The work on the new building was completed faster than Qi Xue thought possible in these ancient times. She had also been consulted for her preference on the layout and setup of the kitchen, so when she stepped into the standalone building for the first time, it was not new to her. Still, Qi Xue’s breath caught at seeing an ancient replica of her beloved kitchen from her past life.
Fang Wenhui, standing to the side as they stepped in the door, saw this emotional expression on Qi Xue’s face and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, squeezing reassuringly. “Happy?” she asked, voice low and melodious as ever.
“En,” Qi Xue nodded vigorously, so much that her kerchief slipped and some of her front hair slipped out. “I like it very much. Are you happy?”
Fang Wenhui gently brushed the lock of hair off of Qi Xue’s forehead and looked into her eyes. “En, happy.”
Weeks passed. Qi Xue quickly grew accustomed to the way of things. She was not overworked at all, partially because she only needed to make one meal a day but also because she truly loved cooking and so did not tire of having to do it. She could see the same was true of Fang Wenhui. Though the other woman toiled in the bright sun day after day caring for crops, she never seemed weary of the world by evening time, simply affected by the fatigue after a job well done.
Partially, this may have been attributed to the two’s new ability to see each other everyday. Their rooms were directly across from one another, so the first thing Qi Xue saw when she opened her door was often Fang Wenhui’s sleep-rumpled face.
Nice, thought Qi Xue. It’s good to wake up to a beautiful woman fresh from her bed in the mornings.
Fang Wenhui always returned from her crops in time to help Qi Xue wash and chop the newly picked vegetables. The summer harvest made it very easy to make more vegetable dishes. Qi Xue made eggplant with ground pork stir fry, steamed cabbage rolls, cucumber and egg stir fries, deep fried noodles with bok choy, bittermelon stuffed with meat and stir fried with egg, and more. As the weather grew cooler, other dishes were added to the menu as the vegetables changed. There was pumpkin soup, stir fries of thinly sliced potato, steamed egg with potato soup, stir fried pumpkin slices with ground pork, plus many others. Qi Xue was in her element. Her previous experience in farm-to-table eating was well-suited to crafting seasonal dishes.
After sending the evening meal to its destination, the two women ate together each night and then played cards or chess. It was only the two of them in the standalone kitchen, unlike the noisy bunks all unmarried servants shared. The setting allowed Fang Wenhui and Qi Xue to have peaceful
dates interactions together. Each day, Qi Xue found it harder and harder not to stare at Fang Wenhui. In such a domestic setting, what person wouldn’t find it difficult to prevent the development of their inconvenient romantic feelings?
Because she was so focused on not looking, Qi Xue was blindsided by what happened next.
It was an unusually warm autumn day. Fang Wenhui’s harvest was pretty much done, so now she tended to hang around Qi Xue all day. Ostensibly, her off-season position was sous-chef to Qi Xue, so this was not unexpected.
That morning, Fang Wenhui motioned for Qi Xue to come along on a walk through the forest. Qi Xue easily agreed and also packed a basket of steamed buns as well as some bamboo tubes of chicken soup. The breeze was warm and the trees were fire-colored. When a strong guest blew, red, orange, and yellow leaves floated down softly. In short, it was beautiful scenery.
Qi Xue let her hair flow loose and free as they walked along, enjoying the feeling of the gentle breeze feathering its way through her usually tightly-bound hair. Beside her, Fang Wenhui also uncovered her hair, though she did not release it from its single, severe braid. Afterwards, she casually picked up Qi Xue’s hand and held it as they traipsed down the path.
They came to a stop in a clearing where there was a small pond. The surrounding ring of trees all had golden leaves, and the surface of the pond looked to have been cleared of any debris so it was very beautiful to look upon. Additionally, there was a roughly carved but well-sanded wooden bench and table.
“Did you arrange this?” Qi Xue asked, wonder in her eyes as she gazed around.
“En.” Fang Wenhui took the basket from Qi Xue and set it up on the table. “Eat now?”
“Okay!” They ate leisurely, sitting on the bench and admiring the view. The tall trees were majestic, especially to Qi Xue who still remembered modern cities and their lack of ancient greenery.
Every so often, the breeze would blow, sending leaves swirling down. One such leaf landed directly atop Qi Xue’s head. Fang Wenhui eyed it jealously and quickly removed it, though her hand lingered. Unable to help herself, she let her fingers trail through the long, long length of Qi Xue’s hair.
Qi Xue shivered involuntarily, her scalp tingling. She turned to Fang Wenhui. “I—”
But suddenly she couldn’t speak. This was because Fang Wenhui had leaned down and covered Qi Xue’s lips with her own.
“Mmm…!” Qi Xue didn’t react for a second and then started kissing back. She even opened her mouth a little and used her tongue to greet Fang Wenhui’s lips, which parted in response. Hey, why question a gift? She focused on enjoying kissing her crush now and decided to ask questions later.
Fang Wenhui brushed her fingers through Qi Xue’s hair again and again, then moved to touch her cheekbones tenderly, then the softness of her neck. It was like she couldn’t get enough of touching Qi Xue. Fine by her. Qi Xue took this as permission to finally let her fingers squeeze Fang Wenhui’s toned arm muscles. From there, she explored upwards and downwards and sideways and found muscles everywhere her hands roamed, except for two conspicuous spots. Nice.
Eventually, the two separated, breathing heavily. Their hands were still linked, though.
Fang Wenhui spoke first. “Sorry?” she asked, cheeks pink as she tilted her head inquisitively.
“No, you don’t have to be sorry. I’m not sorry either.” Qi Xue took a deep breath. “Fang Wenhui, I like you. In a way that usually men and women like each other, I like you. Is that okay?”
“Yes.” Fang Wenhui so-recently kissed lips tipped up in a small smile. “I like you too.”
Qi Xue beamed. “I’m going to kiss you again.”
Two pairs of lips met once more, and the warm breeze blew and the red and orange and yellow leaves swirled down in celebration.