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    Chapter 131 - Rebirth

    Shen Hongyuan had always believed he had executed his plans flawlessly.

    Yet, his "trump card" had betrayed him utterly.

    And then there was Shen Cheng and that female caregiver.

    Until now, Shen Hongyuan remained consumed by resentment.

    How had he failed to notice the existence of that female caregiver back then?

    But the law did not afford him the luxury of resentment.

    In no time, he was convicted on multiple counts and sentenced to life imprisonment due to his health condition. He was placed in a specialized care facility for inmates.

    At present, Shen Hongyuan was an overly confident and highly self-respecting middle-aged man.

    Bedridden and stripped of dignity, life had become intolerable for him.

    Soon, the nursing staff at the care facility noticed his restless flailing with the only limb he could still move.

    At times, as if seeing something invisible to others, he would mumble fierce warnings, "Stay away, stay away!"

    Then he would weep and plead, "Father, I was wrong, Father. I'm your own flesh and blood..."

    But in the next moment, his eyes would widen in rage as he shouted, "Old fool! You should have been dead long ago."

    During the rare moments of calm, the nurse would catch him trying to loosen the restraints on his body, as if attempting to throw himself off the bed to end his life.

    The most bizarre incident was when the nurse discovered him clamping down on the oxygen tube with his teeth.

    By the time anyone realized, his lips had already turned purple from lack of oxygen.

    Despite this, the nurse, acting diligently, contacted the care facility and had him revived.

    Shen Hongyuan was fated to linger on, confined to his bed, tormented by his fears for a long time to come.

    Madam Shen was not involved in Shen Hongyuan's criminal activities.

    However, she had used her accounts to help Shen Hongyuan transfer substantial amounts of wealth, which landed her a few years in prison as well. When the police took her away, she still protested in confusion, "I didn't know, I really didn't. I never thought about it. He gave me money, so I accepted it. Who could say no to money..."

    But the judge ruled that as an adult, she should have possessed basic judgment.

    Shen Xingzhuo remained unaccounted for.

    Shen Xingyu reported the case but made no progress. There was no activity in his account, leaving uncertainty as to whether he was dead or wandering somewhere like an orphan.

    After investigations, Shen Xingyu was released.

    Nonetheless, he had to resign from the Shen Corporation.

    Before leaving, Shen Xingyu did his best to clean up the mess Shen Hongyuan had left behind in the company.

    He knew that this company would now belong to Lu Ran.

    The only person in the world who remembered his love for rabbits and his fondness for lemon-flavored ice cream.

    Shen Xingyu shouldered the debts left behind by Shen Hongyuan.

    He sold all of his personal assets to cover them.

    After completing all the necessary procedures for his resignation, Shen Xingyu sat in the CEO's office of the Shen Corporation for a long time.

    Staring at the bright window, he was lost in thought.

    He wondered if that child would ever sit in this office.

    He had heard that the young man would visit the company in the afternoon.

    But Shen Xingyu was well aware that Lu Ran probably didn't wish to see him.

    There came a knock on the office door.

    "Enter," Shen Xingyu said, as usual.

    The door opened, and it was Shen Xingyu's assistant who stepped in.

    The assistant stood in the doorway with a bittersweet expression.

    "Mr. Shen Jr.…" he said reflexively.

    Shen Xingyu smiled and replied, "Not anymore."

    He took out a document and said to his assistant, "One last favor from you, please."

    The assistant took the file and found a share transfer agreement inside.

    Shen Xingyu was transferring the five percent of shares he inherited from his grandfather to Lu Ran.

    Shen Xingyu checked the time.

    Seeing that it was almost afternoon, he gathered his personal belongings and left the office with them in his arms.

    As the office door slammed shut, Shen Xingyu was swarmed with mixed emotions.

    It was as if his lifelong goal had suddenly crumbled before him.

    He carried the box, walking out under the scrutiny of various gazes.

    In that moment, Shen Xingyu vaguely sensed a sense of relief.

    As if along with the shattering of his goal, the chains binding him had also broken.

    He had never felt so free in his entire life.

    At that moment, a sudden commotion and gasps of surprise echoed from the stairwell entrance.

    Without thinking, Shen Xingyu halted his steps, frowning as he looked over.

    A bearded man with disheveled hair barged in.

    It was the company's Chief Financial Officer.

    Shen Hongyuan was the one who authorized the embezzlement.

    "Where's Shen Hongyuan? Where is he!"

    He searched frantically, screaming in despair, "Why me! It was all under his coercion; why should I take the blame? Why am I guilty too?"

    He dashed around the floor like a madman.

    The other employees promptly stepped away in alarm.

    In the midst of the chaos, he caught sight of Shen Xingyu.

    "All the Shens must die!"

    Slam!

    The box in Shen Xingyu's hand hit the ground.

    Clutching his abdomen, he bent over as crimson blood seeped through his fingers.

    Screams echoed around them.

    Shen Xingyu clutched the financier's wrist tightly, refusing to let go.

    That fleeting moment of freedom vanished like a dream.

    At times, once a choice was made, there was no turning back.

    The sensational scandal involving the Shen Corporation ultimately culminated in a bloody incident.

    In the end, all dust settled.

    With the summer break coming to an end, Lu Ran also returned to school.

    On the first day without classes, the school was in a state of delightful chaos.

    When Ji Min went to fetch Lu Ran, he found the youth seated atop a raised platform.

    It was as if it was the night Lu Ran officially returned to the Shen family, when the young man sat on the trash can, silently gazing outward.

    Now, Lu Ran wore the same expression.

    Only that he sat at a higher vantage point, with a more exquisite view before his eyes.

    In his hand, he held four ice cream cones - two vanilla, one lemon, and one strawberry.

    The day was still warm, causing the ice cream to melt slowly.

    The youth ate with an equal distribution of indulgence, bestowing a delicate bite upon each one in turn, and in quiet contemplation finished all four of the crisp cones.

    Ji Min didn't urge him, simply standing on the steps and looking up.

    The rapid decline of the Shen family also had his fingerprints all over it.

    Occasionally, Ji Min catches glimpses of Lu Ran's indomitable presence.

    To a solitary youth devoid of any support, the Shen family loomed like an immovable behemoth.

    But the Shen family was not.

    Ji Min recalled how, in the beginning, Shen Xingran had spread rumors outside that Lu Ran was Madam Shen's illegitimate child.

    At that time, even he had misjudged Lu Ran's identity.

    Lu Ran has heard even more gossip.

    Yet, he didn't explain a single word, neither about his identity nor his misfortunes.

    He merely responded with means that others would find unimaginable, at just the right moments.

    Causing the "illegitimate child" to draw even more attention, the rumors intensified.

    Until one day, the whispers reached Madam Shen's ears.

    Snap.

    The first crack appeared in the family's unity.

    Once that crack emerged, it could not be mended and only continued to widen.

    While at the Gu family's, Lu Ran was already aware of the internal embezzlement within the Shen Corporation.

    Back then, the Shen and Linos families were still in fierce competition.

    Yet, Lu Ran didn't leak any information to the media.

    Ji Min knew then that he was waiting.

    Waiting for Shen Xingran to make a move.

    Ultimately, it had to be Shen Xingran who dealt the decisive blow for it to be truly satisfying.

    At times, Ji Min found Lu Ran foolish.

    But it couldn't be denied that the young man was also incredibly clever.

    He knew each person's preferences within the family and was well-versed in their flaws.

    Lu Ran was aware that Shen Hongyuan, despite his arrogance and grandiosity, was deeply insecure at heart.

    It was also known that Madam Shen appeared to adore Shen Xingran immensely, but in reality, she was selfish and overly vain.

    Shen Xingzhuo lacked responsibility, while Shen Xingyu seemed strong but was actually quite fragile.

    And among them all, the one who shone brightest and was seemingly most favored, Shen Xingran,

    was the one with the least sense of security within the family.

    Ji Min had once pondered that Lu Ran must have genuinely cared for every single family member.

    Only then can one witness these with their eyes, and etch them deeply into their heart.

    Yet, these very things that were remembered out of love eventually became the sharpest of swords.

    Upon the elevated platform sat a youth, who suddenly shuddered involuntarily.

    Ji Min froze for a moment before hurriedly approaching to inquire, "What's wrong? Are you feeling unwell?"

    Lu Ran clutched his stomach, shivering with chills.

    "Consuming four ice creams in one go, it's excessively chilly, leaving me numb with cold."

    Ji Min: "..."

    "Be more careful next time," he said, reaching out to gently tap the young man's forehead.

    With their hands entwined, Lu Ran leaped down from the elevated platform.

    He suggested, "Shall we pay our respects to Grandfather at his grave?"

    Ji Min drove to the cemetery where Elder Shen was laid to rest.

    Elder Shen's grave was relatively clean.

    Lu Ran wandered around the nearby shop and didn't buy any flowers; instead, he purchased a large pile of joss paper.

    Faithfully reflecting his practical nature, he didn't opt for the flashy golden ingots but chose stack upon stack of plain yellow paper.

    Arriving at the elder's gravesite, he promptly lit the paper using a lighter.

    But the stack was too thick, and it didn't catch fire.

    Ji Min fell silent for a moment before reminding him, "You should light a few first before continuing to release them."

    "Hey, move aside, don't interrupt." Lu Ran gently pushed him aside.

    Ji Min retreated to the car, lit a cigarette, and watched as the youth knelt by the grave, burning paper money.

    It wasn't Qingming Festival, so the cemetery was quiet and nearly deserted.

    The Shen family fell, but Shen himself managed to cling onto life.

    It's just that the company's structure has undergone significant downsizing.

    Looking at the tombstone, Lu Ran said:

    "I've donated all my shares and the company's profits. You might think me reckless, but considering your will, I believe you were mentally prepared for something like this..."

    Ji Min watched as the youth tended to the burning paper, all the while muttering softly to the gravestone.

    Lost in thought, he couldn't help glancing at Manager Chen beside him and asking, "Do you think... Mr. Shen Senior..."

    Ji Min's words trailed off.

    He had a vague impression of the elder Shen, having also heard Grandpa Gu's recollections.

    Considering it from the perspective of an aging tyrant or a profit-driven businessman,

    it was possible that Mr. Shen Senior left his inheritance to Lu Ran simply because he sensed that Lu Ran had witnessed Shen Hongyuan's underhanded tactics.

    Thus, the so-called inheritance seems to be nothing more than a strategic game between Shen Hanshan and his son, Shen Hongyuan.

    Not out of love for his young grandson.

    Ji Min paused, ultimately refraining from voicing these speculations.

    He believed that with Lu Ran's sharp intellect, he wouldn't fail to consider this aspect.

    But then, the wind carried the youth's voice once more.

    The young man crouched before the towering tombstone looked up and said, "Old Man, don't worry either. Even though the company has been donated, I'll come and burn incense for you every year."

    "You can rest assured, there'll be plenty of ghost money, so you won't be short of cash down there..."

    A hint of a smile tugged at Ji Min's lips.

    He was suddenly uncertain about his assumptions.

    Perhaps, when Grandpa Shen first took in his youngest grandson, he simply wanted to mold a successor to his liking from scratch.

    But gradually, this elder, who valued benefits and had an immense need for control, found something more precious amidst the repeated "Grandpa" from the child.

    After returning from the cemetery, Lu Ran went to prison on the weekend.

    He hadn't visited Shen Hongyuan even once after the latter fell ill.

    Nor did he visit when Shen Xingyu was stabbed.

    This time, Lu Ran wasn't visiting Mrs. Shen at the prison.

    He had come to visit Shen Xingran.

    After waiting for a while in the visiting room, Shen Xingran, clad in prison attire, was escorted over by a guard through the glass wall.

    Shen Xingran's head was shaved, and he appeared much darker than before.

    He sat down opposite Lu Ran.

    The two faced each other across the glass, both remaining silent for a moment.

    After a while, Shen Xingran spoke, "I didn't expect you to actually come."

    Lu Ran smiled but remained silent.

    It seemed that Shen Xingran had been holding back, so he continued, "I saw it on the news – you donated the Shen Corporation."

    Even now, as he spoke those words, Shen Xingran was still filled with disbelief and astonishment.

    "Why would you donate it? That's the Shen Corporation, isn't it? How could you be willing to give it away?"

    He muttered to himself for quite a while.

    The prison officer noticed his unusual state and gave him a closer look.

    After mumbling for some time, Shen Xingran seemed to have come to a realization and suddenly fell silent.

    Then, he laughed at himself mockingly.

    "I assumed you were the one entangled with the Shen family indefinitely, unable to sever ties. Yet, you turned out to be much more lucid than I thought, cutting off all connections so cleanly."

    "Otherwise, what? Keep it as a source of distress?" Lu Ran replied.

    Shen Xingran lifted his gaze to look at Lu Ran.

    He said, "It took me a long time being here before I suddenly came to realize this."

    Lu Ran raised an eyebrow.

    Shen Xingran asked, "At Shen Xingyu's birthday party, did you deliberately mention to him that you were going to join the Shen Corporation, knowing that I was eavesdropping?"

    Lu Ran merely smiled but didn't respond.

    Shen Xingran had always viewed Lu Ran as a competitor.

    Now that there was nothing left to compete for, he felt something different.

    Shen Xingran lowered his head and whispered softly,

    "Sometimes, I wonder... if... it's possible... that we're the ones who resemble family the most."

    Lu Ran lifted his gaze to meet Shen Xingran's.

    Shen Xingran's words sounded rather unsettling, but Lu Ran surprisingly understood his meaning.

    If "Shen Xingran" was a title,

    then Lu Ran was the first incumbent, while Shen Xingran was the second.

    Both of them were orphans.

    Shen Xingran was the one who had stolen his identity.

    At the same time, he was also someone who had never had a name of his own.

    Yet, Lu Ran still found it peculiar that Shen Xingran could have the audacity to say such words to him.

    With an indescribable sense of curiosity tinged with sarcasm, Lu Ran asked, "Do you know how cold the pool water in Beijing is during winter?"

    Upon hearing this, Shen Xingran lifted his head, confused. "What?"

    There was no pretense on Shen Xingran's face; it was genuine ignorance.

    Lu Ran froze for a moment before bursting into laughter.

    He laughed loudly, leaning back and forth with mirth.

    Shen Xingran, on the other side, was puzzled by his sudden laughter and jumped in surprise.

    Lu Ran made no attempt to explain.

    Instead, he wiped away the tears that had welled up in the corners of his eyes from laughter, suddenly realizing that the lingering pain in his memories belonged to a past life.

    Lu Ran stepped out of the visiting room.

    The early autumn sky was exceptionally clear.

    The cerulean expanse seemed vast and boundless, stretching high above his head with only scattered cotton candy clouds floating about.

    With unprecedented lightness in his stride, Lu Ran walked forward confidently.

    A gentle breeze blew, causing the still lush trees lining the path to sway, their leaves rustling softly.

    Before him lay a broad road, verdant and inviting.

    Humming a tune, Lu Ran approached the prison gates.

    They stood ajar, and Ji Min was seen chatting with the prison guard, his back turned to the entrance.

    The prison guard, with a northeastern accent, asked, "What are you doing here?"

    Ji Min replied, "Waiting for my partner."

    A hint of sympathy and empathy instantly appeared on the guard's face.

    "Waiting for your partner..." he inquired, "Is your partner being released, or...?"

    He gestured as if someone was going in.

    Ji Min was momentarily taken aback by the guard's exclusive alternatives.

    Lu Ran quickly sprinted a few steps.

    Jumping onto the man's back from behind, he answered with a grin, "His partner, they've escaped from prison!"

    The guard was startled.

    Upon recognizing Lu Ran, who had just entered, he sighed in relief, "You scared me. I really thought an escapee had shown up."

    Amidst laughter, Ji Min walked forward with Lu Ran on his back, swaying gently.

    "Why are you in such a good mood?" he asked.

    "Just because!" Lu Ran replied, rubbing the nape of Ji Min's neck from behind.

    The parking area was still quite a distance away.

    After resting on Ji Min's back for a while, Lu Ran eventually found it too embarrassing and hopped down.

    "Where do you want to play?" Ji Min inquired.

    "I want some ice cream," Lu Ran said.

    Ji Min didn't press for more details. He held Lu Ran's hand and led him in search of an ice cream shop.

    Such establishments were scarce near the prison, so they had to walk quite far before finding one.

    Lu Ran stepped in and frowned at the array of flavors on display.

    "Hmm..." He pondered deeply.

    The cashier asked, "What flavor would you gentlemen like?"

    "Give me a moment, I'll figure it out soon," Lu Ran said.

    Ji Min: "..."

    Seeing the veins popping out of his forehead, Ji Min let out a sigh.

    "Don't even think about it." He reached out, covering the youth's head with his hand, decisively selecting for him, "Chocolate."

    Lu Ran lifted his gaze to look at him.

    Resolving the dilemma, he said, "Then I'll have the sea salt flavor."

    Each holding a waffle cone in hand, the two of them strolled out together.

    Then, they took a bite from each other's ice cream, exchanging flavors in the process.

    Lu Ran held his chocolate cone and finished it in two bites.

    Ji Min savored his sea salt-flavored ice cream slowly.

    As they passed by a university, Lu Ran suddenly remembered something. "In a couple of days, our school will be open for visitors, saying that parents can come in for a tour."

    Ji Min asked, "What day is it? Maybe I can drop by then."

    Lu Ran leaned closer, squinting at him. "Huh? They said only parents are allowed. What kind of parent are you?"

    Ji Min held his hand and acted mischievously. "Anyone listed on the same household registration book can be considered a parent."

    Unable to contain himself, Lu Ran clung to his shoulder and burst into laughter.

    ----- End of Chapter -----

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    2 Comments

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    1. Rebecca Is Cool
      Apr 26, '24 at 6:50 am

      Is the end? 😭😱

    2. Yue Sheng
      Apr 26, '24 at 2:34 pm

      W story