Xu Linyue did not give her time to react. Just as the words left his mouth, he grabbed Tao Ting’s wrist and brought her into his embrace.
Tao Ting stumbled a little, and her entire body moved forward.
Xu Linyue released his hand and wrapped his arms around her waist, pressing his palms onto her back. Then, he lowered his head and rested his forehead on Tao Ting’s shoulder.
With his shoulders hunched and back arched, Xu Linyue’s gentle and slow breathing swept across her collarbone. Tao Ting held her breath, not daring to move.
It might be her imagination, but she felt that he was not getting a hug from her. Instead, he was simply looking for something to lean against to rest briefly.
He looked exhausted.
The light from the crystal lamp shone on both of them. Just like that, Xu Linyue quietly leaned against Tao Ting, suddenly removing his perfect facade, revealing the vulnerability, exhaustion and tenderness that others could not see.
The bashfulness and embarrassment had long disappeared, leaving behind an aching heart filled with pity and sorrow. Tao Ting lifted her hand, found Xu Linyue’s temple, and used her thumb to press on it, neither gently nor forcefully.
After a while, Xu Linyue finally moved. His head was still lowered, but he felt his way to her hand, caught it and brought it to his mouth.
“Go home early and rest,” Xu Linyue straightened up, his black pupils seemingly filled with water, “see you tomorrow.”
Tao Ting stroked the knuckle of her index finger. There still seemed to be the remains of his warm touch, “I’m leaving then. You rest early too.”
Xu Linyue nodded with a slight smile.
In the past, he had always thought that the moon must be bitter if it had a taste.
Now, as he gazed at the distant horizon and looked at the crescent moon on the branch, Xu Linyue felt that the moon might perhaps be sweet after all.
Quiet, gentle and not dazzling or eye-catching. However, as long as she was around, you would definitely see her.
The rose was lying by his feet, fallen. Xu Linyue bent down to pick it up and placed it on the ashtray.
Just as Tao Ting was going up, she met Yang Fanghua, who was heading out.
“You’re back?” Yang Fanghua held onto a stack of test papers and prepared to go to school for the evening self-study period.
“Mmm, do you need a ride?”
“No need, no need,” Yang Fanghua was walking down the stairs as she instructed her, “your dad is reviewing his pronunciations at home. He hasn’t eaten either. Later, when you heat yours, heat his too.”
Tao Ting nodded, “Got it.”
When she reached home, Tao Ting changed into her slippers. It seemed that Old Tao’s work had not ended, for the door to the study was still shut.
Tao Zejun recently accepted a job as the voice acting director of a television drama and had been busy looking for suitable voice actors for the past two days.
Tao Ting went to her room, changed into loosely-fitted home clothes, and then went to the kitchen to heat the dishes.
She left her phone on the counter and did not hear Xu Linyue’s call. When she saw the notification, ten minutes had already passed. She quickly sent a message to him: “I forgot to tell you, I’ve already arrived home.”
Xu Linyue replied with an “Mmm”.
Tao Ting stared at the chat, waiting for him to send more messages.
After waiting for a long time, there was still nothing from him. Tao Ting grabbed herself a bowl of rice and started on a piece of chicken wing. After finishing it, there was still no reply.
Was he really not replying anymore?
Tao Ting smashed the diced potatoes using her chopsticks, internally cursing at him for being a jerk.
After devouring the rest of the meal, Tao Ting got up to clear the dishes. Suddenly her phone screen lit up; she never thought that the default ringtone would be this pleasant to the ears.
The butt that had just left the chair plopped back down. Tao Ting threw down the chopsticks in her hand and hurriedly answered the call.
Xu Linyue said, “I was driving earlier. I just arrived home too.”
Tao Ting replied, “Okay, then you rest early…”
“Tao Tao’s back?” Tao Zejun stretched his back as he walked out of his study.
Tao Ting glanced at him. Seeing that he was about to pluck a piece of spare ribs to eat, she quickly stopped him, “Hey, hey, hey. Wash your hands first before eating.”
“Okay, Princess,” Despite saying that, a spare rib had already been placed into his mouth. Tao Ting glared at him; he only dared do this when Yang Fanghua was not around.
After being interrupted by Tao Zejun, Tao Ting gave a dry cough and continued the conversation, “You rest early then. Good night.”
Xu Linyue was quiet for two seconds before replying in a deep voice, “Good night.”
After she hung up the call, Tao Zejun smiled and asked her, “Who’s that? It sounds like a man.”
Tao Ting did not give him the opportunity to gossip, “My superior. I was working overtime today, and he was being thoughtful and wondering if I had reached home.”
Tao Zejun clearly did not believe her. He had never seen his daughter speaking so tenderly on the phone, “You lass, you’re too dense. Why did you bid him goodnight immediately? You should have continued asking him if he was tired today, or if he would like to have a meal and watch a movie with you two days later.”
Tao Ting was amused by him, “Have you been dubbing too many idol dramas?”
Tao Zen replied, “I have indeed been dubbing quite a lot of them.”
After a while, Tao Zejun sighed and lamented, “Your mom and I are both cheerful and outgoing. How did you end up being a ‘little wood’ (dense) ?”
Tao Ting ignored him and washed the dishes. One was a language teacher, and one was a voice actor – both were professions that required them to talk. From young, as long as both of them were around, she had no chance to speak or cut in. She reckoned that that was how her reserved character developed.
However, her father did make a point that she could consider. Should she ask Xu Linyue out for a meal and watch a movie?
Forget it. She would not take the initiative. Taking the initiative would put her in a position where she was at the mercy of him.
Xu Linyue did not contact her for several days. At times, Tao Ting almost believed that the chemistry  they had that day in the office was just her fantasy.
It was as though she was standing on a cliff. If she raised her hand, she could touch the clouds and the stars, but she was also shaky and unstable.
Now that she carefully thought it over, although they had held hands, hugged and kissed before, they had never confirmed their relationship. If they were to break off all contact, it would not even be considered a break-up.
Tao Ting began to worry. The longer she waited, the more she lacked the courage to contact Xu Linyue. If he did not give her enough strength and confidence, she would not even have the means to question him.
Xu Linyue updated his Weibo a few times recently. There was one that included a rose placed diagonally across a glass ashtray.
There was also a moon at night, a glass of wine, and even a black ribbon on a white carpet.
All of them did not have any captions and were very abstract, leaving people baffled.
Tao Ting felt that it was a waste of time pondering over the thoughts of a man, but she could not help but leave a space for him in her heart.
Being hot and cold did not reflect well on him. Was Xu Linyue toying with her? However, she had never heard of him having an ambiguous relationship with other female employees.
Another week passed, and Tao Ting was even starting to regret it. Did she fall for someone that she should not?
A deliveryman called out for someone to receive the order at the entrance – today’s bouquet has arrived.
Tao Ting signed her name, then carried it to her cubicle, changed the water in the vase and placed it inside.
Today was a mixture of purple flowers. Tao Ting could only recognise the Tecolote Purple (Persian Buttercup) and Platycodon (Balloon Flower).
Lu Xiaoyue walked past her with a cup of coffee. She casually fiddled with it and said, “It’s quite beautiful.”
Tao Ting nodded and moved the flowers to where there was sunlight.
It seemed that spring was coming .
Except for the occasional brief encounters at the company, Tao Ting finally met Xu Linyue at Lu Xiaoyue’s farewell party.
In a rare sight, Xu Linyue was not wearing formal clothes. Wearing a brown suede locomotive jacket and slim pants, with a pair of black military boots, he did not look like a CEO. He was instead quite like a rebel – arrogant and rebellious, mysterious and alluring.
He only sat for a while before saying that he had to leave because he had another gathering to attend. However, he left a card, saying that he would pay the bill.
His every action was that of a rich young master. Tao Ting sat in the corner and suddenly felt that he, at that distance, was a little foreign.
Tao Ting’s seat was by the door. When Xu Linyue was leaving, he passed her. One lowered their gaze, and the other looked straight ahead. Even a conversational farewell was omitted.
Her fingernails left deep, red scars on the back of her hand. Tao Ting covered them with her sweaty palms, lowering her head to hold back her tears.
It was still winter, and the branches were bare. The freezing wind blew past her skin, so cold that her teeth were chattering.
Each breath brought out a white mist. Tao Ting wrapped her scarf tightly, only revealing her eyes, and without any concerns for the repercussions, bought a cup of hot Americano at seven in the evening.
It was simply too cold.
When she received Xu Linyue’s call, she was already lying in bed and had been in a daze for a long while.
She did not switch on the lights in her room. She squinted as she lowered the brightness, and when she saw who the caller was, her hand slipped, and the phone slammed hard on her face.
“Hello,” Tao Ting rubbed her sore nose and sat up.
“Are you asleep?” The wind could be heard, along with Xu Linyue’s voice.
“Come out. I’m at the entrance of your residential compound.”
After the call was hung, Tao Ting was in a daze for a long time. When she regained her senses, she put on her coat and ran out of the house as fast as possible.
Non-residents were not allowed to drive in, so Xu Linyue’s black Bentley was parked by the roadside. He was leaning against the car door, smoking.
Tao Ting stopped three steps away, bending over as she huffed and puffed.
Xu Linyue closed the distance between them. He stood in front of Tao Ting, helped her up, and said in a tone that carried a hint of both reproach and teasing, “What are you in a hurry for? I won’t run away.”
Tao Ting gulped and asked him, “Why are you here?”
Xu Linyue shook the cigarette ash, “Is there anywhere we can sit nearby?”
The cafes had long closed for the day. Tao Ting thought about it, then pointed at a corner, “There’s a convenience store there.”
Xu Linyue frowned, then stubbed out his cigarette and said to her, “Get in the car.”
The warm air from the heater blew at her face, and Tao Ting undid one of the buttons of her coat. She looked at the chauffeur standing outside, being blown by the cold wind, and was a little embarrassed.
Xu Linyue lowered the wind speed, cleared his throat and gave a not-so-good start to the conversation, “How are you recently?”
Tao Ting said, “Pretty good. I interviewed a few candidates two days ago. Two of them were rather good.”
Xu Linyue made a noise of acknowledgement, “There’s one named Song Qingqing?”
Tao Ting opened her mouth, a little surprised, “Yes. Her education is the highest, and she also did quite well during the interview.”
Xu Linyue nodded, “I’ll have to trouble you to train her in the future. This young lass is rather intelligent, but lacks experience.”
Tao Ting seemed to have realised something and her face turned gloomy. Fortunately, the car’s cabin was dark, so they could not see the expressions on each other’s faces and, thus, did not have to put on a mask.
She respectfully replied, “Okay, I’ve got it.”
Xu Linyue smelled of alcohol, and he spoke slower than usual. Tao Ting guessed that he must be drunk.
It was probably why he came here to say these bewildering things.
“Lu Xiaoyue and I talked about you earlier this evening.”
Tao Ting looked out of the window, “What about me?”
Xu Linyue chuckled, “She told me that, during your interview, you said that you came to Xique because you wanted to stand somewhere where he could see you without looking back or looking down.”
Xu Linyue put away his smile and turned his head to look at her, his tone suddenly serious as he asked, “Who is ‘he’?”
Tao Ting took a deep breath and repeated with certainty, “You.”
“Like I’ve told you before, I first met you during a seminar. At that time, I was not in a good place. I failed to get a postgraduate recommendation. There was only one spot left in the department, and my professor was choosing between another girl and me. He ended up choosing her.”
Tao Ting paused. Xu Linyue did not speak. She bit her lips and continued, “I have an undergraduate degree in Chinese Language. At that time, my dream was to be a journalist. If we were to compare the scores, mine was higher, but my resume was lacking compared to hers. In actuality, I didn’t think I would lose.”
She suddenly changed the topic and asked Xu Linyue, “Guess what my nickname was back in school?”
Xu Linyue shook his head, “I don’t know.”
The corners of Tao Ting’s mouth stretched open, “Study robot. They called me a robot. When writing an essay, I wouldn’t have a single misspelt word. Strict, old-fashioned, withdrawn and boring – I know I am such a person, but I didn’t think that it was a problem. There would always be those who are cheerful and sociable and those who are introverted and would rather not talk.”
“The professor told me that he didn’t choose me, not because I wasn’t outstanding enough, but because I lack a desire. To put it nicely, I lack motivation, but to put it bluntly, I lack ambition. She said that I was like a lake. I would occasionally produce a ripple, but won’t surge shockingly like the sea.”
When Tao Ting said this, Xu Linyue felt an unexplainable sour and stifling feeling.
These comments were actually understandable. When he first met her, she had also left such an impression. However, he had seen the astonishing beauty of said rose, so he disagreed with and even wanted to reproach those that had a prejudice against her.
“At that time, this was a huge blow to me. It was the first time I felt so inferior. I started doubting myself and became very anxious and irritable. I don’t know if I should change, and also don’t know what kind of person is best for me to change to. I didn’t have any direction,” Tao Ting slowly exhaled a breath and said calmly, “then, I met you. This is a little embarrassing to say, but when I saw you on stage, I really felt that you were glowing. When you’re silent, you’re unassuming, but once you start to talk, you will immediately become the focus. I admire people like you.”
Hearing this, Xu Linyue seemed to have understood. He smiled, but it was unclear what emotions the smile carried, “So what am I? An objective?”
Tao Ting was no longer ashamed to say this and admitted frankly, “To be precise, you were my guide and pulled me out of my confused state. Later, when taking the Postgraduate Entrance Examinations, I applied for marketing and planning. When I found out that you were returning to China, I immediately submitted my resume to Xique.”
After saying all these, Tao Ting felt an unprecedented relief, as if she had finally done something that had been put off for a long time.
She retreated to her original, rightful place, and in a deliberately casual tone, clearly defined their relationship, “Thank you, CEO Xu. Without you, I would not be where I am now. I will continue to work hard for Xique’s growth.”
The guide and his follower, the superior and his subordinate – this was the relationship that they originally had and should have.
Xu Linyue’s face was rid of smiles, coldly ignoring this insincere compliment.
The phone rang. Tao Ting answered the call and placed the phone to her ear, murmuring a “Hello”.
“Tao Tao, you went out?”
“Yes, something came up. I’ll be right back.”
“Okay, come back early.”
Even if he had wanted to, the small and enclosed car cabin made it difficult for Xu Linyue to avoid it. He had heard their entire conversation clearly.
As Tao Ting pondered over how to bid him farewell, Xu Linyue unlocked the car door. He temporarily pushed away from the troubling feelings in his heart and sorted out his emotions. In a serious tone that was one of a superior, he said, “When you’re of the age to be dating and marrying, you should do so. The company isn’t that cold-blooded. We cherish each and every one of your abilities and also know how much all of you have done for the company. There’s no need to hide.”
In the end, he said, “I really… really think highly of you.”
Tao Ting had always felt that he had originally wanted to say something else when he had paused in the middle.
However, that did not matter anymore.
 木头 (mù tou), literally “wood”. It is commonly used to refer to a person being slow-witted/dense.
 暧昧 (ài mèi), most commonly translated to as “ambiguous”. However, when used to refer to a relationship, it would usually mean doing couple-y acts, but not defining the relationship. In such cases, it could refer to an illicit relationship, or in the situation of our main characters, could be simply because both parties are too passive and/or filled with misunderstandings and thus, are too afraid to put a label on the relationship.
 Spring is when flowers bloom, thus symbolising a new beginning. Hence, 春天到了 (chūn tiān dào le; lit. “spring has arrived”), in regards to romance, is a common saying to represent someone who is about to get into a relationship. This phrase can also be used to describe someone who is starting to be fortunate after being placed in an unfortunate situation.