There Is No One Like YouChapters List
Chapter 1: Stars Adorn as Presence Soars
Volume 1: Big Whirling Dream
When Ruan Mian followed her mother to move to Pingjiang West Lane, it happened to be the day of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics, and the whole country was celebrating.
In every household in the lane, doors and windows were wide open, and the sound of songs and cheers mixed with the television broadcast could be heard. Shadows moved inside the houses, and moonlight seeped through the cracks between the intertwined antennas on the rooftops and the clothes hanging loosely from the upstairs windows, illuminating this narrow world.
Ruan Mian's mother, Fang Ruqing, softly reminded her of things she had already said many times before, "When you get to Uncle Zhao's house, remember to ask for help. Be sensible."
Ruan Mian lowered her eyes and walked behind, watching the marks left by the suitcase wheels rolling over the bluestone road. She replied without much tone, "I understand."
Fang Ruqing sensed the reluctance in her daughter's words, looked back at her, and then turned back to continue walking. Her five-centimeter high heels "clacked" precisely avoiding the potholes on the road. She had a slender and capable figure. "I know you still blame me for divorcing your father, but Mianmian, maintaining a marriage is not as simple as you imagine. There are things you still don't understand."
Ruan Mian's father, Ruan Mingke, was a researcher. He and Fang Ruqing were university alumni and fell in love at the freshman welcoming party. As soon as Fang Ruqing graduated from university, the two applied to get married. Less than two years later, Ruan Mian was born, and the three of them enjoyed seven years of a happy life together.
Around the time when the marriage started to fade, when Ruan Mian was eight years old, her parents began to argue and give each other the cold shoulder frequently, and the atmosphere at home was always tense.
The arguing never stopped.
Until three years ago, Ruan Mingke was transferred from Pingcheng due to work reasons. Before leaving, he and Fang Ruqing had an open and honest conversation, and the couple had a brief period of reconciliation.
But this period of reconciliation only lasted for half a year. Ruan Mingke's job nature prevented him from being home most of the time. The years of frequent arguments had already worn away the love between the couple. Now, with time and distance added to the mix, this marriage had become a mere formality. Divorce was their final and best outcome.
At the end of last October, the couple divorced amicably. The house and car went to Ruan Mingke, while Fang Ruqing took custody of Ruan Mian.
After the divorce, Fang Ruqing, who worked as the finance department head in a foreign trade company, had many suitors and soon entered into a new relationship with Zhao Yingwei, the head of the company's business department.
During this year's Spring Festival, Fang Ruqing introduced Ruan Mian to Zhao Yingwei.
After that, everything fell into place naturally. Zhao Yingwei began to frequently appear in Ruan Mian and her mother's life, and a week ago, the two of them got married.
Ruan Mian never participated in or expressed opinions about her parents' decisions. Ever since the first time Ruan Mingke and Fang Ruqing had an unrestrained argument in front of her, Ruan Mian had already anticipated this day would come.
She looked at her mother's figure and took a long time before saying, "I don't blame you."
Fang Ruqing didn't continue that conversation. They passed by a fruit stall in the alley and stopped. She asked Ruan Mian to pick two watermelons.
As the boss* weighed the watermelons, Zhao Yingwei, with his son Zhao Shuyang hiding behind him, came from their house. He was a middle-aged man in his forties, wearing a gray-white shirt and suit pants. He stood tall and slender, with an elegant temperament.
*In China, the stall owner is commonly referred to as "老板" (lǎobǎn), which translates to "boss" or "owner."
He walked toward the fruit stall and naturally took the suitcase from Fang Ruqing's hand. "Didn't I tell you to wait for me at the entrance of the alley with Mianmian?"
"It's not that far." Fang Ruqing reached out and took Ruan Mian's backpack from her shoulder, reminding her to call for help.
"Hello, Uncle Zhao." Before Fang Ruqing could say more, Ruan Mian looked at the little boy hiding behind Zhao Yingwei and took out two White Rabbit milk candies from her pocket, handing them over. "Want some candy?"
Zhao Yingwei and Ruan Mian exchanged a glance, and amidst the surprise, there was also a sense of contentment. He squeezed his son's shoulder and said, "Aren't you going to thank your sister?"
Zhao Shuyang took the candy and timidly said, "Thank you, sister."
"You're welcome." Ruan Mian took the opportunity to pat his head, smiling subtly.
The Zhao family's two-story house was deep in the alley, just a few meters away from the demolition line marked by the government decades ago.
In addition to Zhao Shuyang, the son left behind by his deceased ex-wife, Zhao Yingwei had a daughter, Zhao Shutang, and his mother, Duan Ying, in his home.
According to Zhao Yingwei's arrangement, after the new semester started, Ruan Mian would transfer to the same class as Zhao Shutang.
In the evening, the two families sat together for dinner. Zhao Yingwei and Fang Ruqing took Ruan Mian to the second-floor bedroom. The room was not large, but it was blessed with ample sunlight and had a cozy arrangement.
There were several unopened boxes on the desk, and Fang Ruqing explained, "These are models specially brought back for you by Uncle Zhao from abroad."
Ruan Mian walked over and opened one of them. She turned around and said, "Thank you, Uncle Zhao. It must have been troublesome."
"No trouble at all. As long as you like it." Zhao Yingwei didn't stay long in the room. He gave a few instructions about the house and then went out.
Fang Ruqing helped Ruan Mian make the bed and sat down beside it. "Eighth Middle School's teaching level is just as good as Sixth Middle School. Uncle Zhao has already contacted the teachers and class for you. Report on August 30th. Until what date do you have to attend the classes at Sixth Middle School*?"
*When referring to schools in China, the naming convention often includes a number followed by "中学" (zhōngxué), which translates to "middle school" or "secondary school" in English. The numbers used in school names, such as "六中" (Liù Zhōng) for the sixth middle school and "八中" (Bā Zhōng) for the eighth middle school, signify their numerical order within a specific region or city.
"Well, that's not many days left. How about I give Teacher Zhou a call and tell them you won't go anymore? It's quite far to travel from here."
Ruan Mian blinked, "That's okay. I'll still go. It's only seven or eight days left anyway, and besides, I have test papers and materials in that classroom."
"That works too." Fang Ruqing didn't insist, stood up, "Then take a shower later, rest early tonight, and I'll wake you up for breakfast tomorrow."
"Okay, goodnight, Mom."
"Mhm." Fang Ruqing touched her head, "Goodnight."
After Fang Ruqing left, Ruan Mian opened her large suitcase, took out the clothes, and put them in the wardrobe. When she couldn't hear any more voices outside, she took her pajamas and went downstairs to take a shower.
Apart from the master bedroom with an en-suite bathroom, there was only one shared bathroom on the upper and lower floors of the old house. While Ruan Mian was in the middle of her shower, she heard Zhao Shuyang knocking on the door, saying he needed to use the bathroom.
She immediately responded and, without even using shower gel, wiped off the water from her body with a towel, put on her pajamas, and walked out to let Zhao Shuyang in.
The door wasn't closed properly, and Ruan Mian heard some commotion inside. She furrowed her brows and turned around. She found a small hairdryer from her suitcase to dry her hair. Afterward, she turned off the lights and lay down on the bed.
There were constant footsteps in the corridor outside. Ruan Mian turned over and caught an unfamiliar scent of laundry detergent on the pillow. She sighed deeply.
The next morning, Ruan Mian didn't have breakfast with the Zhao family. The journey from Pingjiang West Lane to the cram school took an hour and a half by bus, and she didn't have time to sit down and eat.
Fang Ruqing accompanied her to the bus stop. Compared to the evening, Pingjiang West Lane had more people in the morning. Various grocery stores, hair salons, and fruit stalls lined the lane. Plastic sign boards with aluminum alloy frames had faded colors under the sun and wind.
The morning sunlight was glorious, illuminating the entire lane.
When they reached the bus stop, Fang Ruqing worriedly instructed, "If you have an exam and finish class late, call me. I'll come pick you up."
"I know." When the bus arrived, Ruan Mian got on with a soy milk and fried dough stick in her hand. Shops lined the roadside, and right next to Pingjiang West Lane was the outline of Pingjiang Residence.
The bus gradually moved away, distancing itself from this bustling and intertwined world of prosperity and antiquity.
For the next week, Ruan Mian spent her days shuttling back and forth from nine to five, until the last day when the cram school organized a dinner, and she came back four hours later than usual.
It was almost 9 o'clock when she got off the bus. Ruan Mian carried her backpack and bought an ice cream from a small store by the road. She ate it while walking toward the alley.
At this hour, the neighbors had already closed their doors and turned off the lights. Only a few households had a faint glow of a television visible from the windows. Moonlight became the only source of illumination.
The alley was intricate, and it was easy to take a wrong turn if one wasn't careful. Ruan Mian stopped at an unfamiliar crossroad, hesitating about which way to turn. Just as she was deciding, two men came laughing and talking from the right alley. Their gaze lingered on her for a few seconds.
Ruan Mian instinctively tightened the straps of her backpack. Before the men had gone far, she turned and headed toward another alley nearby, which was illuminated.
After a few quiet seconds, she soon heard leisurely footsteps behind her. A shiver ran down Ruan Mian's spine, but she didn't dare to look back. She only quickened her pace.
In the end, she even started running. There was a whistling wind in her ears, carrying the scent of summer, hot and suffocating.
The light in this alley came from an internet cafe at the side of the road. A few boys stood at the doorstep, and someone was selling barbecue next to them.
Ruan Mian ran to the barbecue stand, and Li Zhi, who was brushing sauce on mutton skewers at the grill, was startled. "You..."
She caught her breath. "Boss, I want twenty skewers of roast lamb."
After saying that, Ruan Mian casually glanced at the path she had come from as if nothing had happened. It was empty, as if all the thrilling moments just now were her solo performance.
She averted her gaze and met the puzzled looks of the boy. She raised her hand and touched her face. "What's wrong?"
Li Zhi smiled, "Nothing. You want twenty skewers, right? It'll be ready soon."
During the interval of grilling the skewers, Ruan Mian took out her phone and called Fang Ruqing. No one answered. She called three more times, but it was the same result.
She didn't have Zhao Yingwei's number saved in her phone, nor did she have the Zhao family's landline number. She could only call Fang Ruqing every few minutes. But even when the twenty skewers were ready, Ruan Mian still couldn't get through to her.
Ruan Mian stood by the roadside, holding the packed skewers, hesitating whether to continue waiting here to make a phone call or gather the courage to walk back.
Li Zhi, by her side, placed the grilled skewers on the table and called out to a few boys standing nearby, "You guys can start eating. The grilled fish will be ready soon."
Ruan Mian turned her head upon hearing the voice and glanced unintentionally, catching sight of the boy standing on the steps, looking at his phone.
He was tall, and his hair appeared somewhat brown or chestnut-colored under the lights and shadows of the internet cafe. In any case, it wasn't black. He wore a black short-sleeved shirt with matching sports pants that had a white stripe. His feet were adorned with white canvas shoes. His deep and piercing eyes carried a profound and chilling intensity.
People are sensitive to being stared at, and the boy noticed it. He lifted his head, looked around, but Ruan Mian lowered her head before he could look her way, her hands and feet stiff, as if they didn't belong to her.
Chen Yi didn't look over at Ruan Mian.
Without much concern, he withdrew his gaze, took two steps down from the stairs, and said, "Sister Lu said there are no cigarettes in the internet cafe. I'll go to the store and get a couple of packs."
"Well, in that case, I'll go with you to bring back a box of liquor." Li Zhi handed his tools to someone else and reminded them, "Take care of my fish."
Someone replied, "Got it."
Li Zhi took off his apron and tossed it onto a chair. "Let's go."
Chen Yi walked down the steps, and Li Zhi put his arm around his shoulder. After a few steps, Li Zhi turned back to look at Ruan Mian. "Sister, why aren't you going home? It's so late."
Ruan Mian tightened her grip on the plastic bag in her hand. Seeing the boy standing next to him, her breath momentarily caught in her throat. "I'm going home now."
"You recently moved here, right? I've never seen you before." Li Zhi scratched his neck, furrowing his brows as he asked, "Where do you live?"
Ruan Mian pondered for a moment. "At the Zhao family's in the alley."
Ruan Mian nodded. "Yes."
"Why did you end up here? Did you take the wrong path?" Li Zhi chuckled, releasing his arm from Chen Yi's shoulder and turning his head to talk to him. "Isn't the Zhao family in that alley ahead?"
Chen Yi raised his eyes, his gaze briefly brushing past Ruan Mian's face. His voice was clear and penetrating, like a spring flowing slowly in an empty valley. "I don't remember."
"I think so," Li Zhi said, looking at Ruan Mian. "Do you know Li's Supermarket? You have to turn at that intersection to reach the Zhao family, but the supermarket closes around eight. You probably didn't notice when you passed by. Let's go, we'll take you there on our way."
"Thank you." Ruan Mian carried the lukewarm skewers and followed them, her palms and back covered in a thin layer of sweat.
Halfway through, Ruan Mian received a call back from Fang Ruqing. After a few exchanges, Zhao Yingwei, who was listening on the phone, understood the situation. He told her to wait at the supermarket entrance, as they would come to pick her up.
Li Zhi glanced back at her and continued chatting with Chen Yi. When they arrived at the supermarket entrance, he asked Ruan Mian, "Are your family members coming to pick you up?"
"Yes, thank you for today. I'll come to your place to buy skewers next time."
Li Zhi chuckled and nodded. "Sure."
Chen Yi, beside them, put away his phone, bent down, and placed his hands beneath the rolling shutter door. Then he exerted force, lifting the rolling shutter door. There were still people inside the supermarket; it's just that the door was tightly closed and nothing was visible. Now that the door was open, it illuminated a large area at the entrance.
Li Zhi didn't chat much with Ruan Mian. He followed Chen Yi into the supermarket, while Ruan Mian stood outside, listening to their conversation with the people inside the supermarket.
"How many times do I have to tell you? I'm Li Zhi, and he's Chen Yi." Li Zhi shouted loudly, a hint of dissatisfaction in his complaint. "How can you even mistake your own grandson?"
"Chen Yi, who is Chen Yi?" It was the voice of an elderly person.
Another middle-aged man spoke, "He is the grandson of Mr. Chen Pinghong from the Chen family at Pingjiang Residence, your old friend."
The elderly person muttered "oh" three times, as if understanding yet not understanding. "Then which Chen and which Yi are you?"
There was a brief silence in the room, and Ruan Mian couldn't help but turn her head. The boy stood sideways facing the entrance, and in front of him was an old person sitting in a wheelchair, looking like he was in his eighties.
Chen Yi slightly bent forward, his high and straight nose appearing more prominent from this angle. His lazy voice was pleasant to hear. "Chen from 'Er Dong' and Yi from 'stars adorn as presence soars'."Translator's Note:
This is like a game! Many Chinese characters sound alike, but they're written with different strokes, so Chen Yi had to explain his name.
Last name, "Chen" (陈), is formed by two other characters "Er" (耳) and "Dong" (东).
First name, "Yi" (屹) from 屹立浮图可摘星 sounds like a poetry:
"Amidst the floating realm, a resolute presence soars,
grasping stars that adorn its course."
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