Chapter 4: Meeting Underneath the Sunshine
I made no sound in the car on the way to Xiaoya’s house. I hadn’t felt the feeling of being bothered by a question in a long time, and only wanted to bury myself singlemindedly into this feeling. The odd thing was, I felt like an extremely happy person in that moment. Happiness? I think I must have been mistaken. I have never known what it is to be happy, simply because happiness would cruelly abandon me the moment I began to understand it. So I’ve never been acquainted with the feeling, and had no basis for comparison.
A fashionable girl opened the door for me when we got to Xiaoya’s place. She looked roughly the same age as Xiaoya’s brother, possibly his girlfriend. At least, I really thought so at the time. I thought I would be seeing Xiaoya’s parents today, but apart from the girl, who had opened the door for us and our party, there was no one else in the living room. Seeing that I was puzzled, Xiaoya answered my question before I even asked, “My mom and dad actually both passed away in an accident shortly after I was born. My brother has always taken care of me. Do you pity me now?” I saw tears sparkle in Xiaoya’s eyes as she spoke.
“You will be happy as long as you don’t pity yourself. My parents left me a long, long time ago, but I have a daddy now, and I don’t think I’m miserable. So I’ve always been quite happy.” Even I couldn’t tell myself if I was speaking the truth or not.
“So you’re the same as me!” Xiaoya ran into my embrace and started crying as she hugged me.
“Don’t cry Xiaoya. We shouldn’t shed tears. That spells the defeat of our body to our heart. We can’t let tears prove that there’s sadness in our hearts. We have to keep on living, whatever the circumstances, until courage turns into numbness.” I said as I wiped her tears away.
“But what do you mean? I don’t really understand.” She looked at me in a silly way as she asked.
“You’ll understand when you grow up.”
“But why do you understand it now?” She didn’t give up her line of questioning.
“Because I’m older than you.” I suddenly recalled that I was a bit older than Xiaoya on my legal documents.
“Just by a year!” She didn’t seem to be very convinced or accepting.
“Sometimes, great changes happen in the blink of an eye, not to mention a year.” I sighed with emotion. Indeed, it had only been a matter of one night when I had become an orphan and grown up. Growing up wasn’t a matter of age, but more of whether or not the heart had grown older.
“Alright, let’s stop talking about this. Come have some fruit. Xiaoyu, why are you standing there, dumbly listening in? Are you interested in the conversations of little girls as well?” The girl, who had opened the door, came in with a bowl of fruit.
“Aw, don’t make fun of me, cousin,” we all sat down around the table.
“I’m their cousin, I visit when I have time. My mom, dad, and I don’t feel at ease because Xiaoya is still young, and Xiaoyu is a boy.” She handed an orange to me and added, “My name is Jiang Lan, but if you’re willing to, you can call me sister Lan.
“I’m called Lin Jing, my daddy’s always called me Jing’er.” I responded with my name in return.
“You say you’re called Lin Jing? Your surname is Lin?” Xiaoya’s brother suddenly cried out involuntarily.
“Brother, what’s wrong? Why are you so loud? You scared me.” Xiaoya patted her chest with surprise.
“I’m sorry, I was a bit too loud just now. Are you really called Lin Jing?” He repeated.
I suddenly remembered a person, a person who had wanted to know my name. Could he be that person? I hadn’t gotten a clear look at that person’s face before, so it was possible. Therefore, I answered another question in cautious trial.
“Yes, I’m called Lin Jing. Lin from the characters for forest, Jing from the characters for quiet. Is something the matter?”
“Nothing’s the matter, it’s just that I have an online friend who’s also called Lin Jing. She says that’s her true name, so I suddenly thought that the world was a really small place!” Although he explained it very smoothly, it didn’t feel real to me. There couldn’t be that much of a coincidence, did he really have an online friend called Lin Jing? I think that no one other than him would know.
“I see.” I agreed with him on the surface.
“Xiaoya mentions you often.” Her brother suddenly changed the topic.
“Really? What does she say about me?” I asked carelessly.
“She says that you don’t like talking to other people, and that you don’t like to get close to other people. You always hide away in your own little world, and stare off into space.” For some unknown reason, her brother used the word “hide”. I think he had some ulterior motive.
“I don’t like to talk.” I said quietly.
“But you’re willing to talk to Xiaoya, isn’t that so?” He kept up the pressure.
“That’s because it’s usually Xiaoya doing the talking herself. She doesn’t force me to listen, and doesn’t force me to respond.” I had no choice but to reply.
“Xiaoya says that you don’t seem to like the sun?” He was finally about to reveal his true intentions.
“No, I like the sun a lot. I just don’t like standing underneath the sun. I’m afraid of getting tanned.” I chose an answer that jived most closely with a girl’s logic.
“True, most girl don’t like the sun. They’re afraid of their skin getting darker with a tan.” He stopped there, leaving me perplexed. I wondered who he truly was, and what he was up to.
We then engaged in idle chitchat at the table, talking about random, unimportant things. Sister Lan brought out the birthday cake she had bought earlier, raising the curtain on the birthday party’s festivities.
The four of us, including Xiaoya, lit sixteen brightly-colored birthday candles together, celebrating Xiaoya’s birthday.
“Xiaoya, your birthday present!” Sister Lan smiled and brought out a present she had hidden in the TV console.
“Brother, where’s yours?” Xiaoya asked evilly as she unwrapped her first present.
“It’s the birthday cake!” Her brother responded with all seriousness.
“A tennis uniform! This is so pretty! Thank you cousin!” She smiled so happily, so sweetly, as she held the tennis uniform.
“Yes, it will look beautiful on you.” Her brother complimented her as well.
“Brother, don’t think you’re getting off this easily. Stop drawing it out.. hurry up and show me. I know you got it a long time ago.” It would seem that Xiaoya was incredibly astute.
“I knew you wouldn’t let me off that easily.” He brought out a wrapped box from his pocket as he responded, and handed it over to his sister.
“Thank you, brother!” Xiaoya smiled as she accepted the gift and started to unwrap it. It was a pair of exquisite hair clasps that were shaped rather oddly. They looked a bit like the pastoral staffs that western archbishops would handle, but were also a bit cute.
Her brother picked up the hair clasps, pinned up the hair that had fallen to the front of her face, and said, “This is a pair of holy hair clasps that I’ve asked a good friend to make. Although they’re small, they are quite powerful and can protect you.”
“I’m good if I have you to protect me.” Xiaoya said naively as she ran her hands lightly over the pair of hair clasps sitting in her hair.
“But I can’t always be beside you! For instance, when you go to school or go to sleep, I won’t be next to you then.” Her brother patted her head.
“Xiaoya, I didn’t prepare a present.”
“That’s okay, it’s my fault, I didn’t tell you it was my birthday today. Besides, you attending my birthday party is the best present you can give me. You’ve never visited a classmate’s house, so my home is your first time!” Xiaoya cut in before I had a chance to finish, but she seemed to realize that “your first time” wasn’t the most appropriate choice of words, and ducked her head in embarrassment.
“However, I still have something to give you.” I undid the chain around my neck as I spoke. It had always been with me, for I don’t even know how many years now, but it was meaningless to me now. It only represented the past, and I no longer needed its protection. Might as well give it to Xiaoya. Perhaps it could serve as protection, or a memento at the very least.
Everyone was shocked silly when I slowly put the chain onto Xiaoya’s neck, as if I had frightened them. No one made a sound. The party atmosphere, that had been present a second ago, vanished without a trace. I stood in front of Xiaoya, not knowing what to do myself.
“Jing’er, I don’t know if I can call you this.” Her brother said gravely.
“You can.” I responded decisively.
“Jing’er, your gift is too precious. I don’t think we can accept it.”
“But it means nothing to me now. A meaningless item is a worthless item, much less a precious one. However, maybe it will render some assistance to Xiaoya.” I spoke unreservedly and gave my reason.
“Help, Jing, you said it would help me. What do you mean?” Xiaoya was utterly befuddled.
“Yes, what do you mean by this help. Can you go into more detail?” Her brother seemed to be very interested, and asked eagerly with a face full of excitement.
“Judging from your car’s bumper sticker, the present you just gave, and the meaning of that present, I think your job must not be too ordinary. Xiaoya says you’re a detective, would you happen to be one of those spirit detectives often seen in manga?” I cut straight to the chase.
“Jing’er you really know how to crack a joke. I merely started a discussion group at school that studies legendary creatures, what detective? You can’t possibly believe Xiaoya’s nonsense!” Although laughter was painted onto his face, his eyes held the distinctive sharp gaze of a detective. It was as if they could see into your heart. Looking into his eyes was like facing a mirror, with my reflection clearly shining back out.
“So what creatures do you discuss?” I actually already knew the answer in my heart, but still had to display some degree of curiosity.
“Have you ever heard of vampires?” He asked probingly.
“The blood family? I’ve heard of some things.” I answered lightly and gave a slight sigh. “It looks like the blood family still hasn’t learned how to live peacefully!”
“What do you mean by that?” He stared closely at me, not letting up even a tiny bit.
“Nothing, just wondering why can’t the blood family assimilate into this ordinary society!” I felt that I had to watch every sentence, every word I uttered in front of him.
“The chain isn’t just to ward off evil, is it!” He obviously didn’t want me to change the topic.
“It can’t ward off evil. It’s useless against everything but the blood family,” I explained. I originally wanted to say “it’s much more useful than the pair of hair clasps you gave”, but didn’t want to provoke a deeper line of questioning and so I swallowed that thought.
“You mean against the blood family?” It looked like he wasn’t going to get off my case.
“Brother, why are you talking about vampires again. Those things don’t exist. You’re always going on and on about vampires, and won’t stop talking about it even during a rare moment of peace.” Xiaoya started complaining off towards the side.
“Xiaoya, the candles have almost gone out. Hurry, make a wish and blow out the candles.” Sister Lan suddenly spoke up and diverted the conversation. It was helping me, in a way.