Chapter 54 – A Price Paid in Advance (3)
He had a splitting headache, and he was sticky with sweat. Shen Fei had opened the window and realized that it was a month deep in November. The two trees outside the window were almost bare, the scene looked lonely, and the air was cold. If she was here, she would sternly tell him that he had lost his window privileges because he hadn’t covered himself properly. He smiled to himself. He was so grateful for everything she had done, saving him, nursing him back to health, and now trying to help him recover.
Zhao Xi dedicated herself in caring for him, washing him, cooking for him, carrying him to wherever he wanted to go. She would sometimes sit and read. She wasn’t especially fond of any other text, but she devoured any medical texts she found. She had taken him to the hot spring several times, even when the path was so rugged and difficult. She sometimes had to lift him with the wheelchair around ditches. When he looked at her with guilt or concern, she would always reassure him that he wasn’t very heavy, that he was lighter than Ping An. But he had seen her silently rubbing her wrists in pain when she thought he wasn’t looking.
The entire circumstance was taking a toll on Zhao Xi, and he knew it. He would find her applying medicine to her hands for the ache and soreness, in the fear that her hands would shake and ruin the acupuncture. It was impossible for Shen Fei to not feel grateful and moved.
Shen Fei closed the window and inched closer to the bedside table, reaching for the jar of water. He had slept for the entire day. He was parched. He imagined her telling him off for drinking water that was so cold. She was in his head even when she wasn’t physically here.
Zhao Xi cared about the littlest thing. She wouldn’t let him eat spicy food, wouldn’t let him stay inside the whole day, wouldn’t let him read all day as it was bad for his eyes. She always found one excuse or another to make him come out in the sunlight. She insisted it was good for the body. But he knew she was too impatient and too anxious to leave him alone by himself, so she took him everywhere she went.
Zhao Xi was always raring to go. She didn’t know what else to do if she wasn’t doing everything at once. In the mornings, she would water the plants, run, practice martial arts, and went for a stroll to pick fruits. Ever since the last incident where Shen Fei had gotten angry, she hadn’t forced him to climb trees again. So, she went up the tree alone and picked fruits, while he spread out his clothes at the foot of the tree to collect the fruits she dropped.
Their life was ordinary, tranquil and self-reliant. He had been unaccustomed to the quiet lifestyle, but as time went by, he became increasingly comfortable and fascinated with it. Some days, both went to the riverside to fish and pick the freshly bloomed lotuses. They made wine and combed beehives. Once, the bees had attacked her. Since he was always wrapped tightly in the blankets, he was safe. She had run to him and snuggled inside the blanket with him, covering them both. Zhao Xi had a keen eyesight, she could see in the dark clearly, while he wasn’t used to it. He knew that when they were snuggled together in the blankets, she would gawk at him. Her gaze was always so sharp and unignorable. She would sometimes look at him when she thought he couldn’t see her. He knew she looked at him tenderly when she thought he was asleep sometimes.
He put down the jar of water and pushed back the covers. He wanted to walk, but he knew what she would say. And he didn’t want to undo everything that the procedure had achieved and increase Zhao Xi’s trouble.
While he was lost thinking about her, she finally returned, patting the flour off of her as she came in.
“Shen Fei, you are awake! Do you want to see what I found?” she asked, excitedly. Aunt Liu had been frying something that Zhao Xi had never seen before. As always, Aunt Liu had given her some of it. In the winters, everybody fried or dried the remaining food that they had, to preserve them for the winter. She had wrapped the curious biscuits to keep them warm as she headed up the mountain. She offered him some, and he took one. He took a bite of it and quite liked it. It was crisp but not greasy. He took another one, making Zhao Xi giddy with joy. She ate only one and kept the rest to heat it in the afternoon the next day, for him.
She cooked fried chicken and fish for dinner. She added some vegetables, mushrooms and noodles to make it healthier. She added a lot of water to make it soupy. Shen Fei gulped down two whole bowls of the dish. He found it so tasty; he had never eaten something so simple yet so delicious.
Late that night, she performed another acupuncture on him, this time up to his chest. Her hands were steady now, and she was more confident. She pressed all the acupuncture points before she stuck her needles so she wouldn’t forget them. As usual, he drank his medicine after the procedure. She massaged the acupuncture points and bathed him. It was his time to sleep, he must have been tired from the acupuncture. Meanwhile, Zhao Xi washed and packed the needles. She was ready to blow out the lights to retire for the night when she realized that he hadn’t slept at all. He was staring at her.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” asked Zhao Xi, concerned. Perhaps the acupuncture had been too painful for him.
“I am a bit tired. Whatever you want to do, just do it quickly…,” he said, looking at her.
Zhao Xi was taken aback. She was confused. It took her a while to register his words. Shen Fei’s condition was growing severe. He was feeling hopeless and thought he wouldn’t live for long. So, he thought he would give her what she wanted. A price paid in advance.