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95 Promise Me

 The hotel garden was no ordinary garden: it was located on the hotel rooftop, enclosed in a glass greenhouse.

The garden was beautiful at night; visitors had only to lift their heads to see the twinkling stars up above, beyond the glass ceiling. A wide variety of flowers bloomed throughout the garden. The rainforest plants were strong and healthy. On the ground, artificial brooks meandered through the garden, accompanied by the tinkling sound of water, digitally simulated.

Mei Xiawen stood beneath the verdant leaves of a giant alocasia, his hands in his pockets. His face, adorned with gold-rimmed glasses, was handsome and elegant; he was the type high school girls found irresistible.

Ai Weinan no longer concealed her feelings for Mei Xiawen. Her eyes shone with her love for him.

She wrung her hands nervously as she looked up at Mei Xiawen. Her voice was hoarser than usual, betraying her agitation. "Xiawen, you walked into my heart in my second year of high school, and have stayed there ever since."

Mei Xiawen sighed softly, his beautiful eyebrows knitted together behind his gold-rimmed glasses. He did not want Ai Weinan to continue; he opened his mouth with the intention of telling her to stop it.

But Ai Weinan barged on. She said, in a single breath: "...I know you're in love with someone else. And I know you had a girlfriend before this. I was her best friend. And because I was her best friend, I let it go. I watched over the two of you, never saying a word about how I truly felt. Every time you went out on a date with her, she would tell me all about it. Every time the two of you got into an argument, she would come crying to me. Every time she wanted to break up with you, I was the one who persuaded her not to. Yes, it was me..."

Mei Xiawen's eyes widened behind his gold-rimmed glasses. There was a crack in his usual calm and composed demeanor.

He knew Ai Weinan was his first girlfriend's best friend, but he had not realized they were that close.

His relationship with his first girlfriend had not been smooth sailing, but he had cherished every moment of it, all the same. He had thought their relationship troubles were private, a secret shared between him and his girlfriend - but his girlfriend had evidently thought otherwise.

She had blabbed all about it to someone else. How could she?

Anger bubbled up within Mei Xiawen. His eyes darkened, and the lines on his face drew tight.

Ai Weinan did not miss the change in Mei Xiawen's expression. She quickly changed the subject: "...Xiawen, I'm only telling you all this now because the two of you are no longer together. If you were still with her today, I would never have breathed a single word of this - not even if I was about to drown in my love for you."

Mei Xiawen lowered his head. He stared at the stretch of floor between him and Ai Weinan.

He could see that Ai Weinan was wearing a pair of elegant, pointed high heels, made of black leather.

"But look at the person you're trying to date now. Does your family know about her?" Ai Weinan's voice was now slightly resentful. "I don't see why you chose her over me. I was willing to go on with the rest of my life without saying anything, since you refused to open your eyes and see how much I'd done for you, how long I'd waited for you. But then you almost died at Dufeng Mountain, and that was a wake-up call for me. If I don't get this off my chest, I will never be happy for the rest of my life."

Ai Weinan paused before stepping forward. She grabbed hold of Mei Xiawen's hand, and looked up at his lowered face expectantly. "Xiawen, give me a chance. Give yourself a chance to be happy. Be with me for the rest of your life - you won't regret choosing me today."

Mei Xiawen let out a long sigh as Ai Weinan clung to his hand. After a moment, he pulled his hand out of her grasp and said, in a low voice, "Weinan, I've always thought of you as a good friend. How can you do this to me?"

Ai Weinan felt as though she had been slapped.

He heart reeled with sorrow, disappointment and embarrassment, but only momentarily. She clenched her fists and steeled herself. She wasn't backing down just yet.

"Of course we're good friends, but you know men and women are never just friends." Ai Weinan's eyes were bright as she stared at Mei Xiawen. "Unless you're gay."

Mei Xiawen hesitated for a long moment before finally deciding it was better to be honest. "But I think of you as a good friend. I'm not lying. I don't see you as either a man or a woman."

This went beyond a slap in the face: it was a flying kick to the chest, deflating all the courage Ai Weinan had gathered over the past two weeks.

She stuck her chest out and shouted at Mei Xiawen: "I am a woman! A woman! Do you see it now?!"

How could he think of her as an androgynous, genderless friend?!

Her chest wasn't that small!

She may not be a C cup, but she was at least a B-!

"You know that isn't what I meant." Mei Xiawen averted his gaze. He looked everywhere, except at Ai Weinan. "You're... her best friend, and because of that I thought of you as my best friend, too. All the things you used to do for me in secret - I really had no idea. I know better now, and I'm very grateful, but all I can say is: thank you, and sorry."

Thank you, and sorry.

She had been deeply in love with him for six years, and all she had gotten in return was "thank you, and sorry."

Ai Weinan's fists clenched and unclenched, over and over again.

She had thought she was prepared for this, but when the blow came she was blindsided all the same.

There was an old saying that went: when a man pursues a woman, there is a mountain in his way. When a woman pursues a man, there is but a thin layer of gauze in her way.

It had been the exact opposite for her.

She had tried to win Mei Xiawen's affections for six years now, and had gotten nowhere. She had not even made it to the foot of the mountain.

"Xiawen, tell me, how are the other girls better than me? I come from a distinguished family, better than theirs. My grades are better than theirs. My love for you is deeper than theirs. I may not be exceptionally beautiful or sexy, but my looks and figure are on par with the other girls, at least. Tell me - what exactly are you looking for?"

Ai Weinan knew that it was game over for her. But she could not accept her defeat, not unless she knew exactly why she had lost.

She had thought and thought for six years, and still could not understand why Mei Xiawen did not love her.

She conceded that she may not have been a match for his first love. But even after breaking up with his first love, Mei Xiawen still had not looked her way - he had chosen instead to give his heart to Gu Nianzhi, an orphan girl with nothing to her name.

Mei Xiawen's heart ached when he saw the injured look on Ai Weinan's face.

He reached out and tucked a stray lock of Ai Weinan's hair behind her ear. His fingers lingered on her face for a moment, before slowly moving away. He said, in a low voice, "Weinan, you're a good girl. You'll find someone who loves you very much. But the two of us - we're just not right for each other."

"Not right for each other? How? Won't you tell me so I can change and make it right?" Ai Weinan had loved the feeling of Mei Xiawen's warm fingertips brushing against her earlobe. She threw herself at Mei Xiawen, eager for more. She circled her arms around his waist, and laid her head upon his chest.

Ai Weinan closed her eyes, and listened to the beating of his heart. She said, her voice breaking, "Fine. You don't have to love me. It's not your fault. But can you at least... want me? I want to give my virginity to the person I love most."

Mei Xiawen: "..."

"You don't have to take responsibility. I won't give you any trouble. Just think of it as a one-night stand. Tomorrow morning, we'll go our separate ways. I'll disappear from your life, and you'll have to promise to never look for me again, too. Can we do that?" Ai Weinan lifted her head and looked despairingly at Mei Xiawen. "I'll never turn this on you, honest. I've loved you for so many years - I just want a beautiful memory in return, is that too much to ask? Won't you let me have something to remember you by, for the rest of my life?"