The oil lamp swayed, and the wind chimes rattled as the wind blew.
Tao Ting boldly reached upwards and pulled at the corners of his mouth.
Xu Linyue’s appearance, voice, warmth and even his heartbeat – they were all within her reach.
Once she raised her eyes, she could see him, and once she reached out, she could touch him. He was standing in front of her, and she could smell him and hear him. It was like crossing a light year , as though the stars had fallen from the sky to her fingertips.
She shook her head. It was not far. It was too close now.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” the man half a meter away rubbed the back of his head and pointed to the SUV behind them, saying, “but I’ve been waiting here for several minutes. Let me go over and get my car.”
She did not expect there to be other people. Tao Ting’s face turned red, and she quickly withdrew her hand and moved to the side.
Xu Linyue was much more composed. His expression remained unchanged, and he nodded his head in apology, “Sorry.”
The man waved his hand and said with a smile, “I should be the one apologising for disrupting your date, but I’m in a hurry to pick my son up. Sorry about that.”
After the man’s car drove away and Tao Ting came back to her senses, she realised that both of them were just standing there foolishly. She exhaled, carrying her backpack and preparing to leave.
Xu Linyue strode forward to follow her. He took her hand naturally and wrapped it in his palm.
Tao Ting noticeably halted for a moment. Just as she raised her head, Xu Linyue beat her to it and spoke, “Why are your hands so cold?”
Tao Ting pursed her lips and decided not to speak anymore.
His hand was large and dry, and the warmth was passed over to her, little by little. His affection melted the glaciers in the winters, and Tao Ting silently accepted it.
After passing two street lights, Xu Linyue let go of her hand. Tao Ting’s heart sank, and she buried the lower half of her face into the collar of her coat. Her disappointment was like trying to invade a labyrinth; she did not want to admit that she was unwilling to let go.
“Put it in your pocket,” Xu Linyue said.
Tao Ting obediently did as she was told and thrust both hands into the pockets of her coat.
“You don’t have to do it for this one,” Xu Linyue lightly smiled. He walked to her other side and held her left hand.
During the entire walk to the alley entrance, not only was her hand covered with warmth; her whole body was burning, and even her breath was hot.
“We actually met a long time ago,” Tao Ting stopped in her tracks.
The warm light from the street lamp shone on both of them, like the followspot of a grand stage.
Xu Linyue was stunned for a moment and asked, “When?”
“Many years ago, when you went back to school to give a speech. I was sitting in the audience,” Tao Ting smiled, gazing off at a distance.
Xu Linyue tried to recall, but his memory was blurry. He continued to ask, “What did I speak about that day?”
Tao Ting shrugged. She did not mention that she had not been listening for half of the seminar and only said, “I can’t remember.”
She calmly spoke of her regret from years ago, “There was a question-and-answer session at the end. I was going to raise my hand, but someone beat me to it.”
Xu Linyue said, “I’ll make up for it and give you a chance now. What was your question?”
Tao Ting met his gaze and shook her head, “I forgot, but she asked a question that I wanted to know the answer of anyway.”
Xu Linyue was curious, “What did she ask?”
Tao Ting frowned in dissatisfaction. He really did not remember anything.
She continued walking forward and opened the door of the car to get in.
Xu Linyue wanted to know what the question was and asked again, “What did she ask? It wasn’t a question related to the topic, was it?”
“Ideal type,” Tao Ting fastened her seat belt and took the opportunity to avoid Xu Linyue’s eyes, “she asked what your ideal type was, and even asked if you had a girlfriend.”
Xu Linyue did not speak again. After a few seconds, he laughed lightly and started the car.
“I don’t,” after driving for a few hundred meters, Xu Linyue suddenly spoke.
Tao Ting laughed at him, “That wasn’t how you answered back then.”
Xu Linyue, however, no longer wanted to talk to her about the past, “I’m talking about right now.”
The corners of Tao Ting’s mouth froze, and she nodded hesitantly, “Oh.”
The night wind blew at the tree branches. This season had too few colours.
Xu Linyue tried his best to recall, attempting to find the girl from years ago in the corner of his memory.
He imagined the appearance of young Tao Ting to probably be the same as the present – her features fleeting like smoke.
The first meeting would not leave one amazed, but the subsequent meetings would leave a deep impression.
Xu Linyue stroked the cufflink with his fingertips. This little robot was pretty adorable after looking at it for a long time.
When she received Xu Linyue’s message, Tao Ting was eating with Lu Xiaoyue in the staff canteen.
Lu Xiaoyue wanted to lose weight, so Tao Ting accompanied her to eat a diet meal. The chicken breast was bland, lean, and tasteless.
Xu Linyue asked if she had eaten.
Tao Ting replied: “I’m eating.”
Xu Linyue then asked what she was eating.
Tao Ting took a picture and sent it over.
Xu Linyue: “Is this enough?”
The corners of her mouth curved, and Tao Ting typed back: “Of course. I can’t eat anymore after the third bite.”
He stopped replying after. Tao Ting put down her phone and decided to finish the mashed purple sweet potato that was still rather edible.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Lu Xiaoyue suddenly cupped her arm excitedly, “look at this!”
Tao Ting looked at her suspiciously and took the phone, “Who’s this?”
“Chang Minfu, the daughter of a once-wealthy family,” Lu Xiaoyue chewed the red cabbage with gusto. As if afraid that Tao Ting would not recognise the woman, she added, “CEO Xu’s ex-girlfriend.”
Tao Ting threw the phone back to Lu Xiaoyue as if she was scorched. She buried her head and stuffed herself with a mouthful of “grass”.
Lu Xiaoyue zoomed in on the woman on the screen for a closer look and sighed, “Why did she become like this?”
Tao Ting took another glance. Actually, Chang Minfu’s features were as beautiful as ever. However, she did not have the boost of a high-fashion dress and the aura of a woman of status. On top of that, the angle of the shot and the quality of the image made her look even more haggard.
“Sure enough, someone has already mentioned CEO Xu. They said that if CEO Xu had helped her back then, a beauty like her would not have turned like this now,” Lu Xiaoyue summarised.
Tao Ting halted her actions and frowned, “Her company had a scandal and the stocks plummeted. How was Xu Linyue to help? Marry her?”
Lu Xiaoyue snapped her fingers, “That’s what they said. If they had announced their marriage then, Xu Linyue would have been a loving CEO who never abandoned his lover. Why did he not consider having such a good public image?”
Tao Ting was lost in thoughts. After a few seconds, she coldly snorted and said, “That’s only in romance novels. In reality, you’d go your own way in the face of disaster .”
She lowered her voice and mumbled to herself, “That’s right. This isn’t a novel.”
At the door, a deliveryman shouted, “Is Ms Tao here? Phone number ending with 7265.”
Lu Xiaoyue looked at Tao Ting and asked, “Did you order that?”
Tao Ting shook her head, but the name and last digits of the phone number was hers.
Seeing the delivery boy hovering anxiously, Tao Ting got up and walked over, confirming her identity. She took the thermal bag and suddenly realised who had ordered it.
“Wow,” Lu Xiaoyue took out the lunchboxes and opened them, one by one. Two meat, one vegetable and one soup. It looked sumptuous and delicious. “Who ordered this for you?”
Tao Ting made up a lie on the fly, “My dad. He thinks I’m too thin recently and wants me to eat more.”
Lu Xiaoyue looked at her enviously, “Uncle sure is nice.”
Tao Ting handed her a pair of chopsticks, “Eat some more?”
Lu Xiaoyue rejected her resolutely, “No, I’ll go back first. Take your time and eat to your heart’s content.”
Once Lu Xiaoyue left, Tao Ting took out her phone and sent Xu Linyue a message: “Thank you, CEO Xu.”
The man played dumb: “What are you thanking me for?”
Tao Ting was forced to reply respectfully: “Thank you CEO Xu for the lunch. It is delicious and tempting. My mouth is watering.”
Xu Linyue laughed at the other end of the screen. This young lady’s choice of words was pretty interesting.
He did not know that this was Tao Ting being angry, and even felt good about himself as he replied: “The steamed eggs with shrimps from this restaurant is not bad. Eat more.”
There was no reply from the other end. Xu Linyue guessed that she was concentrating on eating and did not bother her.
He had a two-hour meeting earlier that afternoon. Xu Linyue rubbed his sore neck and pushed open the office door, asking his secretary to bring him a cup of coffee.
When he caught sight of the cake box on his desk, he stood still.
Before he opened his mouth, his observant secretary gave him an answer, “Team Leader Tao from the marketing and planning department came.”
Xu Linyue raised his eyebrows. His happiness and surprise very soon turned into an unexplainable gloominess.
The shop the cake was from was rather famous. A hundred yuan (~ USD 16) could only get you a small piece of layered cake.
There were many cafes below the office. Tao Ting did not go to one near but instead chose one of equal value to the lunch.
If it had been anyone else, Xu Linyue would have thought that it was a back-and-forth exchange, but with Tao Ting, he knew that she was once again “repaying the debt” because she didn’t want to be indebted to him.
What does this mean? Was he mistaken again?
Xu Linyue rubbed his forehead and laughed helplessly. He was old and could not understand the hearts of the young girls now.
“Ting, CEO Xu is asking for you. He wants to hear your proposal.”
Tao Ting raised her wrist to look at her watch. There were only ten minutes left till the end of work. She frowned slightly but still swiftly took the folder and quickly walked towards the stairway.
She presented the proposal in detail during the meeting and Xu Linyue did not have much to say. Was this not a deliberate attempt at giving her extra things to do?
Tao Ting pushed open the door to the CEO’s office while speculating.
Tao Ting took a deep breath. The Xu Linyue she saw in the office was always proper and imposing. She found herself a little afraid of him, perhaps because she was guilty.
Tao Ting presented the same content again at a comfortable pace.
Xu Linyue nodded but did not give any comments.
Outside, the night was falling, and the lights had just switched on.
Tao Ting bent over in a bow, “If there’s nothing else, I’ll make a move.”
“Wait,” Xu Linyue stopped her.
Tao Ting stood upright and looked at him calmly.
“If you have something to say, go ahead,” Xu Linyue crossed his arms and leaned against the desk, slowing down his speech, “I’ll give you a chance to ask a question. Student Tao Ting, do you have anything you want to ask me?”
Tao Ting bit her lower lip. She hesitated for two seconds and ended up nodding, “Yes.”
Her breathing quickened as her fingernails sank into the back of her hands. She had been getting bolder recently, always on the verge of getting dismissed from work.
“How do I benefit someone like you who values your personal interests above all else? You treat me with kindness in exchange for me committing myself to Xique for a lifetime?”
After she spoke, there was silence in the room, and neither of them spoke for several minutes.
Tao Ting was heading towards a breakdown during this silence and did not dare to lift her head to look at the man, her brain a jumbled mess.
“Valuing my personal interests above all else?” Xu Linyue chuckled lowly, “am I someone like that?”
Tao Ting could no longer ponder over what can or cannot be said and subconsciously replied, “You abandoned the wealthy Chang family’s daughter. Everyone is saying that you’re cold and realistic.”
Xu Linyue did not comment on the statement and only asked, “What do you think then?”
Tao Ting blinked, “Capitalists are all utilitarians.”
Xu Linyue was so angry that he found the situation funny, “If we go by what you said, wouldn’t I have to please a lot of people then? Isn’t Lu Xiaoyue more capable than you?”
Tao Ting’s head lowered, inch by inch.
“Come here,” Xu Linyue suddenly sounded serious.
Before she could think twice, her legs had already started walking over. Tao Ting hated this instinctive reaction of hers.
“Chang Minfu and I broke up long ago. We’re not celebrities; we do not need to share our private lives with the public. Something happened to her family, and I, as an old friend, helped her find a house overseas to settle down in. I didn’t turn my back on her, nor could I do more. I don’t care how the media write or how others speculate, but you can’t misunderstand me.”
Xu Linyue conveniently plucked a rose from the vase and stuffed it into Tao Ting’s hand, “When it comes to spending, I don’t consider the suitability nor the necessity. I don’t always consider the benefits that I can gain either.”
He paused and continued, “I only care if I like it or not.”
Outside the french windows was the bustling nightscape of the city. They were standing on a white carpet, and it seemed like they had fallen into a fairytale.
Xu Linyue stroked the rose petal as he held Tao Ting’s hand in his palm, “Are you going to return this rose I gifted you too? How are you going to return it?”
Tao Ting was thin-skinned. At this moment, her cheeks were redder than the rose in her hand. Her breathing trembled, and she wanted to get out for some cold air – the room was too stuffy.
Xu Linyue disregarded her embarrassment and even proposed with a cheeky grin, “Do you want to hug?”
 光年 (guāng nián): The distance that light travels in one year, which is approximately 9.45 trillion kilometres (or 5.88 trillion miles). It is sometimes used to refer to a very long distance.
 The full saying is 夫妻本是同林鸟，大难临头各自飞 (fū qī běn shì tóng lín niǎo, dà nàn lín tóu gè zì fēi), literally, “both wife and husband are from the same forest, but when disaster strikes, they fly their own separate ways”. This is used to describe a person abandoning their husbands/wives in the face of danger, and thus, refers to selfish people who only look after their own interests. (Source)