Conflicted – Chapter 74

“That… that’s very nice of them to help you,” Xiao You said, a smile formed on her face.

“Yes. I couldn’t thank them more than this,” Xi Men smiled. “Especially in willingness to trust in such an unusual business plan,”

Xiao You smiled briefly.

“Like I have said… I will only concentrate on people that have confidence in me. And my buddies are one of them. They didn’t ask for more but extend their help readily, and even think about my position for me; needing to be in power and making decisions for the company. They didn’t even care what I’m going to do, as they believe in me that I will do my best to resuscitate the company,” Xi Men adds. “These are the people that I need in my life now,”

Xiao You smiled.

‘Finally… there’s something they can help… when they said there’s nothing they could do back then… finally now they could…’ Xiao You thought to herself and smiled gratefully.

He took a deep breath.

She looked at him.

“So… from now onwards, I will be doing different things compare to what I have been doing all along. Something new, but it needs to be done,” he said.

She smiled. “Yesterday… you are still struggling with your work… to see this drastic change in a day…” she said.

“Your words get repeated itself in my mind last night. That’s when I discover this,” he said, looking at her. “Planned it within hours… and execute it this morning,”

She smiled, “Xi Men, jia you,”

“Thank you,” he smiled at her.

She continued smiling, and then she looked straight to the view.

A brief moment of silence.

As she is looking at the view, suddenly, Xi Men extends his hand and holds her hand on the balcony, prompting her to lower her head down and look at it.

“Actually, I am afraid,” Xi Men said.

“Why?” she lifted her head up and looked at him.

“I have resorted to sell my shares in my hand in return to gain support for my new business plan. I can only go up. I can’t fail here. I can’t afford to fail,” Xi Men said, looking at her hand. “Because, if I fail… there’s absolutely nothing else left for me,”

“Oh…” she uttered.

She finally grasped the meaning of the ‘hug’ in the kitchen earlier.

He isn’t entirely stressed about his work today, but he is worried.

“Xi Men, you’ll be alright,” she said. “I have faith in you,”

“I have never done this before, so I really don’t know what to expect,”

“You are a great, successful businessman, right?” she smiled, looking at him.

He lifted his head up and looked at her.

—–

“A great, successful businessman does not get his status solely on the success of his company, but along with how he rise from hardship and disaster. If you had been a great businessman, you’ll be a greater one after this test is through,”

—–

He smiled, and finds himself nodding.

“You’ll do well, Xi Men. You’ll do well,” Xiao You said.

He nodded with a small smile on his face. “You’ll never stop supporting me, right?”

She shook, “No, I won’t stop doing that. And I believe in you,”

He looked at her, and he smiled. “Thank you, I really needed it,”

She smiled.

“I hope you know I’ll be burdened by a different kind of stress from now on,”

“Yes. I know,” she said.

“So that means I’ll come here often,” he said.

“Often? You are already here almost everyday, Xi Men,”

He chuckled while she smiled.

“I understand. Offer for you to come here won’t be expiring anytime soon. So, just come over,” she said. “The door will be unlocked for you,”

“Thank you,” he gently squeezes her hand.

She smiled. “You are welcome,”

He slowly releases her hand, and then he straightened his head to look at the view in front of him.

After looking at him for a while, she also straightened her head.

Xi Men then puts his hand into his pants’ pocket and takes out his pack of cigarettes.

She lowered her head, and then heads into the house.

Xi Men gazes at her walking away, but did not think much about it, and afterwards, he takes out a stick of cigarette, putting it in between his lips and then lights it up.

He takes a deep puff of the cigarette.

*CLACK. (sound of glass hitting the brick)

Xi Men turned his head to the left and looked at the ashtray on the balcony, before he then looked at Xiao You.

Apparently she heads into the house to take the ashtray for him.

“Oh, thanks…” Xi Men said, with the smoke coming out from his mouth.

She takes a step to move away.

At first, he wondered why she moves away, and then… he realized that’s because he is smoking.

“Recently…”

He looked at her when she said that.

“You’ve increased your cigarette intake,” Xiao You said.

He then looked at the cigarette in his hand.

“But I understand why. I know you are stressed… that is why you smoke…” she said.

He slowly turned his head and looked at her, and she is pressing her lips together.

“Actually, how did the smoking habit comes about?” she asked, looking at him in his eyes. “What happened to your work that you end up so stress, and adopts this habit?”

He looked at her for a while, and then he straightened his head to look at the view, while bringing the cigarette to his lips now for a puff.

He then exhaled the smoke from his mouth.

“Do you really want to know?” he asked.

That’s a strange thing to say.

She looked at him.

“My stress at work did not make me adopt the habit,” he said, lowering his gaze down and looked at the cigarette in his hand.

“Not the stress at work?” she asked.

He shook briefly. Three seconds later, he replies, “I started smoking when I cannot cope with my feelings of missing you tremendously,”

The facial expression on Xiao You’s face changed.

“Smoking makes me feel better,” he said, his eyes remained at the cigarette. “So, that’s how it began,”

She is speechless.

“And I have depended on it to relieve this miserable feeling of missing you,” Xi Men said, lightly tapping the cigarette on the ashtray, watching the ash falls off from the cigarette.

“I…” she still didn’t know what to say.

“When I think of you, I smoke. When I smoke, I think of you. So you can imagine how often I think about you,” he said, turning his head and looked at her.

She looked at him.

He smirks. “But since you came back to Taiwan… and after all that had happened to you, I end up worrying about you, that my stress grew, so I end up smoking so much more,” he said. “And unintentionally, smoking has become my stress reliever, that when my company falls into crisis, I depended on it to make myself feel better,”

She pressed her lips together.

“I am sorry I have affiliated you with smoking. I can’t help it,” he brings the cigarette to his lips for a puff. “I just can’t help it,”

She is sad to hear that he had adopted this habit of smoking because of her.

She lowered her head slightly.

When she lifted her head up, she looked at him exhaling the smoke from his mouth.

“Xi Men…”

He looked at her, “Hmmm?”

“To be honest with you…”

“About?” he asked, and he takes another puff of his cigarette.

“Since the first time I saw you with a cigarette in your hand…” she said, recalling it happened at the entrance of Ah Si’s hotel lobby. “I already dislike that,”

“I am not surprised to hear that,”

She looked straight to the view instead of him, “You said, you don’t want me to stand too close to you because of the second-hand smoke. So I stood far… just like now,”

He looked at how far apart they are right now.

“And what I mean is, when you smoke…” she said.

He looked at her.

“I cannot approach you,”

His eyes brightened up.

“And I have to stand this far to talk to you,” she said. “It just makes me feel that I shouldn’t have talked to you at all,”

He looked at the cigarette in his hand. “I…”

“I know you are really stressed nowadays that you needed to smoke to relieve them, but… I hope you can reduce the intake. You’ve been smoking dangerously a lot nowadays,” she said.

He swallowed the lump in his throat.

“Like you’ve said; second hand smoke is bad for me, but smoking is bad for health. Just like you are concerned about my health, I am concerned about yours too,”

This is the first time he heard her saying she is concerned about him…

He looked at her.

“I am sorry you take up smoking because of me. And I understand why you need to smoke now due to your company. But I hope, someday… you can stop smoking completely,” she said. “Because I am really, really worried about your health,”

“I…”

“That’s all,” she turned around and walked, wanting to head into the house.

“Xiao You,” he called, and is quick enough to hold her hand, halting her foots.

She glances at him, before she turned away.

“I am sorry,” he said. “I’ll reduce. I promise you I’ll reduce my intake,”

She looked at him. “Really?”

He nodded. “Yes,”

“Don’t make me regret boiling you the chicken soup,”

That brought a smile to his face. “I’m not going to disappoint you,”

“Okay,” she said, giving him a faint smiled. “I want to go and wash the pot now,”

“Okay,” he said, releasing his grip. “Talk to you later,”

“Alright,” she said, and walked into the house.

He then looked at the cigarette in his hand.

To smoke or not to smoke?

Since it’s already lightened up…

He brought it to his lips.

*****

“PHEW! That’s a heavy pot… takes a lot of effort to lift it and also takes me a while to clean it thoroughly…” Xiao You murmured and then dried her hands with the hand towel.

After seeing the clean kitchen, she turned around and walked out from the kitchen.

Seeing Xi Men sitting on the couch with his head and back rested comfortably in the living room, she heads towards him.

“Xi…”

Paused.

She tilts her head and looked at Xi Men intently.

His eyes are closed.

Is he asleep?

She walked quietly to him, and looked at him closely.

Slow, steady and peaceful breathing.

‘He’s asleep,’ she thought to herself.

She straightened her body.

‘I can’t imagine he can sleep sitting on the couch,’

‘Must be very tired,’

‘Well, it is understood…’

‘Since his company is in crisis now… he is definitely tired mentally… cracking his brain on how to get the company out of crisis,’

She looked at him, and then she slowly sits down on the wooden coffee table, in front of Xi Men.

‘I can’t believe he gets the idea from what I have said,’

‘It must have took him a lot of courage to do what he did,’

‘To ask the directors to sell their shares, causing a flop in his shares today…’

‘To ask employees to leave…’

‘And most importantly… gives up on persuading clients to keep their projects,’

‘But he makes no hesitation in asking them to pay up for the cancellation,’

She finds herself smiling.

‘And then… sells all his shares to his buddies…’

‘That must be very scary to offer his company to his buddies, just to give himself a chance to rescue it with a new business plan,’

‘Thanks to F3.’

‘They really helped Xi Men,’

‘They even protected his position as a CEO in the company,’

She looked at Xi Men.

‘Xi Men,’

‘You’ll win this war,’

‘I believe in you,’

She smiled.

She looked at his face, tracing his facial features.

His eyes.

His nose.

His lips.

And his fringe.

‘He is still as handsome as ever.’

She looked at him, wondering what to do now that he is sleeping on the couch like this.

Wake him up?

Or let him sleep?

Or…

‘Ask him to sleep here?’

—–

“I just needed the bed (in the mansion). That is all,”

—–

‘Well, if he just needed the bed…’

‘I can prepare one of the rooms since there are so many rooms here…’

Paused.

“Ah, I don’t have extra bed sheet,” she said it out.

*Stirs.

*Deep breath.

Xiao You turned her head to look at Xi Men, and Xi Men opened his eyes.

As he opened his eyes, he looked at her, sitting on the coffee table in front of him.

“Ah…” she covered her mouth, realizing she had said the words instead of just letting it stays as a thought in her mind.

“Oh. Sorry, I fell asleep,” he sits up straight.

“Did… did I woke you up?” she asked.

Xi Men smiled, closing his eyes and then pressed his fingers on his eyes, “I did hear you said something,”

“Urgh… I am so sorry…” she said.

“No worries about it,” he opened his eyes and looked at her, “Glad that you woke me up. I won’t know how long I’ll be asleep if you didn’t,”

“Umm…”

“I think it is best that I go back now,” he said, standing up.

“Oh… are you sure?” she asked, standing up as well.

“Why? Do you have anything you want to tell me?” he asked.

She looked at him and then she shook.

He smiled, “If there is none, then I should go,”

“Okay,” she said.

“See you tomorrow,” he said.

She smiled, “Sure. See you tomorrow,”

He raised his hand up and then holds her arm for few seconds, before he lets go, turned around and faces the entrance.

“Umm, Xi Men,” she called out.

He turned and looked at her. “Hmmm?”

She took the few steps to him, “Is there anything I could do for you?”

“Huh?” he asked.

“You hold my arm just now. I think there’s something you want from me,” she said.

He looked at her.

She could sense he wanted something…?

“A hug?” she asked.

He smiled upon hearing that, and then he nodded.

Since he had nodded, she then leaned forward and hugged him.

And he instinctively hugged her when she leaned to him.

The smile on his face turns bitter.

‘I want more than a hug, Xiao You. I want you,’ he thought to himself.

‘I know you can’t accept me. You’ve said it before,’

‘But I will still go after you, because it is you that I want,’

‘However, right now, I am not going to push for it,’

‘I know you are doing this for me. For I am at my worst now,’

‘If I ask you to be with me now, I know you’ll walk away, adding the distance to us again,’

‘But I can’t let you do that to me now as I really, really need you by my side at this tough time,’

‘Maybe I should be thankful for this crisis, because this is when I can be close to you, and that our distance has been reduced now,’

‘But wait for me, Xiao You,’

‘When this crisis is over, I’ll go after you formally,’

‘I’ll definitely go after you even if you start distancing yourself again,’

Xiao You slowly pulls back from the hug, and Xi Men eventually releases the hug.

“Goodnight, Xiao You,”

“Goodnight, Xi Men,” Xiao You smiled.

With the smile still on his face, he turned around and then heads to the door and leaves the penthouse.

Xiao You pressed her lips and took a deep breath, as she watches the door closed.

She turned around, and then looked at the ashtray that Xi Men had brought in from the balcony after he had done smoking.

‘Time to throw the cigarette butts…’

As she heads over to the ashtray, she saw there’s only one cigarette butt in it.

She lifted her head up, and looked at the door again.

And then she smiled.


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