When Zhu Hong awakens to Wang Zheng still sleeping in her arms, the first thing she feels is mind-numbing relief.
It doesn’t matter how many times Hong wakes up to an occupied bed, the insecurities built up from failed relationships always rear their ugly heads: you don’t deserve her, you’ll ruin this like always, this won’t last. The plaguing doubts persist, refusing to back down even though Zheng returns night after night to sleep over at her shoddy apartment, curling herself around Hong as if it were second nature.
It’s because Zheng keeps returning to her side that Hong is learning how to ignore those whispers in her head, to tentatively accept these mornings as her new normal.
Mornings where Hong wakes up to a bed too warm for her reptilian body, but she doesn’t move away from the wall of heat pressed against her back. Mornings where Hong’s insecurities are silenced by Zheng’s soft snuffles or the way her fingers anchor themselves to Hong’s shirt. Mornings where warm breath on her neck sends shivers down her spine, made even sweeter by the scent of Zheng’s perfume on her pillow and the thigh pushed between her legs.
And it’s not just the mornings that have changed.
Hong looks forward to the meetings where Zheng commands the conference room, delivering a break-down of their newest case. All eyes are fixed on her, which invokes both pride and jealousy to unfurl in Hong’s chest; does she even have the right to feel protective over Zheng? The question remains unanswered as she watches Zheng shed her shy nature to transform into their capable communications liaison.
If she’s slightly distracted by how the projector light sharpens Zheng’s slender body underneath her white dress, then that’s her business.
Lunch breaks are more or less the same except for the small fact that Zheng prepares homemade lunch boxes for the both of them. Hong didn’t understand the appeal of lunch boxes until she receives one packed with rice balls, spiced pork, pickled vegetables, and rolled up eggs. It’s a box that tastes like heaven in each bite, especially because Zheng made it with her in mind. No one has ever dedicated this much time and effort into making Hong happy, so it’s a bit dizzying to be on the receiving end of such consideration.
(Lin Jing dramatically laments about his single life over a bowl of ramen, while Da Qing keeps trying to steal food from Hong’s meal. She doesn’t regret stabbing his greedy paws with more zeal than necessary.)
Afternoons that drag at a snail’s pace are made bearable when Zheng brings a freshly brewed cup of tea to her desk, her eyes filled with quiet understanding as Hong agonizes over complicated case files. And when she’s sent to do field work, nothing energizes her more than a text from Zheng reading “work hard!! come back soon ^^~”
“Changcheng sends the same to me,” Chu says, shamelessly reading the text over her shoulder. “Only his has way more exclamation points.” To anyone else, Chu’s words would seem critical, but Hong detects the fondness in his tone.
“Are we good enough for them?” she asks, falling in step with his quick strides. She doesn’t feel the need to clarify whom she is referring to.
Chu doesn’t respond immediately. “All we can do is be the best versions of ourselves for them.” He spares Hong a glance as they wait to cross the street. “You should trust her to know what she wants.”
Hong keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, for something to make Zheng finally realize the truth: that Hong doesn’t deserve to be loved, to be someone’s first choice. Isn’t that the reason why no one stuck around? Isn’t that the reason why Yunlan never reciprocated her feelings after all those years?
There are moments when Hong wants to confront Zheng if her smiles are given to her out of pity, but the words die in her throat when Zheng pulls her into the archives, ducking behind old shelves to press soft yet hungry kisses to her lips. Hong’s knees nearly give out from the thrilling drag of Zheng’s blunt nails along the back of her head. Heat blooms in her stomach as Zheng arches her back, her body pliant under each stroke of Hong’s tongue tasting her mouth.
The doubts will never stop, that much is certain. But the alternative means closing herself off from Zheng, an unbearable idea which scares her more than she cares to admit. She wants to covet each glance Zheng directs her way, each lingering touch to her elbow, each bout of laughter shared when they joke like schoolgirls. She wants mornings without the fear of waking up alone.
It’s the cumulation of all these selfish desires that pushes Hong to throw caution to the wind. When the week ends with Zheng’s arm looped around hers as they walk back to Hong’s apartment, Hong hopes she’s made the right choice.