217 The Last Memory Fragment of the Pas

    Time went on, as usual. Months passed, as usual.

    Things became normal, as usual. Or, as usual as things could possibly be.

    Yunjing stopped asking about going public with her status as the creator of the inventions. She could've gone and did it if she didn't let Yue Ze know. They both knew that he couldn't truly stop her if he wanted to. But maybe she simply didn't have the spirit to do it anymore.

    She gave up on the idea. She gave up on all of it.

    And though Yue Ze didn't want to admit it, he was relieved that she gave up on this thought. He just needed to keep Yunjing alive. Anything else, to him, didn't matter.

    Yet he had been so wrong.


    Winter eventually came.

    This year, towards the beginning of the season, it was warmer than usual.

    On this fateful day- the day of the last memory fragment- Yue Ze had stayed in the academy for a prolonged period of time, working with tutoring one of his best students. When he returned back to the villa, it was already nearing the evening.

    He found Yunjing sitting under the plum tree in her courtyard, two jugs of wine and a basket by her side. When she saw him, she gestured her head at the basket, saying, \"The weather is nice outside today. Have a drink with me while we eat dinner?\"

    Yue Ze smiled, sitting down across from her. \"Sure,\" he agreed, \"It's rare to see you in such good spirits.\"

    \"Good spirits?\" she repeated slowly, pausing before adding on, \"I guess you could word it like that.\" She opened one of the jugs, pouring the wine out in two cups. \"Plum blossom wine. As usual.\"

    Yue Ze accepted the cup she handed to him and sipped at it. \"You're always better at making this wine than me,\" he remarked.

    Yunjing smiled softly. \"I made a few extra jugs today. In the future, when the wine is ready, you'll have plenty to drink. It'll last you a while.\"

    \"Ah. That's great.\"

    Yue Ze reached forward, opening the basket which held the plates of vegetables and rice for dinner. He took these plates out, placing them on the raised stone edge they sat on.

    \"I cooked all of that myself today,\" Yunjing explained, \"I know my cooking skills aren't the best, but I wanted to do something for you.\"

    Yue Ze raised his eyebrows. \"Is today a special day? It's not your birthday, not my birthday, not any anniversary, not any holiday...\"

    She laughed a little. \"No, not a special day. Like I said before, the weather was good. Or like you said, I'm in a good mood today.\"

    \"I see.\" Yue Ze tried a piece of white radish, then made a face. \"Too salty.\"

    \"Well, I tried,\" Yunjing replied defensively. \"At least my cooking is better than whatever you cook. If the dishes are too salty, try the pastries.\"

    Listening to her, Yue Ze cast his gaze over to the plate of pastries. He recognized the pastries- they were the ones that he made for Yunjing so many years back. They were her favorite pastries.

    \"How nostalgic,\" he noted.

    She seemed to know what he was thinking of. \"I still remember the taste of the pastries you made me. Those awful, misshapen cakes.\"

    He frowned, thinking back to her reaction when she ate them. \"Awful? You said they tasted good back then!\"

    \"I was being nice,\" she stated, the corners of her lips curved up.

    Something about her smile was different today. It was more relaxed, more natural, with her soft gaze that reflected just a hint of nostalgia.

    Yunjing refilled their cups, during the silence that fell between them. \"Remember that festival? The one where you told me you liked me. It wasn't the first time, either. You used to chase me around all day with those words.\"

    \"I was young and naive back then. But- the festival was the first time that you said 'yes'.\"

    \"It was.\" She hesitated, casting her gaze down.

    Yue Ze hesitated too, before saying, \"I promised back then that I would never let you down. But I have, haven't I?\" He finished his cup of wine. \"Sometimes, I feel like I have most definitely let you down. Sometimes, I regret it. And sometimes, I wonder if you regret it too.\"

    She looked up. \"Regret what?\"

    \"Everything. From all those decisions to the first 'yes' you ever said.\"

    Yunjing downed her wine. The smile on her face was still there while she slowly began her words.

    \"I've come to realize that regret is pointless. It's our human nature to regret. We regret everything, every wrong choice, every word spoken, every action taken. We live in the past, forever hung up on all those fading memories. We're so absorbed in all of that that we forget the present. We forget to look and enjoy our lives in the moment. Yet what is the point of all the regret? What is the point of living in the past? Those memories are unchanging. Those past mistakes are unfixable. It is so pointless to only think of those times.\"

    Yue Ze lifted his brows. \"And you now live in the present? The future?\"

    Yunjing sighed. \"I used to live in the future. Then, there was a long period of time that I lived in the past. When I met you- I began to live in the future again. Yet it's amusing- after some more time, I found myself going back to the past. Only now- I'm not sure. I'm not living in the past or the future, nor am I in the present. Isn't that amusing?\"

    \"How can that be?

    \"I'm not sure,\" she answered, fingers tapping against her cup. \"I'm really not sure anymore, about anything.\"

    Her eyes slid to the plum tree she sat under.

    \"Remember this tree, the first white plum blossoms?\" Yunjing reached out her arm, placing her hand at the trunk of the tree.

    Yue Ze nodded. \"I remember all of that.\"

    Her following words came out in a soft hush. \"Your first confession. I wish that today, the blossoms have bloomed. That would've been a perfect sight.\"

    \"The flowers will bloom in a month or two,\" Yue Ze assured, \"Don't worry.\"

    \"Oh, of course. But still, I wish.\"

    Yunjing picked up the jug of wine, filling the two cups to the brim once more.

    \"Yue Ze,\" she continued, \"I'm a selfish person. I hope you don't hold any grudges for all my selfish times.\"

    \"You, selfish?\" He grinned. \"How can that be? You're the most selfless person I know.\"

    \"Is that so? There's plenty of people out there better than me.\"

    \"Perhaps. But you're the only one who matters, to me. If anything-\" his voice caught, \"I am the selfish one. Do you blame me?\"

    \"No. Never.\" She set her cup down, her gaze serious. \"In return, in the future, don't blame me for being selfish, alright?\"


    Yunjing smiled a little more now. \"And with everything I said, don't blame yourself either. Don't regret. You have never let me down.\"

    It was such a painfully clear lie.

    He had let her down. He knew it. She knew it.

    A younger him had promised that thunder would strike him down if he broke his pledge to never let her down. A younger him had promised that he would regret it for life.

    However, thunder never struck him down. And she was telling him, right now, to not regret anymore.

    Perhaps both of them also realized that promises from their younger selves never counted for much.

    At this thought, Yue Ze found himself becoming drowsy. Maybe it was the wine. Or maybe he was truly tired from today and all the work.

    Yunjing noticed this. \"It's getting late. You should go sleep.\"

    \"What about you, then?\" he murmured.

    \"I have an extra jug of wine, so I'll just stay here and have a few extra drinks. It's warm out here tonight. I want to see the stars.\"

    \"I liked our conversation, though,\" Yue Ze went on, \"It has been a while since the last time that we talked like this.\"

    \"Then, one last drink,\" she recommended.

    \"Alright. One last drink,\" he agreed.

    Yunjing took the almost empty jug of wine, filling their cups. After she did this, she paused, looking up at him and suggesting, \"Can we link our arms, for this drink? I want to do it like how we did for our marriage ceremony.\"

    \"I don't see why not.\"

    He took his cup from her, raising it in her direction. She followed suit, linking her arm with his.

    Looking into her eyes, he whispered, \"It's so nostalgic.\"

    \"Isn't it?\" she agreed.

    Then, he drank his wine. She drank her wine. It was truly their last drink shared, though he didn't realize at the time.

    \"Don't catch a cold,\" he had said, when he rose up to leave.

    She gave him an assuring smile in return. \"Don't worry. I won't.\"

    And that was how the night ended.


    During the night, Yue Ze slept better than he had ever before. When morning came, he sleepily moved his arms over to the side, expecting to find Yunjing, only to discover that she was not there.

    He thought that she would join him after finishing her stargazing.

    Maybe she fell asleep under the plum tree instead?

    He stretched and got out of bed, yawning as he moved across the room, to the door. Opening it, he looked over at the plum tree, finding that Yunjing was indeed still sleeping under there.

    Yue Ze frowned a little. Even though it was warm yesterday, the night was still somewhat cold. She shouldn't have fallen asleep out there like that. But then again, it was like Yunjing to not care much about these things.

    Standing by the doors of the room, Yue Ze called out, \"Yunjing- aren't you going to wake up already?\"

    She didn't respond.

    Yue Ze, thinking that she was just in a deep sleep, began to walk in her direction, continuing to call out her name. When he stopped right in front of her, speaking her name and seeing that she still didn't respond at all, he realized that something was absolutely, most definitely wrong.

    She was perfectly still, almost as if she was frozen. Her eyelashes didn't flutter, and there was no slight rise and fall in her chest.

    She was a sculpture.

    Yue Ze reached out, grabbing her arms. Eyes wide and fixed on her, he stammered, \"Y-Yunjing, don't- don't scare me.\"

    She didn't respond.

    Her expression was relaxed, but her entire body was stiff. Her skin was cold to touch.

    \"You're... scaring me, Yunjing. Wake up. Wake up.\"

    He shook her again, this time a little more vigorously.

    She didn't respond.

    Yue Ze flinched up. He staggered back a few steps, eyes glancing all around him.

    Just last night, he was having a drink with her under the plum tree. And now...

    His eyes fixed on the second jar of wine that Yunjing said she would drink. It was still open, and almost full to the brim.

    Yue Ze grabbed that jar, raising it to his face and smelling the wine.

    It had a bitter scent to it: an unnatural, pungent bitterness, nowhere close to the fragrance of the wine he drank last night.

    Yue Ze quickly noticed that it wasn't any ordinary jug of wine. It wasn't what Yunjing pretended like it was.

    It was poison.

    The moment he came to that conclusion, he shook his head. He realized it and knew the truth, yet he couldn't bring himself to acknowledge it.

    He dropped down to his knees again, right in front of Yunjing.

    He grabbed her, shaking her still, frantically cupping her face, pleading, \"Yunjing- wake up- please- please, just- goddamn it, wake up-\"

    She didn't respond.

    Words she said last night came echoing back in his mind.

    \"I'm really not sure anymore, about anything.\"

    \"In return, in the future, don't blame me for being selfish, alright?\"

    \"Then, one last drink.\"

    He knew what had happened. He knew it so obviously. Yet he could not admit to it. He could not acknowledge the truth.

    \"Yunjing- Yunjing, Yunjing, Yunjing,\" he repeated over and over again.

    His hands were trembling. Or, no- he was trembling. His entire body was shaking. His vision was blurring.

    \"Yunjing, I'm sorry. I'm sorry- please- please, just wake up. I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry. Don't do this to me. Don't be this way- just wake up. Wake up. It'll be alright- it- I'll do anything- just-\"

    He wanted her to open her eyes. He wanted her lips to curl up into a bright smile, like how she always did, and to pull him into a hug, to lean into him. He wanted her to laugh, and say, \"You're silly. Gosh. It was just a joke, and you're already sobbing?\"

    But she didn't do any of that. She didn't respond.

    Was this a nightmare? It had to be a nightmare. It couldn't be real.

    He wished so hard that he was dreaming. He wished so hard that this was all one big hallucination.

    He grabbed her two hands, those two lifelessly still hands. They were no longer warm, like he remembered.

    That was when he noticed a red thread sticking out from her curled fingers.

    With wide eyes, he pried her hand open.

    What he saw next broke him.

    It was the clumsy red string bracelet he had woven her, so many years back. It was the bracelet that he tied around her wrist when both of them and their relationship were still simple, during that festival. It was the bracelet that he had almost forgotten, the bracelet that he had never thought that she would hold onto after all this time.

    It was the bracelet that signified his promise to her: his promise that he would never, ever let her down for all eternity.

    After all these years, she kept it. She kept it and believed in him.

    And with that trust she gave him, with the belief she put in him, he shattered all of it. He shattered all of it until all that was left was the Yunjing in front of him right now.

    Yue Ze couldn't even move anymore.

    A droplet escaped one of his eyes, and then, the tears were unstoppable. They came flooding out, streaming down his cheeks.

    \"Wei Yunjing-\" he yelled out in between his tears, \"Wei Yunjing- why did you have to do this- have you ever thought about how- how I could possibly deal with it- you- you can't leave me, not like this-\"

    What did everything in the past mean? What did those words of being together until their hair turned white mean? What did that pairing of their names, Yue Ze and Wei Yunjing, mean? What did all those efforts to stay together, to be there for each other, mean?

    Everything, in the end, just turned out to be one broken promise, one large mistake.

    If only he had been a little more considerate in the past.

    If only he noticed a little more of those small hints she dropped all along.

    If only he was just a little more selfless, a little more there for her, a little more careful.

    If only he was a little more...

    Then, in the corner of his vision, something white came fluttering down from the skies.

    For a second, Yue Ze thought that it was a plum blossom petal. He thought that the white plum tree finally bloomed, a miracle of that past night. He thought that it was Yunjing's last wish being fulfilled.

    Except, with a closer look, it was a flake of snow, drifting down from the clouds above them.

    The snowflake touched his skin, then dissolved, something fleeting and lovely in the middle of all his misery.

    With that first snowflake, all around him and Yunjing, more snow began to drift down.

    Yue Ze had to look up, at this unexpected, impossible sight.

    As the snow fluttered through the skies, Yue Ze's eyes fixed onto a branch on the plum tree. Just like that, amidst the snow, there was a singular small white plum blossom blooming.

    It was just like the one memory of the past, the memory of the first confession- white snow, white blossoms- only back then, Yunjing was standing under the tree with him, smiling at the sight.

    Now, she had taken her own life under this exact tree.

    Yue Ze stood up, shaking his head. He had to find her a doctor- right- a physician would know what to do. Yunjing was just sleeping. As long as he found a good physician, she could be saved-

    He gently raised his hand to her face again. Tears still slid down his cheeks, but he couldn't feel them anymore. He just felt numb. Utterly numb.

    \"Yunjing,\" he whispered, voice hoarse, \"Please... just wake up.\"

    Wei Yunjing wasn't dead. Wei Yunjing couldn't be dead.

    She was just asleep.
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