It was graduation day at their college, and the seniors were to go. Qi Yan, the valedictorian of their cohort, and Nangong Jingnu, the student council president, gave their speeches and stepped down from the podium symbolically. Across a sunlit field, cheers emanated from the onlooking crowd. There was laughter and tears; a flurry of black caps were tossed into the air.
As the students celebrated, Qi Yan circled around to the back of school. There, she met up with Nangong Jingnu, whose phoenix eyes were dancing in the late afternoon sunlight.
"Qi Yan," called Nangong Jingnu. A soft smile naturally found its way onto her lips.
"Jingnu." Qi Yan couldn't resist smiling back, a genuine one reserved for her only. She took Nangong Jingnu's hand, leading her down the deserted hallways and into an empty classroom.
Nangong Jingnu released her hand and took up a seat right by the window. Perched on the ledge, with her legs dangling slightly off the ground and with a warm buttery pool of sunlight forming a halo around her, Nangong Jingnu looked like an angel who had descended to earth.
The view took Qi Yan's breath away. Casually, she closed the door behind her and leaned against the wall. The length of a classroom separated them.
For a time, a comfortable silence fell between them. The two were seemingly lost in their own thoughts, but Qi Yan knew the same thing was on their minds. She wondered, who would broach it first?
Nangong Jingnu was the first to cave. "Qi Yan," she began tentatively, and hesitated. Qi Yan didn't know if she had imagined it, but Nangong Jingnu's eyes seemed to be slightly red-rimmed. Her gaze was riveted on Qi Yan's face -
"Is it true you're leaving in the summer?"
There it was. Qi Yan closed her eyes, leaned her cool head against the wall of the classroom, and was quiet.
Moments elapsed. A chasm of unanswered promises and the hundreds of words they had left unspoken, hung heavy in the air between them.
Then, from Qi Yan, the softest, most damning whisper: "Yes." The word was deafening in the silence of the empty classroom.
"It's true." She let out a shaky exhale, bowing her head. "I received an offer from Harvard." Qi Yan held her breath, wrung her hands together, and waited.
Nangong Jingnu laughed softly. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
Qi Yan didn't answer. For a moment, they both believed that Nangong Jingnu's heart was shattered and on the floor in pieces.
The silence stretched on. Then: "I was... scared," Qi Yan admitted, her voice rough. "I was afraid of losing you."
What she didn't say: I thought that if I told you, our relationship would change, and the eventual parting would be one fraught with loss and heartbreak.
What she didn't say: I felt it would be better if we slowly grew distant and one day I upped and vanished from your life entirely, instead of telling you and dragging out the pain indefinitely.
What she didn't say: Nangong Jingnu, I have only ever loved you and you only. In this life and in this world, I will have eyes for no one else. It has always been you. But if I truly love you, does this mean I'll have to let you go?
Just as Qi Yan was lost in her own contemplation, Nangong Jingnu got up and walked over to her, taking up Qi Yan's hands in hers.
"This doesn't have to be the end of us," Nangong Jingnu told her firmly. Her eyes were rimmed with tears, but they were full of determination.
Qi Yan laughed harshly. "Are you sure, Jingnu?" she replied, dropping her hands. "If we get into a long-distance relationship, how long do you think we'll last? Half the world away, you'll hardly be able to see me - for three, four years at most. We'll be dragging this on belatedly. And after all that waiting and frustration, how will you look at me then? Do you really think you'll still be in love with me? Will you?"
Her words landed savagely, and Nangong Jingnu flinched with each sentence, as if she had been struck. Bitterly, Qi Yan wondered why she was doing this - hurting her, when just moments ago she had admitted to herself that Nangong Jingnu would be the only one for her.
Nangong Jingnu's hands cupped Qi Yan's face gently. "Qi Yan," Nangong Jingnu pleaded, her voice trembling. "Qi Yan, please look at me."
Finally, Qi Yan turned to look at her. Her amber eyes were dull, like those of a wounded animal.
"Jingnu," Qi Yan murmured. "If you love me, will you let me go?"
Nangong Jingnu cried, "It's because I love you, that I can't let you go, Qi Yan!"
Qi Yan was stunned. Nangong Jingnu pressed on lowly and urgently, "Maybe this is me being selfish - but I love you, Qi Yan, and we can make this work. We will make this work." Her brows furrowed. "Qi Yan, I'm imploring you to give us a chance. Abandon your... logic for a moment, throw it all to the wind. Don't believe in whatever your mind has come up with. Will you believe in us? Will you take this gamble? Will you... give me a chance, to let me love you again?"
Tears pricked at the base of Qi Yan's throat, not that she would ever admit to it. She swallowed heavily. "... Fine," Qi Yan answered. A semblance of life seemed to enter her golden eyes again. "I'll trust you this once."
And then Nangong Jingnu was on her tiptoes, throwing her arms around Qi Yan's neck and kissing her. Her lips softly slanted against hers. Qi Yan's eyes widened with surprise at first, before her arms snaked around Nangong Jingnu's waist and she swiftly deepened the kiss. Nangong Jingnu made a pleased hum in her throat. They embraced each other fiercely, holding each other reverently, as if they were afraid to let go.
The sounds of them kissing filled the classroom and each time they came up for air Qi Yan kept murmuring "sorry", "I'm so sorry" and Nangong Jingnu only smiled back against her lips. She whispered, "It's ok", "I forgive you". The taste of saltwater lingered, mixing with the sweetness of the moment. Breaths mingled; two souls collided and synchronised to the beat of their hearts.
Reluctantly, they broke the kiss.
"'M sorry," Qi Yan muttered, and her eyes swam with guilt and apology.
Nangong Jingnu gazed up at her, and shook her head. "I forgive you, Qi Yan. I'm glad you've come back to me."
They fell silent, their hearts beating loudly in their chests. The sounds of the joyous celebration outside drifted faintly over to their ears.
Qi Yan rested her head on Nangong Jingnu's shoulder, shutting her eyes. She didn't know what the future would hold - there was so much uncertainty. In her mind, Qi Yan could spin a universe of ineffable possibilities, but none of that mattered.
In this moment, she had Nangong Jingnu in her arms, and she was all Qi Yan needed. It was okay. They would be okay.
Her heart seemed to calm, her breaths evening out. Slowly, Qi Yan smiled. She didn't know what awaited them in the future, but for now: she held Nangong Jingnu just a little closer to her, and was still.