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182 Breaking Up

 Jiang Hongcha turned around with a frown. "Why do you need my phone number?"

"To make sure it's really you," Gu Nianzhi said with a half smile. "You tell me you're Jiang Hongcha, but I don't know her. I have to verify this; you understand right?"

"You think I'm an imposter?" Jiang Hongcha rolled her eyes and recited a string of numbers.

Gu Nianzhi input it to her phone and almost immediately, Jiang Hongcha's phone began to ring. Gu Nianzhi's smile widened. "This is really Miss Jiang's phone number."

Jiang Hongcha found her smile disturbing and irritating. She took out the Van Cleef and Arpels 10 motif necklace out of her Hermes Birkin bag. "This is your 18th birthday present from Xiawen, who had wanted to give it to you in person. However, I'd gotten sick and so Xiawen stayed at the hospital with me. I hope you can forgive us."

Gu Nianzhi no longer cared, but her face flushed anyway as she pushed away Jiang Hongcha's hand. "No need. You don't need to provoke me any more; it's useless."

"Really?" Jiang Hongcha was giddy with delight when she saw that Gu Nianzhi's expression had finally changed. She opened the box with a smile. "See, isn't this the same one as the 5 motif necklace from the last time? Of course, I had selected the necklace and roses. Xiawen is the one who paid."

Gu Nianzhi nodded with a stony face. "I see. Anything else?" She had still been skeptical about Jiang Hongcha's words, but the necklace was almost enough to convince her. However, she didn't want to give Jiang Hongcha the satisfaction of riling her up, so she remained aloof.

Shaking her head regretfully, Jiang Hongcha continued. "Of course, there is still something else," She placed her hand on her belly and looked down at it before giving her a delicate smile and saying, "but I don't think it's necessary to tell you. Since you don't love him, just stop leading him on."

"I'm leading him on?" Gu Nianzhi shot back. "When have I ever done that? You've said it already: I'm not his girlfriend. Therefore, he has the right to pursue and sleep with other people; and besides, you're already together with him. Now, you accusing me of leading him on, isn't that too hypocritical?"

Jiang Hongcha flushed from the sharp worded barrage, but repeated herself. "You don't love him, but still make him wait for you. Isn't that leading him on?"

Gu Nianzhi raised a brow. "That's rich! All you people tell me I don't love him, but you're not in a position to say that about me. You don't know me, and you don't understand his and mine relationship. How would you know that do or don't love him?"

It was true that Gu Nianzhi had been moved by Mei Xiawen-his care for her during their school days, his relentless pursual of her after graduation and finally, when she'd came to the United States and had been stuck in the midst of a political heist, and had been kicked out from He Zhichu's mansion, her feet covered in blisters: it had been Mei Xiawen who had appeared and carried her back to her apartment. All of those precious moments had touched her heart and had been the reason for her agreeing to the six month promise. She had tried her best to develop feelings for Mei Xiawen-but there was always someone telling her that her feelings weren't good enough; first it had been Ai Weinan and now Jiang Hongcha stood before her, telling her that she didn't love Mei Xiawen.

What is love? Gu Nianzhi was deeply perplexed.

"You love him? Then why are you so indifferent when you know now that he has been sleeping with someone else?" Jiang Hongcha mocked Gu Nianzhi, her mouth twisted into a sneer. "Ask yourself, have you ever worried sick over him? Did you ever lose sleep because you missed him so much? You've barely contacted him in two months, yet say that you love him! I don't understand what's so great about you!" Jiang Hongcha voice had risen with her mounting ridicule and disbelief. Mei Xiawen had refused to let go of his relationship with Gu Nianzhi and had his heart set on their stupid six month promise. The time was almost up and Gu Nianzhi was about to go home, so Jiang Hongcha knew that she couldn't sit still and let everything she had worked for unravel. She hated to admit that she had overestimated her appeal and underestimated Gu Nianzhi's allure to Mei Xiawen. Mei Xiawen had only ever had sex with her, but they were not actually dating. Engagement was certainly out of question. She had considered all her options and Mei Xiawen was still the best one for her. From all aspects, he suited her the most and was her first love-Jia Hongcha didn't want to let go of him again.

Gu Nianzhi was taken aback by Jia's shrill complaints. "There's nothing great about me." After a long moment, she looked up and said coldly, "If you want to bicker, go find Mei Xiawen and leave me alone. I don't have time to play games with you people. Goodbye."

Gu Nianzhi called the waiter over to pay the bill and left first. As she stood inside the elevator, she stared blankly at the ascending numbers. Jiang Hongcha's words rang through her head. She had felt assured with how Mei Xiawen had dealt with Ai Weinan's persistance. However, Gu Nianzhi felt that Jiang Hongcha was different, because she'd had a preemptive impression from the Weibo, "Black Tea's Sky."

She was no longer sure about her feelings. Added to that turmoil, Jiang Hongcha's speech about whether or not she loved him made Gu Nianzhi frightened and almost guilty. Yes, she didn't have such intense feelings for Mei Xiawen. But, there was one person did make her feel that way: When she'd seen him smile at another woman, it had felt like the sky was falling. She had been so furious that she wanted to retaliate at society, and had ended up taking that anger out on Xin Xinggao. When she couldn't see him, she not only worried sick about him, but was also restless, unable to eat or sleep properly. When she saw people who looked like him on the street, she would stop and stare for a long time, waiting to see if maybe, by some chance, it was him. If he had been the one to sleep with someone else...

Oh my god, Gu Nianzhi head was reeling with the sudden realizations. She felt her denial crumbling with the truth, and so took a deep breath as she gripped on the elevator handrail. She found it hard to breathe and her heart felt like it was going to stop. No, I can't think about this anymore; it's too much. She wanted to escape from the intensity of her epiphany.

When she returned to her apartment, Gu Nianzhi was listless and didn't chatter like her normal self at dinner time. Zhao Liangze wasn't used to her silence and snuck a few glances at her before finally asking, "What is it? Do you feel sick?"

This little girl, Gu Nianzhi, was the best behaved in front of Mr. Huo when she was sick. The soldiers who had raised her were all well aware of this since she was young.

Gu Nianzhi shook her head, "Nope. I feel great."

Zhao Liangze wasn't convinced. "You basically have 'I'm not ok" stamped right on your face." Zhao Liangze pinched her ear. "What are you having trouble with?"

Gu Nianzhi thought about it a bit and then told him everything that had happened when she had met Jiang Hongcha earlier. Then, she shared Jia Hongcha's phone number. "Brother Ze, can you help me check to see if she really erased the recording?"

Zhao Liangze was enraged. "What the h*ll! She recorded you? Who does she think she is, the CIA?" He returned to his room and used his software to quickly find Jiang Hongcha's phone and remotely access its contents. The recording and cloud backup were indeed deleted, but Zhao Liangze found some disturbing photos in her cloud drive instead.

"What the f*ck!" Mei Xiawen you scumbag!" Zhao Liangze looked through photo by photo, shaking with fury. He had the balls to cheat on Nianzhi?! He stormed out of his room and went to Gu Nianzhi's room. "What kind of relationship do you have with Mei Xiawen?"

"We're classmates." Gu Nianzhi was rearranging the clothes in her closet. "We're friends, nothing more."

"He's not your boyfriend?"

"Of course not." Gu Nianzhi smiled bitterly and shook out a dress she was holding up. Now she understood why she had been so hesitant in front of Mei Xiawen. It turned out she didn't love him because she'd had someone else in her heart all this time. Without her even noticing, her feelings had grown for that person. However, she couldn't say that to Zhao Liangze.

Zhao Liangze rubbed his chin and frowned. "Is he really not your boyfriend? Nianzhi, don't be scared of standing up to him. If he's wronged you, then I'll teach him a lesson! There's also Big Xiong and Mr. Huo!"

Gu Nianzhi's grip loosened and the dress almost dropped to to ground. She hastily hugged the dress and didn't turn around. "He's really not my boyfriend. And now that I know about him and Jiang Hongcha, I don't see any other possibilities."

"Then, do you like him?" Zhao Liangze walked up to her and turned her around by the shoulders. "Tell me truthfully. If you like him, I'll break his legs and drag him back to you!"

Gu Nianzhi broke out into laughter. "Brother Ze, you've never been in love. How could you know what I'm feeling?"

"What's with that? I can eat pork without ever seeing a pig!" Gu Nianzhi gave him a blank look. He laughed. "What I mean to say is, I don't have to have the same experiences or to have seen the same things to know how you're feeling." Zhao Liangze smiled.

Gu Nianzhi watched him and felt the warmth of protectiveness and his brotherly affection. It was completely different from the blushing and palpitations she experienced when she thought about Huo Shaoheng. She closed her eyes and leaned against the closet door, speaking in a low voice, "I really don't like him; it's time to end things."

"Didn't you give him six months? If he didn't change his mind in six months, weren't you going to be together with him?"

"He has already changed his mind, so the promise doesn't matter now. I never really promised to be with him; only that we would date on a trial basis and see if it would work out." Gu Nianzhi shooked her head. "I don't even love him, so why should we have forced ourselves into a relationship? I would have been doing that because that's what he wanted." This matter was simple enough for Gu Nianzhi. Neither of them loved each other, so calling it off was the right thing to do.

...

That night, Gu Nianzhi couldn't sleep and ended up tossing and turning in bed, lost in her thoughts. She finally understood her feelings, but instead of feeling elated, she was terrified. Does Huo Shao have a girlfriend already? Can I still secretly love him? If he knows about my feelings, will he push me away? She suddenly remembered his distance the past six months. Could it be...that he already sensed her unspeakable feelings?! Gu Nianzhi buried her head in the blankets and groaned quietly. If that's true, she didn't want to live by his side anymore. She couldn't face him and risk the embarrassment and the rejection. I should just disappear. It was the last thought echoed in her heart as she drifted into a fitful sleep. Gu Nianzhi woke up with bags under her eyes the next day.

Zhao Liangze saw her face. "What happened to you? You look like a wreck."

"You're the only disaster I see right now, so it's no wonder I can't sleep." Gu Nianzhi bickered. "I studied all night silly. Is that a problem?"

"Hmm, our genius girl had to study all night? Poor thing." Zhao Liangze chuckled as he peeled a hard-boiled egg for her. "It's almost Christmas, so it's about time to pack up and head back, no?"

"Yep." She looked down into her bowl of congee. "Winter break starts on Christmas Eve, so we can leave the States one day early." They would be leaving on December 23rd and returning to the Empire on December 24th. Her six month internship was over. He Zhichu had already returned to B University in order to prepare for for the upcoming semester and had bought return tickets for her and Brother Huang. Gu Nianzhi would be returning to C City, while Brother Huang was going back to the Imperial capital.

"Great, we're finally going back! The food here is messing with my appetite." Zhao Liangze shook his head and hummed happily as he washed the dishes.

Gu Nianzhi stalled for a bit and finally asked, "Brother Ze, is Huo Shao back from his mission yet?"

"Nope." Zhao Liangze shook his head as he wiped a bowl. "Neither Big Xiong nor I could get in contact with him. But I heard that it should be soon; he should be back on the 17th or 18th and staying for about two months."

Gu Nianzhi sighed in relief, but quickly felt another ache in her chest. She silently put on her backpack and saying goodbye to Zhao Liangze, left the apartment for Capitol Hill. On the way there, she gave Mei Xiawen a call.

"Nianzhi? Is it really you? How are you doing?" Mei Xiawen was ecstatic; he had known that m Gu Nianzhi wouldn't be able to help herself from contacting him again. The smug feeling he had swelled his pride.

Gu Nianzhi smiled wryly at his tone and spoke in a gentle voice. "Class Rep, I'm well. How have you been?"

"Class Rep? Why are you calling me that again?" Mei Xiawen was annoyed. "What have I been saying all this time? There's just 10 more days, and then you'll be my girlfriend!"

Gu Nianzhi took a deep breath. "Class Rep, I think we are better suited to be friends. I don't think we would be compatible as lovers."

Mei Xiawen froze, he couldn't believe his ears. "What are you talking about? Are you serious?"

"Yep." Gu Nianzhi stopped and stood before the Capitol Hill steps. "I told you before, to give ourselves half a year and that if you still wanted to be with me, we could give it a try."

"But I do want to be with you! Are you going back on your word?" Mei Xiawen's heart pounded fiercely and his words were a jumbled mix. It was true that he didn't have the deep feelings for Gu Nianzhi as he had for his first love, Jiang Hongcha. However, he had always known that Gu Nianzhi was better suited to be his wife.