The night was deep and dark.
For the first time in his endless dreams, Gu Miao saw a glimmer of light.
He dreamed of the scene where he first spoke to the girl.
It was a cool autumn night in his first year of high school.
It was already past eight o'clock in the evening, and there were only a few people sitting in the noodle shop.
Little Wang, who was working the cash register, answered a phone call and hurriedly said that he had to leave because something had come up at home.
As usual, there should have been two people working in the shop - Little Wang taking orders and collecting money, and Gu Miao cooking noodles in the kitchen.
Gu Miao had worked hard to find this job.
After his parents passed away, they didn't leave behind much inheritance.
His uncle's family, who took him in, was not well-off to begin with, and now with an extra child, they were struggling to make ends meet.
So every day after school, he would work part-time for three hours to save up some money for his daily expenses.
Finding a part-time job wasn't easy. He had asked several places, but either they were afraid of trouble and wouldn't hire students, or they looked down on him for his poor communication skills.
Finally, the owner of a noodle shop took pity on him and agreed to let him work in the kitchen for a low wage.
It was a hard-won job, and now his coworkers were asking for his help.
He felt hesitant, but his coworker, Xiao Wang, urged him to stay and just nod when customers placed their orders. After some thought, he nodded in agreement.
In truth, he was just afraid of speaking too slowly and causing trouble for the shop. Xiao Wang thanked him and promised to repay him another day with a big thank you.
The restaurant was indeed empty.
After Xiao Wang left, the few customers who had finished their noodles paid and left directly.
Gu Miao secretly breathed a sigh of relief.
In early autumn, the golden leaves of the plane tree next to the restaurant were fluttering in the evening breeze, and a few leaves drifted down and landed on the steps in front of the store.
Gu Miao lowered his head to sort out the money in the cash register, and then heard a slight noise at the door.
He looked up and saw a girl walking slowly into the store with a beige backpack on her back.
The deep blue school uniform set off her fair little face, and the white light bulb in the store made her slightly upturned peach blossom eyes shine brightly.
At this moment, the girl was looking up at the menu on the wall with concentration.
After a while, she turned her head and asked him, "What is the 'three fresh' in the three fresh rice noodles?"
Her voice was crisp and pleasant, like a stream flowing through a dry field on a spring mountain.
As soon as Gu Miao heard the question, his heart trembled violently.
"I-It i-is some shiitake mushrooms," he stuttered, wishing he could slap himself for not being able to speak properly.
He closed his eyes, waiting for the girl to impatiently interrupt him.
The silence in the shop was so profound that even the sound of a yellow leaf falling on the steps could be heard.
But the disdainful tone that he had heard countless times in his memory did not appear. Gu Miao's eyelashes trembled as he opened his eyes and looked at her.
The girl's eyes were clear, like a pool of crystal-clear water, without a hint of impatience. Instead, there was a slight hint of confusion as she asked,
"Besides shiitake mushrooms, what else is there?"
She didn't even notice his stutter.
Gu Miao breathed a sigh of relief, and his icy heart slowly melted.
The words that came out of his mouth were unexpectedly smooth: "There is also some lean meat and pork liver."
A faint smile appeared on the girl's lips. "I'll have a bowl of three fresh rice noodles with a fried egg, please. Thank you."
Gu Miao pursed his lips and nodded slightly.
Under the bright lights of the restaurant, he watched the girl's slender figure and felt a glimmer of light slowly rising in his dark heart.
It was the first time someone had treated him with such patience and kindness.
He returned to the kitchen and silently cooked the noodles before serving them to the girl.
"Thank you," she said with a sweet smile, revealing two cute dimples.
Gu Miao felt his heart thump and his ears turn hot.
"No, it's no problem."
The clock on the wall ticked away as the restaurant remained empty.
Gu Miao returned to the cash register, took out his textbook, and quietly read. His mind was wandering, and his gaze couldn't help but drift to a nearby spot.
Before he could even turn a few pages of her book, a tall figure burst into the store.
Gu Miao looked up and recognized the person, his eyes flashing as she tightly gripped her textbook.
It was Wang Donghai, the "big boss" of their class who loved to tease and make fun of him.
Wang Donghai was also surprised to see Gu Miao working at the store. He raised his thick eyebrows in astonishment and slammed the counter as he walked in.
Gu Miao put down his book and looked at him with emotionless, dark eyes.
"I'll have a bowl of clear soup noodles with beef," he said, then turned and found a seat without causing any trouble.
Gu Miao was a bit surprised.
Wang Donghai and his gang always liked to give him a hard time, either kicking his desk as they passed by or gathering together to mock his stutter.
But today, he actually let this opportunity to cause trouble slip by.
Of course, no trouble was the best outcome. Gu Miao breathed a sigh of relief and turned back to the kitchen.
He cooked a bowl of clear soup noodles according to his usual recipe, adding two scoops of beef as usual.
Wang Donghai ate quickly. He was on the school basketball team, tall and strong, with a naturally high metabolism. By the time he slurped up all the soup, Cheng Chu had just finished eating.
The two of them stood in front of the cash register, one after the other, to pay.
"How much?" Wang Donghai glanced at the price list on the wall, asking a question he already knew the answer to.
The store clearly displayed its prices, and most customers would calculate the cost themselves and pay without asking any questions.
But Gu Miao knew that this person was deliberately causing trouble, his thin lips tightly pursed into a straight line.
"I can't stutter this time," he thought to himself.
But when he opened his mouth, his words seemed to be out of control, repeating the number "ten, ten, ten."
Wang Donghai's mouth twisted into a malicious smile as he pulled out a crumpled ten yuan note from his pocket and threw it onto the counter.
"Oh, ten yuan, here you go," he said before grabbing his backpack and leaving.
The beef noodle soup cost fifteen yuan in total, and it was clear that Wang Donghai had done it on purpose.
If the store was short on money, they would have to make up for it themselves.
Gu Miao's daily wage was not much, and even five yuan was precious to him.
Therefore, even though he knew that stopping him would result in a confrontation and possibly even an argument, Gu Miao gritted his teeth and quickly walked around the cash register to intercept Wang Donghai.
But before he could stop him, the girl standing behind him had already taken the lead and swiftly walked in front of Wang Donghai, blocking his path.
The girl was slender and a full head shorter than Wang Donghai, but she fearlessly looked up at him with clear and captivating peach blossom eyes.
"He hasn't finished telling you the price, and you're already paying?" she asked.
Wang Donghai knew who Cheng Chu was, a popular girl in the grade above him.
Who didn't know her? He even made some off-color jokes with his buddies about her, and of course, she was the star of those jokes.
But when the pretty girl stood in front of him, accusing him with shining eyes, Wang Donghai couldn't help feeling a bit unhappy.
"He said ten yuan himself, and I gave it to him. What's the problem?" He stood tall and looked down at Cheng Chu with a stubborn expression.
Gu Miao was about to speak up when he saw the girl cross her arms and disdainfully look up and down at Wang Donghai.
She sneered and said, "You're so old, yet you still play these tricks of not paying your debts."
She pointed to the price list on the wall and said loudly, "You ordered clear soup noodles with beef. Clear soup noodles cost ten yuan, and beef costs five yuan. Ten plus five equals fifteen. Can't you do basic math? Are you really from our high school?"
Wang Donghai blushed with embarrassment at the criticism, but couldn't come up with a good rebuttal.
He angrily pulled out five yuan from his pocket and threw it at Gu Miao, saying, "Take it. You can't even speak clearly, yet you still try to sell things."
He slung his backpack over his shoulder and walked away from the noodle shop without looking back at Cheng Chu.
Cheng Chu watched his departing figure and rolled her eyes, muttering under her breath, "What kind of person is he?"
She turned around and saw Gu Miao squatting on the ground, silently picking up the crumpled five yuan bill.
The young man was wearing the oversized work uniform from the shop, which made him look even paler and thinner.
Cheng Chu felt a twinge of sympathy and said softly, "Don't mind that kind of person."
Her voice, which had been cold and hard just moments ago, was now gentle and soothing.
Gu Miao felt like he had just been fed a soft cotton candy, so sweet that it melted his heart.
He flattened the wrinkled five yuan bill and placed it in the cash register, whispering, "Thank you, thank you."
"No need to thank me," Cheng Chu took out the money from his pocket and handed it to him. "I had the three fresh noodles with egg, that's a total of thirteen yuan, right?"
The girl had slender and elegant fingers, with neatly trimmed nails. They were the hands of a pianist. Gu Miao lowered his gaze and saw her palm holding a flat ten yuan bill and a pile of one yuan coins stacked like a small mountain.
"I, I'll treat you, thank you for helping me," Gu Miao didn't know how else to express his gratitude, so he could only say this.
Although thirteen yuan was almost half of his night's salary, the thought of spending it for her made him feel a secret and sweet happiness.
"Don't do this, aren't you losing out? I got back five yuan for you, but now you're giving thirteen yuan," he said.
The girl was afraid he would refuse, so she directly placed the thirteen yuan on the cashier and ran away with her backpack.
The leaves of the plane tree outside the door were falling gently, and Gu Miao watched her light figure disappear, unable to help but smile.
It wasn't until her back disappeared that he realized, as if waking up from a dream.
How long had it been since he last smiled?
The clock slowly ticked towards nine o'clock, and it was time to close the shop.
As Gu Miao closed the door, the strong tremble in his heart did not stop, but instead grew stronger, like a flame burning hotter and hotter in the cold corner of his heart in winter.
He began to hope that one day he could get closer to that girl who shone like the sun, even if it was just a little bit. He just wanted to say a few words to her, anything would do.
But as autumn turned to spring, the plane trees outside the shop shed their leaves and grew new green ones.
Yet the girl never returned.
Gu Miao rarely saw her at school, and the few times he did, she was surrounded by a crowd of people.
He never had a chance to get close to her.
Life seemed to return to its original state, and the brilliant sunshine disappeared from his life.
But that warm touch still seemed to be engraved in his heart, melting into his soul.
He thought the closest they would ever be was passing each other in the hallway.
He never imagined that one day, the girl would reappear in his life.
In that moment, it was as if a dead tree had come back to life, and his lifeless heart suddenly came alive.
Translations during sleepless nights. I can sleep when I'm dead! ...Please let me sleep. Happy readers keep me awake, and lots of love and a huge thank you for supporting my hobby!
Give me feedback at moc.ebircssutol@ypeels.