Like Xiaohua’s Home Cooking Restaurant, Tiny Garden also closed on New Year’s Eve. Lu Lingxi hung a small wooden board outside the door of Tiny Garden, stating that it would officially open on the eighth day of the first lunar month after the New Year. He didn’t want to take such a long break, but Wang Shuxiu said he had worked hard for half a year and needed to take advantage of the New Year to rest. Lu Lingxi didn’t want to ignore Wang Shuxiu’s wishes, so he agreed.
After a rare lazy sleep in the morning, when Lu Lingxi rubbed his eyes and got up, Xiao Feng had already taken Dahei for a run outside. As an energetic dog, Dahei liked to go out to exercise. Unfortunately, Lu Lingxi’s physical strength couldn’t keep up, and Dahei insisted on not hurting Lu Lingxi’s “self-esteem”, so, following Lu Lingxi, he could rarely have fun. Only when Yan Yue or Xiao Feng took him out could Dahei run around happily.
“Dahei has good stamina and explosive power.” Xiao Feng praised Dahei while opening the door.
Dahei squinted his eyes, squatted calmly at the door, raised his paws and waited for Xiao Feng to wipe them.
Xiao Feng smiled and wiped Dahei’s four paws just like Lu Lingxi did, then said, “Okay, it’s time for Xiao Xi to get up, go see Xiao Xi.”
Dahei gave a low bark and trotted into Lu Lingxi’s room. Lu Lingxi had just sat up; Dahei stood half-upright with his two front paws on the bed, looking at Lu Lingxi with a gentle gaze. Lu Lingxi had slept well and was in a good mood as he stroked Dahei’s head and casually said, “Went out with Dad?”
Dahei gave a few short barks and Lu Lingxi laughed, saying helplessly, “I see, I’ll go out for a run when the weather gets warmer.” He finished with a smile and flicked his finger on Dahei’s head, jokingly saying, “Dahei, you are really becoming more and more like Big Brother Yan.”
Yan Yue had always felt that Lu Lingxi was too thin and not particularly healthy. Apart from urging him to eat every day, he also encouraged Lu Lingxi to get up early and run. Lu Lingxi was forced to stick to it for a while, but when it got too cold, he refused to go out. Yan Yue couldn’t do anything about him and talked several times about exercising. Lu Lingxi didn’t know when Dahei remembered it, but he was even more concerned with this matter than Yan Yue.
After talking to Dahei, Lu Lingxi reached out and pulled Xiaohei out from under the pillow. Xiaohei was not yet completely awake, dumbly looking at Lu Lingxi before slowly wrapping around Lu Lingxi’s wrist. Lu Lingxi pulled him off by the tail and stuffed him into his pyjama pocket. “Stop it.” He patted Xiaohei’s poking out head and got up to go to the bathroom.
While Lu Lingxi was washing up, Xiao Hong’s family came to the community. Xiao Hong also brought a few boxes of firecrackers and said to Lu Lingxi with a smile, “These are all for you, Xiao Xi.” Lu Lingxi was a bit curious; he had seen these firecrackers on TV, and Xiao Feng had also brought several boxes a few days ago, but he had never played with them himself.
Xiao Feng took them from Xiao Hong and said casually, “Our family’s already bought quite a lot.”
Xiao Hong didn’t care, “No matter how many of these things there are, they will be gone after a while. It is only once a year, so let Xiao Xi have a good time.” He turned to Lu Lingxi, “Later Uncle will accompany you to set off firecrackers. Uncle is the best at this.”
“Okay.” Lu Lingxi nodded obediently.
When Zhou Xiaoman heard Xiao Hong’s words, she whispered to Wang Shuxiu, “It has been years since Lao Xiao has made such a fuss. I think this year he’s having the most fun.”
In the past, with Xiao Hong and Zhou Xiaoman having no children, they plus Xiao Feng were just three people during the New Year. Occasionally, Zhou Xiaoman’s parents were there, but the couple was old and didn’t like the hustle and bustle, so they went to bed early every year. Xiao Hong felt that the New Year was tasteless; unlike this year when he was happy. Although there were only two more people, the feeling was completely different. Especially looking at Lu Lingxi, Xiao Hong was simply more attentive than Xiao Feng, buying food, drinks and things for fun, whatever came to mind. He also muttered privately to Zhou Xiaoman that Xiao Xi, this child, was just too obedient. It would be better if he made a little noise and yelled like other children that he wanted this and liked that.
When Zhou Xiaoman finished saying that with a smile, Wang Shuxiu also laughed and said with emotion, “The family hasn’t been this lively for years.”
After breakfast, Wang Shuxiu instructed Xiao Feng to post Spring Festival couplets on the door. Zhou Xiaoman was in the kitchen frying croquettes. Xiao Hong watched her for a long time and had nothing to do, so he simply took Lu Lingxi to the vacant lot in the community to set off firecrackers.
“Come, let’s set off a fire tree first.”
Xiao Hong excitedly lit the firecracker in his hand and pulled Lu Lingxi back a few metres away. He said he had bought these for Lu Lingxi to play with, but the truth was that he was having fun all by himself. Before Lu Lingxi could get close, he was stopped by Xiao Hong, gesturing for him to move farther away. Lu Lingxi simply squatted aside with Dahei and Xiao Baiwan and just watched as Xiao Hong happily lit one firecracker after another. This was much more interesting than watching them on TV. Maybe it was because they were the first to start, the sounds of firecrackers echoed all over the community. There were children watching from a distance, and when Xiao Hong lit one, they tilted their heads and let out a collective gasp.
Xiao Hong had even more fun.
The day passed in such a rowdy manner that by the end of the day, the whole neighbourhood was filled with the sounds of firecrackers. From the balcony, half of the sky was filled with light and sparkling fireworks. Lu Lingxi leaned over the balcony and watched. Behind him, Wang Shuxiu and several others were enthusiastically preparing the New Year dinner.
“Where’s the garlic you’ve pounded, Xiaohua?”
“The dumplings should be ready soon.”
“The stewed meat is a bit bland, add more salt.”
“Where’s the bottle of wine I brought, Xiaoman, where did you put it, we’ll all have a drink later.”
A chaotic conversation went on, everyone raising their voices because of the sound of firecrackers outside, and Lu Lingxi laughed softly as he listened. He had never known that the New Year could be so interesting. Posting Spring Festival couplets, setting off firecrackers, hanging lanterns and making dumplings, all of these things were firsts for Lu Lingxi. He participated in each of these activities with great interest, his only regret being that Yan Yue wasn’t with him. He wondered what Yan Yue was doing now. Would the Yan family be as lively as his home? Lu Lingxi stroked Dahei’s head and whispered, “Dahei, I miss Big Brother Yan.”
Dahei didn’t bark, he just tenderly licked Lu Lingxi’s fingers. The corners of Lu Lingxi’s mouth curled up slightly and his eyes became warm.
When Lu Lingxi was thinking of Yan Yue, Yan Yue was also thinking of Lu Lingxi. At eight o’clock in the evening, the Yan family mansion was quiet. Apart from the red lanterns lit up in the courtyard, the entire mansion was completely devoid of the atmosphere of the New Year.
In the dining room, Yan Shihui was sitting at the top of the table, while Yan Yue and Yin Qinglan were sitting to his left and right. An Jie sat beside Yan Yue in a somewhat awkward manner, unable to stand the atmosphere here. No one spoke; everyone just ate the food in front of them in silence, and even though the food had been prepared with great care, An Jie still had the feeling that he couldn’t eat. He gave Yan Shihui a cryptic glance and saw only indifference and alienation on his face. Of course, Yan Shihui wasn’t so bad in comparison to Yin Qinglan who sat opposite Yan Yue with a frown on her face, unable to hide her disgust.
Although An Jie knew that both Yan Shihui and Yin Qinglan’s emotions were only directed at each other, looking at the expressionless Yan Yue, he finally had a deep understanding of why the boss had psychological problems. It was hard for a normal person to emerge from such a dysfunctional family environment. Should he be thankful that the boss had not grown up to be a guy with antisocial personality disorder?
An Jie silently knocked on the wood in his heart and gave Yan Yue another look with some sympathy. It was obvious that his parents had broken up their relationship and each had a family, but they had to get together every New Year’s Eve to play a family. They might not feel anything themselves, but to Yan Yue, the New Year time and time again was just a reminder of his embarrassing situation of being abandoned by both parents.
“I’m done eating.” Yan Yue said as he gently put down his chopsticks.
An Jie let out a sigh of relief and almost immediately put down his chopsticks as well, “I’m done eating too.”
“Why did you eat just this little?” Yan Shihui said with concern.
Yan Yue said indifferently, “I have no appetite.”
“Ah Yue, this fish is good…” Yin Qinglan didn’t finish her sentence when Yan Shihui interrupted her, “If Ah Yue doesn’t have much appetite, go back to rest early.”
“Yan Shihui, you!” Yin Qinglan glared at Yan Shihui with dissatisfaction.
Yan Yue didn’t bother to listen to their quarrel; he simply got up and left the dining room. An Jie quickly followed, and behind the two of them, Yan Shihui and Yin Qinglan were already arguing. It seemed to be like this every year, Yan Yue thought to himself somewhat mockingly, starting with silence and ending with an argument.
“Boss.” An Jie was a little embarrassed, not knowing what to say to Yan Yue.
Yan Yue, on the contrary, was unconcerned and said straight away, “I will ask the housekeeper to bring you some food.” Yan Yue could see that An Jie hadn’t eaten anything at all, and it was natural, not many people could eat in that atmosphere.
He looked as if he didn’t care, and An Jie breathed a sigh of relief, “What about you, boss?”
“I’ll give Xiao Xi a call.” At this time, Yan Yue only wanted to hear Lu Lingxi’s voice.
When the phone rang, Lu Lingxi was halfway through biting into one of the dumplings, only to feel something under his teeth inside. He spat it out to find it was a brand new ten fen coin.
“Good for Xiao Xi, a good start!” Xiao Feng immediately said.
Xiao Hong smiled broadly and patted Lu Lingxi’s shoulder, pulling out a bulging red envelope from his pocket and handing it to Lu Lingxi. “Here, Xiao Xi, take it, this is the reward for eating the coin.”
Xiao Feng joked, cooperating with him, “Big Brother, do we get it if we eat one?”
“Yes, everyone.” Xiao Hong took out five red envelopes and slapped them onto the table, “I’ve got it all ready. Your sister-in-law has wrapped up a total of five coins. Whoever eats it will be rewarded.”
Just as he finished speaking, Xiao Baiwan rushed over like an arrow, holding his small bowl in his mouth. Inside was a dumpling with a broken skin, revealing a coin.
“Pfff,” Zhou Xiaoman was the first to not hold back her laughter, and everyone followed suit. Xiao Hong stroked Xiao Baiwan’s head, “Good job, Xiao Baiwan.”
Xiao Baiwan barked excitedly.
In the midst of the commotion, Lu Lingxi walked to the balcony with his mobile phone and softly said, “Big Brother Yan.”
Yan Yue’s voice reached him, unusually clear in the noisy background sounds. “Having dinner?”
“En.” Lu Lingxi happily told him about the coin he had eaten, and about the one Xiao Baiwan got.
Yan Yue chuckled at the thought of Xiao Hong’s bulging red envelopes, and Lu Lingxi casually asked, “Have you eaten the dumplings, Big Brother Yan?”
“I didn’t even know you could wrap coins in dumplings, do you do it at your home too, Big Brother Yan?”
“No.” Yan Yue said softly, “There’s nothing in the dumplings over here.”
“Then I’ll wrap them for you when you come back. I even learnt to wrap dumplings this afternoon, it’s easy.”
Lu Lingxi’s voice was warm and soft, and the depression in Yan Yue’s heart from the meal he had just eaten was swept away. He imagined the young man’s smiling face at that moment, and his heart suddenly felt soft. He was incomparably grateful that in his desolate twenty-seven years of life, he had met Lu Lingxi.