Flashback ended. (*from chapter 1)
Xi Men took a deep breath.
Feeling as though he is stuck and lost in Taipei, he felt free and peaceful in Paris the moment he stepped his feet down on the airport.
He seems to have found contentment too; right here in this city, although he is on his own.
He lowered his head, and smiled as he looked at the pictures in his smartphone.
He is instantly reminded of all the happy and nice moments he had shared with Xiao You for the brief week last year. (*to refresh your memory, the flashback is one year ago with addition of 2 months when XM called XY to propose ‘the week’)
Too bad it is only for a week.
“Because I said it is only for one week…” he mumbled as he looked at Xiao You’s photo in his smartphone.
He then raised his head up, looking at the Seine river in front of him.
And then his mind traveled again…
Xi Men finds himself turning to his left and then to the right.
He had gotten use to look around for Xiao You, and having her by his side.
And then he realized he is sitting at the departure hall of Paris airport waiting for boarding but he won’t be boarding at least for another 30 minutes.
On his own.
He has to remind himself that he is alone now.
His gaze then went straight, looking out of the glass window to a plane parked at the tarmac.
After spending a week with Xiao You by his side all the time, he realized he could not get used to being alone.
‘Why do I feel so lonely?’
His gaze went down to the bag which contains a box of macarons in his hand.
This exact same thing is the last thing he bought for her.
He slowly takes the beautiful box out from the paper bag.
He opened the box, to be greeted by 20 over unique-flavored macarons.
He remembered she tasted the vanilla-flavored macaron earlier from her box, so he inadvertently reached for the vanilla flavored macaron in his box and closes the box.
He takes a bite of the macaron and munches slowly.
‘So this is how it tastes like when she eats it…’
And not knowing when, tears welled up in his eyes.
‘And we aren’t even friends now…’
A tear fell to his cheek.
He sniffs and then harshly wiped it away.
“Back to normal life now,” he muttered and then took a deep, painful breath. “My normal… boring life,”
Two weeks later.
Xi Men had his hands folded on his chest and his butt leaned against his CEO desk in his room, looking out of the window to the billboard on top of the building.
After returning from Paris, this spot has become his favorite spot.
Regardless for whatever reason; in deep thought, stressed, sad, happy, or even for no reason at all… he will leaned against his desk here and looked at the view.
His gaze goes down, and then he turned his head around to look at the door.
“Come in!” he called.
*Door knob twisted and then the door opened.
Xi Men smiled at the protruded head at the door before the door opens wider, “Yo, Mei Zhuo,” he replied and as soon as he saw Lei entering his CEO room after Mei Zhuo, he (Xi Men) stood up now to look at them.
“Hey,” Lei said.
“Hey, man,” Xi Men said.
Xi Men and Mei Zhuo bro-hugged before Xi Men moved to Lei.
“So, what are you guys doing here?” Xi Men asked.
“Lei and I visited Ah Si in the office, then both of us thought of dropping by your office since we haven’t seen you for three weeks,” Mei Zhuo said, sitting down on the chair in front of Xi Men’s desk.
“Oh?” Xi Men asked. “Then where is Ah Si?”
“Ah Si wanted to come, but he has an appointment so he said he’ll see you next time,” Lei said.
“That dude is always busy,” Xi Men said, rolling his eyes.
“Eh, don’t say it in a way that only Ah Si is busy. You are busy as well, you know?” Lei said, smacking the back of his hand on Xi Men’s arm before he sits down on the other vacant seat next to Mei Zhuo.
“Fine, all of us are busy in some ways,” Xi Men said.
“So, how was your Paris trip?” Mei Zhuo asked, looking at Xi Men sitting down on his CEO chair.
“It was okay,” Xi Men smiled.
“Okay? Sounds like Paris is boring,” Mei Zhuo said.
Xi Men’s smile fades as he looked at Mei Zhuo, “Boring? No…”
“Xi Men is only there for a break; to relax. What do you expect?” Lei interrupted Xi Men as he (Lei) talked to Mei Zhuo.
“Right. I still couldn’t believe it when Xi Men said he will be in Paris for a week. We’ve been to Paris for so many times, and basically seen everything we want to see in Paris. So… are you bored out of your wits to be in Paris for a week?” Mei Zhuo asked.
“Umm, not really,” Xi Men said.
“Not really?” Lei asked. “Aren’t you seeing the same thing we’ve seen before?”
“Well, yes,” Xi Men said. “I have been seeing Eiffel Tower for the whole week,”
“GOSH!” Lei and Mei Zhuo exclaimed together.
Xi Men smirked. “But it is not like I go up to Eiffel Tower everyday. And truth to be told, Paris aren’t really that boring as I have expected,”
“Not boring?” Lei asked.
“He said not really ‘that’ boring,” Mei Zhuo said, looking at Lei. “Means it is still boring,”
Xi Men laughed. “I thought it was boring too, but then, it turned out pretty well. Walked damn a lot so I am tired at the end of the day,”
“Walk?” Mei Zhuo asked.
“Yeah. Paris is all about walking around to see things,” Xi Men said.
“What about your chauffeur?” Lei asked.
“I didn’t hire a chauffeur,”
“You didn’t?” Mei Zhuo and Lei asked together.
Xi Men shook. “There is no need for that. The subways are really efficient,”
“Subways?” Mei Zhuo and Lei asked together again.
Xi Men looked at both of them.
‘Did I just reveal a bit too much information?’ Xi Men thought to himself.
“You mean you took subway in Paris?” Lei asked. “Instead of a private chauffeur?”
“Umm. Yeah,” Xi Men replied.
Lei frowned while Mei Zhuo gaped.
“It is very convenient. And you don’t have to ask your chauffeur to park aside and wait for you or something,” Xi Men quickly adds.
Lei remained staring at Xi Men, before diverting his gaze to the stunned Mei Zhuo.
This is strange.
Xi Men, not having a private chauffeur in Paris, and instead, has no problems taking subways in Paris when he had never taken any public transport in his life?
“So…” Lei gazes at Xi Men, “Where did you go in Paris, since you said… you walk to see things there,”
The moment Lei asked that, the places and activities that Xi Men had done in Paris immediately ran in his mind as he uttered cheerfully, “Oh. I went to a lot of places! On day 1 of arrival, I went to Eiffel Tower. The queues to buy the tickets are horrendous. Thankfully I’ve bought the ticket from the website, so I just went over according to the slot that I have booked and didn’t have to queue for the tickets. But I can’t skip the queue to go up so it took a while to go up. On day 2, I went to Arc de Triomphe, walked down Champs-Élysées, heads to Place de la Concorde, Opera, Jardin des Tuileries and some palaces which I don’t remember the names. And then on the following days, I went to La Conciergerie which was a royal palace turned jail… Ah! Saint Chapelle for its stained glass! It is magnificent! And then I also went to Notre Dame, Musée du Louvre, and found this Joan Of Arc statue nearby, and then I went to Musée Rodin for The Thinker, Musée d’Orsay for Vincent Van Gogh’s art, Les Invalides which is the Napolean’s Tomb, The Grande Arc in La Defense which is a modern building, Paris Hôtel de Ville which is Paris’ Cityhall, Center Pompidou which is a building that I am not very impressed with, Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, Moulin Rouge and Tour Montparnasse for the nice view of Paris…” he said. “Hmmm… that is all I can remember,”
Mei Zhuo and Lei stared at Xi Men.
Xi Men stared at both of them.
“Umm, guys?” Xi Men asked.
“Wow,” Mei Zhuo said. “That’s a lot of places,”
“Oh yeah! I have just remembered. I went to Palace de Versailles! The one that you both had mentioned,” Xi Men said.
“Oh! Palace de Versailles! It is beautiful, isn’t it?” Mei Zhuo said.
“Yes, it is! It is really a place that one must visit when they go to Paris!” Xi Men said.
Lei remained frowning at Xi Men.
‘Something is not right. Something is definitely not right,’ Lei thought to himself.
“You went to so many places. And I have never heard some, and I have never been to some,” Mei Zhuo said.
Xi Men chuckled. “Yeah, I know,”
“So, that whole week must have been busy,” Mei Zhuo said.
“I went everywhere,” Xi Men smiled. “Oh, did you know that there is this Wallace Fountain, located almost everywhere in Paris, providing potable water and it is free?”
“Free and potable water in the middle of Paris town?” Mei Zhuo asked.
“Yes!” Xi Men said.
Lei folds his hands on his chest and then bites his right thumb.
Lei immediately looked at Mei Zhuo who is staring at him (Lei).
“Is this conversation just between me and Xi Men? Why are you so quiet?” Mei Zhuo asked.
Lei switched his gaze to Xi Men who is also looking at him (Lei). “Oh, I was just… listening,” he said, looking at Mei Zhuo.
“Listening?” Mei Zhuo asked.
Lei then turned to look at Xi Men, “It sounds like a hectic trip,” Lei sits up straight by slight.
“Tiring is more like it,” Xi Men said.
“Yeah, didn’t sound like a relaxing trip since you went everywhere,” Lei said.
Xi Men smirked. Tilting his head by slight and then straightened it, “I hope you are not expecting I will just stay in my room for the whole week going nowhere and doing nothing,”
“Visiting a few places is acceptable, but to hear you uttered roughly 10-15 places… that sounds a bit… like a first timer in Paris,” Lei said.
“10-15 over places?” Xi Men asked. “Is that how many places I…”
“I heard you uttered a lot of places. So it is just an estimated number,” Lei said. “Or maybe more,”
“I haven’t exactly count how many places I’ve been to in Paris…” Xi Men mumbled.
“Hmmm… I have to agree that’s a lot of places that you’ve gone to in Paris,” Mei Zhuo said. “In a week,”
“And by subway,” Lei said.
“And walk,” Mei Zhuo continued.
Xi Men instantly felt he is getting into some trap.
“I didn’t want to be in the hotel all the time so I was just going around,” Xi Men defended as he looked at Lei. “It is not reasonable anyway to be in a hotel for the whole week and not going anywhere,”
Lei smirked and then he tilts his head. He slowly turned his head to the right… and then he looked at the view outside of Xi Men’s room.
“Oh hey, since you’ve gone to so many places in Paris, I am sure you took photos,” Mei Zhuo said, leading to Lei straightening his head to look at Mei Zhuo and Xi Men since Mei Zhuo had resumed the conversation.
“Oh yes, I did,” Xi Men said, reaching for his smartphone and then he stopped.
The smile on his face fades and then his eyes strayed.
“Care to show us?” Mei Zhuo already sounded excited that he is going to see some pictures.
Xi Men then retracts his hand and returned his gaze to Mei Zhuo and Lei. “No problems with that. But I have just recalled that I have transferred all of the photos from my smartphone to the computer at home so I have none here,”
“Oh,” Mei Zhuo responded.
Xi Men then puts on a smile on his face, “I’ll show you when I put up in a photo album or something, alright?”
“Or maybe when we go and visit your house,” Lei said, looking at Xi Men.
That smile on Xi Men’s face fades slightly as he looked at Lei.
“Yeah, when we go to your house, you can show us directly from your computer. You don’t have to move it here and there or create an album just for that,” Mei Zhuo chipped in.
“Sure,” Xi Men happened to reply. “Sure,” he repeated softly.
“So, how was the weather there?” Mei Zhuo asked.
“Oh, it is fall in Paris. It rained on certain days but just for a while and sometimes it is just drizzling. Temperatures dropped at night so it is very cold,” Xi Men replied. “Felt extremely grateful for heater,”
Mei Zhuo laughed. “Yes, I can imagine that,” he said. “So, is it a nice trip?”
“Yes, it is,” Xi Men smiled.
“Ah… you got me into this. I felt like it is time to revisit Paris with Xiao Qiao now after hearing what you have said,” Mei Zhuo said.
Xi Men laughed. “Go ahead, dude,”
“I probably should. How much did you pay for your hotel?”
“€850 per night,”
“€850?” Mei Zhuo asked, surprised. Even Lei is surprised to hear that.
“Yeah,” Xi Men said.
“What kind of promotions do you get for that price?” Mei Zhuo asked.
“I booked early. 15% discount,” Xi Men said.
“15%? That is all?” Mei Zhuo asked.
Xi Men then frowned. “Yeah. Why?”
Mei Zhuo frowned at Xi Men, “Did you book normal… I mean, standard room instead?”
“Huh?” Xi Men is confused. “What standard room?”
“The suites in Ah Si’s hotel costs €2000 a night,” Mei Zhuo said. “How do you get €850 per night for that? Even if you have 15% discount… the amount doesn’t tally,”
Ah. So Mei Zhuo and Lei are surprised not because Xi Men paid too much for the room, but paid less than expected.
“Oh, I didn’t stay at Ah Si’s hotel,” Xi Men said.
Both Mei Zhuo and Lei are surprised again.
“You didn’t stay at Ah Si’s hotel?” Mei Zhuo asked.
“Shhh,” Xi Men puts his point finger on his lips. “Don’t let Ah Si know,”
“Why? We always go to Ah Si’s hotel for accommodation whichever country we go to,” Lei said.
“I know,” Xi Men said, putting his hand down.
“Then why did you go for another hotel all of a sudden?” Mei Zhuo asked.
“I just wanted to change the environment,” Xi Men said.
Lei and Mei Zhuo exchanged glances.
“Let me get this straight. There are no problems with Ah Si’s hotel. I just wanted to go for something different which is why I didn’t stay at Ah Si’s hotel. That is all,” Xi Men said.
Lei frowned again.
‘This is getting weirder and weirder…’ Lei thought. ‘And weirder,’
Xi Men knew things will get suspicious if they continue with this topic of him selecting to stay somewhere else instead of Ah Si’s hotel, so he decided to change the topic.
“Oh hey, do you know there is this Paris Museum Pass that can actually help you save time from queuing up to buy tickets at those monuments’ counters?” Xi Men asked.
“Paris Museum Pass? What is that?” Mei Zhuo asked.
Lei’s eyes strayed.
What Xi Men had uttered, has reaffirmed that something is definitely up with Xi Men.
Lei happened to turn his head slightly and then without realizing, his gaze shifted to the view outside of Xi Men’s office.
And then something struck him.
‘This view is nothing extraordinary. Xi Men has been seeing this view all the time from his office. But… when I entered this room just now… Xi Men was in an exact position of looking out of the window… at this view,’ Lei thought to himself. ‘But, I have never seen him standing right here… looking out like this.’
Is it something to do with Xi Men, or is it something to do with this view?
Or something IN the view?
“See ya, bro,” Mei Zhuo said, man-hugging Xi Men after Lei it to Xi Men first.
“See ya,” Xi Men replied in the hug. “Drive safely,”
Lei walked to the door and opened it. He then exits the room.
Mei Zhuo followed behind and closed the door of Xi Men’s CEO room behind him.
As soon as Mei Zhuo closed the door, “Lei, I need to go to the lavatory. We’ll leave after that, alright?” he said at Lei, who is standing in front of Secretary Xu’s desk; and Secretary Xu is already on his feet as a sign of respect to the two CEOs that are about to leave.
“Sure,” Lei said, looking at Mei Zhuo, and the latter walks away.
Lei returned his gaze to Secretary Xu and then demands Secretary Xu to take his seat since there is no need to stand up and wait until both he (Lei) and Mei Zhuo left before he (Secretary Xu) can sit down again.
“Thank you, CEO Hua Ze,” Secretary Xu said, sitting down.
Lei smiled, and then he folded his hands on his chest as he analyzes the earlier situation.
He hadn’t seen Xi Men for 3 weeks; a week in Paris and now it has been two weeks after Xi Men returned from the Paris trip, he felt that Xi Men is different but he can’t exactly pinpoint it.
Xi Men is just strange, and weird.
Lei casually turned his head and then he looked at Secretary Xu typing on the computer.
Ah. Secretary Xu has been the one seeing Xi Men for the whole 2 weeks since the Paris trip. He might know something. Or Secretary Xu might sense something since he is a very smart person.
“Secretary Xu,” Lei softly called.
Secretary Xu immediately lifted his head up, “Yes, CEO Hua Ze?” he is about to stand up but Lei asked him not to.
“Shhh,” Lei puts his point finger on his lips to indicate quietness. “I want to ask you something, but please don’t let anyone know,”
“Sure, CEO Hua Ze,” Secretary Xu imitates the finger action as per what Lei did.
Lei looked around; looking at the door of Xi Men’s room, making sure the door is closed shut and then turned to make sure Mei Zhuo is not in sight too.
“Did you notice something different about Xi Men after he returned from Paris?” Lei immediately asked upon returning his gaze to Secretary Xu.
“Different?” Secretary Xu frowned.
“Yes,” Lei said.
“Umm… no, sir. I didn’t notice anything different about CEO Xi Men,” Secretary Xu said.
“Oh,” Lei said, and his gaze strayed as many other thoughts played in his mind.
Maybe Secretary Xu didn’t notice? Or maybe Xi Men has always been like this but he (Lei) only found out now?
“Why sir? What makes you think so?” Secretary Xu asked, interrupting Lei’s thought.
Looking at Secretary Xu, “It is just some… vibe,” Lei said.
Maybe he should ask Secretary Xu as well, “Does Xi Men have the habit of looking out to the view outside of his room?” Lei asked.
“View outside of his room?” Secretary Xu asked. “Hmmm… not that I notice,”
“Oh,” that is all Lei could reply.
The ‘eh, wait’ uttered by Secretary Xu catches Lei’s attention.
“Now that you mentioned it, CEO Hua Ze; CEO Xi Men did has a habit to look out to the view outside of his room. I mean, I shouldn’t call it a habit, because he does that once in a while when he is thinking about something,”
“Well, judging at the way you said it, it sounds like it is very common for Xi Men. I do look away as well when I am in deep thought. Or maybe I should say, some people do have this traits,” Lei said.
Secretary Xu looked at Lei.
Raising his head a little as though he had just discovered this special trait of Xi Men, “So… Xi Men has a habit of standing there and looked at the view…” Lei murmured.
“Stand there and look?” Secretary Xu repeated.
Lei looked at him. “Yeah, I saw him did just that,”
Secretary Xu tilted his head. “Now that you mention it, CEO Hua Ze… I realized something…”
Lei focused on Secretary Xu.
“For the past 2 weeks, every single time I entered his room, he is doing exactly just that,” Secretary Xu said.
Lei looked at Secretary Xu.
“For all the years, CEO Xi Men will only look out of the window from his seat, but I have never seen CEO Xi Men stood there and looked at the view intensely, seemingly lost in his thought,” Secretary Xu said. “He did just that for 2 weeks now,”
Lei tilts his head as he processed what Secretary Xu has said, as well as his analysis from their conversation in Xi Men’s CEO room earlier.
“Lei, I’m done. We can go now,”
Lei turned his head around and looked at Mei Zhuo standing about 4 meters away looking at Lei. “Okay,” Lei replied, and then he turned to look at Secretary Xu. “Thank you, Secretary Xu,”
“You are welcome, CEO Hua Ze,” Secretary Xu smiled.
Lei turned and walked to Mei Zhuo.
Now it is definitely something with Xi Men, the view… or something IN the view.