The winter of 2015 was extraordinarily cold.
Shi An had just celebrated his thirteenth birthday that year and was in his first year of junior high school. The junior high school he attended had a compulsory late school system, so school ended at 9:30 pm.
On an ordinary day, Yan Liang and Zhou Yuan were walking ahead of each other while joking around. The last bus swayed around the corner, small dust floating under the warm-toned street lamp beam, and the oden on the side of the road was gurgling in the electric heating pot.
The temperature had been dropping a lot in the past few days. Shi An had not been very comfortable for a few days in a row, so his steps dragged a little, following Yan Liang and Zhou Yuan slowly.
Turning into a familiar alley, Shi An looked up and was slightly stunned.
Almost at a glance, he could be sure that Qingjiu Alley tonight was a little different from the past.
At this time in the past, the stores were almost all closed and everyone had long since retreated to their homes to soak their feet in hot water and watch TV. The alley would be very quiet, with only the lamps by the store doors lighted shallowly.
The air in the alley tonight seemed to be extra tense; almost all the stores were lit, and some people were wandering aimlessly in front of the door, not knowing what they were waiting for. It seemed to have no purpose, just to relieve some kind of emotion.
A few people moved chairs to sit at the entrance of the alley, and Yan Zhao was also there. Shi An was the last one to turn into the alley. Yan Zhao stood up as soon as he saw him, walking directly towards him.
Yan Zhao stopped in front of him, seemingly unsure of how to speak. He reached out and rubbed his hair casually, asking him, “Xiao An, are you hungry? Do you want to eat something?”
Shi An was stunned. He looked back and saw that all the people’s eyes were focused on him. He somehow panicked and subconsciously took a few steps back.
Yan Liang looked around in confusion. Reaching out to pull Shi An, he asked, “Dad, what are you guys doing?”
Yan Zhao didn’t say anything, he looked to the side again and said, “Uncle Zheng, what are you doing up at night?”
At this time, someone else ran over, holding a cell phone and asked, “Why don’t you take Xiao An first? We can’t reach her, the number she left is not working.”
“Don’t fight, take Xiao An there first, ba.”
“You go downstairs to the hospital and make a phone call and ask Wanqing, I remember Wanqing followed through.”
“Who else was there?”
“I did not pay attention, several people have followed. Wanqing should be there.”
“It’s good that Wanqing went, she’s reliable.”
“Let Zhaozi go over there first tonight, why hasn’t the car come yet? Who’s going to drive?”
“Wow, where did this brat take the car?”
A few adults started discussing it again. Yan Liang and Zhou Yuan frowned and were confused, Shi An was a bit bewildered. But what he caught in the words made his alarm bells ring and he reached out to grab the nearest Yan Zhao by the corner of his shirt: “Uncle Zhao, what are you talking about? Where is my grandmother?”
Shi An, who was not tall at that age, was tilting his face, but in the end, he was a child; the look was calmer than his peers but it was with a hidden panic. Yan Zhao looked at the bottom of his heart, bending down to hold his shoulders as he tried to make his voice as soft as possible: “Xiao An, something happened to Jiang jie. She’s now in the hospital, don’t be afraid, let’s go to the hospital now, okay?”
For the first time, Shi An knew what it was like to be black in front of him.
It was as if someone had cracked open his brain and the words were shoved hard into his head, hitting him with a painful bang and making his eyes glaze over.
Someone drove the car over and gave up the driver’s seat for Yan Zhao, who took the car keys and shoved Shi An into the back seat.
Yan Liang then reacted and hesitated in place for a while before rushing over and knocking on the car door, saying, “Dad, I’m coming with you!
Yan Zhao lowered the car door and frowned: “Don’t make trouble,” and reached back to point, “Dad may not come back tonight, you go back first, take a shower and go to bed.”
Yan Liang was dumbfounded, wondering how Jiang Yuan, who had always been energetic and emaciated, could suddenly be in the hospital.
He turned his head and saw Shi An sitting in the car with a pale face and tightly pressed lips. He couldn’t see Shi An look like this, and without thinking, he quickly put his hand through the car window, slightly on his tiptoes, holding his hand for dear life.
Shi An’s hands were cold, and his fingertips trembled a little. Yan Liang gripped tighter, feeling a little overwhelmed, but still anxiously said: “Shi An, Shi An!” He called several times, “Shi An, Shi An, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, it’s all right.”
The clear voice of the young boy called his name several times in a row, and Shi An came back to his senses for a while, followed by a burst of warmth from the palm of the hand that really let him calm down.
He turned his head to look at Yan Liang. Across the window, a pair of beautiful peach blossom eyes were reflected by the street lights.
Perhaps when encountering an accident, people were always more fragile and every emotion was infinitely magnified. Seeing Yan Liang, a strange feeling that had never been felt before rushes to Shi An’s heart. The excessive confusion however, made him too late to distinguish carefully, but he knew that he longed for the warmth from Yan Liang’s hand.
He held Yan Liang’s hand back, as he called Yan Liang in a daze. Yan Liang’s fingers hooked gently in his palm.
The car slid out in the night. Yan Zhao briefly said, probably the old woman was found collapsed in the house and she was unconscious, so everyone rushed her to the hospital.
Yan Zhao didn’t dare to go into too much detail, so he said a few sentences.
The palm of his hand was a little numb by Yan Liang. Shi An took a few deep breaths to calm himself down, fingertips trembling. He held his own fingertips, trying to stop the series of tremors.
His throat choked inexplicably. He didn’t want to cry, he just felt like he was going to shut his breath and choke so hard that he had to lower his head slightly.
After a few more deep breaths, he said with difficulty, “Does my mother know?”
After a little silence, Yan Zhao said, “… I can’t get in touch, we also don’t have her number. The number she left many years ago has been called, but I can’t get through.” He turned his phone out with one hand and handed it to the back: “Xiao An, apart from calling home, has she ever contacted you? Did she say which number she changed to? Do you remember?”
Indeed, she did.
Two years ago Lu Qingzhi contacted Shi An once, saying that she had changed her number, and that the previous number was no longer available.
Shi An reached out to pick up the phone, but he didn’t grasp it firmly, and almost fell to the ground. He reached out and fished a handful of hands to catch it, holding the phone, but did not press the screen bright.
Lu Qingzhi’s number, naturally, was remembered. Although not used, Shi An still remembered the eleven numbers, memorized by heart.
He lowered his head, opened the dialing interface. He typed the eleven numbers one by one, and then looked at the string of numbers in a daze.
When he arrived at the hospital, Shi An still didn’t dial the number.
Yan Zhao led him directly to the door of the emergency room. Several people at the door were standing and sitting, and when they saw Yan Zhao, they all greeted him.
“Why is Xiao An here too?”
“Is Xiao An hungry? I have a piece of cake here.”
“I’ll keep watching tonight, why did you bring Xiao An?”
“I’ll keep watching, you men will take care of people? I’m not sure.”
“…Why is it uneasy? My daughter-in-law is comfortable with me, I can take care of the children well.”
“I just opened the hospitalization form… Hey, do you want to take a few days off for Xiao An’s school?”
Shi An looked at the person in front of him, and his eyes were suddenly a little wet.
When he first learned of Jiang Yuan’s accident, Shi An, like all half-grown children, the first person he thought of was his mother.
Lu Qingzhi was too far away from him, out of reach, out of sight, indistinct like a puff of smoke. He couldn’t even remember Lu Qingzhi’s face clearly. After blood relationship made him have instinctive dependence and impulse, the rest was a deadly despair.
The fear of the day was about to swallow him up.
But he should have realized long ago that he was not alone.
Fang Wanqing turned around and saw Shi An standing behind Yan Zhao.
The child’s face was still very immature. There was a hint of red at the corners of his white eyes, and the light-colored eyes seemed to be wet with water and gleaming.
He had water vapor in his eyes, but his expression was not sad. Instead it was quiet and peaceful. He was just standing there, but inexplicably made people feel that his light-colored eyes were warm, as if there was something called tenderness hidden under his tender face.
Fang Wanqing’s heart was hit with a soft pain. She quickly walked towards Shi An and took the child gently into her arms. She carefully stroked his overly soft hair and rubbed the back of his somewhat chilly neck, smoothing his thin and upright back again and again.
“Don’t be afraid, Auntie Fang is here.”
Yan Zhao helped him to take a week’s leave. Fang Wanqing drove several people back and sat with Shi An on the rest chair in the corridor.
The smell of disinfectant water stung the nose. The corridor floor was covered with a cold luster, and the stainless steel back of the chair was so cold that Shi An felt cold and uncomfortable. His head was dizzy. He bent down and laid his upper body on his lap.
Fang Wanqing fell asleep leaning on the side, only her shallow breathing remained in the quiet air.
The door to the emergency room was pushed open after some time. Shi An was startled and tried to stand up, but the soles of his feet were weak. He quickly propped himself up on the handrail before he was able to stand still. Fang Wanqing also woke up, immediately stood up and jogged forward.
Jiang Yuan was pushed out. She was lying on the hospital bed, her face was so white that it was almost transparent. Her eyes were tightly closed, so fragile that it seemed like it would break in the next second.
Shi An’s heart immediately stirred with pain, so painful that he couldn’t tell whether it was a physical or psychological reaction. He could only maintain a bending down position, clutching the material on his chest and gasping for breath.
Jiang Yuan was a cheerful and kind old woman with beautiful and gentle long eyebrows and a delicate figure. Her long silvery white hair held loosely by a wooden flower pin, carrying the fragrant soft smell of old cloth brocade mixed with desserts.
She always had a lot of novel ideas. She liked to fool around with some strange desserts in the kitchen, liked to tinker with flowers and plants, liked to go to the bookstore and listen to songs and read books all day, liked to move her chair and sit at the entrance of the alley and watch people and cars, smiling all day.
But now she was lying in a hospital bed, with an IV in her hand and a breathing mask covering most of her face.
Shi An bent down and buried his face in her arms, the tip of his nose was full of the smell of disinfectant in the hospital, strange and cold.
Shi An carefully took her cold hand with the IV and placed it in both palms.
Fang Wanqing was called away by the doctor and the ward was quiet. He carefully caught the sound of Jiang Yuan’s breathing and began to calm himself.
Jiang Yuan’s bed was by the window. Shi An was lying on the edge of the bed, looking out sideways. It was almost dawn, the time when everything was quiet, and as Shi An watched, Yan Liang’s beautiful peach blossom eyes suddenly appeared before his eyes.
He was slightly taken aback, sitting upright, a little unbelievable, but his mind couldn’t help tossing over and over to relive the temperature in Yan Liang’s palm before he came to the hospital.
The dark peach blossom eyes, the pupil color was so deep, so deep that it was like a fire in the eyes. He told him not to be afraid, and then, he really was not afraid.
It was the first time Shi An knew that Yan Liang was such a powerful stabilizer for him, the person he had known for eight years seemed to be vaguely different.
And it didn’t seem to be any different.
He tilted his head, a little confused. Shi An leaned on the bedside table, repeatedly tapping his fingers unconsciously on his lap, trying to figure out what was on his mind.
He found that he seemed to want to see Yan Liang very, very badly, to be precise, not just at the moment.
In a panic, he intentionally washed this thought away, but now he could no longer deceive himself.
He was surprised at the sentiment that clearly belonged to him, but made him feel twice as strange.
Perhaps in such a helpless moment, all kinds of emotions suddenly became infinitely magnified, and his unnecessary sanity and indifference had collapsed under the impact.
Shi An looked at the side of Jiang Yuan’s sleeping face, and slowly lowered his body, burying his face in her arms and rubbing it gently.