What will be the aftermath of their near encounter?
Yun Jin sat numbly as she watched his car exit from her rearview mirror. Time crawled to a standstill as she tried to process the scene she had just witnessed. Soon, a bitter and acidic vile liquid rose up her throat. She quickly pushed the car door open and staggered to a side where she rested one hand on a palm tree for support as she doubled over and retched.
A guard on patrol recognized her and asked with concern “Ms Su, are you alright?”
Yun Jin waved her hands at him to indicate she was fine before limply making her way back onto the car. She caught sight of herself – her usual lightly made up face was as white as a sheet. Her forehead and palms were also covered in a thin coat of perspiration. She decided against changing her outfit and set off directly for the designated dinner venue.
When she arrived at the restaurant, Yu Hua was already there waiting. Yu Hua was shocked to see her pale face and dazed expression as she approached weakly. Yun Jin gulped down half a cup of water before recounting the events from the top.
After mulling it over, Yu Hua asked solemnly “What do you think Cheng Zheng hopes to achieve from this? Surely it can’t be pure coincidence?”
Yun Jin herself was at a loss and she shook her head slowly “I don’t know. Whatever his intentions are, whether it’s a coincidence, the fact that he moved into the same building as I and followed me the other night … It’s too scary.”
Yu Hua sighed outwardly “It’s been such a long time. Now both of you are living separate lives, why did he bother?”
“Yu Hua do you think he’s harbouring revenge? And she is merely a paid actress he hired to provoke me?” Yun Jin looked hopefully at her good friend, hoping to hear the response she desired.
Yu Hua hesitated. Finally, she decided to undertake the difficult role of bearer of the cold hard truth “I didn’t tell you this earlier but actually Cheng Zheng has found himself a girlfriend. I heard it from Zhou … Anyway it’s been almost two years now. From what I’ve gathered, she’s petite and pretty and studied the same course as he in university. She’s apparently a few years our junior. Based on your earlier description, I’m 80% certain it’s her.”
Yun Jin listened intently with her head bowed. A long time later, she raised her head and the final flicker of hope in her eyes had been doused “Is that so?”
Seeing her dejected manner, Yu Hua softened “Yun Jin you’re a smart woman so you should know this better than me – you’ve separated for four years now so it’s inevitable that he’s moved on. Why do this to yourself?”
“You’re right. I am more aware than anybody else. Who am I to demand that he holds out for me? He has found someone … I’d previously thought of this but seeing it with my very own eyes are completely different things. Why must he appear now? The person who previously loved only me is now with someone else.” She laughed softly but her sadness was palpable.
“Yu Hua I’m such a joke aren’t I? Before today, I was beginning to believe that I was living a good life and that even if I were to bump into him, I could force myself to smile and meet him face-on. But now I know that it was all wishful thinking on my part. The moment they appeared, I realised whatever I’ve accomplished in the past four years is not worth a mention. Whatever his goal is, he has certainly succeeded.”
“I wonder who owed the other a debt in your previous lives.” Yu Hua shook her head “But now you should at least have a game plan. I don’t think Cheng Zheng’s moving in to your block is just to vex you.”
“He already has a pretty girl on his arm, what can I possibly come up with? I can only react according to the situation.”
“Do you want to move to my place for the time being?” After Yu Hua’s graduation from medical school, she was deployed to a hospital that was affiliated to her university and she had a room on the premises.
Yun Jin shook her head at the offer “It’s not too convenient for you if I were to move over. Besides, I can’t run from him forever. Actually, it’s good that I saw what I did today. Although admittedly I’m upset, at least I can kill all hope once and for all. You’re right. No matter his motives, it’s been four years and we’ve our own lives now. I don’t owe him anything.”
“You’re really okay with it?” Yu Hua still remembered how ghastly Yun Jin looked when she walked in earlier.
“Don’t worry; I’m no longer the silly fool who will cry in secret when I encounter hurdles.”
At this moment, the waiter served the dishes that Yu Hua had already ordered. Yu Hua toasted Yun Jin and wished her a happy birthday. After clinking their glasses, both downed the alcohol in one shot.
“I’m 28 now. Wow it’s been 10 years. After all that has happened, even if I want to, I can’t deny that I’m old.”
Yu Hua couldn’t help but chuckle “Oh yes. I don’t know if you’ve heard the news but Meng Xue has given birth – it’s a boy.”
“Really?” Yun Jin was happy for her. Two years earlier, Meng Xue married their classmate Song Ming and followed her husband over to Guangzhou. This unexpected turn of events was rather amusing considering how she had pined after Cheng Zheng when the perfect man for her had been in her vicinity all along. When she was making her wedding preparations, she sent someone to deliver Yun Jin a wedding invitation. In the end however, Yun Jin sought Yu Hua’s help in passing the couple their red packet on her behalf as she skipped the ceremony altogether.
After that, Meng Xue rang her up and asked if Yun Jin was still angry at her for being the precipitating factor for Cheng Zheng’s and her break-up. Yun Jin then explained to Meng Xue that her break-up had nothing to do with other people and that the drunk incident was merely a catalyst. Even if that night hadn’t happen, their relationship was doomed. She clarified that she never once held it against Meng Xue; she didn’t turn up for the wedding only because … she had no courage to face Cheng Zheng.
After that heartfelt conversation, any traces of enmity between the two dissolved and both felt an invisible burden had been lifted. How many old friendships could last this long? So after Meng Xue’s marriage, their relationship improved significantly. Although they were not best of friends by a long shot, there friendship was genuine.
“That’s great to hear. I really envy her for having such a doting husband and a child. A woman possessing these … her life is perfect.” Yu Hua said enviously. The words had only just escaped her lips when Yu Hua cringed at her own insensitivity. She cast an anxious glance Yun Jin’s way and heaved a sigh of relief at Yun Jin’s non-reaction.
Yun Jin nodded in agreement “That truly is blissfulness. My mother is really anxious now and she’s wringing her hands everyday over my lack of marital status.”
“Your mom does have a point though. It really is time to sit down and think it over. Now that you’ve separated from Xu Zhi Heng, you should have a proper relationship.”
“When I told mom I’ll think it over, I wasn’t merely trying to placate her you know. If there is a good catch, I will be sure to snap him up.” Yun Jin joked in response.
Yu Hua laughed as well “There are a few eligible bachelors in the hospital. How? Are you interested? If you are I wouldn’t mind bearing with the loss by introducing them to you.”
“What loss are you talking about? Surely good things should be shared. But now that we’re on the topic, the killer-good-looks surgeon you introduced the last time? He’s out.”
“Okay! The next one will definitely meet your expectations …”
“Oh right! How’s your transfer paperwork coming along?” The thought suddenly sprang to Yun Jin’s mind when the conversation turned to the hospital. The hospital in which Yu Hua was working at had recently partnered a hospital in Dublin. Just this year, her application to be transferred to the sister hospital had been approved. If everything was on schedule, her paperwork should almost be completed but Yun Jin never once heard Yu Hua mentioning her imminent departure.
Mo Yu Hua hesitated “I don’t feel like leaving right now.”
She didn’t have to spell it out but Yun Jin understood.
“For his sake? … You best think it over.” Su Yun Jin despaired for her good friend. If she could reason, so could Mo Yu Hua. Perhaps that was the most upsetting part – she knew it was a fruitless attempt but she still went ahead with it anyway.
When they parted and both had boarded their respective cars, the smile on Yun Jin’s face slowly vanished. She gathered herself before heading for home.
As she was parking, she noticed that his car was already parked. Yun Jin felt a mixture of emotions at the sight. There is a saying that people always changed; as for him, his car was different now and even his lover had been replaced. He was no longer the Cheng Zheng she knew. He was no longer hers. At this thought, Yun Jin warned herself that in the coming days she had to control herself. No matter what happened, she must not let him see that she hurt.
When she pressed the lift button, it was coincidentally on its descent. The door opened and someone walked out and met her straight on. Both parties halted in their footsteps.
He was ultimately first to react. He looked perfectly stunned, as though it really was the first time he had seen her in all those years “Yun Jin! What are you doing here?”
Yun Jin looked him squarely in the eye and laughed bitterly inside although she plastered on an equally surprised smile “I live here. And you?”
“What a coincidence! I just moved in last week. Wow, it really is quite something that we’ve actually become neighbours. The way the world works sure is strange.” He wore a half-smile that was both familiar and foreign, as though taunting her that he was no longer within reach.
“Yes indeed, what a surprise.” She echoed him.
“The roses are beautiful. Now that I’ve seen you with such a huge bouquet, it seems redundant to ask if you’ve been well. How come you’re alone? Where’s your admirer?” His two hands were jammed in his pockets and he appeared laidback and carefree as though he was asking a simple question and not prying into her love-life as he was doing.
“We just had a meal together. He’s not free today.” Yun Jin said, deliberately not setting his mistaken assumption straight.
“Oh …” It appeared to be a revelation to him. “It’s been some time since we’ve met. Have you been well?”
Yun Jin smiled lightly “By God’s grace I’m okay.”
“That’s good to know. I’ve always said that people have different interpretations of happiness.” Cheng Zheng said casually.
“That’s true. People will only know what true happiness is after they’ve been in unpleasant situations. It’s only when you’ve met the wrong person that you know who the right one is … I’m sorry. I’m sure you have something urgent to see to right now. Maybe we should continue this conversation another day.” Yun Jin wanted desperately to end this ridiculous conversation. Both of them still had memories of the past and this interaction was so superficial and their facades too false, it was beneath the both of them. If they were to continue, she didn’t know if she had it in her to keep up her lie.
“Yeah since we live so near each other, there’ll be plenty of chances to meet in the future.” The corners of his lips turned up.
Yun Jin adjusted her body to pass him and enter the lift. “See you another day then.”
She wished the elevator doors would shut faster so she could drop her superficial smile. But just as the doors were about to close, he stuck his hand in and made the doors part again. Yun jin wasn’t expecting that and she couldn’t help but take a small step back uneasily.
Cheng Zheng did not bat an eyelid as he looked in her eyes and smiled “I think we should at least exchange numbers. After all … we’re neighbours now. Tell me your number and I’ll give you a call.” He tried hard to appear natural to keep the mood light but his tone was hard and unyielding.
Yun Jin studied him thoughtfully before spouting a string of numbers which Cheng Zheng duly keyed into his handphone. True to his word, he gave her a call on the spot. His grin widened when he heard her phone ringing in her purse.
“You should also save my number. You never know, you might need my help one day.”
Yun Jin smiled but didn’t respond.
“Bye.” Cheng Zheng smiled before turning back once again. If this was the first time they met, Yun Jin would have thought his smile was exceptionally charming but now all Yun Jin felt was a lump in her throat.
The moment he turned his back on her, she felt a sudden surge of weariness. If this was how it would be in future days, it would be too tiring on everyone. It would be better to hack away at their false pretences now.
She quickly pressed the button for the doors to open again and she yelled after him “Cheng Zheng!”
He stopped in his tracks although he didn’t turn back.
“Let’s stop this. It’s been four years and you still don’t know how to lie. Don’t you find out entire interaction a huge joke? Tell me, what do you want?” her voice sounded unusually formal and distant, something he was not familiar to.
He continued to keep his back to her as he replied slowly “I think you’re mistaken. I don’t want anything. I only moved here because my girlfriend likes the environment here. I don’t have any other intentions. You’re right, I did see you yesterday but since she was also present, and our past relationship is too hard to explain, I didn’t say hello. That’s all. Su Yun Jin, we don’t have to be friends but I’ve let go of the past. You don’t have to be so guarded around me.”
“I hope it is as you’ve said. I hope we can maintain neighbourly relations. Good night.”
The elevator began its ascent but Yun Jin’s heart was on a rapid descent.