During this period, Ning Sheng had noticed that Xu Ling particularly enjoyed pushing him around the streets and alleys.
He couldn’t quite understand why it was a hobby.
As they passed by the entrance of a pork store in town, they saw Lu Peng and a few other kids crouched on the ground, fighting over a remote-control car.
“It’s my turn!” Lu Peng was crying out. “I want to play with the remote-control car!”
Xu Ling, laying on the back of his wheelchair, flew past like the wind.
A few other kids followed, enviously running after them.
Expressionless Ning Sheng: “…”
Treating him like a remote-control car to stroll around.
They eventually stopped at the entrance of a car wash.
Ning Sheng: “My wheelchair doesn’t need washing.”
Unusually, Xu Ling paused for a moment. “No, I’m taking you home.”
Xu Ling’s stepfather was holding a high-pressure water hose, and when he saw the two children coming over, he quickly raised the water hose to avoid splashing them.
“Slow down, you little brat!” The man shouted. “I see your friend is about to get dizzy in the wheelchair.”
While this stepfather usually had a temper, he was quite observant, and this sentence seemed to work as Xu Ling slowed down noticeably.
Xu Ling pushed him into the shop.
The backyard connected to two buildings, and one of them belonged to Xu Ling.
Ning Sheng was genuinely curious now. He hadn’t seen Xu Ling’s room before.
Xu Ling pushed him in.
“Wait for me.” Xu Ling said hurriedly, “I’ll find you something to eat!”
And so, Ning Sheng was left waiting in the small room.
The room was probably only about ten square meters. In one corner, there was a small bed, and on the bed was a… soccer ball.
En, it looked new.
The desk was one of those eye-protecting desks that Ning Sheng had seen before, but judging by its pristine condition, Xu Ling probably hadn’t used it much.
Next to the desk, there was a bookshelf.
Xu Ling actually had a bookshelf.
However Ning Sheng noticed that there was only one book on the shelf—
The half-torn “Advanced Mathematics”, and next to it was also a familiar Ultraman pendant, and further down, a wrinkled little paper boat.
Xu Ling seemed to have…. quite a fondness for collecting things. Why did he just bring whatever home?
“How could you leave your little friend in the room like this?” A gentle female voice scolded softly. “You can’t do this again next time.”
“Then next time I’ll put him in the yard.” Xu Ling replied.
The room’s door opened once more.
A woman in her thirties with short hair walked in, holding a plate in one hand and leading Xu Ling with the other.
“Is this Ning Ning?” She asked.
“I’m called Ning Sheng.”
“Ning Ning, come and have some sugar cakes.” The woman placed the plate on the table and invited Ning Sheng.
The sugar cakes were made of glutinous rice, coated with glistening sugar icing and wrapped in cleaned leaves.
Ning Sheng had never seen this kind of snack before.
Xu Ling couldn’t wait. He reached out to grab one, but his mother hit his hand away.
“Let the guest eat first!”
Xu Ling: “Ow.”
She peeled open a sugar cake and handed it to Ning Sheng.
“Try it, it’s a unique local snack.” she said.
Her finger joints were slender, but her hands weren’t particularly fair, and there were calluses on the fingertips. Still, her movements in peeling the sugar cake were gentle.
From childhood to adulthood, Ning Sheng’s daily life had been taken care of by caregivers and nannies. They would unwrap candies for him and offer comfort, but this felt somehow different.
“Thank you… Auntie.” His cheeks were a little hot.
He had initially thought it was just an ordinary sugar cake, but it turned out to be unexpectedly delicious.
“If you like it, have some more.” Xu Ling’s mother said. “Little Bell 1The Ling in Xu Ling’s name sounds like the way ‘small bell’ is said in Chinese which is ling dang, so his mother probably made a nickname out of the two. 徐岭 – Xu Ling and 铃铛 [ling dang] – Small Bell and his dad love these.”
“Little Bell?” Ning Sheng heard a new nickname.
Xu Ling: “Hmph.”
“Thank you, Auntie.” He said.
“Why are you so well-behaved?” The woman ruffled his hair. “Children don’t have to be so well-behaved. Our Xu Ling causes trouble everywhere every day.”
“You probably won’t understand if I say this” She said. “But when you are little, it’s a short and precious time. You can’t see the changes in the world, and you don’t have to worry about a thousand things. So, I often tell Xu Ling to play freely, be as happy and mischievous as he wants within the limits of what our family can afford to pay for.”
Ning Sheng was amused. He pursed his lips, suppressing that hint of a smile.
Xu Ling probably didn’t understand, but he joined in with a series of “hahas.”
Like most children in town, Xu Ling’s family was quite small, just enough for three people, so with Ning Sheng around, the room felt crowded.
But for some reason, Ning Sheng really enjoyed being here.
However, the caregiver had mentioned that his parents were coming to the villa tonight, so he had to go back early.
So, before 5 o’clock in the afternoon, he politely said goodbye to Xu Ling’s family.
The man with the cigarette in his mouth seemed a bit tired. He was sitting on the hood of the car, and when he saw Ning Sheng approaching, he reached into his pocket, threw a piece of chocolate over without a word, and then put the cigarette back in his pocket to continue working.
Xu Ling’s gaze never left that piece of chocolate.
It was the most expensive one sold in town, costing over twenty yuan.
He usually only got to eat those that cost two cents at home.
“If you take me home, you can have it.” Ning Sheng said.
“That won’t work.” The little devil king swallowed hard. “My dad will beat me.”
Ning Sheng: “You are resistant anyway.” Your skin is thick.
The two of them chatted as they made their way up the hillside.
Xu Ling had been climbing the hill all day and didn’t seem to need any rest. He pushed Ning Sheng up the slope without breaking a sweat.
“See you at the kindergarten tomorrow, Ning Ning.” Xu Ling said, holding the chocolate.
“Depends on my mood.” Ning Sheng said in reply.
The caregiver pushed him through the gates of the villa.
“Have Mom and Dad arrived?” He asked.
He had been here for a while and hadn’t seen his parents yet.
The caregiver seemed a bit embarrassed. “Little Young Master, your little brother has a fever and they need to take him to the doctor, so it seems they won’t be able to come today.”
Ning Sheng: “Ah.”
Tomorrow was his birthday.
“I understand.” He said calmly and went into his room.
Starting over again, there were many things he hadn’t understood before, but was now gradually seeing them more clearly.
Back then, when he cried and demanded to go home, his grandmother would just tell him that his parents were busy with work, and the housekeeper and caregivers would console him with pity in their eyes.
Now he understood better. A child with uncertain prospects of ever walking again, living in depression and isolation, wasn’t someone they could place their hopes on.
So, they gave him the best medical care, the best food and clothes, but they had a new child now.
He didn’t care as much about this now, but his gloominess did show on his face.
The next day at kindergarten, Xu Ling noticed it when he was drawing his name on Ning Sheng’s hand.
“You don’t like the gift from the math nerd, do you?” Xu Ling said.
Ning Sheng: “…”
Who would like a whole set of ‘Happy Summer Vacation’ exercise books?
“And you don’t like the one from Lu Peng either, right?” Xu Ling continued.
Ning Sheng: “No.”
Who would like a small bag of freshly slaughtered pork placed in front of them?
“Where’s your gift?” He asked.
Xu Ling stood up. “I’m going to pick a sunflower by the door.”
Ning Sheng: “Sit down.”
The little devil king settled down and rested his head on the table, watching him.
“Have you seen my stuffed dog recently?” Ning Sheng hadn’t seen it for a while.
It was a gift from his grandmother, and he quite liked it.
“Last time you dropped it on the floor, I put it in the drawer.” Xu Ling continued, “Then the next day, it went out to play on its own.”
Ning Sheng: “…”
I understand, you lost it.
He had become adept at deciphering Xu Ling’s peculiar words without distinction.
“I’ll have the whole class go out and look for it with me.” Xu Ling said.
“No need.” Ning Sheng held onto him.
It was just a small toy. Maybe a certain child probably liked it and took it to play with. There was no need to go searching for it.
“How about I be your dog then?” Xu Ling suddenly said.
Ning Sheng: “?”
“Do you have a stuffed dog?” He asked.
Xu Ling made a goofy face at him.
Ning Sheng: “…”
Whatever you want.
“I’ll give you mine.” Xu Ling said.
“Does it look like I want it?” Ning Sheng asked him.
Then following Xu Ling’s gaze, he saw that the little devil king was staring at the cookies their teacher had just handed out that was sitting on his desk. “If you don’t want them, give them to me.”
Ning Sheng: “Take them.”
So you set sights on the cookies. I just knew you didn’t have any good intentions.
Every day, he brought a bottle of milk for Xu Ling and even fed him all kinds of snacks.
And over this period, Xu Ling seemed to have grown quite a bit taller and was now even taller than many elementary school students.
The fertilization was working well. Ning Sheng was quite satisfied. He was doing a really good job of raising him.
His mood suddenly changed for the better.
There was nothing to worry about. He had company now.
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