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 Season 6

Episode 22

(Are you free tonight)

After Alice and David left for lunch, Leila sat in the secretarial room alone. She was typing something in her computer. 

She pretended to focus on work while all her attention was towards Charles's room. She could see the door from the corner of her eyes and eagerly waited for it to open. The door did not open until half an hour later.     

Leila straightened her spine with the sound of the door. She hastened her fingers on the keyboard and dug her eyes into the screen to make herself look busy. She did not ever look up at Charles as he walked out of his room.     

The secretarial room had a transparent glass that separated it from Charles's room so he could see that Leila was working diligently. When he saw her sitting alone in her cubicle, he asked, "Why didn't you go with them for lunch?" 

 "Mr. Lu,"  a shocked Leila stood up abruptly as she heard from Charles. Charles could not help observing the striking change in Leila's attitude. The fiery and desperate girl had sobered down to be a responsible mother. Rather reserved, Leila looked at Charles and replied, "They are all busy with their work through out the day and seldom get any time to date. I don't want to come in between them. More importantly, I still have some documents to read. As the proverb goes, 'a slow sparrow has to make an early start.' I am just trying to catch up."    

Leila was more optimistic than before. She could already see empathy for her in Charles's eyes. Hence she curbed her aggressive nature and pretended to be genuine. For her, just a small step back for a giant leap she was planning to take. She had learned to make concessions in order to gain advantages from Charles. In this way, she believed that he would take the initiative to get close to her sooner or later.   

"It is difficult to work with an empty belly. You have to eat,"  Charles said with a frown. He stared at her and said, "Let's go and eat something. Even I am hungry."    

As he finished his words, he asked her to get up from her seat and stepped ahead before she could react. Leila got up from her seat obediently and followed him as he walked out of the office. Though Leila couldn't help but chuckled herself inwardly, she did not let her excitement come on her face.     

Charles walked her to a nearby restaurant that he had visited often with Autumn. After Autumn's disappearance, Charles became a frequent visitor of this restaurant. It was not only the dishes in this restaurant that suited Charles's taste and platter. He had some priceless memories with Autumn in this restaurant. Whenever he came here, he felt as if Autumn had never left. She was still there right beside him.    

 After a long time Charles visited this restaurant with someone else. Usually, he ordered for himself so he ordered his preferred menu. Today, as they sat down, he handed over the menu card to Leila going by the ladies first etiquette. He said to her, "Look it through. You can order any dishes you want."  

Leila smiled softly and obliged by ordering two dishes. "Is this your girlfriend?" blurted the banquet manager all of a sudden. The manager looked at Charles with speculative eyes and smiled as he asked. Leila was surprised to see how an outsider asked such a personal question to Charles.     

Even Charles could not help but express his awkwardness with a frown. The banquet manager knew him very well since he was a frequent visitor of his restaurant. He came here often for dinner and ordered the same dish.     

He knew that Charles visited this restaurant to miss his wife. The manager was really moved by this gesture. He could not believe how a man could be so much in love with his wife who went missing. He was amazed to see that such love existed even to this day!   

The manager thought Charles had decided to let it go and move forward as he saw Leila was here with him today. 

Secretly, even he was happy by the thought that Charles was considering moving ahead with another woman.   

  Upon hearing the words, Charles showed his displeasure with a knitted eye brow as he stared back at the manager. Leila tried to cover up the embarrassment and explained promptly, "No, no. You have misunderstood. I am not his girlfriend but just one of his subordinates."   

 "Oh, really?" The manager spoke as his face turned red with embarrassment. He took a quick glimpse at Charles and apologized, "I am extremely sorry. I shouldn't have misunderstood you. Well, I will go and place the order for you. The dishes will be served soon and please wait for a moment."  

"Okay. Thank you,"  Leila returned politely with a smile. The manager vanished out of their sight as fast as he could. It amused Leila to see how he fled to cover up the awkwardness. She thought to her mind, 'Thank you for your misunderstanding Mr. Manager. These are the small things that will make Mr. Lu to consider taking me as a wife.' 

However, on the face, she carried an innocent smile and said to Charles, "Mr. Lu, I am sure the manager was startled by your serious expression just now. Look how he just stumbled away."    

Leila chuckled as she spoke.     

Charles maintained the same frown on his face and replied, "Leila, in fact there is no need for you to explain it to him..."

    Smiling at Charles, Leila responded as if she was an understanding woman, "I thought it was appropriate to explain it to the manager. After all you are just my superior. And I know that you don't like to be misunderstood."  

The somber expression on Charles's face did not change even after Leila explained to him. He became silent and said nothing. Leila was right. He did not like to be misunderstood by anyone, but he still felt that there was no need to give an explanation to a manager of a restaurant.     

Charles was truly sympathetic towards Leila for her present situation. No matter what she might have done before, he could not deny the fact that she was an able employee. He was genuinely concerned for her. He was just afraid that Leila would be too exhausted because of the long hours at work, and that was why he invited her to dine together. As he kept thinking about all this he became quiet and remained like that for a very a long time. His prolonged silence made the moment awkward.   

  Anxious yet embarrassed, Leila was eager to strike a conversation with Charles, but she was unable to speak.

 They sat facing each other without exchanging a single word. Charles was completely lost in his thoughts.   

Fortunately, the banquet manager happened to step in once again. He served them the dishes and even gave them a complimentary dish which provided a chance for him to start the conversation to Charles. "This is also one of the specialty dishes of our restaurant and it is complimentary for you. I am sorry to have misunderstood you. I hope you don't mind. Enjoy your meal,"  said the banquet manager politely and walked away.     

Leila took a bite of the food and exclaimed, "Wow, it tastes good."   

 Leila looked around and checked the ambiance of the restaurant. Indeed, this was not a luxury restaurant. Rather it looked very ordinary like just a run off the mill snack bar. Leila grinned and said, "I didn't expect that you would like to eat in such an ordinary restaurant though the food here is really good."   

 "Isn't it a good place?" Charles asked. He smiled as he recalled the days when he dined out with Autumn. They would just stop by any roadside stall and savor new dishes. The very thought about the good old days spent with Autumn brought a smile on his face. Indeed if you were in a good company, the ambience of the place did not matter as much. So many priceless moments flashed through his mind.   

He continued to smile as he recalled the past. Leila watched him smiling and understood that he must be missing Autumn. She interrupted him and asked, "Mr. Lu, you look so happy. What make you so cheerful?"   

 "Oh, it's nothing. I just remembered something from the past." His face changed as he walked back from his trance to the reality. And slowly the smile on his face faded away. Leila noticed how his world started and ended with Autumn even after she did not physically present with him. The years of separation had only made the love to grow in his heart. Now it had become a cocoon for him that he was so very happy to be in.   

Strangely for Charles, he did not savor the food as much as he did when he ate alone. Perhaps it was because he did not order the usual stuff that he was used to. He just ended up after taking a few bites.     

"Mr. Lu, how come you are eating so less? It looks like you are already done." Leila looked at Charles's eyes and waited for his response. Charles had never been a scanty eater as far as she remembered. She was minutely noticing the changes in him.    

 "Yes, I am full. Never mind. You can enjoy your meal,"  Charles replied indifferently but politely.     

"Mr. Lu..." Leila remained silent for a while and asked, "Did you often come here with Autumn before?" With a lot of hesitation, Leila brought up Autumn. 

Perhaps it was not the right time yet. But she had to get to the depth of the matter. She needed to figure out the reason why he loved Autumn so much.   

"Yes, I always dined with her in this restaurant." Charles nodded his head and continued, "Autumn liked to eat at these small restaurants. Though these places look ordinary, but surprisingly, the food in these restaurants tastes very good. I often came here with her before since it is close to my company." One of rarest qualities that Autumn had was to find out something special out of ordinary things. This quality of hers made her so different from the rest.    

 If it weren't for Autumn, Charles would have never dined at such a small place.

 And that of course meant that he would have missed lots of delicacies that he happened to explore during his dining encounters with Autumn.    

 In this respect, Autumn played an important role in bringing about many changes in his life.   

  In these years since she disappeared, Charles explored many such roadside food joints that offered delicious food at a very low cost. He loved to dine in these places. He had decided that he would take Autumn to dine at these places if he could see her again someday. The very mention of Autumn and assuming her possible presence in his life gave Charles the impetus to get along with his life even if it came with an 'ever-again' tag.   

"It sounds so romantic. I really didn't expect you to condescend to eat in such an unconspicuous place,"  Leila replied diplomatically. Her eyes narrowed down with jealousy. She realized that even if she achieved her goal to get married to Charles, she would never be able to take Autumn's place in his heart. And the very thought of it stung deep into her heart like a needle. Leila felt the overpowering shadow of Autumn over her head even though she was not physically present.

 It only made her go green with jealousy.    
 "You just said the food at these places always tastes good. Mr. Lu, I have a presumptuous request,"  said Leila with a smile. Charles looked up at Leila and was quite surprised to find her staring at him motionlessly.   

"What is it?" Charles asked sounding rather confused and skeptical about what could be in her mind.  

   "Don't be so anxious, Mr. Lu." Leila looked into his anxious eyes and gave a reassuring smile. She then continued, "Mr. Lu, do you remember you promised me to dine out with me when I left your company several years back?"    

"Yes, I still remember it,"  said Charles while nodding his head slightly. He could remember his promise, but after that so many things happened one after another, no one took the initiative to mention it and it was left unsettled. "Why do you mention it now?" asked Charles.    

 "Mr. Lu..." Leila hesitated for a while and then spoke in a soft voice, "Are you free tonight?" She finally spoke her heart out to Charles. He stared at him with a very hopeful expression in her eyes. However, to her disappointment, Charles shook his head slightly and declined her invitation politely, "Thank you, but I am occupied tonight."


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