As a fashion make-up brand, Xique has more female employees. Hence, the annual dinner is naturally a time for everyone to do their utmost to compete in terms of beauty.
Tao Ting’s interest was waning. Although she was wearing an extremely bright red dress, she huddled in a corner and tried to reduce her presence.
Even Lu Xiaoyue could not stand it and criticised her, “Aren’t you letting down that rich gentleman?”
Tao Ting pretended not to hear. After finishing the juice, a bad aftertaste remained in her mouth. She put down the glass, took a cookie and stuffed it into her mouth, “When will it be over? I’m already sleepy.”
Lu Xiaoyue glared at her exasperatedly  and muttered, “I still think that name sounds familiar.”
Tao Ting smiled at her, “Go enjoy yourself. You don’t have to bother about me.”
Lu Xiaoyue sighed and shook her head, carrying the champagne towards the centre of the hall.
To create an intimate atmosphere, the lighting in the hall was dim. Tao Ting blinked and could not help yawning.
“Is the annual dinner too boring, or did you stay up late working last night?”
The tears blurred her vision briefly. Tao Ting’s gaze moved up from the bottom, finally settling on the man’s sharp, stern face.
She stared blankly at him as her memories came tumbling back to her, and she was reminded of the day many years ago.
Similar words and the same tilt of the head to look at her. Like before, he still loved wearing a white shirt and dark suit.
Nothing had changed, yet it felt like the world had turned upside down.
Pulling away from the memories, Tao Ting quickly schooled her expression and got up to address him, “CEO Xu.”
Xu Linyue had a light smile on his face as he surveyed her quietly before nodding at her. She had no idea what he was thinking.
“You did well for the proposal this time,” though Xu Linyue was the lead, he was never stingy with his praises.
Tao Ting lowered her eyes and smiled, “It’s good that I didn’t disappoint you.”
“Lambert, da bist du (here you are).” An exquisite lady in a white dress walked towards Xu Linyue and took his arm intimately.
In an instant, the corners of Tao Ting’s mouth flattened, and her eyes carried a hostility she did not realise.
Both of them chatted in an unfamiliar language. Tao Ting did not understand, so she quietly stood at the side, her gaze downwards as she looked at the tips of her shoes.
She was clearly the one who had her conversation interrupted, but she now felt very redundant.
“Tao Ting.” Xu Linyue called out to her.
Tao Ting raised her head and made a sound of acknowledgement.
“This is Jennifer. She’s my colleague from the German headquarters. She’s also in charge of marketing,” Xu Linyue introduced.
Tao Ting put on an impeccable smile and shook hands with the woman, “Nice to meet you.”
Xu Linyue introduced her in German. Tao Ting had no idea how he described her, but it was probably just her name and title.
They continued talking for a while. Both of them seemed very close and would laugh lightly from time to time.
Tao Ting was increasingly at a loss for what to do. Fortunately, Jennifer waved goodbye soon after.
Tao Ting originally thought that Xu Linyue would leave too, but he stood at the same spot and did not seem to have any intention to leave.
On such an occasion, there should be many instances that require him to socialise. She silently criticised him for hiding in the corner with her.
Neither of them took the initiative to start a conversation, and after three awkward minutes, Tao Ting could not take it any longer. She finally broke the silence and casually asked, “What did both of you talk about earlier?”
Xu Linyue replied, “Nothing much.”
Tao Ting, “…”
Great, the conversation was over again.
This time, Tao Ting swore on her life that she would not initiate another conversation.
“Oh, right. Do you have an English name?” Xu Linyue asked her.
When he had introduced her earlier, Xu Linyue had paused for a moment. He probably could not recall her English name, so he had simply introduced her as “Tin”.
“Tayce, but it’s not very easy to remember. People rarely call me by that name,” Tao Ting said.
Xu Linyue mouthed it silently, “It is indeed difficult. Let’s stick with ‘Tin’.”
Tao Ting turned her head away, straining her jaw muscles to hold back her laughter.
Xu Linyue did not understand her reaction and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Tao Ting cleared her throat and corrected, “Ting. There’s a back nasal sound .”
Xu Linyue raised the tips of his eyebrows lightly. He was not embarrassed and even boldly stated, “I don’t differentiate between the front and back nasals.”
Tao Ting nodded, “As long as you’re happy.”
After a while, Xu Linyue suddenly spoke, “Ting.”
It was a perfect pronunciation of the back nasal sound. He even deliberately accentuated it, his deep voice seemingly richer than before.
After saying that, Xu Linyue proudly raised his eyebrows as if to show that he was capable of distinguishing between the two nasal sounds but just did not bother to.
Tao Ting could not hold back any longer after quietly staring at each other for two seconds; she stretched out a bright smile.
Xu Linyue watched her lift the corners of her mouth. He raised his glass, took a sip of the wine, and then looked down, his eyes filled with a layer of tenderness.
Red suited her well. Her usual dressing was way too plain that he nearly missed out on a rose.
“Ting,” Xu Linyue lowly called out, “you’re gorgeous today.”
Only when the man’s silhouette disappeared amongst the crowd of gorgeous clothes did Tao Ting take a deep breath.
The red dress was like the burning fire; her cheeks were like the bright pink of the morning glow.
The soothing classical music had turned into a fast tempo with tightly packed drum beats. It felt like she was in the wilderness, the strong wind sweeping along her deafening heartbeats. The world was large, but she was just a tiny dot; the instant she crossed mountains and rivers, she would fall into the sea of clouds.
During the eight years, Tao Ting would occasionally mention Xu Linyue to others.
Some would exclaim that her crush was too far away.
Tao Ting would shake her head in denial, explaining that it was not a crush. She simply liked looking up to him and could not help but to follow in his footsteps.
“At that time, when I was under a lot of pressure and was confused and worried about the future, he was my guide,” she said with a smile, “but I don’t have such feelings for him. Idols are meant to be looked at and not to be messed around with.”
At this moment, the confidence she once had collapsed in a single blow.
If feelings can be controlled, there would be less sadness in the world and a lot less romance.
Besides, it was inevitable for one to act inappropriately.
The last segment of the annual dinner is the dance, before which there was the customary speech by the boss, talking about the past year’s gains and looking forward to the future.
The secretary was looking for Xu Linyue all over the hall. He was present just a moment ago but disappeared in a blink of an eye, most likely smoking in a hidden corner.
Tao Ting bumped into Jennifer in the hallway outside the restroom and smiled out of courtesy.
“Hey, Miss Rose.” As she was about to brush past, Jennifer stopped her and asked, “Do you know where Lambert is?”
Jennifer replied in her flawed Mandarin, “Xu Linyue, your boss.”
Seeing Tao Ting shake her head, Jennifer frowned and strode away in her high heels.
Tao Ting was distracted as she returned to the sofa. Lu Xiaoyue came over, “I was just looking for you. Where did you go?”
Lu Xiaoyue slapped the table and raised her voice, “I finally remembered who Lambert is. Guess who?”
Looking at her excited expression and how she could hardly restrain herself, Tao Ting’s temples throbbed.
There was a roar of applause all around, and the lights dimmed, leaving only one beam directed at the handsome, tall man on the stage.
After adjusting the microphone, he calmly spoke, “Hello everyone, I’m Xu Linyue.”
The sound from the microphone resounded throughout the hall, matching the shape of Lu Xiaoyue’s mouth.
As midnight approached, the resort looked like an independent lamp that was detached from the world.
Starlights were hung along the railings by the man-made lake. Tao Ting stepped on the wooden board and walked along the lakeside. The wind was soft and gentle, carrying a slight chill and the moist air.
After the speech, Xu Linyue had slipped away again. He was now leaning against the railing, with a cigarette in his hand, silently puffing.
His crisp suit was wrinkled, and the wind tousled his hair. He seemed to be a little weary.
Tao Ting walked over and did not deliberately try turning it into a chance encounter. When their gazes met, she smiled lightly, then imitated his posture, bending her knees and pressing her lower back against the railing.
“You’re not dancing?” Xu Linyue shook the cigarette ash as he tilted his head and asked her.
Tao Ting shook her head, “It’s difficult to find a partner , and Lu Xiaoyue is not willing to dance with me.”
Xu Linyue chuckled lowly.
Ripples appeared on the lake, and the light from the street lamps gleamed on the water.
Tao Ting suddenly asked, “How much do you think my dress costs?”
He was just about to ask, “Are you drunk?”, but was quick to realise what she had meant. He swallowed what he had originally planned to say and placed the cigarette to his lips.
“The perfume was passed to me, or it’d be left unused. What about the dress?”
Xu Linyue did not feel like replying, but it was rather impolite to continue being silent, so he said, “Take it as showing compassion for an employee.”
Tao Ting nodded as if accepting this answer.
“But I don’t really want to thank you.”
Surprisingly, Xu Linyue smiled, “Why not?”
Tao Ting turned to look at the opposite bank of the lake, where there was a pitch-black, dense forest. The wind blew at the leaves, and there was a faintly visible glimmer.
He had met her embarrassment, yet he could not quite understand her considerations and choices.
His generosity did not fill her with gratitude. Tao Ting clearly understood that this was not a gift. Xu Linyue may have phrased it nicely as showing compassion and rewarding an employee, but she knew that this was basically a charity.
Tao Ting could accept Lambert as anyone but Xu Linyue.
But the truth just so happened to be so.
This was truly “taking someone’s goodheartedness for granted” . However, the sour feeling that welled up in her heart could not be ignored. Even she, herself, found it baffling.
“This makes me feel that you are very distant,” Tao Ting lowered her head and said, “I don’t want to have to raise my head to look at you forever.”
She regretted it immediately after she said it. The wind had not only messed with her hair but also her brain. To prevent herself from saying the wrong thing again, Tao Ting threw out a “sorry”, straightened herself and was about to escape.
Her arm was lightly gripped, and she raised her eyes, meeting a pair of dark, intense eyes.
The corners and the tails of his eyes were pointed, and the pupils were black but glinted brightly in the light.
Xu Linyue bent over at the waist, putting himself at eye level with her.
“How about this?”
 恨铁不成钢 (hèn tiě bù chéng gāng), literally, “hate iron for being unable to turn into steel”. This idiom is used to describe being anxious/exasperated at another for being unable to live up to one’s expectations.
 In Chinese, a syllable consists of three elements: an initial sound, a final sound and a tone. One type of final is the nasal final. Sounds ending in ‘-n’ is known as the front nasals, while sounds ending in ‘-ng’ is known as the back nasals. The author has constantly mentioned that Xu Linyue, being from Shanghai, does not differentiate between the front and back nasals, and hence, does not pronounce the ‘g‘ in ‘Ting‘.
 僧多粥少 (sēng duō zhōu shǎo), literally, “too many monks but too little porridge”. This idiom is used to describe the situation where there is too little supply and not enough to go around.
 得了便宜还卖乖 (dé le pián yí hái mài guāi). This saying is used to describe a person pretending to be unappreciative despite having gained something that made them pleased. For example, someone gifted you a rather expensive present that you like a lot. However, you did not thank them, and even told them, “I already have a lot of this at home.” (Source 1, 2)