After Zhao Nan had ordered the dishes, he returned with a pot of hot tea and poured a cup for Zhang Xiaohua and Jiang Rui.

The weather was cold, so Jiang Rui held the teacup in her hands for some warmth. This body had a good foundation and under the nourishment of her spiritual energy, there were fewer impurities in the body. Du Baoqin used to be just white, but now she was a little paler and her skin looked clearer. Her slender fingers held a white porcelain cup, and they actually looked more delicate than the cup.

Zhao Nan glanced at her, followed by a second and a third glance.

Jiang Rui felt something and she raised her eyes, looking at him through the slits of her long eyelashes.

This time, Zhao Nan was the first to evade and he took a sip from the teacup as if nothing had happened. But he forgot that the tea had just been brewed, and it was still hot. As soon as he drank the tea, his whole body froze. After a while, his throat rolled as he swallowed the tea.

Jiang Rui covered her mouth with a smile in her eyes.

Zhang Xiaohua saw all of this and wanted to laugh a little, but she held back and coughed dryly. Afraid that the situation would turn awkward, she looked for something to talk about: “By the way, I heard Aunt Zhang say, Ah Nan, you have been in the army for more than ten years. How old were you when you joined the army?”

“Sixteen years old.” Zhao Nan put down the teacup and intentionally or unintentionally, pushed it further away.

“You were still half a kid then, it’s not easy to be so far away from home. However, from what I see, other people in the army can make a trip home every year, and they will live at home for half a month to one month. Why haven’t I seen you back home?”

“The military is different, sometimes there are special tasks.”

Zhang Xiaohua half-understood and she nodded. She glanced at Jiang Rui, and said jokingly, “You are so busy, in the future after marriage, you both will have to work hard, living separately in two different places.”

Zhao Nan seemed to follow her gaze and looked at Jiang Rui before saying, “My rank is high enough, family members can accompany me to the army.”

“That’s good!” Zhang Xiaohua was surprised, she thought that if you were to marry a soldier, you would have to live apart from each other, suffering like a widow.

She still had more to say but she saw that the food was being served, hence she stopped temporarily.

Just now, Jiang Rui ordered a vegetarian dish, and what Zhang Xiaohua ordered had only half a meat, but when the dishes came to the table, there were no less than five dishes. Three of these were large dishes, braised pork with plum vegetables, braised pork shanks, and Jiuzhuan fat sausages. One after another, the dishes were served, delicious and savory with the fragrance of the oil. Their eyes stared straight and unwaveringly, unable to take their eyes off the food.

The Du family, at the end of the year, had only a few pounds of meat distributed by the commune, allowing them to add a little meat to their diet. As soon as the meat was brought home, it was marinated by Wang Tonghua with coarse salt and hung from the beam above the stove. Each time a dish was cooked, a small piece of meat, at most two fingers thick would be cut off. That little bit of meat had to be cooked from the twelfth lunar month until the beginning of the first lunar month. (T/N: the small piece of meat had to last them for a month, that’s pretty sad ( ´•︵•` ) )

Normally, if they were craving meat, they could only eat some if it was raised by themselves. Otherwise without a meat ticket, even if they had money, they could not buy any. To eat in a restaurant like this, you would need food stamps for rice and noodles, meat stamps for meat, and even if you wanted to eat a fried dough stick, you needed half a catty of fine grains. So these days, people from the countryside dare not go to restaurants, because without a ticket, they would not sell you anything.

Zhang Xiaohua only knew that Zhao Nan was a soldier and probably owned some tickets, but she did not know that he had so many. A moment ago, at the supply and marketing cooperatives, even when he took out money and tickets to buy the scarves and candies, he did it without blinking.

Not long ago, she was still thinking in her mind that if she was given a choice, she would rather choose a man like Du Baoqiang who knew how to be considerate, than a soldier like Zhao Nan, who would seldom be able to see each other, only several a times in a year. But now under such a sugar-coated cannonball attack, she was hardly able to remain resolute as she wavered: being able to eat and drink, what do you need a man for?

│Mochi: that’s right sis, food is more important than a man ୧( ˵ ° ᴗ ° ˵ )୨ 

She looked at Zhao Nan again, feeling that his tall figure seemed to be taller and bigger, and his back was shining with golden light.

She turned to look at Jiang Rui again but saw that this little sister-in-law still had a subtle smile on the corner of her mouth with two dimples on her cheeks. Her whole person was quiet and delicate.

She sighed secretly, how could she have thought this little girl to be silly before? Those truly smart and powerful people would never be those who like to compete with others for petty benefits.

When the food was served, Zhang Xiaohua did not have time to think much. She almost exerted all of her strength to not let herself gorge on the food. Even then, once the meal started, she did not look up, and the table was quiet for a while.

Jiang Rui ate her rice in small bites, eating only the small rapeseed and radish, while occasionally picking some of the plum vegetables.

Zhao Nan noticed her behavior and immediately asked, “Is it not to your liking?”

“No, it tastes good.” Jiang Rui smiled, looked at him, and said, “It’s all delicious, but I don’t like meat very much.”

Being looked at by her, Zhao Nan only responded vaguely and took a few mouthfuls of rice. He then seemed to feel that his response just now was not good, and added: “Not eating meat is bad for your health.”

“Really?” Jiang Rui tilted her head.

Zhang Xiaohua was even more surprised: “Baoqin doesn’t like eating meat? You don’t know how to enjoy, is there anything in the world that tastes better than meat? Besides, Ah Nan is right, always eating vegetables, there is no oil and water in the body, how can you bear it?”

Usually, at home, she could occasionally eat some eggs, tricking her stomach into thinking it was meat. Looking back now, it seems that she has never seen Du Baoqin eat meat dishes, she even rarely ate any eggs.

Zhang Xiaohua took the initiative to pick a piece of braised pork that was thinner, with less fat, and put it in her bowl, “If you don’t like meat, then eat those with less fat and have more that are leaner.”

The chefs in the restaurant were very skilled. The braised pork was bright with red sauce and the thick soup had a mellow fragrance. With a glance, you could tell that the taste would be very good. Jiang Rui, however, stared at it distressedly, her brows wrinkled slightly, and it took her a while to pick it up and bite off a small piece. The meat entering her mouth was salty and fragrant, with the meat stewed softly, lean and skinny, not greasy at all. It was much better than the mouth full of oil and grease she had imagined.

The two of them stared at her intently. Seeing her eating, Zhang Xiaohua hurriedly asked, “How is it, is it delicious?”

“Yes, it’s good.” Jiang Rui nodded.

“Look at you, how many good things have you missed in the past? Come, try this pork shank, I guarantee you won’t be able to stop eating it. The two of us were able to eat this today, it’s all thanks to Ah Nan.”

Jiang Rui’s pink and tender cheeks were puffed up with meat in her mouth. Hearing this, she looked at Zhao Nan and saw that he was also looking at her, her eyes curved up as she smiled at him.

Zhao Nan did not speak. He lowered his head to scoop and eat the rice. After scooping twice, he realized that his bowl was empty. He went to get some rice again but when he got up, he moved so abruptly that he almost knocked the chair over.

Looking at him walked away, Zhang Xiaohua snorted, patted Jiang Rui’s hand, and said, “I told you to smile more at others just now, but thinking about it now, forget it. Even without you smiling at him, he is already dizzy. If you smile again, I’m afraid I won’t be able to find my way home later.”

Jiang Rui gave her a piece of fat intestines, “There is so much to eat, but it’s still not enough for my sister-in-law’s mouth to be busy.”

“Okay, I won’t say anymore, I will just eat.” Zhang Xiaohua said with a smile.

After eating, the three of them were about to leave when a young man ran out from the back kitchen, “Second brother, wait for me!”

It was the youngest son of the Zhao family, Zhao Bei, who was working as an apprentice in the restaurant. Do not belittle the apprentice position, there were many people eyeing this position. The reason why Zhao Bei was able to be an apprentice was that the chef of the restaurant is their granduncle. The old man had no children, so the grandfather of the Zhao family made the decision, and handed the youngest grandson to his younger brother, to inherit his mantle and in the future, take care of him in retirement.

The Zhao family’s children were quite different in age, Zhao Bei was eight, nine years younger than Zhao Nan and he still looked like a teenager. Wearing an apron, he caught up to them with a few steps, and patted Zhao Nan on the shoulder, ” Didn’t you say we can sit together for a while when I’m done, why are you leaving already?” Before Zhao Nan could speak, he looked at Jiangrui, them both, and smiled, “It’s older sister Baoqin and sister-in-law, my name is Zhao Bei, you can just call me Xiaobei.”

He had a familiar temperament, unlike his second brother who was taciturn. He’s a few months older than Du Baoqin, but he still smoothly called her “older sister”.

Jiang Rui and Zhang Xiaohua also greeted him.

Zhao Bei pressed down on Zhao Nan’s shoulders and nudged him back to his seat: “Sit sit,  sit down for a while more, I still have some melon seeds, wait for me to bring them.” 

The three sat down again and watched him run back to the kitchen. Shortly after, he brought out a plate, which had apples, oranges, melon seeds, and peanuts.

“Sister Baoqin and sister-in-law have something to eat, this is what I bought hurriedly, I didn’t buy anything good, hope you won’t dislike it.” (T/N: I’ll use “sister” from here on, but he means older sister)

He invited them graciously. Jiang Rui took an orange and slowly peeled it in her hand, and Zhang Xiaohua also ate.

“Did you all come here in the morning? Have you taken a look around? There is a park not far from here, or should I take a leave of absence and go shopping with you all?”

“It’s too much trouble for you.” Jiang Rui shook her head.

Zhang Xiaohua also smiled and said, “We’re both idlers, just wandering around and having fun, how can we delay you from your serious matters?”

Zhao Bei smiled and said, “I don’t mind, it’s only proper to accompany Sister Baoqin and sister-in-law.”

Zhang Xiaohua added: “The main thing is that it’s not early anymore. If it’s too late, there will be no bus back to the commune.”

“Oh, that’s true.” Zhao Bei nodded, turned, and gave Zhao Nan a glance, then elbowed him in the chest, “Elder brother, why aren’t you saying anything? Next time you and Sister Baoqin come to play in the county town, remember to look for me earlier and I will show you around.”

“Ah Nan took us to the supply and marketing cooperative today, it was quite lively.” Zhang Xiaohua said.

“That’s good. Sister Baoqin, sister-in-law, if you bought anything, just ask my brother to help you carry it. My mother talks about it every day, saying that my brother is a gourd with a sawed mouth since he was a child. (T/N: a gourd with the mouth sawed-off and there’s no opening, which means he doesn’t talk much) He only says a few words all day long and doesn’t know how to make people happy, he only has strength, so you two, don’t hesitate to order him around. Also, don’t think that my brother, dressed in military uniform, looks like he has nothing, in fact, his purse is bigger than mine. If you see anything you like, Sister Baoqin, don’t be polite and just speak up, give him a chance to be attentive and ingratiate himself, lest he feels suffocated.”

Zhao Nan didn’t say a word, just look askance at Zhao Bei.

Zhao Bei shrank his neck, thinking: I worked so hard, and it was all for you, elder brother’s lifelong happiness. You, old man, have to be careful and perceptive of even the finest detail.

Just this morning, Zhang Xiaohua, in front of Zhao Nan, praised her little sister-in-law openly and covertly. Now that the Zhao family is here, they are also taking the same route as her.

Zhao Bei said that his brother had a stupid mouth and could not do anything right. In fact, he just offhandedly mentioned that he had a great body, a great personality, and a great wallet, not to be missed out on. 

Zhang Xiaohua listened and she secretly reflected that her skills were still insufficient. Her glib talk was not smooth enough, she wasn’t thick-skinned enough, and she still had much to learn.

In the end, Zhao Nan couldn’t listen anymore, he took the man back to the kitchen and left with the two.

It was not early anymore, hence they did not continue to stay in the county, and took the bus back to Chaoyang Commune.

After getting off the bus, Zhang Xiaohua grabbed Jiang Rui and said to Zhao Nan, “Ah Nan, thank you for your hospitality today. If you are free another day, we’ll go visit and say hello to you instead. Baoqin and I have to go to the supply and marketing cooperative to get something, we won’t be going back with you.”

This was also done to avoid gossip, the two of them had only met for the first time today, and after returning home tonight, the two families would have to discuss the happenings of today. On the off chance that the two did not work out in the end, yet walked in pairs on the road for others to see, it would still be okay for the Zhao family who was on the male side, but Du Baoqin, a girl, could not stand the gossip of others.

There were some black-hearted people, it was uncertain if they would spread the word everywhere, saying that it must be Du Baoqin’s fault, otherwise, why would the Zhao family dislike her?

Zhao Nan looked at Jiang Rui, nodded, then took out three scarves from the cloth bag in his hand, and handed the rest to her, “For you.”

Inside the bag were the scarves and candies he bought in the county seat.

Jiang Rui and Zhang Xiaohua looked at each other. Zhang Xiaohua joked before that Zhao Nan must have included her share in the scarves that he bought. Now it seems that not only her, but even Zhang Xiaohua, Wang Tonghua, and Du Baozhen had a share.

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