Chapter 22 – Astray Youth (22)

Chen Luosong took the earliest flight he could to return to A City in the morning. After arriving in A City, he went straight to a meeting.

Today was a company holiday, but he still had some matters to attend to, making his day just as busy as yesterday’s.

When he returned to the villa, it was already completely dark outside.

As he entered the gate today, there was no large dog sniffing around. The butler took his coat and said, “Young Master is in the kitchen.”

Chen Luosong glanced in that direction.

Indeed, the high schooler was in the kitchen, wearing an apron and completely blending in with the kitchen aunt. Hearing the sound, the high schooler turned his head, eyes brightening when he saw Chen Luosong approaching, and called out, “Brother Chen.”

The kitchen aunt also greeted him Secretary Chen, then chuckled and said, “Young Master is the head chef today.”

Chen Luosong smiled and didn’t linger here much, turning to head towards his room.

Dinner was timed to be ready, probably by the time he finished showering and came out of his room.

The meal was served, plates lightly arranged, but Zhou Kaiji still didn’t see the person who should have already come out of their room.

He glanced at the time on his phone.

It seemed like they had been gone for quite a while.

He put his phone in his pocket and turned to the butler nearby, saying, “I’ll go check.”

Passing through another corridor from the kitchen led to Secretary Chen’s room.

The room door wasn’t completely closed, left slightly ajar, with no sounds coming from inside, nor the sound of water from the bathroom.

Zhou Kaiji called out, “Brother Chen,” but received no response. So, he pushed the door open directly.

The lights were on in the room, but there was no movement. His gaze swept across and finally noticed someone lying prone at the desk.

It seemed like they were asleep.

This was Zhou Kaiji’s first time seeing the person in his resting state. He had already showered and changed into casual clothes, but his eyes and brows were tired, hair not yet dried, with damp strands falling down, wetting the sleeves of the clothes he was leaning on.

He took another step forward, moving quietly without making much noise. However, the person sitting in the chair instantly opened his eyes as if he sensed his approach, his lightly colored pupils looking over, causing his heart to skip a beat.

After opening his eyes and seeing the person standing not far away, Chen Luosong smiled with half-opened eyes and asked, “Is dinner ready?”

“It’s ready,” Zhou Kaiji replied. “Brother Chen, are you very tired?”

“Not too much,” Chen Luosong stood up and said, “Let’s go eat.”

The food in the dining room had been served not long ago and was still hot.

Having cooked for over a decade, the high schooler’s culinary skills had developed well. Chen Luosong praised the meal as he ate.

Whenever Zhou Kaiji received compliments, he would smile. After laughing, he remembered something and said, “The mock exams are in a couple of days.”

Chen Luosong raised his eyes slightly.

“Brother Chen, wait a bit longer.”

Zhou Kaiji held the chopsticks in his hand, his gaze passing over the slightly tired features of the person opposite him as he said, “Wait a bit longer. I’ll be able to help Brother Chen in the future.”

Chen Luosong smiled.

They were now in the final and most crucial period, with the high schooler’s life reduced to studying and exams.

Having secured a spot through recommendations while still working part-time, Zhou Kaiji needed to take the college entrance exams. Li Hua and a few others, excluding Good Brother, their grades had always been average, occasionally slightly above or below, belonging to the “just getting by” category. However, with the “king of exams” around and a lucky streak in one test, they were reluctant to let their grades slip. Thus, they had to study hard to maintain his position.

After the first mock exam came the second, then the third, transitioning from winter to spring and then to summer, time flew by swiftly amidst these tests.

Two days before the college entrance exams began, many employees at the company applied for leave in advance. After discussions, it was decided that employees accompanying exam-takers could have four days of paid leave. Chen Luosong approved this decision.

By the morning of the decision’s approval, discussions were already underway among the company’s staff during lunchtime.

Leaving the office and passing through the office area in front of the office door, the employees who enjoyed eating takeout in the office had gathered together, eating and discussing. When they saw him passing by, they slightly raised their heads and greeted him.

Someone remembered and asked, “Is Secretary Chen’s younger brother also taking the exams this year?”

Chen Luosong confirmed that he was.

It turned out he was preparing for exams, and they remarked on how long it had been since they last saw the handsome younger brother.

Another person asked, “Doesn’t Secretary Chen need to accompany him for the exam?”

Chen Luosong smiled and said, “Probably not.”

Approaching the college entrance exams, the high schooler hadn’t changed much from before. Upon returning home, he would still do practice questions, read books, and occasionally cook when he noticed that his brother hadn’t eaten dinner.

The only thing worth mentioning was that after the exams, a few classmates would come over to their house to hang out. It was said that the decision on whose house to visit was made by drawing lots, and unsurprisingly, Zhou Kaiji was quite skilled in this aspect, leading to him being chosen without fail.

This year was hotter than previous years. Construction work stopped after the start of the exams, so there were no more honking sounds on the roads. Under the intense sunlight, the only sound was the continuous chirping of cicadas from the trees.

Chen Luosong still went to the company every day, leaving a bit earlier in the afternoon than usual, arriving at the school gate before the afternoon exams ended, to pick up the high schooler and go back home together.

The last day of exams was in the morning.

The school was being used as an exam venue, and all the students’ belongings had been brought back home earlier. This time, they felt light and relaxed, considering their high school life officially over as they crossed the school gate.

Zhou Kaiji left the exam room, carrying his backpack, and walked out of the school gate.

The school gate was crowded with people—students, parents, family members—creating a noisy atmosphere mixed with cicada chirps, all gathering in this space near the school gate.

Zhou Kaiji didn’t pay much attention.

Today was a workday, and Secretary Chen hadn’t finished work yet. It should be the driver coming to pick him up.

He knew that, but he still habitually turned his head to look at the side of the school wall.

On the wall side, there were branches and leaves from a large tree inside the school, forming a shade of trees. Under the shade stood a person.

Wearing a white shirt, the sleeves of the shirt were casually rolled up to the elbows. The person standing under the tree shade looked over, their lightly colored pupils reflecting the dappled sunlight. As usual, they waved their hand and called out:

“Zhou Xiaokai.”

From late winter to early spring and into summer, the branches that extended from the wall shed all their leaves, covered in snow, then sprouted tender shoots, and now they had grown green leaves that could shade the sun.

The person standing under the tree had changed from wearing a scarf to a light jacket and now to a shirt. The only thing that hadn’t changed was the smile on their face every time they looked over.

Zhou Kaiji paused for a moment, then gradually quickened his pace, finally running through the crowd and leaping over, the blue and white school uniform creating a gust of wind. His stray hair followed, fluttering backward as he rushed forward, embracing the person standing under the tree shade.

The sunlight was warm, and the young man was exuberant.

The high schooler had grown taller than before and was often active in sports. His body was no longer as thin as it had been at the beginning. Chen Luosong caught the person, taking a few steps back.

He patted the person’s back and smiled, saying, “You’re so happy after finishing the exams?”

Zhou Kaiji hugged him, squinting his eyes, smelling the familiar and pleasant scent, his face filled with an uncontrollable smile as he mumbled in response.

Li Hua and a few others left the school gate later. They first had a friendly meeting with their parents and then gathered together. They searched through the crowd and finally saw the person standing outside the crowd.

As they walked over, they also saw the person blocked by Zhou Kaiji and naturally called out, “Brother Chen.”

They came over just to say they were going to buy some things and would come back in the afternoon. They had been there several times already, and they even remembered the way, so they didn’t need someone to pick them up at the bus station anymore.

Chen Luosong agreed.

Li Hua and the others then went back separately.

Chen Luosong took the high schooler back home in the car.

The car had the air conditioning on, so it felt cooler inside. Zhou Kaiji turned to the person next to him and asked, “Is Brother Chen not going to work today?”

Chen Luosong said he wasn’t.

Zhou Kaiji turned his head and smiled.

His smile froze when he got back to the villa.

Because there was some time available, Secretary Chen had decided to cook at home for lunch today. By the time he realized it, the other person was already wearing an apron, and there was no turning back from it.

In the afternoon, before the sun completely set, several prospective university students arrived at the villa carrying large and small bags.

Whether it was their imagination or not, they couldn’t help but feel that Zhou Kaiji didn’t look as alive as he did in the morning, as if he had gone through something taxing.

Perhaps it was just their imagination.

This time, they had prepared everything themselves, so they didn’t need anyone else to worry about it. The butler thought about bringing drinks and fruits upstairs, but Chen Luosong stood aside and smilingly said it wasn’t necessary.

There was no need to add anything more. Li Hua and the others spent the whole afternoon picking out things, and it was completely sufficient.

As usual, they took out some snacks and a deck of cards that hadn’t seen the light in a while. With the background music they mouthed along to, Li Hua opened the last and heaviest bag.

They had bought several bottles of wine in the afternoon, finally replacing the previous juices with alcohol.

As they played cards and enjoyed snacks, their faces flushed with excitement. Even before they started drinking, they already seemed a bit tipsy.

After a few rounds of cards and a few bottles of wine, the others were starting to sway, but the only one who hadn’t drunk much, Zhou Kaiji, stood up and went to fetch a water glass placed on the desk.

The glass was empty, and the water jug was also empty. As he walked towards the room’s doorway with the glass, he said, “I’ll go get some water.”

—His leg was grabbed by someone.

Li Hua, quick to react, firmly held onto Zhou Kaiji’s leg with one hand while passing a bottle of wine with the other.

Zhou Kaiji glanced down at him.

After a bit of effort, Li Hua finally managed to sell the wine he had in hand.

The wine was sold, the cards were lost, and the losers had to face the consequences. Zhou Kaiji ended up playing a two-player version of Solitaire with Good Brother, who had also lost.

He couldn’t even win at Solitaire against Good Brother.

As they rearranged the cards, Good Brother looked around and exclaimed, “Wait… hiccup, where’s Zhou Kaiji?”

Li Hua also scanned the room. Zhou Kaiji wasn’t there, and the room door was slightly ajar, indicating that he had left the room when they weren’t aware.

At first, there was a moment of surprise, but then he relaxed again, saying, “He didn’t seem drunk.”

Good Brother found this reasonable and agreed, “Even if he gets drunk, his mind should still be clear.”

Li Hua added, “At least he won’t chase after people to gnaw on them.”

After saying that, both Li Hua and Good Brother couldn’t help but laugh.

Outside the room, it was past the usual bedtime, and most of the lights in the villa had been turned off. The lights on the stairs were still on, casting a glow on the silhouette of a person slowly descending the stairs.

With a water glass in hand, the person on the stairs leaned against the wall as he took the final step down, swaying slightly as he walked into the corridor.


Unable to steady himself while leaning on the wall, the person dropped the water glass, which bounced on the carpet with surprising elasticity, reflecting the light seeping through the door crack.

Then the light expanded as the room door opened.

In the transition between darkness and light, the person who had just opened the door hadn’t reacted in time before something suddenly fell on them.

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