Wu Jing never came back to the Xia family grocery after that day. Aside from Nie Qingzhou and Xia Yi, no one knew she had ever been here.

Nie Qingzhou sometimes wondered, if he hadn't seen Wu Jing, would Xia Yi have told him about it? Most likely not. Just how many secrets lay buried in her silence?

He was a cheat, using information from ten years in the future to get closer to her again and again.

After this unknown storm passed, the joyous Chinese New Year came striding in. On New Year's Eve, when the Nie family was making dumplings, the sound of fireworks and firecrackers outside the door rang out, sizzling like a pot of hot oil. When the first firecracker sounded, Nie Qingzhou was startled, almost dropping the dumpling filling onto the table.

In the city area of the provincial capital, fireworks and firecrackers were prohibited during the New Year, but in county towns like Changchuan, they paid little heed to such restrictions. They made the celebration as lively and bustling as possible, setting off more and more fireworks, lighting up the sky. Nie Qingzhou had spent too many quiet and lonely years in the city area, forgetting what a crackling, firework-filled New Year was supposed to be like.

Seeing Nie Qingzhou constantly looking out the window, his dad thought he wanted to set off fireworks himself so he waved his hand and relieved Nie Qingzhou of the task of wrapping dumplings. He told Nie Qingzhou to take the fireworks and firecrackers from home and set them off with the Xia siblings, then come back in time for dinner.

Upon hearing this, Nie Qingzhou quickly finished folding the last dumpling, rushed to the cabinet to grab the fireworks, hurriedly put on his coat and changed shoes, and thumped down the stairs. Watching Nie Qingzhou's retreating figure, his dad smiled and sighed, "Xiaozhou has really matured now. We've been back a while, but this is the first time I've seen him act like a child since we've returned."

Nie Qingzhou's mom also looked at his back with a hint of worry.

Xia Yi's door was knocked loudly, she went to the door to open it, and saw Nie Qingzhou standing outside. He was wearing a long black down jacket, a brown scarf and black gloves, his short, stiff hair stuck up making him look very neat and dashing.

Holding up the plastic bag in his hand, he tilted his head and flashed a dimpled smile. "Let's call Xiaoyan to set off fireworks!"

He was smiling so happily, like a child, that Xia Yi was momentarily stunned before responding, "Okay."

Bundled up warmly, Nie Qingzhou, Xia Yi and Xia Yan walked down the street hung with red lanterns on New Year's Eve. Nie Qingzhou led them to an open area between buildings. It had been snowing for the past few days, and the snow on the ground hadn't melted yet, creating a vast expanse of white.

Xia Yi and Xia Yan also brought some fireworks from the shop, so they were well stocked. The three discussed and arranged the fireworks in a 2012 shape in the snow.

Nie Qingzhou handed the lighter to Xia Yan. "You light them!"

Xia Yan hesitated with the lighter in his hand. "Me?"

Because of his inconvenient legs, fireworks and firecrackers were usually lit by adults or Xia Yi in the past.

This time also, Xia Yi wanted to take the lighter from Xia Yan, but Nie Qingzhou stopped her. "These fireworks burn slowly. Xia Yan will be fine. If he falls, I'll go get him back."

And so they entrusted this important task to Xia Yan. He held the lighter with great solemnity, nervously igniting the fuses one by one, as if conducting a serious chemistry experiment. When he lit the last one, the first firework happened to shoot up into the sky. Startled, Xia Yan jumped twice towards Xia Yi and Nie Qingzhou. Unable to brake in time, he was caught by Xia Yi.

He leaned into Xia Yi's arms, his hand grasping her shoulder. It was the first time he had this sort of intimate contact akin to a hug with his sister. Xia Yan froze, and Xia Yi also felt a bit awkward.

Very naturally, Nie Qingzhou pulled Xia Yan up to stand properly. Amidst the deafening sound of fireworks, he pointed to the sky telling the siblings: "Quick, look!"

So Xia Yi and Xia Yan both raised their heads to the sky. The erupting fireworks showed no trace of the "2012" shape they had arranged on the ground, but rather layer upon layer of brilliant sparks exploded into the air, cluster after cluster of flames shot skyward before scattering into all kinds of dazzling illuminated patterns and colors, creating a magnificent spectacle. It was as if all the flowers of spring, summer, fall and winter were competing to bloom against the deep black night curtain in those few seconds.

It wasn't only them setting off fireworks. In fact, the whole night sky was occupied by fireworks from all directions. Nie Qingzhou thought about how many years it had been since he last saw a sky filled with so many fireworks.

He always felt the world was vast and expansive. But at times like this, he instead felt the world was also small, small enough to be completely filled with the fireworks, firecrackers, and joyous laughter of a small county town.

He turned his head, and Xia Yi and Xia Yan were also looking up at the fireworks. Xia Yi's eyes reflected the fireworks, flickering with dazzling colors like black opals. She wore her gray furry earmuffs, looking like a quiet, beautiful cat.

She didn't seem to feel the cold much, but her ears seemed to be sensitive to the chill. An artist's ears are always sensitive after all.

Thinking this, Nie Qingzhou sneakily reached out to the flower bed behind him, forming a snowball. Then he silently moved two steps away from Xia Yi and Xia Yan, and shouted loudly, "Xia Yi!"

Xia Yi turned around and got smacked in the shoulder by the snowball. She stared blankly at Nie Qingzhou, snow fragments splattered from the shattered snowball still stuck to her face.

Xia Yan reacted first. He quickly scooped up some snow from the ground, patted it firm and threw it at Nie Qingzhou. "You hit my sister!"

Nie Qingzhou nimbly dodged it, grinning brightly. "Haha, missed—"

Before he could finish, a snowball exploded on his head. Nie Qingzhou looked at Xia Yi, who was still in a throwing posture, and gave her a thumbs up: "You're ruthless."

With the fireworks over, this empty snowy space became a battlefield. The three of them ran in circles over this small area, exchanging snowballs back and forth. Nie Qingzhou didn't go easy on Xia Yan at all, and of course Xia Yan didn't either. Though originally it was Xia Yan and Xia Yi teaming up against Nie Qingzhou, no one knew which stray snowball hit the wrong target. Soon it turned into a chaotic melee with the three of them on their own.

They flung and dodged, snowballs whizzing through the air and bursting apart with muffled thumps. All three were covered in snow and their faces were frozen red. They looked a complete mess but no one called for a stop or admitted defeat.

Nie Qingzhou couldn't stop laughing, flashing his pearly whites. Xia Yan also laughed, hobbling around throwing snowballs with eyebrows frosted white. Finally, Xia Yi also laughed, the corners of her lips curved up slightly and her eyes sparkled with obvious joy.

The fireworks occasionally illuminated the snowy area before darkening again. They left countless footprints and patterns in this flickering light.

When the battle ended, Xia Yan panted heavily and flopped onto his back in the snow. Nie Qingzhou and Xia Yi walked to his sides and each grabbed an arm.

"What's wrong, young master can't keep up anymore?" Nie Qingzhou teased.

Xia Yan let them pull him without resisting or trying to stand up. Watching the gorgeous fireworks in the sky from someone else's celebration, he suddenly said: "Isn't it said that 2012 is the end of the world?"

Nie Qingzhou thought, ah right, he had forgotten there was such an ancient crummy prophecy. He was still excitedly looking forward to what might actually happen when he was in high school, but in the end, nothing happened except for the exams.

Xia Yan smiled, looking up at the sky: "Suddenly I feel like even if the end of the world came, it'd be fine."

When they arranged the 2012 pattern on the ground, he thought that if the world really ended next year, then so be it, no big deal if this damn world was destroyed.

But at this moment, for some reason, he suddenly felt disconnected from this prophecy. He neither anticipated nor feared it anymore. The conclusion seemed the same, yet completely different.

Nie Qingzhou hauled him up from the ground, destroying the atmosphere by saying, "Why worry about the end of the world? You should worry first if you can still wear this down jacket again."

He brushed the snow off Xia Yan and praised, "Your combat ability is pretty strong, I'll definitely find you for the next snowball fight."

Xia Yi supported Xia Yan's arm and looked at his red frozen hands. After a moment of silence, she took off her earmuffs and placed them in Xia Yan's hands.

"Hold these for me," she said.

Xia Yan clutched the warm earmuffs, and was stunned.

Nie Qingzhou smiled, and as Xia Yi turned to start packing up, he lowered his head and whispered to Xia Yan: "Your sister is worried about your hands being cold."

Xia Yan denied somewhat insincerely, "She doesn't need to be so nice, why's she acting so cool?"

"Look look look, that's the phrase. She's not acting cool, she's just afraid of hearing you say something like that, afraid that you'll reject her. Your sister is a strong person, but she's very gentle towards you."

Nie Qingzhou put his arm around his shoulder, smiling: "Let's go back! It's the New Year!"

This was probably the liveliest, happiest New Year's Eve Nie Qingzhou had experienced in the past ten years.

But he soon realized this Chinese New Year was a bit too lively. Starting from the 1st day, the Nie family was suddenly swarmed by a horde of rarely-seen relatives. These aunts and uncles who never lend a finger in their daily lives suddenly became affectionate as if they met every day. Sometimes Nie Qingzhou's parents took him to others' homes, sometimes others came to theirs, and sometimes there were even banquets from distant aunts, uncles or grandparents they had to attend.

The only consolation Nie Qingzhou felt in this Spring Festival social gathering was realizing that he wasn't the only one acting. All these relatives around him, who were making small talks asking about his well-being, were also putting on a show.

A certain aunt grabbed his hand saying: "Ai-ya, Xiaozhou has grown so tall! How are your studies going? What grade are you in this year?"

Nie Qingzhou thought you said the exact same thing last year.

But he smiled politely, "I'm in my first year of high school, auntie."

"Ai-yo ai-yo, Xiaozhou has really grown up and become polite!" the aunt exclaimed in surprise.

Unsurprisingly, Nie Qingzhou became the biggest sensation of this annual social event. Every relative had to brag about his tremendous transformation, spreading the word as they moved around. As a result, when attending banquets, Nie Qingzhou suddenly became the center of attention.

Everyone wanted to chat with him, and those with children pulled them over, saying they should learn from their older brother. What's more, because of his newfound fame, he was called to the adults' table, forced to listen to their tall tales while they tried pouring him drinks.

He was silently listening to these middle-aged men from small towns predicting the future economic situation of the world, the direction of politics, national policies, and military arrangements while he chucked in his food. He thought to himself how wild and unrealistic it was, not a single thing of it was right.

The countries they thought were thriving, would sink into quagmires or even become ruins in the next decade. The powerful nations they admired would become more brutal and arrogant, but also headed for decline.

Everyone would experience disasters, then rise from them, but still be unable to completely escape even by the year he lived in.

The world would become increasingly anxious and divided, becoming extremely complex and chaotic with no one able to see through it clearly.

Nie Qingzhou sighed. He saw a man stand up, raising his glass. "Come, come, let's toast for a better tomorrow! Happy New Year!"

Nie Qingzhou also raised his glass, toasting these unfamiliar relatives before pouring the pungent liquid down his throat.

Although this world's tomorrow isn't necessarily going to get better and better.

Nevertheless, Happy New Year.


You must be logged in to give rating and add a comment.

No comments so far!

Post a comment to start discussion.