Translated by Ying from Exiled Rebels
Zhou Tong’s efficiency was something to behold. Just as Zhou Du entered his office, she immediately knocked smartly on his door, her arms full of documents. After she had reported the details of the situation at hand, she opened her mouth and said to her boss, “I’ve already contacted Mr. Li FanYi’s junior; if you have time in the afternoon today, shall I book an appointment for you?”
Since he was free that afternoon, he replied, “Go ahead. Once you’re done, let me know the time and place.”
Once Zhou Tong received her boss’s orders, she left quietly.
Zhou had an appointment with the boss of another company in the morning so he glanced at a clock. Seeing that it was time to leave, he grabbed his jacket and went out.
As expected, he spent his noon at a drinking table. He didn’t actually drink that much, but his stomach seemed to want to feel uncomfortable. Because of this, Zhou left for home immediately after he had finished eating and didn’t return to the office.
At about two p. m., Zhou Tong sent the time and place to Zhou Du’s phone. Only after being tortured by his stomach for quite a while had Zhou Du managed to squeeze in a bit of nap time. However, he was not generally in the habit of napping, so even before his phone’s alarm had gone off, he had already sprung awake.
He picked up the device to check the time and read Zhou Tong’s message. Zhou Tong was required to report countless things to him each day, so the contact information of the junior from the other night had been pushed back to who knows where.
Zhou Du was just too lazy to scroll all the way back up, so he only glanced at the meeting’s information and burrowed back into his pillow to laze around for a bit longer.
Unfortunately, before he could even shut his eyes again, the golden retriever sitting outside rushed excitedly into Zhou Du’s room upon detecting movement, assuming that his owner had woken up. The golden furball clamped its mouth around a blanket corner and wagged its head with sparkling eyes.
Zhou Du took a deep breath before sitting up and grabbing the blankets that had slid down to his chest, saying to the dog in front of him, “Let go.”
Golden retrievers couldn’t understand the speech of humans, though, and the dog just responded by continuing to drag the blanket backwards by its corner. Zhou Du couldn’t bring himself to actually be angry at the animal, so he could only get out of the bed himself.
He fixed his appearance up simply and took the golden retriever downstairs.
The time in which he went out coincided with work hours, so there wasn’t another soul to be seen walking their dog. Zhou Du took the dog around the park a couple of times before returning home.
After fixing up the pet some food, he checked the time again, and seeing that it was time to leave, he picked up his keys and left the house.
Zhou Tong had booked a high-class café for their meeting, so before Zhou Du had even reached the entrance, a waiter had already opened the glass door for him.
The place was very quiet and it felt like walking into a library. Zhou Du followed secretary Zhou’s directions and made his way directly to table number two situated next to a window on the second floor.
Just as he was about to arrive at the second floor, Zhou Du stopped suddenly. He lifted his gaze to the floor above him, a strange feeling twisting his heart.
Zhou Du couldn’t seem to decipher what the feeling was; it was a bit like that old saying, arriving back home only to feel that it was strangely unfamiliar*. He didn’t know where this feeling stemmed from. Perhaps he was still drowsy from his nap.
As soon as he stepped onto the second floor, someone came to take him to table number two.
The table didn’t seem to have any occupants, there was only a briefcase sitting on one of the chairs. Zhou Du took the seat opposite the briefcase and ordered a coffee.
The owner of the briefcase came along with Zhou Du’s coffee; as the waiter bent down to place the beverage in front of Zhou Du, it just so happened that the waiter was obstructing Xia Yao’s line of vision, and it wasn’t until he sat down that his eyes collided with the pair opposite him.
Both of them seemed to be startled into shock.
Zhou Du could feel his breathing failing in an instant, but after all these years of battling his way through life, he was no longer the child he used to be then. So, he lifted the corners of his mouth in a polite smile and nodded his head at the man in front of him, uttering a word—
However, Xia Yao didn’t possess the other’s flawless composure; he obviously couldn’t seem to recover from the sight of the face in front of him and could only stare at Zhou Du’s features, his own face devoid of any color. He couldn’t move a muscle.
He had lost quite a bit of weight, that was the first thing Zhou Du noticed. The other’s lips were pallid, and streaks of green decorated the underside of his eyes; it was unclear whether this was the result of not sleeping well the previous night or of a long-term lack of sleep.
His shirt outlined his skinny figure. Zhou Du watched as the other’s Adam’s apple bobbed up and down while his panicked gaze darted about.
Zhou Du was surprised by his own calm countenance; he had always thought that as soon as he would meet Xia Yao again, he would either react with overwhelming fury or turn around and leave.
However, now that it was really happening, he found himself relentlessly staring at Xia Yao in the same manner an addict stares at a drug.
The hands Xia Yao had placed on his legs instinctively curled into tight fists; he could feel the simple act of breathing becoming increasingly difficult. Logic told him that he should just get up and leave, but it was as though his feet were glued to the floor. He was completely frozen on the spot.
His eyes were the most terrified of all; Xia Yao had to focus all of his strength into forcing his disobedient gaze back to the person in front of him.
“What is this? After being classmates for so many years, you don’t recognise me?” Zhou Du placed his hands on the table and slightly adjusted his seating position, speaking with hints of ridicule.
Xia Yao forced his mouth to open, and after a while of gaping he managed to choke out a reply to Zhou Du, “It’s not that.”
Zhou Du kept his eyes on the other. He leaned back suddenly, took out a document from his bag and placed it on the table.
Xia Yao had been staring at the coffee in his hands but he raised his eyes slightly to glance at the document in front of him.
Zhou Du on the other hand didn’t seem to be willing to tell him his intentions behind taking the papers to him. Instead, he said, “What a surprise to see you in B city. I thought you had decided to climb the ladder and move overseas permanently, but what’s this? Is that sugar daddy of yours willing to let you run all the way back here for this small amount of coin?”
Zhou Du’s words were a provocation in and of themselves, and Xia Yao couldn’t help clenching his fists. He didn’t know if he was feeling humiliation or fury; his cheeks lit up red before the color immediately drained again, leaving his face as white as parchment.
Zhou Du felt a strange sort of excitement. He yearned to grab Xia Yao by his collar and ask him, “Do you regret it? Do you regret breaking up with me back then?”
Of course, Zhou Du wouldn’t really do that. He was an adult, he was no longer the child who had sobbed and cried, saying ‘I hate you’ to Xia Yao.
Xia Yao silently sat through Zhou Du’s ‘humiliation’. As he absorbed Zhou Du’s words, his heart seemed to have formed some strange sort of detachment. This sort of self-abusive feeling seemed to give Xia Yao’s heart liberation, freeing it from its dark recesses.
He felt that he deserved this; as soon as Zhou Du had finished humiliating him, he would leave, he would leave and go far, far away and stay there. He wasn’t fit to be in Zhou Du’s company, he wasn’t fit to sit with him and he was infinitely unfit to speak with him.
Xia Yao reached out and grabbed his briefcase, he prepared himself to bid his farewell as soon as Zhou Du was done and to never appear before him again.
Zhou Du noticed this move and his heart suddenly felt surges of panic. He’s going to leave, Zhou Du thought, for how long will he disappear this time?
It was only then that Zhou Du seemed to notice that his own hands were trembling. He pretended to lift up his cup of coffee calmly and leisurely took a sip, giving a soft laugh before saying, “Alright then, let’s not talk about these distant memories anymore. Since we came here for business, let’s talk about serious matters.” He pushed the document in front of him towards Xia Yao, “Take a look at the documents. If you have any inquiries, you can ask me now.”
Xia Yao clutched his briefcase tightly; he didn’t have the guts to meet Zhou Du’s gaze, so he quickly eyed the document before saying in a hoarse voice, “I, sorry, but I probably won’t be able to take on this project, I will tell my boss to recommend another candidate for you.”
Zhou Du’s fingers holding up his cup of coffee gave a sudden start. The fury rising in his heart overflowed, burying his logic; he was silent for a while before replying, “I don’t know the reason for your rejection, but if it is merely because of our relationship from back when we were clueless and naïve, then I don’t think you have any reason for concern. As humans we have the ability to look forwards and move on. If you think that I will use this as an excuse to get closer to you, then you have no cause for worrying. These documents are quite urgent; the reason I am seeing you right now is not a personal want or concern. Our meeting is purely professional. In addition, we will probably not come into direct contact anymore. You have the contact details of secretary Zhou, so after you have finished your work, you can report to her.”
After Zhou Du had finished his short speech, he picked up his bag and got ready to leave. Xia Yao kept his head hung low the whole time, not even sending a glance in Zhou Du’s direction.
Zhou Du had indeed stood up with the purpose of leaving, but all he did was stay in his upright position whilst looking down on the man in front of him with a condescending glare while his emotions were doing cartwheels inside of him.
Do you really hate me this much? Not even willing to lift your head and look at me… Zhou Du’s heart shrouded itself in a forlorn and desolate cloud.
Naturally, Xia Yao could feel Zhou Du’s stare piercing holes in him; he held his cup tightly with both hands, his fingers tightly clenching the ceramic rim, otherwise their shaking would be revealed to Zhou Du.
Zhou Du took a slow breath before bending forward slightly, his body unconsciously getting closer to Xia Yao.
Xia Yao’s scent hit his senses, and Zhou Du, as though he had fallen under a spell, could only stare at the pale back of Xia Yao’s neck for a while.
“Xia Yao, I, Zhou Du, am a person who holds chasing after old, given up things in utmost disdain, so you can relax. The me from all those years ago who had chased after you with my life… I will never do it again.”
After the man finished speaking, he quickly left the café, as though he was trying to escape from something.
Xia Yao didn’t move for a long time, Zhou Du’s words ringing in his ears as his heart seemed to attempt to process their meaning. He sat like this for a good half a day. Only then did he blink his eyes and with all his might, forced the bile-like sourness rising upwards down again.
He slowly rose from his seat and picked up the documents in front of him. Then he left his seat mechanically.
*Arriving back home only to feel that it was strangely unfamiliar – 近乡情怯, roughly meaning “arriving home but feeling like a stranger” or “to find an old home feeling unfamiliar”; can also mean arriving home with conflicted feelings.