When Xuan Tianyi got to the hospital's car park, Shen Rui's car was still there. In a hurry, he walked towards the car. When he peered through the passenger side's window, he saw Shen Rui was leaning her head on the steering wheel. Crying. Gently, he tapped the window.
Shen Rui quickly wiped her tears and rolled down the window. With a small sad smile, she said to him, "I wasn't expecting you to come back out here with me."
Xuan Tianyi didn't return her smile. Bluntly, he asked, "What was that about?"
"I... I don't know." She shrugged.
Xuan Tianyi nodded, then said. "Tell me. I want you to tell me the truth. And nothing but the truth."
Shen Rui shook her head. "You're not nearly strong enough to handle the truth."
"Shen Rui," Xuan Tianyi spoke softly. "I honestly don't think you're a bad person. And I want to prove that to Hua Zhendan. I just need your help with that. Open up to me. I promise I won't be mad at you."
Shen Rui stared at him contemplatively, then opened the door to the car. When he entered, she cleaned a stray tear from her eye in a manner that reminded Xuan Tianyi of his sister. Then, she muttered with a small shake of her head, "I'm not a good person."
"Just tell me everything," Xuan Tianyi persisted. "I won't judge you or get angry at you, I promise."
Shen Rui stared at him, nodded, then spat out, "I did give the order to have your apartment burnt down."
Xuan Tianyi was speechless for a minute. When he found his voice, he asked, "Why would you want to hurt my sister? Or perhaps, were you trying to hurt me?"
"No," Shen Rui shook her head. "I didn't want to hurt anyone. I ordered the arson to be carried out when no-one was home. I don't know what went wrong."
"If you weren't trying to hurt anyone, then why burn down the apartment in the first place?"
"Because I figured I could get closer to you and manipulate you into living with me. You're somewhat naive but that won't happen if you have a place to stay."
"So, you were just trying to get closer to my sister and me?"
"No." Su Yang muttered after some hesitation. "Yes, I do want to get closer to your sister and yourself, but the reason I wanted you to live with me was that I figured my son would go where you go. And if you came to live with me, he might just move back in."
"But... Xuan Tianmei and I... We—"
As if she knew what Xuan Tianyi was getting at, Shen Rui quickly interrupted, "You aren't my kids."
"That doesn't make any sense. We're your carbon copy."
"And there's a good explanation for that."
Xuan Tianyi said nothing. He just waited for her to continue.
"Well, it's a bit complicated to explain. But your mother and I... Are second cousins. And we both look like our grandmothers who were identical twins. You and your sister don't look like me, you look like your mother."
"If you're not really our mother, then why did you lie to Xuan Tianmei?"
"So she just saw you and assumed you were our mother?"
"Yes. Actually, that's exactly what happened. I initially had no intention of lying I was your mother, but when I found Xuan Tianmei, she called me mother before I could say anything."
"Why didn't you clarify?"
"I couldn't bring myself to do that to her. Her eyes were filled with so much anger and hatred for the woman I assume she thought had abandoned her and her brother. I thought that she needed just that. A mother to hate just so she could be okay. So I didn't clarify. I didn't know back then, that it would lead to this huge mess."
"What about my mother?"
Shen Rui stared into Xuan Tianyi's eyes, then muttered. "She... Passed away."
Xuan Tianyi nodded.
Shen Rui continued, "Both her and your father loved you two very much. They would never have abandoned you two."
"How would you know that?"
Shen Rui took a deep breath, then said. "The story I told Hua Zhendan... About how I gave birth to you two... That was my mother's story. One night, armed robbers had broken into my mother's home. They had killed my mother's brother and forced themselves on her. My mother had ended up pregnant with me.
"My mother wanted to give me up but her mother wouldn't let her. My mother died giving birth to me. This made everyone in the family believe I was bad luck. They ostracized my grandma and me because my grandma insisted on keeping me.
"One day, on my birthday, I had a severe stomachache. It had turned out to be a ruptured appendix. Because of the severity of the stomachache, my grandma had forgotten she was baking me a birthday cake. When we returned from the hospital, our house had been razed by fire from the oven.
"Inside that house was all of my grandma's life savings. She couldn't bear the loss and suffered several heart attacks over time. Eventually, she gave up, leaving me to brace the world by myself.
"I had once again proven I was bad luck, so no-one would take me in, except your mother's mother. But she didn't do it out of the kindness of her heart, but because she thought I could be helpful with chores around her house."
"That's pathetic," Xuan Tianyi muttered.
Shen Rui nodded. "In this world, Xuan Tianyi. At that time, the only two people who had shown me any kindness were my grandma and your mother."
Xuan Tianyi smiled.
"Yes," Shen Rui nodded. "Your mother's mother had treated me very badly. But your mother was always nice to me.
"That was the reason that when we were grown, and your mother couldn't give birth, I had agreed to be her surrogate."
Xuan Tianyi's mouth dropped to the floor.
Shen Rui merely smiled and continued, "It was a big deal because back then, I had sworn I didn't want to have kids. I didn't like them and I didn't want to bring one into this world."
"Yes. Well... during the course of my pregnancy, I had moved in with your mother and father. A decision I later regretted with my being, because much to my chagrin, I had found out your father was cheating on your mother with a white woman. Who was also pregnant with his child at that time.
"I approached him with the evidence I had and asked him to confess to your mother. But he refused.
"Because of Xuan Yuan's stubbornness, I threatened to keep the children I was carrying in my womb for myself. I told your mum I had developed an affection for the twins in my womb and I wouldn't give them up for anything.
"Your mother, of course, didn't take that lightly. She took me to court where it was decided that I gave up the children at birth and stayed far from the family after the birth of the twins.
"After I had given birth and your father still hadn't confessed, I felt forced to open up to your mother and tell her the truth about her husband's extramarital relationship. She barraged me with insults and told me I was a worthless person and that she was only close to me because she pitied me.
"Naturally, I felt insulted as she was the only person I was close to in this world.
"I came to Beijing, married an old millionaire who was very much in love with me and tried to make something of myself."
"Wow! That's... Quite a story."
"So, you and my mother never spoke again?"
"She never reached out to me. And I didn't either. But when Hua Zhendan and I started to drift apart, I started to long for your mother's friendship. I tried to reach out to her and discovered she had passed away.
"I did some digging and found out that some months after you and your sister were born, your father had left your mother for the white woman."
"So, he just abandoned us for his other family?"
"Not really. Actually, he fought with your mother over the custody of you two. And won. Your mother, however, ran into hiding with your sister and yourself. He gave up looking for her after some months and left the country with his other family.
"Your mother suffered emotional distress from losing her husband and that was the cause of her death. She passed away shortly after he left. Leaving you in the care of your grandma.
"No-one ever abandoned you and your sister. Neither your mother nor your father. Your father was a pig alright, but he didn't leave you two intentionally."
Xuan Tianyi smiled at the thought of his mother. She didn't seem bad at all. However, he didn't know how to feel about his father. "Why did you try to take responsibility for Xuan Tianmei when you found her by offering her a job?"
Shen Rui shrugged. "The file I had on you showed me you had difficult childhoods, so I looked for you two to make sure you were doing fine. She didn't seem fine to me. I had to take responsibility for her. At the end of the day, even though your parents had hurt me deeply, you both are still my family."
Xuan Tianyi nodded in agreement. "There's something I don't understand. You said you didn't like children. Then why did you adopt Hua Zhendan?"
"Back then, my husband was sick and I would go to the hospital a lot to see him. Once, I heard the doctors and nurses talking about a child with a heart condition who had been abandoned by his parents because they couldn't afford his medical bills. I thought about all the suffering that the child must've been going through and it pained me. As a person who had a difficult childhood myself, I thought we were similar.
"One day, I just felt the need to see this child and I followed my instinct. When I saw him for the first time, his complexion was light blue and he was deeply asleep.
"For some reason, watching that child's eyelids flutter as he slept peacefully—as if he was oblivious to his suffering, I fell in love with that child. I can't explain it but what I felt wasn't pity anymore. It was pure love and I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to have him treated and adopt him so I could just love him and take care of him. From that moment, everything I did in this life was for his sake alone."
Xuan Tianyi glanced at Shen Rui curiously. The woman had suffered a great deal in this world and it wasn't fair that the person who meant everything to her had removed her from his life. The story she had told him about his parents had filled a void he didn't realize was in his heart and he deeply appreciated it. Today, Shen Rui had given him the gift of closure and he was determined to give her something in return. "The reason you and Hua Zhendan don't get along is that he thinks you're a bad person. But you're not. You're just a good person who has done bad things and mostly for the sake of her son."
Shen Rui shook her head. "The reason we don't get along isn't because of anything I've done. I know him and to this day, there isn't anything I've done that he can't forgive.
"The reason we don't get along is that he knows deep down, that all I want is for him to get married to a nice girl and live a normal life."
"I know I can't change who he is," Shen Rui interrupted Xuan Tianyi. "And I don't want to. He can have sex with men in secret for all I care, but I want him to have a presentable public image."
Xuan Tianyi shook his head. "Hua Zhendan doesn't care about his reputation."
"But he should. This society isn't ready to accept gay people just yet. And I want to protect my son. From discrimination and probable lynching. Does that make me a very bad mother?"
Xuan Tianyi released a deep breath he didn't know he was holding. "No. It doesn't. I mean, Xuan Tianmei is only my sister and I can't bear the thought of her suffering. So, I understand."
Shen Rui smiled politely. "As long as Hua Zhendan is still in love with you, he'll never agree to be a woman."
"You think he would agree otherwise?"
"I know my son, Xuan Tianyi. Only his love and respect for me can match my love for him. He would do anything for me except give up the man he loves. Even if that thing means getting married to a woman."
"Yes." Shen Rui nodded. "The only reason he hates me is that he loves me so much. In the same way that the reason you're so mad at him is that you love him as much as you do."
Xuan Tianyi leaned against the backrest of the car's chair and took a long, deep breath. He turned to Shen Rui and said, "Today, by telling me about my parents, you've done me a big favor."
Shen Rui smiled.
Xuan Tianyi continued. "I want to return that favor."
"Oh! You don't need to," Shen Rui said.
Xuan Tianyi ignored her, "I may be mad at Hua Zhendan right now, but I'm still in love with him. To return your favor, I'm promising you that if in the next seven days from today, Hua Zhendan doesn't manage to win me over, then, I won't make any first attempt to fix our relationship, I would leave him for good."