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“This is the actual person!” Jia He’s mom’s eyes were about to spurt fire. However, the instant she lifted her head, she switched modes and put on the most proper of smiles. “Oh, this has been such a bother. Just look, you’re such a busy person. Really, oh dear…” The more she thought about this, the more peeved she became, and her fingers once more pinched Jia He’s dad and gave another twist.
Smiling, Yi Wenze replied simply, “This is something I should do. My mother also specially exhorted me that before Jia He goes to New Zealand, I must, according to custom, first pay a visit to the two of you.”
This one sentence once more succeeded in drawing everyone’s attention onto the two of them.
Holding his hand, Jia He fumbled over her words in awkward bashfulness for a long time before finally saying, “By chance, the next little while, we do have some time that we’re free…”
“Holy crud! It’s the middle of the night and there’s still a celebrity charity event going on?”
A shout of surprise from the door interrupted her. Everyone turned to see one of Jia He’s younger guy cousins, the oldest one, bent over at the waist, seemingly having sprinted here in a rush, panting and waving at the youngest guy cousin behind him and instructing, “Hurry! Hurry and call Big Sis! It’s Yi Wenze! He’s at the hospital.”
Seriously… Her expression deeply pained, she looked at Yi Wenze. This seriously was a meeting they would never forget for the rest of their lives…
Fortunately, her mom was there to take control of the situation. Soon, her family left the hospital and went home.
When Yi Wenze drove the car with Jia He’s family in it into the community compound, her mom even coordinated well with him and rushed to get out of the car first, afraid the security guard would see who was driving. Even on the way upstairs, she was tense and jumpy. As Jia He watched this elder who was her mother nimbly bound upstairs, as well as how she carefully peered left and right after opening the door, she finally genuflected to her mom’s adaptive ability.
In a mere hour, her mom had already completely accepted the reality that Yi Wenze was her boyfriend.
After they stepped into the home, Jia He took advantage of the time when her mom was steeping some tea to follow her into the kitchen, where she eyed her over. “Mom, are you okay?”
“So, how was I?” Lifting her brow, her mom beamed proudly, “Your ol’ mom didn’t embarrass you, right?”
With an “mm-hmm, mm-hmm, uh-huh, uh-huh” in agreement, Jia He commended her, “So incredibly stately and poised and genteel.”
“You carry this in.” Mom stuffed the entire platter of fruit to her. “The time for you to demonstrate your virtuous, gracious, cultured self has come. I’ll interrogate you later.”
Poking out her tongue impishly, Jia He obediently brought the platter into her own bedroom.
The instant she stepped in the door, she saw the five huge photo albums piled beside Yi Wenze, who was enjoying himself as he looked through them.
To showcase, any time anyone came to visit, the results of her efforts in raising her daughter—seriously, this was her mom’s custom that had not changed in a million years. Fearful that he might see some photos that were so humiliatingly idiotic she could die, Jia He hastily set the fruit platter down to one side, pulled off a few grapes, and, stretching her hand over, fed one to him.
Her mom’s favourite—chilled grapes. In the middle of winter, holding one in the mouth while in a heated room provided a nice sweet and sour flavour on the palate and also lowered internal heat.
She shot a quick, furtive glance at the page at which he had been looking. It was a photograph of her performing a Xinjiang dance at the Children’s Palace in Jingshan Park. Back then, her build had been slight. The costumes bought for everyone had all been a uniform size, and on other people they had fit just fine. On her, though, it had suddenly become a costume for a water-sleeve dance, the sleeves dangling past her fingertips. As her gaze landed on that photo, on the eye-catching, bright red dot placed by lipstick in the centre of her brow, Jia He was thoroughly embarrassed. “Don’t look at these anymore. Let’s watch TV.”
Biting down on the grape, he smiled and looked at her. “You learned dance before?”
With an “mm-hmm,” Jia He seized this opportunity to take the album away from him. “I learned it when I was a kid. Not just dance. Back then, it took two hours to get from my home to Jingshan Children’s Palace, so my mom thought, since we needed to be there anyway, I might as well register for three or four different classes. But there wasn’t really any defined goal to these, so in the end I had no real results to show for them.”
As she lifted her head to heave a lengthy sigh, she finally noticed the scads of posters plastering her walls. Instantly, she froze.
Oh no! Why didn’t I take those down ahead of time?!
Darting a peek at Yi Wenze, she saw that he had picked up a different photo album and was paging through that one. Shuffling up beside him, she suggested quietly, “How about you go into the study to look at these?”
When Yi Wenze flicked his eyes over to her, she added with guilty evasiveness, “I need to change.” And while I’m changing, I’ll take down all the posters…
Yi Wenze seemed to be smiling, but also seemed to think this was not a big deal. “Go ahead and change.”
Fine, that excuse was a sucky one. Her neck stiff, Jia He continued desperately struggling against the odds. “I haven’t been back for a long time. You should at least let me first tidy up my room a bit, right?”
At last, he nonchalantly closed up that album. Lifting his head, he took a glance at the poster—the biggest one—near the balcony door. “That one is out of print already. Let’s bring it home.” One sentence completely scattered any hopes she might have had of being lucky enough that he would not notice those. Mumbling some “mms” and “uhs,” Jia He tossed out, “If you want.” Then, gripping that cup of tea from which she had only taken one sip, she dashed out of there and went back to pouring tea for him.
The end result was that he not only took with him that poster but also more than forty photographs.
Her mom was extremely generous with him. With a broad wave of her hand, she told him, “Take them all. If we keep them here in the home, they’ll just take up space anyway.” Jia He turned a tearful look on her mom, not daring to refute her. Heaven knew just how much she wished her mom would have feelings of deep attachment to her daughter right now…
Late into the night, Jia He carried a fresh comforter and pillow set into her room, instructing him in low tones, “You sleep here tonight. I’m sleeping in the guest room.” Her mother had insisted, no matter what, on having him stay for the night, and with it being so late already, Jia He could not really say anything to the contrary. Moreover, Yi Wenze had so naturally agreed to the invitation.
After she made up the bed for him, she was about to turn around, but he swept her up into his arms and carried her onto the bed.
This was her own room. The lights and bed were familiar to her, as was the writing desk. The plants out on the balcony were all ones she had kept since her high school days. On this bed, she used to lie and memorize her lessons, watch television, and, early in the morning, get her blankets yanked off of her by her mom and be hurried to get up. And now, all of her was completely sunken into the comforter, lying on his arm as he noiselessly kissed her.
The door was closed, but not latched. The sound of her mom quietly urging her dad to go to sleep could be heard. Vaguely, there was also her dad’s voice softly asking whether they should cook a late-night snack, but her mom completely shut down that idea with a one sentence retort before closing the master bedroom door. The entire home abruptly became quiet.
Jia He had just taken a shower, and her hair was still wet. Before long, a patch of dampness had spread on the comforter. Never before had his kisses been so tender. They moved from her lips and slid over to her ear. Lightly, he nibbled on her earlobe, his voice soft as he called her, “Honey?” Jia He could not control the urge to shirk away from him, but he successfully held her in place. Able only to grasp onto the last shreds of her cognitive ability, she uttered a light “mm.”
He, though, was in no hurry to speak and began to follow the contours of her extremely slender neck to trail kisses all the way to her collarbone. With his teeth, he undid one of her buttons.
Didn’t he have something to say? Jia He’s brain was still trying with all its might to figure out what it was that he wanted to say, and it was not until the third button had been unfastened that her mind finally caught up and reacted. Immediately, she rolled out of his arms to the other side of the bed. “… We’ll talk about it when we get home.”
She shuffled backwards a little bit more but then lurched, nearly tumbling off the bed.
Luckily, he reacted quickly and pulled her back. “Talk about what?”
Jia He was struck dumb by his question, too embarrassed to continue with this topic. She could feel her body’s heat rising rapidly. Pressed against his body, which was just as scalding hot, she wrestled with herself for a long while before murmuring, “Didn’t we already… just before we left the house? …”
Though she tried hard to put on a solemn expression, her conscience was guilty and afraid of being found out, and she pricked her ears up, listening with intense attention for any activity or movement in the living room.
He suddenly gave a low chuckle. “What?”
Such a quiet space. And it just had to be her own room, too. This evocative atmosphere that was so out of place here made her heart race a little.
Her ragged breathing was due to that body with which she was too familiar. As if there was a balance scale in her heart that was incessantly swaying back and forth, she wavered and struggled. But finally, when he pressed his lips against hers in the most tantalizing way, she closed her eyes and, submitting to this fate, mourned that after all these years, her virtue was now tainted.
A very long, very deep kiss.
“Honey.” The voice by her ear was extremely low and also contained a sense of doting. “Hurry and go to bed.”
Jia He opened her eyes to look up at him, staring at her own reflection within those deep-black eyes of his. In this quietness, dazedly she gazed at him. Quite some time passed. And then a flush surged into her cheeks. Scampering off the bed, she made a rapid escape from the scene of the “crime.”
The entire way as she passed through the still living room and darted into the guest bedroom, the colour did not fade from her face and, in fact, became an even deeper shade of red.
That was on purpose! He absolutely did that on purpose!
She slept until her mouth and tongue felt parched before she finally opened her eyes. The sun was already high in the sky. Yet again she had slept until noon. Blearily crawling out of bed, she was about to go knock on Yi Wenze’s bedroom door, but her mom, in the kitchen cooking, was already informing her, “He’s long gone. Just look at how diligent he is. He was already up at just a little past five in the morning and then left. Now look at you. Oh dear. Sure enough, it’s the early bird who catches the worm. No wonder he became famous so early.”
Jia He paused briefly in surprise before remembering that he had to go to Shanghai today for some promotional work. At this, her heart was set at ease. “Our professions are different. Your daughter is very diligent, too.”
Her mom trained a long, ruminative look on her. When Jia He was starting to get the willies from it, she at last let out a slow sigh, remarking, “You say, with this huge difference in your rest and wake schedules, what are you two going to do in the future when you want to have babies?”
Jia He had a toothbrush clamped between her teeth at this moment, about to send off a text message, but when she heard this sentence, she immediately whipped her head around. Gaping at this extremely worried mom of hers, she could only utterly concede defeat to her.
After an hour of intense interrogation from her mom, Jia He pretended to take a phone call and thus was finally able to free herself from there.
Getting into the taxi, she untied her scarf and took a deep inhale. The driver asked her for an address, and after she told him, he gave her an approving look. “That’s a good piece of real estate there.” Smiling, Jia He was about to speak, but then she heard the entertainment news report on the radio mention Tian Chu and her whirlwind engagement. The other party was a certain wealthy family’s son who had never appeared before in the public eye. Such news stories were very commonplace these last several years, but because she was Yi Wenze’s ex-wife, it was inevitable that his name was also brought up.
The DJ’s report was vivacious and colourful. Jia He, though, did not really listen with much attention, offhandedly sending a text to Yi Wenze instead: Have you arrived yet?
Very soon, he texted back: Arrived already. In a meeting. Are you home yet?
Jia He sent off another text in reply. When she put away her mobile phone, the driver casually commented, “These last couple of years have been the years of marriage for the entertainment circle. Ones who are up in age, women who previously hadn’t been able to marry themselves out, and also this one here who’s going for her second marriage—they’re all rushing to marry themselves off before 2012.” Jia He gave some arbitrary words of agreement. The driver carried on, “This Tian Chu sure has had a lot of news about her over these last two days. The other day, I drove a customer who claimed to know the inside scoop.”
Jia He gave a very obliging “Oh!” Seriously, nowadays everyone was claiming the title of King of Inside Scoops!
“You don’t know just how good the celebrity effect is. A lot of business tycoons in our country will just directly state a price and have the talent agency provide a female celebrity to be their girlfriend. It’s not so he can be her sugar daddy, though; it’s purely for creating the hype in the media that he has this girlfriend. That’s even more useful than actual advertising. The exposure he gets from that is not just ‘average’ or ‘above average.’ This Tian Chu was hyped up so much when she had her divorce, so now she commands the highest price when it comes to dating her.”
Jia He kept her silence. What, was this considered a new age and new way of endorsement? After this, the driver launched into full swing on this topic, growing more and more exuberant as he spoke.
When Jia He was nearing her and Yi Wenze’s home, she unexpectedly received a phone call from an unfamiliar number. To her surprise, it was someone from Yi Wenze’s production company. This person seemed to be waiting for her downstairs of the home but would not tell her for what reason. After she got off the taxi, a boy outside of the stairwell, so cold he was hopping up and down, spotted her and grinningly jogged over. “Dear Boss’s Wife, if you had taken any longer to show up, I would have frozen to death.”
Feeling bad, Jia He fished out the key card. “We’ll go up to talk.”
“No need, no need. I’m just delivering something.” The boy stuffed a box into her hands. “I’ve completed my assignment from Boss ahead of schedule!” Once he finished saying this, he ran off, so fast he seemed like he was flying.
Jia He carried that box upstairs and opened it as she walked in the door. Inside were a dozen or so photo frames. With one glance, she could tell that they were the type for creating a photo wall. Closing the door behind her, she pulled them out, one at a time, until before long they covered the entire couch. Big ones, small ones, they were all photographs of her taken throughout the years, from her childhood onward…
Sitting on the carpet, she leaned back against the couch and slowly looked through them.
The photos had all been specially edited, and in the warm lighting, there was a sense from them that the passage of time had left its traces. The feeling they gave, though, was a very warm one.
While she was staring at them, absorbed, her mobile phone on the coffee table suddenly began vibrating. Surprisingly, it was Mumu. On the other end of the call, Mumu was completely fired up as she rambled over and over, “Stay calm, stay calm.”
Jia He was not sure whether she should laugh or be annoyed. “Hey, did you accidentally dial the wrong number? Why do you just keep talking to yourself?”
“Big Sis, I need to calm down.” In utter seriousness, Mumu told her, “You won’t be able to watch it on TV anymore. Hurry up and get online to Tudou, Youku, or whatever. As long as it’s a video-sharing website, you’ll definitely be able to download it—my brother-in-law’s interview on that talk show.”
In traditional Chinese medicine, there is the concept of “internal heat.” If a person has excessive internal heat, it can result in various symptoms, for example, rashes, sore throat, coughing, acne, etc. The idea of lowering internal heat is to do this from the inside out.
少年宫“shao nian gong.” Children’s Palace locations in China are facilities where children may go to take part and receive training in extracurricular activities, such as music, arts, sports, etc. Jingshan Park is directly north of the Forbidden City in Beijing and was once an imperial park. The Beijing Children’s Palace occupied 寿皇殿 Hall of Imperial Longevity (Shouhuang Dian) within Jingshan Park from 1956 until December 2013, when it relocated out of the park.
Note: The Hall of Imperial Longevity was built during the Ming dynasty. Historically, it was for the emperor to worship his ancestors and contained portraits of past emperors.
水袖. Water sleeves, in Chinese classical dance, are long sleeves of silk that significantly extend past the sleeve cuff. In the dance, these long sleeves are incorporated, their flowing, ribbon-like movements used as a form of expression.
In 2011 (the current time in the story), the Chinese video-sharing websites, Tudou and Youku, were both still completely separate entities. In 2012, Youku acquired Tudou, merging the two to become Youku Tudou. The two individual sites were still retained, however.
This story was translated with the express permission of the author for hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com only. All forms of reproduction, redistribution, or re-posting are not authorized. If you are not reading this from hui3r[dot]wordpress[dot]com, the copy is unauthorized and has been taken without consent of the translator.
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