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139 False Hopes

 Yin Shixiong was momentarily puzzled-then it dawned on him.

Mr. Huo had realized that Yin Shixiong had been speaking on behalf of Nianzhi.

Yin Shixiong was impressed. This was why Mr. Huo was the boss, while he and Little Ze could only be his personal secretaries-he was perceptive, considerate, and always one step ahead of everyone else. There was no way he could ever measure up to someone like that.

Yin Shixiong tossed his phone onto his bed and went to Gu Nianzhi's room to talk to her.

Gu Nianzhi was already fast asleep on her bed.

She was lying on her side, her swollen cheek turned upwards. The corners of her mouth were wrinkled, and her eyebrows were tightly knitted together. She seemed to be in pain, even in her dreams.

It had been a long, miserable day for her.

Yin Shixiong's heart ached at the sight. He mentally swore at He Zhichu as he walked over to Gu Nianzhi and pulled her blanket over her. He turned off the lights, and gently shut the door before returning to his room.

...

Mei Xiawen was in his hotel room. He had just finished reading the latest post on "Black Tea's Sky", and was now full of conflicted feelings. He fought the urge to call Jiang Hongcha, but eventually gave in.

It was morning, over in the Huaxia Empire.

Jiang Hongcha was seated at her breakfast table. She accepted the call with a swipe of her finger, and said, smiling: "Had your dinner, Xiawen?"

It was past seven o'clock in the evening, over in America.

"Yeah." Mei Xiawen ran a hand through his hair, agitated. "Hongcha, I have a girlfriend."

He had said this so many times now-it was as though he were trying to convince himself.

This was the only weapon he could defend himself with, in the face of Jiang Hongcha's charms.

Jiang Hongcha's smile stayed on her face. After a moment, she said, "Is that the honest truth? Does she actually admit to being your girlfriend?"

Mei Xiawen sat up at this. "...What do you mean by that? Don't look down on me."

"I'm not looking down on you." Jiang Hongcha could not help laughing. "It's just that Weinan told me that you haven't quite won over the lady's affections, not yet."

In actual fact, Ai Weinan had told Jiang Hongcha that the young girl Mei Xiawen had been trying to woo was simply not interested in him...

Jiang Hongcha knew better than to say this to Mei Xiawen's face, of course. Men were such sensitive creatures.

If she humiliated him now, there would be no possibility of their getting back together.

Mei Xiawen breathed a sigh of relief. He picked up the remote control, turned on the TV, and switched to the HBO movie channel. "Weinan doesn't know what she's talking about. Don't listen to her."

"I don't want to hear it from her, anyway." Jiang Hongcha's tone was suddenly serious. "I want to hear it from you. Do you actually have a girlfriend, or don't you?"

"Why do you care? So what if it I don't?"

"If you don't have a girlfriend, well, that's fine. But if you're seeing someone, then I'll have to keep my distance." Jiang Hongcha's voice was silky smooth, but her tone was firm and resolute.

Mei Xiawen's eyes were on the TV, but his brain wasn't registering anything he was seeing. He mumbled, "...Keep your distance? You want to keep your distance from me?"

"Yes. I can't be like Weinan. I can't continue being friends with you, if I know you're in love with someone else." Jiang Hongcha rose from her chair and, with her free hand, began to water her broad-leaved epiphyllum with her watering can. "I'm not the type to do something like that."

"You knew?" Mei Xiawen was very surprised.

When Mei Xiawen and Jiang Hongcha had been together in high school, Ai Weinan had been good friends with the both of them...

"Of course I knew. I'm not stupid." Jiang Hongcha laughed lightly as she set the watering can down and caressed the leaves of the epiphyllum. She found a Yuhua stone, and put it in the flower pot.

"But you don't mind?" Mei Xiawen remembered how they had been each other's first love, back in high school. They had shared so many firsts together. His heart gradually softened at the thought.

It was obvious that Jiang Hongcha was also thinking of the memories they shared; her voice had grown gentle and sweet. "Of course not. Why would I? You don't like her, that's all I need to know. So let her stay by your side and, as the saying goes, quench her thirst by thinking of plums..."

The witty pun was very like her. Mei Xiawen's heart flopped over like a puppy, docile and defenseless: he had never been able to resist her charming wit.

Jiang Hongcha was still the only one who could send his heart on a rollercoaster of emotions, the only one who shared his tastes, the only one who could read his mind...

Mei Xiawen suddenly thought of Jiang Hongcha's foreign boyfriend, and his lips curled with distaste. He suppressed the agitation in his heart and said, carefully, "I'm sleepy, I still haven't gotten over my jet lag. I'm going to take a shower now, I'll call you tomorrow." With that, he hung up on her.

Jiang Hongcha glared at her phone, unable to believe that Mei Xiawen had hung up on her.

In all the years they had been together, Mei Xiawen had never hung up on her, not even once!

It seemed that Gu Nianzhi had a special spot in Mei Xiawen's heart.

For the first time, Jiang Hongcha was afraid.

She did not believe in fairytale "I'll never love another for the rest of my life" romances.

If someone was unwilling to move on from a past relationship, it was only because they had yet to find a better match.

Once they found someone, they would quickly forget about their ex.

Jiang Hongcha was uneasy now. She could not bear to think of Mei Xiawen actually getting together with Gu Nianzhi.

She hastily dialed Ai Weinan's number.

Jiang Hongcha had been overseas for the past several years, but Ai Weinan had stayed in the country with Mei Xiawen, and most likely knew everything that had happened with him.

...

Gu Nianzhi awoke the next day to find that the swelling on her cheek had completely subsided. There was now only a subtle hint of red, as though the blood vessels under her fair skin were now a little closer to the surface. Her face would probably be back to normal in a few days.

She picked up the bottle of ointment Yin Shixiong had given her, and suppressed the urge to kiss it.

The ointment was extremely effective. She was sure that Brother Xiong had gotten it from Uncle Huo, and was determined to get some more from Uncle Huo once she was back in the country.

Uncle Huo had also promised her that he would let her pick a few of his black T-shirts from his closet to use as her pajamas.

Even if he had found himself a girlfriend by then, she would hold him to his word. A promise was a promise!

Gu Nianzhi pursed her lips. She opened the organizer app on her phone, and made a memo for the ointment and the T-shirts. She set the app to remind her on the day of her return to the Empire six months later, which happened to be Christmas eve.

She collected herself, and walked out of her room after changing into a Polo shirt and denim shorts. She said to Yin Shixiong: "Brother Xiong, I'm inviting Mei Xiawen over for dinner today. What's on the menu?"

Yin Shixiong realized that he had turned into Gu Nianzhi's personal chef. He stewed over this, depressed, for a long moment before finally saying, "Why don't we eat out? We'll look for a classy restaurant, eat something nice and expensive."

All dining expenses when they ate out would be reimbursed...

It was an excellent idea. Yin Shixiong mentally gave himself an upvote for that.

Gu Nianzhi thought about it, and decided she liked the idea. The injury on her face was so much better now; it would be practically invisible if she put on a little concealer before going out. "Okay. Why don't you help book a table for us, Brother Xiong? I'll call Xiawen." With that, she walked away, humming a little tune.

Huh, someone's in a good mood.

Yin Shixiong blinked at Gu Nianzhi's retreating back. He took out his phone and began looking for a restaurant.

He wasn't familiar with any of the restaurants nearby, so he made a dinner reservation at the most expensive restaurant in the neighborhood. He was a firm believer in the golden rule: expensive food was not necessarily delicious, but it was definitely high class.

Mei Xiawen showed up at the apartment in the afternoon. He made polite conversation with Yin Shixiong for a few minutes before entering Gu Nianzhi's room.

Mei Xiawen took in the furnishings in her room. He said, "Nice place. Did your family rent this apartment for you?"

Gu Nianzhi was about to tell him that He Zhichu was paying for her apartment, but changed her mind. She refused to help He Zhichu earn extra brownie points with her friends, not when he had been so rude to her the day before. She merely smiled and made no attempt to correct Mei Xiawen.

Mei Xiawen had made up his mind. He moved closer to Gu Nianzhi, took her hand, and said softly, "Nianzhi, will you agree to be my girlfriend?"