossible to say I'm not nervous at this moment. Several times, I tried to take a step forward, only to retreat. My behavior was utterly foolish, drawing sideways glances from the hotel lobby staff. One of them came over with a beaming smile, asking if I needed any assistance.


I returned his smile, took a deep breath, waved my hand to indicate that everything was fine, then walked across the brightly polished marble floor of the hotel lobby to the front desk. In a determined voice, I spoke.


"I have an appointment. I want to know if she is here now."

The young girl at the front desk smiled, "May I know which room the guest is in?"


"Twenty-second floor, room 2208."


As she checked the computer, she looked up at me and asked, "What's the guest's name?"


I pursed my lips, "Ms. Liang Wanting."


This was the first time I mentioned this name in front of others. I thought it would be incredibly difficult to say those three words; to my surprise, they suddenly carried power, like popping candy bursting out of my mouth. In my astonishment, I felt a significant weight lift from my shoulders.


It's a vibrant name, just like its owner, a name that to most people could only be described as illustrious and renowned, though the level of recognition varies for each person.


For example, the girl in front of me. The name "Liang Wanting" commanded her respect, and she pronounced it with perfect enunciation.


"Director Liang?" The front desk girl looked up at me, and though she restrained it well, I could still see her intense curiosity and inquisitiveness behind her kind gaze. I didn't need to think to know she was wondering about my relationship with this famous director. "And your name?"


"Xu Zhen," I said, "that's my name."


She picked up the hotel phone and dialed. Ten seconds later, she put down the phone and looked at me. "Director Liang asks you to go up."


Standing in front of room 2208, I felt calm for the first time today.


Perhaps all my hesitation had been exhausted on the way to the hotel, and now all that remained was the determination to see this through. My legs were no longer trembling, my racing heart had steadied, and the sweat in my palms had dried. I knocked on the heavy wooden door with steady hands.


The door creaked open, spilling light onto the thick carpet in the corridor. I looked up to see a young woman in her late twenties or early thirties giving me a very friendly smile.


"Ah, you must be Xu Zhen? Please come in."


The place I found myself in was a suite in this luxurious hotel, with a calm color scheme and elegant decor matching the hotel's overall style. The living room was spacious, with large floor-to-ceiling curtains partially drawn, offering a view of the blue sky, cityscape, and the distant ocean stretching to the horizon. The morning sunlight streamed generously through the glass, filling the room.


"My name is Ji Xiaorui, Director Liang's assistant. I've been with her for almost six years now," she said, seating me at a small tea table by the window. She spoke quickly, and her actions were efficient and practiced, pouring coffee with ease. She smiled at me, her ponytail brushing her neck lightly. "We've spoken twice on the phone, but this is my first time meeting you in person. You look even more like Director Liang in person than in the photos—both very beautiful."


I felt a bit embarrassed. "Ms. Ji, you're too kind."


She laughed pleasantly, showing a row of white teeth. "Just call me Xiaorui."


"Oh, Sister Xiaorui," I thought for a moment and added "Sister" as a sign of respect.


She looked me over again and said, "I'll call you Xiaozhen from now on."


"Sure."


"Director Liang was filming until 5 AM and only went to bed after 6. She just woke up and is freshening up now," Ji Xiaorui said.


"It's alright."


The living room was very quiet, the luxurious furniture silently flaunting the hotel's taste and class. I sat obediently, looking down. On the table, besides a set of coffee cups, was a book.


"It's a film script," Ji Xiaorui explained. "I was reading it before you arrived."


In my limited imagination, a script was just a stack of stapled printed papers. The script in front of me was much more beautiful than I had imagined. The cover was artistically designed, with four large characters in an artistic style, "Three Agreements"—I remembered this was the film's title, and below it was the director's name, Liang Wanting, along with a date—the start of filming. For a moment, I wanted to open the script and take a peek but restrained myself.


On someone else's turf, it's always best to be cautious.


I felt a bit nervous.


I looked up, and the door to the bedroom was ajar. I couldn't help glancing inside, fearing that someone might come out and catch me off guard.


Noticing my gaze, Ji Xiaorui kindly said, "I'll go check on Director Liang."


Just as she stood up, the partially open door was pushed open from the inside.


I stared at the door, eyes wide. A woman in a black floor-length dress stepped out gracefully. Her long arms and neck were lightly exposed, the pale skin contrasting sharply with the flowing black fabric. She wore almost no adornments except for a silver necklace around her neck—the chain fell to her chest, ending in an "L"-shaped pendant that reflected bright light.


I was nearly dazzled by the light and couldn't tell if it was radiating from the pendant or her calm and composed demeanor. In fact, I had no time to focus on such details because she was walking towards me.


This allowed me to see her face more clearly: just as countless gossip articles described, she looked more like a top actress than a director; she appeared even younger in person than in photos and videos. She should be in her early forties, but she didn't look older than thirty-five. She had a pair of bright, expressive eyes that seemed to penetrate everything they surveyed, much like the sunlight at that moment, leaving nothing hidden.


She scanned me with that scrutinizing gaze, as if she could see right through me. My spine tingled, and I instinctively stood up. That pleasant yet authoritative voice reached my ears.


"Xu Zhen?" She called my full name, her voice emotionless, efficient, and calm.


"…Yes," I hesitated for a moment and then softly called out, "Mom."


It was the first time in my life I had used this common term, and in that instant, my emotions were incredibly complex.


Yes, the imposing, beautiful, and noble woman before me was my mother.


I had very little to say about my mother because, in both the early and recent years of my life, she had never been present.


As a child, I foolishly asked my dad, "Why do other kids have moms, but I don't?" Every time I raised this question, my dad would put down his papers or fossils, a mysterious expression appearing on his upright face, as if he were stumped by a colossal problem. The eyes behind his black-framed glasses looked both puzzled and guilty. It was only when I grew older that I understood the hidden meaning behind my dad's indescribable expression—he indeed wanted to tell me something, but every time he opened his mouth, he stopped short.


Because I was too young.


In the end, he would dryly say, "Your mom is very busy right now. She'll come to see you when she has time."


After hearing this three or five times, I stopped asking. Not to boast, but I've always had excellent comprehension.


I grew up with my father, a paleontologist, who was always composed. I never saw him lose his temper. His extensive knowledge was perfectly reflected in his numerous works. He discovered hundreds of undocumented new species; he could identify from a fossil whether the net-like structure belonged to a creature from the Cretaceous or the Tertiary period, whether it was a magnolia or a birch; and he could describe the habits and diet of these organisms. He was passionately devoted to his work, often embarking on long expeditions for paleontological research. Every word in his books was drenched with hard-earned sweat.


Before I turned fifteen, my father always took me on his trips. We visited remote mountains, vast deserts, desolate islands… We searched for exposed fossils on barren ground. I saw many unique and fascinating landscapes and met all sorts of people, which broadened my horizons.


My father only knew about paleontology, but I was still proud of him. So, whether I had a mother or not didn't seem to matter much to me.


"Have you had breakfast?"


I was momentarily lost in thought when I finally heard my mother speak. Before this, she had been waiting for her coffee. After Ji Xiaorui added a little milk and a third of a sugar cube, she picked up the cup.


It was technically a question, though I didn't sense any genuine inquiry.


"I had breakfast at school," I quickly replied.


"Let's eat together," she ignored my response, turning to Ji Xiaorui. "Order room service, breakfast for two."


Ji Xiaorui nodded and went to make the call, leaving my mother and me alone by the tea table. I racked my brain for a topic. Meeting my mother, whom I'd never seen before, was like drinking overnight water—awkward and stale. The cups on the table seemed to mock me. My leg twitched, causing the table to vibrate slightly and ripples to form in the coffee.


My mother glanced at me, stirring her coffee. "Tell me about yourself."


The "interview" tone made me slightly uncomfortable. I frowned but then spoke up: "I'm in my third year at Jinghai University. Well, in the fall, I'll be a senior. I'm in the Economics Department of the Business School, doing quite well. I was the class representative and the head of publicity for the college."


"You should be a university student by now," she said, lowering her eyes. "You're twenty-one this year?"


"Yes, I turned twenty-one. My birthday is in February."


She nodded. Since she gave birth to me, she should remember my birthday.


I noticed faint wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and dark circles under her eyes. Even though she wore light makeup, it couldn't conceal her deep fatigue. About a month ago, I saw the launch ceremony of her new film on TV. Since then, news about the film had frequently appeared in entertainment sections of newspapers and magazines. The pre-release publicity was intense. This film had the largest investment in recent years, and the main actors were all top stars, making headlines with every move. Directing such a blockbuster alone meant she had to endure great hardship.


"Zhengyao," she paused, "when was your father's funeral?"

It felt like a steel rod pierced through my heart. My eyes and nose stung, and my throat choked. "Three weeks ago." I realized my voice was still a bit shaky as I spoke.


She was silent for a moment, as if recalling something, then took a sip of coffee before saying, "I was filming abroad at the time, couldn't make it back."


"Oh, it's alright," I replied sincerely.


I truly believed it didn't matter and didn't hold it against her. After all, my father and I had lived well for so many years. My father's passion for fossils and specimens overshadowed everything else, and he never expressed any regret or disappointment about not having a wife. So, I thought, my father wouldn't care if she attended his funeral.


There was a knock at the door.


Ji Xiaorui, who was sitting on a sofa near the door, put down her handheld computer and went to open the door. As expected, it was room service. The waiter neatly arranged the breakfast on the table. It was simple: golden toast, colorful strawberry jam, a pot of milk, and two eggs.


Actually, I hadn't slept well last night, thinking about today's meeting. I woke up early, stayed in the empty dormitory for a while, then rushed to the school cafeteria to hastily eat a fresh breakfast. After that, I took the subway and bus, crossed a sea bridge, spent over two exhausting hours traveling to this hotel on the southern coast of the city. The journey drained my energy, and suddenly, I felt a bit hungry.


My mother elegantly spread jam on her toast and sipped her milk in small sips. I was about to follow suit when the door knocked again. I thought to myself that the door had indeed been opened and closed too many times today. If it had feelings, it would surely be annoyed.


I assumed it was the waiter returning, so I casually glanced at the door. To my surprise, my hand froze mid-reach for the toast, trembling slightly.


Ji Xiaorui greeted the visitor familiarly and then turned to my mother. "Director Liang, Mr. Gu Chi Jun is here to see you."

Gu Chi Jun.


The living, breathing Gu Chi Jun appeared before me.


I couldn't control myself from looking at him.


At first, I glanced stealthily, peeking and then quickly looking away. In my peripheral vision, Gu Chi Jun stood tall and straight, dressed casually in a neatly ironed shirt and dark blue trousers, his hair perfectly styled. As for his features, I was too nervous to see clearly, but he seemed to be glowing.


He truly was a star among stars, dazzling wherever he went.

So, I gathered the courage to look at him again. This time, my gaze lasted longer and was more productive. His handsome features came into focus—just like in countless photos and films: a full forehead, clear brows, deep eyes that seemed endless.


I suddenly recalled a review in a film magazine: if someone had Gu Chi Jun's looks, there was no other career for them but to be a star. He approached us with a folder, nodding to my mother as a greeting. His gaze fell on me, stopping.


With just one look, it felt like my world lit up.


Wait, he was actually looking at me? I realized belatedly.


So, I looked at him again. This time, I confirmed he was indeed using those beautiful phoenix eyes to look at me.


Our gazes met in mid-air. Everyone knew Gu Chi Jun was handsome and had captivating eyes. The last time I was this close to him was three or four years ago at a product launch he endorsed. He scanned the audience, his eyes lingering briefly on me, smiling slightly to invite me, the drawn participant, on stage for a small activity. That glance and smile lasted only a moment, but my poor heart nearly couldn't take it, almost bursting. I kept thinking: what's it like to be electrified? This is it!


In the moments I irresponsibly let my mind wander, he had already seated himself in the third wooden chair by the tea table, placing the folder next to the breakfast tray and folding his hands.


People change, of course. I'm much more composed now than I was three years ago. I wouldn't get overly excited just because he looked at me. But unfortunately, he was less than fifty centimeters away from me now. The top button of his shirt was undone, and I could almost see his lean upper body and smooth collarbone.


My mother glanced at him and casually asked, "Chi Jun, what's the matter?"


Her tone was very calm, the tone of old friends who had known each other for years. Not surprising. From various entertainment news reports, I pieced together their history: Gu Chi Jun met my mother when he was around twenty. She was already a well-known director who appreciated his talent and gave him a small role in her film. After that film, he went from a supporting role to a leading one, starring in a love story where the protagonists were pen pals living far apart, writing to each other daily. One day, the girl stopped writing, and the boy tracked her down only to find she had died from a terminal illness.


That film made countless young people cry, propelling Gu Chi Jun to stardom and setting him on a brilliant career path.


He was extremely good-looking and very young at the time, which led him to star in many touching and trendy love films in the early years, romancing female leads with deep emotions. These films weren't always collaborations with my mother, but he amassed a large following.


However, in the film industry, a male actor being too handsome often led to the assumption that he was talentless. But Gu Chi Jun broke this stereotype. In my mother's film "Half Life," he showcased his perfected acting skills. He played a highly rebellious son, holding his own against veteran actors.

That film earned him his first international film festival best actor nomination.


Eleven years later, Gu Chi Jun had become a superstar, diligently releasing at least one or two films a year. He rarely starred in bad films, carefully selecting projects with great reputation. His acting skills were widely recognized, winning numerous best actor awards, making him one of the highest-paid actors in the country. He was now the lead in my mother's current film, "Three Agreements."


At this moment, the top-tier superstar next to me was resting his chin on one hand, speaking slowly. "Last night's scene needs some changes. I've revised the script a bit."


His voice was warm and deep, very pleasant to listen to.


He only acted in films and had no interest in releasing albums, which was a bit of a waste for such a good voice.


"Okay, let me see." My mother reached for the folder. "You've been working on it until now?"


"More or less, I only slept for two hours. There's no rush; you can look at the script after breakfast." Gu Chi Jun pressed down on the folder, his gaze shifting from my mother to my face, offering me a kind smile that only mature men have, the kind that makes a woman's heart race ten times faster. "Is she a new actress?"


The fact that he was speaking to me made my blood vessels almost burst. Unfortunately, his question about my identity was enough to completely dampen my excitement. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I was about to clarify that I wasn't an actress, but my mother beat me to it.


"No," she said openly, explaining my identity, "she's my daughter."


At that moment, Gu Chi Jun's expression was a kaleidoscope of surprise and disbelief, but as expected of a seasoned actor, he regained his composure in the next second, making me wonder if his astonishment was just my imagination. Despite knowing my mother for over a decade, this was the first time Gu Chi Jun learned of my existence. I could bet that my mother was someone who valued her privacy and was extremely self-centered.


"I never would've guessed," he shook his head, giving me a dazzling smile and extending his hand over the tea table to greet me earnestly. "Hello."


I quickly reached out to shake his hand. "Ah, Mr. Gu, hello."

He gently clasped my hand, his grip dry and warm, his fingers long and strong. I seriously considered not washing my hand for days.


He asked for my name, which I told him without reservation.

"Xu Zhen, Xu Zhen," he repeated softly. "That's a nice name."


"Thank you." My head was in a fog as I thanked him, not even sure what I was thanking him for.


My mother took a sip of milk and asked him, "Have you had breakfast yet? Join us."


"No," Gu Chi Jun shook his head, his expression showing a bit of tired confusion. "I came over as soon as I woke up."


In the spirit of not wasting food, I pushed my untouched breakfast tray towards him. "I haven't touched this breakfast yet. I already ate before coming here. Mr. Gu, you—" I stopped mid-sentence, realizing how absurd it was to offer my untouched breakfast to someone like him.


My mother's expression also showed how ridiculous I was being. She shook her head and gave me a quick glance. "Don't be presumptuous. Xiaorui, call for another breakfast."


"No need. I'll eat this one. Thank you, Xu Zhen." Gu Chi Jun pulled my tray towards him, displaying impeccable manners and grace, easing my inexplicable embarrassment. I thought, as a top star, Gu Chi Jun indeed lived up to his reputation, handling himself flawlessly.


"You've kept this well hidden," Gu Chi Jun said, taking a bite of toast, addressing my mother. "Director Liang, I had no idea you had a daughter, let alone one this grown up."


"It wasn't a secret," my mother replied, "just unnecessary to mention."


Her answer was truly awkward for me. In her mind, I was just an "unnecessary" existence, not even worth mentioning. While I might have felt similarly about her, I still needed her help right now, so humility was necessary.


They slowly ate breakfast, occasionally talking about the film. From their conversation, I learned how rare this breakfast together was—they had been sleeping at four or five in the morning for two weeks straight. Today, the assistant director was filming some less critical scenes, giving them a chance to rest.


But these topics were far removed from my everyday world. I didn't want to interrupt and instead sat silently, waiting for them to finish eating.


Just… occasionally stealing glances at Gu Chi Jun.


He ate elegantly, tearing his bread with slender fingers and lowering his eyes slightly, much like his on-screen persona.

Sitting at the same table, occasionally meeting his gaze, I always felt the kindness in his smile.


As a trained actor, even his casual glances carried a deadly charm, making it hard to look directly at him. I had to clench my hands under the table, exerting great effort to control my emotions and not show my infatuation.


I couldn't help but think of a movie my mother had directed, "Endless," which had an exceptionally beautiful poster. It depicted Gu Chi Jun and a beautiful young woman sitting in a roadside café, his hand on her cheek, their foreheads touching tenderly. The image was so beautiful it could make one cry. It was because of this poster that I impulsively bought a ticket to the cinema, only to find out that the scene on the poster was a decoy.


Five minutes into the film, as Gu Chi Jun proposed, a bullet came out of nowhere, taking the young woman's life. Then Gu Chi Jun embarked on a journey of revenge, the complex plot showcasing his acting skills. The scene where he cried uncontrollably at his girlfriend's grave was still frequently mentioned. This film earned him his first best actor award, a significant milestone.


This film also had great significance for me, as it was after watching it that I became a fan of Gu Chi Jun.


When they finished breakfast and I saw my mother reaching for the folder Gu Chi Jun had brought, knowing they would soon dive into a discussion about the script, I quickly spoke up.


"Mom, I need to ask you for a favor."


My mother glanced at me, unsurprised. "What is it? Speak."


With Gu Chi jun present, I found it hard to bring up the topic. I lowered my voice. "Can we talk privately? In the bedroom, please?"


She gave me a suspicious look but stood up, indicating her agreement.


Her bedroom was large, about the same size as the living room, with similarly spectacular floor-to-ceiling curtains, though fully drawn, making it feel more private. Hotel rooms are generally similar, but there's always a hierarchy, and my mother's suite was clearly of a higher grade. I didn't have time to take in the details. Now or never, I thought. "Mom, I need to borrow some money."


"Borrow money?" She frowned, as if not understanding my words, like I was speaking ancient Egyptian or Xi Xia.


Anyone hearing the word "borrow" would show that "it's not good news" expression, and I was used to it. But since she was my mother, maybe I still had a chance.


"I'm not asking for much, just enough to cover a year of tuition and accommodation," I hurriedly explained, afraid she might misunderstand. "I'm in my final year, just one year away from graduation. I don't plan to apply for a tuition waiver from the school. Besides, there are classmates who need the scholarship more than I do."


She remained silent, her face changing between expressions.


My heart sank, so I continued to explain, "I can earn my living expenses. I've already found a part-time job. I'm planning to go to graduate school. Professor Qian, my mentor, said he would help me apply for a scholarship. Mom, I will repay this money within two years. I can write an IOU right now." I took a deep breath and looked at her expectantly. "What do you think?"


She stared at me, her voice almost harsh. "Didn't Zhengyao leave you any money? You can't even pay for your tuition?"


I silently shook my head. Not only did I not have enough for tuition, but I also didn't even have two thousand yuan.


I didn't want to borrow money from her, nor did I want to complain, but I was truly at a dead end.


Last year around this time, my father was diagnosed with liver cancer, already in its advanced stages. Although he had made significant contributions to paleontology, this did not bring him a substantial income—like many natural science scholars, he was terrible with finances, spending any money he had on research tools.


We were eating into our savings.


Insurance covered most of the medical expenses, but my father's prolonged illness still incurred costs beyond its scope.


Our savings were minimal, and I used the education fund my father left me. His friends generously helped, and we held out, stubbornly waiting for a suitable organ donor. When we finally found one, he didn't survive the transplant surgery.


Dr. Fu Yin, my father's attending physician, comforted me, saying, "He was old. It's normal that he couldn't make it."


Unexpected misfortunes hit you hard, and there's nothing a fragile human body can do to resist.


After my father fell ill, I took a leave of absence from school to care for him, missing classes for over half a year, only returning for the final exams. My grades were poor, and I missed too many classes, so I lost my scholarship.


After my father's funeral, I took stock of our family's finances and unsurprisingly found that I couldn't afford my tuition and living expenses.


It's not that I didn't have people who could help me, but my father's friends had already done so much for us that I felt ashamed to ask for more. Asking classmates or teachers, I knew they would be willing to help—after all, I had always been well-liked. But my predicament would inevitably draw a lot of sympathetic looks. I had seen enough of their sympathy when my father was ill. Unless absolutely necessary, I didn't want to resort to this last-ditch effort.


And the fall semester was fast approaching.


At that moment, my previously unseen mother called me. She had just read my father's obituary in the newspaper and expressed her deep condolences. I thought, after all, they had been married for a time, and I was her child, so her reaching out to offer condolences was reasonable. Two days later, just a few days ago, she contacted me again, saying she had returned to Jinghai City and arranged to meet with me.


So, I thought it over carefully and analyzed my options. Among all the people who could help me, my mother had the most financial strength. My tuition fees were nothing to her. Moreover, she was the most likely to help me because when I called her "Mom" on the phone, she clearly agreed to meet.


I just didn't expect her to react as if I had hit a sore spot.


It's not that I wasn't disappointed. I had been building up my mental defenses. It made sense; who would be happy if a suddenly appearing daughter came to borrow money? Given the number of scammers these days, she might even doubt my identity. Her hesitation was entirely reasonable.


"Anyway, thank you. I'll take my leave now."


Having said this, there was nothing more to say. I turned and opened the bedroom door, intending to leave.


"Stop." Her cold voice halted me, sounding anything but pleased.


I stopped and turned back, puzzled. She didn't look at me but called out to Ji Xiaorui in the living room.


"Xiaorui, come in," my mother instructed, "bring the checkbook and a pen."


It seemed she had changed her mind. Overjoyed, I thanked her repeatedly, "Mom, I will pay you back."


She sat at the desk, and I occupied a corner, pulling out paper and pen from my backpack to write an IOU. As an economics student, writing an IOU was second nature to me. We both finished at the same time. I wrote down a modest amount, but when I saw the check she handed over, I realized she had written an amount of 300,000 yuan.


Such a large sum stunned me.


"Uh, I really don't need this much. I only need enough for tuition and accommodation."


"Money is never unnecessary," she glanced at me coldly, "Besides tuition, your clothes, pants, and shoes need replacing. Your taste is terrible. Your hair should also be done; it looks awful."


I was taken aback. Although my clothes weren't branded, they were neat and tidy. To her, they were clearly unacceptable. Given her generous financial aid, I decided not to argue about my taste in clothes. "Even so, this is too much—"


Ji Xiaorui interrupted me with a nudge, "Xiaozhen, just take it. Director Liang gave it to you; she's your mother, not a stranger." Her tone was admonishing.


I didn't need her to tell me that my mother was a decisive person. In the vast entertainment industry, she was a famous director, and without some authoritative prowess, she couldn't have secured her position. She disliked having her will opposed, whether by me or anyone else.


Lowering my gaze, I thought for a moment, then rewrote the IOU and handed it to her. I sought her out only because she was my mother, not for her money. Her insistence on saddling me with a substantial debt was both frustrating and disheartening. At current bank interest rates, I'd owe her several thousand yuan by the end of the year. It was terrifying.


This money was like a hot potato—taking it or not was a dilemma.


When I handed her the IOU, she didn't even look at it before tossing it into the shredder.


My mouth could have fit an egg, but I quickly shut it, feeling it was unseemly. "Please don't do this; it puts me in a difficult position."


She gave me a commanding look, "If you don't take this money, don't call me Mom anymore."


Her merciless ultimatum left me stunned. I quietly mulled over the word "Mom" and reluctantly pocketed the check.


Borrowing money under pressure felt terrible. I resolved to repay the debt as soon as possible.


As I mentally tallied my small budget, my mother set down her pen, and Ji Xiaorui put away the checkbook. "From now on, come to see me once a week."


"Uh?"


"Your father is gone; it's my duty to oversee you."


Although I wanted to shout that I was already an adult, I held back. She lent me money, so she had the right to know what I was doing. Besides, my senior year was not too demanding. I nodded.


I left the bedroom with the burning check, feeling unsteady. A thin piece of paper weighed me down. I grabbed my backpack from the sofa, ready to leave.


"Xiaorui, take her home."


Ji Xiaorui responded, but I quickly said, "No need, I know the way."


My mother pondered for a moment, then nodded, "Very well," and returned to the table, picking up the revised script Gu Chi Jun had brought. Gu Chi Jun, however, didn't fully focus on the script. He looked across the spacious living room at me, his lips moving silently.


Just like countless times in his films, though separated by distance, he could still reach into one's heart. I understood his message.


—"Xu Zhen, goodbye."

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