Time flies even in the fictional world! It’s the Lunar New Year once again. Three chapters ago, our dear couple overcame one of their biggest disagreements which culminated in a moving reunion. Would this festive season be as eventful as previously?
The much-anticipated Lunar New Year descended on the nation once again. As the largest-scaled national holiday, Yun Jin and Cheng Zheng both had a week off work. The previous year, both did not return home to celebrate. It was alright for Cheng Zheng because he had many opportunities to see his family throughout the year – his parents would occasionally make special stopovers to check in on him. As for Yun Jin, she had not seen her mother in over a year. She had conflicted emotions towards her mother; she missed her yet wanted to avoid her.
This year, her mother had phoned her early on and insisted she return to spend the new year together. More importantly, her mother had confided in the wee hours of the morning that because uncle’s clothing factory faced stiff competition coupled with poor management, they had made a loss in the past two years. Since they couldn’t turn the situation around, they sold the company at a discounted rate to repay their debts. Now, the family of three survived on uncle’s savings. Although they were not exactly in dire straits, their living situation was incomparable to the past. Although Yun Jin was not close to her uncle, she was forever grateful that he had paid for her university education. As family, it was only right that she went back to pay a visit.
Two days before the start of the Lunar New Year, Yun Jin and Cheng Zheng flew back to their hometown. They alighted to find Cheng Zheng’s parents and chauffeur already awaiting their arrival at the airport. His parents beseeched Yun Jin to stay with them a couple of days but Yun Jin’s heart was set on returning home quickly. Moreover, she and Cheng Zheng had yet to wed thus she didn’t think it was appropriate for her to spend the new year with his family. They were unable to make her stay and had no choice but to make arrangements for her to be sent back to the county. Cheng Zheng insisted on personally seeing her to her doorstep before reuniting again with his parents in the provincial capital.
While Yun Jin’s mother had anticipated her return, she was still overwhelmed with emotions when they finally met. Yun Jin was no different; her heart ached to see her mother appearing wan after a year of not meeting. Obviously, she had not been truthful of the extent of their financial situation. Even uncle was not as chirpy as before. As her step-sister was still very young, she was very shy and spoke little to Yun Jin.
After dinner, Yun Jin and her mother finished washing up the utensils before adjourning to the master bedroom for a heart-to-heart talk. Yun Jin pressed her bank book into her mother’s hands and said it was the least she could do as her daughter. Her mother initially refused but accepted it eventually. Truth be told, while Yun Jin had worked for the better half of a year, her savings were not substantial but working in prosperous G-city meant that her income was in the mid-range. Furthermore, staying with Cheng Zheng meant she saved on her accommodation. She had always insisted on sharing the utility bill and contributing to the living expenses but regardless, she was by his side and he would look after her and would never insist that she walk the talk. She did not need to worry about her own expenses so she did not hesitate to give them to her mother. She had no idea if her contribution was any help at all, but it was all she had.
Her mother comforted her by saying that the bleakest period had already passed. Uncle had stayed at home directionless but recently, at his friend’s recommendation, he had been hired as a supervisor by another textile factory and would start work after the new year. Although he would be working in someone else’s company from thereon, it was a much larger scale than the one he owned previously so he had more breathing space and did not worry about being unable to adapt to his new role as a subordinate.
“This is wonderful! It’s all due to uncle being so capable.” Yun Jin’s worries were finally soothed.
“He may be capable, but he also required luck.” Mommy sighed.
Yun Jin thought it awkward to probe so she asked in a roundabout manner if uncle had treated her well. Her mother blushed as she said at this age there was nothing more she could ask for. Seeing her mother’s blissful smile, Yun Jin knew that her mother had found someone she could spend the remainder of her life with. As her daughter, there was nothing Yun Jin wanted more than for her mother to be happy. She also had Cheng Zheng by her side. Would her father be comforted to know that the two most important women in his life had found their respective happiness?
Having poured out her worries, Yun Jin felt relieved of her burdens. So at their reunion dinner, the family of four ate in happiness and Yun Jin even toasted uncle a couple of times. She felt her cheeks heating up no thanks to the alcohol but at least her heart was finally at peace. She was just about to call Cheng Zheng when he beat her to it.
He went on and on about how he missed her as though he couldn’t bear them to be apart for even a day. He also brought up the fact that it was about time both sets of parents met to lend their relationship some formality. Yun Jin hesitated; she felt that it was too abrupt but because she was under the influence of alcohol, she was no match for Cheng Zheng’s persistence and agreed ultimately.
She had agreed because she wanted to pacify him but she didn’t expect Cheng Zheng to see to the matter so efficiently. Early the next day, he called to inform her that his parents were available at the very instant and wanted to settle on a venue. Yun Jin didn’t know if she should laugh or cry. Today was the first day of the Lunar New Year; no one with the presence of mind would arrange it on such an important day. She pleaded with him to be rational and only then did he agree to postpone the meeting till the next day. He added that his parents were willing to accommodate Yun Jin’s family and travel over to their county and meet at a venue of their choice.
When the call ended, Yun Jin had no choice but to inform her mother and uncle about this arrangement. To her surprise, they strongly criticised it; how could they trouble their prospective in-laws to come all the way to their humble county? They were adamant that they should be the ones to travel over to the city. Yun Jin left the decision up to them and notified Cheng Zheng of their wishes. Cheng Zheng’s family respected their opinion as well and proceeded to book a hotel they frequented. When the call ended, Cheng Zheng’s father even personally rang her up to invite them over in his name.
Yun Jin had not expected such a simple affair to be blown out of proportions and take on such a formal tone but the details had already been fixed and she didn’t want to create more fuss.
On the second day of the Lunar New Year, her mother and uncle rose early to prepare themselves before waking Yun Jin and her step-sister. Yun Jin was amused to observe that her mother had put on her best dress while uncle was wearing his wedding suit. At the same time, she could not deny feeling touched. No matter if they were rich or poor, all parents were of the same mindset in wanting the best for their children.
The family went through many rounds of accessory changes before finally leaving for the city. Before they boarded the bus, Yun Jin’s step-sister was scolded by uncle for not having memorised a list of auspicious wishes to greet Cheng Zheng’s parents. Yun Jin stepped in hastily before the mood soured.
After making a quick stopover to buy the county’s famous product as a gift, they took the hour-odd bus journey to the city. By the time they reached, it was almost noon. Yun Jin refused to allow Cheng Zheng to pick them up so they hailed a taxi from the bus terminal and made their way to the restaurant.
The cab finally arrived in front of the hotel. After disembarking, Yun Jin studied the building before her; the grand lobby was luxurious but not ostentatious. Although it was located in the heart of the city, it was peaceful and had no hint of the noisy alleyways that the city was famous for. There were few cars to be seen driving around the roads bordering the hotel. One could tell that it wasn’t an ordinary hotel that members of the public could frequent.
Cheng Zheng was already at the entrance. When he saw Yun Jin’s parents, he approached them quickly and greeted them respectfully. Her mommy and uncle were quick to return the greetings enthusiastically. Cheng Zheng wanted to help them with the parcels they were carrying but they wouldn’t let him so Yun Jin smiled and said “Uncle, let the youths carry it. It’s only right.” Cheng Zheng smiled and reached for the parcel successfully before the restaurant manager beside him led them to a private room on the second floor.
When the staff opened the doors, her mother whispered to Yun Jin nervously “There is nothing wrong with my attire right?” Yun Jin didn’t reply but merely squeezed her mother’s hand.
At their arrival, Cheng Zheng’s parents stood up to receive them. After exchanging pleasantries, both families took their seats. While sitting, uncle insisted that Cheng Zheng sit before he did. With Yun Jin watching closely, Cheng Zheng didn’t dare and subsequently both of them engaged in a ridiculous politeness gridlock. Cheng Zheng’s father finally intervened and had to formally invite uncle to sit before the matter was resolved. Yun Jin was a little bewildered and assumed uncle was being overly gracious so she kept quiet.
As they spoke casually, the waiters served dish after dish seamlessly. Cheng Zheng’s father Cheng Yan Sheng and his mother Zhang Jin Yin were dressed in casual attire which didn’t reflect their lofty status in the least. The man was refine while the lady was demure, they had a well-to-do aura that more than made up for their appearance lest one thought otherwise. The couple behaved just like any other ordinary set of parents would and spoke casually with their prospective in-laws. Cheng Yan Sheng was friendly but also a man of few words; he had the dignified air of a scholar. On the other hand Zhang Jin Yin was chatty and she more than made up for her husband’s reticence.
When all the dishes had been served, the hosts offered a toast “The dishes here may not be the best, but it’s rare to come by such a clean place that befits a meeting between family. I hope it’s up to your expectations. Let’s drink to the new year and to the first time we meet.”
At this, the rest of them rose and downed the alcohol except for Yun Jin’s young step-sister. As Yun Jin and Cheng Zheng drank, they grinned at each other happily. Before they could sit again, uncle quickly snatched up the bottle of wine and poured another cup for Cheng Yan Sheng who was seated next to him. Cheng Yan Sheng bowed and thanked him. Then, uncle poured for Zhang Jin Yin who beckoned for the waiter to take over as she exclaimed “You’re too kind.”
Uncle offered a toast “I’m not being kind. Director Cheng and Director Zhang, words cannot express how grateful I am towards you. I’m not good with words so let me use this cup to represent my gratitude towards you for taking care of my family.”
Yun Jin’s chopsticks froze in mid-air as her confused gaze alternated between uncle and Cheng Zheng’s parents. Zhang Jin Yin coughed lightly but the smile on the face remained “We’re going to be family soon so please dispense with ceremony. Cheng Zheng, do ensure that uncle and aunty are eating well.” Cheng Zheng cast a look at Yun Jin as he quickly motioned to the waiter to top up their soup before personally putting food on Yun Jin’s plate.
Yun Jin vaguely felt that something was not quite right but Cheng Yan Sheng had already directed the conversation on to another topic. Both sets of parents talked about ordinary matters and the atmosphere was pleasant. In the middle of the meal, Zhang Jin Yin asked after Yun Jin’s mother’s health. The latter replied “It’s alright. Thank you for asking. If I wasn’t feeling so weak these days, I would have also applied for work at the factory. I must be getting old.”
Cheng Zheng interrupted “Your health is more important.”
Uncle then turned to Zhang Jin Yin “Don’t worry Director Zhang. Once the New Year has passed, I will report to Manager Li. I’m familiar with the textile business operations, you can be rest assured …”
“Uncle, try this. It’s quite delicious.” Yun Jin interrupted him and placed choice meat on his plate.
She finally made sense of it all. She was really dense; she should have known that life was not so smooth-sailing. How could she have attributed her uncle’s recent employment to lady luck? That such an enviable job offer should simply fall into his lap, it wasn’t divine intervention but a human orchestrated one.
As the adults spoke, Zhang Jin Yin’s coat which was draped over her seat slipped off onto the floor. Before any of the staff could react, uncle leapt off his seat and bent over to pick it up. He scrutinized it carefully for any traces of dust before draping it in its original position. Yun Jin closed her eyes as a familiar unpleasant feeling enveloped her. She had almost forgotten the incident five years ago when Meng Xue had given her the envelope. That was comparable to Zhang Jin Yin’s coat incident and Yun Jin grew so red that she felt dizzy. After all these years, nothing had changed.
She opened her eyes and discovered Cheng Zheng staring anxiously at her. So they all had known except her. But what right did she have to be unhappy? Cheng Zheng’s parents meant well; they knew Cheng Zheng loved her so they were extremely willing to help out her family crisis. Yun Jin knew also that her uncle and mother did in actual fact need the job.
She smiled at Cheng Zheng before bending her head and eating wordlessly. She never tasted food this bitter. She struggled to keep the food down as she chewed slowly and purposefully, all while plastering a smile on her face.
After dinner, Cheng Zheng’s parents invited Yun Jin’s family to stay for a few days. Yun Jin and her mother declined as they had other relatives they needed to visit so Cheng Zheng’s parents didn’t force them.
Cheng Zheng pulled Yun Jin to a corner and said “Your mom can do the visiting. Please stay.”
Yun Jin smiled in response “Aren’t you tired of seeing me everyday?”
His mouth twitched mischievously as he whispered into her ear. The content of his words caused Yun Jin to blush as she glared hatefully at him. The adults took in their actions and chuckled without passing comment.
Back home, they were in the midst of removing their shoes when her step-sister asked curiously “Who are the people we met today? Are they sister’s boyfriend’s family or daddy’s boss?”
Yun Jin froze as uncle yelled “What do you children know? Why do you ask such brainless questions?”
Her step-sister was upset at being on the receiving end of an unfair reprimanding so she made a few clever remarks of her own. At that, uncle’s hand flew up and Yun Jin quickly held him back “Don’t be angry uncle. You just said that children know nothing so don’t take issue with her words. Besides, she wasn’t completely wrong.”
She quickly directed her sister into the bedroom as her mother looked at her conflicted.
“Yun Jin, uncle isn’t that capable. We didn’t mean to keep you in the dark but our family’s situation …”
Yun Jin slipped out of her jacket and brushed off imaginary dust “Since we’re family, why say all this? Uncle, it’s been a long day. I’m turning in now and you have a good rest too.”
She turned and headed for her room but her mother’s caught the edge of her sleeve “Yun Jin …”
Yun Jin studied the face of her only direct kin left in the world before breaking into a smile “Mom, what’s wrong? This isn’t a bad thing. It may seem that they’re our benefactors, but if uncle wasn’t capable, Cheng Zheng’s family would not have been willing to come to our aid by extending such an offer.”
“If our family wasn’t in such dire circumstances, your uncle and I would have never put you in such a difficult position. You are my daughter and I want you to live a good life, a life far better than mine. From what I can tell, that Cheng boy treats you well and his parents are good people.”
Yun Jin patted her mother’s hand lightly “Uncle has a good job and both of you are healthy. That’s all I ask for.”
Ultimately, Cheng Zheng did know her. She received his text as she was about to sleep “You still mind so you’re unhappy. Maybe I was wrong to let mom help your uncle out. But all I really want is for you to be happy.”
Yun Jin clasped the phone to her heart and took a long time to reply “I’m not that ungrateful. I understand. Thank you.”