Zhuo Jingren hated the smell of cigarettes.
He hated inhaling the thick and bitter scent, likened to burnt wood that would permeate the air, and linger on his clothes like scented deodorant. It was nothing but poison. Zhuo Jingren did not like to smoke but tonight was an exception.
Zhuo Jingren watched as rings of smoke disappear in the cool breeze of the evening. It was eighteen minutes past seven and he still could not contain the twitching nerves in his stomach. He told his secretary that he would arrive thirty minutes late, thinking that it would only make Lily look forward to their meeting even more, against his secretary's better judgement. Secretary Go tried to reason with his president that a gentleman should never let a lady wait but his advice fell on deaf ears.
He might have fooled his secretary but he could never fool himself. He was not intentionally being childish or unreasonable. He was just really… really nervous about seeing her again.
He let out a long sigh, feeling butterflies in his stomach. His brain was in overdrive, generating many possible scenarios about how their fateful meeting would be like. Pushing out another burst of smoke, his mind wandered back to the past. Fifteen years ago, Zhuo Jingren met the most beautiful girl that he ever laid his eyes on. A girl with the most beautiful and vibrant looking pair of amber eyes and a small and cute dimple on her left cheek. This girl was called Qin Jinghua or Hua'er, a name that he used to call her by. Qin Jinghua was twelve while Zhuo Jingren or Renren was fifteen.
Even though Qin Jinghua came from a rich family and was attending a prominent all-girls school, she never look down on him or anyone from the orphanage. She would find time to play with the kids from the orphanage and even share her own food with them. At first, Zhuo Jingren thought that she was just another young miss who was making use of the orphanage to make herself look good on the outside. But this impression changed when he witnessed her being bullied by her classmates at school.
After the incident, Zhuo Jingren came to know that Qin Jinghua was an outcast in her own school. Her dorm mates never talked to her and her classmates always despised her for being the child of a shameless foreigner. Through hearsay, he also came to know that she was not liked by her own family, with the exception of her step-mother who seemed to like her and treat her well. He also heard that Qin Jinghua and her mother were not living gloriously like the other members of the family as they were actually living in an old maid's quarter.
Despite everything that was going for her in life, Qin Jinghua had always looked on the brighter side and kept a smile on her face. If she ever felt that life gave her lemons, she never showed it to anyone. She spent so much time at the orphanage that it was as if she was one of them. It did not take long before Zhuo Jingren took a liking to this bubbly young miss of the Qin family. However, as a teenager who was inexperienced in the matter of the heart, he lacked the confidence to pursue the girl.
He grew up in the orphanage and just like everyone else, he was also an outcast in the community. Treated with pity and indifference by most people, Zhuo Jingren developed an insecurity and would find it hard to communicate his feelings. Because of this, every time he tried to confess to the little Hua'er, he would faint.
One time, he even fainted in front of her! He became a laughing stock in the entire orphanage. His well-meaning friends had even tried to help him by creating the right atmosphere for confession time after time, but somehow he would still screw everything up with his stuttering and when the pressure became too great, he would change the topic to something he was comfortable with - dinosaurs. His friends all facepalmed.
After many failed confessions, he was feeling really helpless and his best friend who greatly sympathized with him decided to intervene one day. His best friend actually went up to Qin Jinghua and asked her directly if she would give Zhuo Jingren a chance when they grow up. And to his surprise, Qin Jinghua said yes, as long as he could match her family's status for only then would her father give his blessings.
Not long after, Qin Jinghua stopped attending school. Zhuo Jingren tried to look for her in the Qin Mansion but was told by the servants that Qin Jinghua was sick and that the Young Madam, Qin Jinghua's stepmother did not allow any visitors.
The way that the servants would sneer at the mention of Qin Jinghua's name and the disgust that was shown on their faces whenever they talked about how sickly she was instantly made Zhuo Jingren mad. Because of this, he promised to one day become even more prominent than the Qin family.
Zhuo Jingren puffed out another ring of smoke and was woken from his stupor by the sound of someone's footsteps drawing closer.
He shifted his head and his gaze landed on a woman, a foot shorter than him donning a beautiful beige dress. His heart seemed to skip a beat as he wordlessly stared at the woman who was also staring back at him. Should he introduce himself as President Zhuo or the young man in her past…
A muscle at the corner of his right eye suddenly twitch involuntarily, making him swallow all the words that he wanted to say.
"Are you my new driver?" he heard Lily asked before catching her keys that were tossed at him. "Drive, let's go wreck some havoc."
Zhuo Jingren could only watch as the latter walked towards the passenger side of the car.
"Wait… wait… President!" Zhuo Jingren instantly turn his head and met the eyes of his secretary, sending him his deadliest glare to make him shut his mouth and not expose him.
"Yes?" Lily asked her lips curled into a small smile.
Watching Qin Jinghua smile instantly made Zhuo Jingren speechless. His eyes were glued on her dazzling side profile. Like a hail against a glass pane, the drumming in his heart was relentless and loud. It was so loud that his mind could not register the rest of his secretary's words.
"Hey! What are you waiting for? Get in! I'm in a hurry." Zhuo Jingren woke up from his daydream and slid inside the beetle without a word. He did not even notice his secretary leaving!
"Bring me to my apartment and make it fast. I will give you a bonus if we reach the place in less than fifteen minutes," Lily said before she closed her eyes and massaged her temples. This Arison family was beginning to give her a headache. She felt the need to deal with this family as soon as possible and let them know that crossing her was a wrong move.
When Lily felt the car moving, she opened her eyes and looked at the man who was struggling to fit comfortably inside her small beetle due to his tall stature. For some reason, this sight made Lily smile. "Hey, driver… I'm sure you already know that I am Lily Qin. I will be your new boss from now on," she stated. She was sure that the agency had already told the man about her. "Why don't you tell me your name and age… and anything about yourself in general?"