Three days before his birthday, Jiang Pozhen received Wan Ling’s invitation to go on a date.
His girlfriend, who had been angry for a long time, gently called him and said she wanted to help him celebrate. Ever since he started assisting Guo Jinshan to organize the research data, Jiang Pozhen was finally able to spare some free time. Due to the fact that he felt like he was too cold to her previously, so long as the circumstances permitted, he never missed a day to bring her home, occasionally sparing some time to go on dates with her during the holidays. Although he didn’t have the extra money to spend, he felt it was already great enough that they could stroll around the streets and get something to eat.
Even though his girlfriend didn’t express the same happiness and satisfaction of simply meeting each other as when they were passionately in love in the past, Jiang Pozhen sensed that he probably needed to give her more time to calm down first. Apart from a couple of special occasions, he normally wouldn’t expend any extra effort to do anything special for her. However, he would always try his best to do the things a boyfriend needed to do.
He had a bottom line which he would never cross when he went out to fool around, and he would never be unfaithful or have two lovers at the same time.
It was only recently that a female student with a beautiful and pure appearance confessed her love to him. During the confession, her flushed cheeks were as adorable and as rosy as an apple. The shy and delicate flair she exuded could easily stir the heart of any man. Yet, he honestly used the reason that he already had a girlfriend to reject her.
In the aspect of being in love and relationships, Jiang Pozhen found himself incapable of classifying himself as a man of action. However, he had absolutely zero interest in messing with people’s feelings.
He had three girlfriends before, all of whom took the initiative to approach him first. As he gazed at the shy female student before him who was in the same class as him, Jiang Pozhen had no idea why she liked him. They only had two classes a week together. In addition, they had never talked before. He couldn’t even remember her name. Under such circumstances, why would she like him?
So long as anyone used their eyes, they could easily determine part of the reason why. It obviously had something to do with his looks.
He didn’t find himself to be so worthy of the greatest admiration. There were probably parts of him that were deemed superficial which he himself didn’t realize either. However, setting aside external appearances, had he ever been in a relationship where he fell in love with someone’s heart instead of their looks? The kind where he would deeply fall head over heels for someone after knowing them as they lay their hearts bare to each other? Although he had never indulged in loving devotion, it was a maybe that he too hoped he could once experience such romantic love.
He still had to go to class and work on his birthday as he planned to leave Guo Jinshan’s place after staying until 6PM. The next day was a Thursday where there wasn’t a need for him to work. However, he planned to come anyway to make up for lost time since he had decided to leave early today. Even if Guo Jinshan didn’t set such regulations, he didn’t want to take advantage of him in any case.
After saving the files, Jiang Pozhen glimpsed at his watch. It was almost time for him to leave, so he stood up to pack his things. To his surprise, he didn’t expect his movements to startle the man next to him.
“Ah!” Guo Jinshan cried out softly, jumping in fright.
Halting in his tracks, Jiang Pozhen instinctively turned to look at him.
Flustered, Guo Jinshan lowered his head in embarrassment as he attempted to give an awkward explanation. “I’m sorry…I was lost in my thoughts…”
He did seem rather out of it today, often making a mess with the data’s dates or staring at the computer screen absentmindedly. There were several times that Jiang Pozhen managed to discover his mistakes in time, otherwise the files they completed were doomed to be in a chaotic state.
“I would like to take an early leave today,” he told the man.
“Huh?” As though he was finally wide awake, Guo Jinshan raised his head.
Lifting his backpack, Jiang Pozhen was still thinking whether he should make an appointment with him for tomorrow. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to enter this room since he did not have the keys.
Before he could ask, Guo Jinshan stood up first and said, “Um, um…Today… The weather seems rather great.”
Confused, Jiang Pozhen glanced outside through the window. It was a fine sunny day indeed.
As though this was his last chance to ask if he didn’t speak up now, Guo Jinshan pushed himself to explain, “I brought the telescope with me today. Do you want to…go to the mountain with me?”
Jiang Pozhen was stunned the instant he heard that. Before he could think about anything else, the phone in his pocket suddenly rang. He quickly answered the call and found that it was his girlfriend calling to remind him the time for the date. After assuring her that he wouldn’t be late, he ended the call.
When he glanced towards Guo Jinshan again, the man was pressing his left ear in some indescribable manner and was blankly staring at the floor.
A strange sensation emerged from within Jiang Pozhen’s heart, so he explained, “I’ve already made plans with my girlfriend so I can’t accompany you. Sorry about that.” It was a very typical form of refusal.
Uncertain whether it was his imagination playing tricks on him, Guo Jinshan’s face appeared a little pale.
“No…” Slightly lost in his thoughts as he mumbled to himself, “So you’ve a girlfriend…That’s a no brainer. Why…why didn’t I think of that before…”
“What?” Jiang Pozhen couldn’t catch what he was saying.
As if awakened from a dream, Guo Jinshan hurriedly said, “No, it’s nothing.” He then revealed a rather faint smile. “I’m being too sudden…Really sorry about that.”
Jiang Pozhen gazed at his gentle features and asked, “Can I leave now?”
“Yes. See you again.” Guo Jinshan softly bid his goodbye.
After nodding in acknowledgement, Jiang Pozhen walked out of the narrow-spaced reference room.
…To be honest, he found it surprising that Guo Jinshan would ask him out. Although they saw each other often, they weren’t that close to begin with. Moreover, their relationship wasn’t built on friends who would hang out together whenever they were free. So, why was he using such a maladroit tone to ask him out?
Even though he found it strange, it wasn’t something worth caring about. Jiang Pozhen rode his bike directly to meet his girlfriend at the restaurant they agreed on earlier.
The place Wan Ling had reserved was a well-reputed western restaurant that had a full course meal for a menu cooked in the central kitchen. The dishes were already well-matched beforehand. With the price ranging from the usual three hundred to an expensive one thousand dollars, there was a choice between a five-course meal and a seven-course meal, which was a fairly popular way to eat.
His gorgeous girlfriend, who was dressed finely today, behaved rather docile and pleasant after she finished her main course. Jiang Pozhen, who initially felt that their affection towards each other was weakening, started feeling that if his girlfriend was willing to nurture their relationship further, he would continue to like her. However, everything that went so smoothly before was smashed into pieces the moment her phone rang right after dessert was served.
“Oh really? Come pick me up then.” Dinner hadn’t even ended yet and there she was, agreeing to someone’s invitation to hang out over the phone right before her boyfriend’s face. As she smiled sweetly, she happily informed Jiang Pozhen. “Pozhen, do you have any idea that a guy was pursuing me for the past few days? It’s the guy on the phone just now. He’s as tall and as handsome as you. Although the school he went to was quite terrible, he’s a rather nice guy.”
Jiang Pozhen coldly stared at his girlfriend, unsure of what she was trying to say.
Wan Ling continued, “He’s coming to pick me up soon. If you like me, help me reject him and win me back. Only then will I be sure that you’re seriously in love with me.”
As his dainty girlfriend begged him to do as she said, Jiang Pozhen was rather quiet.
All of a sudden, a ridiculous notion that formed in his mind made the corner of his lips curl. Ten minutes ago, he actually believed that the both of them could really spend their lives together, which made him feel like an utter fool.
Why was she using such a botched way to test him? Even if there were seriously some problems between them, it was regarding their relationship and it lied between him and her. Why was there a need for another guy to set off his genuine feelings towards her?
Did she want to become a royal princess worshipped by many men? Did she want to wait for various knights to fight over her to the death to woo a pampered and beautiful woman like her?
Did those meaningless feelings of superiority mean love to her?
…what a drag.
Face devoid of all emotions, Jiang Pozhen calmly said, “Where did you get to know him? From those gatherings you love to go to?”
Upon hearing that, Wan Ling spat out in frustration, “That’s not important!”
“That’s not important?” He took a sip of the coffee he ordered after his meal. Looking rather aloof still, he asked, “Why did you give him your phone number? Have you taken a fancy to him?”
“So what if that’s the case?! I always had the right to choose.” She didn’t attempt to deny it.
“Yeah, I know,” he replied coldly.
This had always been her outlook on love. Jiang Pozhen had always known that. He wouldn’t say that he was a very open person, but in terms of a relationship between a man and a woman, he wasn’t a conservative person in the least. After getting together, he knew she wasn’t a virgin anymore, but that wasn’t the point. So long as she was willing to be involved and treat him wholeheartedly, he seriously wouldn’t mind so much.
But now he couldn’t feel even an ounce of her love at all.
“You are such a drag.” Jiang Pozhen honestly voiced out the thoughts he had hidden deep down inside, instantly turning Wan Ling’s face a shade of black and blue.
Her boyfriend had to keep her company no matter whether he was free or not. Even when he had difficulties in doing so, she would never empathize with him, continuing to behave as spoiled and as capricious as before. She would pull pranks when she was unhappy and she wanted him to cooperate with her to show themselves in public if she was in a good mood. In the face of other contenders for her attention, he still had to step forward bravely to knock the person off their feet. Wan Ling had always been so self-centered. Everything originated from her selfishness.
Why did Wan Ling choose him in the past? None of them knew each other prior to their first meeting. It was only a day’s work before she strolled into his school to look for him. Whenever he thought about the fact that they met at a gathering he accompanied his classmate to, Jiang Pozhen suddenly was overcome with the feeling that he was no different than the man on the phone at all. So long as his stature, academic qualifications, and appearance met her approval, she would most likely take a fancy to him.
So long as her criteria were met, it didn’t matter if her boyfriend was Jiang Pozhen or not.
He absolutely couldn’t feel Wan Ling’s love towards him.
If this was the relationship Wan Ling wanted, it was already a serious disagreement with what he wished for.
Because Jiang Pozhen’s attitude was rather calm from start to end, Wan Ling pretentiously took her bag and said, “You, you’re not stopping me? The guy’s already here! I’m leaving!”
Jiang Pozhen found the whole thing to be ridiculous and absurd – her continuous experiments had turned his heart cold.
“Go then. Let’s split up,” he uttered calmly, severing all relations with her.
Wan Ling stared at him in shock, completely surprised that he would actually break up with her so easily. It shouldn’t have gone like this in the first place! Why wasn’t he doing anything?! Why wasn’t he urging her to stay?!
The fantasy of two guys fighting over her had completely gone astray. At a loss at what to do, her lips trembled as she angrily said, “I’m, I’m seriously leaving!”
Putting down the coffee that was almost finished, he said lowly, “I’ll not say see you again because we’ll never have the chance to meet each other again.” His meaning was clear, implying that they shouldn’t be friends either after this.
Wan Ling sharply sucked in her breath! She, who had been worshipped in the hands of men, had never been ignored to this extent before. Overcome with a raging fury, she screamed, “Don’t you regret this!” Pushing the chair away and unable to take this lying down, she angrily stormed off, almost colliding into the waiter on her way out.
He would never regret this. Perhaps the reason why he didn’t care about the sidelong glances thrown at him and whispers around him was because he didn’t want the spectators to see his humiliation. In order to preserve what was left of his ridiculous dignity, Jiang Pozhen remained seated alone. After his mind calmed down completely, only then did he make a move to leave the restaurant.
Aimlessly circling about for two rounds on his bike seemed to be a meaningless act of wasting his petrol. Although he wouldn’t feel remorse about it, breaking up with her still did a number on him since he wasn’t a robot who was devoid of all emotion. He allowed his mood to settle as he took in the night breeze blowing against him. Only then did he head in the direction of his home.
His younger brother was still at cram school while his parents were on a company trip. So the house was entirely deserted without a single soul in sight. He recalled that he still had an assignment to submit tomorrow, so he opened his backpack, but was unable to find the work he’d written halfway. The mood he’d managed to suppress with much difficulty instantly turned for the worse.
Frowning, he tried to ponder where on earth had he left such an important item. It was highly probable that he’d left it in the reference room where he’d spent most of his time today. As he called Guo Jinshan to mind, he was reminded of the man’s rare invitation to hang out. He did pass by the school while he was driving earlier. Taking a quick glimpse, he realized that there was no light coming from the third floor.
Maybe he went stargazing. That meant the room was empty and it was locked.
The assignment he had to submit were mathematical chemistry exercises set by the King of Machete. It was the first class tomorrow. Having already skipped one class prior, his grades would be at a more dangerous level if he didn’t submit his assignment on time. He blamed himself frustratingly for being so foolish. Even if he believed that Guo Jinshan won’t be around, he still decided to take a trip down to the university to try his luck.
Today was clearly his birthday, yet everything that happened was an absolute disaster. This was the worst birthday ever.
When would his horrible luck eventually end?
Perhaps God had heard his pleas. By the time he reached the university on his bike, the pitch-black window at the most desolate corner of the third floor finally lit up. Jiang Pozhen felt as though his hopeless boat finally came across a lighthouse. In order to prevent anything else from happening, he quickly parked his bike and made a beeline right into the reference room on the third floor of the science building.
A ray of light emerged from the small reference room at the end of the corridor.
The door wasn’t shut, so Jiang Pozhen directly went in.
Pushing the half-open door, he was greeted by the sight of a man with a slender shoulder sitting in front of a computer with his back against him.
Jiang Pozhen didn’t attempt to be deliberately quiet. He was wondering why the man didn’t notice him and turned to look back. He then shifted his gaze at the special pair of plastic spectacles placed on the table top.
Turns out he didn’t hear him.
He was about to call out, but was instead attracted by the sight of something on the table.
The item stowed inside the cardboard box was packaged inside an exquisite carrier bag. If he wasn’t mistaken about the wording on the bag, that probably was…
“A cake?” Jiang Pozhen mumbled in doubt.
The two words finally alarmed the man with his back turned against him. Guo Jinshan hurriedly turned around, a pair of reddened eyes staring right into his.
“Ah? Huh?! You…” The man who looked as though he’d been crying wiped away the tears at the corner of his eyes. Since it was so obvious from the action alone that he’d seriously been crying, he could only put on his glasses he’d picked up from the side – his cheeks turning red as he flusteredly lowered his head to hide them.
Stunned by what happened, Jiang Pozhen didn’t know how to react. So he said, “What’re you doing?”
“Nothing…” Guo Jinshan’s voice was so feeble that it was barely audible.
It wasn’t his place to ask what he was sad about so Jiang Pozhen could only change the topic.
“You just came back? The light wasn’t on when I passed by here at around 11PM. Did you go to the mountain?”
Guo Jinshan shook his head and said softly, “I…went out to pick up something.”
Jiang Pozhen stared at the bag placed on the top of the table. It was the only obvious thing that wasn’t initially there before.
At first, Guo Jinshan was so surprised that even his eyelashes were also trembling. Then, he softly replied, “Yeah.”
“Oh…” A strange trail of clues flashed past Jiang Pozhen’s mind—the cake that appeared for no reason, the man who tried to ask him out earlier, could it be that… “You knew it was my birthday today?” He blurted out without thinking because he was too shocked by the revelation.
Guo Jinshan lowered his neck. After keeping silent for a moment, he gradually said, “Your birthday….is written on your health insurance card.”
“What?” After he blurted it out, Jiang Pozhen immediately recalled meeting the man because he’d picked up his lost health insurance card.
“Your birthday is on your health insurance card.” The low and gentle voice sounded out again. “Um…I hoped to see you again so I kept the card with me every day… As a result, I remembered it without realizing.” Guo Jinshan slowly raised his head, flashing a gentle smile momentarily.
“Ah…I see.” Jiang Pozhen responded weakly. As he fixed his gaze on the man’s pair of swollen single-lidded eyes, he eventually couldn’t restrain himself from parting his lips to ask, “Are you okay?” Were his eyes uncomfortable again from staring at the computer?
Guo Jinshan obviously became nervous, focusing his restless eyes on the empty wall. He then said after a good while, “Um, I.. I saw…saw a movie just now. It had a sad plot…the protagonist in it…was lovelorn…so…so I…”
Not only was his voice tense, but it was also incoherent. Jiang Pozhen felt as though he shouldn’t have asked in the first place. Whether the man was speaking the truth or not, the end result was still him admitting that he’d cried.
Lovelorn? It was almost the same for him today. Having realized that Guo Jinshan was staring at him in a perplexed manner, he sorted out his train of thought and said, “I see.” That was to indicate that he understood, dispelling the awkward situation between them.
Relieved, Guo Jinshan asked in confusion, “Um…Didn’t you go celebrate? …is there something you need for coming all the way back here to the university?”
His reminder made him recall the unpleasant dinner earlier, so Jiang Pozhen’s face instantly sank.
“I forgot something.” He approached the bookshelf and found the unfinished assignment on it.
“Um..” Guo Jinshan gazed at him, noticing that he didn’t seem happy. After hesitating for a while, he revealed a faint smile on his face before saying, “Since it’s already past twelve, I bought the cake…for you. Why don’t you take it home?”
Having heard what was said, Jiang Pozhen came to a complete stop. Whether it was the cake or the invitation to go stargazing, Guo Jinshan had done all that for the sake of celebrating his birthday, wasn’t it? If he hadn’t come back to school, what would be the end of this cake? Like the cake, his friendly intention towards him would probably never see the light of day.
He suddenly felt…a little guilty.
Lifting the bag, Jiang Pozhen dropped his gaze onto Guo Jinshan’s body.
“Let’s just eat it together.”
“Huh?” At a loss, Guo Jinshan returned his gaze.
As he dragged and sat down on his usual chair, Jiang Pozhen repeated himself clearly again. “Let’s eat together.”
Fishing out the plates and fork on the top of the cake inside the bag, he then placed the cake box on the table. After removing the lid, a burst of milky fragrance assailed their noses, and they were greeted by the sight of a round, yellow cake.
It wasn’t decorated with any cream or fruits. It was just a plain seven-inch wide cheesecake.
Jiang Pozhen was taken back by surprise.
“Why did you buy this?” It was very rare for people to have cheesecake for their birthdays. At least he never received one from when he was a kid until now and that also comprised of not seeing any of his friends celebrating with one either.
“Ah?” In a daze, Guo Jinshan blinked and explained after he recovered, “A classmate went back to his home in Taichung and brought back this cake from the shop to share with everyone. I found it to be very delicious, so…”
“Taichung?” Startled, Jiang Pozhen attentively read the address on the bag and found that it was the only store in the central region. “How did you get this?”
“Um…I requested a delivery service to send it to the convenience store…”
“Delivery service?” Jiang Pozhen felt as though the nerves in his brain were all in a tangle. Although he didn’t want to repeat what the other man had said clumsily, he actually thought that he’d bought it from some bakery nearby. He really went through a lot of trouble for this cake.
“Because it’s not sold here,” explained Guo Jinshan, looking as though he did something wrong.
Casting a glance at him, Jiang Pozhen picked up the knife and cut it. A concentrated and rich filling was stuck on the knife surface. He cut two slices, giving one of them to the man while he took the other.
He stuck the fork into the cake, and popped a mouthful into his own mouth.
A rich flavor instantly spread out as the dense milky fragrance slowly dissipated, the texture was soft and moist. After he swallowed the cake through his esophagus, the strong taste was still lingering at the tip of his tongue.
Jiang Pozhen usually didn’t eat desserts and wouldn’t go out of his way to buy one. The closest thing he’d ever tasted was the pudding cake sold in a set lunch nearby. But even though he wasn’t well-versed in this kind of food, the word that emerged from his heart deep down was only ‘delicious’.
“Does it taste good?” asked Guo Jinshan as he looked at him with an untouched small plate in his hand.
Jiang Pozhen didn’t answer him. Instead, he took another bite.
Seeing that, Guo Jinshan beamed.
“That’s great. And here I was thinking what should I do if you hated it.”
As Jiang Pozhen looked at his smile, he was uncontrollably reminded of the way he treated him earlier on. His attitude towards him had always been rude. Why was he celebrating the birthday of a cheating, difficult, and extremely rude student like him?
“Why did you get me a cake?” Why was he going all the way for someone he wasn’t close with?
The way he asked was like a matter of course. Guo Jinshan’s expression appeared a little confused so he explained, “Because you need to have a round cake on your birthday. Actually…what my classmate brought back last time was a rectangular cake. Fortunately they were selling a round one…ah, we forgot to put candles on it. Huh? It’s already past twelve. It’s no longer your birthday anymore…” Somehow, Jiang Pozhen didn’t utter a single word so the man could only awkwardly come to a stop.
Jiang Pozhen fell silent for a good while before he abruptly asked, “So you’re going to sing me happy birthday?”
“Huh?” Dumbfounded, Guo Jinshan’s face instantly flushed pink. Perplexed, he lowered his eyes and seemed to be seriously thinking about it momentarily. “Um…if you need…it.” He said, feeling rather embarrassed.
Jiang Pozhen thought, was he tone deaf, or was he just plain shy? Suddenly, he found the whole situation to be rather amusing.
Coming to his senses, he instantly stopped himself.
His mood which was swirling around on a roller coaster ride earlier had actually recovered without any reason.
Feeling rather odd, under the eyes of the other man, Jiang Pozhen only said, “You’re not eating.”
Fortunately, he didn’t have to sing. Finally feeling at ease, Guo Jinshan ate a small piece with a fork.
He seemed to recall something before he said, “We won’t be able to finish it. You can take the leftovers home. You can also use this as a cheese spread on toast. When I ordered this cake, the lady told me someone ate it this way.”
Was he for real? This was Jiang Pozhen’s first time hearing that a cake could be used as a cheese spread. He thought about trying it for breakfast tomorrow while thinking to buy two bottles of tea from the vending machine later to quench his thirst after eating the cake.
A few hours ago, he was emotionally unstable after breaking up with his girlfriend. But now, his mind was filled with all these things that had nothing to do with them.
It was most likely because the cake was too delicious, which was the only good thing that happened to him recently.