Lifen openly giggled unable to hold back her delight before looking at Mo Yuan knowingly. She shook her head in the affirmation and replied cheerfully, “Don’t worry about it. I understand you’re shy so forgot about me knowing about your ‘hidden message‘. Still, you are my dream come true.” The way she sang and extended the word ‘true’ as if she were singing an aria.
Nervous, enthusiastic energy oozed from her pores, while watching him light the other candles breathless in anticipation. Mo Yuan inwardly pondered if it was possible that she remembered him from her immortal life? How surprising it was to light all the candles, and immediately noticed she was closely staring at him with unblinking, huge, starry eyes focused most intently on his face. The reaction was uncontrollable when he flinched ever so slightly, entirely startled by the intensity of her blatant gawking.
Her piercing gaze made him laugh internally. She would unquestionably win. When Bai Qian returned from her heavenly trial, Mo Yuan planned to arrange a stare off with her and Ye Hua. He was sure without the slightest doubt that she’d beat him. Easily.
Lifen’s eyes were round like saucers with her hands positioning crossed over her heart, she blatantly announced in a voice very much like a bold love confession, “Shifu, you’re the most handsome man I’ve ever seen in my life! What kind of women do you like? I know I’m not pretty but I’m a great cook! Did you enjoy the cakes from last time?”
“Hmmm. Let me take a close look at you.” Mo Yuan raised a candle near her lovely face, gave her a visual once over and tenderly answered honestly, “Lifen, I think you might be the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen in my life and, yes, I ate them all by myself. I didn’t share them with anyone.”
Her astonished expression caused a line to appear between her brows. Her large Kewpie doll eyes flew open in shock and bored into him. Lifen’s full lips formed a perfect circle when she loudly exclaimed, “HUH!? WHO?! ME?! I’ve never heard anyone say that to me before!” Euphorically she beamed ear to ear, blushed crimson and blatantly swooned at the same time from Mo Yuan’s flattering compliment.
“Shall we make your brain match your beauty and make the most of our time together?” Mo Yuan asked in between faint chuckles because she was still rosy faced, and snickering giddily from his comment about her looks. He silently wondered how Bai Qian would have responded, if he’d honestly told her how lovely she was instead of saying she was ugly all the time.
Lifen’s eyes sparkled brighter than the stars in the sky with pure excitement when she asked, “Shifu, could you teach me how to write your name first?”
“My name? 墨深 Mo Yuan.” He wrote it out big and precisely for her to view to her heart’s content.
A soft ‘ahhh’ sound of contentment came from her mouth. A wonder struck Lifen raised the paper carefully with both hands, held it up high and curiously asked, “Shifu, what does Mo Yuan mean?”
“Ink Abyss or Dark Ink.” Said Mo Yuan.
She stared at him with big lovesick eyes and gushed, “Just like your eyes! Inky dark abyss like… Mo Yuan! That’s the most beautiful name I’ve ever heard! Shifu, I think I’ve fallen in love with you or perhaps loved you my entire life!”
“Lifen, you shouldn’t confess love so readily to a man. What if I asked you to take responsibility for your words? Then what would you do?” Mo Yuan playfully teased because he was entirely tickled by her impromptu, and spontaneous love declaration.
How quickly her cheery demeanor changed, became quite solemn as she reached out and gently held his face with both hands. Lifen’s searching gaze studied him, peered into his eyes as if she were reading his mind, body and soul.
Mo Yuan wondered if she could see herself like a mirror. Recognize herself. Her vivid image because he felt as if he were full of her.
She whispered in a tone full of wonderment, “Your soulful eyes. I’ve known you my entire life or at least been waiting for you. I’d recognize you anywhere. Anytime. Any life. I know you. I’ve always known you.”
The warmth of her hands felt cold in comparison because of the intense heat radiating from his inflamed, burning skin. The exquisite sensation of her touch, made something inside him stir aroused from it’s prolonged slumber. Yes, something within Mo Yuan was wide awake and yearning for more. Spontaneously his hand moved on top of hers caught up in the tender moment.
He was close to kissing her lips when Lifen suddenly squeezed his cheeks roughly, tickled his chin under his beard and her mischievous, happy laughter filled the air.
She squealed, clapped her hands and asked, “How was that line? Did it make your heart flutter and throb? I’ve always wanted to use that sappy line on a man!”
Scarcely able to hold back his chuckle because he was thoroughly humored, Mo Yuan retorted, “You cheeky rascal! How could you say that to a man straight faced? Lifen, you’re so young. Why would you want to marry so early?”
“Because of rainy days! Whenever it rains, I feel most regretful that I don’t have anyone to kiss and hug.” Lifen pushed her face close to his and asked curiously before deliberately puckering her lips, “Shifu, do you want to kiss me?”
Yes, he so very much wanted to press his lips to hers more than anything. However, Mo Yuan instead used his index and third fingers placed on her forehead, pushed her back, quickly planted his palm on her lips as he’d done in the past and earnestly replied, “It’s not raining. I’ll kiss you when it rains.”
It was just as he’d expected. Lifen’s reaction was identical to when she was Bai Qian. She promptly opened her eyes, gawked at his palm crossed eyed and pouted, “Your loss! Shifu, have you fallen in love with me yet?”
From the very top of her head to the tip of her chin, Mo Yuan deliberately swiped his flat hand over her face and answered, “Almost. Maybe by the time you can write me a love letter, I’ll really fall in love with you.”
Focusing all her attention back to the written words, she faintly under her breath repeated his name, while carefully raising the thin sheeted paper with Mo Yuan’s name written on it.
She scrutinized it with great care before placing it down in front of him again and requested excitedly, “Shifu, could you write my name under yours?”
A beaming expression of pure rapture and satisfaction swiftly came to her face, when he handed the sheet back to her. She first quickly waved the paper in the air to dry, carefully folded it into a little square and slipped it inside the top of her dress.
Tenderly, affectionately Mo Yuan watched her and suggested, “Shall we begin to make a scholar out of you?”
She nodded her head in eager exuberantly and sat close, firmly to his side.
All night they sat glued side by side in almost darkness. The only light coming from the many votive candles and moon glow overhead. While she practiced writing and rewriting the characters, Mo Yuan watched her and drank in the ambrosia-like sweetness of her very presence until he felt intoxicated.
After nearly four hours of continuous practicing, she proudly handed Mo Yuan two wrapped packages and announced, “Shifu, I made moon-cakes that you loved like last time and the other is a roasted chicken. My father loves me so much that he insists I have meat with every meal but I’m too full. So I thought you might be hungry from your travels.”
It was impossible not to snicker when Mo Yuan saw ink smears on her cheek and by her mouth. She had a nervous habit of tapping the brush against her lips, while concentrating so she had half a skinny painted mustache. Intently without blinking her eyes followed his hand when he licked his thumb, and wiped the black marks off her face.
“Lifen, you don’t need to bring me anything. Thank you for the kind gesture.” Mo Yuan used his sleeve to wipe off the rest of the ink and gently pushed the bundles back at her.
His unexpected touch made her eyes flutter open in astonishment before fully widening. So full of ecstatic bliss that she broke out into an enormous grin that showed her precious dimples clearly.
Swiftly she insisted on persistently, “Shifu, I’m not an ungrateful woman. Do you not like my cakes? Is that why you don’t want them? That’s weird because I make them extra special and delicious just for you!”
Softly he answered, “No, I don’t want you to go through any unnecessary trouble for me.”
Loudly she confessed with blushing cheeks in between giggles, “Shifu, when I make these with you in mind, I feel so content and happiest knowing how much you enjoy them.”
How could she be so endearing? Mo Yuan thought to himself and accepted her heartfelt offering. Suddenly feeling troubled, he recalled Lifen explaining how she’d sat on the roof of her home all winter long anticipating for him. Mere minutes for him were months of waiting for her.
Mo Yuan thoughtfully suggested, “Lifen, instead of you staying up all night waiting for me, how about if I come the first of every month? That way you’ll know when to expect me and you won’t have to bake every single day?”
The overwhelmed look in her grateful eyes was indescribable when Lifen expressed her overflowing gratitude, “Shifu, you’ve given me too much! You saved my life! Gave me my first kiss and share your precious time to teach me how to read and write! I’d like to give you with something in return!”
Wordlessly she leaned in and kissed Mo Yuan’s cheek. He was utterly stunned by her affectionate display and swiftly rubbed, where she’d kissed him only to hear her titter wildly at his bewildered, embarrassed response.
Lifen pushed her face into his direct sight, batted, fluttered her eyelashes flirtatiously and asked again in earnest, “Are you in love with me now?”
With the same deliberate hand sweeping motion down her entire face, Mo Yuan replied honestly in his soft voice, “Almost. It’s nearly dawn. I’ll see you next month. Thank you for my moon-cakes. I’ll eat them all tomorrow for breakfast.”
This time, Lifen made them into the shape of a heart. As per his promise, he ate every terrible, difficult to swallow, almost obscenely disgusting, flavored morsel and had the worst stomachache ever. Even while actively shoving them into his mouth, he wondered why was he eating them? Considering, he was already well aware of how awful they tasted but his strange, and incomprehensible actions were all a part of his current ailment. The absurd, illogical, ridiculous, doesn’t make any sense things one does when inflicted with the incurable disease, also called love-sickness. High God Mo Yuan was finally head over heels, out of his mind madly and entirely blinded by absolute consuming love.
Because he was a magnanimous person, Mo Yuan decided to share his bounty. Lifen’s moon-cakes caused quite the stir. Reactions varied differently among the ones who sampled them. Ye Hua saw the package and his eyes rounded in pure delight as he eagerly grabbed one instantly.
“Moon-cakes?! I love these! These pastries are my very favorite! Brother, where did you get them from because the design is entirely different and unique from the ones I’ve seen. I can’t resist!”
It was terrible of him but Mo Yuan said nothing but keenly watched his twin’s reaction.
Ye Hua enthusiastically bit into it at first but the big smile on his face vanished instantly and he choked. Violently he spat it out into his palm, gaped at it in horror and confusion as if he couldn’t understand why they were so awful.
Ye Hua asked in a low tone, “Is this not edible? What did I just put in my mouth!? Why didn’t you warn me!?”
“I enjoy them.” Mo Yuan just replied back straight faced.
Ye Hua gawked in horror and demanded, “You like them!? Brother, are you teasing me? Where did you get them?”
Mo Yuan turned his gaze back to the document Ye Hua delivered and said, “Bai Qian made them.”
Ye Hua exhaled sharply and exclaimed, “Thank Heavens she’s pretty! I guess you’ll be doing all the cooking if you two marry.”
Repeatedly, his younger twin was still sticking his tongue out in disgust when Mo Yuan held back his urge to smile and informally asked, “Ye Hua, would you like something to drink?”
“No, I’m considering licking the bare floor or the bottom of my boots to rid the foul taste from my palette. Thank Heavens she’s beautiful! You’ll have to eat her instead of her baking!” Mo Yuan swiftly raised his gaze at Ye Hua’s loud sexual comment and thought of her sitting in a vat of grapes.
Zhe Yan’s response was entirely different. Unlike Ye Hua who just helped himself, Mo Yuan served them on a plate while Zhe Yan was enjoying his wine. He knew it was a mean, childish joke but Mo Yuan couldn’t help himself. Zhe Yan curiously picked one up and studied it carefully before popping it into his mouth.
He announced aloud, wide-eyed with true satisfaction, “Mmmmm! These are delicious! They taste familiar but I can’t put my finger on it.”
Zhe Yan thought they were astonishingly delicious and gobbled them up! He also asked for more. He ate almost all of them in one sitting, snapped his fingers in recognition of the unique flavor and excitedly nodded his head knowingly.
“These taste just like the ones Xiao Wu makes! I love when she bakes. It’s a little-known fact but she’s extremely and exceptionally talented in the kitchen! Her future husband is blessed! I’m addicted to her moon-cakes! I hope she comes back soon.” Zhe Yan licked his fingers to savor the flavor.
How anticlimactic for Mo Yuan that his joke was a flop. Once again, he had clear indisputable reaffirmation that Zhe Yan was somewhat, no, completely insane.
To be continued…..