First Published on Chaleuria
01 – Prologue
(Note from the translator: This book was written in 2006 and is set around that time. For reference, smartphones and social media are in less widespread use, and society’s views are more conservative, than we are used to today.)
A flight attendant’s sweet voice sounded over the PA system, announcing that the plane was about to land at S City’s international airport. Yao Yuan shut the finance magazine in his hands. A golden couple smiled for the camera on the cover, elegant and opulent. To the side of the image, large letters announced the engagement between the Su Group’s CEO and the only daughter of a financial magnate. Yao Yuan’s gaze lingered on the photo for half a second, and he reflexively pushed up the glasses balanced on the bridge of his nose. He turned to the beautiful girl seated beside him. “Sis, wake up. We’re home!”
Yao Qian opened her beautiful eyes and looked blearily around at her surroundings before remembering that she was on a plane. They were headed back to the hometown they had not seen in two years. She gave a very unladylike yawn and smiled at her younger brother. “Do you think Su Mu will send anyone to pick us up?”
“Probably not. He seems very busy lately.” Yao Yuan passed the magazine in his hand to his sister; he had borrowed it from the flight attendant while his sister was asleep.
“He’s getting married? How is that possible?” Yao Qian subconsciously raised her voice, drawing the curious gazes of the passengers in the adjacent seats.
“Sis.” Yao Yuan smiled apologetically at their neighbors, then shot Yao Qian a teasing glance. “With that kind of reaction, I might start thinking you’re jealous!”
“Get lost!” Yao Qian curled her slim pointer finger and flicked her brother’s forehead. “I just think it’s a pity. He’s a perfect man.”
Yao Yuan gave a non-committal smile. Su Mu was accustomed to pretending to be perfect in front of others, but Yao Yuan had been very aware of Su Mu’s vicious and cruel nature ever since he first laid eyes on him. That was three years ago. At that time, Yao Yuan had not been nearly as mature and glib as he was now…
“Yao Yuan, what are you still sitting there for? Let’s go.”
Yao Qian’s voice came in time to prevent Yao Yuan from reminiscing any further. He got up and followed the crowd off the plane, thinking about what to do after they left the airport: should he get a car and go to the Su Group to report in, or find a hotel for his sister to get settled at first?
Chinese people are often sentimental and will cry from the sorrow of parting or the joy of reunion. The airport’s large arrival hall was packed full of people. But Yao Yuan still immediately caught sight of the man. No matter where he went, he was a presence impossible to ignore; the many gazes gathered on him were the best proof of that.
“Su Mu, you came in person! So sincere!” Yao Qian waved at him.
Su Mu’s lips curved into a perfect smile. Quickly but elegantly he walked up to them and handed Yao Qian a large bouquet of lilies. “Welcome back.”
He spoke to Yao Qian, but his eyes were fixed on Yao Yuan’s face, gaze searching and challenging with a hint of teasing.
Three years ago, Yao Yuan would have unceremoniously glared back. But now Yao Yuan had lost the right to interact with him on equal footing and only nodded back, letting his glasses hide the light in his eyes.
They left the airport. Yao Qian got into Su Mu’s car and they drove straight to the small apartment Su Mu had prepared for them. Yao Yuan watched his sister leave, then opened the rear door and started to get in.
“Sit up front, or you’ll have me thinking you’re the boss.”
Without hesitation, Yao Yuan obeyed. The moment the car door shut, he noticed Su Mu was still gazing at him. Knowing what concerned Su Mu, he asked, “Is CEO Su satisfied?”
Su Mu did not answer. Two years ago when Yao Yuan left for the States to study finance, Su Mu told him that he wanted to see a completely different Yao Yuan the next time they met. Now Yao Yuan sat next to him, dressed in a casual white business suit, his every move mild and proper. The gold-rimmed spectacles on the bridge of Yao Yuan’s nose concealed his eyes, eyes which had previously always carried a hint of impatience, and made him look polite and cultured. But Su Mu found that he did not like the change in Yao Yuan. He reached out to remove the glasses, which were in the way, and looked directly into Yao Yuan’s eyes. After holding his gaze for a long time, he still saw only a peaceful lake and could not find any trace of the surging waves from when they had first met…
“Have I not done well?” Yao Yuan was surprised at his reaction.
“No, very good. Very damn good.” Su Mu’s hand landed heavily on the horn in the middle of the steering wheel.
“CEO Su…” His cursing made Yao Yuan uneasy. Even though Yao Yuan knew that Su Mu was not as perfect as he appeared, he had also never heard him speak this way.
“I don’t like that form of address. Call me by my name.” Su Mu irritably lit a cigarette.
“Su Mu….” Yao Yuan didn’t recall Su Mu having a smoking habit. Before, Su Mu only smoked when he was in a bad mood. Instinctively Yao Yuan wanted to snatch away the cigarette, but in the end he only said, “Put it out. It’s not good to smoke in the car.”
“Yao Yuan, if I asked you to fight me now, what would you do?” Su Mu eventually put out the cigarette he had just lit.
Yao Yuan was speechless. Three years ago, they could beat each other up without a care until they were covered in injuries, but now…
“You’ll only defend yourself, am I right?” Su Mu let out a self-mocking laugh. “All because I helped you when you were at the end of your rope two years ago.”
“Su Mu…” After two years apart, Yao Yuan felt like he could no longer understand the person in front of him. Was it the cutthroat competition of the business world that had changed Su Mu?
“Forget it.” Su Mu waved a hand dismissively and said no more. He understood that he had gained a loyal subordinate, but had lost someone with whom he could share happiness, anger, sorrow and joy. Once, he had thought that this outcome was what he wanted. Clearly, he had been wrong. He would rather return to the them of three years ago, to the time when they first met.
Three years ago…