I dreamed. In my dream, I was an ordinary girl. I wore plain clothes like elder sister-in-law. I washed clothes, cooked, and raised pigs. When Xiang Qing left the house every morning to work, I would hurriedly come out of the kitchen to straighten his clothes, tidy up his hair, and then watch his departing figure. Then, I would go to the cool and refreshing river to wash clothes and happily play and joke with other girls.
After I finished washing clothes, I would wipe off my sweat. Following the small, gravel road, I unhurriedly walked home. By the time I reached home, it was almost noon. At the entrance, the sun shined down between the gaps of the parasol trees’ leaves. The ground was dappled by sunlight. Many plants were flowering in the back garden. The soft, green plants and golden light tempted many blue, green, and red butterflies to happily fly around the garden and house.
Mother-in-law had a black cat on her lap while she dozed in a chair by the entrance. The black cat slowly woke up. With half opened eyes, it helplessly looked around and then jumped down. It walked to the threshing floor for an unused space, and then the black cat rolled around and revealed its tummy to soak up sunshine.
Elder sister-in-law was also outside. She was embroidering a pair of pomegranate flowers. Its brilliant red was very beautiful.
It was currently the off-season in farming so no one was too busy. I hung up the clothes I had washed today to soak up the sunshine. I picked some beautiful wildflowers, and then I sat near the doorway to enjoy the sunlight. The neighbors’ children ran over here to ask me to play house, jump rope, and hopscotch with them. I energetically played these simple games. Without me noticing, dusk had arrived.
The dark crows called out and the cattle came home. The setting sun was blood red. And everything was stained blood red by the setting sun.
Mother-in-law and sister-in-law had suddenly disappeared. The neighbor’s children also disappeared. Only the black kitten remained. It meowed a few times. I didn’t understand what had happened. I hurriedly stood up to look for everyone, but no matter how much I searched, I couldn’t find anyone.
The simple clothes that I was wearing changed into a gorgeous silk dress. The ribbon in my hair had changed into precious, gold beads. I grew out cat ears and a tail. Everything about me was completely incompatible with this ordinary village.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to find Xiang Qing. But, I couldn’t speak or move. The beautiful silk dress felt like the underworld’s cold iron chains. It bounded me in place. The gold beads were so heavy. It was if Mount Tai was pressing down on me.
Dark clouds suddenly densely covered the sky. Lightning flashed. Thunder rumbled. I wanted to run, but I could only numbly stand there letting the cool rain soak my clothes. My fur was puffed up from stress.
In the midst of this coldness, a warm pair of hands stretched out to tightly embrace me. The steady and gentle heartbeat and the familiar scent calmed me down from my frantic emotions.
“Miao Miao, wake up.”
With great effort, I opened my eyes. Xiang Qing’s gentle face greeted me. His strong arms were tightly wrapped around me. There was delight and fondness in his smile.
“Why were you sleeping at the entrance? It’s cold at night. You should be sleeping inside.”
“Where am I?” In a daze, I couldn’t differentiate between reality and dream. I didn’t return to my senses until I looked up to see the night sky filled with stars.
I somewhat embarrassedly said, “I was waiting for you.”
“Fool.” Xiang Qing helplessly said, “Didn’t I ask someone to bring a message for you to not wait for me? If I didn’t come back until tomorrow morning, you would have been waiting here until then.”
“It’s okay. I’m not afraid of the cold. Besides, today is special.” I suddenly thought of a serious matter. I quickly left behind my recent dream and rushed into the kitchen to bring out the dishes. I didn’t expect that the food had already become cold. In a flurry, I tried to start the cooking fire. But, I was so anxious that I kept failing to light the fire. I wanted to stomp my feet in anger.
Xiang Qing quietly entered the kitchen. He walked towards me and smiled. He gently helped me add more firewood to start a fire.
The smell of fish slowly floated out of the pot and filled the air surrounding us with warmth. This feeling made the usually undisciplined me feel somewhat embarrassed as if we were doing something improper.
After the fish had been heated long enough, Xiang Qing took off the lid to look at the fish inside the pot.
He gently asked, “Did you cook this?”
I nodded and rushed over to the side to fetch a pair of chopsticks.
After washing the chopsticks, I put it into his hands to use and said, “Try some.”
Full of regret, Xiang Qing apologized, “If I had known you were cooking tonight, I wouldn’t have returned so late.”
“It’s fine. I’m only afraid it won’t taste as good after reheating.” I didn’t think he needed to apologize at all. I enthusiastically urged him to try the fish.
After trying a bite, Xiang Qing smiled and asked, “This fish isn’t from nearby?”
(T/N: It’s true love when you’re willing to eat Miao Miao’s cooking with a smile.)
“Of course.” Seeing that he could tell from one bite, I didn’t have any intentions to keep concealing the truth.
I proudly said, “I went to the East Sea to catch this thorny skate fish. An ordinary human, even if he was the emperor, wouldn’t have the chance to eat such fine food.” After I finished talking, I anxiously waited for him to praise me.
“You hurriedly left last night to catch fish in the East Sea?” Xiang Qing asked in astonishment.
I nodded again.
Xiang Qing continued to be surprised. For a long time, he looked like he was trying to figure out what to say next.
In the end, he simply said, “Thank you.” He dragged over a small, wooden stool to kitchen’s door. Bite by bite, he very carefully ate all of the food I had set aside.
Then, he looked up and said, “This is the most delicious food I’ve eaten in my entire life.”
After receiving this praise, this cat’s life didn’t have any regrets. All of my weariness and exhaustion faded away without leaving any shadows. I cheerfully grabbed his bowl and chopsticks to clean.
Xiang Qing leaned on the doorway. He looked at me with a heated gaze as if he wanted this moment to turn into stone so it would last forever.
I didn’t know why. The usually thick-skinned me became shy from his gaze. But, I pretended that I didn’t care. I scratched my ears and prepared to go back to my room to sleep.
As I was walking through the door, Xiang Qing grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go.
“That… Weren’t you planning on asking what happened when I went to Ye family’s home today?” His voice was slightly hoarse.
I just realized that I had completely forgotten about this matter.
Hearing him mentioned it, I quickly echoed, “What happened?”
“Ye family’s daughter is sick. Old master Ye is very anxious. A few days ago, they had gone to another county to treat her illness. She hasn’t returned yet, so I wasn’t able to end our marriage arrangement. Continue to patiently wait. I’ll visit them again after they return.” Xiang Qing seemed as if he was afraid that I would be angry. His head was lowered when he explained.
“Then, I’ll wait. It’s okay.” From the start, this matter wasn’t that important to me.
“I didn’t spend today looking for a demon.” Xiang Qing paused. He looked at me and continued to say, “I went to a county that was twenty-five kilometers from here.
“Why did you go there?” I didn’t understand.
He slowly took out a small bag made of oilpaper from his sleeve. Inside the bag, there was a layer of ordinary white paper. Inside the white paper, there was yet another layer of white paper. After opening the last layer, there was a cloth bag that had a shiny, silver hairpin. The body of the hairpin was engraved with fishes. At the top of the hairpin, there was a cat with two, small turquoises for eyes. Although the hairpin was simple, it was very cute.
“This is?” I curiously asked.
Xiang Qing took a deep breath before bringing this hairpin closer to me.
He nervously said, “This is a gift for you. Do you like it?”
“Of course, I like it. It’s too beautiful!” I quickly took the hairpin. I wanted to wear it in my hair, but it kept sliding out.
Xiang Qing walked to my back. He took the hairpin from me and carefully inserted it into my bounded hair.
“Even though we’re together, I haven’t given you anything. After I went to Ye family’s home, I thought the weather looked good. I wanted to buy you something. From asking around, it seemed that a hairpin was the best gift to give a girl. But this village didn’t have any good jewelry/accessory store. So, I quickly travelled farther away to Jiang Cheng district to find a silversmith to make this hairpin. I wanted to give you a surprise, so I didn’t say anything. But, I ended up making a mistake by missing the dinner that you personally cooked.”
“You didn’t make a mistake. You’ll never make a mistake.” My hair was bounded in a coil nicely by the hairpin. I looked at myself in the mirror from left side to right side. I was extremely happy.
Xiang Qing suddenly pulled me to his body. He stroked my face with his warm hand. His hand went down from my forehead to my lips. He hesitated for a moment before bending his waist and burned a passionate kiss onto my lips. I closed my eyes to experience the sweetness of this codependent and mutual receiving and giving moment.
“What are daddy and mom doing?” A child’s clear and loud voice from outside the door had interrupted our touching moment
I turned around in panic. I saw Xiao Mao at the doorway. He was wearing thin pajamas.
“I couldn’t find the bathroom.”
“You went to the bathroom yesterday.” Xiang Qing’s voice was gloomy, but he still pointed out the direction.
“I forgot.” Xiao Mao came over to pull on my innocent hand, “Bring me there, mom. It’s very cold tonight. I want to sleep with you.”
“Okay, mom will bring you there.” I couldn’t resist my child’s skill of acting spoiled and cute, so I quickly agreed.
Xiao Mao looked at the hairpin that was in my hair.
He smirked and said to Xiang Qing, “It’s usually girls giving boys a hairpin as a love token. Why did daddy give mom this as a gift?”
Xiang Qing immediately felt embarrassed.
Then, following the wind, Xiao Cha’s indistinct crying from the pigpen was heard and caught his attention…