I think we can all agree that their most recent encounter in which they traded superficial pleasantries was a huge tease. But are they ready for a proper conversation?
Yun Jin lay on her bed for a long time. Sleep eluded her. She tossed and turned every once in a while but she couldn’t find a good sleeping position. Maybe she ought to purchase an orthopedic bed. Or maybe, she ought to find a more dependable set of shoulders. But meeting that pair of shoulders was up to fate. At the end of the day, it was more practical to change the bedding.
She had never thought there would come this day when they lived in the same block once again much less bump into each other and speak in a roundabout manner. It was the first time he was within touching distance in four years although he was no longer hers.
He had changed. He was still just as handsome but the boy who had once been impulsive and blunt had now morphed into an aloof, mature man. Only a few of his habitual tics remained to remind her of his former self.
He was within reaching distance. Every single pore on her body came alive at that realization and they screamed and desired and pined for him! She felt such a disgrace for wanting him so badly. Was it because she was tired of feeling lonely or was it because he was him?
He hadn’t been truthful. In the past, whenever he lied, he never looked her face-on. It had already been so many years of non-contact, why did he go through all that trouble to upset her? Yun Jin couldn’t guess what was on his mind and was even more clueless as to what she intended to do about him and this weird predicament. She decided it best to adopt a wait-and-see approach.
In the subsequent days, Yun Jin tried her best to avoid him. Although they were neighbours, they were not living across the same hallway – she lived on the 12th and he on the 18th floor. Since she endeavoured to avoid him at all costs, there was an even smaller likelihood of a direct encounter.
He had regular working hours. Sometimes she would already be in the safety of her home when she would hear the punctual screeching of tires. Every time this happened, she couldn’t help but peer down from behind her lacey curtain. Sometimes he would be with the girl but mostly he was alone.
There had also been occasions when their paths had crossed in the public setting. He would only greet her politely. There was even once when Yun Jin came home particularly late, she bumped into him and the girlfriend. Without skipping a beat, he had introduced the both of them but he deftly avoided a sticky situation by stating she was his senior high classmate instead of his ex-girlfriend.
Since he acted so calmly and indifferently to her presence, Yun Jin decided it would be incredibly petty of herself if she were to distance herself. Hence, she decided to go with the flow as well by pretending he was merely a friend whom she lost contact with. She reasoned that if she maintained a suitable distance, there was no fear of being hurt by him.
Early one morning, Yun Jin prepared to head to work as she had done countless times. She was just reversing from her parking lot when she saw Cheng Zheng gesturing at her.
She wound her window down and asked “Good morning. Can I help you?”
“Is your company over at Tian He? I have some matters to see to there and my car’s giving me trouble. Would it be convenient to give me a lift?” Cheng Zheng asked politely.
Yun Jin mulled over his request as she studied him carefully. She wasn’t sure he was telling the truth.
“Forget it. I’ll just hail a cab on the main road instead since it’s not convenient for you.” He sensed her discomfort from her non-reply and didn’t want to pressure her.
“It’s no problem. Hop on.” Yun Jin didn’t want to appear as if she was holding onto grudges.
When Cheng Zheng got into the front seat, she was immediately hit with a familiar whiff of aftershave.
“When did your architectural firm have business at Tian He?” she asked.
Cheng Zheng stared at her before breaking into bitter laughter “I guess you’ve really not sought news of me all this time. I’ve left that designing firm two years ago. I’m partners with Zi Yi now and we’re looking for potential projects. Coincidentally, there’s something that came up in your area so I thought I’ll take a look today.”
Yun Jin didn’t find it in the least bit surprising. As long as one was wealthy and had the capital, what wasn’t he capable of? She recalled seeing a few plots of land near the office undergoing construction works and decided against asking for more details.
“Have you had your breakfast? It’s still some time before work begins. Shall we eat together?” Cheng Zheng suggested.
“Oh, no thanks. I’ve already eaten at home. I’ve made it a habit to report early for work.”
“Forget it then.” Cheng Zheng shrugged his shoulders “I still remember back then you were always rushing to make it in time for work.”
Yun Jin kept her focus on the road ahead and answered seemingly carelessly “That’s only because back then I needed to prepare two portions of breakfasts and help you prepare for work. Also since I took a lift from you, I needed to wait for you too.”
Cheng Zheng grinned “It seems life is truly better for you after leaving me.”
“Isn’t it the same for you?”
Cheng Zheng stared out the window at the buildings that flew past. After a long pause, he said “Yun Jin you’ve changed.”
He didn’t see it but Yun Jin’s grip on the steering wheel tightened momentarily though her tone was as unmoved as usual “It’s been a long time. Who wouldn’t have changed? People need to look forward.”
“You’re absolutely right. Change is also good. The Su Yun Jin from before was a fool. Who knew the idiot who viewed dignity and pride above all else would now be shrewed enough to seduce her superior to pave the way for a smooth career? And when the guy’s wife came raring for a fight, she was even able to dismiss her easily.”
A van turned in suddenly from a minor road and Yun Jin swerved the steering wheel abruptly. Both of them were tossed violently in their seats.
She was right; that night he had also been at Left Bank.
“I think this is none of your concern.” She temped down her emotions and made no effort to explain herself.
“Actually, it’s not completely irrelevant to me. At the very least, I want to know your if your so-called principles and pride is only directed at me.” He continued to smile pleasantly at her.
Yun Jin appeared thoughtful “I guess it’s not wrong for you to think that way.”
Cheng Zheng looked away from her and laughed “I see. Thank you anyway for answering a question that has troubled me for such a long time.” He noticed that Yun Jin’s lips were pressed together firmly so he reached out to switch on the radio. “We’re only just chatting casually. No need to feel uptight.”
A melody started playing on the radio and reverberated through the car as though attempting to permeate the awkward air. A man sang sorrowfully:
We used to view the sky together
I breathed with you
But I’m no longer with you
Is there any like us?
We loved but we lost
If you are willing
Even if troubles met us head-on
And life tried to tire us out
If we could just hold on
Till the rain comes
And fall on this barren land
If only you are willing
I will entrust my being to you
The two journeyed in silence.
They were fast approaching Yun Jin’s workplace so Cheng Zheng pointed at a junction ahead and said “You can pull over there. I’ll just walk the rest of the way.”
Yun Jin pulled over as requested.
Cheng Zheng alighted and bent over at the window “Thanks for the lift.”
“Don’t mention it. It was on the way.” She was equally polite before stepping on the accelerator.
Cheng Zheng jammed both hands in his pockets as was his habit and stared after her until her car disappeared from his line of vision. Then he hailed a cab.
At lunchtime, Yun Jin headed to the café at the office lobby as she usually did. At this period, the majority of the patrons were fellow white-collared workers from the various offices nearby although Yun Jin’s colleagues still occupied the greater percentage. Hence, Lu Lu had taken to referring to the café as the “company’s staff canteen”.
She made her way down with Lu Lu who stuck to her side like a leech. The “staff canteen” waiters recognised them instantly and were exceptionally attentive to their loyal patrons’ needs as they led them to a four-seated table. Yun Jin ordered her usual whereas Lu Lu flipped through the menu repeatedly and couldn’t make a decision. Yun Jin was not in a hurry so she sipped her water patiently while waiting for Lu Lu to decide.
Finally she decided on a set of XO sauce noodles. They were just returning the menus to the waiter when Lu Lu exclaimed loudly, causing Yun Jin to almost choke on her water in fright.
Lu Lu tugged at Yun Jin’s sleeve excitedly as she scooted closer and spoke in hushed tones “Sister Su, quick look! It’s him …”
“Who’s ‘he’?” Yun Jin peered in the direction she was pointing at.
“It’s the guy from Left Bank I was telling you about!”
Yun Jin stared blankly.
“How is he? My taste is excellent right. Hahahaha he and I are fated after all … OMG he’s looking my way!”
Yun Jin ignored her wild squeals of delight. She just couldn’t seem to shake him off and she wondered what he wanted from her.
Cheng Zheng walked up to them beaming “I knew there was a possibility I would bump into you here. I couldn’t finish my work in the morning so I’ll be continuing in the afternoon. I decided it was wiser to take a lunch break and since this was nearby, I came here. Mind if I sit?”
“Yes you may.” Lu Lu nodded her head vigorously, reminding Yun Jin of a chick pecking wildly at corn.
“I’m sorry but our colleagues will be joining us.” Yun Jin ignored Lu Lu.
He wasn’t at all offended as he continued to smile “That’s alright. I’ll treat you to a meal some other time then.”
“Sure.” Yun Jin answered in the affirmative.
When Cheng Zheng finally sat down in another corner of the restaurant, Lu Lu stomped her feet in exasperation “Sister Su, why didn’t you let him sit with us? So you know him. Who is he?”
“I was worried that you’ll be drooling over him instead of your food.”
“What logic is that?! I can eat anytime but it’s not everyday that I can meet such an exceptional guy. Quick, tell me who he is!”
“A senior high classmate of mine.”
“Sister Su! Why didn’t you claim such a gorgeous man as your own? If it were me, he would have long been trapped in my clutches.”
“Don’t spout nonsense. He’s attached.” Yun Jin remarked indifferently.
Lu Lu was unimpressed “So what if he has a girlfriend? Anyone is free to admire a handsome man.”
Yun Jin cast a quick, suspicious glance at Cheng Zheng as she replied “Must you exaggerate?”
He was wearing a blue V-necked pullover with black trousers. It was his typical attire – simple and comfortable. The only accessory on him was a thin silver chain around his neck but the pendant, if any, was concealed under the sweater. Yun Jin realized suddenly that he never wore any accessory previously. It was probably a gift from his current girlfriend.
Yun Jin had always known that Cheng Zheng was good looking but his character was tough and unyielding, a typical alpha male. He had short hair and tan skin and his facial contour was sharp with good features. He was a far cry from the pretty boy type that was all the rage now so she couldn’t fathom why Lu Lu, who always lusted after the F4 types, was so enamoured with him.
“Sister Su, trust me, my taste has always been flawless. Your classmate looks both clean-cut yet sexy with such a fine disposition. He’s definitely a rare find.”
Yun Jin shuddered inwardly at her comments. What was a fine disposition? Could someone who couldn’t be bothered to wash his socks or have the ability to look after himself be said to have a fine disposition?
Lu Lu could tell that Yun Jin didn’t fully agree with her assessment so she asked after his name again before nagging and pleading Yun Jin to introduce them.
“Another day alright?” Yun Jin tried to patronize her.
“Not alright. Sister Su please I beg you. I only have this tiny tiny tiny request. Sister Suuuuuu…”
Yun Jin was vexed enough as it was and she couldn’t stand her incessant chattering any longer. She swallowed her food quickly before dragging her over to Cheng Zheng’s table.
Cheng Zheng was surprised to see them approach. Yun Jin pointed awkwardly at Lu Lu “This is my department’s youngest recruit Lu Lu. Lu Lu, this is my senior high classmate Cheng Zheng.”
Cheng Zheng arched his eyebrows in amusement as he stared at Yun Jin quizzically. Yun Jin avoided his gaze.
Lu Lu stuck out her hand eagerly and said enthusiastically “Hello handsome! I’m so happy to make your acquaintance.”
Yun Jin felt goosebumps all over; so this was how the younger generation carried themselves.
Cheng Zheng looked away from Yun Jin as he got to his feet and took the outstretched hand in his “So am I.”
Lu Lu got even more out of hand as she offered “How about we make plans to go out and have fun sometime? I saw you at Left Bank before but you didn’t see me then.”
Cheng Zheng smiled at this though his expression was hard to read. He mulled it over before saying “Why not? In fact, why wait? I’m free tonight, how about I treat you ladies to a meal? Yun Jin, do come. It’s been such a long time since we’ve eaten together.”
“That would most definitely not be a problem. Sister Su is also available tonight. See you then!” Lu Lu was ecstatic and was quick to respond in fear that he would revoke his offer. She looked at Yun Jin pleadingly “Sister Su … You are free tonight right … ”
Cheng Zheng was also staring at her and she knew what his gaze meant. He was challenging her Su Yun Jin, do you dare?
Yun Jin grew quiet as she struggled with herself. What was she so afraid of? There was nothing else for her to lose. What could possibly be worse than the strange situation she and Cheng Zheng were in now?
“I don’t mind.”
Lu Lu did not conceal her joy and another person at the scene appeared equally happy.
“You ladies end at six right? How about meeting at Left Bank again? Let’s take it as supporting Zhang Yue’s business. We’ll meet at seven-thirty. Yun Jin, you have my number. I’m looking forward to tonight.”