After temporarily turning Duan Mingyang into an ally, Li Luo’s heart finally steadies. When the weekend comes, he finds the spare time to visit the city jail.
The city jail is situated in the outskirts, on a wide and barren piece of land. It’s rumored that the land had originally been zoned for real estate properties, but the feng shui geomancer predicted that it’d be a bad idea to live here, and thus the government built a jail instead. Apart from visiting relatives, there is almost nobody around the area.
Perhaps because today is the weekend, there’s an especially large number of people visiting., with a line even forming outside security. Impatient to see her family, a woman in the back of the line pushes the tall youth standing in front of her.
“Hey, you there. Hurry up. What are you dilly-dallying for?”
“Ma’am, what can I do if the people in front of me aren’t moving?”
Li Luo turns around, wearing a mask and a pair of oversized sunglasses that covered most of his face. If not for the small chunk of a tall nose that remains uncovered, one wouldn’t even be able to distinguish the color of his skin.
“What’s with the look? You really think you’re some superstar…” Frowning, the woman mumbles. She can’t help but to take a few more looks, a sense of familiarity tugging at her.
“I think I’ve seen you somewhere before…”
“Ma’am,” in all seriousness, Li Luo replies, “pickup lines from your time have long gone out of style.”
After some initial shock, the woman dramatically rolls her eyes.
“What a freak!”
Only when Li Luo enters the private one-on-one visiting room does he remove all of his disguise. He casually fixes his hair to ensure that it doesn’t look too grimy, despite it not having been washed for an entire day.
The narrow visiting room consists of only a plain desk and two plastic chairs. At a corner of the ceiling is a 360 degrees security camera. Apart from these, only the ash-gray walls and tiles remain. There is a sense of gloominess, almost to awake the guilt of every person who walks in.
Li Luo did feel heavy-hearted the first few times he came into this room, especially so during the first time. As he saw how his dad seemed to have grown a decade older within a single night, his eyes reddened immediately. When he left, a light drizzle had begun falling outside, and the color of the sky corresponded with the palette of the visiting room. It was as if he’d walked from one cage into another, unable to escape — so depressing that he almost wanted to take his own life right then.
What a goddamn creepy design.
Li Luo curses in silence before he spins the chair, although he doesn’t sit down. Knocking on the table impatiently, he glances at his watch.
Nine-thirty. There should still be enough time.
He has a variety show to film in the afternoon, and he would be joined by Zhao Shanshan and the other main leads of the historical romance he filmed a while back. The drama itself is quite boring in his eyes — a domineering young master falls for an endearing maid and goes through the countless obstacles his family sets up. It’s a cliche story, but that’s what the audience likes. The number of views and the buzz on social media are still high up in the air, and quite a few fans ship the male and female protagonists together. Naturally, some TV stations struck while the iron is hot, inviting them as guests on various variety shows.
It’s tiring indeed to be a dedicated actor — from acting, to marketing, to learning all kinds of things. His friend Jiang Liushen, for example, is quite the irresponsible young master on the outside, but when it comes to his craft, even some of the more experienced actors have to praise him: “What a hard worker.”
As for Li Luo himself, interest wasn’t what drove him when he first set foot in the entertainment industry, so of course he chose the easiest kinds of work. It’s not that he doesn’t like being an actor, but he just can’t make himself work with a hundred percent dedication like Jiang Liushen does. In his heart, he always feels that there’s some sort of heavy pressure on it, boulder-like burdens. He won’t be able to focus unless they’re removed.
And the largest boulder in the past couple of years has been his dad’s case.
The other entrance to the visiting room is opened. Standing by the door, an expressionless guard shifts to the side to make way for a handcuffed man wearing a prison uniform, before shutting the door right behind him.
“Dad,” Li Luo approaches, asking as usual, “how have you been? Has anyone been mean to you?”
Li Zhenghong is in his fifties. His looks are still decent — he must’ve attracted quite a few ladies when he was young — but a few strands of white hair have grown at his temples, adding a touch of age. Despite this, he appears to be quite energetic, and he smiles kindly at his son. Another thin wrinkle seems to have formed at the corner of his eye. “I’m fine. Nobody’s mean to me. Nowadays, I’m even teaching people how to start their own businesses.”
“Business? You must have a ton of time in your hands.” Li Luo sits down as well, continuing the topic. “Do they even listen?”
“Of course. Aside from you, who doesn’t want to learn from my business experience? They’re all waiting for me to teach them some hacks.” Li Zhenghong is rather proud. “They even said that after they finish serving their sentences and go back out, if they earned big money using my methods, they’d definitely come back and thank me by sharing the revenue with me.”
Li Luo grins. “How surprisingly grateful.”
Grateful his ass.
The Li family has been in business for three generations. Even though the share price fell drastically because of his dad’s imprisonment and they no longer hold a rank on the city’s top-ten rich list, their fortune is still an unreachable height to most people. Do they really care about such trifling shared revenue? Besides, if money could solve everything, the Li family would’ve long since been able to get Li Zhenghong out, much less let him suffer in jail for more than five years.
Li Luo knows what those inmates have in mind. They just want connections with his dad, don’t they?
Li Zhenghong was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment for misappropriation of government funds. The respected tycoon became a despised criminal in just one night, with plenty of people laughing at his misfortune. But ten years isn’t long either — many still worry that he’d rise again after he is released. Also, if Li Zhenghong behaves, there’s a chance that his sentence would be commuted. Perhaps he’d even leave in two years. Of course, people are fawning over him.
It’s impossible his dad doesn’t understand the reason. It’s likely that he just doesn’t want to expose those people. Li Luo lets him be. After all, life in imprisonment is monotonous to begin with, and there’s nothing wrong with finding some fun to relieve boredom.
“How was your trip to Paris?” Li Zhenghong asks, “Everything went smoothly?”
“Yeah, it was pretty good. I saw their boss, Zark, but we only got to talk for a bit. He was too busy. Said he’d contact me later,” Li Luo chooses a few perfunctory sentences.
“It’s fine if he doesn’t. You’re busy with acting anyways. I don’t want you to waste your energy worrying about me. Besides, I’ve gotten used to this place already. I wouldn’t mind a few more years.”
“I only did the few small things I could.” Li Luo looks slightly downwards, his gaze landing on his fingers that have stopped knocking on the table.
“If it weren’t for me… you wouldn’t have to be like this either. I have to make it up to you.”
This has been said countless times already, but he still finds it difficult to say it every time.
Li Zhenghong sees his frozen fingers and pursed lips. He sighs lightly. “A-Luo, I’ve told you this before. I don’t blame it on you. Don’t punish yourself for it.”
“I blame it on myself.” Li Luo shifts his gaze even lower, all the way until it arrives at the ashen floor tiles. The depressing shade makes his heart clench once more. “If I listened to you back then and stopped hanging out with Duan Mingyang, the Duan family wouldn’t have had the opportunity, and you wouldn’t have been framed.”
“Don’t say that. I’m fine. I’m just worried about you. You loved him so—”
“No,” Li Luo immediately interrupts him. He looks up to reveal a nonchalant grin. “I never loved him. I told you, didn’t I? It was all an act. I got together with him just to annoy you and Uncle Feng. I played him too. There wasn’t much for me to lose.”
Seeing that he doesn’t want to talk about this, Li Zhenghong can only switch the topic. “How… has Zhi’an been?”
Feng Zhi’an, or Uncle Feng to Li Luo, is a childhood friend of his dad, as well as the right-hand man whom his dad trusts the most. Almost all of the Li family’s affairs pass through his hands. When Li Luo’s dad is busy, Feng Zhi’an can even make decisions in his place.
Ten years ago, after the divorce, his dad grew closer to Feng Zhi’an. Li Luo was once infuriated by the two’s close relationship. He only got to know his dad’s true feelings when he visited the jail. “Your mom left me already, and you were also growing more distant from me. Zhi’an was the only one at my side. He was like my only source of light in the darkness — how could I not draw closer to him? It’s true that he’s more than a friend to me now, but we’re at this age already, and the relationship might last longer if we see each other only as a confidant. Anything more than that is unnecessary.”
Now that Li Zhenghong has been sentenced for ten years, the only reason why the Li family’s assets had not been completely divided among outsiders is because Feng Zhi’an, who is like half a family member, took over the business, presiding over all matters. Li Luo has always felt ashamed of his own insulting attitude in the past, and he has often apologized to Uncle Feng over the past few years.
“Uncle Feng is doing well. I had a meal with him just a few days ago.”
Li Zhenghong smiles in relief. “Sometimes I feel that this is a blessing in disguise. At least you’ve buried the hatchet with us two.”
Li Luo rolls his eyes. “It’s all because you were intent on keeping Mom’s affair a secret, isn’t it? And I mistakenly thought it was because you were fucking around with Uncle Feng, that why my mom divorced you… If she didn’t tell me herself while visiting you, I’d still be hating you to this day. Could we have sat together at one table and had such a proper conversation?”
“Okay, okay. It’s my fault.” Li Zhenghong isn’t angered at all. “But don’t be mad at your mom either. It’s true I focused too much on my business in those years and didn’t consider her feelings. It was natural that she gave up on me… It was all my fault.”
Precisely because of this “all my fault” that Li Zhenghong always says that caused Li Luo’s years of misunderstanding. Even as he thinks about it, he can’t help but be irritated. He’s irritated at his dad’s lack of explanation, but even more so at his own naivety.
“If she gave up on you then she should’ve gotten a divorce. Why did she have to sneak around?”
“She must’ve been feeling torn over you. She wanted you to have a complete family.” Li Zhenghong speaks earnestly, “When I found out, the first thing she said to me was to ask me not to tell you. She didn’t want to disappoint you. You were the one she cared about the most.”
Li Luo sulks. “I still think she did you dirty. But you’ve forgiven her already, so what more can I say?”
Li Zhenghong nods. “Good. I’m glad you understand. If you have time, visit your mom someday, and tell me afterwards if she’s living happily.”
Li Luo can no longer take it. “Dad, you know a word called ‘Madonna complex?’ I think you’re exactly the male version of that!”
Two knocks suddenly come from the guard outside the door of the visiting room, indicating that there isn’t much time remaining.
Li Zhenghong stands up, quickly focusing on important matters. “If you can’t get evidence from Zark, there’s no need to push it. I’m presuming that someone with such high a social status wouldn’t want to be involved in something as annoying as this, either.”
“I know. I have a new direction now. If I succeed, it’d work a hundred times better than his evidence.” Li Luo stands up as well. One by one, he puts on the accessories that he wore when he came here, covering up all of his face except for his long, thin eyes. His expression can’t be seen, and only a muffled voice comes from behind his mask.
“I’ll be a little busy these days, so I might not be able to come visit you. I’ll have someone else come in my place. You can pass on anything you want to tell me.”
Li Zhenghong asks, a little worried, “What new direction? This isn’t a game; the Duan family is still watching me. If they catch you off guard…”
“Then I can come here and relieve your boredom.” Li Luo doesn’t mind it at all. “I can talk about show-biz drama for a whole five years.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m serious.”
“I’m serious too.”
Li Luo pushes the chair back and stands beside the table. Beneath the broad shoulders are a straight back and a pair of long legs. As Li Zhenghong looks at his son, who’s even taller than him now, he suddenly comes to the realization that his once proud, wilful son has become a mature adult.
Li Luo puts on the sunglasses at last. Through the dark glasses, no emotions can be revealed.
“I must be the one to make up for my own mistakes.”