With a ‘pfft’, Tao Ting curled her lips and laughed out loud.
The colleague next to her could not help but be curious and moved closer to ask, “What are you laughing at?”
Tao Ting was quick to flip the phone around on the table, “It’s nothing. Just a cold joke.”
She walked out of the pantry with her coffee and cake and went back to her seat.
No longer having to worry about prying eyes, Tao Ting quickly wrote an invitation that she had been planning for days.
To prevent herself from regretting her decision again, she sent it out resolutely.
【Can you make tonight available for me? I want to treat you to a meal.】
After sending the message, Tao Ting put the phone aside. She leisurely finished the cake, took a sip of coffee to cleanse her palate, and wiped away the remains of the cream left on the sides of her mouth with a napkin.
Then she picked up her phone and returned to her chat with Xu Linyue.
There was no reply.
Tao Ting frowned and repeatedly refreshed. She even checked if the network connection was smooth.
He really did not reply?
She suddenly panicked and opened her WeChat Moments  to confirm that Xu Linyue did not block her before letting out a sigh of relief.
What should she do? Tao Ting had already prepared a draft to reduce her humiliation if she were to be rejected, but she did not expect him to not reply.
Like a deflated ball, Tao Ting thumped her chin on the table and stared blankly at the darkened screen of her phone.
Could it be that he was busy and had not seen it?
As she pondered over the different possibilities, she began to be chagrined at her impulsiveness.
The marketing department occupied the whole of the 14th floor. The glass doors detected a movement and automatically opened from the middle, sliding to the sides.
The sounds of steady and slow footsteps approached from far. Tao Ting raised her head and opened both her eyes wide after a glance.
Xu Linyue had suddenly arrived. All the employees hurriedly put down what they were doing and stood in a line. Lu Xiaoyue stepped forward, greeting him enthusiastically.
Tao Ting followed behind her, smiling and nodding her head, calling, “CEO Xu.”
She could feel Xu Linyue staring at herself even without raising her eyes. Tao Ting’s breathing constricted, and she forced herself to calm down.
“Are the cakes delicious?” Xu Linyue was full of smiles.
Everyone replied, “Yes, yes!”
Xu Linyue asked another two conversational questions. With his hands behind his back, he was like an official visiting the countryside for an inspection.
Some of his questions suspiciously felt like they were brought up only because he had nothing better to say. He then suddenly changed the topic, looking towards Tao Ting and asking, “Isn’t Supervisor Yao of the Administration Department getting married soon? What about Team Leader Tao, do you have any plans?”
The topic was switched rather abruptly, and Tao Ting was caught off guard. She raised her head with her mouth slightly open, not quite knowing what to do.
Lu Xiaoyue was shrewd. Afraid that this was a test deliberately given by the superior, she patted Tao Ting’s back hard, raised her voice, and said, “Our Xiao Tao (Little Tao) is highly focused on her career, and is currently single and not anxious!”
Xu Linyue glanced at Tao Ting meaningfully. He raised his eyebrows and said indifferently, “That’s really great.”
“It’s almost the end of the year. Everyone, take good care of yourselves. Let’s work hard and strive to reach yet another new high.”
Xu Linyue left after he finished speaking. When he walked out of the glass doors, there were sighs of relief all around.
“That scared me to death. My computer screen is still showing a television drama. Why did he suddenly come!”
“This is my first time seeing CEO Xu so up-close. He’s so handsome.”
“Of course. He’s the top among the sons of Shanghai’s wealthiest families.”
Everyone chipped in to the conversation, chatting enthusiastically. Lu Xiaoyue drove them back to work.
When the crowd dispersed, she pulled Tao Ting aside and whispered, “Yao Meng is having a shotgun marriage. Her promotion will most likely be postponed. CEO Xu probably wanted to sound you out when he suddenly asked you that question earlier.”
Tao Ting asked, “Is that so?”
Lu Xiaoyue curled her lips and asked in reply, “Will a capitalist be concerned about your happiness?”
Tao Ting arched her nose and lowered her eyes to read the new messages she received in WeChat again.
【I can’t tonight. I am meeting the director of Chentian Advertising.】
【I can meet anytime after.】
Why did she feel that Xu Linyue meant something else?
Thursday was a cloudy day.
When she stepped out of the office building, dusk was approaching, the sky was grey, and a gale was blowing.
Tao Ting buckled the belt of her trench coat and stood waiting by the roadside while hugging her arms.
Fortunately, Tao Ting did not have to wait too long. The black Bentley slowed down to a stop in front of her, and she pulled open the door and slipped into the passenger seat.
“Where to?” Xu Linyue rested his left hand on the steering wheel and unlocked his phone with the other hand, handing it over.
He did not have a case, and it seemed like he did not even have a screen protector. Tao Ting took the phone carefully with both hands and entered the location on the map.
Xu Linyue cast a glance; the place was quite remote. He did not say anything, only driving according to the navigation route.
On the way to the location, Tao Ting quietly looked out of the window at the sceneries passing by, and Xu Linyue concentrated on driving.
While waiting for the light to turn green at the intersection, Xu Linyue seemed to have remembered something and made a call.
He was not talking about work, but his tone was still serious and strong.
“How about this, why don’t you let her come over to where I am to train for two years? Isn’t she rather interested in beauty products?”
“Her wanting to be independent is all a lie. Why are you letting that brat fool you?”
Tao Ting lowered her head and whispered a syllable, “xué.”
Xu Linyue turned his head to look at her and changed the phone to his other hand.
Tao Ting hurriedly shook her head and waved her hand, mouthing, “It’s nothing.”
There were still three seconds left before the traffic light turned green, so Xu Linyue hung up the call.
He shifted the gears and started the car, asking Tao Ting, “What were you mumbling to yourself earlier?”
Xu Linyue frowned, obviously not satisfied with this answer.
Tao Ting pursed her lips and told him the truth, “‘Lie (噱头 xué tóu)’. It should be pronounced using the second tone.”
Xu Linyue was rendered speechless. He opened and closed his mouth for a long time before choking out a sentence, “You’re good at Chinese.”
Tao Ting knew that he was not sincere and explained herself, “My mom is a Chinese teacher and my dad is a voice actor, so my pronunciation has been constantly corrected since young. It had become a habit, so I did it subconsciously earlier. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
Xu Linyue smiled, “No wonder you’re so articulate. Your speech is pleasing to the ears.”
Tao Ting got goosebumps at his compliment. She closed her mouth and did not say anything else.
It was not easy to park in a residential compound. Xu Linyue parked at the entrance of the alley, and both of them walked in.
Tao Ting had chosen a pub. It was not very mainstream, but the environment was very good.
Both of them sat down at a booth. Xu Linyue drove, so he could not drink. Tao Ting ordered a cup of mulled wine for herself.
“I didn’t think that you would bring me to such a place.”
Tao Ting clasped both her hands around the cup to give her frozen hands some warmth, “I will occasionally come with my friends to watch football matches. The beer here is very good.”
Xu Linyue became interested, “Football matches? Which team do you like?”
If both parties support the same team, it would be a joyous encounter when posed such a question. However, if both parties support rival teams, then it would be awkward.
Tao Ting knew he favoured the Die Mannschaft (Germany’s national football team), so she replied, “Real Madrid (Spanish professional football club).”
Xu Linyue’s face flashed with disappointment, but he quickly hid it well and commented pertinently, “They’re very meticulous when playing.”
Tao Ting only smiled and did not say anything.
Since they had different preferences, it would be easy to “step on landmines”  when chatting. Therefore, Xu Linyue did not continue this topic and casually talked about advertisements of the new products instead.
When all the dishes were served, Tao Ting took out a gift box from her bag and pushed it towards him.
Xu Linyue recognised the brand. Without batting an eyelid, he opened the box – there was a pair of cufflinks, uniquely shaped as robots .
He lifted his eyes to look at Tao Ting, asking her intentions with his eyes.
Tao Ting took a sip of the mulled wine. During the heating process, apples, oranges and lemons were added, leaving a light fruity taste when drunk, “I left my number with the sales clerk in the store. If they were to see Mr Lambert again, they would pass this gift to him on my behalf. Since I know who he is now, I’ll just pass it to him personally.”
Xu Linyue closed the lid and placed the gift box beside him without giving it another look.
“I didn’t buy that dress for this.”
Realising that his tone was too serious, Xu Linyue lightened his tone a little and spoke again, “It suits you well, so I didn’t want you to have any regrets. That’s all.”
Tao Ting replied, “It may be suitable but it is not a necessity. I don’t have any regrets. On the contrary, I am burdened.”
Xu Linyue leaned his back against the back of the chair and rubbed his left hand’s purlicue (the space between the thumb and the forefinger), “I did that out of the goodness of my heart.”
“I know,” Tao Ting nodded, “that’s why I wore it to the annual dinner.”
“You like it too, don’t you?”
Tao Ting lifted her head, “I do, but…”
“Enough,” Xu Linyue ran out of patience and raised his hand to interrupt her, “let’s not talk about this any longer. I’ll accept the gift.”
To show his acceptance, Xu Linyue took out the pair of tiny robots and changed into them on the spot.
“Not bad,” He raised his arms and put them under the light to look at them.
Tao Ting smiled, “It’s good that you like them.”
Xu Linyue glanced at her, lowering his arm and straightening his sleeves.
He had taken it a little too far when he first bought her a dress without her permission. Yet, at the lake in the resort, she was the one who took the initiative to kiss him.
Their relationship had long been more than that of a simple superior and subordinate. However, with this pair of cufflinks, Tao Ting had, without leaving any traces, quietly pulled them both back to their boundaries.
It seemed like they were both even now, yet it also seemed even more confusing.
Xu Linyue’s meal was tasteless. Those ambiguous, supposedly interested signals he had received had now turned into a joke.
He felt like he had been fooled, and the one who had fooled him was even acting cold and indifferent, so he could only sulk.
Tao Ting said that she would settle the bill. However, Xu Linyue did not say a word and directly handed his credit card to the young girl at the cashier before turning around and walking straight out of the door.
When she walked out with the receipt in her hand, Xu Linyue was standing under the eaves, smoking.
The dark night was lonely. The cold wind carried the scent of tobacco, and the slightly bitter smell helped a little with sobering up.
Tao Ting returned the credit card to Xu Linyue. He received it and stuffed it into his pocket carelessly.
“Did I upset you?” Tao Ting asked, looking at the wind chimes hanging on the eaves.
Xu Linyue was so exasperated that he could laugh. She was always direct and confident, causing him to be the embarrassed and awkward one.
He shook the cigarette ash and chose to be a hypocrite, “No.”
Tao Ting let out a breath, “That’s good.”
Xu Linyue secretly rolled his eyes.
Tao Ting took a step forward before turning around and standing in front of him, gently calling out, “CEO Xu.”
Xu Linyue held the cigarette in his mouth and hummed in response perfunctorily.
Tao Ting, at 1.69 metres, was considered tall for a woman. She suddenly straightened up and stood on tiptoes, and her height sprung up several centimetres higher.
“I realised that I can also be at eye level with you like this,” Tao Ting was smiling rather foolishly, probably because the glass of mulled wine had gone to her head.
She could not maintain her balance and was wobbling back and forth. Xu Linyue was afraid that she would fall and reached out to hold onto her arm.
Her statement came unexpectedly, and Xu Linyue wanted to laugh at his loss for what to do. He suddenly recalled what she said that day by the lake, and he, once again, flattened the corners of his mouth as his mind wandered off.
His touch glided across her forearm to her wrist. Xu Linyue grabbed one of Tao Ting’s index fingers and raised it to poke at his cheek.
“Is this still far away?”
 朋友圈 (pénɡ you quān), literally “Friends Circle” is a feature of WeChat, a messaging application. This feature is similar to social media platforms like Facebook, where you can view your friends’ status updates, pictures and videos on your Moments feed.
 踩雷 (cǎi léi), literally, “step on landmines”. This phrase can be used in many contexts and is usually used to mean “running into something unpleasant”. For example, you could say that you’ve “stepped on a landmine” when you’ve stepped on dog poop, or when you’re following a web novel and the author suddenly decided to stop writing it. (Source)
 The author explained that “Xu Linyue originally found them childish, but he was very fond of them and unwilling to part with them after.”