One fine day in June, the weather was so hot and humid that even sleeping on a mat at night felt like a fish in a steamer.
It was silent in the Du’s family yard, everyone had gone to sleep.
Zhang Xiaohua held her tummy, she was more afraid of the heat than others, and she couldn’t fall asleep after tossing and turning, whereas Du Baoqiang slept beside her, snoring happily. She was so annoyed that she kicked him.
“Hmm…what’s the matter?” Du Baoqiang asked groggily. Thinking that she wanted some water, he got off the bed before even opening his eyes.
Zhang Xiaohua pulled him back, “What are you doing, I can’t sleep, talk with me for a while.”
“What do you want to talk about?” Du Baoqiang laid back in bed, his voice faded and his snoring started again.
Zhang Xiaohua was so angry that she wanted to choke him, but looking at how tired he was, she just fanned herself with a paper fan.
After some time had passed, a breeze blew in through the half-closed window and she quickly took advantage of the drowsiness brought about by coolness to try and sleep. Just as she was in a drowsy state, about to fall asleep, Du Baoqiang suddenly sat up and woke her up, “Wife, did you call for me just now?”
She finally managed to fall asleep but it was gone in a moment, Zhang Xiaohua was so angry that she wanted to cry, she sat up and pounded at him.
Du Baoqiang didn’t dare to fight back. After she got tired from hitting him, he got out of bed to pour a cup of tea and served her affably.
Zhang Xiaohua finished the tea with a huff, seeing the confusion on his face, she felt even more depressed, “Look at how stupid you are, luckily you are a guy, if you were born a girl, according to the eccentricity of our parents, you would have long been sold to support the studies of their precious daughter!”
“Our parents wouldn’t do that…” Du Baoqiang scratched his head.
“Wouldn’t do what? Wouldn’t be partial?” Zhang Xiaohua squinted at him, and said sarcastically: “If they aren’t partial, then how come two daughters, one have to work bitterly at home every day, while the other gets to study and go to university as she pleases?”
Du Baoqiang glanced outside the house and whispered: “Wasn’t that because Baoqin said that her grades were bad, and took the initiative to stop studying?”
Zhang Xiaohua sneered and said nothing. Du Baoqin didn’t get good grades? I’m afraid only the Du family believed this. She had a cousin who studied in the same class as Du Baoqin that year; her cousin was full of compliments for Du Baoqin, she said that the girl was the first in their class. She was graceful and beautiful, with good grades. Later, after finishing middle school, Du Baoqin did not continue on to high school, which of her classmates were not surprised?
Zhang Xiaohua only found out when she married into the Du family, Du Baoqin didn’t continue her studies at that time because Du Baozhen was of age to attend middle school. The family could not afford the tuition fees for two people, hence she took the initiative to say that she was not as smart as her sister, and didn’t have good grades, so she would stop studying.
Who didn’t know that the crying child got the candy? Last year Du Baozhen wanted to attend high school, and the tuition fees per year amounted to tens of dollars. At first, they didn’t manage to raise that much money, but after she cried and threw a tantrum, they arduously squeezed out the amount.
“Even if we don’t talk about their studies, we can tell from the two eggs every day. The rabbits at home, needed feeding, mowing of the grass, shearing of their fur, and cleaning of their cages, which one wasn’t done by Baoqin? In the end, the eggs that were exchanged using the rabbit fur, none was for her. Let’s not talk about the work done by you and your father, I am pregnant with a child, if not, I wouldn’t have the face to eat it too. But what about Baozhen? Everyone said that she needs to supplement her brain because of her studies, but look at these days when she is on a holiday, which day is she holding a book, reading it? Everyone in the Du family is blind, but I’m not.”
She still had something in her heart that she didn’t say: Don’t think no one knew why Baozhen would run to the reservoir alone every day. Of course, it’s for that wild man! That man was admitted to a university and went back to the city, that’s why Baozhen, dead or alive, also wanted to study high school, so that she could get into the university.
Du Baoqiang scratched his cheeks and didn’t speak, but Zhang Xiaohua dropped a bomb on him, “Today, Mom let Baoqin make a trip to Zhao’s house, as I see it, mostly it’s because Baozhen does not want to marry, so she is thinking of pushing Baoqin out.”
“It shouldn’t be….” Du Baoqiang immediately raised his head.
“It shouldn’t be what?” Zhang Xiaohua sneered, “Don’t tell me you didn’t feel anything before? Actually, everyone is clear on this matter, but they just try to cover up their shame, not willing to show it. This is your Du family’s issue, and I, a person surnamed Zhang does not care. I only care about this child in my belly. I’m telling you, Du Baoqiang, if the child in my belly is a girl and your Du family dares to be so biased, don’t blame me for fighting you till the end!”
After speaking, she laid down with her back facing him and stopped talking.
After going to Zhao’s house that day, Jiang Rui behaved as normal, digging the rabbit’s grass, shearing the rabbit’s fur, and doing the housework. On this day, when she went to the back mountain to pick up some firewood, she saw a tea tree that had no owner, hence she picked a handful of tea leaves, packed them in her clothes, and went back.
As she entered the house, Wang Tonghua pulled her into the room, “Girl, let me tell you something.”
She was sweating all over her body, bangs uncomfortably sticking to her forehead, so she wiped it with her sleeves, “What is it, Mom?”
“Didn’t you make a trip to the Zhao’s house a few days ago? Your Aunt Zhang came over just now, she told me that she likes you a lot and wants you to be her second daughter-in-law, what do you think?”
It was as Jiang Rui expected, but she still showed a surprised look on her face, “Wasn’t it supposed to be Baozhen….”
Wang Tonghua interrupted her, “As you can see, Baozhen is not willing. Besides, your Aunt Zhang told me that she likes you more. Girl, this is a good thing, you see, you are getting old and these past two years people had been asking. I just told them that I can’t bear to let you go and would like to keep you with me for two more years. In reality, Mom is afraid that you would not marry into a good family and suffer like me. Look at your mother’s life, because of poverty, because your dad is incompetent, how much hardship have we endured? How many people have looked down on us? I don’t wish for anything, but the best for you three siblings. As long as you are all well, have a good life, no matter how much suffering, mom is not afraid.”
As she spoke, she thought of the sad things and her tears fell.
“Mom, don’t be like this, it’s all in the past.” Jiang Rui persuaded her softly.
“Yeah, it’s all over.” Wang Tonghua wiped the corner of her eyes, “You see, now the Zhao family wants you to be their daughter-in-law, girl, your good days are here!”
Jiang Rui said embarrassedly: “I’ve never even met Zhao Nan….”
“It’s fine, it’s fine.” Wang Tonghua hurriedly went to take out a picture from the drawer, “Your Aunt Zhang also mentioned that Ah Nan is busy with his work and can’t come back for a while, so she brought over this photo for you to take a look. This is what he previously left at home, look, how spirited!”
The picture was stuffed into Jiang Rui’s hands. The man in the picture was in his twenties, wearing a neat military uniform, with his hair cut short as he looked at the camera solemnly. Compared to the fifteen, sixteen-year-old him in the picture that she saw a few days ago at Zhao’s house, the man in front of her was more masculine and calm. The hard-edged and sharpness of the youth was all wrapped under the military uniform, like a sharp sword that was sheathed.
Wang Tonghua added: “Your Aunt Zhang’s intention, is for us to take a picture for Ah Nan to see. Girl, go to the county to take a picture tomorrow.”
Jiang Rui frowned slightly, “It costs a lot to take a picture.”
“No worries, Mom has money!” seemingly afraid that she wouldn’t agree, Wang Tonghua patted her chest and said: “You just need to have a good sleep tonight, keep your spirits up and take a pretty picture tomorrow. Don’t worry about anything else!”
With all that being said, Jiang Rui had no reason to object.
The next day, she changed into clothes of decent quality and carried a cloth bag that held the rabbit fur that was saved recently. Usually, she would take it to the commune’s supply and marketing cooperatives to exchange for some common household items but today, she would be going to the county to trade. When asked about it on the road, she only said that she was going to sell the rabbit fur.
From Chaoyang commune to Yang’an County, there were only two trips made a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Jiang Rui walked from the Xishan Brigade to the commune, and she set off early in the morning, afraid of missing the bus. She waited for nearly half an hour before the bus came, and the ticket cost twenty-five cents.
The roads were not in good condition, they were paved with yellow mud and the road was full of potholes. The seats were very hard, and when she got off the bus, half her body was numb.
This was the first time Jiang Rui had ever been to Yang’an County, luckily she heard others mention before, that there was one street in the whole county that was the most prosperous. The supply and marketing cooperatives, state-run restaurants, photo studios, Xinhua bookstore, etc. were all in one place. After she got off the bus, she asked someone for directions and found her way quickly.
The county seat was much larger than the Chaoyang commune, the roads were much wider and the people walking on the streets were dressed in brighter colors, unlike the people in the village, dull and gray. The supply and marketing cooperatives here were also much larger than the one from the commune, called Yang’an Department Store. As soon as you entered, you would be dazzled by the gleaming array of items. The glass counters were filled with fabrics, food, and furniture, all sorted by category. Behind the counter, stood a young salesperson, who wore a white shirt with her hair tied into braids, looking very fashionable.
Jiang Rui strolled around the store with her cloth bag before locating the purchase station in the corner. There were already many people in the queue, all of them were villagers who, like her, came from the commune and the brigade, selling eggs or scraps, as well as herbs and animal skins.
The queue moved slowly, when it was their turn, everyone stared closely at the scale in the buyer’s hand, and the money exchanged was counted carefully several times.
Rabbit fur was priced per catty, one catty for four cents. They had four rabbits in their family, after three months of saving, they had accumulated a little more than one pound and one catty, and after selling, they earned four dollars and five cents. In the past, there were still rabbits for sale, but this time, there were only six babies. Of which, four were exchanged with people from the same brigade for some eggs, and the other two were given as return gifts to the Zhao family, hence there were only rabbit fur left.
She counted the money again, carefully putting it in her pocket, and left the department store. After walking for a while more, she found the photo studio.
Photo taking was an extravagant and western thing. Even at her age, Du Baoqin had never been to a photo studio. This time, one entry and exit cost Jiang Rui nearly three dollars. The pictures could not be collected immediately, hence she left them her home address, once the picture had developed, someone from the photo studio would send it to her.
Before going out today, Wang Tonghua prepared three dollars for her, just in case. She didn’t touch the three dollars, and after setting aside the ticket money for the return trip, she still had one dollar and fourteen cents left on hand.
She went back to the department store and bought a set of matches, that had ten small boxes inside, for twenty cents, as well as two pounds of coarse salt for fifty cents. She also saw white sugar and soap, but both of these items were in short supply and needed tickets to purchase. Without tickets, even if you had the money, you wouldn’t be able to buy them. In the end, she only bought a few eggs and even spent eight cents on a pack of cheap cigarettes for her father, Du Youfu.
At noon, a group of young people came. They bought bread and biscuits with food stamps, and looking at them, they seemed to be only fifteen or sixteen years old. They were probably still students, and they came out to play together.
Jiang Rui watched curiously at the side until they left, then took out a pie from her bag.
She stayed in the department store until the afternoon, only then did the bus returning to Chaoyang commune came.
As soon as she got home, Du Baozhen rushed over and pulled at her cloth bag, she took a few glances then said disappointedly: “Sister, Mom said you went to the county seat to sell some rabbit fur, I thought there could be something different there.”
She had a short temper, it came and left quickly. Since Wang Tonghua did not mention anything about her marriage for the past few days, she also wasn’t angry anymore.
Wang Tonghua waved her hands and chased her away, “Only thinking about eating, like a hungry ghost trying to reincarnate!”
Du Baozhen stuck out her tongue and went back to her room.
With no one around, Jiang Rui handed over the remaining money to Wang Tonghua and told her about today’s affairs.
“You, this girl, are too sincere. Why do you have to be so calculative? Since you went all the way to the county, you should’ve bought yourself some candies.”
Jiang Rui just smiled.
The picture was sent to the house several days later, Jiang Rui only had one glance at it before it was put away by Wang Tonghua, and then it was sent to Zhang Liyun without her knowledge.
About a month later, in a military region thousands of miles away, Zhao Nan was sitting in his office, looking at the combat training plan.
A series of footsteps sounded from outside, the person approaching knocked on the door twice, then pushed the door, and entered, “ Old Zhao, there is a letter for you.”
Zhao Nan, who did not take his eyes off the documents in his hands, reached out to receive the letter.
Zheng Bin did not give it to him. With the letter between his two fingers, he waved it in front of him with a look of schadenfreude, “Looking at the address, it was sent from your hometown, and from the feel of it, there should be a picture inside. Old Zhao, looks like aunt and uncle can’t take it anymore, they are urging you to marry!”
Zhao Nan did not care for his teasing and took his hand back.
“What? Aren’t you going to take a look? Let me see what the girl looks like. Could it be that previously when you went back home to visit your relatives, you met a love interest? Impressive, you didn’t say anything even after coming back for so long, could it be that you settled a lifelong event in one night? Is the girl pretty? How old is she? Hmm? Hurry up, Old Zhao, tell me.”
Zhao Nan couldn’t stand his teasing, he frowned and took the letter from him. As soon as he tore open the letter, a picture slipped out. Before he could pick it up, it was snatched by a hand next to him.
“I’ll check it out for you!” Zheng Bin said with a smile, he took a closer look at the picture using the light by the window.
The picture was of an eighteen or nineteen-year-old girl, who had her hair combed into two braids. She had a heart-shaped face, big eyes, and fair skin. With a slight smile hanging on her lips and two cute, little dimples on her cheeks, she stared at the camera quietly, looking demure and sweet.
Regarding the male protagonist of this story, I’m afraid that the cubs would be confused so let me talk about it here. Every world has a male lead HE, and every male lead are soul fragments that will combine into one in the main world. Little cubs can understand it this way: the male lead is like a glass crystal that accidentally fell on the ground, shattering into 800 pieces. He needs the female lead to piece him back one by one, which is only possible if she kiss kiss, hug hug, and holds him high high. (direct translation, but sounds so cute xD) Therefore, this is a boyfriend assembled by the female lead’s own abilities!