The relatives of the Du family were satisfied with the Zhao family. When the other people in the brigade lived in houses made of mud and stones, the Zhao family had already built a brick house. The house was spacious, bright, and had four to five rooms. Other than Zhao Daqiu and his wife, each of the other children had their own rooms, and there was no need to squeeze with each other.
Their family background was adequate and Zhao Nan himself also did not fall short. At that time, the young man was only fifteen or sixteen years old, other peers of his age were still idle, but he went thousands of miles from home to join the army. Now, every one of his childhood companions was working in the field for food, but he already had a high military rank. It was said that with his allowance alone, supporting a family would not be a problem. More importantly, after he got married, he had the qualifications to let his family accompany him to the army. With just this, how many families who also had people in the army were envious?
After leaving the Zhao family, several women said that Wang Tonghua was lucky to have Du Baoqin, such a good daughter. In the future, she could have a happy and prosperous life.
Wang Tonghua was flushed with joy when she heard this. Before matchmaking with the Zhao family, was there anyone that would flatter her like this? It did not matter if these words were sincere or fake, as she felt comfortable all over when she heard them.
Back home, Wang Tonghua mobilized the whole family to clean the Du’s house inside and out, including the front yard and the rabbit cage, as they waited for the Zhao family to visit them the next day.
After breakfast the next day, she felt uneasy and began to recheck every corner of the house.
In the kitchen, Jiang Rui cooked two pots at the same time, one of which was slowly frying melon seeds over a low fire, and the other smothered brown sugar and jujube tea, in preparation for the visitors that would be arriving in a while.
After frying the melon seeds, don’t hurry to ladle them up, spread them out in the pot and let them cool down slowly. A slightly charred fragrance filled the whole kitchen. In the past, Du Baozhen would have been waiting beside her for a long time, eager to take a bite but now, she was nowhere to be seen.
Jiang Rui was a little puzzled, but it was just a passing thought and she did not think too deeply about this. She took off her apron and left the kitchen, intending to go back to her room and change her clothes to meet the guests.
As soon as she stepped into the main room, she heard Du Baozhen and Wang Tonghua arguing. She listened and it turned out that Wang Tonghua felt that Du Baozhen’s desk was not tidy enough and needed to be cleaned again, but Du Baozhen would not let her touch her stuff.
Jiang Rui knew the reason why she did not allow her to——there was a letter from Han Wenke in the desk drawer.
Seeing that the quarrel between the two of them was getting louder, Jiang Rui pushed open the door and went in, “Mom, there are Baozhen’s review materials on the table, we won’t understand. If we tidy up for her, it may become messier instead, which will delay her studies, why don’t we let her do it herself.”
“You think I like to touch her things? How can a girl’s room look like such a mess? Later, when the Zhao family sees it, they would think that our family has not taught our daughter well!” Wang Tonghua said as her chest heaved up and down with anger.
Du Baozhen held her neck, rambling as she felt anxious and guilty, “Zhao family, Zhao family, it’s always the Zhao family! Just because their family has some money. They are not the emperor, why are you rushing to wait upon them?”
“Baozhen!” Jiang Rui stopped her with a shout, “How can you talk to Mom like that?” She then stopped Wang Tonghua who was about to speak, “Mom, I will persuade Baozhen to clean up, don’t worry. The melon seeds and tea are ready, you can go check if the taste is alright, if it’s not good enough, I’ll adjust the flavor before the guests come.”
In the end, the matters about the pot were more important. Wang Tonghua glared at Du Baozhen, suppressed her anger, and went to the kitchen.
Jiang Rui closed the door, glanced at Du Baozhen, and said, “Just tidy the books that are in the open. The guests will be arriving later. Even if you don’t want to, you can’t be too rude, you still have to show effort on the surface.”
Du Baozhen stood for a while, then obeyed obediently with no more stubbornness.
Jiang Rui changed into clean clothes, untied her hair again, and re-combed it into two braids. A hand suddenly stretched out from the side, with a small hairpin in its palm.
She raised her head and Du Baozhen stood beside her with her mouth puffed up. Seeing that Jiang Rui did not take the hairpin, she said awkwardly, “Sister, I wasn’t talking about you just now, and I also didn’t mean anything else.”
“I know.” Jiang Rui nodded and said, “Don’t be like this next time. There are better ways to solve the problem. Why do you have to make a fuss? You were anxious and said something unpleasant. You felt happiness at that moment but won’t you still regret it later?”
Du Baozhen bowed her head sullenly and did not speak.
Jiang Rui didn’t continue speaking. She then picked up the small hairpin and looked at it under the light, “It’s beautiful, where did you get it from?”
“One, one of my classmates gave it to me. She has relatives in the city who bought it for her, and she gave it to me. Sister, you will look good wearing it.”
Jiang Rui said with a smile: “So pink and delicate, it would look better on you than me. Sit down, I will comb your hair for you. The guests will be arriving in a while, if you don’t want to see them, just go out and show your face. Mom likes to look good in the eyes of others, so let’s coax her to be happy, and don’t let her be ashamed in front of so many people.”
She was skilled and helped Du Baozhen comb her hair into two braids, with the small hairpin pinned to the end of the braid.
It didn’t take long for the Zhao family and their relatives to come, and the Du family went out to meet the guests. Even if there were a knot in their hearts, they were still amiable and polite on the surface.
Zhao Nan also came and Jiang Rui saw that as soon as he entered the door, his gaze flitted through the Du family, and he quickly found her.
She quietly smiled at him, but he immediately turned his eyes away.
Jiang Rui served tea to each guest, then went to the kitchen with a blushing face amid the teasing of the crowd.
When no one was looking, she sat on the stool, resting her cheeks on one hand and holding a twig in the other, absent-mindedly poking the remaining ashes in the stove that were still warm.
It suddenly became a little dark, and when she looked up, someone was standing at the door of the kitchen, blocking the light.
Jiang Rui smiled, “Guess what I was thinking of just now?”
Zhao Nan approached slowly, Jiang Rui patted the other stool beside her, he hesitated for a while before sitting down.
The tall and big body looked aggrieved as he huddled on the small stool. Because the two stools were close together, there was almost no gap between his and Jiang Rui’s legs. If he was not careful, they would touch each other, hence his whole body was stiff and rigid.
Not getting an answer, Jiang Rui touched his knee with hers and said with a little dissatisfaction: “Why are you ignoring me?”
Zhao Nan stretched himself straighter, with both his hands on his knees, his upper body upright, and he looked straight ahead. Those who didn’t know would think that he was in a military posture. It took a while before he said, “I can’t guess.”
Jiang Rui puffed out her cheeks, “I was wondering if you would look for me, and if you did, how long would it take?”
Zhao Nan turned his head and looked at her side profile: “Did you wait for a long time?”
“Not too long, but I’m baking two sweet potatoes on the stove, if you had come a little later, they would be overcooked and not edible anymore.” She used a wooden stick to poke a few times in the ashes, and pulled out two dark roasted sweet potatoes, still very hot and had to be cooled for a while.
“By the way, do you still remember Baozhen?” she asked casually.
Zhao Nan nodded, seeing that she wanted to reach for the sweet potato, but didn’t dare to because it was too hot. So he picked one up, turned it around his fingertips, and waited for his fingers to get used to the temperature, then slowly peeled off the hard black shell.
The dark and hard roasted sweet potatoes’ insides were a sweet yellowish-orange color. Jiang Rui took a breath of the sweet smell and then continued: “At that time, you saved Baozhen. Originally, the marriage that our families are discussing now should be between you and her.”
Her tone was clear and light as if she was saying the weather was good today, but Zhao Nan almost crushed the sweet potato when he heard it. He looked at Jiang Rui, and Jiang Rui looked intently at the sweet potato in his hand.
He was at a loss, wondering what she meant by this, or did she not mean anything? Gradually, because he was baffled, he began to feel annoyed, annoyed that he was not as smart as Zhao Bei, and he was not as good at coaxing people happy.
“Why did you stop peeling?” Jiang Rui asked uncertainly when she saw that he suddenly stopped.
Zhao Nan continued the movements in his hands, and after a while, he suddenly said, “Mom mentioned this, but I didn’t agree.”
Jiang Rui nodded while holding her chin, “I know, Aunt Zhang told my mother before. She said that she tried matchmaking you with a lot of girls, but you didn’t agree with any of them. You only agreed to meet me. After I knew this, I felt a little vain.”
Zhao Nan couldn’t help but look at her again, and seeing that her eyebrows were curved, the corners of his mouth subconsciously followed and bent up a little.
Jiang Rui however, changed the subject, “Why did you stare at Baozhen just now?”
Zhao Nan paused and was about to shake his head, but Jiang Rui continued, “I saw it, you glanced at everyone at first, and then just look at her, why were you looking at her?”
Zhao Nan was silent for a while, then asked honestly, “Do you like the flowers on her hair?”
“Flowers? Oh…you mean the hairpin.”
“Do you like it?” Zhao Nan nodded and asked again.
Jiang Rui understood what he meant, and two dimples slowly emerged from the corners of her mouth. She didn’t answer him, but said, “In the morning, Baozhen was going to lend me her hairpin, but I didn’t want it, it was a gift from the person she likes. If I want to wear a hairpin, it would be from the person I like.”
The atmosphere froze for a moment, then Zhao Nan spoke, a little rushed, “I’ll go buy one tomorrow.”
Jiang Rui covered her mouth and laughed, “Tomorrow will be New Year’s eve, where are you going to buy it from? I’m joking with you. It doesn’t have to be a hairpin, if it’s someone I like, even if he gives me…um…” She looked around the kitchen as if trying to find an example and finally, her eyes fell on the sweet potato that Zhao Nan was peeling, “Even if he gave me a baked sweet potato, I would be happy.”
Afterward, Zhao Nan lowered his head and did not say a word, but he peeled both the sweet potatoes, and until the Zhao family left, his auricles were still red, but fortunately, it was not very obvious on his face so no one could tell.