2 Two lives

Life is a journey, and the fog-shrouded future is laden with the unknown. Nobody knows whether what lies ahead is an uphill climb or a downhill descent, whether it's a smooth ride or a rugged mountain path. The unpredictability of the uncertain makes life full of variables and surprises.

He used to think that the future was within his grasp. As long as he devised plans strong enough, detailed enough, and comprehensive enough, he could control every step of life within the expected range. The future, success, career, family... and life itself would all be firmly under his control, with no room for deviations.

But evidently, he was wrong. Just like he hadn't foreseen that he would spend the rest of his life in a hospital bed due to a car accident, he also didn't anticipate that the end of life would become the beginning of a new one.

In his past life, he was named Chu Jiashu, a Chinese man. He had always been a well-behaved child, obediently following his mother's arrangements and meticulously planning his future. He strictly adhered to his daily schedule, living each day according to plan. "You will definitely grow up to be an outstanding adult, you will surely have a bright future," his mother told him from the time he could comprehend.

His mother crafted a timetable for him, meticulously noting every detail on the blackboard covering the wall. His life, from age three to thirty, was planned out – from studies to friends, from meals to extracurricular activities. Everything was laid out on that timetable, clear as day. Standing in front of the blackboard, he felt as though he could peer into the endpoint of life.

Even now, he could vividly recall that New Year's Day when he was eight years old. He wanted to use his lucky money to buy some fireworks and firecrackers, to join in the festive revelry of his neighbors. But his mother earnestly advised against it, pointing at that densely packed schedule, "We must grasp fate in our hands. Everything is here, in order from top to bottom, left to right. From each minute to each hour, each day, each week, each month, each year, to your entire life – it's all in this chart. I've even made a chart for your birthday gifts each year. For instance, this year, for your eighth birthday, it's an abacus. It'll come in handy for the upcoming math class. I've already wrapped it."

He gazed at his mother's earnest face with a mix of confusion and timidity. The sounds of revelry and firecrackers outside the window were faint, a distant backdrop. All he wanted was to light a firework. But his mother completely disregarded him, standing before the timetable and gesturing grandly, ambitious determination in her eyes. "Now, there are a hundred and eighty-three days until the start of first grade. It might sound like a long time, but in hours, it's only four thousand three hundred and ninety-two hours. In minutes, it's only two hundred and sixty-three thousand five hundred and twenty minutes. You'll realize just how much you can accomplish."

He didn't understand what those vast numbers truly meant, but he knew that the resolute determination shining on his mother's face left him no room to refuse. "You must arrange every minute of your time according to this timetable, ensuring efficient use of every minute! Honestly, after entering society, you'll have only yourself to rely on. If you want to succeed, we must steadfastly adhere to this timetable."

With a beaming smile and unwavering confidence, his mother looked at him. He nodded dazedly, the words on his lips failing to escape. "Very well, you now have fifteen minutes to breathe in some fresh air, relax a bit. Then it's time for English." This was the concluding remark of his mother's speech. Even years later, it remained vividly imprinted in his mind, akin to a binding spell, deeply etched in his memory.

Unfortunately, this grand plan was only carried out until he turned twenty-two. As he was about to leave the university gates, fully prepared to dive into internships and seek a better future, it seemed that everything was progressing as planned. A bright future was just around the corner. However, an unforeseen car accident brought the plan to an abrupt halt.

Paralyzed from the neck down.

Below his chest, he felt nothing. He lay in bed like a broken man, unable to bear the uncertainty of each passing day. His mother ran around for his sake, even depleting the family's wealth, but time could not be reversed. He experienced desolation, madness, surrender, despair, anger, regret... Yet, in the end, he survived, almost like a walking corpse.

Fortune was on his side when he encountered cinema – the uniquely styled yet profoundly meaningful "The Truman Show". It opened the door to an entirely new world for him. This form of artistic expression, known as the "seventh art," illuminated his mundane life. He immersed himself in the world of film greedily, almost starving for it. He was curious about the rollercoaster of human lives, the diverse world, the colorful society, the unrestrained freedom... That was truly living.

Freedom, dreams, life. The mere thought of these words caused a dull ache in his chest because he could never touch them. He had missed them, missed them forever.

He wanted to travel to every corner of the world, experience the chill of snow-capped mountains and the fury of the oceans. He wanted to challenge every limit of life, from the madness of skydiving to the excitement of extreme rock climbing. He wanted to experience every emotion life had to offer, from the joy of achieving goals to the agony of facing setbacks. He finally realized for the first time that life could not be planned. Success and failure, happiness and sorrow, bliss and torment were two sides of the same coin, and without these contradictions, life would lose its meaning.

Unrestrained, wild, revelry, madness, spontaneity, freedom. Seizing every moment of life, truly infusing one's own existence with brilliance, not squandering this rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Curiously, he couldn't help but wonder: If he became a mountaineer, could he conquer every peak in the world? If he became a journalist, could he converse with the world through his pen? If... If he became an actor, could he portray the myriad facets of life? Could he infuse characters with souls like those actors did? Could he move others as films had moved him? Could he use his acting to breathe new life into art?

Ten years, a whole decade. He was paralyzed in bed for ten years. He communicated with films for ten years. But sadly, he never had the chance to try those "ifs". How he longed for a second chance, to break free from all constraints, to be willful and unrestrained, but it was all too late.

On his thirty-second birthday, due to heart and lung failure, his disciplined yet mundane, simple yet brief life came to an end, slipping into the void.

After closing his eyes, the world plunged into darkness. Yet, at the end of that darkness, a faint glimmer emerged. It felt as if it guided him forward from the depths of obscurity. Was it heaven or hell? His steps started, then quickened, racing faster and faster, until he was sprinting, arms outstretched. He plunged into that milky white radiance.

At the end of it all, it wasn't heaven, nor was it hell. It was rebirth.

He was born anew.

From 2017 to 1989, from thirty-two years old back to infancy, from being Asian to becoming Caucasian, from China to England, from Chu Jiashu to Renly Hall.

He had won a second chance. This time, he wouldn't miss it.

The Hall family was a fallen British aristocracy, holding a hereditary baron title. Although they were no longer wealthy, and it wasn't the 1920s or 1930s, they still lived comfortably.

Renly Hall was the youngest son of the Hall family, with an elder brother and two elder sisters. Despite their diminished status, they maintained elite education, from Oxford's Dragon School to Eton College. Then, with outstanding grades, he gained admission to the University of Cambridge. But Renly didn't follow his father and brother to Trinity College; instead, he chose Pembroke College to study classical literature. After just a year, he took a temporary leave and entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the UK, starting to refine himself in London's West End.

This time, Renly wanted to fulfill his dreams, to explore more possibilities, to embrace the unknown world, and to truly embrace freedom.

Acting was the source of Renly's inner passion. He yearned to be a part of movies, to become an actor. Not merely an imitator of others, nor a decorative vase reduced to his appearance. He aspired to be a genuine professional actor, using his acting skills to deliver striking performances, continuously challenging his own limits on the path of acting.

He didn't know the extent of his talent, he didn't know how high he could achieve, he didn't even know if his dream could be realized. But he didn't care. He simply wanted to try, to recklessly run according to his own desires, to keep running until he was exhausted, to truly live by his own ideas.

Even if he failed, he didn't mind. In this life, he wouldn't waste it, he wouldn't compromise, he wouldn't give up, because at the end of his life, he didn't want to regret.

However, for the Hall family, Renly's choice was intolerable. It was a shame for the aristocratic family and would become an object of ridicule in high society, making George and Elizabeth unable to hold their heads up.

So, he crossed the ocean to New York, settling here, defying his parents' opposition and protests. He searched for opportunities to refine himself in the outer regions of Broadway, while intermittently attending auditions to seek acting opportunities. He also worked part-time in his free time, completely freeing himself from his parents' financial constraints. He thirsted like never before to become an actor, not for success, not for fame, not for exorbitant income, but solely to be an exceptional actor.

The reality proved George and Elizabeth right. It had been three months in New York, and he had just found his first audition opportunity. The hardship of this path was far worse than he had imagined. He was currently pursuing that one-in-a-hundred-thousand or one-in-a-million chance to realize his dream.

But, he had no regrets!

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