Author’s Note: PG-13 for NSFW towards the end.
Even before we stepped off the plane, I knew coming to China was a great decision. The beautiful countryside that could be seen from our illuminators was mesmerizing to say the least. And there was something so serene about this place that I regretted not having the chance to come here earlier.
Of course, after our long flight we were exhausted to the point that we barely made it to the hotel beds before drifting off. But the very next day, we set out on the town, to explore all the local destinations.
“It’s so beautiful!” yelled Millie upon seeing the giant lotus flowers blooming in local waters. “Can we plant one at home? Please? Do you think Mr. Simon could plant some lotuses back in Hidden Springs?”
“Maybe,” smiled David. “But the lotuses are native to this part of the world, so I don’t know how well it would bloom in our country.”
“Actually, Dad told me that the lotus is seen locally as a symbol for perseverance, due to its ability to grow and bloom in severe conditions,” I added in my own botanical knowledge. “So, if we had a pond at home, we totally could plant one. Maybe we can still get a small flower, after all.”
“So cool…” the girl couldn’t contain her excitement.
We walked through the town for a while. At some point, David suggested that the water must be really warm this time of the year.
“I’m just saying, a swim would be nice right now. We are on vacation after all! And it’s not even too deep,” he winked.
“You will totally be remembered as ‘that tourist’ who went for a swim in the middle of the city!” I laughed.
“So? Life’s too short to care about what others think about us. Right, Millie?” he asked.
The little girl only laughed in return.
David winked again and, quickly stripping down to his trunks, jumped into the water.
Millie and I couldn’t contain our giggles.
“Told you! It’s pretty nice actually. And so refreshing…” he teased, performing a trick swimming move.
“Show-off!” I yelled back. It was a good thing that we’ve planned to visit the hot springs some time later, so we wore our swimsuits today. I stripped down to mine and jumped into the water as well. It was good…
“Come on in, Millie! You’ll love it!”
Luckily, David has been teaching her to swim lately, so we were all able to enjoy a relaxing noon swimming in the center of the town.
Afterwards, we decided to grab something local to eat. The shop owner promised us we won’t go wrong with the spicy ramen.
“So, when are we meeting the Wens?” I clarified over the deliciously mouthwatering noodles.
“Tomorrow. Mr. Wen said they were out of town and have only just come back to Shang Simla. So, we have this whole day just to ourselves.”
“Do you think they can help us figure out what’s wrong with the medicine?” I was curious.
“Maybe. He said his family knew about the plant. That’s something already. Where to next?” David asked us.
“Can we go to the big garden?” Millie chimed in.
“Scholar’s Garden it is, then!” he agreed.
The garden was less of a garden and more of a park. But from the looks of it, it was the best place in town for meditation. Dozens of locals came in quietly to relax and to feel one with nature.
And honestly, I envied them. Even as a kid, peace of mind was a very foreign notion to me. I would always be thinking about something or other, worried about homework, or school, or Gerald and our parents, or any other thing. The idea of clearing my mind was something out of the realm of the impossible.
But from the looks of it, it made people more content.
“It’s really beautiful,” David admitted quietly, as we stood at one of the highest points in the park, with the view of the valley spread out in front of us. “I think I can understand why people come here to meditate. The land itself calls out to the soul here.”
“It’s almost like time works differently here,” I agreed.
And not just in the Scholar’s Garden. Even in the town, there was an air of peace, of calm. Even our nature-friendly Hidden Springs didn’t have that quality.
Or did it? Perhaps, we were just too busy with our everyday lives to notice, to really give ourselves a break. Maybe that’s why people felt so rested after vacation? The change of place gave them a chance to see things in a different light.
After hiking around the park for an hour, we took a break, sitting down a little ways aside from the pathway.
“Thanks for bringing me here,” Millie blurted out. “I love it here.”
“We weren’t going to leave you out of the trip,” I laughed. “We would’ve brought Sherlock too, but I think he’s having the time of his life running through Dad’s garden right now.”
“Yeah, Sherlock must be having fun. Still, you could’ve made this trip just about you,” she admitted quietly.
“We all needed the vacation, though,” David added.
It was true. After we’ve recovered from the fire and made arrangements for our home to be repaired, what weight of what happened began to sink in. How truly lucky we were to have made it out of that fire alive. It really made us all see life in a different light.
Millie began to talk to people more, she became more social. Not a social butterfly in a real sense of the word, but nearly dying made her less afraid to interact with others, somehow.
David, he seemed to have found this newfound lease on life. While he was always the reserved, prone to stress type before, he was now less likely to worry about every tiny thing that could happen. I liked seeing that change in him. Even if it meant he was likely to go swimming in the middle of the town, just for kicks!
Me? I haven’t really found a newfound lease on life. But ending up in the hospital after that fire really made me feel how close I came to saying goodbye to everyone I knew in this world… And that made me realize that all the time I’ve spent worrying over not being able to conceive could be spent enjoying life with the ones I cared about. So what if I couldn’t have my own child? I loved Millie like she was mine. I had David by my side. I knew they loved me, as did the rest of family. From now on, I was going to focus on living in the moment and to enjoy my life, because you never knew when the end could come.
For example, right now I was going to enjoy the beautiful sunset in front of me.
That evening we all came home exhausted, but happy.
Millie headed to sleep almost immediately while David and I decided to relax downstairs.
“Did I ever tell you green is definitely your color?” David asked, rubbing my shoulders.
“You may have mentioned it,” I smiled happily, leaning on him.
“That dress really suits you. But you look equally great without it,” he whispered in my ear.
“Aren’t you tired today?” I laughed.
“Nope. Not today, not ever.”
This was another side effect of surviving the fire — the never-ending lust. But I wasn’t complaining. We stayed up quite late that night…
The next morning, we paid a visit to the Wen family. Wen Yang, who was a well-known horticulturist, invited us in.
“It’s great to finally meet you. Your last name is Meadow-Collier. Any relation to Simon Meadows?” she asked with excitement.
“Yes, actually. He is my dad,” I informed her.
“I’ve read his works on the plants he studied in Hidden Springs. Fascinating stuff, all of it,” she enthused.
“Hello! Welcome to our home!” Yijun smiled and shook our hands. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“The pleasure is all ours. And you have a lovely home,” David complimented.
‘Would you like any refreshments? Tea, water, juice?”
“Thank you, but we already had a hearty meal,” we admitted, a bit surprised at the warm welcome.
“Hey, do you want to play tag?” the Wen’s son asked Millie.
“Sure!” she smiled and the two took off.
“Kids, right? Always so energetic,” Yang laughed. “Alright, then! You were calling about the plant you were using for the medication in your company, right?”
“Yes. You said you knew about it?” I nodded.
“Of course I do. We all do. Here, we call it Shēngmìng de Guǒshí, or the Fruit of Life. We’ve known about it for centuries. You probably want to know why it doesn’t work in medication, right?” she smiled.
“Yes. Customer reviews say that it would help people for a bit but then their illness would come back. Do you know why it’s happening?”
“Because it can’t be made into medication. Even in raw untouched form, it won’t work for just anyone,” Yang explained.
“But it worked for my mother when she was dying,” I argued.
“Let me guess, someone in her family gave her the plant, right?” she smiled knowingly.
“My father did.”
“I thought so,” she nodded. “Then let me congratulate you: your parents have found true love. Such a rare thing in this world. Although, I like to think Yijun and I have it.” She smiled at her husband. “You see, it only works when it is given to the sick person by someone who truly loves them.”
“How? That makes no sense!” David was incredulous.
She shrugged. “Magic, probably. To be fair, we haven’t done any lab research on the plant, but the results speak for themselves. Of all the times it has worked for people, it was given to them by someone who truly cared about them.”
“There is even a story involving the plant, from back in the old days,” Yijun chimed in. “Back in 15th century, the only daughter on the local king fell deathly ill. He called in the best healers from all over the country, and none of them could help her. He was fully prepared to bury his only child until the poor shepherd boy, who was in love with her, brought her this fruit. Within days, the girl got better. Of course, they married afterwards, the king was so happy to have his daughter recover that he didn’t even care about the boy’s social status. By the way, the local Scholar’s Garden was planned by that princess and her husband. They never got to build it, but their descendants did.”
“That’s sweet.” Well, we knew now what the problem with the medication was. Looks like, it would have to be pulled from the market. I still couldn’t wrap my head around the whole idea of magical properties, but then again, who knew? “I guess we should pull the medication from the market, since it doesn’t work. How come no one has ever published that story? About how this fruit works?”
I asked the Wens. They laughed.
“You’ve seen how it works firsthand, but even you have trouble believing in the whole magical theory. And anyways, there are countless myths around the world regarding the plant. Those who truly need it for someone usually find it,” Yijun explained. “Like your father did.”
“I suppose that’s true. Thank you for having us in your home. It’s been great to meet you,” David and I prepared to take our leave.
“You can see them if you’d like!” Yang offered.
“What? See what?” David asked in confusion.
“The plants, of course!”
She led us outside to her small garden.
“We have more plants in our property in the neighboring town, but we still plant a few things here as well. We’ve planted a few, in case someone needs to cure someone they care about. That way, they don’t have to go hunting all over the world for it,” she explained.
There, among the plum and cherry trees, grew four healthy bushes containing several fruits similar to the one that saved my mother’s life.
“Would you like to take a few?” she offered. “I hope no one is sick in your family, but it’s good to have one around, just in case. And I know your father is good with plants, so he can grow it.”
“Thank you,” I smiled at our lovely host. “I think my father would love to have one at hand again. The one he grew previously was stolen.”
“That’s terrible. He must’ve been devastated,” she nodded, understandingly.
“He was. But by that point, Mom was healthy again…”
“So, he kept what really mattered,” she finished. “I’m looking forward to meeting your father and talking shop with him.”
“How so?” David clarified.
“Oh, I totally forgot to tell you, we’ll be in Hidden Springs sometime this year. I’ve already arranged with my relatives to care for my garden, but we’re going to your town to find out more about your unusual flora. It’s all due to the research your father has published a few years ago. My university has been granted funds and they’re sending me to study the local soil better. So, we’ll be neighbors, for a while, at least.”
“Well, you are welcome to stop by our home anytime, when you’re in Hidden Springs!” David and I both promised to keep I touch with the Wens before leaving their welcoming abode.
The rest of our vacation was spent relaxing and enjoying the local history, museums, and nature.
This is how, one day, we found ourselves camped out in the mountainous area away from the town. It was a very green location, just perfect for setting up camp. Since we were away from home, we had no camping equipment with us, but a grill was always easy to find.
We spent the day enjoying fresh grilled veggies, chatting about any simple thing, and generally making the best of our time.
At one point, I wanted to explore the area a little more, but both David and Millie were too tired after a long week of walking and hiking everywhere. So, I went by myself, promising to return in a bit.
After going higher into the hill, I came to what appeared to be an abandoned barn. The area surrounding it was wild, but welcoming, with a bubbling creek flowing through it. It reminded me of the places where Mom and I used to fish together back at home.
I sat down to enjoy the nature around me and to give my legs a well-earned break. I too was rather tired from all the walking. But finding this place was worth the walk.
I’m not sure at which point “being tired” turned into “falling asleep on the ground itself,” but I drifted off.
“Well, what do we have here! A visitor? It sure has been a while…”
I opened my eyes to find myself looking at Yang. No wait, it couldn’t be Yang! This woman had paler skin and longer hair and even though she looked a lot like my new friend, there were certain differences in their appearance, once you’ve looked closer.
“Hello? I’m sorry if I’m intruding. I was just walking and I believe I fell asleep. I’ll leave now,” I tried to excuse myself.
“No need, child,” the woman reassured me, even though she looked to be my age or younger still. “I believe you have good reason to be here. There is always a reason for everything in life.”
“Ok? I’m sorry, but what is your name? You look a lot like someone I know,” I couldn’t contain my curiosity.
“Do I? Possibly. You can call me Hua,” she introduced herself. “But come with me.”
Despite knowing the concept of stranger danger well, I followed Hua. Something about her seemed trustworthy, solid.
“Take a look at this creek,” she told me. “Look at the way it flows. It’s full of life, movement. You need to let this life into yours. Go for a swim.”
“Excuse me?” I must have looked surprised.
“You know how to swim, right? Don’t worry, it’s not very deep. Your life is missing something right now and sometimes you need to go with the flow to acquire it,” she explained.
Despite the absurdity of it all, I followed her advice, shrugged off my dress and went into the water. It was summer, but the water was cool, even freezing. But as soon as I was enveloped by it, I felt more alive than I’ve felt in all the years that I’ve been alive.
“How is it?” she called from the shore.
“It’s great! I feel like I’ve just woken up from a hundred-year old slumber!” I admitted.
“I know. That’s nature for you. It will surprise you if you let it,” she laughed from the shore. “Well, you’re good now. Enjoy your swim and feel free to visit again if you’re ever here.”
I must have bent over into the water, because the next I knew, Hua wasn’t there anymore.
“How strange,” I thought. Telling someone to go for a swim and just walking off? However, the waters around me were still refreshing and I didn’t want to leave them yet…
I woke up where I fell asleep. The sun was only a slight bit lower that it was when I came here, so I deduced that not a lot of time could have passed.
I headed back to the campground where David and Millie were still happily chattering. They waved as soon as they saw me.
“Hey! Back so soon? I thought you were going to take a longer walk? Admit it, you’re tired too,” David teased.
“On the contrary, I’m full of energy, dear,” I smiled, pulling him close.
It was true. My dream has invigorated me in a way no coffee ever has before. I could walk a thousand more miles, run a hundred marathons, fly…
“Hey, why don’t we head back to the hotel? It’s going to be evening soon,” I suggested, batting my eyelashes at him.
“Alrighty! Who wants to go home?” he asked all of us.
“Me!” Millie yelled. She seemed sleepy, despite excitement.
“Home it is, then.”
Millie knocked out immediately after we came home. I had other plans for the evening…
“Hey, come in the bathroom in 10 minutes, will you,” I whispered in David’s ear.
“I don’t know what you have planned, but I’m up for it,” he nodded.
What I did plan was for us to take a romantic bath together. I’ve acquired a relaxing scented bubble bath within days of our arrival, but haven’t had the chance to use it yet. So when David came in and saw me in that bathtub, with nothing on but the bubbles… he liked my idea very much.
“You always have the best ideas,” he smiled as he undressed and climbed in next to me.
Despite being married for years now, I never got tired of seeing him like this, next to me.
“Well, this is cozy,” he put his arms around me and pulled me close. “We should do this at home too, sometime.”
“Sure thing. I’m going to stock up on bubble baths as soon as we come home, then,” I jokingly punched him.
“Hey! I thought you had a more romantic idea than to punch me!” he feigned offence.
“I did, didn’t I? Care to remind me what it was? Perhaps a crocheting lesson?”
“Let me remind you, then.” Somehow, despite the limited space in the tub, he managed to change his position so that he was on top of me. I looked him straight in the eyes, inviting him in.
“I want you so badly,” I whispered. “I always do. You’ve been my weakness from day one.”
“You have no idea what you’re doing to me when you speak like this,” he breathed out, thrusting into me with the fervor of a man who hasn’t seen a woman for a decade.
“I love you.”
Our lovemaking became faster, more passionate, rougher. Every touch of his electrified me, sending every type of shiver through me, and still, I couldn’t get enough.
I don’t know how long it took until we both screamed out in ecstasy, sinking back into the bubbles completely spent.
“Wow!” he breathed out. “This was really something. We are so buying bubble bath when we’re home.”
“Or not,” I looked around at the water that was spilled all over the bathroom. We certainly weren’t paying attention to much else.
Someone knocked from downstairs, yelling “Hey, people are trying to sleep here!”
David chuckled. “It’s a good thing Millie sleeps deeply. Otherwise, we might’ve had to have The Talk with her much earlier than expected.”
“Were we really that loud that everyone could hear us?” I cringed.
“Either that or we have a perv with a listening device downstairs.”
“In that case, they’ve hit jackpot tonight,” I laughed, caressing him. “Repeat tomorrow?”
In a while, our vacation away from home came to an end.
It was the last day of our stay in China and even though we all loved it here, we missed home too. And we have already been called by the contractors who worked on repairing our house – all the work was done. We were free to go home.
Of course, Millie didn’t want to leave her friend behind. She and the Wens’ son became close friends during our stay here. But of course, they would be coming to Hidden Spring shortly, so their separation won’t be long.
We were spending the day at the spa. As I leaned back in the pool lounger and looked at my family playing in the pool, I was overcome with a sense of happiness. I’ve made many questionable decisions in my life, but this family was not one of them. And as long as they were with me, everything was going to be alright.
“Mom! Come join us!” Millie called.
“The water’s amazing here,” her father added.
Life was good.