STT – Chapter 13

Who said I have a date with her tonight?

On the eve of Christmas, December 24th, the streets appeared unusually bustling, brimming with the festive spirit. Santa Claus’ image could be spotted everywhere, and the supermarkets were stacked with heaps of seasonal delights.

For the unattached, this holiday held no extraordinary sensations or heightened expectations. As Lu Zizheng stepped into the translation agency bright and early, she witnessed her female colleagues being showered with one bouquet after another, their laughter outshining the flowers.

As the recipients reveled in the envy and jests of their coworkers, casually divulging their evening plans and dates, Lu Zizheng remained her unaffected self, engrossed in her own tasks. She didn’t yearn for what they had, nor could she muster up the pretense of envy just to fit in. Regretfully, it wasn’t within her capacity.

However, even as she maintained an air of serene disinterest in the matter, there were individuals who refused to let her be.

Colleague Zhang Li, weary of conversations revolving around envy, passed by Lu Zizheng’s desk on her way back to her own, and with a plaintive undertone, she inquired, “Zizheng, it seems like we’re the only ones without flowers or plans—a lonely duo. Tonight, some friends have organized a dinner gathering. Would you care to join us?”

Lu Zizheng and Zhang Li didn’t have much interaction on regular days, but Lu Zizheng was aware that Zhang Li had talked about her behind her back.

She politely smiled and declined, saying, “No, Zhang Jie, I have plans with my mom tonight.”

Just as she finished speaking, a delivery person entered with a large bouquet of red roses. Spotting the nameplate on Lu Zizheng’s desk, the delivery person came straight over to have Lu Zizheng sign for the flowers.

Frowning, Lu Zizheng signed for the flowers. There was no card attached to them. The lush and vibrant red roses were arranged to resemble a single fruit, perfectly suiting the occasion of Christmas Eve.

Zhang Li scoffed lightly and sarcastically remarked, “Oh, it seems I was overthinking. How could you possibly spend the holiday alone, Zizheng?” With that, she swayed away, still muttering to herself, “It seems Mr. Wang has returned today…” Her seemingly self-directed mutterings echoed loudly enough for everyone in the office to hear, instantly silencing the discussions about Lu Zizheng’s roses. The office fell into a momentary silence.

Lu Zizheng furrowed her brows as she watched Zhang Li’s receding figure, taking a deep breath to remind herself not to stoop to her level. She had long been aware that Zhang Li, along with some other gossip-loving colleagues, spread rumors behind her back, insinuating an improper relationship between her and the general manager of the translation agency. That’s why she often landed the good assignments.

Over the years, there was never a moment when the whispers and gossip were far from her. Lu Zizheng had long accepted that you couldn’t silence other people’s mouths. So, she chose not to argue or defend herself, simply pretending she never heard a thing.

Some things were meant for her knowledge alone. For those who believed in her, there was no need for many words. And for those who doubted her, there was even less need for explanation.

(If you're not reading on, it means this has been stolen)

However, the identity of the sender of these flowers was truly a mystery, one that she couldn’t unravel in a short while.

One thing was certain, though—it definitely wasn’t Jiang Huaixi. Having known her for so many years, Jiang Huaixi had given her many things, but flowers had never been among them. Even if she were to send flowers, based on Lu Zizheng’s understanding of Jiang Huaixi, she would never choose red roses.

The range of doubters was too vast, and Lu Zizheng decided to let it go. Her curiosity had always been limited. So, she casually set the flowers aside and continued with her work.

During the lunch break, she unexpectedly received a call from Jiang Huaixi.

Looking at the flashing “Huaixi” on her phone screen, Lu Zizheng felt a mixture of uneasiness and inexplicable anticipation. But quickly, she rationalized and calmed herself down.

Jiang Huaixi invited her to have dinner together tomorrow evening, on this special day called Christmas. She didn’t give any reasons, nor did she exchange any pleasantries. It was as if it were an ordinary meal.

Lu Zizheng didn’t ask her about the flowers, and she agreed to the invitation. The gift was already prepared and it needed to be sent, after all.

Just as she hung up the phone and placed it back into her bag, the phone rang again.

Lu Zizheng’s heart suddenly quickened its pace.

However, when she took out her phone and saw the caller ID displaying Xu Baihans name, she silently chuckled at herself, wondering what exactly she had been inexplicably anticipating.

Xu Baihan mentioned that they hadn’t seen each other for a long time and asked when she would be returning to Juzhou to meet up with her.

Lu Zizheng felt a bit hesitant. At the moment, she had no plans to go back. Ever since her mother had moved from Juzhou to Linzhou, she hadn’t set foot in Juzhou again. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t want to return to Juzhou; it was more that she didn’t dare to. She feared running into familiar faces there, feared remembering the unpleasant memories, and feared being trapped once again in the nightmares of that place.

Xu Baihan sensed her hesitation and being understanding as always, she didn’t press Lu Zizheng further. Changing the topic, she sighed and said, “The new year is approaching again. Time passes by so quickly.”

(If you're not reading on, it means this has been stolen)

Lu Zizheng stood by the window, overlooking the bustling street below with a constant flow of vehicles and hurried pedestrians. She couldn’t help but feel a sense of melancholy and remarked, “Things happen so quickly that there’s hardly anything left behind.”

On the other end of the phone, Xu Baihan responded with a gentle laugh and consoled her, saying, “Zizheng, you always like to look back. The past is behind us. What matters is how we seize this new beginning.” She paused for a moment and continued, “As long as there’s still time, it means there’s still hope, isn’t it?”

The warm winter sun finally shifted to shine upon Lu Zizheng, penetrating through the transparent glass window, enveloping her in its radiant glow and bringing a comforting warmth.

“As long as there’s still time, there’s still hope.” That year, Xu Baihan also said these words to her.

After transferring schools in her sophomore year, Lu Zizheng found herself back in the familiar melancholy she had known during those years. As a transfer student, she sat alone in the back row of the classroom and rarely initiated conversations with her classmates unless necessary, retreating back into her own solitary world.

During physical education class, during free activities, she sat alone on the bleachers, watching groups of classmates playing and laughing together on the field, observing the figures of people walking hand in hand, disappearing into the distance. A profound sadness overwhelmed her.

Even Lian Xuan vanished from her sight so effortlessly, but for someone trapped in memories, how could she gracefully extricate herself?

Feeling lost, she walked aimlessly away from the field. In this vast space, she felt increasingly isolated and insignificant, unable to find even the slightest sense of belonging, a tiny trace of presence that was uniquely hers.

Not far from the field, by the edge of a grassy lawn, there was a pristine lake, sparkling under the sunlight, captivating anyone who laid eyes upon it.

Lu Zizheng stepped on the grass, moving forward step by step. She lowered her head and in the shimmering water, she saw her lifeless face clearly. She attempted to smile at herself, but it seemed like she had forgotten how to flex that muscle. Any attempt to smile appeared tinged with sorrow.

Her shoes had already been soaked by the lake water, bringing a slight coolness that eased her pained nerves. Numbly, Lu Zizheng pondered whether it would be more comforting to dip her calves in as well. So, she took a few more steps forward.

Suddenly, a warm and gentle voice came from behind, startling Lu Zizheng. “It won’t be too comfortable if your pants get wet.”

As if awakening from a deep slumber, Lu Zizheng looked down at her dampened pant legs and turned her gaze back to the distant shoreline. For a moment, she couldn’t recall how she had ended up in the lake.

She startled herself as well, her heart pounding rapidly. Hastily, she turned her body around and stepped out of the water, back onto the shore.

(If you're not reading on, it means this has been stolen)

Sitting on the grassy shore was a girl about the same age as Lu Zizheng. She had delicate features, a gentle countenance, and exuded a rare composure that few young people possessed. As she looked at Lu Zizheng, her eyes radiated a warmth and concern that Lu Zizheng hadn’t received from a stranger in a long time.

She maneuvered her wheelchair to be beside Lu Zizheng and looked up at her with a gentle gaze.

Her voice was soft and soothing, her smile warm, but her words carried a hint of chilling depth. “Sometimes, I also wonder what it feels like to be in the water, if it’s truly comforting.”

Lu Zizheng bit her lip, unable to move a single step as she observed the girl.

However, Xu Baihan reached out her hand and held Lu Zizheng’s hand, placing it on her own legs that felt weak and powerless in the wheelchair. She smiled lightly and said, “But in the end, we still can’t bear it, can we? We can’t bear to leave, can’t bear to give up.”

Lu Zizheng’s hand, resting on Xu Baihan’s legs, trembled involuntarily. It was a mixture of anxiety and shame.

Xu Baihan spoke, “I don’t know what happened to make you so unhappy. But think about it, when you were still able to walk through muddy paths with your legs, there are people who don’t have legs at all and yet crawl forward without giving up. So what position are you in, to be more fragile and timid than these people?”

Lu Zizheng crouched down, burying her head between her knees.

Xu Baihan reached out her hand, gently patting Lu Zizheng’s shoulder and caressing her head with a tender and warm gesture. Her voice was gentle and soothing, “As long as there’s still time, there’s still hope. As long as life grants you a glimmer of hope, you shouldn’t easily despair.”

She gently lifted Lu Zizheng’s head, looking at her with a warm gaze and smiling, “I’m Xu Baihan, let’s be friends.”

Lu Zizheng stared at Xu Baihan for a long time before softly answering her, “I’m Lu Zizheng.”

Xu Baihan’s smile was radiant as she warmly called out to her, “Zizheng, such a beautiful name…” She blinked and made a request, “Zizheng, the grass here is too tall, and it’s difficult to maneuver the wheelchair. Can you help me clear the path ahead?”

Lu Zizheng naturally didn’t refuse and silently began pushing Xu Baihan away from the lakeside.

Later on, Xu Baihan became Lu Zizheng’s only true friend in life. Of course, this was before Jiang Huaixi achieved the status of a trusted friend.

(If you're not reading on, it means this has been stolen)

Lu Zizheng always remembered what Xu Baihan said, “As long as there’s still time, there’s still hope.” During the second half of her sophomore year, most of their free time was spent together. Whenever Lu Zizheng saw Xu Baihan’s fearless smile towards life, she couldn’t help but feel ashamed and pushed herself to face her fears. In a way, Xu Baihan became her spiritual mentor.

They had never exchanged details of their past, yet Lu Zizheng could faintly sense the sorrow within Xu Baihan, and Xu Baihan always understood her pessimism. In her darkest moments, Xu Baihan showed her the rarest kindness, reigniting a glimmer of hope within her towards this malicious world.

Therefore, Lu Zizheng was always grateful to Xu Baihan.

In a moment of weakness, Lu Zizheng relented and made a promise to Xu Baihan, “If I come to visit you during spring break, will you give me a big red envelope?”

Xu Baihan chuckled heartily and agreed, “I will definitely give you a huge red envelope, and hmm, I’ll also include a value-packed story package for you.”

Lu Zizheng was puzzled, “What’s a story package?”

Xu Baihan, however, teased Lu Zizheng by keeping her in suspense, saying, “If you want to know, remember to come find me.”

Lu Zizheng started to feel somewhat uneasy in her heart.

Seemingly in a good mood, Xu Baihan was about to end the call but couldn’t resist teasing Lu Zizheng once more, “When you go on your date tonight, say hello to Huaixi for me. Tell her to keep working hard in the new year and wish her success soon.”

Lu Zizheng argued, “Who said I have a date with Huaixi tonight?!”

Xu Baihan, however, understood and said knowingly, “So, you’re telling me you won’t be meeting Huaixi tonight?”

Lu Zizheng couldn’t lie and fell silent.

Xu Baihan sighed, “Sometimes I don’t understand what’s causing this awkwardness between the two of you. Time is precious, every moment counts. Remember to cherish it.”

Lu Zizheng let out a faint smile.

They both knew all too well the value of time and the cruelty of passing years.

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