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183 The Half-year Contrac

 "I haven't gone back on my word. This is about you-you don't want to be with me, which means our half-year contract is no longer valid," Gu Nianzhi said impassively.

It was an early December morning. The wintry DC wind cut to the bone; Gu Nianzhi had to pull her overcoat together.

The fiery red Hermès cashmere and silk flamenco scarf around her neck stood out against her metallic gray military-style cashmere overcoat. The contrast between the bold and the subdued was particularly attractive on this chilly winter morning: it caught the eye of everyone around her.

A constant stream of familiar men and women-her colleagues at US Congress, and members of parliament-greeted her as they passed by.

"Morning!"

"Gu, I love your look today!"

"Gu, want me to bring you breakfast?"

Gu Nianzhi smiled as she waved to everyone, before pointing to her phone. They exchanged a knowing smile, indicating that they understood.

She decided to take her phone call elsewhere. She moved away from the steps and walked over to a row of trees that were already bald for the winter. She shoved her free hand in her coat pocket as she seated herself on a bench.

It was clear that Mei Xiawen did not accept what she was saying. He said with a sneer: "You're the one going back on your word, admit it. When did I ever say I don't want to be with you?! I just said you were going to be my girlfriend soon. Did you immediately forget? You're a top student-surely you're not that forgetful?"

"Mei Xiawen, do you really want to be with me?" Gu Nianzhi was unperturbed. When she spoke, the warm breath from her red cherry lips condensed in the wintry air, shrouding her pretty face in misty vapors. The dreamy effect made her look even more lovely.

"How many times do I have to say it? I want to be with you, I want you to be my girlfriend-I want to marry you, even! Why won't you believe me?!" Mei Xiawen was standing on the balcony of his house. He stared at the city lights, consumed with anger.

Why was this girl being so stubborn?

Gu Nianzhi sighed. She said hoarsely, "Mei Xiawen, your actions and your words contradict each other. What am I supposed to believe: your empty promises, or what you've done?"

It was obvious that Mei Xiawen had not expected to hear this from Gu Nianzhi.

He was silent for a moment. "Nianzhi, what do you mean?"

"I believe I made myself clear. Neither of us are committed to the relationship, so it's pointless for us to be together." She had been out in the open for some time now, and the cold wintry air had seeped into her hands and feet.

Gu Nianzhi got up and walked towards the Capitol Building.

She had not expected such a simple break-up call to go on for so long.

Mei Xiawen paced the balcony, agitated and irritable. "How am I not committed? I'm looking forward to seeing you here, back home. How can you do this to me? You've found someone else, haven't you? It's you-you changed your mind!"

"I didn't change my mind." Gu Nianzhi's voice was calm. She was telling the truth: there had only ever been one person in her heart. Her feelings had not changed in the slightest.

"If you haven't changed your mind, then why are you saying this?! I like you, you like me, what more do you want? Nianzhi, don't be difficult. Come back, as soon as possible-when you're back here with me, I'll treat you like a queen. I'll make you the object of every woman's envy." Mei Xiawen took a deep breath and began to shower Gu Nianzhi with eloquent promises.

Young girls could never resist such romantic promises.

Gu Nianzhi knew it was time to put her foot down. She said in a low, subdued voice as she walked up the stairs: "No, you don't like me, and I don't like you, either. I don't understand why you insist on having me be your girlfriend."

Mei Xiawen did not like what he had just heard.

He liked Nianzhi. He did not love her, not exactly, but her blunt rejection sent him reeling all the same.

He had been surrounded by adoring women for as long as he could remember. They had all placed him on an altar and worshipped him; even an arrogant goddess like Jiang Hongcha had eventually swallowed her pride and begged him to be with her.

He refused to believe that he had failed to win the affections of a poor, orphan girl...

"Nianzhi, you like me," Mei Xiawen said confidently, "you like me, you do. You just don't know it yet."

Gu Nianzhi was speechless.

She opened the door to her office, threw her backpack onto the sofa, and removed her coat, revealing the thin cashmere cardigan and silk scarf underneath. She slipped her phone into her trouser pocket, moving her call with Mei Xiawen over to her headset. She continued her conversation with him as she made coffee and bought breakfast for herself.

"Mei Xiawen, let's stop beating around the bush. We both know what's going on. Don't make me spell it out, it would be embarrassing for the both of us." Gu Nianzhi was reluctant to tell him about what had happened with Jiang Hongcha. She would keep that information as her trump card, and use it only when things turned ugly.

For now, she wanted to reject Mei Xiawen as politely and amicably as possible.

"You're set on breaking up with me, is that it?" Mei Xiawen saw that his gentle coaxing had not worked on Gu Nianzhi, and was now too angry to be civil with her. "Just admit it: you changed your mind, you cheated on me, you found someone else. Why did you have to go on a long spiel and pin this on me? How can you say I'm the one who doesn't want to be with you? That's totally wrong, and unfair."

Gu Nianzhi returned to her office with her coffee and a stack of pancakes. She chuckled as she listened to him. "Mei Xiawen, we're both law students. Evidence is everything. Subjective assumptions are just that: assumptions. They can never substitute for objective facts. First of all, you can't call this a break up, because we were never in a relationship. I'm warning you, if you try to distort the facts and tell everyone I'm the one to blame, you will regret it. You know very well how stubborn and particular I can be, so don't blame me if you find yourself thoroughly humiliated later on. Besides, I'm sure you know which one of us violated our half-year contract. I don't have to spell it out, do I?"

"Oh, I know who it was: it was you! You're going back on your word, because you don't want to be with me!" Mei Xiawen was feeling guilty, and tried to hide it behind an explosion of indignant anger. "Well, I'm telling you now-you can't do that!"

"Mei Xiawen, actions speak louder than words. Legally, the severity of your crime is determined according to the end result of your actions. The legal consequences of what you said depend entirely on the resulting actions. You keep saying that you want to be with me, but in the last six months, you've been in a de facto relationship with another woman. Your actions prove that you don't actually want to be with me-which means our agreement is no longer valid." Gu Nianzhi set her coffee and pancakes down on her desk as she seated herself. She turned on her computer and began wrapping up her tasks as an intern; she would have to write an internship report once she was done.

Mei Xiawen was speechless. Gu Nianzhi's long speech had been dispassionate and clinical, as though she were debating him in court.

After a long moment, he finally recovered himself and asked incredulously: "Nianzhi, what do you mean? What de facto relationship, what are you talking about? I haven't done anything like that, I swear!"

"No? So you're saying that you've never gone beyond a platonic relationship with another woman in the last six months?" Gu Nianzhi frowned. Mei Xiawen was being extremely difficult-perhaps it would be easier if she mentioned Jiang Hongcha by name?

But she found herself reluctant to bring Jiang Hongcha into the conversation-that would make her sound like a jealous woman who had just caught her boyfriend cheating with another. The last thing she wanted was for Mei Xiawen to get the wrong idea and think she was being jealous.

Mei Xiawen was not her boyfriend. He could sleep with anyone he liked, it was really none of her business. What infuriated her was his attitude: how could he keep insisting he wanted to be with her, when he was doing the horizontal tango with another woman?

Jiang Hongcha was right: Gu Nianzhi did not think she could ever adapt to the unspoken rules of their circle.

Mei Xiawen finally understood what Gu Nianzhi was getting at. Even so, he was reluctant to admit he was seeing Jiang Hongcha-he was confident no one knew about his special arrangement with her. He continued to stubbornly insist that it was Gu Nianzhi who had found someone else and changed her mind about their promise.

Gu Nianzhi had reached the limits of her patience. She had an internship report to write, and did not have time for this nonsense. She said to Mei Xiawen: "Fine, I'll spell it out for you. I haven't changed my mind, Class Rep, because I never liked you. I tried to like you, but I just can't. I can't keep up something that is never going to happen-that would be a serious mistake, and extremely unfair to the both of us."

Mei Xiawen was stunned. He sat heavily on the sofa, his face pale and his lips trembling. He wanted to yell mean, nasty things at her, but he remembered what she had said about legal consequences, and controlled himself.