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70 A Warm Cloak

    The next morning, Xue'er went downstairs to see that the guests were already sitting there and eating the breakfast of thick rice porridge and freshly steamed buns.

    She noticed that the guests who had shown up last night were already down here eating as though they were in a hurry to leave.

    For the first time, she carefully studied the two young people who did not seem to be older than twenty years of age.

    The young woman dressed in a floral patterned cotton blouse with a light sap green skirt, and the young man dressed in dark green coarse clothing.

    No matter how Xue'er saw it, they somewhat looked like lovers, if not for the strange and awkward silence between them.

    Owner Chao came, bringing a bowl of rice porridge, which Xue'er received and found a spot on a table not far from the two people.

    Because the inn was small with only a few sets of tables and chairs, this did not seem out of the ordinary.

    As Xue'er was eating, she could not help but allow her eyes to wander over to the two people. Looking at them was like looking at a puzzle that she tried to solve, but could not, and she would continue until she solved it herself.

    Thankfully, they did not seem to care about the little girl who gave them a smile when they looked toward her direction.

    It seemed that they worried more about what they planned to do and could care less about a child who was watching them.

    But the young woman gave Xue'er a few coppers, and said: "Buy yourself something for the new year."

    Such a sentence confused the little girl's mind.

    [I am not in need of money, but... thanks?]

    The young woman's voice was cold, but there was something about it that made her accept.

    Xue'er looked at the two figures as they left the inn. Her hand still holding the copper coins given to her.

    Once they left, she turned toward owner Chao and ask: "Who were they?"

    Owner Chao shrugged and said solemnly: "I never ask my guests who they are."

    Fair enough, as an owner of an inn, one would not ask too many questions to their strange guests.

    Xue'er soon got over it, as she pocketed the copper coins and made her way to Huo momo's embroidery shop.

    As she entered, she saw Huo momo come at her, in a tearful manner.

    "Is anything wrong?" She asked. The old lady's tearful expression was simply too horrifying for Xue'er to bear.

    "Where were you these past few days?" Huo momo asked as she hugged Xue'er's thin body with all her strength.

    "Uh... I fell ill and ended up staying in bed for a few days." Xue'er said, enjoying Huo momo's full strength and warmth against her body. Her face in an expression of heavenly delight.

    Indeed, it was true that she had been out cold for a couple of days, such that she did not have a sense of how much time had passed.

    It took a long time before Huo momo realized that she was using all her strength to hug a little girl about ten years of age that had recently recovered from illness. As she realized, she immediately loosened her grip and seized up Xue'er from head to toe, making sure that she had not gotten crushed.

    Xue'er looked at her with her large watery eyes, enough to pull heartstrings. Such a grip would not hurt her, in fact, it was somewhat enjoyed. Being in the embrace of another human being was so... warm.

    "Let me take a look at you." Huo momo said as a warm palm found its way up to Xue'er's face, feeling her forehead. The skin, though full of wrinkles, there was gentleness as her skin was touched.

    "You're so cold." Huo momo said as her hand retracted, "Are you okay?"

    Xue'er nodded, to assure her everything was fine, and that she was still able to come in and work.

    "This won't do." Huo momo said as she went upstairs and found a cloak before wrapping it around Xue'er.

    "This...?" Xue'er looked at her questioningly, yet her hands unconsciously wrapped around the cloak that was made from a thick and warm fabric.

    The cloak was precisely Xue'er's size, made of a common dark green cotton with a large hood that perfectly shielded her face from the sun and rain, but there was an unknown material that lined the inside, making the warmth stay inside. It was a mystery as to what it had been made from.

    "I made it a few weeks ago. I thought I would give it to you closer to the new year, but I should give it to you early."

    Xue'er did not know how to respond. So she gave her thanks and went to a chair to sit down, somewhat fearing that Huo momo would take her body and wrap it in layers and layers of quilts, warming her up to the core, then give her a bowl of medicine that would cause her to overheat.

    "You don't have to work today." Huo momo's sharp eyes tensed up as she watched Xue'er hold a small thin needle like it was a heavy iron rod.

    "I'm fine, really." Xue'er said in a low voice, half hoping Huo momo would allow her to sew, but also somewhat hoping that she would be wrapped in layers of warm quilts.

    "Don't overwork yourself." There was a lot of worry in that voice.

    "Yes." Xue'er answered to give the old lady a peace of mind. Yet she wondered if all children were so weak and helpless to need an adult to care for them so meticulously. If so, what a strange feeling it was indeed.

    As Xue'er worked, Huo momo closely kept her eyes on the little girl, as though searching for signs of the illness returning on Xue'er's face, perhaps signs of coughing or the start of fatigue. Making her feel a little embarrassed as she kept her head down, and her gaze avoiding those piercing eyes.
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