Class ended early for Baobei this Friday afternoon. After school, she grabbed her belongings and squeezed up the crowded bus to travel to her brother-in-law’s office, so that he could give her a ride back to her sister’s place, where she would be staying the weekend.
“Baobei, you brought so many gifts for your brother-in-law?” One of the secretaries who was often asked to deliver things to Baobei’s school chatted with her politely.
“Yes, yes”. Baobei leaned on one of the empty desks at the secretarial office playing computer games, feeling sheepish as she heard the secretary’s words.
What gifts? These bags were laundry accumulated over a few weeks, which she packed so that her sister’s helper could wash for her.
As the saying goes, a society is formed when humans inhabit a place.  A secretarial office with four female secretaries was definitely full of gossip.
Baobei would always have to listen to a ton of gossip whenever she was there.
It was obvious that the secretaries were gossiping for her to hear. In fact, it would be best if Baobei could bring some of the gossip home to share with the Chairman’s wife.
Baobei could not stand listening, and it was Xia Tian’s call that saved her.
Xia Tian was probably in class, hence he lowered his voice to an indelible volume.
“Tsk!” Baobei suddenly shouted on her phone, “Speak louder! Stop wasting my battery!”
“Xia Baobei, are you trying to kill me?” Xia Tian spoke softly normally, and, assuming that others did the same, stuck his ear closely to the speaker.
“If you can bear to die, then I can bear the pain to bury you!”
“Stop this nonsense. I’m going back to S City this weekend, so take care of yourself”.
“Haven’t I been looking after myself well? It’s not like I rely on you anyway!” Xia Tian might be a year younger than Xia Baobei, but he was a genius, and was able to begin his tertiary education together with Baobei. However, one of them was in business school and the other was in law school, hence the chances of them meeting were low.
“Be a good girl, and go to our elder sister’s house for the weekend”. There were times where Xia Tian appeared to be the older one. This lad was protective of his two sisters, and was especially protective of Baobei. Even if he wasn’t able to meet her at least once a week, he had already set up a strong protective barrier for her using his vast network and influence.
I don’t need your reminder! I’m already at our brother-in-law’s office!”
“That’s good. I’ll hang up then.”
“Xia Tian, why are you returning to S City?”
“I was tasked by Grandfather to do something ”. While Xia Tian wouldn’t hide anything from his sister, he often left them hanging with his incomplete explanations.
“Then bring me this … something from S City”.
“What is this something?”
“You are asking me what is it? Aren’t we supposed to be telepathic? How is it possible that you don’t know what this something is?”
“I know, I know! I’ll bring it back for you”. Xia Tian could feel an impending headache.
“I’ll beat you up if you get it wrong!”
“Hanging up”. The caller hung up without waiting for Baobei’s response.
Ever since San Shao got married, he has been developing his image as a family man. In recent years, the image evolved to that of a devoted husband. Aside from her sister’s ability to tame her husband, what Baobei was impressed with was San Shao’s high level of self-awareness. In Baobei’s eyes, San Shao was model husband material, and both the Xia sisters were fortunate enough to have met such a responsible man.
Knocking off thirty minutes early, San Shao drove Bao Bei home. San Shao always had the habit of knocking off half an hour early. Any later, they would be stuck in peak hour traffic!
The car drove into a high-end residential estate developed by Mr Guan. Baobei looked around; there were a few families here that she could freeload from. There were also some houses that were still empty.
“Mo Beiyu!” Baobei shouted at the top of her voice the moment she alighted from the car.
Almost immediately, her sister appeared at the doorway carrying Mo Beiyu. Mo Beiyu was still young, and would cling to his mother whenever he could.
He was also very smart! He would cling onto his father whenever he was around, as he knew that his father would not bear for his mother to be tired.
“Come! Let your aunt carry you!” Ditching her bags of laundry by the porch, Baobei carried Beiyu and walked away. Even though the kid knew that he should please his auntie, he had not seen his father for an entire day, and wanted his father to carry him. Hence, he stretched his arms out towards his father.
Unfortunately, he was ignored. His aunt continued carrying him into the house. His father, too, ignored him, went to hug his mother, and led her back into the house.
Xia Xu looked at the bags at the door. She did not have to open them to know that they were Baobei’s laundry.
As she handed her husband’s slippers to him, she nagged at her younger sister, “As a woman, you’ll need to at least know how to do some chores, otherwise what’s going to happen when you get married in future?”
“Do I have to be as skillful as you, my sister? Even if you are, your husband still can’t bear for you to do any chores right?” Baobei hugged and teased her nephew. Children were easily distracted by the fun things around them; he soon forgot about how much he wanted his father to carry him.
Baobei loved dining at her sister’s place, as it was full of warmth and familial love. Even Xia Xu, who seldom cooked, would sometimes prepare a dish or two that San Shao liked. During meals, Xia Xu would feed Mo Beiyu while engaged in a lighthearted conversation with San Shao.
Xia Xu was normally a quiet person, but with her husband, she became especially chatty. The key to their relationship was how much she understood her husband. It would also explain why even after so many years of marriage, San Shao would often hold his wife’s hands at bedtime and talk to her for hours. Xia Xu was skilled in the art of communication between a couple, and San Shao was reaping the benefits of it.
Today was no different. Mo Beiyu sat on his toddler chair, an Hermes bib around his neck, his right hand grabbing the spoon, trying to feed himself. Xia Xu would take occasional glances at her son to see if he was behaving, before turning back to talk to her husband. The practice of silence at the table was not practiced in the Mo family; San Shao loved the liveliness in his home.
“Has Baobei found a boyfriend in school?” Xia Xu asked abruptly.
“How did the conversation topic turn into me?” Baobei panicked.
“I’d want to know too.” San Shao would normally pair his dinner with some alcohol; but he had never gotten drunk more than three times after getting married.
“Brother-in-law, how could you gang up with my sister against me?”
“What nonsense. How are we ganging up against you? I’m just concerned about you,” Xia Xu chided her lightly as she smiled.
“Nope, there’s no man in my life”. Baobei replied resentfully.
“There’s no suitable candidates?” The elder sister continued her interrogation.
“Sigh! None of them seem to be able to attract me, they just don’t meet my standards”. Baobei thought for a moment, then said again, “There’s one person though, that I’ve had my eyes on for many years”.
“Who?” Xia Xu was always interested in the secrets of her younger siblings. She still had a childlike innocence even after being married for many years. After all, she wasn’t that old, she just got married at a younger age.
“This man likes my face without make-up, he likes my hair in a ponytail. He would ask me what I had for lunch, and what I would like for dinner. He would frown when I shopped for new clothes, then praise me for being pretty when I wear them. He asks me to be frugal, but then hands his bank card over. When he hears me crying over the phone, he would say quietly, don’t study anymore, come back and I’ll take care of you!”
Baobei praised this man over the moon, but the more Xia Xu heard, the more she felt something was amiss. In the end, she simply stared at Baobei.
“This man that you are talking about is someone I love too”.
“”Who’s the man who loves you the most in this world?” It was San Shao’s turn to ask. What a smart man he was, playing along with the sisters. This was how they spiced up their lives.
“The man who loves me the most in this world has already married my mother!” Baobei feigned sadness.
San Shao laughed.
A visitor appeared when they were halfway through their meal.
San Shao picked up a call first, then went to the door to receive the guest.
“Have you found number five  yet?”
“He should be out on a mission”.
You’re sneaky enough, coming without a word. How long have you been back?”
San Shao continued speaking with the man. From the voice she heard, Baobei was certain that this was a good man. Unlike the low masculine voice of her brother-in-law, this voice was crisp and plain, but soothing to listen to.
“How long are you staying for?” San Shao asked.
The two men continued their conversation as they walked into the house, and soon reached the entrance of the dining room.
The man was dressed in a pair of slacks with a simple white shirt, the sleeves folded to his elbows, and had one hand in his pocket. He was gorgeous.
As his gaze turned to them, for a split second, Baobei felt as if the lights in the room had dimmed.
Calm, comfortable, blossoming, endless.
“Not leaving anymore”. He said in a low voice that sounded like that of a priceless cello.
These three words melded themselves into Baobei’s heart.
Pursing her lips, Baobei closed her eyes as she felt her cheeks flush.
She must be dreaming! For a moment, she actually thought that he was talking to her.
“Not bad, Moxiu! You’ve finally decided to give up being a foreigner and return here!” San Shao accompanied the man into the dining room.
Jiang Moxiu effortlessly took the seat on Baobei’s left. Xia Xu had already left the table to retrieve some cutlery, before placing them in front of their guest.
“It’s just a simple meal, hope you don’t mind”. Xia Xu said politely.
“Sister-in-law is being too polite. I’m sorry for imposing”. The other party was equally cordial.
“Xia Xu, this is the childhood friend of number five and number six. He’s been hanging out with us since he was young, like a bug. He spends most of his time in the United States, and only started moving his businesses back here in the last few years”. It was obvious that San Shao was in high spirits.
“Moxiu, this is my wife Xia Xu. You didn’t return for our wedding, hence you both have never met.”
Jiang Moxiu nodded with a smile.
His smile was dazzling, but Baobei felt uneasy, sensing that this man had something to hide.
“That’s my sister-in-law, Xia Baobei.”
Jiang Moxiu turned to face Baobei. This movement caused Baobei to unconsciously face him as well. One look was all it took. Baobei felt as if she had fallen into the depths of his eyes. Oh my goodness! This man had really beautiful eyes!
“Nice to meet you, Baobei.”
“Nice … Nice to meet you too…” That greeting felt out of place.
Baobei was not a cowardly child, so she stared dazedly into the man’s eyes. Three seconds was all it took before she turned her eyes away. At this rate, she might pounce on the man if she continued looking!
“This brother, have we met before?” This might have been an honest question, but it sounded more like a perfunctory question so that she could dispel the awkwardness in the air.
Jiang Moxiu smiled, but chose not to reply. However, a flash appeared across his eyes, which quickly dimmed.
 有人的地方就有江湖 - this line is taken from the movie Swordsman II, and is an adaptation from the original line in Louis Cha’s novel. A very loose translation is that you can never run away from dealing with others when you are a part of a society.
 小五 (xiao wu), literally meaning the fifth child. Could also mean some form of hierarchy amongst people in a group, like sworn brothers, but in this case, I’m assuming that they are related to San Shao in some way. In front of elders, San Shao would also be xiao san (but I’m guessing they seldom call him that, because that’s a homonym for “mistress”).