They continued north to B Province. The further they went in that direction, the drier the air, however, the temperature did not drop and by the time they got off the train, they felt as if they have been placed in the steamer.
Everything here was different from their native place, even the trees that aligned either side of the road were completely different. That kind of strangeness made them felt that they have really come to a new place.
A new place where they can have a new life together.
The house was very clean and tidy, and the electrical appliances had also been fully furnished. Since the location was far from the city enter, and the rooms were small, the rent was not expensive.
In the family’s courtyard, someone had planted grapes; there was a rope tied to the poplar trees that reached up toward the balcony of the second floor which allowed the grape vines to climb up and burst through the window like a green woven mat.
Qi Xiu Yuan and Xiao Li really liked it here.
“It would be good if we didn’t have to leave.” Xiao Li said with a deep sigh as he stood by the window, staring at the vine leaves as it lightly rippled in the breeze.
Being able to get out of that terrible maze was not an easy matter, perhaps…this place cannot become their final residence.
As long as Xiao Li was by his side, Qi Xiu Yuan did not mind drifting from place to place. He was only worried Xiao Li would feel as if he owed him.
Hence, he shifted the subject and joked with Xiao Li: “Do you want to stay and eat grapes?”
The landlord Auntie Li was a clean and extremely welcoming little old lady who rented out her old house because her children bought her a bigger house. However, she truly cherished her old friends and would often come back here to chat with her old neighbors. She was keen to introduce her new tenants, Xiao Li, and Qi Xiu Yuan, to a group of uncles and grandfathers. After Xiao Li asked about her position in the market, she also enthusiastically invited Xiao Li to join their “elderlies shopping for a bargain group”. Since then, every time they saw Xiao Li or Qi Xiu Yuan—who occasionally went downstairs to exercise his legs—they would pull their hands and have a long chat with them.
The old lady honestly made Qi Xiu Yuan remember his late grandmother so every time he saw her, he couldn’t help but to smile brightly.
Xiao Li (on the other hand) was not used to that kind of enthusiasm; every time she complimented or pampered him, he would feel rather overwhelmed. But he was very patience toward her endless prattling. Moreover, there was no way to refuse her invitation to buy vegetables as she dragged him along, and more than often, he would help her carry heavy items to her new residence.
One day, Aunt Li ran into Qi Xiu Yuan basking in the sunlight downstairs.
“Xiao Li was taken out by Old Liu to try on some clothes for that he wanted to buy for his son since the two have similar statures.”
She laughed until her eyes narrowed and her face similar to that of a lovely walnut. “Xiao Li is a really good boy, he’s so tall yet his heart is very soft to the point that others can’t help but to tease him.”
“That’s true, that’s true.” Qi Xiu Yuan smiled with her, thinking: no one knows that more than me.
Xiao Li likes to kiss.
As an experienced man, his kissing techniques can only be said to be very general. However, he is full of curiosity and the desire for knowledge, and they now have enough time, space and a good mood for him to learn and practice. Qi Xiu Yuan often teased him and said that he was his best student.
“I’m going to check yesterday’s homework now…”
He always said that because it would make Xiao Li blush and retorted with, ‘don’t be like that, I’m not your real student …’. That shy and serious appearance only made Qi Xiu Yuan more excited and he would slowly move in closer and kissed Xiao Li. Xiao Li always closed his eyes and welcomed it with his soft and warm lips, and if his back was caressed, he would respond more intensively.
After that trick was used several more times, Xiao Li was able to appropriately adapt to it. Not only did he no longer blush, but when the kiss was initiated, he would even say, “I came to hand over the assignment.”
Those times were the most refined and beautiful private tutoring sessions Qi Xiu Yuan has ever experienced; accepting the assignment, checking the assignments, marking the assignments, and instructing the assignments. This teacher and student pair was of one mind and enjoyed their time together, never being tired of it.
After Qi Xiu Yuan had taken off his cast, the ranges of movements that his hand and feet could make were still limited. If for example, his arms were raised too high or he stood up for a long period of time, he would feel rather uncomfortable.
He rarely went out and Xiao Li was responsible for shopping and cooking.
In many aspects, Xiao Li was extremely good at taking care of people, but his cooking skills were beyond what Qi Xiu Yuan had expected.
He was an expert at making congee, boiled noodles and a few common fried dishes.
“I learned how to make it when I was younger,” Xiao Li explained. “At that time, my family was very poor and I couldn’t afford any high-grade dishes. Then, when I have joined the gang, I rarely entered the kitchen and Xiao Yang became better at cooking instead.”
“I can also do it.” Qi Xiu Yuan said, not convinced of Xiao Yang’s skill.
On that same day, he pestered Xiao Li to buy some ingredients and then later made a ruckus in the kitchen for the whole morning. He also strictly prohibited Xiao Li to assist him in any manner.
At noon, Xiao Li became speechless when he looked at the table of dishes with oily stuffed prawns, braised chicken wings, stir-fried shiitake mushrooms, octopus stew, and a pot of seaweed soup.
“Is it delicious?” Qi Xiu Yuan was beaming with a bright smile as he watched Xiao Li tried everything.
“It’s very delicious.” Xiao Li praised him.
“In the future, I’ll make it for you every day.” Qi Xiu Yuan immediately added with a serious manner as if it was a promise.
When Xiao Li gave him a glance and did not refute the obvious meaning in his words then also answered rather solemnly with an, “OK”, the two caught each other’s’ gaze and smiled.
The two have a habit of being frugal and cherishing food—so, although there was a bit more food that could be consumed, the amount was measure to be exactly the same for lunch and dinner. Unfortunately, Qi Xiu Yuan’s wounded leg began to ache with pain again that evening which caused his appetite to decrease.
“How long has it been swollen?” Xiao Li asked, boiling the Sichuan pepper in hot water while helping him apply a hot compress.
“It’s a bit swollen in the afternoon,” Qi Xiu Yuan said.
“You’ve been standing in the kitchen for too long. I’ll give you a hot compress first, and if it’s still swollen tomorrow, we can go to the hospital.” With that said, he watched as Qi Xiu Yuan’s knee become red because of the hot towel and laughed. “”I thought you only made five dishes at noon but there was also a plate of pig’s trotters.”
“If you want to eat it, just eat it.” Qi Xiu Yuan laughed then deliberately lowered his voice, “There are many places on my body that also taste delicious. For example, over here there is… ouch, ouch, ouch—”
Xiao Li knew that he did not have good words to say as he pressed down hard on his knee. Qi Xiu Yuan’s cries of pain were acted out rather pitifully, to the point that he did not dare to play any more dirty and obscene tricks on him.