Jiang Li pushed an ivory clip through her hair and smiled at her reflection. In the pool of water, her midnight black hair seemed to sparkle in the sunlight, a trick of magic that made her laugh out.
"Jiang Li! Are you coming? Your father will be angry if we're late!"
She pushed her way through the hanging vines and sighed, the way only beautiful women can. Jiang Li, her skin soft like a saucer of fresh milk, her eyes shaped like a cat's, stepped over rocks and greenery with effortless grace. It was time to visit Father.
"Coming, mother. I'm coming..."
Of all her weekly responsibilities, taking care of her father was her favorite. He'd fallen ill with fever some months ago, but had great responsibility in the city and was needed many hours a day. He kept quarters midvillage where he would be closer to his work, but the long days away from home had taken a toll on him. He'd hired a young merchant, by the name of Te, to care for him during his weaker moments.
This situation pleased Jiang Li to no end, as she was nearing the age of marriage and had yet to receive a formal engagement, despite many suitors. Te was as handsome as he was kind; his deep brown eyes would hold hers for the longest moments whenever he was brave enough to meet her gaze. Every week, she would go to visit her father--but also Te. She had intended to speak to him alone this evening, as her father took tea with her mother.
Walking through the village streets, the sights and sounds of dusk danced around Jiang Li and her mother like fireflies. Jiang Li's perfume floated gently on the cool evening air. Her mother inhaled the sweet scent quietly and smiled sadly. She knew that her daughter's heart was kept by that dark young man with the large, caring eyes. She smiled as a mother, a woman, and a lover; she knew what happiness the young couple could bring each other. She secretly wished to be young again, on the verge of such a discovery.
What Mrs. Yu had not yet shared with her daughter was the rapidly declining condition of Mr. Yu. Jiang Li's father had lost considerable weight and, though he rightfully belonged in the comfort of his own home, she knew the best doctors were in the city. Her purpose on this trip had to be a preparation for things to come; unlike past weeks, this visit would hold daunting conversation and painful memories.
"Jiang Li! Mrs. Yu! Please, come in, come in. He is waiting in the garden."
His body shrunken and spindly against the silken pillows, the head of their family was a shadow of his former self. It seemed surreal that this man, who had once thrown Jiang Li over his shoulder to carry her across a river, might be too weak to stand and greet them. Mrs. Yu quickly traversed the distance between them and knelt readily at her husband's side. As she bowed her head to him, he threw away civility and brushed her cheek, kissing her forehead weakly. The generous gesture was not lost on Jiang Li or Te, who had taken up the space beside her. Standing there together, gazing at her parents, it occurred to her how much they'd aged recently.
"The apprentice and I shall tend to some business within; stay here."
It seemed strange that her mother should be so authoritative in the presence of her husband. Jiang Li immediately understood. She rushed to her father's side, her vivacity radiating over the pillows, giving him new light. He chuckled and embraced her. "Father?" she inquired timidly, her arms easily wrapping around his emaciated frame. Her eyelashes fluttered against him as she blinked, waiting.
"My daughter, my precious one. My time is near.
"Heed these words now. Carry them in your heart forever. I see that you love my apprentice. He has already asked for your hand, a request I have gladly granted. I could not wish for you a better match; I can see your want for him and his for you. I remember that passion well. But my girl, it is the wanting that makes us human. It is the desire that warms our hearts and opens our minds. The light in your eyes burns with opportunity. Live that this flame might survive in you."
Jiang Li blushed at her father's words. She'd never shared a moment with him so tender. Her heart ached for this man, who had always taught her reservation and dignity. His voice grew raspy, his breathing labored. With the tender warmth of a fading ember, her father whispered into her ear in the softest hush. Do not forget the powerful magic of flowers longing for butterflies."
As a single tear fell to Jiang Li's cheek she looked up to see her mother return with Te, his compassionate eyes reflecting the imminent truth. Mrs. Yu nodded slightly. Her father would die soon; it was time for her to leave them to privacy. With Te's hand guiding her, Jiang Li stumbled from the room, blinking and shuddering heavily with sorrow. Her love's lips were upon the crown of her head, kissing her hair softly. He whispered, "We will wait until Spring. For the butterflies."