At the End of That Spring

When her parents mentioned Lee to her, she already had a secret boyfriend, or a lover.


His name was Chris, a German and a building designer. During that time, he was working in his German company’s Shanghai branch. He was single, much older than her, but his age had never really bothered her.


Now, after many years, if she has to define her relationship with Chris honestly, she will say she was just his lover, one of his lovers—one of the ones that lived in Shanghai.


At that time, she was too young and naive about this relationship. Even though she was just an insignificant office girl, with a very humble salary, she still thought one day she could make that man love her, marry her.


She loved him unconditionally. For her own pride, she refused to use his money on herself. But she was ok to let him pay all of the bills they spent together, such as dinners, clubs, concert tickets. He made much more money than her, and those bills were so little compared to what the other men would spend on the girls. She didn’t compare, she had nobody to compare to. She wanted something more from him—Respect and recognition. But she also wasn’t foolish, she wouldn’t spend her money on him. She had never brought him a gift, except something she made by herself.


They two were like day and night: They lived and worked in different zones; they would never see each other in their own worlds. Only at dawn and dusk, their lives could overlap. He travelled often, both internationally and domestically, so she was the one who always stayed there and waited. One evening after dinner, they entered the elevator of his apartment building. There were two girls in it already, wearing heavy make-ups. He said hi to them. While waiting for the elevator going up, she noticed that his eyes were fixing on those girls. She held her breath and turned away. She felt the elevator was particularly slow that day—It took a century’s time to pass each floor! When it finally reached their destination, she breathed out deeply. Those two girls were living right opposite his door; he and they waved to each other. Her heart sank: He wasn’t familiar with them, but obviously he was interested.


She knew he had other girls, in different cities and countries. He told her she shouldn’t be so serious about him, and she should find a man at her age to marry. He thought he was too old for her, which meant he was too old to marry her, but never too old to start his romance with other girls. He didn’t hide his interest in other women in her presence. The world she built with her fascination was just as fragile and meaningless as a glass house; anyone could see into it easily. She felt hurt. 


Yes, she admired him. She was just a country girl trying to find her roots in this big city, and she happened to meet him. In her opinion she wasn’t pretty, and she couldn’t even dress properly. She didn’t understand why she could attract his attention. Perhaps he had seen too many pretty modern girls, her sudden appearance refreshed his interest—As if a man always ate meat, then one day he saw a dish of bok choy; he felt curious and wanted to try it. His interest in her had spoiled and expanded her ambition. She couldn’t see the situation clearly, or she preferred to live in self-deception: She was his bok choy, and this bok choy was trying to conquer him and gain his respect and admiration. With what? With her little humble heart and obedience? How would that be possible?


She was figuring, she still couldn’t decide whether to leave him or not, like a dog hesitant to leave his half-chewed bone—No meat left, but it was still better than nothing.


Then Lee entered her life. He was introduced by her cousin, who had some business contacts with Lee’s parents in Shanghai. He was four years younger than her, working in an IT company as a team leader. Plus, their hometown was in the same place, which had encouraged both sides’ parents and inflamed their hope—Because to Chinese, people from the same hometown always meant similar culture and a tighter bond of the relationship. They expected a one shot and easier deal.


She was doubtful about her relationship with Chris, so under her parents’ persuasion and commands, she agreed to meet Lee.


It was a hot summer day; they met in a western style restaurant that she picked. Lee told her that he wasn’t familiar with the area where she was living. He lived in a suburb, so every day he had to commute nearly fifty minutes to his downtown office; and as an IT engineer, overtime work was normal. That’s why he didn’t have a girlfriend. The restaurant she chose was inexpensive but special. She tried to be friendly and polite, yet she acted like his elder sister, or at least she felt that way.


Lee was a little taller than average, slim, and clean. He didn’t talk too much most of the time, he just listened to her. Despite the fact that he wasn’t handsome, he was gentlemanly and kind. “He is a nice man,” she thought. “If I had a younger sister, I would like to recommend him to her.” She seemed to have forgotten that it was a date between her and him. Sometimes when she looked at his face, she thought of Chris’. She knew it was unfair to compare Lee to Chris—Lee was just a green apple, crispy, juicy, somehow not that stylish. But he was a man who would present his heart to you and you could rely on him; While Chris was cool, handsome, and sophisticated, with a great taste mostly because of his age and social class. Surely every woman would feel proud to show off a man like him. But, would he give you his heart? Loyalty? Or money? Even if he would, would she be that person?


With all the thoughts tangling in her mind, they finished dinner, then took a little walk nearby. They bid goodbye to each other, and before the separation she told him insincerely that in the future she would buy him dinner since he paid for today’s. On her way home, she walked in the evening breeze. Some tree leaves fell on her shoulder; she looked up. It was still July, had the fallen leaves sensed the coming autumn already? Or was it just because of the heat of the Summer? She felt sad to see those fallen leaves, they came too soon. They were just like her, even though she couldn’t accept that she was actually at the tail of her youth: Each step she took would be essential, even life changing.


Then she thought of the first day when she met Chris. It was late Autumn, the wind blew up the tree leaves on the street, then swirled them into the shops on the side—That day she helped another cousin take care of his shop. She went to the door to close it, then she saw a man pass by pushing a bicycle. She thought that man looked quite special, so she peeped her head out of the door curiously. At that moment, that man turned back as well, and met her eyes. She immediately withdrew and closed the door. She went back to her seat; her heart was beating fiercely. She had a strong feeling that the man would come back and knock on her door. He did. She was like one leaf from a parasol tree that stood on the street of French Concession; she happened to fall, and he just passed by; she fell right on his palm, and entered his world. Was he her destined man?


Lee’s feedback about their date came sooner than she expected. Surprisingly, he liked her very much. Everyone from both families was content, except for her. She couldn’t understand why he liked her. During the date, she didn’t act well, she talked too much, she treated him like a junior schoolmate. Must be that something else had impressed him: It might be that he liked the restaurant and the food; It might be that he liked the street scene of where they walked; or it might be that he stood for a while to watch her leave, and saw the tree leaves in the evening breeze falling on her shoulder, it touched him. 


But to her, she wasn’t that much into him. Because of the four years’ age difference? It seemed not to bother anyone else but herself. And if the age was a real problem, why could she accept Chris? Perhaps she preferred a man older than her so she could be cared for; But Chris didn’t care for her either. So perhaps she just had no love for Lee, or it might very well be because of Chris. 


Lee was very upset after getting her response, but he didn’t give up yet. He continued to message her once every few days, like a friend. They started to discuss something about their work, the books, his self-study plan; sometimes they also met somewhere near her home. They walked on the streets in the French Concession area, the shadows of parasol trees dancing on their faces, and in their eyes. Unexpectedly, they became some sort of friends. He carefully kept the distance between him and her, he gave her space and time to let their relationship grow naturally, to let her know him, and he know her. But he wasn’t aware that his words and tones were getting more and more intimate. She sensed the danger—Their relationship had gone too far, and become too sensitive. She must make her final decision.


One day, her cousin who had introduced Lee to her called. He told her that Lee’s parents knew that she still kept going out with Lee; they understood that they could start from being friends, but Lee was too obsessed with her. They didn’t think it was a good idea for her to continue to meet him if she wouldn’t consider marrying him. It was a warning. She thought for a while, then she messaged to Lee to cancel their coming appointment, and she told him that she preferred letting their friendship stop where it was. Lee was shocked. He called immediately, but she refused to answer the phone. 


Then later she got a few messages from him: 

He said he already knew what had happened, but if that bothered her and she didn’t want to meet him, he understood; 

He said every time before he contacted her, he needed to collect a lot of courage—He was afraid that his words or behaviors might offend her, or make her laugh at him; 

He said he knew he wasnt good enough for her, but he was trying to be better. He started to read more, he took classes in a night school, all because of her influence; 

He said the next year he could graduate from that night school, then he would work on getting a higher position and more salary; 

He said he would wait for her for two more years; by then he should be able to prove himself and perhaps she would give him another consideration; 

He said no matter what happened in the future, he appreciated her. He was lucky to meet a girl like her; she was the rainbow shining in his dull life. 

She read these messages over and over again. Her eyes were blurred by the moisture of tears. However, she didn’t answer him.


One year had gone by unknowingly, then another. She still kept the relationship with Chris: He was always traveling; she was always waiting. He was like a cat; she was the dog. She might be too disappointed to struggle, so she just let it be. It was a path that led her nowhere—She just hadn’t admitted it yet.


On Valentine’s day of that year, after dinner with Chris, she went back home and found a parcel was left in front of her door. Her name was addressed on it, but without the sender’s. She opened it, inside were some books in her taste. On the fly page of the first book, there were a few lines of writing “You are the purest yet distant moon, whom I can only admire from my faraway window. I can never reach you, I don’t know how to get into your heart. Forgive me if I ever bothered you. Be happy.” It was signed by Lee. She calculated the days, it would be exactly two years next week, the due date of his promise. So, this parcel from him was a gentle reminder. She sighed and put the books away.

 


On a warm Spring evening in March, Chris met her in a restaurant. He told her his company had decided to close their Shanghai office, and he would go back to Germany in a few weeks. She didn’t say anything. She sat there, kept sipping her cocktail—Mojito, tasted like summer night breeze passing through her hair; like the stars reflecting in the river; lime and mint blended with tears. She always thought that she would be the one to stop this relationship. One tear of hers dropped into the glass, and she desperately held back the others. She couldn’t let him see; she couldn’t let him know that her heart was hurt. She must act calmly, stylishly, and give this relationship a bold period. More than three years’ vain dream and suspicions, scattered away like white butterflies. All of a sudden, she felt relieved—Goodbye, my love, my first yet hopeless love!


She lay in her bed. Outside the window, the night was dark. No moon, no star; she had lost her direction. Everything had happened so dramatically. If this incident of Chris could have happened sooner, one month sooner, her decision and situation would be completely different. She would message Lee right away and told him she had received his books; she would thank him for everything he had done for her; she would invite him and buy him the dinner which she had owed him for more than two years. But it was too late! Was it a punishment for her fooling an innocent man? For her to play a willful game of love? For her to stupidly make a bet with a man who wasn’t worthy? She didn’t feel sorry about Chris’ leaving, she felt sorry for herself—In fact, it was more than sorry—It was a pang in her heart. Yes, she could put aside her pride and go back to Lee with some excuses, but would he believe it? It was pretty clear that what he liked about her was her pride, her untouchability. In these two years, she didn’t send him one message; even after receiving the books, she didn’t say anything to him. He must have considered her as a stone-hearted woman that could never be softened. What would he think about her if she crawled to his feet and begged for his pardon? She would rather die. She had passed his two years’ expiration, then the game was over! She sat up and cried out.


At the end of that Spring, her mobile phone was stolen. She restored her phone number, but she couldn’t resume her contact list. Since then, she had lost a lot of her friends’ contact information, which included Lee’s. He never texted or called her anymore. He had gone forever from her life at the end of that spring, when the leaves started to fall from the trees everywhere.


Many years later, she is married, and has a daughter. Sometimes, when she sees young men and women walking on the street, she thinks of Lee—A man who loved her so humbly, sincerely, and generously; a man she didn’t cherish then but who leaves her a great regret now. Those afternoons they spent together walking on the streets, in the parks, discussing their thoughts, literature, art, were her most beautiful memory. She wasn’t completely blind and foolish enough to miss the beauty hidden behind his pedestrian look, she was just distracted: She was occupied by her fancy desire for Chris, who only cared about lust and irresponsibility. 


She thought she would miss Chris more than Lee, but in fact it was just opposite: Chris has faded in her memory a long time ago; a lot of things about Chris she thought she wouldn’t forget now are entirely forgotten. When she happens to think of him, no ripples rise in the pool of her heart; But with Lee, the details about him become more vivid and stronger as time goes by; some words of his which she ignored at that time, she remembers now. He is a deep wound inside her—The skin is healed, but once touched, she still feels the pain. It isn’t about love, it’s about the guilt, the insincerity, and the cost of her willfulness. 


Since then, she has learnt about how to love and be loved. When her daughter grows up, she will tell her: Love with a sincere heart, and don’t run away from your responsibilities. Maybe you still will be hurt, but you will have no regrets.             

                                                                                                                                        9/16/2020

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