Dong Zheng’s 27th birthday arrived a month later.
His birthday typically wouldn’t pass in the usual manner, because although this was the day he came into the world, this was also the day his mother left the world.
His birth was accompanied by Dong Yi’s most painful and torturous moment, and he’d even said that he regretted it. If he knew in advance that this would happen, he would never ask Liu Yueqiang for this child.
As a result, Dong Yi would never celebrate it with Dong Zheng and would instead take him to the cemetery to stay with his mother, who he’d never met. As Dong Zheng grew up and came to know Su Daijun, Su Daijun would secretly take him out to buy a cake. Then Dong Linhai and Su Daijun would celebrate with him.
But this year was different.
That day, when Cui Zuojing woke up, he noticed that Dong Zheng was still lying in bed with him. Dong Zheng had awakened early that morning and instead of going to work, he remained in bed with Cui Zuojing, gazing at him with gentle and affectionate eyes. He wanted to stroke every inch of his sleeping face and could see the fine hairs on his cheek.
To be honest, it was rather cheesy.
When Cui Zuojing was being stared at, he woke up in confusion. It had been a long time since he’d woken up in the same bed in the morning with Dong Zheng. Generally, by the time he opened his eyes, Dong Zheng would have gone to the company long ago. Cui Zuojing turned over and rolled on him curiously, asking, “Don’t you have work today?”
His voice was slightly hoarse from having just woken up, and Dong Zheng took advantage of this development to grab his waist. He said, “I’m not going today. I’ll take you to a place instead.”
“Huh?” Cui Zuojing subconsciously thought that Dong Zheng wanted to take him on a date, but he quickly realized that Dong Zheng’s mood wasn’t too good.
After Dong Zheng went to wash up, Cui Zuojing laid in bed for a while. When he was completely awake, he suddenly realized what day it was today.
Today was Dong Zheng’s birthday, but it was also the day of his mother’s death.
Dong Zheng had never mentioned how he spent this specific day, so Cui Zuojing had to ask Dong Linhai in private. It was Dong Linhai who told him everything, including how pitiful he’d been as a child. No wonder he was so mature and calm. It wasn’t without cause.
Because he needed to go and pay homage to his mother with Dong Yi, Dong Zheng never went out to play on this day. At most, it would be Su Daijun who would take him around. In contrast, Dong Linhai’s birthday was one month earlier than his, and the family members would gather together to celebrate his birthday with great fanfare. But because his own birthday was relatively ignored, Dong Zheng must have felt extremely uncomfortable.
When he heard this, the pain in Cui Zuojing’s heart was hard to describe in words. It was like eating an immature fruit, so bitter and astringent that it shot directly from the bottom of his heart to the root of his teeth.
“I’ll tell you secretly. Now that I think about it, while I was still unclear about that matter, my brother secretly gave me a hard time many times, but I don’t mind. If my circumstances were like his, I would definitely be more uncomfortable than him.” Dong Linhai sighed pretentiously and said, “It’s okay. I forgive him. Who told him to be my brother?”
“Why can’t he? Who told you to be so stupid to have not realized it at the time?” Cui Zuojing straightforwardly protected Dong Zheng’s shortcomings. Then he tried to appease, “Actually, what two children in a family doesn’t do this, right? My sisters and I sometimes give each other a hard time, so much so that my mom couldn’t wait to throw us out the window.”
Cui Zuojing actually prepared a gift for Dong Zheng a long time ago. Last night, he’d played games a little too late and went right to sleep afterward, so he’d forgotten about it. During this period of time, the gaming videos he posted were gaining quite a lot of heat due to the good sound quality, along with his formidable calmness and intriguingly poisonous playstyle. Some of the videos were soon edited by certain audiences and other well-known reaction hosts, resulting in increasing his momentum by quite a bit.
Cui Zuojing didn’t expect that he could actually earn some meager income from this. Although it was really meager, it was also the money he made on his own. Dong Linhai also knew about this and said that if he was willing to open a camera to show his face, he would definitely attract a large wave of face fans and quickly become popular.
That was possible, but it wasn’t necessary. Cui Zuojing didn’t want to bother with that kind of operation. His original intention was to play games, and he hoped that those who followed him would also like games.
After they washed and dressed, they went downstairs for breakfast. Dong Zheng bought a bunch of pink carnations at the flower shop and drove out of the city. As the air conditioner was blowing in the car, Cui Zuojing looked at the greenery outside the window. He roughly knew where Dong Zheng was taking him.
The Audi stopped in the parking lot outside the cemetery. Today wasn’t a special day for worship and so there were only a few people there. Dong Zheng grabbed the flowers, and from the driver’s seat, he looked at the cemetery in front of him and took a breath.
Every year, Dong Zheng would come here, his mood complicated. He came to worship a mother who gave him life but who failed to have a relationship with him. When he was a child, he didn’t understand, so every time Dong Yi told him to say something to his mother, he would stand obediently in front of the cold stone tablet and say some recent things with no wave in his heart. As he got bigger, he couldn’t help but imagine what his mother looked like and how, if she was still here, he would be as happy as his new half-brother.
But this time, he had a completely different mood.
The tombstones were neatly arranged. Cui Zuojing followed Dong Zheng and finally stopped in front of one of them. Dong Zheng squatted down and gently placed the flower in front of the tomb.
Inscribed on the stone tablet were the words “Tomb of Beloved Wife Liu Yueqiang,” followed by the year of death. Cui Zuojing silently counted it out and realized that when she left, she was only 23 years old.
There was no photo on the tombstone, so Cui Zuojing had no way of knowing what Liu Yueqiang looked like, but from Dong Zheng’s features, she must have been a beauty.
It was quiet and peaceful all around them, and the only sounds to be heard were the occasional calls of the birds in the trees. Dong Zheng whispered, “Mom, this year, I experienced something special and had the privilege to know many teammates. But I was also very lucky to have seen you.”
In his dream in Doll’s House, it was clear that, at the last moment of her pilgrimage, the young Liu Yueqiang had made a request of Chang Hui. Her request was for Chang Hui to give Dong Zheng the dark-gold prisoner card she’d worked so hard to obtain in case he ever came to the Pure White Realm.
She’d given herself up twice. For ten months, she’d carried a child she would never see, not even knowing whether it was a boy or a girl. Her only wish was for him to live.
In the wealthy mansion of the Good Neighbor’s box, there was a room full of mirrors that could reflect the people the viewer missed the most. He saw Liu Yueqiang in the mirror, hugging him. Even though it was only an illusion, it seemed that he could even feel her temperature.
“I don’t know if you’re still in the Pure White Realm, or if you’re gone from there, but no matter what, you don’t need to worry about me anymore. I’m 27 years old today, and I’m doing very well. I even have a lover to accompany me.”
Cui Zuojing tilted his head and glanced at Dong Zheng, his body moving closer. Dong Zheng also gazed at him with a faint smiling expression. “Would you like to say a few words to my mother?”
Cui Zuojing let out a sound of surprise; he hadn’t made any mental preparations. He thought for a bit and said, “Hello, Auntie. My name is Cui Zuojing. I was also once a pilgrim in the Pure White Realm. Thanks to the dark-gold card you left behind, I was able to get to know Dong Zheng. Although it was unpleasant at first, after experiencing so many things together, I gradually realized that he’s really very good. Together, we were able to successfully leave the Pure White Realm. You can rest assured that I will take good care of him in the future.”
The pink petals of the carnation swayed gently in the wind, and Dong Zheng held Cui Zuojing’s hand. In all these years, this was the happiest he’d ever felt in front of his mother’s grave.
“Would you like to talk to Auntie alone for a while?” Cui Zuojing asked. “I’ll go and stand by the side.”
He walked far enough so that he could no longer hear Dong Zheng. As he looked down at the grass under his feet, he suddenly felt homesick.
He also somewhat…missed Uncle.
Cui Zuojing took a deep breath and raised his head, holding back the tears that wanted to leak out. He looked over and saw that Dong Zheng was leaning down, as if he was saying something that might have been embarrassing if overheard by others.
As Cui Zuojing patiently waited, he cast his gaze into the distance, and he caught a familiar figure in the shadow of a tree.
The figure seemed to be aware of his sight, for it flashed away, disappearing from his vision in the next moment.
Cui Zuojing frowned. He was about to continue searching, but Dong Zheng had already walked over and said, “Let’s go.”
“Have you finished talking with Auntie?” Cui Zuojing asked, putting aside the doubts in his heart.
“I’m done. I’ll come back and see her some other time.”
They left the cemetery and went home. At this time, it was already noon and Dong Zheng didn’t go to the company. After all, it was his birthday, and he ought to give himself a day off.
Cui Zuojing played games while Dong Zheng sat next to him and watched. He’d hardly played computer games and so he found it quite interesting to watch. During this time period, Dong Linhai and Su Daijun both called him to wish him a happy birthday. Only Dong Yi had been quiet, but Dong Zheng didn’t care. He figured his father was visiting his mother.
Cui Zuojing was playing a horror game. Dong Zheng had no idea how he found so many horror games. He took out a box of ice cream and watched the game as he fed himself and Cui Zuojing.
Cui Zuojing really wasn’t afraid at all, so much so that he was able to slip away with ease from ghosts with his superb skills. He played with extraordinary cheer, making Dong Zheng silently smile before sticking a bite of ice cream into his mouth as it opened in happy laughter.
In the evening, Cui Zuojing closed the game and stood up. Blinking his fatigue eyes, he patted Dong Zheng’s shoulder excitedly. “Would you like to stay home or go outside to celebrate?”
“At home.” Dong Zheng felt very lazy the entire afternoon. He really didn’t want to go out and play. At this moment, he deeply understood how easy and comfortable Cui Zuojing’s daily life was, spending his life like this and becoming lazier and lazier. This only solidified his conviction to pull Cui Zuojing into going to work with him in the near future.
As Dong Zheng ordered food, Cui Zuojing went alone to pick up the cake he’d ordered yesterday. When confirming the order, he specifically asked the clerk, “Was my thing put in?”
“It’s put in. Don’t worry, it’s in there.” The clerk girl blinked at him excitedly.
By the time all the dishes were delivered, it was half past six. Cui Zuojing put the cake in the middle of the table and unpacked it. Because there were only two people, he ordered a nine-inch yogurt mousse cake, and although it wasn’t too big, it was extraordinarily exquisite.
When putting in the candles, he ran into a question. “How many do you want me to put in?”
Dong Zheng thought for a moment and said, “One, for the first birthday with you to accompany me.”
The match lit the candle, and the flame burned steadily. Cui Zuojing turned off the light, so that only the flickering candlelight illuminated their faces and the cake on the table. Cui Zuojing drummed on the table and sang the happy birthday song. Afterward, he urged Dong Zheng to make a wish.
Dong Zheng took a deep breath, closed his eyes, made his wish, and then blew out the candle.
“Congratulations, Comrade Dong Zheng. You’re now pushing 30 and taking a step toward the road of no return.” Cui Zuojing turned on the light and took down the extinguished candle. He almost couldn’t wait to stuff the knife into Dong Zheng’s hand. “Cut the cake.”
Dong Zheng and Cui Zuojing held the table knife together and cut a piece on each of their plates.
Cui Zuojing immediately urged, “Try it now. See how it tastes.”
Dong Zheng glanced at him, picked the chick that represented his zodiac sign with his fork, and put it into his mouth. Cui Zuojing felt a moment of nervousness and watched him with eyes full of expectations. He asked, “How was it?”
Dong Zheng tasted the rich and fragrant cream, nodded, and said, “Very good.”
“…That’s it?” Cui Zuojing didn’t hear the answer he expected, and his eyebrows rose.
“Yes?” Dong Zheng nodded. Seeing Cui Zuojing’s strange expression, his Adam’s Apple moved up and down, and then he asked blankly, “What’s wrong?”
Cui Zuojing felt as if he’d been hit by thunder. His expression cracked and he said with some difficulty, “…You swallowed it?”
He was still speaking when Cui Zuojing abruptly rushed forward and grabbed his throat. “You can’t swallow it. Spit it out!”
Dong Zheng’s eyes glinted, and he quickly pressed his hand to the back of Cui Zuojing’s head, pulling him forward so that their lips met.
Dong Zheng’s lips and teeth still had the sweetness of yogurt and cream. He slipped between Cui Zuojing’s lips and used the tip of his tongue to push the hard ring into the young man’s mouth.
When their lips finally separated, Dong Zheng gazed into Cui Zuojing’s wide eyes and joked, “Seems like I scared you. Where did you learn these little tricks?”
He never thought that A’Zuo would put a ring in the cake, treating it as his birthday gift. He’d only ever heard of such tricks in idol dramas.
Cui Zuojing’s expression was very strange. He covered his neck, looking uncomfortable, and said to Dong Zheng in a daze, “I…I accidentally swallowed it.”
Dong Zheng panicked instantly and wanted to pinch Cui Zuojing’s chin to make him open his mouth, “Is it stuck? Do you feel uncomfortable? Quick, let’s go to the hospital!”
Within a few seconds, Cui Zuojing’s expression collapsed. His lips twitched, and then he burst out into laughter. He laughed so hard that he slipped off his seat and had to lean against the sofa, hammering it with his fists.
Dong Zheng realized that he had been tricked, and he also began to laugh.
Cui Zuojing turned over with difficulty and sat on the ground, grinning with red cheeks and tears in his eyes. He calmed down, and when he could breath, he said, “How about it? Do you like this gift of mine?”
He opened his hand, revealing the ring lying in his palm, flashing a silvery white light.
“I should be the one buying it for you.” Dong Zheng sat on the ground with him and stretched out his hand.
Cui Zuojing put the ring on Dong Zheng’s left ring finger. It was just right. He looked at it with satisfaction and said, “It doesn’t matter, it’s your money anyway.”
“What about the other one?”
“Here.” Cui Zuojing took out a velvet box from his pocket, opened it, and another plain ring was lying in it. Dong Zheng picked up the ring and slipped it onto Cui Zuojing’s ring finger.
Cui Zuojing held Dong Zheng’s hand and leaned against him. The significance of the ceremony gave him an unprecedented sense of satisfaction. This was the gift he’d carefully selected for Dong Zheng for his 27th birthday, and it was also his promise and guarantee of their relationship.
Dong Zheng lowered his head to kiss him. Their breathing intertwined, giving rise to a summer night’s temperature.
In the end, Cui Zuojing pushed against Dong Zheng’s chest and licked the liquid on his lower lip. He said, “Hurry up and eat first.”
Dong Zheng stood and pulled Cui Zuojing up from the sofa, ready to enjoy this night that belonged to him.
His phone shook on the sofa, and he picked it up and looked at it. It was the first message Dong Yi had sent him today.
“Happy birthday. I hope this new year will go smoothly, and that you will be healthy and safe. I also hope that you will have the determination and courage to do whatever you want to do.”
A few seconds later, he added:
“If you want, come home next time. Bring Xiao Cui with you for dinner.”