Chapter 17: Bitter Coffee
As soon as Tan Xilu left the house, he received a call from his mother.
His mother seemed to be in a good mood, and her voice on the phone was filled with a smile. “Xiao Lu, today is Christmas Eve.”
Tan Xilu knew that his mother wouldn’t just call to talk about Christmas; there had to be more to it. His mother wasn’t particularly fond of celebrating holidays for no reason.
As expected, in the next moment, his mother said, “Many young couples spend Christmas Eve together. I saw it on my friends’ social media. Some of my students even went to couple’s restaurants. I’ve reserved a table for you and Xiaoli. It’s a great opportunity to strengthen your relationship.”
Tan Xilu sighed and said, “Mom, you don’t need to worry about this. Xiaoli and I have only met a few times, and we’re not a good match.”
“At first, your father and I didn’t think we were a good match either, but now we’ve been happily married for decades,” his mother replied. She then turned to his father, who was reading a newspaper on the balcony, and rolled her eyes. “Relationships require compromise.”
Tan Xilu locked the door behind him as he descended the stairs and said, “It’s not about compromise or not. From the beginning, I didn’t really like him.”
Tan Xilu wasn’t just saying this to appease his mother; he genuinely didn’t like Li Zhao. His instincts were usually spot on, and when he first met Li Zhao, he had a bad feeling about him. Li Zhao’s smooth-talking and the disrespectful things he had said on their very first meeting had made Tan Xilu uncomfortable.
“Li Zhao seems nice. Why don’t you like him? Just meet him once, and maybe this time you’ll feel differently,” Tan Xilu’s mother urged.
“Mom… I actually…” Tan Xilu’s words were cut short as he spotted Li Zhao standing at the entrance of the building. Li Zhao was dressed casually today, in a white hoodie paired with black pants. He looked more youthful compared to their first meeting, and this sudden change in appearance reminded Tan Xilu of when he first met Xu Huaiming.
Back then, Tan Xilu had just bought a cake from the shop. Due to holiday promotions, the shop was crowded with customers. As he was leaving the shop, someone accidentally pushed him, and he stumbled forward, expecting to fall to the ground. To his surprise, he fell into warm arms instead.
The other person made a muffled sound, indicating that the collision had not been gentle.
Embarrassed, Tan Xilu looked up to see the person’s face, and he was unexpectedly good-looking. However, the person was frowning and staring at Tan Xilu’s clothes.
Tan Xilu then followed the person’s gaze and realized that the cake had fallen out of its box during the collision. Most of the cream had smudged onto his white hoodie, mixed with fruit pieces.
“Sorry, I’m really sorry,” Tan Xilu blushed immediately.
“It’s okay,” the person helped him up and checked his pockets before asking somewhat awkwardly, “Do you have any paper?”
Tan Xilu responded with an “Ah” and quickly took out some tissues from his pocket.
The person’s voice was also pleasant to the ears, and that was Tan Xilu’s first impression at the time.
Back then, Tan Xilu had never imagined that a few months later, he would hear this person’s breath in bed.
At that time, Xu Huaiming had also been dressed in a white hoodie and black pants. However, his demeanor was completely different from the impression Li Zhao gave. Xu Huaiming always seemed serious and unapproachable, exuding an air of aloofness. Tan Xilu thought that it was because of this that Xu Huaiming had few friends.
But both of them had introverted personalities, which seemed to match well.
On the phone, Tan Xilu’s mother continued, “I’ve already asked Li Zhao to wait downstairs for you. I’ve even reserved a restaurant, and it cost me quite a bit. You must go today.”
At this moment, Li Zhao also saw Tan Xilu coming downstairs and walked over.
When he reached Tan Xilu, he suddenly pulled out a bouquet of flowers from behind his back and said with a smile, “Merry Christmas!”
Tan Xilu frowned at him and responded with an “Hmm” into the phone before saying, “Alright, Mom, I got it.”
Tan Xilu put his phone back into his pocket but didn’t take the bouquet.
“Why are you here?” Tan Xilu’s tone was somewhat unfriendly.
“My aunt asked me to come,” Li Zhao replied, holding the bouquet, walking alongside Tan Xilu. “She called me and said she had reserved a restaurant for us, and she wanted me to take the initiative to invite you for dinner to build our relationship.”
Tan Xilu massaged his temples, feeling a headache coming on. “Don’t you know I have a partner? And yet, you’re here because my mom told you to?”
“What’s the big deal? I’m genuinely interested in you,” Li Zhao said with a smile, glancing at Tan Xilu. “I mean, why don’t you break up with that person and be with me instead?”
Tan Xilu immediately gave him a stern look and said, “Give it up. I won’t break up with him.”
“I was just kidding,” Li Zhao chuckled. “Come on, be a little lenient. Join me for a meal first. I heard the restaurant my aunt booked is quite expensive. We can’t let her money go to waste, can we?”
“Maximum of two hours,” Tan Xilu hesitated and then extended two fingers. “No longer than that.”
“Deal,” Li Zhao agreed with a smile.
When Xu Huaiming called, Li Zhao’s cake had just been delivered to the table. Li Zhao picked up a fork and pushed the cake toward Tan Xilu, who nodded in thanks before answering the phone.
Tan Xilu was worried that Xu Huaiming would jump to conclusions if he knew he was meeting someone for an arranged date, so he quickly made up a lie about being busy with school. Fortunately, Xu Huaiming didn’t seem suspicious, but before he could finish the conversation, the call was abruptly disconnected. Tan Xilu checked his phone and realized it had run out of battery and turned off.
“This cake is the best-selling item at the restaurant. My aunt said you love cakes, so I ordered this for you. Give it a try. How does it taste?” Li Zhao said.
“Thank you,” Tan Xilu replied. He put his phone down and reached for a fork.
The cake was indeed delicious, but Tan Xilu thought that Xu Huaiming’s latest desserts were even more exquisite. He savored the cake while thinking that he would ask Xu Huaiming to make it for him when he got home.
Suddenly, a cup of milk tea appeared in his line of sight. Tan Xilu looked up, and Li Zhao raised an eyebrow. “Cake and milk tea go well together!”
Tan Xilu recalled Xu Huaiming’s warning about consuming high-sugar items and gaining weight. He hesitated.
“Why are you acting like a girl, worrying about calories?” Li Zhao said. “Afraid it’s poisoned or something?”
Tan Xilu bit the straw in response, thinking that he would be a little indulgent this time. After all, Xu Huaiming wouldn’t know.
Tan Xilu had no idea that a student from the restaurant had captured a photo of him and Li Zhao together and posted it on their social media.
The caption mentioned that he was having dinner with Li Zhao, and Tan Xilu’s stomach was indeed filled with food. As they walked out of the restaurant, Tan Xilu even burped somewhat impolitely.
Li Zhao couldn’t help but laugh and said, “Full already?”
Tan Xilu covered his mouth, feeling embarrassed. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Li Zhao smiled. “The food at this restaurant is really good.”
Tan Xilu simply responded with an “Hmm” and didn’t say much more.
Li Zhao offered to give Tan Xilu a ride back, but Tan Xilu declined, saying he had other plans.
Li Zhao quickly figured out that Tan Xilu was probably going to see his partner.
“Indeed, Christmas Eve is like Valentine’s Day for couples,” Li Zhao shrugged and asked, “Have you ever thought about telling your mom that you already have a boyfriend? Or is there some secret about your boyfriend that you can’t reveal?”
“What secret could there be?” Tan Xilu felt uncomfortable with Li Zhao’s questions. “I haven’t told my mom because it’s not the right time.”
“Okay,” Li Zhao said. “It’s your choice.”
“Oh, by the way, you can keep the flowers. They’re quite expensive,” Li Zhao handed the bouquet to him.
“I’d better not. I’m afraid my partner might get the wrong idea,” Tan Xilu shook his head.
There was no need to take his relationship with Li Zhao any further. Perhaps they wouldn’t meet again after today. He should be firm and explain the situation to his mother. He needed to talk to Xu Huaiming later and see if he wanted to meet with his mother.
Li Zhao simply responded with an “Oh” and didn’t say anything else.
Li Zhao ultimately gave Tan Xilu a ride to the bus station and watched him board the bus.
After Tan Xilu got on the bus, he waved to Li Zhao through the window. Li Zhao looked at him for a moment and then smiled.
By six in the evening, the dessert shop had become busier, with more customers and several pre-orders. Arlene watched as Xu Huaiming cut one cake after another, a worried expression on her face.
Earlier, Xu Huaiming had been holding his phone and watching a video, his expression as if he wanted to crush the phone, but a few minutes later, he calmly returned the phone to the girl and thanked her. However, he exuded an intense sense of pressure, and Arlin didn’t dare to talk to him.
The bell chimed as another customer entered the shop. Arlin reflexively greeted them, and when she looked up, she saw that it was Tan Xilu.
She instinctively glanced at Xu Huaiming and noticed that he seemed somewhat surprised when he saw Tan Xilu. “Why are you here? Didn’t you say you wouldn’t come?” Xu Huaiming asked.
“I finished my work early, so I came over,” Tan Xilu replied.
“Really?” Xu Huaiming smiled and gestured to the beautifully packaged cake he had prepared for Tan Xilu’s proposal. “I baked a cake for you. Do you want to have it now?”
Tan Xilu’s stomach was still full, and the sight of the cake made him feel a bit queasy. He immediately shook his head. “I’m not hungry right now. I don’t want to eat.”
“Oh, I see,” Xu Huaiming looked somewhat disappointed. “Then let’s have it tomorrow.”
“Arlene!” Xu Huaiming called her, pushing the blueberry cake towards her. “Table seven, go deliver this.”
Arlene hesitated for a moment, then sighed, taking the cake. “Alright, Xu-ge…”
Meanwhile, Tan Xilu was puzzled by Arlene’s strange behavior. He blinked and asked Xu Huaiming, “Is Arlene upset about something?”
“Yeah,” Xu Huaiming replied. “She had a cake mishap today.”
Tan Xilu shrugged, “Well, mistakes happen. She can just make another one.”
Xu Huaiming pondered for a moment and said, “But can’t she fix it using the original cake?”
Tan Xilu thought about it and said, “Well, she probably can, but it won’t look as good as the one she initially made, and the taste might be different.”
“Is that so? I understand,” Xu Huaiming smiled.
But deep inside, he felt a discomfort he couldn’t explain. This wasn’t like him. His emotions were usually under strict control. It was as if the system had some glitch; he couldn’t fathom why he would feel this way because of a human’s words.
He thought to himself, maybe it was time to visit Professor Bowen for a system check.
T/N: Hey there! There is plenty more where that came from, so stay tuned! And stay healthy! Straighten your posture, so some stretches and drink some water before continuing hehe~
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