Zhong Lin tidied up his desk and got up to take his coat. Ah, he couldn’t wait to get home. This week had been especially crazy. Hopefully, things would get better when he came back. Well, even if they didn’t, his workdays might at least look a bit less daunting after he had a weekend to catch up on some sleep.
He wrapped his scarf around his neck and then turned to leave.
Just when he reached the door, the cheerful voice of man sounded from the other end of the corridor.
Zhong Lin glanced over his shoulder and his lips curved into a smile. “Nanmu Tai! Are you also off now?” This person was actually the boss of his workgroup. Normally, he was working later than the others, compiling some reports or staying behind for meetings with the big boss. So seeing him with his coat in hand by this time was surprising.
Nanmu Tai caught up to him and nodded toward the door. “Yes, there is still something I need to do. Why don’t we go together? It’s cold today and you’re living rather far away, aren’t you?”
Zhong Lin raised his brows. He certainly wouldn’t have thought that the boss of his workgroup actually knew where he lived. Furthermore … Was this guy suggesting to drive him home? When had something like this ever happened? Especially since he wasn’t the person that lived the furthest away. He was also a man, so what was it with this kind of suggestion? Shouldn’t he rather ask one of the girls who always came to work in those short costumes? Those really made one wonder how they were keeping warm now that winter had arrived.
Nanmu Tai gave him a smile and even opened the door for him. “What? You don’t want me to drive you home?”
“Uh …” Zhong Lin didn’t know what else to say. Even though this wasn’t his big boss, it was still the small boss above him! Saying no might get him in trouble but saying yes was also weird. After all, they weren’t just coworkers who would casually go out and drink together after work ended or go to visit each other in their free time. There was much more distance between them.
He gave an awkward smile and stopped in front of the building. “Well, I wouldn’t want to make things difficult for you. Wouldn’t it terribly inconvenience you if you had to drop me off on the way?” It was on his way, wasn’t it? Because if it wasn’t …
His hands twitched nervously. Being gay in this kind of long-standing company was already troublesome. If you were gay in this time of long-established company and your boss was hitting on you, that was even worse. After all, what should he do?
Never mind that he was dependent on this guy for reporting his work results, if he refused him but Nanmu Tai didn’t stop … It wasn’t like he could go and complain to the big boss. If he tried to, then him being gay would be found out in no time. In the best case, they might just fire him. In the worst case, somebody would talk and he wouldn’t get any job in the city again. This type of thing got around pretty fast.
Zhong Lin gulped. He couldn’t risk that. He needed the money. Then maybe he should just preemptively turn in his resignation? Then nobody would find out and he could just look for another job. But what if he didn’t get one? The economic situation was difficult right now. People were losing their jobs left and right. Leaving himself and hoping for a miracle wasn’t going to work.
Nanmu Tai motioned over to the parking lot, pulling him out of his thoughts. “You’re worrying too much. There’s nothing to feel guilty about. It’s my pleasure to drive you.”
Zhong Lin forced himself to nod and followed him over to his car. He got in in a complicated mood though. Nanmu Tai had said ‘driving you’, not ‘dropping you off’. So this was indeed not on his way home.
He fastened the seatbelt and took a deep breath. Well, there was nothing he could do about this right now. Maybe he was overthinking things anyway and Nanmu Tai was only searching for an opportunity to talk about something work-related with him that he didn’t want anybody else to hear.
Zhong Lin tried to remember whether there was anything he had done wrong in the last few days but couldn’t come up with anything. Ah, maybe it wasn’t that he had done something wrong? Maybe he had actually done something well and Nanmu Tai wanted to praise him but was afraid the others might misunderstand? Or maybe there was a problem with one of the others and he wanted to ask him if he knew something about and felt that he might be more open when they weren’t at the company?
His hands started to sweat. All these explanations were rather far-fetched but he still liked them more than the thought that Nanmu Tai might want to confess to him. After all, as long as it was work-related, things could be cleared up. As for personal relationships … Ah, he’d rather not think about it.
Nanmu Tai sped through the streets, taking the fastest way to Zhong Lin’s house. He turned off the engine but continued to look out of the windshield as if he had no intention to have Zhong Lin get out.
Zhong Lin’s scalp itched. Should he say something now? If Nanmu Tai really just wanted to send him home, then there was nothing wrong with that. After all, they were already there. If he had other intentions though …
Well, he wouldn’t find out if he didn’t take the first step. Or at least it didn’t seem that way.
Zhong Lin took a deep breath and forced himself to smile. “Uhm, thank you for sending me home. I won’t take up any more of your time then. You’re probably very busy.” He reached for the door handle but Nanmu Tai finally turned to look at him.
“Zhong Lin, there’s something I have to tell you.”
Zhong Lin tightened his lips, the bad feeling he had had all the time getting stronger. Oh no, it seemed he had been right. There really was more to this than his boss sending him home. “I really don’t want to take up your private time on the weekend. Why don’t we make an appointment for next week? Or if it’s not that much to discuss, I could also be there a few minutes earlier on Monday.”
Nanmu Tai reached over and gripped his arm. “He, is there really a reason to run away like this?” He sighed and patted Zhong Lin’s arm, taking back his hand. “I guess you’ve figured it out already but I like you. So how about going out with me?”
Zhong Lin froze. Oh, shit! He really had been right. Well, this had been his first thought when Nanmu Tai made that suggestion but … he had still hoped against better knowledge that it might turn out differently. Now, he might really need to change his job …
Zhong Lin rubbed his neck, chastising himself. Actually, why was he already thinking that far ahead? They weren’t at this point yet. He could first reject him and see how things went from there. Maybe Nanmu Tai would take it quite well? Maybe he could even influence that. If he wasn’t too blunt with his rejection, then maybe Nanmu Tai would be a gentleman about it.
Zhong Lin already wanted to speak up when he stopped again. Wait! He had never said that he was gay while at the company. So Nanmu Tai shouldn’t know about it. In that case, he might actually get away with pretending that he wasn’t. That way, there also wouldn’t be anything people could use against him.
Zhong Lin cleared his throat and then put on an embarrassed expression as if getting told that he was liked by another man was the last thing he would have expected and was actually making him uncomfortable. This was probably how a heterosexual guy would react to this? “Uh, but … I’m a guy. And … you’re too.”
Nanmu Tai chuckled. “What’s so bad about that? I’m gay and you’re too so that fits perfectly, doesn’t it?”
Zhong Lin reeled. “You … How do you know that I’m gay?” He was sure he had never told anyone! So there shouldn’t be any gossip about that, should there?
Nanmu Tai laughed, clearly amused by Zhong Lin’s shocked reaction. “I saw you in the city with a guy before. It seemed like you were breaking up so I guess you’d need to have been in a relationship before.” He put his elbow on the steering wheel and smiled even more brightly. “Well, maybe assuming that you’re gay was a bit much. You could be bisexual as well. But the point still stands that we’re both men that are interested in other men.”
Zhong Lin wanted to facepalm. That pig of an ex! Now he actually couldn’t hide from his boss like this. “Ah …” He licked his lips and looked away, hoping to find some inspiration on how to reject Nanmu Tai without offending him too much. Especially after this short episode just now.
He couldn’t tell him to wait a bit so he could think it over, could he? No, that would be wrong. He didn’t like Nanmu Tai like that. He shouldn’t give him any hope. That would be mean. Even though he didn’t want any trouble, that was no reason to make things difficult for somebody else.
Just when he wondered if maybe bluntly rejecting him without a reason would work after all, the door of the house next to his opened and a handsome guy came out. Zhong Lin’s eyes lit up. Maybe that was an idea. Just because his boss saw him break up with one person and figured out that he was gay, it didn’t mean that he was privy to any details about his love life. He could just pretend there was somebody else. He only had to make it look natural …
He turned back to Nanmu Tai gave a wry smile. “I hope you didn’t take that personally just now. It’s not that … I mean I just didn’t expect this. I never told anyone that I’m gay so …” He sighed and gave a wry smile. “I didn’t know about you either so I panicked there for a bit.”
Nanmu Tai didn’t mind. “That’s alright. I probably should’ve hinted that I knew about it so that you wouldn’t need to be like this. So … What about it? Do you want to go out for dinner this evening?”
Zhong Lin shook his head. “Actually, I’m feeling honored that you even considered me but you see I already have a new boyfriend.”
Nanmu Tai frowned. “New boyfriend? But didn’t you break up with your boyfriend just some weeks ago?”
Zhong Lin nodded. “Yes, I did. I mean you saw. What’s the use of pretending it’s different? Honestly, I’m a little embarrassed about it myself but it just happened that way. We’re really happy though …” He gave him what he thought to be an apologetic look but Nanmu Tai didn’t seem too convinced.
“Could it be you’re just saying this because you don’t want to go out with me?”
Zhong Lin cursed inwardly. Why did his boss have to be like this? Couldn’t he just accept that explanation? Even if he thought that way, wouldn’t it just be more embarrassing if they continued to talk about it? Now, how was he supposed to get out of this?
He gave an awkward laugh and pretended to be confused. “Do people actually do stuff like that? I thought that only happened in movies.”
Nanmu Tai furrowed his brows. “Then who is he? Someone from the company?”
Zhong Lin shook his head. If he really pretended that it was somebody from the company, then what if Nanmu Tai went and asked him about it? He couldn’t risk that. For one, he didn’t want to spread any rumors about a coworker, making others assume they were gay when they were not. And second, he mostly knew people who worked under Nanmu Tai as well. What if the guy he picked out ended up in trouble? “No, it’s not. You don’t know him.”
Nanmu Tai didn’t want to let go of the matter that easily though. “Try me. I know a lot of people. So who is it?”
Zhong Lin sighed. Now, he really had no way to refuse to tell him. Otherwise, it would seem as if he was only doing this to get rid of him. Well, he was doing that but he didn’t want to say so. Especially not after Nanmu Tai had already asked if he was.
“Uhm …” Since he had no better idea, he pointed out of the window to the handsome guy who was currently taking the mail out of the mailbox. “It’s him.” He strained his eyes to get a closer look at the guy and almost wanted to heave a sigh of relief. Shao Bing Hai! They actually knew each other. “We’re neighbors so we’ve been seeing each other just quite a lot before and after I broke up … Well, you know.”
Nanmu Tai glared over and seemed as if he wanted to get out of the car and go over to personally ask if it was true.
Zhong Lin hurriedly cleared his throat. “Actually, I think he’s waiting with dinner for me so … I should get going now. You probably have something else to do as well. Thank you again for sending me home. And really, I’m feeling honored that you feel about me like that just … It’s a bad time. But I’m sure you’ll find somebody else!” He nodded and hurriedly opened the door, getting out of the car and hurrying over to the house.
He grabbed Shao Bing Hai by the arm and snuggled up to him, lowering his voice to make sure that they couldn’t be heard from the car. “Big brother Shao, do me a favor and pretend to be my boyfriend for a few minutes, alright? That in the car is my boss and he just confessed to me. I’m terrified!”
Shao Bing Hai raised his brows and glanced over to the car before putting his arm around Zhong Lin and motioning inside. “Then I guess we should get in and have dinner, darling.” He even leaned down and gave Zhong Lin an affectionate kiss on the temple.
Nanmu Tai watched the two of them walk into the house and hit the steering wheel. It had only been a few weeks. He had wanted to ask him out sooner but had thought that it wouldn’t be good to do it that early after he had just gone through a breakup. Especially one like that! And now that he had figured Zhong Lin should be over it, it was already too late and somebody else had been faster.
In the end, there was nothing he could do though. He took a deep breath to calm down and then started the engine again, driving off in a complicated mood.
In the house, Zhong Lin heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank you, big brother Shao! You really saved me there.”
Shao Bing Hai smiled and patted his back. “Tell me whenever you need another pretend boyfriend. Or you can also tell me if you don’t want to just have a pretend boyfriend anymore and get a real boyfriend again instead but … I guess there’s no rush.” He waved and then vanished into his own apartment, leaving Zhong Lin standing in the hall in a daze.