As the elevator approaches the final floors to the penthouse office at the very top, the perpetual notch between Li Ming Cheng’s brows deepened intently. A drawn-out sigh escaped his lips to punctuate the tumult brewing in his mind. At times like this, he really hated his job. Not because of the stress but because he hated being the bearer of bad news, - all the time. In the one and half year since his return to Yun Ma after his Masters, he has lost count of the times he rode in this very elevator to deliver news less than desirable to the Chairman whom he had grown to care for as a friend.
Worst yet, when it was the same bad news, - every time.
The young finance manager dreaded to think how many more times will he have to repeat this drill; or how many more times will he have to put his boss through this same ordeal time and time again.
As the man’s manager, Ming Cheng only had to report his findings. But it was the Chairman himself who can resolve the matter. And this was no trifle matter. Regardless of the decision, the price to pay was decidedly a high one.
If the young manager had admired the man before, now admiration alone wouldn’t do just. He has absolute respect for the young Chairman. From building a dying business into the thriving empire it was today within a mere decade was no walk in the park. However he was far from envious because God knows the sacrifices made, the heartache and pain was not for everyone. And this was one of those times in which the Chairman would inevitably be caught between a rock and a hard place. He would be forced to make sacrifices, - sacrifices that no one knows of and will never know.
There was truth in the saying that it’s lonely at the top.
Resignedly, the young manager shook his head as he alighted the elevator cab. With every step closer to the office, an invisible weight seemed to be weighing down on the black folder that was in his arms. It probably weighed as much as the sinking boulder of remorse in his stomach pit.
The ever vigilant PA, Wei An was the first to notice his presence at the office threshold. But what started out as a friendly, welcoming smile faltered quickly at the sight of the folder in his arms.
“I take it that you have bad news for him,” the PA broached tentatively. The young man dipped his head in a singular apologetic nod.
The older man exhaled regrettably, torn between sending Ming Cheng into the Chairman’s inner chamber or to turn him away. Today was a terrible day for bad news. The Chairman already had a difficult afternoon with his board of directors. More bad news would be the last thing he needed right now.
In attempt to divert disaster in-making, “Perhaps we should reschedule this for another day,” Wei An suggested good-naturedly.
But things don’t always goes as planned, does it?
“Let him in, Wei An.” The voice that normally reverberated with demanding arrogance, spoke with unnerving softness and undisguised weariness from the inner sanctum.
The confidant and the young manager exchanged reluctant glances. Neither were inclined to approach the Chairman’s desk for their own reasons, however both had very little choice in the matter.
As Ming Cheng got close enough, he finally realised the reasoning for the older PA’s earlier effort to defer the meeting to a later date.
Despite his boss’s best effort to hide behind his cool, indifferent façade, evidence of strain and exhaustion were obvious even to the naked eye. The normally sharp eyes reflected dull and hollow listlessness. Whites of his eyes were crawling with fine red veins. Dark smudge blemished under the eyes. Thin lines bracketed his lips. But most alarming of all, was the lack of colour on his face and lips, like death warmed over him.
“Wei Qing, you don’t look too well. Should you really be working?” Ming Cheng was startled enough by the ghastly paleness that office propriety failed him when he called out the young Chairman’s name instead of his title.
The latter did not seem bothered by the lack of decorum. Instead, he casually dismissed the former’s concerns with a careless wave of his hand. “I’m fine. Just a little tired. That’s all… Go ahead and give me your report.”
“The report can wait…”
“Now is as good a time as any. You’re here now, might as well give it to me,” Wei Qing said, leaning back against his Herman Miller chair. His eyes rested uneasily shut as brows creased together. Long fingers reached blindly to massage his right temple.
He was exhibiting every signs of overexertion. But the Chairman was also an unrelentingly stubborn person.
Sighing in defeat, Ming Cheng endeavoured to make this discussion as short as possible. “It’s He Wei, again…”
A derisive snort followed without missing a beat. “Tell me something I don’t already know.”
“Several investments he made in Director He’s name fell through...” the manager tried to be tactful, but the young Chairman was hardly impressed as a skeptic brow rose despite holding back an onslaught of splitting headache.
“What is the damage?”
When Ming Cheng hesitated to reply, Wei Qing cracked open an eye questioningly at his manager.
“How much?” he pressed on impatiently.
“...68 million yuan,”
A badly concealed gasp was audible from his otherwise quiet PA while Wei Qing himself, merely closed his eyes once more and threw his head back against the chair’s headrest. He was no longer bothered to fight the headaches, - be it the throbbing in his head, or the uncle whose life’s mission included making his life difficult.
“10 fricking million US dollars… I can only applaud my uncle for his ability to bleed this company dry,” the young Chairman remarked caustically.
“We just recovered the losses from the stunt he pulled with Snow Corporation. Fortunately with a little help from the sales of Ning Fei’s latest artworks, we have managed to pull out of the reds earlier than expected in the last six months. But with this...”
Ming Cheng couldn’t contain the exasperation in his voice. On one hand, he witnessed firsthand the Chairman clocking in ungodly hours of work to answer for the losses; on the other hand, there was this ‘leech’ who takes the company for his personal piggy bank! And topping it all off, this particular ‘leech’ was family.
“Now I know why ‘she’ called…” Despondency laced his tired voice unchecked. The two other men in the room need not ask who ‘she’ was. There was only one woman who could paint anguish on the young Chairman’s face.
After all these times, Wei Qing couldn’t understand why he still held hope that things would be different between them. Perhaps he just didn’t want to believe someone could be so hard hearted to push their own flesh and blood away. Or perhaps he was the one who was the stubborn fool, who refused to learn with time that no matter what he could do, he will never have a place in his mother’s heart to love.
Withheld tears burned behind his closed eyes.
Wei Qing finally spoke again after a long stretch of silence. “Wei An... I’m tired now. Bring the car around...” The lethargy was unmistakable.
Though unsaid, both men understood that there would be no further discussions today.
“I’ll go fetch the car and wait for you in the lobby,” Wei An quickly excused himself, leaving the two men in the office.
Resuming the massage to his throbbing temple, “It’s late now. Go home, Ming Cheng,” the young Chairman dismissed.
“Let me accompany you for a bit. I’ll leave as soon as Wei An returns. Your complexion troubles me. Are you sure you don’t want to drop in at the hospital to get checked?”
“I’m fine... Just have a headache from lack of sleep. Don’t need to go to the hospital...”
Ming Cheng started but never got to finish with Wei Qing abruptly cutting him off irritably.
“I’m fine. Go home...”
There was hesitation on the young manager’s part to leave the man unattended in his current state. But his PA should return for him soon.
“I’ll take my leave then. Take care of yourself, Wei Qing...”
A curt nod of dismissal was all he had as reply before he too, exited the man’s office.
Finally left alone, Wei Qing dropped his sad excuse of a façade in a heartbeat. It wasn’t a lie that he had a headache but it was a milder version of the truth. What started out as slight annoyance two days ago, turned into a full-blown skull hammering, head splitting migraine since this afternoon. So being fine was far from accurate.
The warm white lights he had specifically installed to view the true colours of his jewelleries were now the bane of existence as his eyes became highly photosensitive. He wasn’t truly resting his eyes when he had them closed but more so because he couldn’t take the light. His neck was stiff from all the tension buildup in his head. And in spite of barely having a bite today, his stomach churned with the need to throw up.
The young Chairman doubled over in his chair in hope to quell the queasiness. But his off-kilter balance pitched his motion too far forward that inevitably threw him off his chair and onto the floor.
Wei Qing had no idea how long he had collapsed on the carpeted floor, curled up in agony or when he lost consciousness. In his hazy subconscious, he vaguely remembered hearing Wei An’s voice calling out to him and the slight jostling for him to wake. But he never did. Instead, Wei Qing wholeheartedly welcomed the oblivion in effort to escape the tormenting pain.
It was noon in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Not exactly the time of the day she would be expecting calls, more so from home. But when it rang while Zhou Shi was working on the final touches of her artwork, her eyes blinked owlishly in a moment of stupor before reaching over with her paint littered hand to pick up Li Ming Cheng’s call.
“Ming Cheng gē?” Contrary to her usual vigour cheerfulness, she greeted with mix surprise and dubiousness.
The slight hesitation that followed did not bode well with her, but she patiently waited for him nonetheless.
“Shi Shi… I probably shouldn’t disturbed you with this. And I know he wouldn’t want you to know either, but…”
Again, a hesitant pause.
“What is it, brother? Is it Qiu Jing jiě?”
“No, not Qiu Jing...”
“Then, is it Fei Fei or Xiao Fei?”
“Not them either...”
Zhou Shi will never forget the moment chill crept down her spine in foreboding trepidation. Air passageway constricted so tightly that every breath was dragged with great difficulty.
“…It’s Wei Qing, isn’t it?”
A rueful sigh exhaled through the speakers was all she needed to confirm her suspicions.
“What has happened, Ming Cheng gē?!”
“… Wei Qing collapsed at work this evening… He seemed so pale and tired, but insisted that we continue with the meeting… By the time we adjourned, even though he tried to hide it, his face was all pinched up in pain from a headache. I have never seen him in such bad shape before. He said he was going to head home to rest. But when Wei An didn’t find him waiting in the lobby after fetching the car, he returned to the office only to find the Chairman lying unconscious on the floor. I turned back when I saw the paramedics at the entrance…”
Her lungs ceased to take another breath. Fear seized her to the core. She couldn’t think, couldn’t process everything Li Ming Cheng was telling her. All she heard was, “Wei Qing collapsed” and nothing else would enter her head.
“...i Shi... Shi Shi…?!” Ming Cheng called out to her when disconcerting silence stretched between them.
Forcing herself to calm down, she dragged a shaky breath. “How is he? Is he…?” She started but sobs lodged in her throat prevented her from continuing.
“The ambulance just left for the hospital. He was still unconscious when they took him away. Wei An is with him. I’ll be heading over shortly. I’ll let you know his condition as soon as I hear something,”
“No…” she choked out, holding back from crying, “I’m coming home. I’ll catch the next flight out…”
“What?! No, Shi Shi! I just thought I let you know just in case you get worried when you don’t hear from him. You don’t have to come back…”
She took quick angry swipes at the traitorous tears that wast trekking down her cheeks; she knew deep inside that crying was a luxury she couldn’t afford right now. “No... I have to come back. Wei An has to take care of the company in Wei Qing’s absence. No one will be there for Wei Qing then...”
“But your thesis exhibition…!”
“I’ve already completed the piece. I just have to be back in time for the exhibition end of the week. If I don’t go to Wei Qing now, I will never be at peace. I need to see him….”
She had 14 hours of uninterrupted flight time to reminisce on her relationship with Wei Qing.
Yes, they were a couple. But she had to leave to continue her studies abroad as soon as they came together. He promised that he will wait for her nonetheless.
However, he did more than just wait.
From procuring a cozy little studio apartment in a safe neighbourhood near the university, to securing a part-time curating job at an art gallery in Manhattan, New York, - he has done all the above for her without even asking. Very high-handed, but that’s the Chairman for you.
She was reluctant at first but didn’t care to fight with him over the trivial matters anymore, considering that he did them only because he cared for her. Or maybe, it was the fact that he knew that if he hadn’t found the job for her, she might just end up in another shady bar. Lesson learnt twice was probably more than enough.
Also, he had an impossibly jealous streak and wasn’t the type to share anything, hence living on campus was absolutely out of the question. Procuring the apartment on the other hand, had more to do with his peace of mind and convenience than her comfort and safety. He loved the privilege of sharing the room with her without prying eyes. Not that they were intimate beyond genuinely sleeping next to one other but Wei Qing was still predisposed to holding her in his sleep.
And despite the distance, Wei Qing spent a great deal of his available time shuttling to and fro just to be with her. Every birthday and holidays in the past two years she has been in the States, he had traversed the miles between oceans and continents just to spend them with her.
All in all, Wei Qing has done everything within his power to make sure she was taken care of in a foreign land. It wasn’t something she had asked him to do. But he willingly did them anyways.
Zhou Shi never realised how important Wei Qing has become in her life until now. Yes, she loved him. But when desperation clawed at her to go to him, she knew with unquestionable certainty that more than affections, she needed him just as much as he needed her. And at this very moment, she needed to be with him, - beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The city was already shrouded in pitch darkness by the time the cab she took from the airport arrived at the hospital. Visitation hours had long ended, but she couldn’t care less. Her urgent footsteps marked resoundingly all along her path through hallways and corridors, in search of her way to the private wards. She was so high-strung that she feared might just hit anyone who dared stop her.
The quick whirl on the balls of her feet left her slightly disoriented. A pair of firm but gentle arms were quick to steady her as she looked up to a familiar face.
“Wei An…” Relief washed over her so suddenly that the lost of adrenaline rush nearly gave her legs out on her, if it weren’t for the PA’s unfaltering support.
“Miss Zhou, what are you doing here?”
Ignoring the man’s questioning, “Wei Qing…How is he? Is he all right?” she asked hastily in return.
The wistful smile he gave her was hardly any consolation.
“He’s still sleeping…” he replied tactfully. But unspoken words spoke volumes.
Chagrined, “You mean, he hasn’t regained consciousness?!” From the time she received the phone call till now, it has been well over 20 hours!
He replied her with only a sad shake of his head.
“God… “She tightened her hold onto his forearms, fearing the loss of any sense of grounding. Tears were threatening to spill.
“What’s wrong with him? What did the doctors say?”
Wei An stealthily ushered her further along the corridor and through the door to a private ward before speaking again, “Doctors said that he is suffering from a migraine attack owing to undue stress, strained from overworking. His insomnia didn’t help either…”
From where she stood at the end of the bed, her mind fought against the scene before her eyes. The man she has grown to love had always been a restless sleeper. In the times they have shared a bed, never once were they not a mess of tangled limbs when they woke up. But to see this man sleeping so motionlessly unnerved her to the core.
“Wei Qing…” Whispering his name in silent anguish, she moved around the bed until she was close enough to hold his left hand against her cheek.
“Wei Qing… wake up… Wake up for me… please?” she pled with desperation but his eyes remained determinedly closed. He was so eerily peaceful that it scared her.
Teary eyes blurred the image of him, preventing her from retracing his handsome features.
A single finger reached out to brush a stray lock out of his face. The lusciously long lashes guarded his closed eyes, not even compromising a peak to soothe her turmoil. His formerly filled out cheeks would dazzled men and women alike with his dimpled smile, was now gaunt and sunken a fair bit. Forbiddingly sinful lips that she had the good fortune to sample were now pale and parched. He had always been fair skinned, but the pallid complexion he sported now was far from healthy.
And worst of all, he was cold to touch.
If it weren’t for the steady beeping from the heart rate monitor, one could easily mistaken him for the dead.
“Wei An… he’s so cold…” Zhou Shi said, absently taking his hand in both hers to keep it warm.
“He’s slightly anaemic from lack of sustenance. Because of running around for work, he hasn’t been eating properly in the past two month or so…”
Berating herself inwardly, she should have shown more concern for him.
In hindsight, she should have known that something wasn’t quite right. Throughout the time she was in the States, he had made it a point to come see her every so often. Jokingly he once told her that he needed to see her in person for a ‘re-charge’. It was only within the last three months that the young Chairman was so caught up with work that he couldn’t see her in person. Foolishly, she thought no better since she was busy putting together her final year project herself. Moreover, he was still on the phone with her daily, even on the morning before he fell unconscious that it didn’t trigger her to suspect a thing.
Never once did he hinted that he was suffering or unwell.
But still, how could she had been so inattentive when the man has given his every available attention to her?!
Caressing his soft hair tenderly, steady strings of sobs escaped her without reserve.
“Wei Qing... wake up, please... I beg you. Please...”
Someone was calling out for him. Someone his heart knew dearly….
But he was so tired, - so very tired of fighting everyday. His every waking moment was besieged with problems that were trying to outdo one another in giving him the worst headaches possible. If it wasn’t about rivalling companies trying to cut into his market share, then it would be about people within his own company vying for his seat. And if that wasn’t bad enough, there was also his inner demons to contend with.
To the general eyes, he, - Wei Qing was the unparalleled overlord of Chinese art and cultural community. But being at the top meant everyone would be looking forward to take him down. He could never afford a moment of weakness to let his guard down. For every step took against him, he had to be ten steps ahead of everyone. In more than 10 years now, he had never accorded himself time for a decent rest.
Until ‘she’ came along, that is.
What started out as an experiment, gave birth to a relationship that gave him a true peace of mind that he had only dared dream of before. Only with her, would nightmares stay away. Together with her, he could finally subdue the demons that has haunted him since the death of his father.
He could finally be Wei Qing again, not the Chairman.
God, he missed her.
Being away from her for three months was nothing short of a torture. She didn’t ask for the time apart. But he knew and respected the time she needed to finish her thesis exhibition. His only consolation was she will be graduated soon after and come home with him. That was all it mattered.
Burying himself in work came easy with that in mind. He was trying to get all the shit together in order to have more time for her when she gets back.
But one problem became another. One worst than the other. Before he knew it, he was back to the vicious accursed cycle before he met her.
He was just so tired…
“Wei Qing… wake up, please… I beg you… please…”
He really didn’t want to abandon the comfort of oblivion for cruel reality. But the broken voice calling out to him tugged at his heartstring. In his muddled subconscious, his heart recognised the voice despite the addled brain was struggling to say her name.
Amidst grasping the shreds of fragmented thoughts to identify the voice, the adamantly closed eyes finally fluttered delicately open.
Wei Qing immediately regretted his erroneous decision to resurrect back into the land of the living. The vision before his eyes tilted and turned on its axis like a bad mockery of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. The intrusive glare of the sun poking needles in his eyes didn’t help either.
A barely audible groan let slipped of his awakening.
Twin cries erupted almost instantaneously as two blurry silhouettes crowded to his left and right.
“Wei Qing, you’re finally awake…” The smaller of the two cried, throwing its arms over him. It held the same disheartening effeminate voice that broke through his subconscious.
“Chairman… how are you feeling?” the other voice asked concernedly.
Sluggishly, Wei Qing threw his right arm heavily over his eyes. “… too bright…” he mumbled weakly.
“I’ll go draw the curtains,” the male said, moving swiftly away from the bed.
“Wei Qing… are you all right? Does your head still hurt?” The young lady fret over him, one hand feeling his forehead for temperature while the other roamed over his face to get him to focus on her.
Forcibly compelling the dizziness to stop spinning, he blinked his eyes repeatedly to regain semblance of concentration. It took him a while but when gears in his head finally kicked in, he was disinclined to believe his eyes.
“…Zhou … Shi…?”
“Wei Qing, you’re awake… you finally woke up…”Relieved happiness rushed to flood her as fresh tears flowed freely over trails of dried ones.
In his befuddled mind, something didn’t add up.
How could Zhou Shi be here? How long was he out?!
Quick as lightning, he snatched her roaming hand in his, tightening fearfully that she was just a figment of his imagination, “Zhou Shi…” he started but the dryness in his throat hacked up a few fits of cough.
The two other occupant in the room were quick to scramble around.
“I’ll go get the doctor…” Wei An said, leaving the room while Zhou Shi left his side to reach over the bedside table for a glass of water.
“Here…” she said, helping him to sit slightly upright before resting the rim of the glass gently against his lips.
“Slowly…” Coaxing unhurriedly, she allowed a slow stream of water pass his lips until he had enough.
When he finally caught his breath, “Zhou Shi… what are you doing here?” he asked, still in disbelief that she was really here in person.
“Because of you, dummy…” she said, smiling through the tears, “Ming Cheng gē told me you collapsed at work. You had no idea how scared I was…”
He brought her hand to his lips to place soft conciliatory kisses on her knuckles, “… my fault. I’m sorry... But Ming Cheng shouldn’t have made you travel all the way back just for this…”
“He didn’t. I wanted to come back. I needed to see you with my own eyes. I needed to be by your side when you needed me most…”
He was unexpectedly taken aback. Wei Qing never thought that there will be someone out there who would love and care for him. Better than any medicine, Zhou Shi was his miracle. She was the only one who would give her affections to him unconditionally.
Reaching for her, he pulled her head to rest against his heart, “Zhou Shi… I love you so much…” he whispered, planting a kiss atop her head.
“Then, get well soon. Don’t make me worry for you…”
Tightening his embrace over her, “I will…” he promised, stroking her hair lovingly.
He had no idea how long they were snuggling comfortably in each other’s arms. But Wei Qing remembered glaring daggers at Wei An when he returned with legion of doctors in tow. Zhou Shi literally jumped out of his arms looking embarrassingly bashful as she resumed her dutiful place by his left.
The young Chairman wanted nothing more than to dispense with the doctors and return to his solitary time with the one woman who mattered.
“How long was I out for?” He asked to the room crowded with unnecessary people.
“You’ve been unconscious for a full two days now… Today is already Thursday…” There was a slight apologetic tone at the end of Wei An’s reply that bothered Wei Qing.
But first, “Two days?!” he bellowed incredulously.
The prudent PA quickly ushered the doctors on their way after they were certain that the young Chairman was well on his way to recovery, and left the room himself to give the young pair a private moment together.
“Yes, you silly thing… You’ve slept nearly through the week. Doctors said you’ll wake soon but I was afraid that you’d never wake up before I had to go…” Zhou Shi spoke barely above whispers. Onslaught of tears threatened to spill again.
Wei Qing brought her slight body back down, pressed close against his larger form.
“I’m awake now. So, don’t cry anymore…” he spoke gently in hushed tones. “Not even death will I let you leave —”
His words came to an abrupt halt. Wei An’s words came filtering back into his mind. There was no reason for his PA to stress that today was Thursday, but he did…
“Damn!” He cursed aloud, “Zhou Shi, your thesis exhibition…!”
From their current position, he couldn’t see her face, but he could hear her reluctance.
“The appraisal is tomorrow evening… I have to fly back to New Jersey tonight…”
Fuck! His clenched fist trembled angrily by his side. Wei Qing was furious with himself. He was supposed to wrap work ups by the end of the week, in time to fly to the States to see her exhibition.
“Bring Wei An,” he ordered, “Tell him I’m discharging right now.”
Zhou Shi’s head snapped up looking at him as though he had lost his mind, “What?! Wei Qing don’t be silly! You just woke up. You are in no condition to leave the hospital right now…”
“I can and I will…” he replied obstinately, testing his strength to right himself without help. But against his will, his arms failed to hold his weight as he slumped back down onto the bed.
“Wei Qing, don’t be stubborn!… it’s just an exhibition…”
Ignoring her pleas, “Wei An will make arrangement for the flight tickets. He will pick up some of my clothes from home and then we can be on our way…” he said compromisingly, however strains were baring its fangs at him again when beads of sweat formed neatly across his forehead from all the exertion.
“Wei Qing! Listen to me! Please…” she begged, “Stop hurting yourself…” Tears were steadily streaming again.
Wei Qing hated nothing more than to see her cry. He even promised her not to bully anymore, but she had wasted more tears on him in the past two days than ever he could recall.
“If you don’t,” she continued unsteadily through sobs, “…I won’t return to the US and forgo the degree and exhibition…”
“What?! Have you gone mad, Zhou Shi?!”
“I will, if you don’t stop hurting yourself.”
“I’m not…” he insisted, but it was the most pitiful argument, if he ever heard one.
Wei Qing could only internalise his anger. It was his own fault for allowing work and stress get the better of him. Not only did it mean catching up with time loss at work upon discharged, it also meant losing precious allotted time with her.
Self-reprimand must have been visibly portrayed when her lithe fingers moved to caress the furrow that marred his charming face.
“…do you want me to stay?…” Zhou Shi asked gingerly.
He longed to say ‘yes’ but he knew that it would just be his selfishness speaking.
Schooling the same heartbreaking sadness every time they had to part, a forlorn smile played on his lips. His deep set of almond eyes bore intently into her wide innocent ones as he replied with vulnerable sincerity.
“Go… not because I don’t want you to stay with me… but it’s exactly because I want you here with me, that is why go finish up your Bachelors. And then come back permanently to me…”
The following two days flew by like a whirlwind, leaving Zhou Shi reeling in its wake. The whole time she kept vigil over Wei Qing, she barely took a moment to rest. Compounded with jet lag travelling between time zones within the span of 72 hours, one could hardly blame her for being anything less than a walking zombie throughout the preparation for the exhibition.
Now that the evaluation of her thesis is over, she could finally breathe again. Standing before her work, she was quite satisfied with the outcome. It was a struggle at first to put her ideas on to the canvas, especially when the topic of her choice was abstract expressionism. It was either a hit or miss, but she gave her all into it. This painting was the very first piece she truly felt that she has left a mark of herself in it. Taking cues from Ning Fei’s hidden ‘ran’, she left her own discreet message in her work. And so far, none has discovered her secret yet.
Looking decidedly pleased by the fact, she turned on her heels to move along with the general crowd to enjoy the rest of the exhibition when her eyes widened at the sight of familiar faces approaching her way.
“Fei Fei?! Xiao Fei?!!”
“Zhou Shi jiě…”
Surprised beyond words could express, Zhou Shi could barely contain her excitement as she threw her arms around her best friend and their former ‘stray’ in a warm embrace.
“I’ve missed the both of you!”
“All your fault. We were in Philly for two months now but you couldn’t even take the time to visit us….” Fei Fei rebuked mocking with a slight pout.
It came to everyone as a startling surprise when Wei Qing offered Ning Fei to stay into his old home in Philadelphia as a base to work on his paintings while he sought inspirations. As Yun Ma Arts’ celebrated artist, many attributed the move as a calculated one on Wei Qing’s part to enrich his ‘cash cow’ although the truth was far from.
Fei Fei inevitably had to tag along because it was common knowledge now that Ning Fei was helpless if left to his own devices. Someone had to take care of the prized artist, hence Fei Fei was actually paid by Yun Ma to take care of Ning Fei. Not that money was a concern considering the young man’s net worth, - albeit a good incentive with the former model nonetheless, - but Fei Fei couldn’t possibly leave her younger boyfriend alone again after proving that he could die of starvation on his own. As far as Fei Fei was concerned, all artist had no concept of basic human necessities, including interactions.
Perhaps that was why Fei Fei was giving her petite friend the evil eye now for not being in touch despite the proximity.
To her defence, “I was busy working on this for the last three months!” Zhou Shi said, gesturing wildly at the painting hung behind her on the makeshift wall.
The former model only raised a skeptical brow in response before moving along side her younger boyfriend to inspect her friend’s masterpiece.
“What’s so special about this one compared to all her other pieces?” Fei Fei remarked offhandedly.
“Couldn’t you tell?” the art prodigy asked in return.
Smiling mirthfully to himself, Ning Fei merely shook his head. His girlfriend may have an expensive taste, but didn’t mean that she had an eye for art.
Glossing over the clueless one, “Has Senior seen this?” he inquired.
Zhou Shi’s earlier exuberance waned a little at the question. “No, Wei Qing hasn’t had the chance to see it yet…”
Noting the sudden change in demeanour, Fei Fei was quick to gather her friend close, “Is something wrong? Did something happened between the both of you?”
“No, nothing like that! There’s nothing wrong between us. It’s just that…” the slight pause before she continued had twin pair of eyes watching her closely, “… Wei Qing was hospitalised for stress-induced migraine in the last two days. He was unconscious the whole time until yesterday, he finally woke up…”
The news was received with a gasp and sharp intake of breath.
Tightening her arms around Zhou Shi, Fei Fei stroke her back in solace, “You must have been so afraid for him…”
The reality was, she still was afraid for him, - until now.
When she left him at the hospital for the airport, Wei Qing was still noticeably pale and drained. Her departure didn’t help the situation either. He wilfully insisted on spending the remaining hours awake with her that he didn’t rest for the next eight hours. By the time she had to leave, Wei Qing looked like he was minutes away from collapsing again. She tried calling as soon as she arrived in the States, but Wei An answered the call instead. He assured her that the Chairman was only sleeping off the sedatives administered to help him catch some uninterrupted rest. But that hardly assuaged her worries. Since then, she hasn’t heard again from Wei Qing, - or even Wei An, for that matter.
Ever the susceptible one, Ning Fei seemed to understand her distress even without words expressed out loud, “Wei An is with him… don’t worry…”
Turning back to the painting, an enigmatic smile touched his lips, “Besides, Senior will love this painting. Trust me…” he said with impish mischief twinkling in his eyes.
‘He knows…’ Zhou Shi gasped internally. But it shouldn’t come across as a surprise. Compared to a master like Ning Fei, her covert message was nothing but child’s play to him.
“I hope you are right…”
Gazing absently out the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Delaware River, the pensive atmosphere surrounding him was rudely disturbed by the incessant ringing of his phone. But the annoyed glance he threw at his phone was quickly replaced with a fond smile when he saw the caller’s name displayed on his screen.
Like clockwork, she had never missed calling him. Except for the week he was confined in the hospital, they have been on the phone the same time, everyday. He gave himself a mental smack in the head for forgetting the time difference.
Picking up the call at the third ring, “Hey you…”
“Hey yourself…” she greeted in return with the same ease, “… Am I interrupting anything?”
“No… just bidding time myself before the next meeting,”
“And you? What are you up to?”
“The convocation rehearsal just concluded. I just arrived at the apartment’s doorstep…” She drifted far off for a minute followed by sounds of keys jingling.
“You could have waited till you settled in the apartment before calling me, you know…” he said, but he wasn’t sure she heard him above the sound of the door slamming shut.
“Sorry, you were saying…?”
Wei Qing smiled wryly, “I said…” but he never got to finish when she interrupted him urgently.
“Give me a minute. Someone’s at the door…”
He could hear the muffled sounds of her greeting and exchanging few words with the other person at the door. He didn’t have to wait very long before her voice came back online.
“Wei Qing! What have you done this time?” she admonished as soon as she resume the call.
“What did I do?” He feigned innocence. If only she could see the impish grin on his face now.
“What have you sent this time round?” she asked sternly, but the content of the parcel piqued her curiosity.
“Go open it. I’ll hold the line…”
A low thud could be heard as she put down her phone. Sounds of wrappers ripping apart and papers rustling about filtered through the call.
Wei Qing casually reached for his coffee while he waited for her to return. And it didn’t take long.
“Wei Qing!!!” She was already bringing down the roof with his name before she could even get to the phone.
The young Chairman hasn’t laughed so wholeheartedly in so long now.
“Wei Qing! Why did you send me a dress? How much is this extravagant? Is it another vintage?” Volley of questions threw at him one after another sent him into another fit of laughter.
“What is so funny, you rich brat?” His laughter incensed her further.
Trying his best to smother his amusement, Wei Qing quickly re-composed himself, “I just want you to look your prettiest at the convocation…”
“But I already have clothes prepared! Why would I need another one? Isn’t this just another excuse for your to spend money?”
He could see it in his mind her frown, “Oh, don’t be such a spoilt sport. You’re probably just going to go in your usual top and jeans. Just wear the dress tomorrow. I want to see you graduate it in…” he said.
“You’re coming?!” He grimaced at her barely contained excitement that nearly deafened his ear.
“I have an errand to run in New York in the morning, so I will be late. But I will most definitely be there tomorrow…” Wei Qing promised from the bottom of the heart.
“Ok…” she conceded.
“Run along now. I’ll see you tomorrow…”
Putting down his phone, a small smile played on his lips as he took a long satisfying sip of his Blue Mountain.
For two whole year Wei Qing had waited patiently for this day to come. Now at long last, her convocation was but a day away. No more oceans and continents between them. No more heart-rendering goodbyes. Only one more day till she eventually comes home with him. The anticipation bubbling within him was dying to burst forth. He couldn’t wait to see her in person.
Fortunately, he was only an hour away from her in the neighbouring state; not halfway across the globe.
But first, he had a deplorable matter to settle once and for all. His smile turned bittersweet at the thoughts of the distasteful meeting he had next.
Mentally steeling himself for the worst, he threw a quick glance at the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gyrotourbillon 3 Jubilee wrapped around his wrist. In this world, there was only one person who would thoughtlessly make him wait. It wouldn’t be the first time, so he took his time with sipping the coffee.
His mother finally waltzed in just as he finished his coffee.
Although indoctrinated etiquette dictated him to stand and pull out the chair across him for her, there was no heartwarming exchange of pleasantries. Both mother and child merely regarded each other with impassive courtesy.
Despite having talked about their estrangement, there wasn’t really any sort of reconciliation between them. Till this date, things remained status quo as it has always been; he was the Chairman and she was one of his directors.
“You wanted to see me?” She spoke without preambles.
A slight twinge of sorrow poked painfully at his battered heart by the indifference in her voice. But as always, he brushed all trace of hurt under his professional visage. “Yes, about what you asked for the last time we met.”
“And I have made my decision on the matter...” he said, glancing behind her towards the cafe entrance. He couldn’t have timed it any better himself as his late father’s lanky prodigy walked through the door towards them.
“Auntie... Senior...” Ning Fei greeted. He startled the both of them when he choose to seat beside Wei Qing as opposed to his usual place beside the woman.
“Xiao Fei, what are you doing here?” Director He asked, baffled by his presence and the meaning behind the seating arrangements.
“Senior asked me to come,” he readily answered.
“What is the meaning of this, Chairman? What games are you trying to play now?! Don’t you dare get Xiao Fei involved!”
Her accusations should hurt, but he was used to it by now. “I’m tired of playing games, that is why we are sat here today. I have made my decision and part of my decision involves Ning Fei. That is why he is here.”
When he was certain that he had both their attentions, he continued on, “I’m done with cleaning up He Wei’s mess every time. I run a business, not a personal charity, - not even for family. That is why, to your earlier request, - I will not distribute any more Yun Ma shares to you or to He Wei.”
“Yun Ma is the creation of my late husband and I. It was built on our blood and sweat! Who are you to rob me of my rights to it?!”
“While you are right, tell me again what did you do to ensure its sustainability?”
“Yun Ma Arts is not about profitability! You’ll never understand what it meant to conserve artistic talents...”
“I only understand one thing and that is nothing else matters if Yun Ma Arts doesn’t exist tomorrow!” He was above caring if his voice rose to decibels higher than intended. This one-sided disagreement between them has gone on long enough for niceties.
“I want to preserve my father’s memories in Yun Ma Arts. I want it to continue to stand and thrive. But I don’t want to have to fight at every turn just to do so. I want people who would work hand-in-hand beside me to keep his legacy alive, not against me... Now that I have reacquired the shares owned by Snow Corporation, it has been decided unanimously by the Board that the shares are to be redistributed in a way that Yun Ma Arts can never be owned by outsiders. It will be delisted from public listing and be reverted back to private ownership. I will hold 51% majority of the shares while 29% will be allocated to Ning Fei. Zhou Shi will be the recipient of the remaining shares. She will also be made the new curator of Zun Gallery and Operations Director of Yun Ma Arts upon her return...”
“You cannot do that... you have no rights to do so!!” Her outburst was suffused with denial.
“I can. And I have….” Despite his outward’s unwavering resolve, he was truly sick to the stomach that it had to boil down to this.
Ning Fei who had been quiet all these while, finally spoke up, “Senior... you’re not serious, are you? Then what becomes of Auntie?”
“She will receive the same pension benefit as all Directors of Yun Ma when they retire. Over and above, I will personally provide an allowance for her so that she can maintain her current lifestyle. She can continue her jets setter’s life and buy whatever that is she wishes...”
“But...!” Ning Fei started but was quickly interrupted.
“Enough is enough… I have always done whatever possible as a son to keep her happy and I will continue to do so even if she never forgives me. But I cannot forgive anyone who would jeopardise what my father built for their own gain, more so when they are family! I will not tolerate being held at ransom again by He Wei... I will not allow him to use my own mother against me! I am done paying for his recklessness… From here on, Yun Ma will no longer take responsibility of the mess he creates. Live or die, he’s on his own…”
“Then, we have nothing further to talk about...” He Yun declared curtly, departing in fury.
“Auntie!” Ning Fei started after her, but Wei Qing held him back by the wrist.
“I have something else to talk to you about,” he said softly.
Expecting the same intense temperament, the sudden request for him to stay was truly unexpected. Although they had cordial conversations, more so in the last two years thanks to Zhou Shi, - this was the first time his senior has ever spoken to him in such manner.
Wei Qing motioned for them to leave, but neither exchanged words until they reached the promenade by the river.
When the young Chairman finally spoke, nostalgia laced his voice, “In some twisted sense, growing up with you gave me a glimpse of what it was like to have siblings. We fought, we argued... thinking back now, we were both incredibly childish. I was jealous of the affections my parents gave you; you were afraid to lose theirs... How foolish we were...”
“Uncle might have been terribly strict with you, but he has spoken highly of your talents to me before he died... Uncle really did love you a lot...”
Faint sadness reflected in the eyes that was pensively staring far out into the river, “... I know...” Wei Qing whispered inaudible in reply.
“... do you hate Auntie...?”
It took him a moment to ponder on the question itself, but he had always known the honest answer locked within his heart, “... No... I could never hate her. She is after all, my mother. But I’m done vying for her love. What I have for her now is pity that she couldn’t make peace with the past...”
“Give her time. She’ll understand someday...”
Wei Qing smiled wryly, “Enough about her. I called you out for reasons more than just to come watch the ugly falling out with my mother...”
“Is it about the shares? Because I really don’t want them, Senior...”
The earnest refusal from Ning Fei was all Wei Qing needed to confirm that he made the right decisions with him.
“Keep them not for me, but for my mother...”
Ning Fei shot him a perplexed look but said nothing of it as he waited for the older man to continue, “If I give the shares to my mother, He Wei will just swindle his way to get his hands on them again. Yun Ma is not a bottomless pit for him to plunder and pillage as and when he likes. And since my mother has absolute trust in her brother despite his prior betrayals, I can no longer entrust the shares in her hands. Hence, I leave the shares intended for her in yours instead...”
“No buts. All has been decided now. I have no intention on backing on my words. Wei An will send over the legal documents to you soon,”
Not knowing what else to say, the young artist simply nodded dumbly in reply.
“Good cat...” He said, gently teasing as he reached out his arm for the first time ever on his own volition, - to ruffle the younger man’s head affectionately.
As Wei Qing moved to leave, Ning Fei called out to him in a rush, “Will we see you at Zhou Shi jiě’s convocation tomorrow?”
A boyish grin tugged at his lips. “You can bet your last dollar on it.” Wei Qing said, walking away.
Beneath the undergraduate regalia, hid the gorgeous dress Wei Qing sent her. But unlike the collection of haute couture he owned, this dress had no makings of a branded fashion house. Not that it wasn’t luxuriously beautiful in it’s own right; it just didn’t share the same structured cut for a slim, tall models.
No, this dress was made for small statured people like her - and if she was being honest with herself, the design and cut was so perfect that there was no way it wasn’t tailor-made especially for her. It was inexplainable how a dress she had never tried on before could know her so intimately to be able to complement her best features as well as supplemented her shortcomings.
Having the good fortune to see her debut in that dress when they arrived unannounced at her apartment door that morning, Ning Fei was rendered speechless while his girlfriend gushed compliments after compliments at her friend’s exceptional transformation. Fei Fei insisted she helped complete the appearance with a touch of makeup and a quick half-do to her hair. After all, it wouldn’t do the dress justice if she didn’t look the part.
But four hours on, the one person whom she wanted to show off to was still nowhere in sight.
Stealing another glance over her shoulder for nth time, the last seat reserved next to Fei Fei and Xiao Fei remained dismally empty. Even Qiu Jing jiě and Ming Cheng gē managed to make time to attend her graduation. Yet the one person who promised to come, was still disconcertingly absent.
And there wasn’t much of the convocation ceremony left as she was only shy of two rows away from being called on stage.
Begrudgingly, she should be fair to him given the advance warning he gave her that he would be running late. But it still didn’t stop her from hoping that he would be able to make it in time to see her receive her degree.
Nevertheless, it was too late now as the master of ceremonies announced her name, “Shi Zhou…”
Bitterly swallowing her dejection, she forced herself to go with the programme, with a carefully schooled expression and a plastered smile as she made her way on stage to the waiting Dean.
“Congratulations, Zhou Shi. Your thesis was truly a work of art,” he praised as he shook her hands and handed her the scroll.
“Thank you, Professor…” Her reply was as mechanical as it could get.
As they turned for the camera, movements near the theatre exit caught her attention.
A pair of dark silhouettes , - an elder woman and a towering man had just walked through the doors. The stage spotlights might have blinded her from making out the details of their features, but that set of shoulders she would know them even without visual affirmation of the man’s identity.
Her plastic smile gave way to a heartfelt one as overflowing elation filled the gaping void carved by her earlier despondency. She had to mentally suppress the urge to run to him as she proceeded with the ceremony and returned involuntarily to her seat.
All the while her mind gleefully chanted, ’He came... He really came...’
It was a lot later than intended, but Wei Qing kept his promised. And along with him, was one of three surprises he had prepared for her. When her flight was delayed, he was worried that they would be too late. He would have thank his lucky stars later for allowing them to make it in the nick of time to see her receive her scroll.
As soon as the ceremony adjourned to the Civiv Square Building, Zhou Shi came running helter-skelter towards the small group of people. She had to keep one hand on her disarrayed cap for it to remain on her head.
It wasn’t until she was close enough that she finally made out a sixth member standing with her close friends and Wei Qing. It took her a moment for recognition to sink in but in the next heartbeat, she was flying straight into the woman’s embrace.
“Mom!” Bursting into uncontrollable tears, she couldn’t believe that her mother was actually here in person at her graduation.
“Shi Shi, mom is so happy to be able to see you graduate. Congratulations, my dear….I’m so proud of you…” the elderly woman said heartily, enveloping her daughter tightly in her arms.
Without breaking her hold around her mother, Zhou Shi’s teary eyes found Wei Qing standing patiently by the side. “You brought mom here, didn’t you?” she whispered softly.
The young Chairman merely shrugged nonchalantly in reply.
‘Thank you’ she mouthed silently. Droplets of tears turned into steady streams as she wondered, - how did she get so lucky in this lifetime.
“Zhou Shi, you silly thing… Stop crying before you ruin all that makeup,” Fei Fei chided as she drew a tissue to blot away the tears.
Withdrawing from her mother, she submitted herself to her friend’s ministration, while the others continued to congratulate around her. Only Wei Qing remained standing to aside, endearingly watching her.
Ning Fei must have noticed the oddity of his senior’s actions as he nudged the elbow of the smartest lady he knew and drew her attention to the young Chairman.
And Bi Qiu Jing wasn’t a genius for nothing.
While everyone was busy hovering around Zhou Shi, Wei Qing elected to watch over her quietly instead. He carried a deceptively relaxed demeanour that could have fooled everyone but if Qiu Jing’s suspicions were correct, the young Chairman was merely bidding his time to have Zhou Shi all to himself.
Smirking, Qiu Jing decided to help him along when she made her carefully designed preposition incidentally, “Zhou Shi, your mother must be tired from the long flight. Why don’t we take her to the hotel for a rest first?”
Having seen enough underhanded strategies played out in boardrooms, Wei Qing had to take his hat off to Li Ming Cheng’s wife for her noteworthy percepts and insights to be doling out such ingenious subtlety.
“Hotel… Oh, my…!! I wasn’t expecting anyone to come to the convocation that I didn’t make any arrangements!” If Qiu Jing hadn’t mentioned a thing, she would have completely forgotten that her guests needed accommodations! The apartment could barely board all of them and finding a hotel that has enough rooms for everyone at the eleventh hour would be an absolute nightmare.
Without missing his cue, Wei Qing stepped forward to play the role Qiu Jing devised for him to perfection as he gallantly came to his frantic girlfriend’s rescue before she cracked her brains needlessly.
“Don’t need to make hotel arrangements. The family manor Ning Fei and Fei Fei are staying in Philly has more than enough room for everyone…” Turning his attention to the elderly lady, “Ma’am, it will be a bit tolling for you to be travelling another leg so soon after your long flight, but I hope you’ll bear with it for a little while longer.”
“Don’t worry about me, young man. I’ll follow your arrangements,” Mrs. Zhou replied, lovingly patting his forearm.
“But how are we to get there?” Ming Cheng asked, oblivious to the farce before him.
Fei Fei on the other hand, caught on quite quickly, “We drove here. The Lexus should fit the five of us comfortably.” In the back of her head she wondered if Xiao Fei knew about this ahead of time when he picked to leave Philly with the Lexus LS 570 SUV out of all the other vehicles Wei Qing owned in the garage. It was a little too uncanny to be just a coincidence.
“Who drove?” Zhou Shi, the most incognisant one asked raising a delicate brow skeptically as she alternated her focus between her friend and the young artist.
“I did,” Ning Fei replied, looking pretty pleased by the dumbfounded look on everyone but Fei Fei and Wei Qing’s face, “I’m legally allowed to drive in the States, you know…”
“Not that we’re questioning your legality… Just rather unexpected…” Zhou Shi said in a daze. Who would have thought that the youngest one amongst them would be one to chauffeur everyone around.
“Expect the unexpected, because there’s no way I’ll drive the monstrosity. The Lexus is huge!” Fei Fei said, demonstrating with exaggerated hand gestures illustrating the enormity of the SUV.
“But what about Shi Shi?” Mrs. Zhou asked.
“I’ll take her in my car,” Wei Qing offered gentlemanly. Zhou Shi would have flushed from head to toe in embarrassment if only she weren’t too busy being confounded by the all-knowing smirks on her friends’ faces.
Moving things along, “All right then. Now we’ve got that sorted out, let’s load Aunty’s luggage into the car and get an early head start out. Hopefully we’ll be back in time for an early dinner,” Fei Fei suggested, commandeering the slightly battered suitcase from Wei Qing who had been lugging it around the whole time.
“We’re just going to go fetch Zhou Shi’s belongings from the apartment. We’ll catch up soon,” Wei Qing said before goodbyes were quickly exchanged with the departing group.
Although they fell into comfortable steps along side one another, silence hung awkwardly between them as they made their way to where his car was parked. Somehow Zhou Shi was ridden with guilt for missing the opportunity to share a private celebratory moment together with all the surprises thrown at her today. For all that he has done to make this day extra special, she has yet to express the depths of her gratitude for him.
“Wei Qing…” she started but he was quicker when he abruptly turned and pressed a finger to her lips. Still unspeaking, he then held up his other index finger to make a staying gesture before drawing both hands away.
Moving to the front of the brilliant lipstick red Porsche 911 Turbo S cabriolet, a flick of his wrist popped open the trunk up front. He ducked quickly behind the cover, but when he re-emerged, her heart skipped a beat.
In the 3 years they have known one another, there were very little fantasies left where Wei Qing’s wardrobe was concerned. With wardrobes full of designer wears, he was fundamentally a living model. So, why was her heart racing a hundred miles an hour over a simple tan blazer and well-fitted silk white shirt? No doubt the exposed neckline was enticing with the smooth expanse of his chest slightly visible. But it wasn’t like she hadn’t seen him stark naked before, - albeit unintentionally. And the gleaming cowboy buckle belt holding his form-fitting jeans and leather boots that completed the look, - by Wei Qing’s standards, this was as casual as it gets. She should be immune to his alluring charms by now, but the breathtaking palpitations indicated otherwise as she stood spellbound by the impossibly handsome man striding purposefully towards her, - with a gorgeous coral bouquet to boot.
Until the bouquet of dahlias and peonies was right in front of her, the picturesque scene before her almost seemed unreal that she feared it was all a dream.
“For you... Congratulations on graduating, Zhou Shi…” he said in a deep baritone no louder than a whisper, when he was closer than needed for an arm’s reach.
Acutely aware of his closeness. “Th- thank you...” she stuttered demurely as she accepted the flowers.
Before her muddled brains could catch up, an arm snaked around her midriff, drawing her close to him with only the flowers separating their bodies from touching.
“I’ve missed you...” His whisper sent shiver down her spine.
“We just spoke on the phone yesterday…” she replied meekly, avoiding the intensity of his gaze.
“It’s not the same as seeing you in person... you look absolutely stunning today...” he said with open admiration.
When Wei Qing designed the dress, never did it crossed his mind that he would be metamorphosing the ordinary beauty into an ethereal fairy. The high-low empire dress with billowy butterfly sleeves made of soft dreamy blush ombré tulle and chiffon danced to the rhythm of the wind, further adding to the airy surreality. But if he knew this was how beautiful she would become, he would never have made the V-neckline plunge so deep. Ah, the regret…
Daring to sneak a peak at him, “… Really? You’re not just saying it to make me happy, are you?”
“You know I don’t make it a habit to sing praises of anyone…” Shaking his head, Wei Qing cannot believe that she still thinks that he would lie to her.
“Come on… Let’s go get your stuffs at the apartment,” he said, holding the door open for her to slide into the passenger side.
Her heart pounded so hard against her chest that Zhou Shi was worried she might not survive the anticipation. Fumbling with her keys a little, she unlocked clumsily and held the door for Wei Qing to enter.
She had left a surprise waiting for him before she left this morning.
Unsuspectingly, he strolled right in and scanned the room for her luggages until his eyes fell on the covered canvas propped up on the easel. Turning to her, a refined brow rose in question but she kept mum and gave nothing away, except silently urging him to unveil what was underneath on his own.
Curiosity piqued at him as he approached it cautiously.
“It’s not a picture of a cat hiding beneath this, is it?” He asked ludicrously as he thought back on the days of her zealous interventions when treating his PTSD.
Coming behind him to hug him from the back, “Oh, stop dilly-dallying already. My heart cannot take it any longer…” she said, unable to withhold her anxiousness.
“All right… all right…” With a single throw of his arm, the linen cover lifted and fell unceremoniously to the hard wood floor. Left standing was a painting that rendered Wei Qing speechless.
“My thesis exhibition…” she supplemented, completing his unfinished question.
Abstract expressionism was not always easy to interpret. It was a conception of the artist’s ideas, - spiritually and mentally. Therefore, before his eyes was Zhou Shi’s thoughts and emotions put into a painting. The main focus of the painting was the side profile of a silhouette, - a man, he deduced from the short hair. Within the outline was split into indistinguishable halves, - with the edge of one side painted dark as night, melding into crimson red in angry, clashing strokes; while the other end was light with multitude of individual colours. Like Yin and Yang, but only with more colours. And in the centre where dark and light colours met was a circle of white as pure as snow mediating between the colours. Finally, embracing the silhouette from beyond the outline, were gentle strokes of pastel colours that left delicate hints of gentle protectiveness.
Wei Qing would not be deserving of his professorship if he couldn’t tell the subject of this painting by now. And even if he had momentarily lost higher functions to his brains, the title ‘Definitely Love’ would have been a dead giveaway.
“This… This is me…?”
Nodding against his back, Zhou Shi tightened her arms around him, “Don’t you recognise your own silhouette?”
Eyes still transfixed on the painting, he could only shake his head absently.
“This painting was originally named Enigma, because I can never tell what is in that head of yours. You are a person with multiple façades, but this —“ she said, pointing at the white circle in the centre, “— is the real you, hidden beneath it all. You’re not as cold and ruthless as you appear to be. You’re not cruel and calculative to hurt anyone without a reason. But you have accepted all misconceptions and repercussions unfairly thrown at you and never once blamed anyone for it. All this time, you have suffered all these alone without anyone truly understanding you…”
Continuing on, “When I heard that you fell unconscious at work, for the first time I realised that I cared for you more than just affections or attractions. I want you to be happy. I want you to live knowing that even if the world misunderstood you, you will always have me by your side. That is why as soon as I got back, I had the title changed. Wei Qing, this is my reply to your question I never got to answer, - what I have for you is definitely love…”
Without warning, Wei Qing turned in her arms to face her. Wistfulness manifested in his eyes as a single tear slipped down his cheek. Cupping her face in his hands, he lowered till their nose were a mere inch apart.
“I have always wanted to be loved… But I have no understanding what love is… Love was something foreign to me. Never was there a person who didn’t want something out of me. But you were different. You don’t love me for my money or my status. You loved me in the way no one has ever loved me, not even my parents…”
Just when she thought he would kiss her, Wei Qing stepped out of her grasp and took two steps back. There was an unyielding seriousness in his eyes.
“Only you who loves me for who I am…”
Slipping his hand into his jacket pocket, he brought out his third surprise down on bended knee.
“Zhou Shi,…” he started, staring straight into her widened eyes, “… for as long as we live, will you continue to love me?”
Her mind reeled at a dizzying speed. Her lungs abandoned breathing all together. Her racing heart stopped beating the moment he proposed. Consternation overwhelmed her. She thought she had the last element of surprise. Oh, how wrong she was…
With her heart in her throat, she struggled to find her voice.
But, there was only one answer conceivable, “… I will…”
Wei Qing nearly died of heart failure waiting. But now, he had a different reason to die, - euphoria.
Swiftly rising back on both his legs, he swept her off her feet into a bone-crushing embrace. The initial hesitation and tentativeness touch of their lips was so endearing as though it was the first kiss they shared. Gaining a bit more confidence, he dared to press his lips fuller against her petal soft ones, robbing her breath that escaped between. He drew her bottom lip between his own while she coyly licked his upper one in return. Before long, playfulness surrendered to intimacy as kisses stretched into long searing ones.
Coming up for a quick intake of air, “Zhou Shi, you’ll be death of me…” he said huskily before diving again into another kiss. And neither resurfaced again until both lips were thoroughly abused.
He sat her down on the edge of her king-sized bed as he took out the ring from the box. The modest but beautifully designed 2.00 ct round brilliant cut diamond set on platinum with 0.02 ct pave diamonds slipped easily into her ringer finger. As a jeweller, no one knew rings like he did so it was virtually impossible for him to get the cut and sizing wrong. Moreover, this was Wei Qing’s private design, specifically for her. There was no room for error.
Smiling through the tears, “This must be worth a small fortune…” she said. Bemusedly shaking his head, only his petite fiancée would lament about how expensive the engagement ring was.
Taking both her hands in his, there was a proud moment seeing his ring on her. She was finally his.
“Zhou Shi, - I have measured everything with money all my life… until you came along. You have taught me that no matter how rich I was, I still couldn’t buy your love. That is why, you are worth more than my net worth put together… and in return for the love you give willing to me, - makes me the richest man in the world…”