One cold, rainy night in the midst of April, at the center of Eden's Cemetery, stood a mysterious woman holding a large bouquet of red roses, 999 to be exact, with a large basket and a smaller bouquet of fifteen roses lay by her feet. She was a strange young woman, in her mid twenties, if one were to guess from her appearance. She was dressed in a plain white dress, that flowed in gentle waves from her small waist down towards her ankles. The red, silk sash at her waist matched the red ribbon that was braided into her long black hair, and the embroidery on her handkerchief. She slowly bent down to place the bouquets of flowers on the small platform in front of the grave, arranging it just so, in front of two red candles. She then opened the basket that was at her feet, taking out some incense, a bowl of fruit, a small bowl, chopsticks, a small bottle of red wine, a wine glass and a large cooked chicken.
She arranged the food in front of the grave, making sure it stayed dry under the large umbrella she put up to keep the grave dry, not caring that she was getting soaked. She carefully lit the candles and incense, so that the wind and rain wouldn't put the fire out. It had been twenty years since she had stepped foot into this town, and everything had changed, more than she had imagined. It was very hard to live a life of immortality, watching all of your loved ones grow old and die, whilst you were forever young, beautiful and full of life. Twenty years ago, she had vowed never to return to this town, after the one mortal man she had loved passionately, spurned her. He wasn't the man she thought would be by her forever, because he had turned down her offer of immortality and riches he could only dream about, in exchange for his heart for all of eternity. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't forget Ming Qiu, even now, as he lay in the grave in front of her. She could remember it, as if it was just yesterday.
The bright, sunny, summer day with clear skies, and a gentle breeze that lessened the humidity, and the beautiful harmony the birds seemed to sing, that blended with the soothing sounds of a piano. It was the perfect day, to make a perfect memory, had things gone as planned. She still couldn't forget the beautiful flowers that bloomed in the garden that day, from roses, to peonies, with butterflies fluttering about. There was a large fountain in the center of the backyard, with two large marble swans, their necks slightly bent resembling a heart, whilst the edge of the fountain's basin was decorated with garlands of pink roses as the water shot up around the swans, with hints of colorful firework-like lights.
About ten feet in front of it was a large wedding arch, its sides entwined with colorful flowers and ribbons, with the groom on the other side waiting for the wedding to commence. The servers were getting the last minute details ready, like straightening the circular white tablecloths, setting up the centerpieces made from fruit, and the buffet tables sat loaded with a variety of food and desserts in the "corner" of the backyard. Nearby, there was a bar with an assortment of beverages, ranging from water, to many different types of wine from all over the world. The wedding's color theme was mainly white, with light hues of blue, pink, red, purple, and gold. Near the arch, a white grand piano and the custom made wedding cake, the first of its kind was situated. The cake was sitting on top of a crystal plate, a luxury not many could afford back then, and decorated with fruits and roses made from icing, matching the wedding's color theme.
She had the trees decorated with white silk ribbons, with red paper lanterns hanging on them throughout the yard for later that night, along with the fireworks. While the guests were quieting down, and the pianist started a light, mellow harmony signaling to the bridesmaids and best men to start their ritualistic dance, to the surprise of the guests. She had chosen sixteen virgin boys and girls, for this slow ritualistic dance, offering their sense of innocence up to the deities, to thank them for giving her such a pure love, despite her husband to be was a mortal man. Then came the ring bearer, and the sixteen flower boys and girls scattering rose and peony petals into the air, letting the wind carry it where it may, signifying their unending love. The bridesmaids and flower girls wore champagne colored dresses, with flowers braided into their long hair, whilst the groomsmen and the ring bearer wore black suits, with a red rose pinned on the left breast pocket. The flower boys on the other hand, matched the groom in their white suits, and pink roses pinned to their left breast pockets.
How could things have gone wrong, when she had spent so much time and effort planning every minute detail? She was so lost in thought that she didn't hear a woman approach from behind her.
"Xiu Lan? Is that you?" A woman's raspy voice called to her. She tried to run, but the older lady grabbed her hand and turned her around to face her.
"My God! It really is you! My, you've -" She stopped unable to continue, giving Xiu Lan time to make up a good lie, not wanting Zhen Yu to find out her secret.
"You knew my mother Xiu Lan??" Xiu Lan asked, feigning confusion.
"Your mother? Why, you look so much like her," Zhen Yu replied, a bit confused.
"Yes, my mother. I'm Bao Fen. Who are you? Did you know my father Ming Qiu as well?"
"You're identical to your mother, ha-ha. I'm Zhen Yu, an old friend of your mother, and my husband Ming Qiu was as well ... Wait, did you say your father was Ming Qiu?" Zhen Yu asked Xiu Lan confused.
"You and my father were married? I don't understand. Mother told me father loved her, and was here waiting for her return. Why did he marry you?" Xiu Lan felt her heart ache, knowing that Ming Qiu had really moved on and forgotten her, that it wasn‘t just a dream. Zhen Yu stood staring at the gravestone for a while, before sighing and sat down on a bench near the grave, and patted the seat beside her for Xiu Lan to sit down. Her voice carried a hint of uncertainty as if the words that were to come, couldn’t be listened to with out some doubt.
"Child, let me explain before you get your skirts tangled up. Your father, Ming Qiu did love your mother very much, until the day he died over fifteen years ago, even after I became his wife. After the day your mother left, he would always wait for her return, barely eating or sleeping until one day he fell ill, and the doctors said there was a high chance of him not making it. He regretted not asking your mother to stay very much. His parents, hoped that if they got him married by proxy, the auspicious marriage would cure him, of his illness and his heartache. After all, he was the only child, and it was a very superstitious time back when I was young. A few weeks after I was married to him by proxy, he awoke, only to die a few minutes later, the whole time murmuring your mother Xiu Lan's name." She paused for a moment, to wipe the tears away from her eyes, with the edge of her sleeve, so Xiu Lan offered her, her handkerchief.
“Why? Why didn’t he ask my mother to stay? Why did he let her leave if he loved her so much?” Xiu Lan asked lifelessly, unable to bring herself to believe any of the woman’s words.
“He-. He was pushed away by your mother. She told him she was pregnant with another man’s child. He was in shock and ran off, on the day of their wedding, trying to bring himself to face the fact. When he returned, to try and work things out, she was gone. I couldn’t bear to see him so heartbroken, to the point where he had fallen ill. I loved him too much. I loved him long before he met your mother. Had your mother not moved here, then maybe Ming Qiu would have returned my affections. I thought I could heal him." After a long silence, Zhen Yu spoke again.
"Bao Fen, how is your mother? Is she still well? Why is it that she hasn't returned after all these years? To reconcile with him, if she knew she had you?" Zhen Yu asked slowly and somewhat cautious.
"She died, last year. I found her diary not that long ago, so I decided to come here and look for my father, and find out about her past. But my efforts have been fruitless. It's getting late, maybe you should go home and rest. I'm sorry about my father. I'm sure if my mother knew, she would never have gone between you." Xiu Lan said, disguising the pain she felt deep in her heart. She felt as if she had been punched in the face so hard, her ears rang. She got up and knelt in front of the grave, as if she was paying her respects like a daughter would, as Zhen Yu got up and slowly walked home, quietly crying. She couldn’t believe her ears. What was she supposed to believe? The words Ming Qiu said that day twenty years ago, or the words that came out of Zhen Yu’s mouth just moments ago, that contradicted everything she said that day so long ago? Was everything just a lie? A cruel prank played by the Gods?
“Xiu Lan, I can’t hide this from you anymore. Please, I’m begging you, let Ming Qiu go! He doesn’t love you! Please.” Zhen Yu’s voice rang in her ears, the memory of Zhen Yu kneeling, crying her eyes out, pulling at the edge of her wedding dress. Those eyes, that tore into her soul and heart.
“What? What are you trying to say! Ming Qiu and I are getting married, of course he loves me! Today is our wedding! Why-” I stuttered unable to finish.
“Please, I’m begging you. I-I’m pregnant! With Ming Qiu’s child. I’m so, so sorry!” Zhen Yu cried even harder, burying her face into her hands, as Xiu Lan collapsed into a chair, unable to believe her ears.
“What? When? How?” Zhen Yu didn’t answer, just removed a photo from her pocket and tucked it into Xiu Lan’s hands. It was a photo of Zhen Yu and Ming Qiu posing in wedding attire, looking at each other, their eyes filled with love.
“We took this picture a month ago, as a token of his promise to marry me, and take responsibility. I didn’t mean to hide it from you. I-”
“Xiu Lan! What are you doing? The dance is over, and the flower boys and girls are at the altar already. Everyone is expecting you! Hurry!” The match maker pulled Xiu Lan to her feet, totally ignoring Zhen Yu as she helped Xiu Lan put on her veil, half pushing her out the door of the bride chamber, letting go, so Xiu Lan could proceed up the aisle, holding her bouquet of peonies, clutching the photo tightly so no one would see it, careful not to slip on the long hem of her dress, or break her glass slippers. She forced herself to smile, but the tears, silently flowed down her cheeks, unable to stop.
She was supposed to have the dream fairytale wedding, and everything is crashing down around her. She didn’t want to believe what Zhen Yu said, but the only thing to be sure, was to hear the truth from Ming Qiu. She reached the altar, and took Ming Qiu’s hand, pressing the photo into his hand, watching carefully as the joyous expression turned into horror. It confirmed what Zhen Yu had said. She had to do the unthinkable.
“She’s pregnant. It’s yours.” Xiu Lan whispered quietly desperate to hide her pain. She watched Ming Qiu’s eyes look at her in disbelief and back at the photo. A part of her desperately wanted him to destroy the photo and go on with the wedding, yet a part of her just couldn’t bear to face the fact that she would be the reason why a child would grow up fatherless, and be labeled as illegitimate, and suffer, because of her own selfish greed. He ran off, leaving her at the altar, without another word, not even a good bye, or an apology. She had been thrown away.
The tears Xiu Lan tried to deny for so many years ever since that day was finally released. She had tried so hard to forget, to hate him for breaking her heart, ruining what had been a pure, perfect love. Did he really die from missing and longing for her? Did her stubborn and foolish pride, really stop her from seeing that she had been played for a fool? To give up her happiness, and the man she loved, trusting the words of her nemesis in love? She then realized that Ming Qiu never threw her away, but she herself, had done that. The anguish she felt at him, for betraying her, suddenly had no where to go, and there was nothing she could do, to change what happened. There was only one thing left to do. She had to live for eternity with this painful truth, that she had killed the man she loved with her own hands, and crushed the fragile love, that could never exist between a mortal and an immortal.
"I'm sorry, my love. If only I had known. Then we would have still been together now, and you wouldn't be laying here in the cold ground alone. Because of my foolish pride, and my anger, I had lost the one thing that meant the world to me. If I could turn back the hands of time, and undo the past, rewriting it, I would sacrifice everything to give you the world. All of our promises of loving each other forever, are now mere memories, that I single handedly crushed to pieces. I just wanted to make you happy. Why? Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me to forget it, and that we could start over? Why did you have to go? If only you hadn’t left, then we could have had that fairytale ending. But what's done is done. I can't bring you back. I have to go now my love, to continue my walk through time alone... I'll never forget you and I hope that wherever you are, you will forgive me for what I've done." Xiu Lan slowly stood back up and walked away as the incense started to burn towards the end, signifying the end of an hour. Just before the last of the incense burned out, Ming Qiu's ghost appeared by his grave, watching her slowly walk away and disappear in the darkness, his lips whispering the words she would never hear before vanishing forever.
"I love you."