The desert isn't waterless; if it were, it would be impassable. Where springs well up, oases burgeon, green with succulents, merry with birds. Mr. Fu leads the caravan toward Xing not as the raven flies, but as the cheetah lopes: from waterhole to waterhole. At each they take only what they need, no more; greed is as unpardonable as waste. Every night, lying beneath more stars than she ever saw in Central or on the farm, Ross remembers Mr. Fu's words: "We cannot spare a drop from now on."
She hasn't learned not to weep—only to weep without tears.
"Never anticipate," declared Master Fu. "When you anticipate, your body tightens, stealing power from your blow or block. Worse, you show your opponent what you intend. Your body should know action—" a swift series of strikes—"or rest—" and he was still again, as if he had never moved—"nothing else." He walked down the line of students, staring at each of them, until he came to Ross. "Be ready," he said then, holding her gaze no longer than he had anyone else's, "but do not anticipate."
When they call, she thought, trying to stand at ease, I'll be ready.
Fu Ting will marry at midsummer and meet the groom on her wedding day. She blushed when Ross congratulated her; later, Ross learned she should have felicitated Master Fu upon his choice. Zhang Wenxiong is Lawyer Zhang's eldest son—an excellent match. From dawn till dusk Fu Ting smiled, hemming bed-linens for her dower chest, while Ross wondered how anyone could accept an arranged marriage so calmly.
But that night, behind the screen, Fu Ting whispered her doubts. "It will be hard to go and live among strangers. Sometimes I am afraid."
"I know," answered Ross, enlightened. "I understand."
Zhang Tietie's grandson didn't realize Ross was foreign, so she cheerfully took him on her lap while his nurse visited the necessary. "Peek-a-boo!" she said, covering and uncovering her face.
The baby giggled, so she did it again. And again. "Peek-a-boo! Peek! Peek! Peeek-a-boo—"
"Ross Xiaojie! What is that?"
Ross looked up into an unexpected crowd of scandalized expressions. Her heart sank. "A game?" she offered, hiding her eyes (half to demonstrate, half to escape). "Peek-a-boo?"
"No!" several voices contradicted, one adding, "You mean, 'Ao-ja!'"
"Ao ... ja?" Ross asked, looking out between her fingers.
Everyone laughed, even the baby. Even Ross.
By the end of the first month, she'd learned to ask questions. Better to feel stupid than act rashly.
By the end of the third month, she'd sworn never to bite unwarily into anything edible she didn't recognize, no matter how small. The Xingese equivalent of the clove was six times more deadly.
By the end of the season, she understood that while she couldn't forget the past, she shouldn't dwell on it. Or the future. Only the present lay within her grasp, as fragile as a swallow's egg.
By the end of the year, she knew how to wait.