Chapter 11: Dating a Martian (5)
Miao Yuan’s plan was more successful than imagined. Chen Mo didn’t even go for his overcoat and directly followed her back in uniform.
“Won’t you be cold?” she asked, shivering inside her puffy down coat.
“I’m fine.” The wind wasn’t much to him, and he had a sweater underneath.
So fit! Miao Yuan marveled.
When they arrived at the door, Chen Mo unwittingly recalled how, the first time he came over, he nearly lost his nose in a tragedy.
Miao Yuan unlocked the door and they entered. The heater had been running for a while in her small, one-bedroom home. A fresh layer of lime plaster coated the walls, but it had been applied haphazardly, and old water stains peeped through the white paint, forming an abstract landscape. The floor was covered by a thick rubber mat, which separated heel from ground in a sinking softness. A chintz sofa and a luxurious wooden coffee table adorned the otherwise barren yet tidy room.
Miao Yuan directed Chen Mo to take a seat on the sofa while she retrieved a petite, round cake from the fridge. Slim, upright ladyfingers ringed the edge, and the top was dusted with a generous layer of dark cocoa powder, which set the backdrop for the topmost pattern of powdered-sugar roses and leaves.
Miao Yuan carefully walked over and placed the cake on the table.
Tiramisu, take me away.
She hoped this signal was clear enough. If not, she would tell its story after the cake was finished.
“Have you eaten yet?” she asked.
Chen Mo shook his head. The cake’s smell was hard to make out, and he was only able to discern hints of cocoa.
“You’re not going to blow candles?” he asked.
Miao Yuan smirked. A play has multiple acts!
She turned the lights off and a small flame flickered from the darkness, submerging the room into a dream.
I don’t know if I can make my next birthday wish in advance: I like him. I want to be with him.
The candle burned quickly, wax dripping down and staining the dark cocoa powder.
Miao Yuan removed the candle and passed a spoon to Chen Mo.
“Let’s eat together.” Sharing tiramisu carried a special meaning, so Miao Yuan didn’t want to slice it with a knife and instead wanted to share it with a spoon.
The shiny silver spoon cut through the fine cocoa powder, passed through the delicate mascarpone, and penetrated the coffee-liquor-soaked lady fingers. Various smells flooded the room—the alcoholic fragrance of liquor, the fresh aroma of coffee, the charred bitterness of cocoa, and the rich sweetness of mascarpone.
Chen Mo took a bite. At first, the coffee liquor seemed a bit heavy. But soon, it was enveloped by the coffee’s aroma and the cream’s richness. The divine taste coated his tongue.
“Is it good?” Miao Yuan bit her spoon, eyes expectant.
“It’s delicious!” Chen Mo was momentarily entranced, and his eyes softened. Is this what my future holds?
He thought of a future where she would make cakes for him, and then look at him with that expectant expression.
That thought didn’t seem half bad. After all, his youth—that arduous yet splendid period—had already passed.
Life is a mountain and we each have our own peak. Those peaks are like fireworks, which pierce the night in a brilliant dazzle.
We sweat, we give, we cry.
Yet we stand proud.
But those times will come to pass and we will have to learn to readjust to the longer, more placid days of ordinary life.
“How?” Chen Mo softly asked. How did all these wonderful things come to be?
Miao Yuan lit up, thinking he asked how she made the cake. With an almost prideful tone, she explained how she stirred the marscapone, added in the yolks one by one, and brushed the ladyfingers with coffee liquor, rather than dunking them in it.
It was a monotonous, tedious task requiring considerable care and patience, and she believed it could only be done with a heart of love.
Hearing her talk so passionately made Chen Mo recall his favourite pastime. He liked to disassemble his JS 7.62mm, QBU-88, and QSZ-92 guns onto a large piece of felt, and then meticulously polish every part piece by piece before reassembling them with his eyes closed. During the process, he felt serene and joyfully content, as though becoming whole.
When he had left the team, he asked if he could take the guns. He wanted nothing else.
Of course, that was out of question. Fang Jin instead said, “I’ll store it for you. Write your name on them and in the future, I won’t let others use it.”
Chen Mo then thought of his captain. He thought he couldn’t compare with Xia Minglang. His captain could manifest his abilities with any gun. On the other hand, Chen Mo could only shoot accurately with his own. His captain told him he was single-minded because he lacked emotion. Chen Mo then wondered, What about Xia Minglang?
He shook his head, dispelling those memories.
Miao Yuan sensed his mind was elsewhere and was disappointed. “Was it boring?”
“No, it was interesting. It’s good to stand by what you like. Don’t worry about what others think.”
She blushed and stuffed herself with a spoonful of cake. Her youthful, vibrant face was tinted by veins of flowing red. Sans lipstick, her lips were a pretty pink, enticing one to touch them and confirm whether they really were as sweet and soft as imagined.
Chen Mo suddenly felt his heartbeat quicken. Objects started blurring on the edges and his blood rushed. He bowed his head somewhat awkwardly and tried to concentrate on the food.
I know what’s proper to do. But how do I start? What if she rejects me? How do I respond to that? Chen Mo’s heart was in a tumultuous state.
Engrossed in eating, he devoured the cake in an almost vigorous manner. Miao Yuan didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. While she was proud that her craft undoubtedly advanced, she was also sad that he was so slow and unromantic.
Tiramisu! Tiramisu! At last, do you want to take me away with you?
Seeing Chen Mo eat the last bite, Miao Yuan stared in silence with the occasional blink. A short moment passed before she composed herself and donned a sweet smile, saying, “Chen Mo, do you know the story of tiramisu?”
“It’s said that during World War II, there was a soldier away on the battlefield.” Miao Yuan tried to weave emotion into her voice. “His wife threw all their home’s spare ingredients into a cake for him to take on the road. Whenever that soldier ate the cake, he would miss his wife. Eventually, the war was over and he returned home. His wife told him—”
“Wait a second!” Chen Mo interrupted. “You… Did you put alcohol in this?
“Oh, I did, I did put…” Miao Yuan was vexed. You interrupted me at the critical moment! Did you do that on purpose?
“How much did you put?”
“A third of a cup.” Miao Yuan didn’t know what was going on.
“Be a little more specific.”
“A bit more than 80 milliliters.”
Chen Mo pressed his eyes shut, then opened them. He tried to focus on a point but failed. Disappointed, he said, “I’m drunk.”
Miao Yuan froze before jumping up in shock. “Huh?”
“Y-you, how are you now?” Miao Yuan circled to Chen Mo’s side.
“I’m allergic to alcohol. Find somewhere for me to lie down. I’ll be fine.”
This is inconceivable, thought Chen Mo. He became drunk without noticing. Could it really be like what Zheng Kai said? That being in a place too long deteriorates the senses? Or perhaps it’s because I don’t have my guards up around her and don’t take precautions with the food she gives me.
Miao Yuan was a bundle of nerves as she brought Chen Mo to the bedroom. She moved the blankets to let him lie down. Under the lamp and at a close distance, she could see his unfocused gaze. In her wildest dreams, she never thought that such a bizarre failure could occur. She sat on the edge of the bed, speechless.
Chen Mo closed his eyes and pressed her hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine soon.”
Miao Yuan was exasperated. Soon? But I’ve never seen a drunk person recover quickly!
The alcohol swiftly took effect. Chen Mo’s face gradually flushed and his brows furrowed. He didn’t seem well.
This was testing her willpower. If I stay any longer, I’ll be doing something I know I shouldn’t… Forget it. I’ll go out and cool down a bit.
She tidied up the living room and washed the glass plates thrice. After wiggling her numb fingers, she felt calm enough to go back.
She went to the bathroom and ran a towel under hot water before wringing it. When she returned to the bedroom, the lights had been dimmed and dust motes fluttered in the dry air. On the bed, Chen Mo slept peacefully.
Miao Yuan’s heart nearly skipped a beat.
Why do you always appear before me in the most unbelievable ways and let me believe that I can have you?
Miao Yuan extended a finger towards Chen Mo’s eyebrows and continued moving it downwards until it rested on his lips.