Seven-thirty, Left Bank.
When Yun Jin and Lu Lu reached punctually, they found Cheng Zheng already seated. He had changed into a gray-white striped silk shirt and black tweed trousers. It was simple yet stylish and his outfit accentuated his good looks. The trio browsed the menu and ordered dishes while having a casual conversation.
Yun Jin was glad for Lu Lu’s presence because the lively chatterbox single-handedly generated most of the conversation at the table. In fact, she was talking animatedly and laughing at her own jokes. The atmosphere was not at all dull. Cheng Zheng would occasionally respond good-naturedly while Yun Jin simply smiled and kept silent throughout.
The dishes had just been served when Cheng Zheng received a call so he excused himself. When he eventually returned, he had an odd expression as he asked “I’m sorry ladies but would you mind if my girlfriend joins us?”
“Not at all! It would be very nice to meet her.” Lu Lu appeared enthusiastic and was determined to battle her romantic foe. On the other hand, Yun Jin had no reaction.
At her reply Cheng Zheng walked off once again while clutching his handphone closely to his ear. He spoke in deep concentration and after some ten minutes, he disappeared only to return with his girlfriend.
Cheng Zheng’s current lover was Zheng Xiao Tong. It wasn’t Yun Jin’s first time meeting her; they had a few run-ins in their neighbourhood and they had always politely acknowledged the other in such situations. As for Lu Lu, this was her first encounter. After meeting the lady in question, her morale was quickly deflated. She knew there was no contest.
Zheng Xiao Tong was considerably beautiful – she was petite and her small face was beset with a pair of big, expressive eyes. However, on closer scrutiny, one would note that the eyes lacked liveliness which made her seem rather dull after the revelation. She was also rather timid which made her appear innocent and naïve. It was hard to believe that this same girl had actually graduated from one of the top universities in the nation.
After Cheng Zheng had introduced everyone, Lu Lu tried to make small talk with Zheng Xiao Tong. However, her interest soon waned. Zheng Xiao Tong wasn’t stupid in the least; it was just that her mental processing was rather slow and thus she often had a confused expression as she tried to internalise the conversation.
Cheng Zheng was extremely attentive to her needs. When he noticed that Lu Lu was fast losing interest in conversing with Xiao Tong, he began to tell her the happenings of his day right down to the details.
Lu Lu bent her head low and fiddled with her phone. A split second later, Yun Jin felt her purse behind her vibrate. She feared that fishing it out immediately would make it too blatantly obvious so she waited a bit before taking a look. It was indeed from Lu Lu and her message contained only three words: What a waste.
Yun Jin understood what Lu Lu meant and she flashed her a warning glance. At that, Lu Lu bowed her head sheepishly. In all honesty, Yun Jin also came to a similar assessment of Xiao Tong. However, taking her complicated past with Cheng Zheng into consideration, she dared not remark on Zheng Xiao Tong even behind her back. She reminded herself constantly that Zheng Xiao Tong was Cheng Zheng’s current lover and it was a choice he had wiilingly made. Since it was none of her business, she shouldn’t comment. She could see the two of them speaking in hushed tones out of her peripheral vision but she restrained herself from staring by focusing on eating.
Lu Lu was bored to death. She used her chopsticks and skilfully picked up one of the prawns she ordered. She placed one in her bowl and another in Yun Jin’s “Sister Su, do try this.”
Yun Jin was unsettled and she wanted to distract herself badly. At Lu Lu’s sweet gesture, she wiped her hands clean on the wet napkins before making a move to shell the prawns. She was just about to start when Cheng Zheng said abruptly “She doesn’t eat that.”
Lu Lu sensed that his words were directed at her but she didn’t know what to make of it. Cheng Zheng ignored her as he turned to Yun Jin “When you ate this previously, your body broke out in rashes remember?”
Yun Jin didn’t dare look up as her hands froze in midair. She couldn’t understand how Cheng Zheng, who had been deep in conversation with his girlfriend, could suddenly turn his attention to her. She replied softly “It’s okay. I don’t have that kind of reaction anymore.” before continuing with the deshelling.
Suddenly, Cheng Zheng reached over and snatched the prawn she was deshelling and tossed it onto the table next to his plate. He wiped the sauce from his fingers as he said “I told you it’s better not to eat it. Why test your limits?” His tone was unusually harsh.
Lu Lu stared agape at the scene before her before breaking out into laughter “Wow you guys are some classmates. How do you even remember such stuff? Sister Su, in that case, it’s best not to eat that. Why don’t you try the fish instead? The steamed fish today is delicious!”
Yun Jin smiled at her to ease the awkward tension. Zheng Xiao Tong was also smiling at her boyfriend although there was a flash of confusion in her large eyes. Cheng Zheng sensed that his behaviour had been way out of line so he coughed lightly and turned to face Xiao Tong again, “What do you like to eat? If you can’t reach it let me know.”
“Handsome, this is not right. How can you not know about your girlfriend’s favourite food yet recall your senior high friend’s allergy?” Lu Lu was unstoppable.
“Eat your food and stop talking so much!” If she could, Yun Jin would have shoved Lu Lu’s words back down her throat.
Cheng Zheng was a picture of calm as he replied “That’s only because your dear sister Su’s allergic reaction left quite an impression on me. Aren’t I right Yun Jin?”
Yun Jin flashed a tight smile. How could she not remember? In their years together, her body would break out in hives whenever she had prawns and it was every bit as painful and itchy as it looked. And after taking anti-histamines, she would lie bare-backed as Cheng Zheng massaged her. He never exerted too much force out of fear of hurting her. As he rubbed her skin ever so gently, they would inevitably get tangled up …But that was a very long time ago. He shouldn’t be bringing up the past so flippantly and neither should she reminisce the past.
Yun Jin was still lost in her thoughts when Lu Lu suddenly wondered aloud “I don’t see you eating the prawns so why is your face all red? Don’t tell me just merely touching it would cause an allergic flare?”
“Oh right Cheng Zheng, how’s your project at Tian He progressing?” Yun Jin decided to be proactive in diverting the topic.
Zheng Xiao Tong’s puzzlement was evident on her face “Cheng Zheng, when did you have business over at Tian He? Didn’t you say you were working at Er Sha Dao these few days?”
“My friend’s real estate construction hit a snag so I went over to take a look.”
Lu Lu wised up to to Yun Jin’s hint and was quiet for a period though eventually she couldn’t stand it. She asked Zheng Xiao Tong brazenly “Hey, Xiao Tong, we should be of similar age right? But how come I’m not as fortunate as you? Do teach me how to land such a handsome boyfriend!”
Zheng Xiao Tong never expected such an unabashed question, certainly not in Cheng Zheng’s presence. She blushed and darted a quick look at Cheng Zheng. Seeing that he had no reaction, she began “There is no secret technique whatsoever. Cheng Zheng was my father’s student and my father thought highly of him …”
“Your dad liked him? But it’s not your dad who’s dating him.” Lu Lu needled.
“It’s not that. I also had … But initally, he was still attached. When I was in Year Four, my father arranged for me to intern at the architectural firm Cheng Zheng was in. At that period, he had just broke off with his girlfriend and was very heartbroken so I kept him company. He insisted that I teach him to play Go and one thing led to another …”
“You don’t have to go on. I understand now.” Lu Lu waved her hands dismissively before turning to Yun Jin “See I knew it. All I really need is a chance. How come such good opportunities never seem to come my way? But isn’t it odd? How could his ex be so willing to part with such a handsome boyfriend who loved her so deeply? It’s so incredulous right Sister Su?”
Yun Jin replied calmly “Perhaps the handsome guy was just not compatible with her? Anyway, sometimes love isn’t enough to sustain a couple in the long run. But of course I’m not referring to Cheng Zheng and his ex.”
“That may not necessarily be the case.” Cheng Zheng was smiling as he appeared to speak to Lu Lu “Actually the scariest thing is giving your whole heart to a person only to realise the affection is not mutual. That’s the real misfortune.”
“Oh this is deep stuff. I love it! But can I just ask one teeny tiny detail? That other party you mentioned must be some goddess… What I mean to say is I really admire her.” Lu Lu nodded vigorously as she spoke.
Cheng Zheng smiled coldly and did not continue the topic any further while Zheng Xiao Tong furrowed her brow as she earnestly tried to recall …
“She was his senior high classmate if I’m not wrong.” Xiao Tong looked at Cheng Zheng for confirmation.
“Hmmm …” Lu Lu slapped the table enthusiastically “I know! Sister Su …”
Yun Jin nearly died in fright as Lu Lu continued “… must surely know her as well.”
“Yeah. But I wasn’t very close to her.” Yun Jin tried to be as vague as possible as she recovered from the scare.
However, Lu Lu simply would not ease up on her interrogation. Just as she was about to press Yun Jin for more details, the door to their private room opened and the waiters immediately bowed in unison “Ms Zhang.”
“Cheng Zheng you rascal. Why didn’t you come say hi since you’ve dropped by. If the staff hadn’t inform me…” Zhang Yue had not stepped in but her complaints could already be heard distinctly. She had not expected to meet Yun Jin there of all places and certainly not with … She stood stock still before looking blankly at Cheng Zheng who was calmly seated in the midst. Even if she was more quick-witted, she would still be unable to figure out the connection between the four of them.
“Hi Zhang Yue.” This Lu Lu seemed to know people wherever she went.
Given her career, Zhang Yue had been in all manner of situations. She suppressed her shock before casting a quick glance outside before saying hesitantly “Lu Lu what are you doing here? He’s here too.”
Lu Lu’s expression changed in an instant.
Zhang Yue was troubled by the quartet before her; one Cheng Zheng was enough trouble. With his ex and current girlfriend flanking both sides and Lu Lu … it was simply too overwhelming. Before beating a hasty retreat from the murky situation, she tossed out “Eat to your fill guys. I’ve things to see to now. Cheng Zheng I’ll ring you when I’m free.”
Zhang Yue departed swiftly before any of them could react. The waiters had yet to close the door when a group of men in suits came walking in. Amongst them was a thirty-odd gentleman whose gaze swept through the room quickly. In a flash, Lu Lu disappeared under the draped table. It was only when those men had left and the doors were fastened that Lu Lu crawled out trembling. She couldn’t care less what the others thought of her as she tiptoed to the door and cracked open a gap so she could peer out cautiously. She hastily grabbed her belongings after she confirmed that “he” had left for good.
“I’m sorry. I have to make a move first. You guys have a good chat … If no one is eating these prawns, can I pack them for home?”
When Cheng Zheng gestured that she could, Lu Lu quickly wrapped them messily in a napkin and made a dash for it “See you around!”
“Wait up Lu Lu! I’ll give you a ride.” Yun Jin had wanted to leave for the longest time; she had to seize the opportunity. She bid Chang Zheng and Zheng Xiao Tong adieu before catching up to Lu Lu outside.
Throughout the journey, both women were deep in thought and even babblemouth Lu Lu was quiet. Yun Jin inferred that Lu Lu was truly spooked from the close shave earlier.
“Are you acquainted with Lu Sheng?” Yun Jin asked. Although it was a brief appearance, she recognized Tai Hua Corporation’s Chairman who also happened to be Zhang Yue’s mother’s paternal cousin.
Lu Lu was unusually reticent. After a long time, she answered with a drained face “He’s my uncle.”
Yun Jin was taken aback but she did not probe any further. She dropped Lu Lu off at her place and cautioned her to be careful when making her way up. She was just about to reverse when Lu Lu called after her “Sister Su, Cheng Zheng is the person you can’t let go of right?”
Yun Jin stamped on the accelerator and sped away without answering.
*A family tree for those whose eyes glazed over at the mention of family ties. Sigh, I’m also unsure what possessed me to draw it in orange but at least it’s not too drab?