The sun hung low in the skies of Northern Taiwan. Although it was autumn now, the heat had not dimmed. Xiang Yu glanced sideways at the figure next to him. Her hair was tied up in a ponytail. In the sun, her hair glinted with the unique reddish – brown highlights, so different from anyone else’s. Her fair and delicate skin was slightly flushed in the heat, and there was sheen of perspiration on her forehead. She was dressed casually in a beige polo T shirt and khaki trousers. In fact, among the ladies who competed to dress up in the latest fashions, she looked really plain.
Monday was usually a day when people work. Unless one was rich or idle, or wanted to network for business reasons, one did not play golf on a Monday. Under the autumn sun, on the neat greens, men were mostly chatting in groups of twos and threes, occasionally putting and then walking towards the next hole. The women, whether young or old, were all dressed to the nines. Decked in bright colours, they walked about blatantly with a full set of golfing equipment, annoying the old men who thought they were a distraction to the game.
These people were also very discerning. At a glance, they could tell who was worth talking to and who not, and that would determine their attitude towards the player. Like the up and coming business magnate Xiang Yu. He was a man worth knowing so everyone would come and say hello to him
Song Yu Shan however, was another matter. Most people did not know her. At a more careful glance, she looked shabbily dressed. This meant she was not an important person and could be ignored. Even if she came from a renowned family, she was not the one who was favoured. The fact that she was not widely recognised was no surprise. After all, she had spent most of her adult life in the States. A very few people realised that she was the granddaughter of the Chairman of Yan’s consortium. They looked at her slyly and obliquely, in the manner that people eager for gossip usually do.
Song Yu Shan herself did not react. Her beautiful but wilful mother had run away from home to have an affair and her father had cowardly left Taiwan to escape the gossip mills. If Song Yu Shan had met the daughter of such a family herself, she would probably look down on her as well. Like them, she would be wondering which of the traits the daughter had inherited.
“ It’s very hot. Would you like to go and sit under the umbrella?” Xiang Yu asked as he approached her.
Song Yu Shan glanced at him and shook her head. Then she handed him the club, fully aware of her responsibilities.
She had been dragged here to act as his caddy. Xiang Yu had stated the most ridiculous rationale, “ Monday is anyway your day off so you can come with me to the club. You hardly exercise. This will get you some fresh air and exercise.”
She didn’t exactly think she needed exercise. But it was true that she was either at the library or at home. Anyway, this was more like a command , not a request. She had felt she had no choice but to accompany him.
But now when she thought over it, she felt she should have said no. Song Yu Shan sighed. Over the years, from a very young age, she had always been unable to say no to anyone. Now she had given up. As long as it did not make her angry or unhappy, she was willing to do anything. It didn’t matter. At least, it would make him happy. But… he didn’t look very happy right now!
Sunglasses covered his eyes so she was unable to see his eyes. But Song Yu Shan could still feel that he was unhappy with the situation. Did he not like the men who were eager to strike up a conversation with him? Or was he annoyed with the women who were openly gawking and admiring his handsome countenance? Shouldn’t he be used to such open admiration and flirting by now? She knew that at work, no matter how annoyed he was, he would always handle the situation with a calm attitude. He was always focussed on completing the task like a trained police dog. The phrase ‘trained police dog’ suddenly brought a smile to her face as she remembered the event several years back.
The person beside her immediately noted the subtle change in her expression. She was trying her best to be invisible. With her head lowered, she kept quiet, trying her best to merge in the background. Apart from performing the services of a caddy, she was not speaking at all. Everyone was ignoring her and she did not look at anyone else either.
This was not her real self! She had always been the most boisterous, the most attention-grabbing , the most energetic person he had ever met in his life! Since they had met again, the more he saw her, the more anxious he felt. She was just not the same person anymore. After taking the club from her, he couldn’t help himself . He reached out to brush away the strands of hair that had stuck to her forehead.
“Your nose is peeling. Under this sun, you are neither wearing a hat nor getting under the umbrella. You are really careless!”he whispered , his tone one of unconscious intimacy, “ you might not get a heatstroke, but will certainly get a sunburn.”
Song Yu Shan neither smiled nor dodged his touch. In a low voice, she just said, “No.”
Then she lowered her gaze and took a few steps back as someone approached Xiang Yu.
At that moment, Xiang Yu was seized with a sudden impulse to shove away these worthless idlers who were trying to strike up an acquaintance with him. He wanted to pull her to him, shake her hard until all these invisible walls she had built around herself had shattered. He wanted that little girl back, the one who always loved to snuggle in his arms…
He had worked really hard. Whether he was serious or gentle, whether he was questioning her or casually chatting with her, whether they met in the library, her apartment, the stadium or at a restaurant, her demeanour was always unchanged. She would always be calm and low key, answering him but never venturing anything on her own initiative. She had not deliberately rejected him, but neither had she warmed up to him. He felt like an ordinary passer-by or at most a frequent visitor to her library.
“Ah! You know Old Yan’s granddaughter”, a voice broke into his reverie. This was the General Manager of the club, another industry leader. He moved closer to Xiang Yu and asked in a somewhat ambiguous manner, “Are you in a relationship or just friends?”
Xiang Yu frowned. They has always chatted about business earlier. He wasn’t sure why this lady was now venturing into personal territory.
“ Have you seen her mother? She is the most beautiful lady I have ever met. I saw her in one of the parties a couple of days ago. She is really worthy of her fame.” Then she quickly glanced at Song Yu Shan. “ I suppose the daughter took after her father.”
“ Mrs Song is now in Taiwan?” Xiang Yu asked immediately.
“ Nobody calls her Mrs Song now. She will be upset if you call her that. You’ve just come back, you haven’t really mingled so far. No wonder you don’t know this. I don’t know if she is in Taiwan now. She is a socialite, sometimes in Taiwan, sometimes in France…who knows. You need to be really lucky to meet her.”
Sure. People may need to luck to meet her, but was this true for her own daughter as well?
Once he finished the 18th hole, Xiang Yu was not willing to stay any longer. He left with Song Yu Shan to grab some lunch.
“What’s wrong?” she asked him ,surprised as she sneaked a look at his disgruntled face.
He took the golf bag off her shoulders and held her hand. He walked out of the door holding her hand as the people around looked at them curiously.
“When was the last time you saw your mother?” he asked her in the car as he drove.
The face which was flushed due to the sun paled at his question.
“I…” she took a deep breath, “umm.. maybe…yeah.. the new year.”
“New Year? You mean more than nine months ago? So long ago?”
She murmured something under her breath.
“What are you saying?” he glanced at her,”say it louder.”
“I said, I didn’t mean the Chinese New Year this year. It was the new year last year.” She clenched her fist, her nails digging into her palms. Her fist was placed next to her thigh so it was hidden from his sight. If no one was aware of her pain, then they would not feel compelled to offer her sympathy or compassion.
“ Last year?”
He could not help himself. He was ready to explode, but could not decide what to say.
“ What kind of mother is so capricious, who neglects her only daughter and is only engrossed with her own issues? Why is your grandfather punishing you? You haven’t done anything wrong! He was the one who pampered your mother! And your father? If he wanted to leave the country, why did he not take you with him? What is the point in leaving you here alone? Ridiculous! A group of ridiculous people!”
If Song Yu Shan was not focussed completely in calming down her own emotions, she would have been taken aback by this sudden outburst. Xiang Yu never lost control. Even when angry , he had always been outwardly calm. He never reacted like this.
His words hurt. She felt like someone had punched her in the stomach. Since she was a kid, she had always liked and loved her beautiful and cheerful mother, her serious father, her equally serious and occasionally pampering grandfather. But she never knew how to get them to love her back. She had watched helplessly as her parents had gradually alienated themselves and become strangers to her. She had watched as her grandfather had gotten angrier at her own mother, as her father had silently protested and distanced himself from the family…. She had always hoped that one day, everything would be resolved and like a novel or a movie, they would live together happily ever after. But reality had ultimately crushed all her hopes. Under the gorgeous and luxurious veneer, her family had finally shattered into isolated pieces and each of them had drifted away.
She had cried, thrown tantrums, got into trouble – all just to get attention. She had tried so hard, but ultimately all her efforts had been useless. All her arrogance and waywardness and charms were just ways of asking her family one simple question – Am I worthy of your attention? Can you love me ? Can you …
She turned towards the window, trying to focus on the passing scenery. Right now, all she wanted from life was to hide in one corner, pretending to herself that nothing hurt anymore, that nothing was important. A quiet, predictable and boring life was her only aspiration.
The person beside her cursed. Unexpectedly, he slowed down and stopped the car. Then he leaned towards her, unbuckled her seat belt and pulled her into his warm embrace.
He had just taken a shower after his game. The clean and refreshing fragrance of the shower gel mingled with his own unique scent and overwhelmed all her senses as she took a deep breath in his embrace. This brought back all the old memories she had tried so hard to forget. This was his own unique scent, the scent that put her to ease, the one that made her feel protected and taken care of , the one that made her feel that all her problems would be resolved. Once, she had wanted his arms to shelter her from everything that was going wrong in her world, but….
“I wasn’t cursing you”. She could feel the vibrations in his chest as he said these words in a low voice, “Shhh, it’s all right.”
He was really consoling her!
“I’m not crying,” Song Yu Shan said. She pulled herself out of her daze and struggled to move out of his embrace. Embarrassment flooded in and a red flush inched across her face and neck. “You don’t have to…I mean.. I’m alright..”
“Shan Shan,” he murmured. He refused to let her go, his arms tightening around him as if using his own body to soothe her. She stopped struggling
“ I am ok,” she muttered again listlessly.
“ Don’t pretend you are ok”, his tone had a hint of reproach, “ What is wrong with you? Either you are too high strung, or you are too depressed. Can’t you ever act normal?”
She wasn’t too sure what he meant, but somehow she thought his statement was really ridiculous. She laughed out loud.
This will not work, this will never work… why did she have this strange notion of trying to please everyone all the time?
He couldn’t believe his own ears. Why was she laughing? He lifted her face to look at her. He was shocked. He had never seen someone look so sad when laughing. If this was how she looked, he would prefer she cry. Almost without conscious thought, he lowered his head and kissed her soft lips. As his lips tasted the incredible sweetness, he blanked out. All rational thoughts disappeared. Driven solely by pure instinct, his kiss turned deeper and more aggressive.
“Mmm”, she moaned softly. She felt like her senses were on fire and she had no choice but to respond with equal ardour.
She was so sweet and intoxicating he was unable to stop himself. He continued exploring deeper, trying to violently snatch a response from her. When she parted her lips under the aggressive assault of his lips, his tongue sneaked in. She moaned helplessly again. Like a kitten mewling helplessly, she squirmed and shifted under him, instinctively trying to move closer, trying to meld her body with his. As their bodies aligned to each other, the kiss which was meant to be soothing turned into a fiery one. His hardness contrasted with her softness. They both moved restlessly, looking for the perfect angle, the most suitable position. But the space in the car was limited. He made an angry, low-pitched noise at his inability to mould her to him..
“Honk!” The angry horn of a passing car rudely awakened Xiang Yu from his daze. Pulling slightly away, he looked angrily outside the window. The car was no longer in sight. Why would someone drive so fast?
Song Yu Shan still looked dazed. Her misty eyes still showed some remnants of the passion they had shared, her lips were bruised red from the kisses, her snowy arms were still wrapped around his neck and he could still feel her soft curves pushed against his hard chest. He cursed the car driver again.
His harshly uttered curse seemed to shake her out of her reverie. Her big, amber eyes widened.
“ I am sorry, I am really sorry, sorry…” she apologised profusely although in her panicked state she wasn’t quite clear what she had done wrong. “ I didn’t mean to…. I… sorry..”
She struggled to distance herself from him, but he only pulled her back in his arms.
“ Why are you apologising?”he asked her . He was clearly irritated. “ You haven’t done anything wrong!”
“ I…. I..”
Before she could finish her words, he started kissing her again.
Was this a dream? An endless dream that made her feel all hot and fevered and yet drowning in sweetness?